Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Saturday, December 01, 2012


This year's MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is clearly HITCHCOCK (2012), a transparent Oscar courtier whose commercials alone infuse me with dismay.  I've seen PSYCHO a trillion times! I own it! Saw it again just last night, at home, safely avoiding the shower --for other reasons! The water.... its fluoride inhibits my pineal gland's full third eye functions. I bathe only in grain alcohol and branch water now, Mandrake. And as a result I see deep into the black eye pupil drain of the curtain-ripping Crane...

But to all this tawdry bourgeois Hollywood self-praise: OY VEY! Now, ED WOOD and SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, these were great in that they went to weird places, making arcane connections between the crazies behind the camera and the supernatural-ish magic of the screen. If you were going to make a movie about Hitchcock making SABOTAGE, or even SABOTEUR, that would be great, maybe, because they're more obscure. But PSYCHO? Making showers safe for the whole family? I mean, there's a goddamned make-your-own-shower-scene Universal 'ride.' And to make it relevant the best the commercials can do is have a mildly portly Hopkins say "try the ladyfingers... they're made with real fingers," reducing his genius down to mere macabre bad taste.

So what indignant bastardization of the artistic process is next? A Nirvana biopic with Edward Norton as Kurt Cobain, directed by Ron Howard and starring, of course, Amy Adams as Courtney Love?

There's a reason PSYCHO should stay off the Academy-self-congratulatory Oscarbait table: as the bloody mile marker between 50s repression and 60s drive-in liberation it needs its disreputable patina, what Pauline Kael would call it's 'dirty kick' to stay relevant, and the makers of HITCHCOCK have turned it into a family-friendly "aren't we being naughty" pasteurization. Give it a few more years and Hollywood will be nominating films about the importance of the Oscars as an American institution (PS they already did) eventually strangling their own self-strangling to the point where they can only award Oscars to films about the awarding of Oscars to films about the award... and then finally it will crash through the mirror screen floorboards and behold its own hideous heart and that, alone and finally, will be worth filming.

You can't buy off unhappiness with pills

I understand the need for vainglory and idolatry and I don't judge so much as sympathize, because it's universal. Anytime there's a Zen master pointing a finger at the moon, Hollywood makes a film about a finger... and a boy who wanted the moon... together on an incredible journey! The finger gets paid millions and the moon is forgotten. Or at the very least, the beauty of the moon as seen by the Zen master is forgotten. The moon is way up there and doesn't take direction so they hire a young actor named Tyler Zachary to wear a moon head. He's such a hit that his moon make-up and angular face are how people think of the moon from then on. They don't look at the moon anymore at all. Why would they? They have Zachary. The moon is just so.... I don't know, Zacharyless? They try to project Zachary's face on the moon but it's just too far away, so.... what is the phrase, 'public domain'?

Is there some way, they ask their legal team, that we could block the moon from the sky while the Zachary moon is in theaters, or sue it for copyright violation?

...they all cluck their thick tongues...

But 20 years later, Zachary's forgotten, just a VH1 has-been; his moon head prop is sold at Christie's for $40,000 while no one even wants him in a Blue Mountain Dog Food commercial.

Another 20 years, and finally they make a movie about the beautiful dreamers who made this movie about the moon all those years ago, and Zachary gets a cameo as a street bum gesticulating furiously upwards but no one will look. And in this films about the dreamers who made the movie about the finger pointing at the moon, Hollywood celebrates its ability to celebrate itself in a showcase galleria setting.

Who needs anything to say about the actual moon, the one that started it all, when the finger, in its trajectory of upwards pointing, is so perfectly lit?

We're all trapped in our private prisons

The process of shooting movies may be fascinating but it's hardly relevant to the final product and its effects on our national psyche. Would Mona Lisa still be a masterpiece if we learned it was painted in some haphazard way? We'd have to watch the artist through every step to adequately judge the final result, to make sure Da Vinci wasn't on steroids, or the artistic equivalent, shrooms.

If we forget that need to analyze the making of vs. the need to experience the film as a film in and of itself then we forget PSYCHO was a lot more than a shower scene. We forget the movie and just think of the one image, the one iconic shot that makes it to the postcards, T-shirts, Oscar montages and DVD reissue covers. You can shoot the shower scene all you want, over and over--and they have--but it won't mean a thing without the surrounding scenes, and the movie as a whole. Without the slow weird fake-out embezzlement afternoon tryst build-up, the paranoid voiceovers in the brain of Marion Crane, her eyes wide as the moon, or the touching sandwich in the taxidermy room, the shower scene is just an avant garde surrealist shock short. It's like you're half asleep watching TV's ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and suddenly a phantom TV signal (from Samara's art film repertoire in THE RING, or the VIDEODROME channel, or the eye-slitting sections of PERSONA, LA CHIEN ANDALOU) comes through, shattering the peaceful broadcast and ensuring entertainment will never be the same.

That's what the shower scene should be, NOT a ride at Universal Studios, damn it. It defeats the whole purpose!

"You can't buy off unhappiness with pills" Marion says to Pat Hitchcock early on, and isn't that what the makers of HITCH are doing, trying to buy off Oscar with pills? Better they should remake LA CHIEN ANDALOU as a color mini-series, starring Naomi Watts... and with liquid pianos oozing from the CGI bullet holes

As always with the great films, no matter how many times you see them, each time is different. For me this time it was the way the events of the film's progressive diegesis are encoded throughout its framework, like fractals. What, is that kind of talk too fancy for reductivist Oscar? "HITCHCOCK's about ADDAMS FAMILY-style ghoulish delight in sadistic killing, but it's okay because the ghoul is portly and thus sexually unthreatening" -- that's the HITCHCOCK promotional subtext. I can bring diegesis encoding down to earth too. Zachary, get ready with that finger!

You know how, in VERTIGO, you get the feeling that Stewart is somehow always still on the ledge, all through the events of the rest of the film, that it's all a nether region between life and death, that his hanging there corresponds to an ancient alchemical realization about the true nature of life and death and all art and searching as a distraction from the void?
It's in PSYCHO , too.  The Fra ct a l s . . 

From the skull-like shades of the Charon-like cop gatekeeper, who wakes up Marion from her nap by the side of the highway (into the dream), to the shower curtain-like bars on the hotel headboard behind Marion in the opening sex scenes, or the way Marion goes through a whole scene without blinking while driving, Hitchcock's every shot reflects the whole: every pattern and motif repeats, encoded throughout. A story of small scale murders and crime is revealed as an example of kaleidoscopic macro-genius that's so much more than "the ladyfingers.... made from real fingers." It's about the impossibility of linear time and how if you're going to die sometime over the course of your life--even if only at the very, very end--then you are dead already. You can take as many MULHOLLAND DRIVE pictures as you want, Jake-- it's always snake eyes. You lose, again.

But there's always rewind.

1 comment:

  1. If my "Nothing Men" is ever made into a film, I want you to write the definitive piece on the film versus the book versus cannibalism in popular culture.


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