Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hail Hail Heather Graham

I just go back from Heather Graham's 41st birthday bash (1) and what better time to celebrate her unnerving sexuality? She's 41!? You'd never guess it.

I remember well Graham's big crash into A-list films in the late-90's: firstly as the sweet girl who saves future IRON MAN-director Jon Favreau from chickless despair in SWINGERS (1996)--her presence a reminder that even the most self-defeating hep cats were occasionally rewarded with a nice, cool. up-front, doesn't-know-she's-hot kind of gal; secondly, as the shockingly uninhibited porn star Rollergirl in BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997); thirdly, as the lass who beats out Natasha Gregson Wagner for the dubious prize of Robert Downey Jr. in TWO GIRLS AND A GUY (1997). By the time she staggered into AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999), as a spy who climbs into bed Mike Meyers' disgusting chicken grease-over-latex fat-suited Scotsman badguy, 'Fat Bastard.', Graham's warm-hearted, 'sexually uninhibited like she lived in Europe for a year' kind of nerd fantasy girl persona was locked in to every chakra of every red-blooded blue-haired white dude the world over. It was like doesn't this poor nymphomaniac persona ever get to--like--shag someone other than nerds, dsisgustoing doofuses? (Doofi?), and future-IRON MAN directors then playing a type best described as 'angry proto-Seth Rogan.

 I saw SHAGGED in the theater during the hot summer of 1999, when my AC was out, and my gratitude for the coolness of the 86th and 3rd Loew's was offset by the disturbing sight of Graham's gorgeous body in bed with Meyers' Bastard, his fat fingers and bloated hair prosthetic chest greasy from chowing on a whole roast chicken while she cuddled up to him in a slim silk negligee. Some things you never forget, and the sight of sweet doe-eyed hottie Graham going to such lengths for her job made me shudder in sympathy for young actresses everywhere. Since then she's been a sex worker of one gold-hearted sort or another in everything from THE GURU (2002) to HBO's CALIFORNICATION.

From her golden late-90s A-list crash she got a gig hosting SNL, where she played--what else?-- a sexually free-and-easy babysitter who becomes uncomfortably sidelined in a bitter post-menage a trois argument with the parents --which made it seem like all Chris Parnell wanted to do was imply he'd slept with Heather Graham, so no matter how emasculating the conversation with the wife, he at least had that. It's gross but I don't blame him --the Heather impact by then was undeniable: those wide eyes, that horrifically voluptuous body, that golden hair; she was almost too sexy in her ability to be unconscious of being too sexy for us to handle. Other sketches all hinted at thwarted or desired Rollergirl-iesqu menages, the kind of thing the geek male writers could think up when the girl guest was too hot for them to not fall apart over. It was if the guileless voluptuousness of Marilyn Monroe was wedded to a smart, concerned, awake, lonesome heart-of-gold sex therapist.

Hers is the kind of allure that perfectly embodies Lacan's objet petit a: men fantasize about her kind of 'availability' only to run from it when it suddenly makes itself so immediately, alarmingly tangible. I can imagine her (2) coming onto me at a party and me stammering some lame excuse and running away... watching in shame as she goes home with some other guy more foul-mouthed and aggressive, who doesn't stammer when she consents but dives right in (i.e. is on coke). She proves 95% of men are all bark.

Pornography is probably the most clear example of the kind of image-based delusion her sexiness destroys: in it, all the enjoyment is enacted onscreen for the viewer, who presumably fantasizes themselves into the action, but does he (or she) really? Heather Graham reminds us that the reason we turn to this vicarious pleasure is more than our shyness, laziness, ugliness, reticence, cheapness, all keeping us from living life like an orgy; our whole identity is split between the imaginary and the real -- we fantasize via the screen and when our fantasy comes true, sans screen, we run back to the shelter of the image. As we age she moves from fantasy babysitter to fantasy conquest to fantasy mistress to fantasy daughter/kid sister/ward. They don't necessarily overlap or anything, usually, and violate no laws or conventions --something about those eyes, both blank and open, make her someone to lust after and want to protect from lust at the same time. If we follow her into the orgy, we'll emerge damaged and disillusioned --she'll be the same sweet innocent girl who went in. So we don't want to go in with her -- we'll keep our versions fantasy/real, objectification/identification, lust/protective all separate.

With Heather Graham, we better run fast, as she moves like a serpent zipper.

Lacan writes about the impossibility of desire, and Heather Graham is its fullest expression. She makes us weep with longing and trepidation, with paternal worry and sullen virgin teen resentment. Her career needs to continue long time to flourish now that she's in her 40s! Take that sexuality and finesse it, Heather Graham! You are the sunshine of '69's one stray ray stretching this far to the future. Free love still blazes in your saucer eyes. More's the pity for the world, not you, if all they can do is run from the golden blessings you bestow, or worse just soil themselves like frightened puppies.

(more cool photos and celebration at Neil Fulwood's Agitation of the Mind here)

(1): I never said she was there... or even knew about it.
(2): meaning her 'persona'--the cumulative 'role' she plays, not necessarily the actress herself
(3): Our whole persona longs to be off the chain sinking our fangs into some throat or other, we bark and howl and moan, but off of it we suddenly have to put up or shut up, lunge for the kill or whimper and run away. Now instead of just wishing we were off the chain, certain the damage we could do, we never thought we might lose the fight and wind up bled and torn, chewed up, the equivalent of her suddenly busting out the 'I have a boyfriend' card and running back to her girlfriends to snicker about your pathetic seduction attempt. In that missed connection, that failure to make the kill, we can feel the bleeding and rip, the blush of shame like blood, the pale dizzy despair coming on us like an inescapable wave. But if we're on the chain (she's just an image onsceen) we're free. She can't step off the screen and say put up or shut up. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I'll always stick up for TWILIGHT (the films at any rate) because I love the death drive, and what other series is the lead girl allowed to have an unrepentant disdain for life? That's so ninja! What other teen series is it not only sanctioned but wholly recommended to die for love? That's pre-code woman's picture Hollywood, as old and venerated as Lilian Gish and D.W. Griffith. In refusing to be embraced by the positive life energies of the social order that pines for her, Bella becomes an Antigone-by-way-of-Camille tragi-diva. She may be a virgin, but she's not afraid to give it all up for the idea of love.

It's important for hand-wringing moralists to remember that most everyone in the world knows the difference between fiction and reality, so these kinds of death drives are meant for films -- films are their outlet. They are death on a stick, 50 cents a seat. In a dream, does it really matter if you live beyond the credits? Doesn't Oscar prefer a gloriously overwrought death scene over a happily-ever-after fade to nothing?  Don't we love to pretend to die as children? To achieve true immortality the ideal lover must become only a memory, a twinkle in Gloria Stuart's eye, rather than one who ages into her sofa and squintes at the crosswords through dirty bifocals.

TITANIC (1997)
What could be more functionally Goth than the frozen Arctic ending of this film? I was deeply surprised the frosty hair, pale skin, chattering teeth and purple lip look didn't sweep the world as a fashion trend after this film came out. Sometimes in cultural hypothermia a lag effect doth dwell. A decade or so later, TWILIGHT sped the lag to a close.

I saw this in the theater the same weekend as INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, and was hungover and repentant both times and cried at each. For the purposes of this post, however, WOMEN trumps VAMPIRE. Why? Here's why: a) Brad Pitt's ethical guilt tripping over biting folks in VAMPIRE gets soooo tiresome, and b) Tom Cruise as Lestat? Who cares if he was actually good at it? It's just wrong, no matter how sexy is the Antonio Banderas.

LITTLE WOMEN, meanwhile, has super young Christian Bale, Kristen Dunst (not quite as good as she was in VAMPIRE but who cares), Clare Danes (I cried a thousand drunken times over My So-Called Life reruns on MTV) and Winona Ryder! And even today, the film has a weird charm, like you're staying over at the spooky-cozy mansion house of a group of very, very cool girls in long nightshirts and candles, and that sense of 'belonging' to a cool group of beautiful people is really what TWILIGHT hinges on. Also, Ryder's combination of brainy, brunette and no bullshit-taking becomes a steampunk version of Jo that's a clear forerunner to the whole Kristen Stewart-Bella Goth thing, which Ryder basically invented anyway, six years earlier in BEETLEJUICE.

Here's a love story where the guy is a legendary romantic hundreds of years old and only true love will set him free from sailing on into the horizons for centuries, eternally alone. He's willing to give up his chance at salvation when he meets Pandora, though. She's a free spirit who all the boys kill themselves, and each other, over. As Pandora, the girl whom a macho toreador, a dry British sportsman motorist, and the wise older archaeologist who narrates the tale all pine for, Ava Gardner lolls languorous and luxuriant under the painterly camera eye of Jack Cardiff. And the parallels with TWILIGHT are, like, super obvious. The coveted 'full of life' mortal beauty giving up her mortality to be with her centuries-old cursed lover; he, meanwhile, giving up the chance for her to give it up because her life means so much to him. And even with all the rivals fighting over her, she chooses the immortal with the British teeth. No matter the thousand pleasures of the land, this is for her the chance to become mythic, this earthly plane be damned... 

Death is played by Frederic March, who poses as a count and meets a far-away-eyed debutante (Evelyn Venable). She's death-obsessed enough to make Bella seem like Mary Poppins and her Edward ain't some deer-blood drinking Puritan but the Grim One himself. Love + Death = Modernism is a cry-in-your-whiskey highball tradition. This isn't available on DVD, except as an extra on the two-disc Meet Joe Black (Ultimate Edition), which since you can pick it up for under nine dollars, is worth getting just for Venable's haunted performance if nothing else (avoid JOE BLACK itself, and I say this as a man who deeply adores Claire Forlani).

MOROCCO (1931)
Marlene Dietrich's cabaret chanteuse courts androgyny and shuns rich Adolphe Menjou (the Jacob), knowing he'll eat it up. She's defined more by what she's not than what she is, and that's why she falls for 'tall drink of water' Cooper, a shadow in the Foreign Legion who, like her, is bored with the opposite sex throwing themselves all over him. They're each surprised by their deep yen for one another, but both are so used to being pursued they barely remember how to actually do the pursuing. Not to worry, since neither one gives a damn about life or death and Dietrich's final renouncement is as valiant and Goth as anything in the back of Bella's death-drivin' mind.

THE WIND (1929)
Silent (or sound) films have seldom spun along with such crazy spirit as in THE WIND: Lillian Gish is the poor virginal girl who gets way less than she bargained for when she moves in with her deep dish dust bowl dirt-dwellin' mail order husband. His homestead is so windy she spends the bulk of the day sweeping sand out of the shack, and repelling her husband's would-be rapist friends. The whole thing works well as a metaphor for virginity and the loss thereof, the endless sacrifice and loss in exchange for nothing but maybe love. In a way, it's the most sexually and emotionally 'mature' film of the lot. It's the REPULSION of the silent era! Don't miss it, and don't front if you have to read intertitles, or you may never understand DOGVILLE. You been warned! Smarten up! 

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Moon, Cat Women, and Thou: CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953)

CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953) begs little but indulgence. It doesn't ask for respect, forgiveness or love, it's crankier about its own existence than you are, so if you want to come along, remember, as per the captain: "this is a space expedition --not some stunt!" 

It starts fittingly with some shots of a ship model being lifted past a picture of space, which must have been hilarious in 3D (it's theatrical format). the crew waking up in their weird chaise lounge beach chairs and navy hammocks, wearing just normal military fatigues, the walls of their ship corrugated metal, ala a woodshed. They seem more like a bunch of cranky kids squabbling in a big cardboard box with stars drawn on it. And the crew bear that out, despite the cranky leadership of Laird (Sonny Tufts), who wants to keep things always technical and "by the book."  Rather than seem like a professional space crew they seem a bunch of goons at a bar who went to bed in their rooms at home, woke up here, and just figured they must have blacked out and so pretend like they know where they are. Laird grips command like its a rope over a spiked pit, nervously barking orders and shouting things like "We do more than hope! We Work with confidence!"

Even so, the crew of this first rocket to the moon couldn't be more unprofessional,  There's Doug, a callow radio operator; Walt (Doglas Fowley), the capitalist hustler engineer, whose every line of dialogue is related to monetizing his situation -- thinking of bottling moon mist, plugging motor oil on spec, stamping letters from the moon, and so on, all of which Laird seems to not care about, compared to being colloquial over the radio; and navigator Helen (liner-eyed Marie Windsor), and her boyfriend Laird, their cranky commander and Helen's boyfriend; and--sulking peevishly for one reason or the other, Kip (Victor Jory) passive-aggressively one-upping the commander, refusing to leave his .45 automatic in the ship, and generally taking the reins in a buzzkill kind of way while coming onto Helen every chance he gets. And he's our hero! And Jory RULEZ. 

The result: something like a wondrous albeit terrible play put on by the combined children of a bunch of cocktail sipping young Jaycees, which they then perform for the tipsy parents who are delighted. 
The great thing about, say, PLAN NINE, was that Ed Wood really believed in his bullshit - he never missed a chance to convey his adoration of angora, he swooned over the joy of filmmaking, no matter how impoverished, but this, oh man.... it's in a class by itself. Shot in 3-D in the middle of the night on cheap sets by the most depth-perception-challenged director in history (Arthur Hilton), CWOTM features cat dancing; spacesuit donning and doffing; giant spiders; mystic trances; hypnosis; feminist (coded lesbian) cabals and lots of sleeping, girlfriend stealing, arm-twisting, and a great Elmer Bernstein score (he was just starting out). Take it or leave it.

I'll take it, because there is no 'late' sleeping on the dark side of the moon. There is no sunshine day for your mom to complain you're wasting watching films like this over and over. There are just B-list actors starring the C-list square in the face with stout discombobulation. See how they doze amidst the columns and splendor of the secret cat lair, and on the ship, like it's all a big slumber party! Shhhh! They waken and overhear a conversation. Shhhh... The two alpha human males fight over Helen... if you can call it fighting, aside from a few climactic fists. It's the closest thing we get as the main action occurs off screen -- an afterthought. Shhh! I just saw something new - this zillionth viewing - the giant spider has a huge horn on its head!! I can see numerous eyes too.

Helen, wakes up, screaming!
"Helen what's the matter!?" Laird shouts.
"Nothing," Helen says. "I just opened my eyes and missed you!" 

That's Cat Women all over - open your eyes and you miss it, but let the lids hang and find it - paradise. It's right there, on the moon, with the crazy black leotard-clad cat women (too cool to even have fake ears).

The problem is of course we don't like Tuft's cranky leadership, or Kip's petulant cockiness or Fowley's greedy hustle, or Dough's naive dopiness, at least at first. They're all comically broad, but you can't deny it's an effective metaphor for colonialism: Walt as the East India Trading Company ("You're too smart, baby -- I like 'em stupid"); Jory as the sweaty military strategists ever finding reasons to increase the strength of the detachment left to safeguard the importers and traders from their land); Laird as the stick-upper-lapsed Colonel Blimp; Marie Windsor as the envoy/liason with their government contacts; Doug as--well--the naive young officer not aware that his parents will never accept him marrying a native girl. To scandalous... Son, she's you know, a cat!

Mix, serve, repeat and if the locals give you any trouble, a volley of cannon from your moored ship calms 'em right down. 

Irresistible in its graceless charm and missing--thankfully--any sense of self-awareness or winky camp, MOON manages to forget more about male-female relationships than the entire rom-com genre will ever remember. Whether you're convulsing in alcohol withdrawal, or fuzzily fading in and out of stoned consciousness, CAT WOMEN is like some strange oxygen-enriched air, magically trapped inside vast caverns under the surface of the moon for only you and your asleep-but-still-annoyed lover. If someone else enters the room, its magic vanishes. It can't even hold up in a review like this. I don't know why I always defend it, except that I love it. I mean I love Lambda, and I love the dreamy flute passages by Elmer Bernstein. My favorite Bernstein? Ya, because I'll cry to his brother Leonard's work WEST SIDE but I'd much rather watch this and just let myself be lulled beyond the petty cares of working class Manhattan. 

CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON: a movie so cheap that half its action scenes occur off-camera, described secondhand by actors who've just entered the room, whichever room the action's not in. The presence of a giant spider on strings pops up to wake you with Helen's screams if you were about to fall asleep. You could laugh at the spider's strings, but why? There's something poetic in the film that comes from somewhere far deeper. Kip is so beside himself with love over Marie Windsor he reacts with the news the cat women are out to kill them like a sarcastic school boy. Then he remembers at the last minute that literally twisting her arm breaks gets her to confess. Far more important (to him) than any news about Alpha's (Carol Brewster) grand plan to kill them all is that Helen really loves him and not Laird. When she admits it thanks to his hurting her (which she loves - macho domination breaks the sisterhood qua-lesbian spell -- ain't a damn thing changed). Then he uses the opportunity to make out with Helen passionately right in front of poor Laird, as if determined to make his humiliation complete, and making that far more important than stopping the cat women from taking off in their ship. In the end, we only see Lambda dead, and the other two are blasted off camera. (supposedly they ran out of money so just half-assed the resolution) - it's somehow fits even as it's disappointing. Then again, that's life isn't it, even on the moon,

So many things are so sublime: The exotica thrift shop direction for the cat women's reception lair (a big Shiva statue is pretty cool though, as are the big flaming braziers (which they snuff out with a wave of their hands to save oxygen. The oscillating psychic powers of the Cat Women -- their ability to vanish at will (or cloud men's minds so they cannot see them), and telepathically control Helen, and to stamp her palm with their symbol to mark her as one of them (so she can get back in later if she goes outside to smoke one of her "silly cigarettes"?). Their intensely greasy black hair glistening in the light (were they trying to conjure cat ears out of their hair, but it didn't work?).  The way actors throw themselves into the limited circumference of the giant spiders kill zone, positioning themselves so they can struggle gamely with it but take care not to get tangled in the strings. Ancient Alien theorists and pareidolia enthusiasts (I'm both) should quickly notice the alien face on that the wall hanging on the far left (mainstream scientists would say it's meant to be a flower). Intentional? Just some weird trinket rummaged from the discarded prop bin in the alley behind the sound stage?  There are no accidents in primitivist 1950s science fiction, because there's no budget for 'art' or conceptualizing, which is, let's face it, the first step on the road to forgettability. 

To consider the seams of the simulacrum as the message, the glue on the aluminum siding spaceship is the meta link that breaks narrative hypnosis (the lounge chair beds right by the instrument panels a genius kind of sketch shorthand) is to consider myth at its most basic reptilian cortex-convex subterranean. Saving it for special occasions (after travel-related trauma), I sink into it with the cozy feeling as if space is a giant slumber party where someone is always awake and someone is always asleep, keeping the crew rooted in a place neither unconscious nor conscious. Whose to say what magic is, but I do know where it can be found -- and it's right there... in the space between.

That's why 4 AM is always the best time to watch Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Ed Wood-ish 'bad' masterpieces like this.

This is true freedom.  Normal sleep is just dull dream of soggy claws in contrast to such shallow depth, such groundless giddy hysteria. 

Above is another cool shot of some people sleeping. Doesn't it just make you want to sack out on a cold night like this? And of course, Helen. She sleeps like a champ:

I'm picky when it comes to my 4 AM favorites. I like that there's no daytime in CAT WOMEN, no sense of a days elapsing (it all seems to go down in real time)--and that there's not a single stock footage exterior establishing shot, no mismatched day-for-night driving scenes, no sense of grass or earthy values. We never see Earth, or daylight, at all. We may never come back! It's soothing to my Swedish blood to imagine a world where the sun never comes up and the planet is populated only by cat women who wear their black hair in lots of gel (obviously a failed attempt by to make subliminal cat ears), do narcotizing dances to hypnotic, mellow flute music by a young, just-starting-out Elmer Bernstein. Sure, Jory never doubts his own moral rightness with his bristling (he'd be a great candidate for Summers' Isle) but I love sweet Lambda (Susan Morrow), and the hypnotic dancing. The general cool and superior wit of the cat women. 

In case you can't tell, I first got into this movie while drunk in Seattle living with a girlfriend who looked and sounded so much like Lambda they could be sisters--same jet black-haired, pale-skinned, and aquiline profile, and soft vaguely clueless voice. But she was beautiful and already fed up with my sloth and debauchery after three months of unemployed cohabitation. Man oh man. I was so in love, once we were apart. Then for years afterwards I watched CAT WOMEN constantly to remind me of her.... "Lambda...." Seattle may as well have been the moon now that I was an east-coaster forever. It was the perfect metaphor. Like the 'Emerald City,' CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON is free of sunshine and sense of its own absurdity but it is rich with mist, garage sale decor, Louise Bourgeoise spiders and beatnik coffee house aesthetic gone terribly right. It carries the realization that paradise exists only in memory, never in the moment. So why try to find the moon for real? Just wait until everyone else is asleep and slip down into the sweet miasma for hour that's endlessly repeatable, until the night takes you...

As Laird says: "Comes a time when you can't fight it... I know that now." 

Me, too, Laird. After 9 years of therapy... and two trips up the 12 Steps, me too. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The First Lebowski: CUTTER'S WAY (1981)

Every once in awhile a man has to pause. Every once in awhile a man has peer into the decades behind him, take a cursory flip through Leonard Maltin and wonder... is John Heard really a good actor? I mean, is he awesome? Or is he too much too late?

The question is answered the same time as you ask: do all 1970s movies involve grizzled vet loners going after corrupt power father figures like they're lone wolves growling valiantly but for naught against the dog food industry?

As Robert Evans would say, you bet all 1970's movies involved grizzled loners growling for naught against the machine. And they all must have a big crowd scene parade, or a wedding, or a political rally, or some place where they can see some willowy female figure in a white dress representing old world innocence reduced to a symbolic lamb sacrifice against the coming storm of dread and draconian soul-eating.

Perhaps a bit shaggy, CUTTER'S WAY can't make up its mind about itself: is it called CUTTER'S WAY or CUTTER AND BONE? Is it an Elmore Leonard-ish beach bum crime drama, a Vietnam vet character study, a dysfunctional buddy comedy meets California corruption tale, or an elegy to the American dream ala DEER HUNTER? A quirky tale of a small California town where everybody knows your name and you can drink right out in the open and not be arrested, ("Hey man! I have a beverage here!") it's CHINATOWN meets MIDNIGHT COWBOY divided by BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA meets NIGHT MOVES + SHAMPOO divided by THE DEER HUNTER if Roger Altman started to direct it, got replaced by William Friedkin, who turned it over to Louis Malle. It's got a little of a lot and sure it's brilliant but by 1981 these tropes scan like quirk-by- numbers. Why shoehorn the whole evil murder plot in there at all? And Heard overplays so much and acts so drunk that a murder case seems way too much for him to handle, or care about. He should be using some of that voracious animal intellect to not piss his pants, like the rest of us!

Those pants really tied the room together.

In short, this movie could be a prequel to THE BIG LEBOWSKI, wherein a younger Dude, still played by Jeff Bridges, deals with a similar conspiracy by the much saner approach of saying fuck it and going bowling, and Bridges' Vietnam vet wreck of a buddy John Goodman but a little scrawny fucker with only one leg and an eye patch. Goodman would have shaken the shit up in CUTTER'S WAY, but Heard can't do much more than ride a horse through a window. As Sam Eliot once said: "Take her easy, Dude... I know you will, too."

CUTTER takes it too easy, way too easy. It started as a project back in 1971 and if it had been released in 1972 instead of the early nine years later it would probably have been a hit and a modern classic like your DEER HUNTER and your CHINATOWN, but studio regime changes as well as trend shifts delayed its completion and release, and by 1981 people had grown a little weary of the traumatized vet loner solving a rich man's crimes and getting nothing but alienated. I remember reading some good reviews in the local newspaper when CUTTER finally did come out, but I knew even then, at 14, that the 1970s were over. We'd all had a good laugh at the HEAVEN'S GATE debacle, and grown tired of the undignified trash talking--chronicled in PEOPLE magazine--between the stars of DEER HUNTER and COMING HOME over the 1978 Oscars, with one side bashing the other over its 'demonic' portrayal of the Viet Cong and the other side bashing the other over its idealized liberal critique of Bruce Dern. One more film about a Vietnam vet disillusioned and seeking to overturn the turtle of American politics wasn't going to make us leave our sofa, not in 1981. We craved fantasy, escape, ET!!

And lo, ET was on his way, to trade us our innocence for some magic candy--like a safety class stranger--just one year after this last gasp of 1970s corruption-venting. In 1981, being disillusioned about America was universal to the point it had disappeared from notice.

And for some of us, John Heard was just too... Kevin Bacon-ish? No denying he's ferocious here and gives it 111%, but seeing the film now, long past any due date, I honestly don't know how I feel about him, or the film. All the ingredients are there and maybe that's the problem. It's like the film was given an unlimited shopping spree at the seventies' paranoia cliche' store and just had to clean the place out.

But hey, it's worth seeing some time when you're high on 1970s Vietnam-gate, and what a double bill it would make with LEBOWSKI! May I recommend an angle on which to view them, for political meta-purposes? Just have Bridges = Blue States / right brain (far out, man) and the vets (Goodman and Heard) = Red states / left brain (guns break class barriers). The corrupt power elite figure in each equals the 'real' corporate shadow puppets (Halliburton, Enron) that capitalize on the dissonance between the colors/hemispheres to steal everyone's IRA and soul. Keep this in mind and let the bowling balls and cocktails fall where they may.

The fine and trenchant blog OUT 1 reviews CUTTER here, and draws a similar Lebowski conclusion while dealing more with the plot and production of the film itself. It makes a fine double bill with this post! Tell them the Dude sent ya. I know you won't, too... you'll forget.

I know I have.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Best Erich Kuersten Film Writing of 2010

Whether in Bright Lights Film Journal or this very blog, Erich Kuersten's been busy trying to fracture reality through bizarro psychedelic film analysis. This year he found himself hung up on the ambiguous sexual crosscurrents of feminine desire (in #6 of the Acidemic Film Journal proper) was cited as one of the best film criticism sites by The Film Society of Lincoln Center, and had his mind blown by seeing ENTER THE VOID and BLACK SWAN in a single 24 hour time period, all while sick, and strung out on Robitussin DM!

Do we not, in associating white for virginity and purity, forget that red means the alchemical opening up of that purity into the raw violence of procreation? So what does that third color of the French flag--blue--represent? Naturally, the cooling rescue of death--or rather as symbolized in the 'bloody chamber' where all the previous brides are stored, a suspended animation -- a sleeping beauty status wherein the enslaving agonies of childbirth and old age are forever kept at bay. In short, the blue represents frozen death and timeless decadence, pleasure and a disruption of the natural enslavement process of patriarchy. Bluebeard postpones sexual relations--and life itself-- in order to keep romance forever young... (more)
No great art actually solves problems or answers question, but instead brings confirmation to doubt, a sense the answer to that question you were obsessed with as a child is still relevant and waiting for you to pick up its breadcrumb trail. To firmly believe in two simultaneously contradictory opinions is to free to be in on the joke of your own enslavement, which is all true freedom is... (more)
A good myth functions as a natural psychedelic, but OZ also functions, like 2001, as a metaphor for acid itself, and remains a common way to describe the effects to people who've never tried it (...) No matter how many times we've seen (the film), even knowing it's coming after dozens of viewings since childhood, that transition from black and white Kansas to technicolor OZ is a bit of a shock. And the shock just intensifies with the arrival of 'The Lollipop Guild'...  The great Terence McKenna wrote of 'machine elves' as common mushroom hallucinations, positing that fairies, aliens, mythic creatures, all might be tied up into particular, small, elvin beings that exist in alternate dimensions but are nonetheless real... (more).
... I say this not to belittle Edward or lay down some pseudo-psychological trip. I think this pre-sexual object of desire is very important and incredibly erotic. It's the whole virginity/purity thing that fascinates me about this series and its popularity. The idea of chastity being hot is not just some Mormon conspiracy — it dates back to the age of King Arthur and courtly love. It's not just a mask for fear of sharing bodily fluids; it's a spiritual act, a renouncement... (more)

I've downward spiraled many times and I can tell you this: she'll either die or she won't, but unless you're a traffic cop and she's swerving down the road; or you're a relative planning an intervention with her crazy family; or a producer who's already paid her an advance on an upcoming role, it's really none of your frickin' business if she wants to drink herself into an early grave, sneak off to Cannes and promote a film barely in the preliminary stages of casting instead of going to out-patient; orblow holes in her car with a shotgun, or set herself on fire like Richard Pryor... (more)

Isn't it sad to realize the patriarchy has to repress and belittle the feminine, for the very simple reason that otherwise women will realize it's much better to kill men off once they've served their reproductive purpose, or send them off to work in the fields as castrated slave labor than to have to launder their clothes and do their dishes until death? Hasn't anyone seen CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953)? What's the matter with you people? You think this is a joke? A child is missing! Her name is Rowan! (more)
Their push-pull dynamic is only heightened by the words and melody, making this one of my all-time favorite musical moments. Particularly I love the sudden breaks from singing to speaking: "That's life I guess (sung) / I love... / (spoken) your dress," he sings, the 'love' causing her to look up expectantly. Then he says 'your dress' and she looks down at it, her tears temporarily subsided. "Do you?" (more)
However, the tricky part of a Jekyll/Hyde role like Ed Avery is in first winning audience sympathy as a good, "normal" kind of guy. Remember when Stephen King got all mad at Kubrick for putting Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining? Dude!...
But the thing is, though Jack Nicholson made for a creepy dad, he was the creepy dad that we all know: the kind who laugh at their own jokes, presuming no one else will get his brilliant wit. He's smarmy, but a sexy, earthy, real smarmy that comes from having lived a full and addled life, i.e., a mix of love and hatred for his rich plethora of vices. He lets it all hang out with a sense of a college-educated snob who surrounds himself with unintelligent people and takes jobs lower than his abilities just so he knows he'll always be the smartest guy in the room. By contrast, James Mason comes off more like the child of a very harsh British prep school, all the mischief long since beaten out of him, employing a dry Ronald Colman-ishness as a carpet to cover the wormy floorboards of his megalomania...(more)
...she slithers between the moral poles of silent film virgins like Lillian Gish and unapologetic, homicidal sirens like Fu Manchu's daughter, Fah Lo Suee. For a prime example, please see BIRTH and play close attention to the sex scene early on, and the long take of her face at the concert...(more)
Coutard's camera leers over Karina's shoulder, sympathizing with her sadness even as it causes it, never sure what's an act and what isn't Is she just drawing us in to ask if she can borrow 2,000 francs? In a meta way, it's even true that her character's dreams of being a film star are realized, right there in the act of being in the movie you are now witnessing, and yet even that is not enough. Godard is forcing us to realize how we destroy the characters we love by looking at them. Our eye is the real monster here. But whereas the similarly distant Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion reacts to the encroachment of our gaze with delusional homicidal madness, Karina's prostitute just watches, almost bemused, as her freedom and life are crushed up in the jaws of the other's tepid desire...(more)
Bigelow's unflinching feminine eye shows how much damage the male psyche--man's need to prove himself against real physical danger--has suffered over the years trying to be "nice" in the long twisted, never-ending, ever-more draconian and litigious wake of early 80s PC thuggery and "bare life" fearmongering. No pain, no gain, but while women are born into a cycle of menstruation and the agony of birth,  what do men get to do as far as "taking the pain?" No wonder we men have grown so squeamish, like women we should be forced to take a punch in the stomach at the end of every lunar cycle... (more)
Valeria's fierce devotion and her beautiful monologue about passing other people in couples in tents in the night breaks our hearts and when Conan leaves her to pursue his quest for vengeance, we understand her sorrow and still understand his quest, because in this case Valeria's reasons not to ride against Doom aren't based on fear of death, but fear of losing this love so soon. Laugh all you want, but this was our Romeo and Juliet, our Titanic! Our Twilight...(more)
When their plane's about to land in Japan, the pair quickly wolf down their coke and pills in the airplane bathroom to avoid trouble with customs and suddenly the film speeds up for the butterfly stomach sweaty-palmed high of being cranked up onstage, twirling under the hot lights, and the slow-downs of first kisses in the dark of post-show euphoria. The big seduction lesbian moment between Joan and Cherie is scored to a slowed, drug-drenched "I Wanna Be Your Dog" that makes you ache in rock and roll remembrance of the first trip on acid, the first trip on ecstasy, while on stage, the blazing red lights in your face as you sing and the flames form a holy funnel around the microphone and your mouth becomes the size of a black hole in outer space, spewing flaming lyrics into the clenched alien insect fangs of the microphone, and outwards in waves of flaming energy that washes over the melting-faced fans...(more)
The amazing performance by Olga Mironova as a Madonna/whore split personality is alone enough to catapult COME AND SEE into the pantheon of all-time greats. And there's nary a drop of easy sentimentality or preaching, just a savvy truly artistic appreciation for how war turns existence into a literal living nightmare, with all splits between awake and dreaming, interior and exterior, home and abroad, life and death, good and evil, mended into one twirling mad carnival of chaos, starvation and violence... enough to make Von Trier's ANTICHRIST look like a summer picnic..(more)
From: Film Experience 1/28/2010
Blondell goes from trying to stand up for her beaten-down beau against an unfeeling cop to addressing the audience, and the world, directly, her hands outstretched in a massive, Broadway belt of a plea. Watching Obama last night I was reminded not of Jimmy Stewart's hoarse fillibuster in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, but Blondell, opening her human heart a mile wide to engulf the nation in a surge of compassion as the music marches inexorably onwards. (more)

Some of these are heavy, some too light, some too just right, some caught me flak from angry feminists:
1. Towards a New Cinema of Castration: I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (#67 - Bright Lights Film Journal)
2. X is for Xanax (Acidemic 11/18/10)
3. Katherine Hegl: Infantilization's Poster Girl (Bright Lights After Dark 10/5/10)
4. Book Review: Hammer's Lethal Ladies & Femme Fatale (#67 Bright Lights Film Journal)
5. The Drowned Phoenician Sailor and his Mermaid Muse: HE RAN ALL THE WAY (Acidemic  11/24/10)
6. Let the Right One KILL BABY KILL (Acidemic 10/5/10)
7. Remote in Reach: THE WALL (Acidemic 7/27/10)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

American Grievers, Part Two: THE FOUNTAIN

"Death is the road to awe."

Was it an accident I watched Darrenofsky's THE FOUNTAIN (2006) the very next night after INCEPTION (see Grievers part one here)? There are no accidents in cinema when its imagery is way more high-def than your foggy day-to-day 'reality.' There's a handful of differences twixt the two: DiCaprio's brooding dreamweaver in INCEPTION becomes FOUNTAIN's Hugh Jackman, but they're really the same -- one bends time through dream-invasion, the other through past-life recollection.

THE FOUNTAIN's American Griever, Jackman, claims to love his wife (Rachel Weisz) but he dismisses her attempts to show him the wonders of the stars as mere imbecilic prattle. A visibly concerned neurochemist trying to cure her via ancient tree of life scrapings, Jackman's many lives/one master hero is even more dour and dull than Leo in any of his many 'American griever' sagas. Poor Rachel just wants to find peace and die but Hugh's too ridden with angst and devoted to his grief to give a shit what she wants.

In the eliptical narrative, director Darren Aronofsky skims forward and back through time (via Weisz's calligraphy hand-written journal) like we're skimming a glossy-paged graphic novel: a shadowed inquisitor is self-flagellating and plotting against a golden-hued queen and her seething conquistador, whom she sets off to South America in search of the same mystic tree. All well and good, but what makes FOUNTAIN such a classic American Griever saga is contemporary Jackman's blindness to Weisz herself. He loves only the thought of her dying, like a 'hurry up and die so I can drink to escape the pain and admire my drunken grief in the mirror" kind of thing. Weisz has seen the light but Jackman buries himself in sunless jungles in search of a light he can micro-manage (a tree can't talk back). All this, when the deathlessness of light already is eternal! Right? You can float like a Buddha all you want, Hugh. It's as phony as a tree dolla bill.

The parts in the beginning where he seems to die and be reborn into another aspect of self are very cool, but even then the film and he turn out to be kind of clueless about humility - the bedrock of enlightenment. When and if he dies, this humbler-than-thou seekr demands the whole earth shake and dissolve in admiration. He may meditate and look as self-righteously enlightened as Richard Gere, but the ego is a cunning focus-puller.

Personally, if I ever lost a parent as a child, or vice versa, my attitude might be more conventionally 'oh death, I'm mad at you!' Instead I  have a great grandmother who lived to 107, and her daughter, my granny, alive and bored at 97 (PS 4/17- she died at 102) is put on suicide watch at her home if she even jokes about going out in a bang not a whimper. So I'm going to represent, for her sake, that under-represented, pro-death voice: If your eyes are truly open, and life appears as it really is, infinite, then you know death is just the brief dream-filled prologue to life's 3-D space-time main attraction, whereon the fields of space and time are once more merged totally into the 'one' eternal I AM, the consciousness of which we are all reflections. Living in the moment is impossible without feeling this to be true; making peace with your own mortality is all it takes to get there, what your whole barrage of egoic distractions--your daily litany of judgment, desire and fear--has been so instrumental in avoiding. If you reach this place of contemplative serenity in the face of impermanence, the whole 'life is still life even if that life is less than lovely' jazz rings mighty flat. Our medical system is so fucked up, we'd outlaw death if we could, jamming a crowbar into the wheel of life and wondering where that grinding sound is coming from, and why the lines at Epcot are so long, and why so many people are being born with such cheap, knock-off souls.

I know it's a touchy issue and I don't mean to sound all-knowing or callous, but in not even daring to touch on it we're killing quality at the expense of quantity. I've known people who've pissed away their life savings keeping a vegetable hooked to a machine. And I've waited in lines. At Epcot. And had panic attacks in the pre-class crowds at the tonier yoga studios. And I've seen the limitless expanses of trash dumps, and mass production, and stockyards, and phone books... and suburban sprawl. Know who benefits from our fearful overpopulation? The soul-eaters, the reptilian overlords, and CEOs of giant conglomerates.

And the box office, of course.

What makes THE FOUNTAIN all the more troubling is actually its most interesting aspect: the way death is viewed as a form of public transportation; if you surrender to death in the right spirit you never really die. The tree of life herb they discuss might be meant as a sister to ayahuasca, and that would make sense, which is why it's so disappointing that the psychedelic aspect isn't explored so much as passed, like ship-shaped phantoms in fog, on the way to another tearful tantrum. I stood up a few times and yelled at the screen: "Hugh. we may already be immortal, soul-wise, so why cling to one body forever rather than find out?" It may well be that radiation treatments prolong your life if your body has cancer, but at the cost of warping the weave of your immortal soul, which is an electromagnetic field that can become permanently damaged by radiation, hence William S. Burroughs' description of the atomic bomb as a soul killer:
Can any soul survive the searing fireball of an atomic blast? If human and animal souls are seen as electromagnetic force fields, such fields could be totally disrupted by a nuclear explosion. The mummy's nightmare: disintegration of souls, and this is precisely the ultrasecret and supersensitive function of the atom bomb: a Soul Killer, to alleviate an escalating soul glut.
Imagine if in doing chemo we are prolonging our current life at the expense of mutating our immortal soul, like the Bridey Murphy witch in Roger Corman's THE UNDEAD. Now that is an awesome movie.

My point with 'American Grievers' is not to be controversial for attention but to illuminate a gap between romantic male characters in today's cinema and those of old Hollywood, when men related to their female partners in a direct and tender manner while remaining tough (not falling into rom-com territory) rather than soft but surly and self-righteous. Think of the rapport between William Powell and Myrna Loy in THE THIN MAN or William Powell and Kay Francis in ONE WAY PASSAGE and JEWEL ROBBERY. Think of Bogie and Bacall; Newman and Woodward; Taylor and Burton; Gable and Lombard; Gable and Scarlett --all instances of actors able to be both masculine and tender, deep and badass but also sexually healthy compared to the anguished loners of post-'82 American dramatic cinema, who can relate to a woman only when she's dead, so he can drink alone staring at her picture; or dying, and he can scream at her "I won't let you die!" Either way, she doesn't get a voice.

I must be preaching to the choir in the case of Aronofsky. In his last two films, THE BLACK SWAN and THE WRESTLER, death is practically advocated as the one truly badass artistic climax of performance, so I grant the benefit of doubt we're meant to side with Rachel Weisz's right to die vs. Jackman's tiresome "you're not gonna die!" tirades. This keen and subtle critique of America's blase' closed-mindedness towards any talk of death with dignity or eternal life as a reason to let go of a dying body is a subtextual touchstone for Aronofsky's last two films. The characters Jackman resembles are SWAN's Barbara Hershey as a micro-managing stage mom, and WRESTLER's Marisa Tomei as a single stripper mom wary of ex-client Mickey's headlock.  The trouble is that Jackman's the main character in THE FOUNTAIN. He's supposed to be the good guy. Would you want to see THE BLACK SWAN if Hershey's character was the lead, and Portman just an ungrateful daughter, ala MILDRED PIERCE?

In the end, Jackman may or may not get wise to the joys of nonexistence, but his life as a lotus-posin' baldhead taking care of an outer space yum-yum tree doesn't seem real, doesn't seem "earned," based on his record of glum tantrums. Meditation is where one goes to find the truth of what lies beyond our current mortality, the full immortal self that survives when the rest of us is burned away. Hint: the part of you that is immortal is not the part you think. If you imagine the total self as a movie projected on a wall, the immortal part is the empty rectangle-shaped white light that's still projected once the film runs all the way through. So why get attached to the shadows that make us one thing vs. another, that bring shape and form and illusory permanence? All movies are just light, with some parts blocked or shaded for effect. What makes Aronofsky's later films much better than THE FOUNTAIN is the introduction of artistic drive to that equation: dying in the service of Art equals a very cool resolution to the problem of life, regardless of your clocked meditation tree-time. As a doctor, Jackman's whole Hippocritic oath thing stops him from being true to the existential resolve of Mickey's wrestler and Natalie's ballerina, the ideal of deathless fierceness in the name of performance. Yet truly good doctors know when to stop torturing the patient with temporary stave-off measures and endless spinal taps and start encouraging them to enjoy their last remaining moments. Maybe, and this has been proven effective, slip them some magic tree trippy herbs rather than just bogarting the bag, so they know death is going to be a total gas.

The visuals of THE FOUTNATIN are quite impressive, but again you can have acres of hallucination and it's no more than eye candy for something that never seems to really happen, i.e. the transcendence of the duality of life and death into one eternal deathless state. In a word, it's not psychedelic. If you're going to be that deep, it's cool to not show self-righteous American grievers getting rewarded by the cosmic good fairy for their dour self-importance. There's more to Zen than baldness and Jason Patric-style sanctimony! Look at Jack and Rose in TITANIC, they loved a lifetime worth in a few hours, but ole Hugh doesn't care about a few hours, and that's the very definition of un-Zen. Imagine for example, Leo spending his last moments with Rose just lecturing her about how stupid it was she jumped out of the lifeboat to be with him... that's THE FOUNTAIN.

Fortunately, Aronofsky learned the lesson from its failure at the box office and with critics.  THE WRESTLER and THE BLACK SWAN would keep the best elements of THE FOUNTAIN--the even-keeled examination of mortality-- and sideline the relentlessly blind clingers. Aronofsky learned in THE FOUNTAIN that the best way to make a point about art and the death drive is by portraying artists in physically masochistic fields like wrestling or ballet. Without some true artistic pain, these greenscreened actors are as lost in the winds as Jar Jar off his meds.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

American Grievers, Part One: INCEPTION (2010)

Was INCEPTION--released this week on Netflix--the trippiest film of 2010? Outside of THE BLACK SWAN, TOY STORY 3 and ENTER THE VOID, perhaps. Is it great? Perhaps not. The high-def uber artsy set and lighting make it impossible to hallucinate into; the hallucinating is done for you, by professionals. Jungian resonance glimmers, swirls, and fades away before it can cohere into myth, a sad failure to launch -  the question is, who chickened out at the last minute when it came to laying bare their sad soul?

We know the answer. These same elements occur in SHUTTER ISLAND, therefore it's Leo. It's like he can't see his own elephant in the room, and he's the big star so the movie wears a blindfold while lecturing about the importance of sight. What is it about being a tight-lipped professional man with dark family secrets and a dead wife taunting from beyond that so appeals to Leo that he has to play it over and over? A fine actor and true humanitarian, DiCaprio is certainly a success on many levels, so why is he so obsessed with this narrow-minded 15-year old's idea of masculinity?  Can it be mere dream coincidence that all these ghost wives and beautiful little ghost children and houses by the shore with swing sets are so very dead and far away? He's sorry, Rose, but he has a job to do. That job is looking tortured and behaving with little in the way of self-aware humor as he laments he can't be home with you, Rose. Don't you get it? DON'T YOU GET IT??? (emotion)

Still, if nothing else INCEPTION should illuminate--and make a great double bill with-- Nicholas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW, which always confused me before, but which now I understand and want to see again. Like INCEPTION, Roeg's film deals with a shifting reality (the ancient and ever-crumbling Venice) and involves parental grief and guilt, out-of-sequence narrative, a city sunk knee-deep in water, and little children whose faces you never see as they're always turning corners. Man, it's a trip, if you know what I mean.

I mean I wasn't high while watching INCEPTION, but I could feel the tang of salvia divinorum, the 'ride the snake' dragon teeth face melt with fried time-space onions and trans-dimensional sweetness inside select INCEPTION images and scenes: Leo and Juno staring at each other as slow mo Zabriskie Pointed Parisian cafes explode around them; Ken Watanabe as ancient as Bowman at the end of 2001, his liverspots aglow in perfect unison with the lanterns on the wall behind him like an Alex Gray painting (I couldn't find a screenshot, alas)

But the similarities in Chinese puzzle box construction between INCEPTION and SHUTTER ISLAND are too great to ignore (substitute planes for boats and it's more or less the same movie). In both, Leo is a dour, myopic brooder haunted by images of his dead wife and kids. In both films we must ask, WICKER MANnishly, is Leo actually investigating a crime or is he trapped in an Escher-like maze of the mind engineered by a hostile anima? Is he just paranoid or is everyone really out to get him? Or are they really just figments of his imagination? Or the classic latency test: is he convinced the whole world is a show put on just for him, and nothing exists outside his own realm of experience? To get meta: is he anima-dominated due to emotional dysfunction as a result of a show business childhood (abusive stage mom giving him drugs to allay puberty - hence his eternal baby face)? Can it be that for him love is contingent upon uncrossable absence? No dad is more needy and pain-stricken about not being with his kids than a dad who can NOT get back to them. If the kids are actually there, then why bother even lowering the newspaper to behold their latest construction paper art projects?

That's how that objet petit a keeps you crippled, as the Anima-Kali-Cotillard projection beats you senseless for not wanting to take her out more often, you long to have her back so you can ignore her once again!

Whenever a movie is made about the mind, any evidence of  unresolved inner conflicts in the filmmakers' unconscious will inevitably be made apparent via simple deconstruction, so be careful! We can discern from the text that Leo DiCaprio has never been married or had children. He only dates models. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it shows-- at least on the surface-- a level of laddish insecurity: his women must be certified gorgeous --so everyone knows he's a man. Playing a humorless widower allows him to be--in theory--a deeply romantic and caring soul yet he doesn't have to unfold even a gram of tenderness... doesn't have to risk ridicule, doesn't have to get all sensitive up close and caring. As said kids and wife are not alive he can both sleep around AND stare moodily at mantle pictures from some happier time beach trip. It's the one kind of emotion that an insecure actor doesn't mind displaying as it's all just him, there's no other performer jockeying for reaction shots. When the wife does show up, she's just a phantom, so he can yell at her without upsetting the feminists. He can, instead, brood.

Opium is the heroin of the masses
In Jungian terms, the dead wives here assume the role of Leo's anima--or the projected feminine ego of his unconscious (ala Ligeia). The anima takes many forms: she can come to you as a hot babe, or as a castrating vagina dentata Katharine Hepburn in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. When she's just a dead wife fantasia, it's kind of a 16-year old virgin's comic book fantasy of a real conscious-unconscious relationship, or am I just thinking of my own pre-adult fantasias wherein, for example, I pined and longed for Jean Grey to rise again as Phoenix in X-Men, and then Elektra in Daredevil? Or Lindsay Wagner in The Six Million Dollar Man? There's no benefit to falling in love with a living comic book character Of course we were all glad when they came back by our popular demand, we had collectively re-animated them so to speak. But in each case, we knew something was missing, we just didn't have the Lacanian context to understand what.

Now we know, Leo has taught us. It was the ache of the pine. 

We see it in real life all the time, if you've ever been in a long distance relationship you know the feeling. Sunday afternoon and she's about to get on the bus or train back to wherever and your heart breaks with sadness, already missing her and the joy she brought. But THEN she decides--at the very last second--to stay and leave Monday night instead and you're like oh shit, I should be glad so why do I feel strangely robbed? You lost the pine.

Pining is, above all, a performance... a slow... motion... tantrum... and it can be sweet, but on the basic level, it's absurd, juvenile, something Bella might write in her TWILIGHT diary and, years later, with nostalgic relish, read aloud to her sorority friends for cheap drunk laughs. Should art cater to juvenile minds or should it not also educate, enlighten, and transcend? When you blow the doors of your mind wide open, make sure the floors inside are clean, even if your movie is about dirty floors. Company is coming, and the company is a future self with a clean house that you made possible, defeating your ego at its own game.

But that's never the issue. The wifely anima projection in the unconscious of Leo's character/s is defined by her need for him, her wanting to be with him all the time, and of having no life of her own beyond her stifling adoration of her tortured husband. No true anima is that weak, or that crazy. They do their own thing. Half the time you can't even get them on the phone. The fantasy in these films is that Leo's anima is so needy and doting that she never just sinks into the dark and does something on her own. Just as Bella's animus Edward hovers over her like a clingy stalker, so too hover Leo's dead wives.

Perhaps it would be good if Leo owned up to his romantic streak: he might see that all the stale action sequences and need to embody Scorsese tough guys like Howard Hughes--and soon, Dean help us, Frank Sinatra-- scans as just a fear of looking wimpy to his laddish entourage. Word on the high-def rain-soaked GGI streets is that he's also going to be playing a serial killer in a period film about the 1919 World's Fair! If he doesn't make the character a tortured brooder haunted by his dead wife or lost children, I'll eat my hat! Maybe he'll enrich this killer with twisted joyfulness, ala your Hannibals, Freddies, Nicholsons, and Karloffs... instead of his usual dour tortured cowboy--ala your Jason Patrics and David Boreanzs. I doubt it, but I don't brood about it.

My own psyche is, after all, deeply invested in Leo as he reminds me a lot of my younger brother, Fred - the blonde hair, the baby face, the big bulky frame. God knows I've tried to reach him (Fred, I mean), but he just does his own thing - fixing motorcycles and listening to Metallica out in Phoenix, AZ, with his concealed weapons permit. It's an older brother thing. We have to live with our own frustrating inability to mold our younger siblings. We're America, beating up the world so it won't get hurt.

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