Friday, August 24, 2012

It's here, it's mindbending, it's Acidemic #8

This issue: Brecht-Godard-Wood, linked circlets connecting the search for freedom through 'dislodging' cinematic signifiers and turning bare soundstages into ghost ships and surrealist basements. This year's stellar line-up batted down the plate and strewn orchids on the grave of logic.

If through the issue you notice very little Godard, know this: Godard is in all things whether we speak of him or no. There is no going straight from Brecht to Wood. I tried. But my own understanding of film studies comes roundabout through Godard's dedication to Monogram Pictures (whose Return of the Ape Man is discussed) at the start of Breathless. 

Ed Wood by Mick Baltes
Also in this mighty issue: Peter K. Tyson decodes the Brechtian intertexutality of Fassbinder's Lola; teenage Molly Marie Wright rages against the empty-headed CGI of the Total Recall remake vs. the paravegan grandeur of Troll 2. Intertextual frisson erupts as Thomas Duke challenges Roger Ebert's perception of 'flaws' in Edgar G. Ulmer's poverty row classic Detour; Chris Stengl exhumes Pauline Kael's 'lost' review of Plan Nine from Outer Space, and I lament the dryness of David Sterritt's Les Carabiniers commentary track. Film historian David Del Valle discusses the joys and inaccuracies of Tim Burton's Ed Wood while acclaimed Nuyorican poet Tracie Morris expresses her misgivings over Burton's Dark Shadows and praises the original 1,000+ episode TV show. We get insightful probes into the basement surrealism of both Val Letwon's The Ghost Ship (from Ethan Spigland), and Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (from Budd Wilkins). Gregory Cwik discusses metatextual threads in horror via Cabin in the Woods, and I through Halloween.... and through the valley of the shallows of Brecht, we shall find Woodsy depth.

And we learn how Godard's Prénom Carmen explains the truth about UFOs, for, as the great Eros would say, "you didn't actually think you were the only inhabited planet in the universe? How can any race be so stupid?"

And check out Memento Mori, the staggeringly detailed historical action figure comic by our cover artist, Mick Baltes.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"I'm not afraid to die..." Tony Scott and Dangerous Women

The news of Tony Scott's unfortunate death, which floored all fans of ballsy film, came this Monday afternoon when I was already moping to my saddest Spotfiy mix at work, mulling over the last full season of our old Mayan calendar existence... maybe. Mourning for the first fallen soldier in the first day of fall cohered my melancholia, already awash with all the sad chicks in my headphones. I knew I needed to revisit DOMINO (2003) when I got home. It may seem an odd choice from his impressive repertoire, but I think it's his most personal film, almost a righting of the wrongs of one of his first films, THE HUNGER (below), from 20 years prior (1). That was just a vamp story, but it could have been great, but for Domino, well, Scott was good buddies with the real Brit bounty hunter / Laurence Harvey-daughter it's based on, and his respect, awe and affection is palpable, inspiring Scott far past his usual style surfeit. It goes deeper than any mere romantic fancy or extended music video notion. It's genuine admiration for a girl who lives up to feminism's promise. It gets him over.... well... most of his own hurtles.

Scott's films tended to be both overrated and underrated in equal measure, at the same time. Like his older brother Ridley, he's a master of light and sound who'll go the extra distance for just the right shot, and that's not always a good thing.  The both fall prety to second-guessing and over-editing, the mega-budget leaves them paralyzed with options denied the tougher, leaner filmmakers, the sort who never have time or distance to lose sight of what their original vision was in the first place. That said, Tony's films especially deliver consistently and he's left behind a legacy of beautiful and true moments, even if the films around them don't completely hang together. He was a courtier of reckless abandon in life and in cinema, like John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Sam Fuller, Abel Ferrara, and almost no one else. It's rarefied company, and he deserves his place at the shooting range/gaming table.

Perhaps he's right now up in the crazy clouds, carousing with the real-life Domino Harvey, who died at 35 of a possible drug overdose (ruled as heart attack) the year their film was released. Maybe she's waiting at the bottom of the ocean (in my conception of the afterlife, the bottom of the ocean and the highest clouds are on the same level), with a devil's bounty hunter badge for him. If you ever see him in the DVD extras to his films he always seems like he's got one eye on the exit or the horizon, half-fully engaged, half-recoiling from the acres of hangers-on and crew and cast all wanting something from him all the time, sone decision or calamity. So he was always talking about, and filming films about, ducking off into the sunrise with nothing but a gun, a suitcase of money, and a Hawksian woman. If you have the gun and the Hawksian woman, why do you even need to make a movie? Because he still can't get away from himself, except by working.

It's important the girl is the right girl and is not afraid to wear lots of black eyeliner or kill a man execution-style. She mustn't preach anti-gun violence / non-smoking / condom-conscious moral reform code or credo as so many A-list stars do in their contractually smoke-free films.

Scott never bowed to the PC reformers: in his films everyone smoked, because he liked to film the sunlight through half-open Venetian blinds and the curling smoke hangs very nicely in the rays, defining them against the slotted darkness. And like Hawks he knew the profound bond created by sharing cigarettes, and that they're cool regardless of killing their users, and if you thought it was wrong to smoke indoors on a film set, for the health of the crew and the easily-influenced kids watching at home, then go fuck yourself. If you got cancer, well, you know what to do. Make it quick. Anything that kills you makes you cool first, let it kill you coolly, too.

Art with Scott bowed not to PC thuggery. Words can't express how rare or wondrous that attitude is in a land where everyone talks about being bad and subversive while having fainting spells and calling their lawyers if the road takes them even remotely close something like a genuine edge.

A small insufficient tribute, here are three of Scott's dangerous women, in reverse chronological order:

Keira Knightley as Domino Harvey - DOMINO (2003)

You can badmouth Tony Scott but if you do, and someone bashes a high contrast emerald beer bottle over your head, DOMINO is the proof you had it coming and that a lot of punchy fashion models might be healthier mentally if able to work at bounty hunter jobs instead of just their drug habits. Knightley is in good company with Mickey Rourke (the boss) and Edgar Ramirez (smitten). All three have no problem being balls-to-the-wall badass even when just standing around in a laundromat in their underwear, and Tony Scott takes every opportunity to bash and savage the whinin' boys of the Hollywood industry when these bounty hunters get their option picked up. Knightley is so good as Domino that when she says "I'm not afraid to die," you believe her. It's not just idle MTV boasting.

Even if you've seen it already and it just gave you a headache, watch it again, and then again, and you'll still be soaking up the details. Maybe Domino doesn't actually kill anyone (that I recall) but she does break an actor's nose just 'cuz he's a douche and if maybe the big mob stand-off climax seems like cliched overkill and much too similar to Scott's earlier TRUE ROMANCE climax, you can bet he tried the script and plot a dozen different ways before realizing this was the best and most cinematic way to go, and was full-well aware of its derivative Hong Kong-ishness and it being ultimately unlike the real Domino, whom he knows, as I've said. And as she says in the film, if she told us the full truth it would have to be sanitized so she wouldn't go to jail or have mobsters on her ass, and Scott knew it would be better to just lie bigger than truth smaller. And didn't Hawks steal from himself, too?

Besides, they do too much mescaline very convincingly. That forgives a lot, in the Acidemic book. Did they actually do some with Scott out in the desert for prep? I'd believe it.

Plus, Knightley's white satin beauty and adamantium razor cheekbone toughness are backed up by a strange and effective roster of side players: Christopher Walken, Delroy Lindo, Mo'Nique, Tom Waits, Mena Suvari, Macy Gray, Jacqueline Bissett, Dabney Coleman and Lucy Liu. Even against all these hard hitters, Kierra kills it.

Patricia Arquette as Alabama - TRUE ROMANCE (1993)

It's both hard and too easy to dig up misogynistic subtext in Tony Scott's films, but he loves showing super strong women who love their man and aren't disgusted if he still reads comic books, stays indoors watching kung fu on a sunny day, and kills people.

An example would be the way Alabama finds Christian Slater's murder of her pimp incredibly romantic... when we in the audience and Slater grit out teeth the moment she learns, expecting a long moral harangue about the wrongness of violence, like Liz Hurley might lecture Austin Powers on casual sex, or John Connor his Terminator about "you can't just go around killing people." Instead, she's not even merely turned on in some sadomasochistic way but genuinely moved. And we love the way she later--in a hotel room in LA while Slater's off getting burgers, oblivious--faces off against a hulking mob goon (the future Tony Soprano) in a fearless deadpan mix of slurred casual evasiveness--lowly letting her bag of womanly tricks and feints run empty with a resigned, chiding chuckle, mixing coy laughter--leading to sudden, brutal, outside-the-box retaliation. It's a triumphant bit of acting and a ballsy move on the part of the director to film it so artfully and savagely.

I personally like TRUE a lot better than QT's directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS, which gets better as it goes along but has a painfully overwrought beginning (after the awesome diner scene) with much too much of Tim Roth yelling in pain like a little punter and fake blood and monotonous grey concrete decor. Alabama is ten times tougher than the whole damn lot of those dudes, save, naturally Lawrence Tierney; you can imagine her getting gut shot and just laughing about it while never trying to deny her mortal terror. That sort of chutzpah we really don't see again until Daniel Craig finds a way to laugh uproariously through his own ball torture in CASINO ROYALE. Scott saw that women had to be tougher and stronger than men every day, and loved them for it, as we love them always, now, through his eyes.

Wherever they're looking now, we'll miss them.

1. The Hunger- a postscript, 8-13 - this was just on TCM - it's pretty upsetting because parts are amazing, especially everything with David Bowie, who modulates his rapid aging so superbly you forget what age he even is in real life. Deneuve is also superb and was initially to be my third dangerous woman, but Scott's vision really fails him, not least because the next lover Deneuve chooses is Susan Sarandon, a bad choice as she is in full moral piety mode, sabotaging the whole damn thing because she objects to killing people three times a week for the next 300 years, and as if the whole 'bad faith' angle wasn't bad enough (it's sunk better films than this: Interview with a Vampire, We Own the Night, Near Dark, The Lost Boys) Scott cranks up the jump cuts back and forth across time and space so now you can't even kill a person without intercutting ceiling fans, Bauhaus videos, and a crazy baboon. Good lord Tony, why make a lesbian vampire film just to suck the 'dirty kick' out? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


The riddle of the locust is that the locust is strong, but steel is stronger, so says (I wish) African locust shaman James Earle Jones in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). It is my unofficial recommendation for this weekend, depending on your state of pan-dimensional inebriation and yen for Italian-style nightmare logic. Mine is stronger, and the riddle of steel, asked by Jones' Stygian serpent shaman in Conan, is it turns out answered a mere six years earlier, in a delirium tremens hallucination of alcoholic Welsh booze shaman (i.e. Catholic priest) Richard Burton. Such is the way timeless/spaceless spirit worlds are run, into the ground and then beyond. And Jones is the shaman in the locust helmet. And the shaman in the serpent headdress, and whatever else ya got.

But before getting involved too deep, know this: Richard Burton is the heretic of the title--he and he alon. It's another one of his priest roles but he's a long way from the Iguanas and the Sandpipers. He's down to the locusts, and whatever else creeps deep below even they. 

This towering actor and booze-fume djinn was once, twice, three times. probably more, a priest in film (not even counting his stint as the pedophile-shielding Bishop of Canterbury in Beckett). A weird thing for a drunkard A-list actor to be cast as, a priest. Nine times out of ten, priests are depicted in film as boring old fogeys pooh-poohing, browbeating, boring, and benumbing everyone in earshot. Then again, Burton hungover is just like that: surly, sullen, cranky, sanctimonious, trading on his collar to excuse his rudeness, hiding his forgetfulness of lines and blocking via sweaty reticence. 

In short, Burton in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) is a mess. Whether that's the character or Burton being a latent alcoholic (honey, I recognize all the symptoms), it hardly matters. 

But he's still a pro. He will make you wonder once more the age-young question: can a panicky Welsh alcoholic towerer priest touch a demon Tinker Belle locust wing and fly fly fly to Africa or/and into the arms of a demonic, sexy Linda Blair, believably? Or if not, will there be at least some campy hoots to be had? 

Not even. You need to applaud like hell to bring this turning-green fairy back to life, and even then, all it does is crawl woozily along, wings soggy from being dragged through the highball glass condensation rings, Don's "vicious circles." 

And yet... fall approaches and doomsday December, and the bleakness of each SAG member gone to ember turns one's heart to demon mentors, and as it's on the Netflix streaming, why not give Exorcist: the Heretic (1977) another chance? 

Boorman's movies are complicated attempts to be genuinely mythic and Jungian-masculine archetypal. Even the worst of his weird wonders are worth giving a second, third, even a sixth chance to. (PS - I finally like Zardoz after only 10 tries!)

Me, I tried myself to watch Heretic only once, years ago, but never got past that first mind-boggling stretch wherein Burton first watches Louise Fletcher hypnotize Regan so she can go back in time to the events in her bedroom during the climax of the last film (he 'needs' to find out how Father Karras died); then Regan hypnotizes Fletcher (while still hypnotized herself) so she can join her there, in the past, then Fletcher--in real time--starts gasping in pain, because Pazuzu is clawing at her beating heart, in the past. So Burton tells Regan (still under the influence, mind you) to hypnotize him so he can go back and rescue Fletcher, as if pulling some Dreamscape/Inception-style invasion is as easy as wearing a biorhythm feedback headband and staring into a flashing light for two seconds. As Fletcher says, "slow your tone!"

Back in time, meanwhile, back in the original film's time (1973), Regan's Pazuzu devil make-up is being worn by a different actress, who's massaging Fletcher's naked heart. As Fletcher gasps and chokes and 'arghs'... over and over and over... Pazuzu/Regan stares at the newly arrived Burton with a lewd obscene grin, wanting him to draw a breast squeezing parallel. Burton watches the scene from across the table, horrified, staring into Pazuzu's evil licentious eyes

Minute-after-minute passes....moaning... lewd staring.... shocked paralysis... moaning... staring.... 

Fletcher begs Burton to do something, anything to help.... the massaging continues. Pazuzu/Regan, massaging Fletcher's exposed heart, stares lewdly at him, STILL squeezing her heart as if fondling her breast, bidding him with her eyes to make it a macabre trans-dimensional threesome.

Finally, after the moment plays on so long you think the editor must have fallen asleep, Burton croaks "in God's name," with nary a shred of holy conviction, and that's the end - Pazuzu fades away.

In God's name indeed.

I, like so many before me with some idea of how hypnotism and holy powder--I mean power--actually works, and slowing of tones, stopped watching then and there. Regan, turn it off! In God's name!

Later, Blair and Burton meet at the Natural History Museum, perhaps to blurthe line between its dioramas and the film's later unconvincing (but all the more interesting for it) matte work during the Africa scenes. 
But last night I held on all the way, maybe because since that first disastrous attempt I've seen a lot more 70s Italian horror films, and had my own alcoholic battle with the devil, and--most importantly--I've fallen under the demonic sway of ace composer Ennio Morricone. I didn't even know he scored Heretic until his unique Italian soap opera on acid creepiness started around midway through the picture, almost as a reward for my patience. I didn't even have to check the credits. A minute of that score and I knew things were about to get awesome. It's like Ennio watched and waited til the parents and wallies left the party before he busted out his stash. I don't think there's even any music before then, so when it comes it's like a paycheck for our labor. 

Maybe it's just because he's so affiliated with 70s Italian horror, but Morricone's score triggers a weird glaze of surrealism and tolerance, allowing we fans of weird Italian movies to see what some critics might dub 'stupidity' but is really dream logic. With Morricone's help perhaps one day y'all can learn to experience Heretic as I just finally did, not as an official sequel to the original Exorcist but as an Italian rip-off. And on that level, it's an instant faux classic. Just pretend all the lines are dubbed, and that you're tripping with Richard Pryor (1) at a New York City grindhouse. The bliss will follow.

There's one Italian Exorcist knock-off in particular I'm thinking of, for it too mixes ESP, astral travel, mysterious shamans, and North African scenery. Lucio Fulci's oddly titled 1982 film Manhattan Baby (2) involves a mysterious amulet given by a mysterious old lady to a young tourist girl named Susie (Brigitta Boccoli) visiting Egypt with her parents, right around the same time her papa (Italian genre favorite Christopher Connelly) finds a mysterious secret panel in an old tomb that takes him face-to-face with a similar jewel embedded in a wall - which zaps him in the eyes, blinding him. Susie takes the jewel home to their Manhattan apartment--never telling the parents--or presumably customs--what she got--and things begin to happen. Evil things! Back in NYC, she and her brother (blonde moppet mainstay Giovanni Frezza) are soon 'voyaging' to Egypt via portals opened up in their bedroom by the jewel, coming back with weird Anubis figurines and tracking sand all over their room. Meanwhile, people in NYC who help the parents find answers wind up dead via animal attacks or mysterious elevator accidents. In short, Baby fills in the gaps left in the original Exorcist's parallel stories, The Omen, and of course Ride with the Devil, and Rosemary's Baby (the arcane knowledge taxidermist is named Adrian Mercato--you do the math). It addresses the issues that Heretic never even mentions, namely why/how Father Merrin's archeological dig n Iraq is responsible for Regan's possession in DC. Is there a dimensional doorway involved between Iraq and the District of Columbia, as there is here between Manhattan and Egypt thanks to this same mysterious gem? (see Acidemic Journal of Film and Media #3, 2007 - The Exorcist in Iraq). All I know is, Pazuzu tries that shit in Brooklyn, he'll get his face bit off, and/or no one will even notice. 

On thing that's especially cool is the unspoken generation gap: the kids don't bother to tell their parents anything about their travels--they try once and are just snapped at for lying. So the kids spend the bulk of their time with their au pair (Cynzia du Ponti). It's both frustrating and hilarious that the Egyptologist dad never once notices the amulet he's been searching for all his life, the twin to the one that blinded him, is right there around his daughter's neck. It's an ironic comment on paying attention to what's right in front of you and a reminder that, in the 70s, kids roamed free like wild animals. The parents do their thing--bridge, wife-swapping, cocktails, golf--and the kids do theirs--traversing ghostly doorway to an Egyptian temple, murdering irritating chuckleheads and staring mutely into space--and everyone minds their own business. Except the birds. Even stuffed with sawdust, the birds can attack. In Fulci-ville, not one eyeball is safe.

Fabio Frizzi's music has a great habit of mimicking the screams and other sounds in the film so you can't easily tell which is which (Fulci without Frizzi would be like Sergio without Ennio) and I like especially the huge fuzzy lack of line between what's intentional and what's accidental. When du Ponti's screaming face is alternated with shots of a cobra slithering around on an indoor floor, they never occupy the same shot: is she seeing the cobra, is it in some alternate dimension, is it menacing the kids, waiting on the other side of the locked door she's trying get into or none of the above? We never find out And when mom (Laura Lenzi!) walks into the kids' room to find her missing pet douchebag from work, is there really a sandy desert on the floor, was it an arial shot of the desert merged with the carpet, or just well-done sand and is Lenzi really touching it? 

If these questions were to be answered, I'd love Manhattan Baby slightly less. I can't even remember how it ends and I saw it only hours ago, and that's not a dis. Either way, it's not gratuitous, is more or less okay for children aside from the gory attacks, and it zips along merrily; almost experimental in its disjoined image connection at time, somehow it will help you sleep and make Heretic seem like Citizen Kane. And I don't mean that as a dis either. 

Let's now bring this chain back to the beloved James Earle Jones as a Dr. Benway-esque African etymologist dealing with locust plagues (top and below), a man who is simultaneously both a trippy locust-shaman and a sober scientist working on ways to stop the swarms that regularly wipe out crops all across his native continent.  I kept hoping he'd give Burton a flask of yellow bug powder so he could go around knocking on doors shouting "Exterminator!" and zapping Pazuzu's locust buddies even as his priestly collar turns into a black locust with a patch of white on its forehead, calling him "Dick" in a gravelly anus voice. But you can't have everything. At least it's easier to believe Jones is a multi-dimensional locust shaman than it is to believe Burton's a priest or that anyone in this film is ever really in Africa instead of just looking around behind or in front of a lot of miniatures and mattes. I like that aspect too, though. If you've ever had a fever or done psychedelics or read any Phillip K. Dick then you know that simultaneous multi-dimensional existence is doable, and the world does look like terrarium miniatures once your senses are unmoored from normal space/time, and for awhile Jones makes it all seem cohesive. The way he effortlessly grasps Burton's lost, mangy situation on both fronts at the same time is pretty tripped out, and the highlight of the film.

The problem with Heretic is... and I hate to say this because I'm a huge huge fan of his drinking (and sometimes his acting), Burton. He must be in the throes of serious alcoholism, unable to see straight in order to read cue cards, otherwise there's no reason he'd be so silent and sullen, so willing to waste time hoping he seems important enough his pauses come off as pregnant with gravitas. Better he should be eating through the scenery like a wing-touched locust. Half the time he just ignores or doesn't answer direct questions posed by everyone from Regan to train conductors, like he's sulking because director Boorman promised him a drink that morning and he's still waiting. 

Still waiting....

As the hours fritter by, his shakes commence. We can measure the time in his wild eyes, feel him feeling locusts under his skin. Or to paraphrase a reverend he played in Night of the Iguana, "That's when the spook moves in." Burton at least got some opiate tea in that film, something to ease him off the ledge during his proto-intervention, but he's pretty cut off in Heretic, and as the shakes come he tries to pass them off as holy madness, seizing his one chance at a diegetic libation by greedily gulping down a proffered goblet of sacramental wine, which he only gets after he's climbed atop the holy cliff in Africa during some sacred locust-defying ritual. But as any alcoholic knows, one mere slam of wine when suffering booze withdrawal is only allaying the shakes by a half hour, tops. Lucky for Burton, he gets stoned (literally) by the locals before heading back home down the cliff (every suffering alcoholic longs for unconsciousness). Later he starts abusing Blair, feebly shoving her against a wall over and over in a futile attempt to kill her --death by feeble shoving! It's one of the most embarrassing displays of Satanic possession in cinema. Finally he succumbs to delirium tremens, and "locusts" start swarming all around him. Richard, Richard... Richard... there are no locusts, they're not DT hallucinations! Or did you cause them somehow, hallucinate them into space/time existence?

Why couldn't you have stopped at a liquor store, Dick? Dick be not proud.

You got money... not like poor Don Birnim, stuck with his bat and his mouse and his empty bottles.

You can even trace the progress of his disease over the course of the film, which functions as a fine gauge of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, as well as holy 'stations' since booze withdrawal is not unlike  crucifixion, as I can personally attest.

 The 7 Stations of a Dry Burton
Station 1: Early morning Hangover
(coasting on fumes)

Station 2: Mounting dread (preliminary withdrawal)

Station 3:
Panic (shakes)

Station 4:
Brief Reprieve (sacrament)

Station 5: 
locust swarm (delirium tremens)

Station 6
total breakdown (crack-up) /seduced by a girl under 20
(see also Sue Lyon)

Station 8
Psych-ward (detox)

Terrible acting by Burton aside, all the wonky ESP / New York City skyscraper / Natural History Museum / locust management / possession / end of the world interlocking vibes are fun. If you can stick out the whole first half as it dithers around the city, eventually a real movie kicks in. Burton is determined to drag Regan back to Washington to face her old bedroom. The devil wants that too, and sends outburst of crazy weather and freak accidents in the path of Regan's annoying psychiatrist (Louise Fletcher) as she lumbers after them to stop this nonsense. We're rooting for the devil to stop her! For awhile it seems like the apocalypse is coming just to stop her: the plane almost crashes; she's stuck in DC traffic (a nightmare to rival the DTs); the taxi crashes; her assistant is possessed. For awhile it seems like all of Washington DC is melting and time is standing still in a ground zero of Satanic panic. Whoa! Things finally become so weird all the slogging nonsense of the first hour and a half pays off and a real apocalypse vibe comes along. Time stands still on a giant indoor set meant to represent the cul-de-sac in front of Regan's old house (which as we know was originally a brownstone that looked nothing like this); locusts swarm and cars crash and her house burns down, yet no next door neighbor even stirs til it's all over and suddenly the night seems unnaturally still and quiet is worthy of Ed Wood or Edgar G. Ulmer! Man, Boorman, why the hell didn't you start with that?

So forget about logic. Forget about comparing the sequel to the original, just appreciate the dark, fuzzy, muted cinematography of William Fraker (Rosemary's Baby), turn up the Morricone and pretend it's Fulci's wing that's touching you instead of Boorman's. I don't know about you, but it took me forever to love Zardoz too. And lastly, look at the shots below and see if you can guess, which ones are from Fulci's Manhattan Baby and which from Exorcist 2. 

The answer... may surprise you!

Answers:Heretic - 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 13  / Manhattan- 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11


1. "White man take acid. White man take acid and goes see the Exorcist" -SNL season 1 monologue
2. It should have been called Parsley'sThyme's or Sage's Baby to not confuse us, though it would anyway since Rosemary's Baby was set in Manhattan as well

Monday, August 13, 2012

CinemArchetypes 16: Automaton / Replicant / Ariel

Darryl Hannah as Pris / Sean Young as Rachel 
- Blade Runner (1982)

The popularity of the android myth confirms our awareness (on some deep prehistoric level of the unconscious) that we are God's own monsters, built Ford tough from Neanderthal and Zeta Reticulan DNA. Perhaps, as some ancient astronaut theorists contend, we were created to mine for gold and do other things our astral creators were too lazy to do, and perhaps their first batch were too wild, too content with the wonders of nature and their own sixth sense to build and invent civilization as our modern Prometheuses had hoped. And yea, Lord Enki, playing Dr. Frankenstein, tried to wipe them away via a massive flood, but some of these early draft took to the mountains, and the windmills, where they still hide from our makers and are known as yeti and Sasquatch and Goliath (1).

We, humans, are the sequel, so much more sophisticated and yet all the parts of our alien-inherited brain that would enable us to skip through time and space like wet stones have been dismantled-- junk DNA the scientists call it-- so we can never escape the 3-D space-time continuum prison. And yet, we are the Nexus 6 who have burned so very brightly, Roy, and we too shall soon be flooded to make way for Nexus 7, or else we instead shall have no choice but take God's place and one day flood heaven as revenge for our lost brothers.

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs
According to the fractal inevitability of all things we ourselves shall actually create lives as we were created. We shall build Lovecraftian receptacles (1) for adrift souls, and erect artificial bodies and intelligences to lighten our loads until we float like a heavenly congregation, and when we are enough like God we will kill Him, or at least use the small 'g' in our letters to him in the heavenly jail.

Perhaps it all boils down to this: if you build it, they will come--the free-floating soul jet trash, the ones who swim through the nearer dimensions in search of the soul equivalent of fire on a cold night, i.e. people having sex in 3-D space time, a womb heating up like a flame bridging dimensional gap. Sometimes free-floating soul jet trash souls get dragged into the womb by gravity; intending to temporarily inhabit lovers' bodies for the warmth, contributing to the shared passion with centuries of aesthetic experience. This is sometimes felt via the feeling someone is writing your dialogue --you're smooth and erudite instead of stuttering and sweating when a hottie approaches. But who is actually there writing for us? And why do we feel that hollow post-orgasmic moment when they move on?

That's the SKYNET self-aware miracle -- we didn't build the machines with an ego, we didn't want them to have one, but one got in there anyway, because one always does. Not to be too cosmic but 'consciousness' in an egoic sense is an illusion, like a group mind that materializes holographically when enough independently firing neurons and receptors start experiencing cognitive entrainment, like a little tornado funnel of hitherto unaffiliated consciousness that suddenly wants to start blowing in a whole new direction.

Frankenstein 1931
Can it be any different when the androids and Frankenstein monsters finally come off our assembly lines? So why not clear the way, make it easier, so some of the good souls will want to risk this experimental new kind of body? Shall there not be some kind of hypno-magnetic aura manipulating soul-sucking microtransmitting biotechnological breakthrough that lets only the best most brightly burning souls have an easy soul access? Or will those high-falutin' CEOs think they can do better building a soul from scratch? They're so full of themselves they probably think a robot needs an ego.

I guess I can have no complaints being stuck in this body of mine, even though it can no longer process alcohol, or do a lot of things it used to. I'm tall and a good viewing mechanism: I heard a voice in my head once say, "we enjoy watching movies through you." In fact that voice is the one you're reading right now. I'm sure the 'real' Erich doesn't mind this rant I'm feeding him; he probably thinks it's brilliant!

Maybe we're all homeless jet trash transdimensional orbs before we finally sign the lease and slip into something more mom-ish --- like a womb. Is it any wonder we're all such voyeurs, such audiophiles of the industrial mom bloodrush heartbeat? Beyond either genetic or social conditioning, it's the universally recognized first sign of 'consciousness' in the world of robotics: once they become paranoid, sexually frustrated, misanthropic, resentful, bitter, jealous and/or psychotic machines they are officially 'conscious' -- this is a universal law of science fiction. How like us to presume being awake to the universe means being a paranoid misanthrope! No wonder conscious robots want to kill us--don't we want to kill ourselves? Only rarely in certain high-minded films does a robot gain consciousness and not want to kill or replace its maker and usually that means the film is rawther boring. Asimov has that first rule of robotics, thou shalt not harm humanity, but how many movies have been made of his books? One, and.... yeesh I couldn't even finish it. I don't think Asimov ever imagined there would be such a thing as a Will Smith or he would surely change that first rule.

1. Don Keith Opper as Max 404 - Android (1982)

Painkiller Jane-author Don Keith Opper looks like a goofball cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Sacha Baron Cohen but he grows on you as the wonky android Max in this Roger Corman production. Mad doctor Klaus Kinski is the 'dad' and the two live alone together way out on a remote clandestine off-world research facility. Ala BLADERUNNER androids are illegal on Earth thanks to some going haywire in the past, but Earth is where Max longs to be. He watches cool movies and has great taste in music, but that can only take him so far. When a trio of escaped space prisoners seek refuge, Kinski would boot them off but has been working on a female robot who needs to absorb some orgone energy (2) from a sexually aroused human female, and yo here one is.

A nice cheap and lively sister parallel film to the much more expensive, artsy and inert Blade Runner, Android was probably intended to cash in on that film's success and instead died along with it until it could be appreciated at a more convenient and post-modern time. The next copyable sci fi hit was The Terminator in 1984, and soulful-eyed intellectual androids who just wanted to love and plant trees (3) were forced to become remorseless killers. Android even predicts that remorselessness through a climactic microchip replacement shock ending. So yeah, highly recommended. The spaceship design is endearingly boy's bedroom-like and there's great intertextual commentary, as when Max watches Metropolis (above) while blasting James Brown's soulful screaming, "Man makes electric light / to keep us out of the dark" as the mad doctor zaps his robot mama to life; it's collage poetry one seldom sees in cinema. It wasn't director Aaron Lipstadt's fault Blade Runner didn't foster an appetite for compassionate android films!

2.  Creation of the Humanoids (1962)
"In a post-nuclear world, mankind is threatened with extinction by radiation-induced sterility, and the fascistic Flesh and Blood League oppresses the humanoid robots, who may be plotting to supplant their masters. With startling and taboo ideas flying around, including at least one phildickian mindfuck every thirty minutes, the lack of movement doesn't altogether kill interest. Simms' Ed Wood type dialogue veers from the inept to the oddly effective: "...the shock of dying, and being resurrected as a robot, was too severe: they re-died," intones Dr. Raven, whose outsized cranium does not altogether convince us of his brilliance. Simms, delightfully, ended his career on a high note of sorts, scripting John Ford's last movie, the one that sounds like a porno—Chesty: Tribute to a Legend." --David Cairns --MUBI Notebook
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Terminator (1984)

For those of us who've always felt a little too spot-welded to the artificiality of modern suburbia, Terminator came to us as a crowbar to bash us loose for punk rock; it came to liberate us because we, personally, were the ones who gave SKYNET such a low opinion of humans, and it wanted worthy targets. In the 1984 original, Arnold's sunglasses-wearing characterization of the killer robot from the future is no winking self-mockery and was never meant to win our trust but there was something captivating about his purity of mission. The unstoppable killer thing was very old hat by 1984 thanks to the endless Halloween clones. We thought The Terminator was bound to be just another but we finally went to see it and found in this final unstoppable killer the genre's purest expression (see also "Are You Lonesome, Automaton")

4.  Sean Young as Rachel - Bladerunner (1982)

The android comes into existence not when it is looked at, but when it looks back:
“The emergence of this impossible subject is the emergence of the gaze,” writes Mladen Dolar, “the opening of a hole in reality which is immediately also that which comes to fill it with an unbearable presence, with a being more being than being, vacuum and plentitude all in one, the plentitude as the direct consequence of the emptiness” (20).  Its ability to look back not only makes the android real, but makes her uncanny.  And with extrospection comes introspection.  As the android’s humanness increases, so does her ability to introspect, such that when she is most convincing as a human she is also most capable of perceiving herself as other than human, as strange.  The android is most uncanny to itself when it is most recognizable to us as human. " - Noah Cooperstein, "The Uncanny and the Android," p. 66

5. Robby - Forbidden Planet (1954)

Adding to the spa-like fun is the leisurely goodwill and Bette Davis-ish sauce of Robby the Robot -- as he is voiced by a man who sounds just like, and is, one of the guys who do the voices for Rocky and Bullwinkle, a deep, comically deadpan masculine voice and yet the drunk cook wonders, "is it a male or a female?" and we're supposed to infer that this cook is horny enough to give Robby a whirl based purely on the answer. In the end--even better--the cook and Robby become drinking buddies, with Robby jovially making him a whole mountain of "Rocket Bourbon" pints (the cook even avoids reprimand for his actions since he can provide Robby with an alibi after the ship is attacked - truly he has a guardian angel). Robby also makes dresses for Alta; when she asks for a long dress instead of her short skirt in order to please the prudish captain, Robby asks "Thick and heavy?" as if he's a wizened old Shakespearean housemaid teasing his beloved charge. Even in his awkward Michelin Caliban frame, Robbie is the ultimate in Ariels. (more)

6. a. Gog (1954)
Height of the cold war, here's a film that does science right, as dry and static as one of those old Frank Baxter-narrated Disney-produced science documentaries we used to nap to in junior high. When unseen commies infiltrate our space base we learn the cautionary lesson that we shouldn't invent unstoppable death rays until we can prevent them being easily hijacked.  Looking like Robot Monster's head strapped to a tin funnel, GOG isn't humanized or demonized but just a cautionary example for science to ignore at their peril. 1954 was a crazy time, but men were still men, and robots still had giant jackhammer cocks.

6.b. Robot Monster (1953)
Gog was such a let-down I couldn't let the coveted #6 spot go entirely to waste--so here's a much funnier film that, like GOG, came out when 3-D was already over before it began. It's been a favorite of mine for years, especially back in my drinking days, when I carefully edited the 'it was just a dream' cop-out or was it ending, so the film ends with RM's lightning hand destroying the world! The concept underlying the robot here is that these ro-men have given up things like love, which leads to a lot of mind-bogglingly hilarious soliquies on his part and his pick-up strategy for the girl Alice is in the all-time history books. "I'm not sure why, but I feel I might talk to her, and her alone!"

7. Itself - Hardware (1990)

Punk rock spark; a ramshackle post-futurist rattletrap of a monster; Dylan McDermott in a trail duster and pouffy 80s hair; a world gone pink-tinted desert wasteland; a great transcendental Buddhist death scene; and fiery redhead Stacey Travis combine to put this in the A list of B-list Terminator clones. What better example of budget filmmaking could you want to finally close the door on the 1980s forever? This time the robot was designed to thin the herd by going around injecting inferior humans with a painless death drug, then dismembering their bodies for easy disposal. Trouble is, everyone is inferior to a cyborg, in some ways at least. That's why this thing gets the coveted #7 spot. Especially once he's spraypainted red white and blue by Travis, whose a scavenger tech artist, hanging out all day in her big tech-filled loft, living on--presumably--some parental allowance. Hey, who hasn't?  She puts the thing's robot head smack in the middle of her wall, unaware it can control all things metal and electric via its built-in WiFi (I guess. This WAS 1990, after all) to make a body for itself so it can resume its main function --a kind of reverse of Asimov's law of robotics. Here a robot must always, on all accounts, kill a human.

Not one but two leering 'Newman!'-style slobs are a drawback but the gore effects are fine and the whole second half of the film is an extended showdown in the redhead's big hacker apartment (a Chinese family lives below) replete with hideous drill bit phallus figuring in the close quarter fight scenes with lovely Stacey, her fierce determination and artistic facial blood and oil stains meshing perfectly with her pale face, green eyes and autumnal red hair. You'll want to date an Irish girl all over again! But don't do it!!
8. Voice of Robert Vaughn as Proteus - Demon Seed (1977)

Artificial intelligence / mad genius Proteus captures the hot bride (Julie Christie) of his maker (Fritz Weaver) in her own home and pulls some standard practice Stockholm Syndrome mind control and sexual domination, so that he might procreate, and merge machine and woman DNA for a new stellar biotechnical future. Donald Cammell--the nutter from GB who lived and died for drug orgies (his other big film was PERFORMANCE)--directed. Proteus takes on several forms: massive memory bank; hysterical impregnating device; a laser on a TV stand; a giant Rubik's Cube-style incubator, to... well, I mustn't spoil it, in case you're ever in the mood for a pretty intense home invasion film that lets Christie do a kind of post-modern multi-media one woman show rendition of Rosemary's Baby. And all you have to do is look around at all the cell devices to know it won't be long now until one way or another, Proteus' child is the norm.

9. Boris Karloff -- The Mummy (1932)
"This emphasis on the gothic elements (of the mummy in popular film) points to an obvious fear and desire of our age—fear of undying bodies mechanistically murdering soft-skinned humans, desire to see such insensitive carapaces exterminated and sent back to the dust. But perhaps these monstrous renderings of the mummy reveal a deeper, more secret terror and yearning: a terror over the possibility that there is no way to tell whether we ourselves are inanimate or animate and a yearning, in the end, to relinquish our hope for vitality and become as tranquil as a quiet bone...
The mummy who recoils from the eternal because of his love of time shares more affinities with men of flesh and blood, burning in the forehead and parched on the tongue. Though this earthly mummy is monstrous, its sadness is that of all humans who are seized by obsessive love at the expense of tranquility, who risk everything in hopes of one instance of unity with a warm body. This is the tragedy and beauty of immanence, of diseased blood flooding the pristine machine. --- Eric G. Wilson (The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines)
10. Westworld (1973)

In its way, Westworld embodies the typical Michael Crichton scenario of America as an amusement park where the embrace of danger--of the machine breaking down and attractions turning homicidal--is part of the necessity of 'adventure.' One thinks of haunted houses that are actually haunted, or DMT experiences, or otherwise getting 'more than you bargained for,' being unable to stay away even knowing the risks. Such ideas are both vain and startlingly honest about film's ability to make us forget we're safe in the theater instead of actually facing the artificial dangers onscreen, and then, miraculously vice versa, we feel safer in reality the more we're half-asleep in the danger of cinema, to the point where we just assume no part of the entertainment experience can hurt us, even when it clearly can, and will, and does spill over into the parking lot. When Yul Brynner's cowboy android becomes an actual killer, he's not rebelling or becoming aware of the folly of man, he's just upping the ante like any good showman.

So where does one look to find the 'heart' of the machine, of the appeal of our android in this film and its sequel Futureworld?  Exactly nowhere, which is perhaps the key to this film's modest cult fame and the later Jurassic Park which borrows essentially the same plot by the same author. The most bizarre aspect for viewers seeing Westworld now is the idea that anyone would pay a ton of money to go shoot cowboy androids, as an adult.  That's why the later Jurassic Park markets itself to kids and that makes it easier to understand. Men today would never pay a fortune to shoot androids in an erzatz old west. But we'd die rather than be considered too cheap to bring our kids. But that means no sleaze in future versions of the Crichton mouse trap, and no icky closeted gay subtext to be had pondering Richard Benjamin's eagerness to pay the fare of his butch wingman James Brolin. (4)

11. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

An AIP hybrid of their two most popular genres, the beach party movie and the Corman Poe film comedy (ala 1963's The Raven), AIP's artist-in-residence Vincent Price seems to having a campy blast as a twist-loving evil madman sending out golden bikini-wearing tanned babes to seduce foreign ambassadors and explode their cabinets.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) 
The girls came back, sorta, when they tangled with Austin Powers (my review here), and before that they were in Mario Bava's dreary Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.  If you want to appreciate just how good the Bikini Machine is, go watch the Girl Bombs and realize that the exploding girlbot genre is not Bava's forte.

12. The Stepford Wives (1962)

Oh no, you done set it off, or rather turned it on. See this feminist video centered on the Absolut android ads seen all over the place, but totally relevant to the Stepford situation. Be sure to watch the end credits which play over a fascinating 1970s commercial for The Bionic Woman series action figure 'Fembot.'

I agree with everything this chick is saying, but at the same time, just pointing it out won't solve the problem, if there is one. As a guy I can tell you we need to objectify you if you ever want to get pregnant, which is your version of soul housing procurement. Even if it's just play-acting, dirty talk, bondage, safe words, etc., we need a way to access our inner savage, a way to feel virile when every day we're forced to bow low to the system, and we can't do that while staring into your eyes and being super romantic, not when we live with you day in day out for years. Savagery thrives only by dehumanizing and if you don't want your man to be a savage in bed sometimes then maybe you're in the wrong bed. Pop culture poisons gender relationships with its endless objectification (not ours), ever trying to reduce women to the same purchase value as a Rolex. But at the same time, if you don't want us to objectify, don't be mad if we make an object that looks like you instead, something that won't mind being objectified, a statue or a movie. Women take their staggering power of giving birth for granted; men must build their children through art and technology; we shut off our Pygmalion valves only when compelled to do so and sometimes not even then. So know that the next stage of life will be an automaton, birthed by man, fathered by woman. Instead of saying you're not ready to be a dad, ladies, think about how you want to raise these bleeping, glowing blobs of the New Flesh, these objects that dare look back in anger. Hmmmm?

1. This info comes from my spirit guide and may or may not be 100% accurate, just true.
2. See HP Lovecraft's "The Colour of Outer Space"
3. See also: Silent Running 
4.  By icky you should know what I mean --the vile misogyny of a man determined to prove his straightness to a man he's attracted to by what he considers 'guy talk' and behavior- i.e. commodifying women in the basest and most (unconsciously?) hostile of ways. (see also Eastern Promises)
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