Thursday, September 29, 2011

How TUCKER & DALE and Rikidōzan can Save America... from STRAW DOGS

America has become so ugly, violent, and bitter over its president, its policies, and its blue/red state divide we need an intervention. You can hear it in the catcalls at the Republican debates and read it in the reviews of the STRAW DOGS remake, and like everyone else in this country, I know I am right and all those other people are idiots --but has anyone turned hate to love through their love of hate? Changed minds through the same sneering intolerance that resists it? No. It's only ever worked en verso when you've learned to forgive, (as Wilde wrote "love your enemies, it drives them crazy) and then to kill and destroy one another with love, via a performance of destruction instead of the real thing. It's a neat trick, but no one uses it anymore. We could use a man like FDR again...

Blue states and red should work together so we don't fall out of 1st place in the world's most awesome list. It's imperative we stop fighting in the backseat before our fed-up parents turn the car around and we never get to go to Disneyland. Once there, we can fight all day, in a fantasy performance of our old fights. Never thought I'd say it, but if we can't stop fighting we deserve not to go to Disneyland. We're supposed to be this super power but we can't stop bickering even as our distracted dad is about to go off a cliff. If both sides of our political divide would rather run the country into the ground than give an inch to the other, Civil War 2 is inevitable, and it's all in an awesome new movie coming out called TUCKER & DAVE VS. EVIL.

 In this film a pair of redneck hillbilly cannibals turn out to be just two lovable decent dudes whose well-meaning interaction with a camping group of college brats turns deadly. But they're not really creepy redneck cannibals, this is all a huge misunderstanding! It's pretty funny. Actually, it's hilarious... and actually, it might be the one film that can heal the rift of misunderstanding between our great semi-nations. Because in the end, redneck and bourgeois douchebags need each other. We're like stars and stripes, stupid-looking apart, but together --flaggish.

Why the anger? We're not kids any more, after all. Well, some of the conservative tea party reds think sex before marriage is a sin, and masturbation is as well... so good lord, no wonder these fundamentalist Christians are so violent and confused! Deadly sperm backup or DSB is not a joke! It may in fact have been the cause of both world wars as well as our current ones. (Hitler was all into that sexual denial stuff --for Germany! - He had one testicle --maybe!)

Thus - those red state voters should all make an effort to masturbate every day, to find a safe comfortable private sanctum and 'git'ir done'. This is their patriotic duty! Semen retentum venom est! 

Aint seen this yet... looks mighty innirrestin'.

The blue states don't think they have issues--they masturbate often--but there's a more insidious impetus that keeps them just as fidgety and self-righteous as DSB... and that's denial of their violent natures. They want equality and justice for all, but they want 'someone else' to go bring this justice over across the tracks to the 'all' because the 'all' reek of the lamb. These blues recoil in horror over slaughterhouses, poverty, ignorance, and bad dentistry. These blue staters would never invite a man who kills his own pigs and cows to their Sunday barbecue, because that's cruel, and gross! Pass the pulled pork. End! End of discussion. No irony permitted. They ride their bikes across the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain rather than ever take the subway--even the subway's too un-eco for them; they get their food at the Park Slope co-op (I do support their Wall Street occupation, that's a whole different thing). There's something these kids need to do, too, and it's not masturbation. They need to learn to admit they love violence... and the smell of the lamb...assssisssiassss.

As it is, the blue state person is like the beautiful Yvette Mimeux (above, left) as the eloi in THE TIME MACHINE (1960),  totally dependent on the blue collar morlock for her plumbing, defense, and cable installing needs. This is why Obama doesn't get anything done --he needs a red state Joe the Plumber to fix the White House bathroom. He's constipated from waiting for change. Clinton had enough red in his blood to just go ahead and pee in the oval office vase. Obama thinks 'rationality' will work and that common best interest will prevail over irrational venom --since when has it ever?

But can you blame the red states for being resentful? Ain't you ever seen DELIVERANCE, son? How would you like it if squealin' Ned Beatty came a-paddlin' through your land hoping to get one last freakshow gawk before your house and still were washed away so he could get hydro-electric power for his central AC and 'lectric terlet? You would love it? Yer a sick freak.

This brings us to Dustin Hoffman in the original STRAW DOGS (1972), wherein he was not the hero defending his home from redneck invaders, as has been commonly summarized by critics (who didn't see it or don't 'get' ambiguity, and dismiss it as a standard anti-hillbilly home defense yarn). Dustin's character never even learns about his wife's rape. He defends his home against invasion because he won't turn over a child murderer to them (for lynching). When the rabble try to storm in, Peckinpah reverses the normal blue state rape-revenge thriller model - graying every area he can and forcing a complex emotional response from any alert viewer. The real violent monster in the film turns out to be Dustin. He's not Dirty Harry, but the snide liberal police chief who'd rather set murders free than let Callahan rough up a perp. Simply put, Dustin's character is a dumb busybody, enforcing his smug liberal intervention on the locals who've done things their own way for centuries, and there's no getting around that unless signifiers (glasses = good, shoddy dentistry = bad)  blind you to what's really going on. It's these signifiers that DALE AND TUCKER play off of to such hilarious and genuinely touching effect. Katrina Bowden (30 ROCK) is even in it. So relax! Men of all genders shall swoon at her celestial midriff.

Most entries in the hillbilly rapist genre today are patterned not after STRAW DOGS, but after THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which brings in cannibalism and the usual meat hook and bone sculpture decor and the unspoken moral that if the blue states could access some of that red state killer instinct they'd kick the red stater mutants from here to Macon. That ain't true, Bubba will whup your ass no matter how broke your glasses get. Thus, both sides need to own up to their faults if we're to ever move forward as a nation and share the wine and cuir de visage. Or as Grace Slick said at Altamont, "People get weird, and you need people like the Angels to keep people in line. But the Angels also — you know, you don't go around busting people in the head."


Until then, thanks to our bickering backseat, America will continue to be one of those couples that fight in public. Why are they even together? They had a trial separation back in the 1850s; they had a real bloody row over the kids, until finally there was a joint settlement. But now our red states want to go out for a pack of smokes and never come back; they want to put up a big wall to keep Mexicans out; they want to start making liquor again in the hills--smoking at the bowling alley-- and who can blame them? Every day some new blue state health nut decides the red staters should have more tax placed on whiskey and tobacco, that this and that should be done to their land and that Christianity is stupid and lacks logic. Huh. Like science really knows what it's doing. Half the time the hillbilly cannibals the blue state prigs encounter got that way 'cuz a radiation poisoning!

The Hills have Eyes 
As a blue stater with a red state little brother out in Arizona who collects cars and guns and has two dawgs, I say we either let the south secede, or embrace them for the crazed thugs they are. One or the other. The shadowy elite who run things wont let us get a divorce, so succession is out. Why not try what worked for my brother Fred and me -- Hell, we made it to Disneyland and we fought the whole way down. But we had a secret. We knew the fighting would never end, so we pulled our punches, we 'fake-fought' - that's where you have to honor every fake punch and throw. So even if a little kid just tags you in the solar plexus, you have to double over like you got a shot from Mike Tyson. If you pick the kid up to throw him, you have to kind of hold lightly onto him as you throw him for a soft landing. You'd be surprised how much aggression you can expunge through this avenue.

In the red states, though, they're hip to that irony. That is their strength over the blue states, who seem to think of cops and politicians as 'in charge' and that things are fundamentally all right. Red staters know better. You can decry lynch mobs as evil, but then don't get mad when murders walk free on technicalities. Adherence to the letter of the law is just fear of making executive decisions. Red staters know that law and order can collapse any time. When the zombies come, it's to my redneck brother's door I shall run, knowing his windows are barred and his gun locker is always oiled and accessible. My fellow blue staters will all still be waiting for the official word on what's going on, assuming someone's going to come by and rescue them.

Someone ain't!

I lost some of my faith in my blue state people during the last time the Republican convention was held in NYC, when massive demonstrations and so forth went on, the protestors never getting the irony that they were validating every paranoid fear of the right wing, assuring the spooked white folks they were right to want to put the hippies in jail, to close up their borders and turn their backs on their fellow men. The protesters should have met the Republicans with love and welcome, brought so much love that they overturned the whole thing, made it so the Republicans couldn't even get onstage because so many hippies were hugging them, and they couldn't even think of war let alone talk about it with all that love around them. Gandhi knew this. As much as he makes your skin crawl, you have to show your enemy love if you want true victory. 

That's how America won the hearts and minds of the devastated Japanese population after WW2. Around 1950 and the dawn of TV, they brought in all these huge American wrestlers to fight the Japanese wrestling star, Rikidozan, and after long violent matches--sometimes going on for hours--Rikidozan won and the entire nation rose up in ecstatic cheering. The Americans were cool enough to not say, 'hey man, this time American should win.' It wasn't like that. Americans had heart and soul back then because we were united - we had to be united to win that war. The wrestling matches helped ease the pain of the beaten Japanese - and I love this example because it perfectly encapsulates my message of the fighting brotherhood, of wrestling (or fight clubs) wherein the winner or loser is irrelevant, only the pain and spectacle matter. And that there are no hard feelings but rather a bond of brotherhood afterwards.
This is the guy who was the star in Japan:

Japan - Rikidōzan
Known as the "Father of Puroresu", Rikidōzan was a sumo wrestler before turning his hand to professional wrestling in the early 1950's. He rapidly became a star in Japan by defeating American wrestlers, boosting the morale of a nation devastated after World War 2. NWA title reigns and an international fame boosting win over Lou Thesz cemented his popularity before he began training two more legends of Japanese wrestling, Antonio Inoki and Shohei "Giant" Baba. He then went on to develop his business empire, acquiring hotels, nightclubs and boxing promotions before he ran afoul of the Yakuza in a Tokyo nightclub in 1963. (from Onwards to the Horror Show)
Imagine if every night there was a big wrestling match televised between Israel and Palestine--Hymen "The Golem" Roth Vs. the Palestine Monster or between Red state and Blue: the Iron Yuppie vs.  Johnny Reb (that last one's from The Simpsons). We wouldn't be solving any of our problems, but we would be at least showing that we 'get it' - we'll never agree, and we can still fight, but like brothers who get out their animosity and rage in a pulled punches kind of way that lets them both walk away winners.  It's a world away from watching old men talk our country into the grave, which is also a kind of theater, for are not these issues are long since decided by our shadowy Masonic elite?

We can't keep denying both our reptilian killer natures and our dueling head-butting mammal ones; if we're not going to actually kill, then, well, we need a fight. If we don't see a fight in a long enough span of time we end up going to war for no reason. Also, we need to give each other a private space to take care of our sexual onanistic needs, so the DSB doesn't make us too venomous, and to keep the anger managed, so we may as well set up some ground rules... for the good of all America! Let Tucker and Dale show us the way... to Canada!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Daze of our Lies (or "As the Reichstag Burns"): SECRET HONOR, HITLER (1962), UFO HUNTERS, Lord Lhus!

"So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause."
- Padame Skywalker

There are no accidents in weird rainy accidental double features, like when I chanced upon the very strange 'forgotten' 1962 film, HITLER (with Sam Fuller stalwart Richard Basehart as Hitler? Whaaat?) after watching Altman's SECRET HONOR (1984), with Phillip Baker Hall as ole Tricky Dick Nixon, and then a UFO Hunters episode and now The Myth Behind Star Wars, with little snatches of everyone from Joe Campbell (my Merlin), to Camille Paglia (my Kali). Let me tell you, it was a great night to be alone with a microphone and multiple video monitors reflecting my exteriors, clinking ice, babbling with boozy exaltation into microphones parked by overflowing ashtrays, sweaty ice buckets, and an alien that looks like a cat monitoring my every move.

"I'd like to thank Birch for recommending this film in a previous post."

SECRET HONOR might bore the layman but should be inspiring to fans of George C. Scott, for it seems Phillip Baker Hall--magnificent in crushed velvet deep red jacket-- channels that actor's raspy but concise fury, or at least shares a similar vocal timbre when he goes for the deep lusty curses and rap-rap-rap-rapid stutter-patter of loquacious subject-skip-stopping babbling. Too bad he pours Scotch like a woman.  Chivas drinkers, weep at his tiny little sips!

I was bored by Nixon when this was all happening live on national TV in 1972 (I was five), but learning how to cut loose in your oak-paneled study and empty out your soul long into the night, alone into a microphone or a painting or a keyboard--while feeling alternately like some ecstatic Wagnerian god and paranoid melancholic--is something I really relate to today, relatively sober. Like many writers and artists I had the realization awhile ago that being home alone with recording equipment, paint, ink, music etc.  is as good as it can ever get; everything else--going out, seeing friends, sex, bonding, etc, work--always felt a little empty, as If I was just avoiding this, the task beyond all tasks. The terror of being alone in your study with just the blank page or microphone in front of you - armed only with a whiskey tumbler and maybe a cigarette --this is the period at the end of the unending sentence. All the rock and roll and drugs and madness was all for this. Risking your neck fucking over the boys at the Bohemian Grove with loose talk, it was all just for this, for the cassette tape, for posterity, to preserve your fuck you to Lord Lhus in the annals of the eternity. Lord Lhus, fuck you! Ommmmm

It's only American to believe in the dark secrets behind the Masonic symbolism of the presidency but only this 'fictionalized' Dick (nervously ripped raw in his haze of paranoia, scotch and mother issues, dares speak the truth alone with his studio audience, which is that the Bohemian Grove--where he was brought several times to hear the edicts of his shadowy sponsors-- is the true seat of power in this country. Washington is just where their edicts are implemented. These guys weren't "a bunch of homos from Cambridge! Yhese guys were men! Assorted white trash, what they wanted was a political laboratory" controlled from deep in the Grove, where 'Jew mobsters' like Meyer 'Hymen Roth' Lansky could run naked and free and assume their natural giant saurian shapes. It is all just too much for old Dick and he himself turns out to be Deep Throat, bringing the Washington Post down upon his sorry ass before he's forced to sell out the country any further. He is just an "un-indicted co-conspirator like everybody else in the United States of America!" His "Secret Honor" is that he saved the country at the loss of his innocence. He bears the shame of saving you!

Bohemian Grove 'Cremation of Care' Ceremony - you never saw this.

If you surrender to Hall/Nixon's fever dream rant (and you may as well since there's nothing else going on in the film) you enter a pretty spooky world, a U.S. with the curtains ripped back to reveal giant white owls devouring a pile of gutted mice and money. Presidents like Nixon (and now Obama) are just brought in as straw dogs to take all the shit the manipulated American public cares to volley after being robbed and deluded by the previous office holders (who conveniently step down right before it hits the podium). Watergate was Nixon's way of reversing the straw dog parabolic mirror. Instead of the plan to throw Nixon to the wolves so his puppeteer overlords could sneak away into the redwoods unmolested, Dick tangles himself up the strings so he can go tumbling off the stage, forcing the curtain down, derailing their entire evil plan.. for now.

Meanwhile we see the paintings of Eisenhower, Lincoln, Jefferson on the Oval Office walls, and they all seem twisted and arcane, as if swirling reptilian pan-dimensional aliens were, even now, within the confines of a portrait on television on television, writhing and breathing and corrupting the deepest tissue of man's democracy and soul with extra-dimensional spider eggs. 

Note - collage by EK made from SECRET HONOR still-  "your perception may vary"

Hall is magnificent, at times working himself up into a raspy heart-attack laughing and crying over his fucked-up brothers and the way he was screwed over by the Kennedys. "I am not the American nightmare! I am the American dream, period!" Still, SECRET HONOR seems to be missing a key ingredient if you see it at home: an audience response. I saw it alone and it made me uncomfortable, like being locked in a room with a raving drunk who doesn't really see you, who thinks you're probably a ghost (maybe you are) but still expects you to laugh at his jokes. In the rapturous flow of good scotch he hears the ghost applause anyway, rushing in his ear canals like blood currents. Who amongst us drunks can't relate when Nixon notes, "I used to love to sit in the Lincoln study -- fireplace going...the air conditioning on." Is that not, in fact, the best combination known to the drinking man? And it's evil, too!

Right after I hit stop on my DVD, along came HITLER (1962) on the Military Channel. "Made the same year as PSYCHO!" raves (incorrectly) Lou "Blue" Diamond Phillips, your host of An Officer and a Movie.  I confess, I love to watch the Military Channel on Friday or Saturday nights, pretending I'm seeing it on an empty couch in the barracks lounge after a day of sketchy combat. For some reason, it's quite relaxing. And then, weird finds I'd never even heard of before, like this come on! What a world! As if it wasn't weird enough just seeing a low budget black-and-white B-movie trying to tell Hitler's biography, the vocals in the soundtrack seem to have been recorded through a guitar flanger pedal, as if it was just too painful to hear without electric distortion!

Without the flanger, HITLER still comes off as very strange, like a lengthy episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents meets a Sam Fuller-directed sci-fi sequel to John Huston's FREUD.  I can imagine Godard and Bassin pissing themselves with delight seeing this at the Cinémathèque Française, though somehow I doubt they did. It's so obscure it's unlisted in both Lenny Maltin's Film Guide and Time Out Britania, and even Time Warner's info screen for it says it was made in 2003.

Weirder still, the film explains Hitler's mental problems as stemming from a Ross and Rachel-like orbit with his sexy cousin, and then Eva Braun and a Norman Bates-style orbit with his loving mother. It may as well be from 2011 or 1954! In a word, it belongs nowhere.

Alas, too, the film is relentlessly unpleasant, as Hitler buckles under the pain of sexual frustration and ze burden of having to carry his mother to zee root celler bunker, so to speak, whenever Himmler comes over.

Now, I know what it's like to have a cute Germanic blonde young cousin, and let me tell you it's not that bad, Adolf! You can handle it, you don't have to arrange for your thugs to shoot her after she shouts at you: "Your mother, always your mother! You can't live vit ze shame! You will see your mother in every woman's face, just like you see her in mine tonight! I dare you to look at me and tell me who you see!" You don't need to let it get that far. As if reading his DSM IV chart, Hitler explains "attraction turns to revulsion - the satisfaction that even an animal enjoys is denied me!" and it all becomes more and more icky. He can't bust a nut cuz his nut was shot off at Somme... or so ze legends say. It's never flat out states, but what is?
In other words, this ain't your history book Hitler. This is your Krafft-Ebbing Hitler. He turns out is just a misunderstood impotent lecher surrounded first by evil political machinations and then, when his impotent tantrums fail to cow the globe, by people who dare to try and save what remains of Germany's civilian population instead of fawning over him to the last. With the poverty budget, his infamous bunker looks like little more than a basement rec room, and the whole arc of the war takes place in and around a handful of tables, maps, and filing cabinets. The only really attractive set is the decadent apartment he shares with his hot blonde cousin. He should have stayed home, alone with his microphones and kept his raving indoors, like our friend Phillip Baker Hall as Nixon in SECRET HONOR, or Dubya!

Next up on the cable flip was History Channel's UFO Hunters --an interesting show that thinks it can win over skeptics through its cock-eyed idea of 'rational' thinking, which is what Sherlock Holmes would dismiss as inductive reasoning: Let's say a kid sees a bunny rabbit in her backyard and tells you, all excited, and you tell her rabbits don't live in the area, therefore she is lying, or it's just a dream. But then 40 years later she still insists she saw a rabbit, and the UFO Hunters show her a cotton ball, asking her if it looks at all like the rabbit's tail. She says it does. They therefore conclude that she's not lying, or dreaming, but that she found a stray cotton ball drifting out in the fields and her imagination did the rest.

But then the other UFO hunter points out that no one has been out in the fields taking off their nail polish, and so no cotton ball is possible. This is all of course excuses made to cover their inability to admit the truth of a rabbit. That's the sad tail-chasing truth of inductive scientific inquiry --they can't wrap their minds around the much more logical idea of the rabbit. Why not? Because rabbits don't live in the area. Everyone knows that. And around they go.

The rabbit (i.e. aliens, remember) is where mainstream western science, which has been leading us for so long, chokes up on the reins and rather than turn the reins over to the right brained empaths they throw the reins into the fire. But who am I to judge them, I with not a single un-violated precept? I, who can't be sure what he saw in 1974 wasn't a kite instead of a drone floating above our heads after school? (We flew a kite up to try and knock it down or tap it, but then a low flying Cessna almost flew right into our kite! It swerved to avoid us, and when we looked back at the drone it had zipped off. The Cessna perhaps spooking it. End of memory. But since there are no drones surely what we all saw was a party balloon or a  very light bucket.)

The Mythology of Star Wars came on right after the UFO show.. and they brought up the interconnected conspiracies of the Empire, with Christopher Lee's character in the Phantom Menace and his desert world mining operations as the Nixon, the Obama, the 9/11, the Reichstag... the flaming goat dog of straw! The cremation of care! It all came looping home, closing the gaps on the conspiracies - Hitler, Nixon, Aliens, it was all combined to mean something!

In closing let me say that I'm not a crook, or co-conspirator, or a believer, or a dogmatic skeptic, or a nutcase, or a fascist. That's depending on whom you ask of course, your honor, but there's a lot of people to ask. Everyone thinks someone else doesn't deserve to be here, especially me. Somewhere someone thinks you're a crook just for having read these words, and that someone is right over your shoulders. Or maybe it's me, cuz you stole my heart, or soul. An undivided self is an oxymoron. Unite your warring halves and watch it all just disappear... and you shall be be a dark cloud remembering it was only ever sky and sea, never meant to last, never meant to be kept so separate from its setting by by slow pressure cooker compresses and midlantic storm front regions, never meant to grow as stale with cumulonimbus conservative paranoia as tricky D. Nix himself.

If the ocean could come claim you it would gladly dissolve you back into itself, dear rabbit-denying skeptic buzzkill. In that, fill thy coffee mug with comfort, and a liberal dash of 80 proof mortal dread atop it, like foam. But when you lift your cup to drink, lo! There is no cup, no arm to lift, no fingers, no mouth. Your drinking motion is just a folding of a single wave back on itself, a splash more Chivas and then even 'then' is gone ...

And the reptiles in the grove just smirk and loll in the aeons of your warm blood surf.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Linkage to the Past and World

A site devoted to the 4 AM UHF TV experience, specifically the films I saw as a kid watching Dr. Shock on channel 17, Philadelphia, in the 1970s, this was my first website, and one I thought lost. Begun circa 1999 and ended in 2003 with the birth of Acidemic Journal of Film and Media.

This site began when I was still drinking, and saw me through sobriety, and being scared to death (in a good way) by the Blair Witch Project (prompting me to create 'Frightened Male Monthly').  Dr. Twilite was my code name in college, for various arcane deals and projects too illegitimate to describe, suffice it to say Bela Lugosi in his poverty row films was a huge inspiration for the site, as was the art of Drew Friedman.  DR. TWILITE'S NEIGHBORHOOD

A very cool site called SubtitledOnline deserves a cross-pollinating shout-out. They have a dizzying array of cool articles on everything from Japanese DVD releases to the best in subtitled horror, all written in a witty, informed style. God damn it, the world is wide, and Middle America's aversion to subtitles is a blight upon our international rep. Let's quell it. Let's drink!

Drinking and listening to the words spoken and trying to 'not' read the subtitles and understand instead how the words spoken resemble the words printed - you have a window into another language. It's common in Europe to have a drink before language class, as it loosens the brain and helps you think in foreign tongues.  

So yeah. I'm sober.

Monday, September 19, 2011

You Can't be Coughing on a Moving Train: CONTAGION and the Soderbergh/Assayas Post-Post Post

If you can't wait and must see Steven Soderbergh's disaster movie CONTAGION (2011) in a theater, be sure to sit next to a guy who won't stop coughing  --it's what this movie needs to really 'hit you' with that William Castle 'Percepto' aural 3-D meta feeling, and Steven Soderbergh must have known a coughing person in every showing was all but assured based on its early autumn release --in 2011 of all years, right before the 'man comes around'  in 2012.

As a product of one of indie-dom's few prolific auteurs, CONTAGION makes me worry Soderbergh's bottomed out in the post-affect school of eternal jet lag, i.e. he's become a permanent tourist, enamored to the point of idiocy by the brooding post-modern thrill of hustling from airport to airport, convinced setting humans in rapid motion through public places-- timed to a cool ambient techno track; editing taking advantage of every corner; every reflective surface singing with Antonioni alienation--will bring meaning to the vaguest and most anemic of shaggy plague dog tales.

But Soderbergh forgot that some of us don't just automatically root for the cardboard humanity on display, especially if we're population control advocates. In the end, the only characters we end up feeling bad for are the animals --frightened pigs and traumatized monkeys are tortured and slaughtered in the name of science, all so a few million more people don't die, like we really need them not to; it's like jettisoning all the oxygen tanks in an airless spaceship to make room for a dozen more shallow breathers. Not that I'd prefer to get to know each and everyone of them - their families, hopes and --oh brother---dreams for the 'cough' future. OK OK Sorry I said anything!

And as far as that prized post-affect 'moving sidewalk to the next gate' jet lag genre goes, Soderbergh's just tagging along in the brisk footsteps of French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, the genius behind the influential post-affect films BOARDING GATE (2007, above) and DEMONLOVER (2002). As long as Soderbergh is focusing on the progression of the disease--making the virus itself the star--a hand smear on a door, or the fingerprint smudge on a subway pole, bus strap, door to a store, hand-rail down the subway stairs, apron to shaking hands to panhandles--it's fine: the virus is like Jason Bourne or Will Smith in ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998), tracked by satellites and security cams patched into the nexuszzz. But there's always dumb human--dare I say Spielbergian?--moments that seem far more contemptible than the riots and looting, like the Matt Damon righteous father making a big beeyootiful prom space for his isolated daughter and then crying in the closet looking at his wife's pictures from Hong Kong, which he should have turned in to the feds for ID-ing and sterilizing and so forth, but then we wouldn't have all this 'perfect' meta Baudrillardian closure. 

Soderbergh himself has become so post-post that these scenes scan trite as one of those irritatingly homespun Peter Coyote ipad2 commercial voiceovers. Forget it Peter! No folksy drawl is going to bring back the open plains and prairie flowers. Over in France, Olivier Assayas is too smart for such sentimental rot: he finds humanity in the running from it. The secret to the post-post cinematic time-image affect lies in its total transparency. Soderbergh can't show the virus coming home from work after a hard day of dodging the men in the white hazmat suits, so he does the next worse thing. Won't somebody please think of the janitor!? Look at this picture of his small boy! Tell him about the violin lessons for a-his dead-a mama to be a-so proud of a-him.

Moving out to a metatextual wide shot: CONTAGION will not promote international tourism (you will not want to visit Hong Kong after this film); it also doesn't encourage cinema-going in a city like New York, especially if you took the subway to the theater and forgot your hand sanitizer. One moron in our row at the BAM coughed more or less nonstop until his date made him go outside and get a drink of water. At first he just joked and pretended to be super sick like he thought she was kidding. Three minutes after his brief sojurn he was back again, coughing away, oblivious.

I'm sure I wasn't alone in wanting to kill him, with plastic gloves on.

He confirmed my worst suspicions about humanity's decline into the abyss, and Soderbergh's suspicions seem confirmed as well, for what we see in CONTAGION is not the truth, not even a fantasy, but a problem that is the result of our overpopulated, horrifically over-linked social order --the end game 'nonfiction/fiction' collapse of interpersonal borders. With Soderbergh's smug liberalism in play, even our fictional minor characters are too important to let die, so everyone lives to endanger humanity as a whole, swamping the lifeboat. The meltdown 'melting pot' of genres and styles as well as communities ensures that no one can escape the thresher with a golden ticket--no women and children first, boys, with sailors brave enough to threaten to shoot Molly Brown if she tries to row into  the drowning panicked Titanic melee. The sorrows of the individual are the ambivalent solution of the many and so seldom vice versa, thanks to Spielberg and Ford, rather than Hawks and Assayas. Mere life takes effect and no one is allowed a vegan or special dietary restriction option on their in-flight meal.There are lives at stake and you blather about leg room?  Not a chance.

But I betcha Soderbergh never flies coach --otherwise he might feel different.

Not to be a devil's advocate, BUT... If contagious diseases can spread this fast because we're so super-connected, wouldn't it help to be less connected? To lose sixty percent off our world population total and revert to an agrarian hunter-gatherer post-apocalyptic paradise? A couple billion people could die on this planet and--if you didn't know them--would you miss them? Would you weep with frustration at the big statistics in the paper or would you breathe a sigh of relief that real estate prices are finally going down? We could lose half the current population and still only be back to where we were in the 1970s --when we were allowed to worry about these things without being branded as anti-human. And what about the pigs, chickens, goats, cows, and fish who die by the billions daily to feed our combined appetite? Won't someone think of the innocent turkeys and pigs that might have more on the ball than the slack-jawed cradle-to-graver who assumes his red meat just comes magically from the back of the supermarket and gets indignant when an activist shows him photos of an abattoir? If any and all humans weren't 'entitled' by the meat welfare system to a lifetime of free meals they are way too stupid to ever catch for themselves, natural selection might have a fighting chance. To use the TEXAS CHAINSAW analogy, we're a nation of comatose grandpas, too weak to even lift the hammer but still guaranteed a piece of Marilyn Burns, and thus the Burns's are chopped up by the thousands at the Leatherface brand Marilyn packing center. But if a single grandpa dies, oh the humanity!

CONTAGION brings these feeling up by ignoring them, never realizing the animals seen in the film are the only humans worth rooting for, and their welfare is in the hands of sadistic liberals who would kill an entire population of chimps if it might save temporarily extend the life of a single elderly pedophile.

12 Monkeys
If I was king I would free these monkeys, move them to an animal sanctuary and use convicted felons and pedophiles and stoner volunteers for lab rats instead: one monkey freed for every criminal convicted --making a reverse monkey jail!  Reverse Monkey Jail monkeys: you shall be free...

In a way I'm secretly proud of my fellow humans that so many of them seem genuinely concerned for the welfare of those people in places like Indonesia or Rwanda, places they only read about on the news but still feel, by 'virtue' of having read the stories--connected, outraged, and personally responsible. They don't need even to see the faces of the suffering; the statistics alone awaken compassion. Maybe, though, it's all  just a pose they've been taught at their bourgeois private schools and somehow Soderbergh's seems enamored of the pose rather than the solution that would make compassion unneccesary.

I personally think that genuine compassion must engage the issues of overpopulation, cruelty to animals and depletion of resources. If you only have food to feed three people, why struggle to keep 30,000 more mouths alive, knowing that in a few years that number will swell to 60,000 because America's fundamentalist Christian bloc won't let you give them condoms? And they'll still be right where we left them, yelling "pan pan pan!" and mimicking eating motions like the beach kids in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER.

And it's that stony, long range humanism that marks a great genius like Assayas, the abandoning of the publicity-garnering, short-sighted moral high ground in favor of a prismatic retreat that the not-one-domino liberal quagmirism of CONTAGION fails to encompass, and thus the whole film falls flat unless you, here and now, turn vegan!

Compare for example Assayas' CARLOS (2010) with Soderbergh's CHE (2008): they're both multi-part biopics about globe-traveling revolutionary terrorists, both are set in the 1960s-70s, both have one word name titles that start with 'C', but the lines dividing them are so basic, so elementary, they go back to the basic dividing line of all pop culture - the Stones/Beatles dichotomy: Assayas and Carlos the Jackal are the Stones to Soderbergh's Che Beatles. Like the Beatles, Soderbergh seems to believe in humanity as it currently defines itself, never losing faith in 'Us' - believing that love is all there is and the love you take is equal to the love you make and still confident in the possibility of utopia, an inclusive exclusivity underneath the waves.  Like the Stones, by contrast, Assayas knows you can't always get what you want, but if you keep moving forward, keep lunging through the crack in every closing door, keep rocking and balling, never saying no to a drink or drug, always showing sympathy to the devil and jiving sister morphine, then maybe you might at least get laid or super high in the process of fighting for truth, as you define it. There's no belief the possibility of a fair system for Assayas because he knows any system in itself doesn't exist... and never has. Men live and die by ficciones.

Che, top / Carlos, bottom
Even when doing non-fiction like CARLOS, Assayas isn't too concerned with 'real' people and integral consistency: his Carlos changes as a character from moment to moment as calmly as Travis Bickle or Lawrence of Arabia, fluctuating along lines that erase all distinctions between social and personal action, and maybe the only difference between terrorism and heroism lies along these same lines. Soderbergh's Che must always struggle for the people, for the cause... and that means tending to the wounded even if it means staying behind and risking capture, and of course never smiling because even one person is starving somehwere for freedom from capitalist oppression. Both characters delude themselves in their quest for a 'better world' and how to get it. But at least Carlos knows--deep down--there wouldn't be a movie about him if he wasn't dangerous. Che can't allow such honesty to corrupt his self-righteous Marxist buzz. While Che would be making bandages, showing you photos of the poor people of his village and reading aloud from Das Kapital, Carlos would be hiding his bazooka under your bed, drinking all your whiskey, and stealing your girlfriend.

This is why Assayas' heroines--like Asia Argento's assassin in BOARDING GATE or Connie Nielsen's corporate spy (above) in DEMONLOVER--are so much more alive and sympathetic and even realistic than the 'good' girls in CONTAGION like Winslet's epidemi-vestigator or Marion Cotillard's Stockholm-syndrome hostage (her run back to her abductors in the airport comes off phony and bleeding heart self-righteous) or Jennifer Ehle's spunky little biologist (top) in her cute orange outfits and blue-green dishwashing gloves, cooking away in the sterilized lab kitchen-- the ultimate petrochemical-armed mom as envisioned in Laurie Anderson's "O Superman." In their noble missions to save as many space-wasting lives as possible Soderbergh's chicks are the bleeding hearts that stop human evolution in its tracks -- not that they shouldn't save the planet but they could at least acknowledge the paradox: If they could go back in time and prevent the bubonic plague, would they? or the Spanish influenza, or even small pox? I can see some idiot out there saying of course they should! Life would be so much better if our global pop. was 12 billion instead of only six! They're all for it until, of course, someone expects them to share their bedroom with a homeless family and their chicken.

That last image I cribbed from Dr. ZHIVAGO, and like that film, CONTAGION is the kind of moving train Howard Zinn decided awhile ago you can't be neutral on, though by now this train has become so crowded you can't even sit down, let alone remain neutral, or anything but suffocated. The only time a seat opens up is when someone dies but then Soderbergh's doctors run up and save them for a few more stops, until the only ones allowed to sit are the dying which never quite die thanks to those 'heroic' medicos... and soon there are many trains on the track they all have to crawl slower and slower until they're nearly as torturous as the 4 'express' at NYC rush hour, and people are hanging off the sides like the commuter to Kolkata.

And people wonder why we're broke, and why our democratic system is so crippled by fear of change. Being from France, Assayas moves much more freely through the post-affect landscape: his characters get off the train and sneak down alleyway shortcuts. Soderbergh might ape the New World Order / Assayas post-modern gridwork image-within-image paradigm, but he's still a tourist, and CONTAGION is just another stack of high-res postcards from the edgeless.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

'Transgalactic Delta House Ebullience,' Comic Book Evolution, and Timothy Leary's Head - PAUL (2011)

Like most people I know who follow exo-politics, I thought PAUL (2011) looked grim from the outset. First off, this is supposed to be a brom-com about a surviving Roswell alien, and here his huge eyes aren't dark black. The black eye on grey aliens is, as we now know now, a kind of DNA-implanted contact lens, as if we humans decided we loved Raybans (tm) so much we had them surgically grafted. Without the dark eyes Paul looks just like a big E.T. / Close Encounters love doll - and it turns out he was the inspiration for both films (we learn this thanks to flashbacks of long chain-smoking phone calls he had with Spielberg in the 1970s) which makes perfect sense from a disinformation standpoint (if you see an alien on the street eating Reese's Pieces, you're a lot less likely to get taken seriously when you report it to the cops).

I remember well at the age of around 15-16, gazing at my surly, bald, bespectacled comic book store owner (Quality Comics in Somerville, NJ, if you were there, you know him) and thinking: 1. I'll never stop being into comics no matter that they say people grow out of them, and 2. I hope I don't end up looking and acting like this surly bald bastard. Back then 16 seemed suspiciously old to still be into comics, even if you were into the sophisticated stuff like Frank Miller's Daredevil. And now... these clowns.

In other words, seeing what I'd look like if I stayed friends with my Frost-ish pal and never discovered sex, drugs, and rock and roll is kind of crushingly weird and terrifying. And Yet -  they actually grow as characters as the film goes on, how emotionally un-arrested of them! And Kristen Wiig is adorable, as the NY Post's Paul Smith noted: 
There may come a day when I tire of Seth Rogen’s shtick but I hope it doesn’t come soon. (Yes, I loved “The Green Hornet”). His sarcastic insults and Transgalactic Delta House ebullience keep things rolling along (even if the gay jokes are a little stale) as the boys pick up more enemies and a kindly one-eyed fundamentalist Christian (the indispensable Kristen Wiig) who says of Paul, “He’s not evil. He’s just a bit rude.”
  (Read more)
"Transgalactic Delta House ebullience" - I think we can all aspire to that, both as writers and as people. The ultimate message of this cosmic trip then becomes this: stoners are the smartest of all humans. Paul's very advanced, yet he acts just like a stoner slacker crossed with a less spastic Kermit the Frog. What does that tell you if it's not that stoners rule?!! That's what got me out of being a comic book nerd, I can tell you - drugs and alcohol were my socializing and talking to hot girls without blushing and stammering spinach. And as drugs, bass, and babes became the major force in my life, all the other comics stopped for me except Love and Rockets, Dan Clowes' Eightball (below), Pete Bagge's Hate, and old Zap! reprints. I yelled excitedly when I saw this guy (below) on one of Pegg's awesome T-shirts. That's a Clowes!

It would have been cool in Paul to see examples of other aliens or humans working inside the alien vessels to further advance the notions of a global elite conspiracy but it's great the way the CGI alien interacts with the humans so flawlessly--on the level of Andy Serkis' Kong and Golum, rather than the stilted dread knots of Jar Jar Binks and SyFy channel stuff. It works so that you forget altogether he's just a CGI hallucination. So see PAUL with a bunch of friends late night after the young person's AA meeting, or while getting hammered and it will treat you right. There's a subtext in there that any dope fiend or former dope fiend will take to heart, and it's traceable back to--what else?--a comic book:

The one big genre-buster comic I know of that deals with the issues of life after death and the universe and aliens, the only truth that sets one free, is Timothy Leary's Neurocomics (Last Gasp, 1979) which describes the circular DNA arc of life with the following being indicative of where our Paul is on the evolutionary scale:

In this strata, the hippie stoner is a whole evolutionary cycle above the family man preacher (below) who is the end game on the highest level of 'terrestrial circuits' while the stoner is the lowbrow level of post-terrestrial, so a whole DNA sequence higher on the celestial step ladder.

(Read the full comic  here or download here)

This should be good news to the moms of stoners and trippers everywhere, and explains why the religious right considers psychedelic drugs such a threat. It's because the 17 year-old mushroom dealer is a whole circuit higher on the DNA chain than freakin' Jerry Falwell or Michelle Bachman, or even Osama Bin Barack, or whatever his post-Bohemian Grove mind control reptilian takeover name is. And that's enough that those comic book geeks Pegg and Frost should really grow up and start doing some drugs. Paul's got a great magic power where he can send you all the cosmic truths in a big rush of DMT that will take the dogma crust off any cutie pie conservative, and it makes a good point for arguing that the bible belt might come around and be less closed-off if they got a nice dose of LSD in their morning cup of joe. If you want to 'see' the truth, you know who to trust, and it's not those Bohemian Grove owl-worshiping conservatives and their masochist leatherboy slave Antichrist, but the real deal, Tim Leary! LEARYCON, now that's a comic convention worth believing in. Vote Leary's frozen head for president in 2012! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Glum Sex Reigns" - Choice Sin Cine Eulogizers

Every new review on Bleeding Skull (which I heaped grossly understated praise on here) is a cause for celebration, a celebration so choked with existential ennui that it prevents me from doing much of my own writing. Today they're discussing the infamous Chesty Morgan movies from relentless auteur Doris Wishman. I know I'm not alone in feeling bad for that poor Chesty, especially I feel her spine, what a curse, gravity making you ever about to fall forward, and a world gone mad for grotesque exaggeration ensuring you never get a reduction. One considers Chesty and one considers the safety zone of the long lost awesome giant breast, normal-size seemed gigantic to our childhood eyes, so Chesty matches our original perspective as toddlers for whom everything else but mom was terror and uncertainty, and now they're taking those breasts away and trying to trick us into standing up for the very first time. Yeah. It's crushing, and we abandon our mom's ever-shrinking (as we grow) breasts until we dwarf her like a mammoth of muscle next to a droopy camel.

Luckily Budnik and Zembia never gave up on the dream of one day returning to that bizarre foyer between life and prenatal embryonic stasis, and so they make sure the wall-mounted VHS-TV combo in the corner of Hell's waiting room shows only Doris Wishman movies, and after a whole Something Weird double feature, the 9th circle of fire can't come soon enough, for me at least. The Bleeding Skulls are built tougher. They say bring it on:

Zembia on Deadly Weapons:
You can do a lot of things with your free time. But none of those things will ever provide the abstract satisfaction of a film starring Chesty Morgan and directed by Doris Wishman. This is where it all begins. And ends. Because you will probably stop watching movies after seeing Deadly Weapons and/or Double Agent 73. Isn't ruination beautiful? (more)
Budnik on Double Agent 73:
"... the use of Chesty's pair is a lot like an all-boob version of Freaks. They're out...a lot...we spend long strings of minutes looking at them and they're never, ever anything but odd looking. One begins to feel sympathy for her after awhile. Does her back hurt? Is it comfortable sleeping? People must stare at her a lot, many of them in confusion. Does Doris feel the sympathy? Probably not. All this strange leering is simply the way Doris does her thing. (cont.)
Budnik notes that Chesty "looks a bit dazed at times" but he doesn't know why? May I suggest it's the same reason John Holmes seemed dazed all the time? It's all about blood circulation! That blood's got to go way out on a limb. If you've ever taken Cialis or Viagra, you know what I mean... you may f---k like a champ with a rocky rod, but you look pale, even bluish, like a hungover smoker.

Another favorite of this site: Tenebrous Kate, a deliriously good writer with an eye for detail so sharp it reminds us just why retro-bad still matters, and who today discusses the mighty giallo-ish Spasmo (1974): 
That dialogue (...)  It's supposed to be clever and flirtatious, but mostly sounds like a verbal game of non-sequitors. Witness, for example, some seductive talk between Christian and Barbara during their tryst, alone in Christian's car, parked somewhere in the woods:

C: That moon doesn't bother you?
B: There's no moon in my hotel room.
C: I was right, you're a sweet sweet whore.  OK, let's go.
B: But you have to shave your beard off first.
C: What?
B: Your sweet, sweet whore doesn't take any payments, but she does have her limits.
C: You're crazy.  I could have you now, here, and you'd like it even with the beard.
B: I have a razor in my room: big, sharp and sexy.

...And they drive off to the motel.  END SCENE.  Do these people like each other?  Is Christian a mad rapist?  Is Barbara actually a whore?  These are the questions posed just in these few lines of dialogue.  Every time a character talks to another character, more questions like this arise, until ultimately the viewer questions his or her own mental well-being.  I'm going to go ahead and give the benefit of the doubt to the five scriptwriters responsible for this material and assume that this off-kilter sensation was their intent. (more here)
A new favorite writer of mine, Budd Wilkins showed great masochistic patience in seeing nearly all the Chaney silents that recently screened on TCM (last August, on Chaney Day).

 The Unholy Three (1925) boasts a top-shelf premise, a crackerjack first twenty minutes…and then plummets steadily into the comforts of respectability. Introducing its titular trio of sideshow attractions mid-performance–Professor Echo, the ventriloquist (Chaney); strongman Hercules (future Ford fixture Victor McLaglen); pint-sized Tweedledee (Harry Earles, star of Browning’s undisputed masterwork, Freaks [1932])–the amusements come to a grinding halt when an irate Earles kicks a taunting child in the face and an all-out brawl ensues. (more)

The first suggestion of peculiar sexual undercurrents glimmers through the scene where Haynes, crouching on the floor like a tiger poised to pounce, and daughter Toyo play safari. The vibe is very much crypto-incestuous, a notion only reinforced by Haynes’ reaction when Toyo introduces him to her intended, Bobby (Lloyd Hughes). Haynes’ scarred face contracts into a scowl of disapproval, his sexual possessiveness and jealousy obvious.
His Obscure Object of Cinema is well worth checking out, as are his reviews over on Slant

The always insightful and incandescent Samuel Wilson from Mondo 70 tackles The Story of Temple Drake (1933), in the context of Faulkner's book (Sanctuary), which he's actually read (turns out I have the same edition but was unable to read it without falling asleep):
Miriam Hopkins is too old to play Temple but gets the spoiled, scared essence of the character right, and she looks fine in the pre-code actress uniform: lingerie. Her ordeal is one with which anyone of either sex who ends up stuck with dubious strangers on a vanished friend's initiative can empathize. Jack LaRue plays Trigger like someone's prophetic fever dream of Humphrey Bogart -- maybe Bogart's own -- but he doesn't live up to my reader's recollection of Faulkner's Popeye. (more here)
 My own review for Drake, from way back in the day, is here. And one of my weird collages from way back, which I think kind of says it all:

PS: And how about a shout-out for weirdness... and water? Meanwhile I'm moping at home to Kristofferson, so let me know who I missed today (, and I'll add you, slyly. I'm not proud, at least not until the Rain stops... Damn you, water! You're a poor substitute to that source of mammalian nourishment we only vaguely remember, until Wishman gets her wish, and our capacity for masochistic self-denial stretches from the mud all the way to the stars, as we escape, escape, escape from the hell of our own blind Willendorf Venus crypto-incestuous safari, and suddenly are even willing to shave our trembling, distended beards. Spasmo reference! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

LSD Godfather: Don Fanucci in the Vestibule

Mobsters and LSD: don't doubt that they mix! But forget about Scorsese's mobsters for a minute--they're the cocaine generation--and instead let's sink down into Coppola's deep dark studies and dens--full of fissured old faces half lost in shadow--that was the 1970s. I'm talking about the LSD generation. I'm talking about Godfather Part 2 (1974). As Chico Marx would say, Ahsta mana gatsa - Aye shalom!

He's got Giuliani's Smile
The key figure in it all for lysergic resonance is not, as one might suspect, Michael (Al Pacino) or Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), but the original padrone, Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin), a monstrous yet vaguely comical early-century figure who extorts local Italian businesses as an alleged finger of the shadowy organization known as the Black Hand. In the Crime Library, Anthony Bruno lays it all out:
At the turn of the 20th century in America, Italian immigrant extortionists used the mysterious name, the Black Hand, to scare their targets into paying their demands, lest they incur the wrath of some vast underground society.  In fact, these Black Handers were freelancers with no affiliation to any criminal organization.  Nevertheless, the innocent Italian immigrants they targeted believed that a Black Hand organization existed and knew very well that these extortionists generally followed through on their threats when they didn't get what they wanted. (more here)
For frightened immigrants with no grasp of English, a figure like Fanucci could easily step in as an arbiter of the law, a go-between. What Vito Corleone did that made him such a powerful figure (as we see over the course of his part in the film) was to destroy the ties and traps that still snared lesser men, like Clemenza, that led them to seek protection against the unfamiliar, or to pay their $100 to Don Fanucci --to cower from the idea of a mysterious faction without even giving it a second thought.

Similarly, the protagonists of 1970s young turk movies (like Coppola's) operated outside the illusion of government. The anti-establishment attempts of Easy Rider (1969) were the only law or 'rightness' in that film. Captain America and Billy maybe never made it to Florida, but Friedkin, Scorsese, and Coppola did. They pulled back the curtain, took one look at old Frank Morgan as Oz, and popped a cap in his cheek (and a tab on their tongues). They busted free. And until they fell down, bloated on their own evil budgets (and coke), operating out there, in the jungles, going insane like Coppola's Kurtz (or Friedkin in the rainforest making Sorcerer; Cimino making Heaven's Gate out west), man did they soar.

The realization that one's own fears, one's fight-or-flight need to feel like someone out there is in charge, that reality means something concrete, makes one a slave, and the guts to just cast off the chains and leave the parade, to realize no one's coming to chase you, that's the big LSD awakening. It not only gives you the awareness of that terrifying 'no one is in charge / reality is an illusion' truth, it gives you the guts to handle embodying its lessons, to follow the Fanucci in your life, and pop a few in his brain and heart -- symbolically of course.

At the same time, you realize you are the Fanucci. You feel every bullet.

Watching this scene on my analog blurry (and cropped) VHS dupe, the bullet holes Vito makes in Fanucci's head and white vest in the infamous vestibule scene seem absurdly tiny for his massive bulk. When shot, he whirls around like a puppet whose master has tangled his strings; his mouth all a- grimace, a bit like Monotsatos, the evil servant of Sarastro, in Mozart's The Magic Flute. And like Monostatos, from a mythic archetypal vantage, Fanucci too is an 'evil servant' - he's chosen personal gain over altruism and what's worse, he thinks that all he wants is a little love, a little respect, just enough to whet his beak.

In the muddy 90s, this section of the film always seemed to be popping up late at night when I was reeling from the effects of some mind-bending substance (I think it came on after 'Psych-Out' on my VHS), and Fanucci's face looked on my blurry VHS like a grotesque theater clown, His last gasps, a mix of profound awareness, surprise and seeming attempts to react in a heroic manner, are all undone by his rapid loss of blood and bodily functioning. He tries to snarl and chokes on it. He realizes, it seems, in a split second, he's going to die before he even gets to spit out a single syllable of some defiant curse at his killer. At the same time, seeing this while in the post-peak period of an LSD trip,  thrust outside the reach of the linear space-time guardrails, we too are unable to give full expression to the intense sensory input one is experiencing in the dark auburn Gordon Willis lighting of the hallway that is the late night of our lives. We all have our Fanucci moment: the death of a loved one, a brutal break-up, a car accident, or taking a whole tab when you should have taken a half, the question is, what do we do with it? Do we cower, or do we stand up and dissolve into the ether like a man, a blood-soaked, pain-wracked but still standing mobster? It doesn't matter to the world, but it matters to us -well not even us, and that's what's so freeing, so terrifying, yet so comical.

It's interesting also to note how Fanucci's death scene mirrors the opening of this particular Vito period segment: it begins at the theater, with the poor Italian immigrant opera singer threatening to kill himself (above) because he just learned his mama is dead back in Naples. In the scene immediately following, Fanucci steps backstage and threatens Vito's skittish paisan's alleged girlfriend for her papa's box office money.  Meanwhile the character onstage in the play has lost his mama, but what's really got him down is the realization his tie to 'home' in Italy no longer exists, Mama Mia! We never see the mother die - it is only a letter, a signifier of something he'd otherwise not know about, just as the idea of 'the Black Hand' doesn't really exist beyond the imagery conjured up by Fanucci. Note that this scene may have been based on a real life case involving Caruso:
It wasn't uncommon for a child to be kidnapped and a severed finger delivered back to the parents to convince them to pay the ransom.  In 1905 a Brooklyn butcher was gunned down in his shop for ignoring an extortionist's demand for $1,000.  The famous opera tenor Enrico Caruso paid a demand for $2,000 when he received a threatening letter signed with a black-ink palm print.

There's the Black Hand cultivating wives' tales with their propensity for violence and then there's that old wives' tale of the LSD user eating a live cat for the 'experience,' a fable I'm not sure I believe so much as remember from my halcyon days. Not that I did, but while you're peaking even a stalk of celery can seem like you're eating a live cat. You can hear the screaming in the crunch, feel the claws in the severed tendrils of the inner stalk. The piece in your hand is like Rhode Island being unmoored from the North American continent, like Jupiter adrift in space; every gesture leaving trails that make it seem like you're wielding a dozen arms, like Vishnu on a bender. In the amber dimness of the apartment doorway where Fanucci is gunned down, a similar collapse of time and space occurs, making my many views of it under the influence in past decades no mere accident. What collapses is not just a man, but the distance between the busy throngs of Manhattan and the Catholic ceremony going on outside in the street; the old world theater, with its constant shuffling of crowds in and out during performances all collapsed into itself like a dwarf star, shrunk away into nothing but a few red holes in a white suit. Every time Fanuccie dies I feel the bullets; I burst out laughing from my chest at his grotesque expression, at the bewilderment and anger pulsing out of his face and mine, the realization in the second before he dies that he'll never get to make his last macho boast, his last beak-whet, his last salut.

Thus the Fanucci murder sequence is  the LSD breakthrough moment, the hinge on which turns the wheel that cuts off the head of the imprisoned delegates of the old world, the quintessence of what I like to call "The Dissolving Father" of 1970s cinema.

The concept of the dissolving father is best elaborated in two stages, before and after: the before is the Mad Men era of JFK - the authority figure as one who enjoys the finer things --smoking, women, and martinis-- but who is also a family man at a time when that meant being a provider to a housewife and children, and maid, and maybe gardener. He must be a benevolent and canny ruler who can mix business with pleasure while asserting his dominance without tapping his manly reserves. His womanizing is part of his charm and so he is always partly exposed to judgment, but society hasn't caught up with him yet. He is silver fox-stage Cary Grant or Gary Cooper, mixing drinks in their state of the art Manhattan bachelor pads (the wives are up in Westchester) for girls young enough to be their granddaughters. 

The after, the historical finish of the dissolve, occurs in the1980s, with all such behavior in our leaders thought of as suspect and the attention turned to an endangered child--poor Vito alone on the boat to America--vulnerable to predators because both his parents work or are dead and so en absentia, the grotesque 'anal father' of Freud and Lacan returns from the shadows, a patched-up Fanucci unaware he's about to get re-punctured by his hockey mask-wearing bastard (or Cimmerian barbarian) 'other' son, the lost prodigal who's been in gladiator school all the while dad's been at the love-in. The only survivor of this 1980s purging is the 'final dad' - he mirrors the slasher movie 'final girl' in his sexless androgyny. To survive he makes his voice high and effeminate when he talks to his kids, deferring power to the mom in all things, a meek co-breadwinner terrified of being rejected by his offspring to the point they have no other choice.

The dissolving father is the tragic figure of the 1970s, his once inarguable power now slipped away - the institutions he used to signify now little more than meaningless totems.  Of course this is supposed to happen anyway if you are to fully mature and become the father (regardless of gender or age) and learn there is no there there. In LSD parlance, you become 'experienced' and hip to the whole cosmic flim-flam. It's as if there are two--you and pops-- in a sealed room, and then just one. But like Poe's William Wilson, or, say, Scanners, it's not like you are still there, and yet neither did you leave. So just how did you become the other person? What was the alchemical formula that dissolved the father and left you in charge? When you put a murderous old world Italian and an innocent new world upstart into a vestibule, only one emerges - a now-murderous upstart. Or didn't you realize, until this very day, it was Barzini all along?

Historically the father dissolved as a result of changing dynamics in the workplace and at home; as the suburbs became more and more isolated, the nuclear family was more and more cut off from older generations, the outer world more hostile from the family's lack of direct participation in it. Since both mother and father go to work all day, the children grow up watching TV, and if the father comes home the best he can do in the way of demonstrative mastery is change the channel from cartoons to the news - an effective display in the 1970s when there was only one television in the house - but by the 1980s we all had at least two. It's mirrored brilliantly in the arc of the Godfather, as depicted in the images above with their use of cleansing fire: Fanucci is the old world father - making a grandly conspicuous show of his connection to the people down at the crowded festival, the celebration of fire as a cleansing spirit, giving rebirth to the community spirit; above him stalks Vito along the empty rooftop, alone, the grim chimneys and windows like fortress battlements or tombstones, a place no one has bothered to 'fix up' to look-a nice, a place without symbols and ceremony, where all traces of pleasure and decadence, anything to cloud a man's judgment and purpose, have been excised. The last fire Fanucci sees is cleansing him.

To bring it back to The Magic Flute, the murder of Fanucci is akin to the passage of the lovers through the test of Sarastro, the journey through the underworld with the writhing figures menacing from all sides, but are they even really there? Not this time --only onstage, maybe. Vito realizes the same thing, that in a sense Fanucci's threats are 'not real' just as the phantoms of the underworld only seem real to Tamino, who then becomes the new Sarastro, for he inherits the burden of authority, the status as ultimate signifier --he has been given the secret which is of course that there is no secret.  There is no special power that comes with the job, only the belief held by others that there is such a power there, behind the visible. Vito's offering of the self as representative of order, as someone who is not afraid to stand in front of the chaotic void and assure the rest of them there really is a man behind the curtain. Only you, the new void stander, knows the truth: old Oz has actually been dead for years, and you're the one who shot him! You see the blood on your hands, or at any rate, in your hands, swimming through the blue veins, ever ready to come out and turn red in the grimy air of the LES, and the darkness always waiting to engulf you, always just a broken bulb away. But the others, the small fry, your familia, they see only your iron skin. This gives them the assurance they need to go on --it's worth any amount of beak-whetting, is it not?

LSD reveals all these things, because it draws back every curtain and if you cling to outmoded morals and fear, pay Fanucci or get all paranoid about the passing cops, you're headed for a bummer trip, little better than the kid who's afraid to cross the street against the traffic light even though there's no car for miles, or refuses to jump off the cliff when all his friends below are splashing away without him, citing the lack of a lifeguard. Authority is a placebo, as all the LSD kids know this, and so does Hyman Roth. Michael, we're bigger than US Steel. You'd never guess Roth was rich the way he lives, or that he hates the Corleones by the way he acts. There's no need to be mean or a braggart when you're fully awake, by which I mean ever-aware of your own mortality, and that of others.

Fanucci is the old world type of deep oak patriarch, the one called 'the terrible father,' the odious ruler who makes a spectacle of his own enjoyment, who insists on being seen enjoying. Witness his conspicuousness at the Sen Gennaro festival at the puppet show when he makes a joke about it being "too violent" for him, and turns around expecting the whole crowd to meet his gaze and break out in approving laughter. When they don't there's a flicker of shame that passes over his face, before he blocks it away with a smirk and moves on. This grandstanding exposes Fanucci as an easy target for a man as streamlined and rid of all personal pleasures as Vito, who has developed the mix of exterior compassion and the canny ability to use the granting of favors as a kind of paperless, untraceable, untaxable currency, and who has mastered the ability to repress anger and then kill in cold blood. This is the 'gift' of bravery, and it's what any successful space cowboy also has, for he must keep a straight face when, for example, his walls are crawling with mutant tentacled wallpaper pattern demons and has to walk past oblivious parents in order to get to the sanctuary of his bedroom, and they're bound to come in and pester him with banalities and he knows one wrong word and he'll be laughing hysterically on the floor while they phone the rehab.

The look of a cobra, couched
CODA: What takes the old world's place? We never really know until it's too late, and Vito's son has distilled the teachings of his father into remorseless sociopathy.  Thus our world is forever shrinking, dissolving and dissipating, and the father as ultimate signifier dissolves with a few shots from a flaming napkin. The shots of red dot blotter that set you free and threw back the curtain on the bullet-riddled corpse of your paternal Other are now wearing off. You're coming down, down... and somewhere, far down the street, some angry youth is making is way towards you, still up, along the rooftops. When you see him admiring his dilated pupils in the mirror, all young and stupid, don't snort in derision. He's about to pull back your wizard curtain. So get out the gift bag, pass him his diploma, and then die... like a real-a Fanucci!

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