Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Texting from the Heat - THE CANYONS (2013)

Deep in the liason dangereuse-drenched Canyons dwells the only reason we'd want to see it (unless we were Paul Schrader devotees):  Lohan's voluptuous, bruised body, and it is on full display, and it is marvelous. In between shots of her or other pretty youths on their cell phones, Schrader cuts to abandoned west coast cinemas to remind us we're not seeing this movie there, but on our iPads or TVs. At one point a character even takes a long Van Sant-like stroll through Amoeba Video, to remind us it still exists, but who goes there in the age of streaming? Meanwhile a nonstarter slasher film role is coveted by a hunky rent boy looking to 'make a dollar in dis business' before he blows it all for the love of the producer's swing partner (Lohan). But it's only Lindsay's coming-and-going older girl curves, her various minor hard living bruises, that remains when that dull meta-business melts away. It's the last thing standing, or lying, in a field of vision that's slowly being sucked into a tiny glowing square. In a film about vanishing media, Lohan's body is the one thing that won't be airbrush-pixelated.

Which means I care enough to spend $4.99 on Lindsay Lohan, to do my small part in resuscitating her career from its woozy downward spiral, approving with my 'vote' her plan of hitting bottom and launching herself off the bottom of the pool via short zero-budget springs on the backs of disreputable names like Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis, the way Robert Downey Jr. launched off similarly debauched-and-guilty-about-it James Toback's Two Girls and a Guy in 1997. It's a chance for mutual symbiosis: older established artist dudes who make artsy and disturbed visions of druggie youth that never make money find a budget via the casting of a genuine drug-addled youth who always makes money. None of them are at the top of his game here, but who is? Schrader's more on his game than most of his old Raging Bulls-era coke buddies, but when you forget even what you're using sex, drugs, and intrigue to escape from, you're in real trouble. That's when Schrader steps in like a wannabe savior, urging you to descend into the crevasse and out the other side rather than try to climb out. Maybe Jesus is down there, or a dropped Xanax bottle. Or at least a cool dark coffin to rest until Netflix streaming rerun night.

Old man Schrader's been subjecting us to this post-Calvinist morality slip-and-sliding for a long time: Taxi Driver (1974), Hardcore (1978), American Gigolo (1980) and Auto Focus (2002) were each in their own way about the evil lure of pornography: runaway daughters being sucked into the sniff film trade; Cybil Shepherd losing it (that is, her cool) at a screening of Sometimes Sweet Susan; Bob Crane's molasses slip from beloved TV star to amateur pornographer to a messy murder victim; a narcissist who sells his body to rich old ladies. Similarly, novelist Bret Easton Ellis wrote the source novels for American Psycho, Rules of Attraction, and Less than Zero, all awash in cocaine-fueled casual sex, suicide, murder, and scopophilia. Together with Lohan they generate conspicuous attention, older coke-head LA insiders trying to be all up to code on the disaffection of pre-debauched youth. As Schrader said in a Salon interview:
My generation — we thought we could make a difference and make the world better. Bret’s generation thought they could make money. I don’t think that this current generation has any real aspirations. They’re making money, but I don’t think they’re that crazy about money. The characters make movies and they don’t like movies that much. They’re hooking up and they don’t like that much. The difference is, my parents and I always believed life would be better for the next generation. The current generation believes life is going to be worse for the next generation. It’s such a change for the future of humanity — the future is not something, now, that guarantees a better life."
That's pertinent of course, but might also be prurient, like the old pastor who works himself up into a sexual froth ranting about the devil as he ogles some girl's halter top; or using disaffection as a back door justification for having sex with every jaded hottie you share a bathroom stall key bump with.

I remember a film very similar to The Canyons, by Bernardo Bertolucci, The Dreamers (2003), wherein you had to wonder who old Bernardo thought he was fooling by having these gorgeous naked young entwined beings haunting the la Cinémathèque Française and pretending to understand Cahiers du Cinema so he could feel he was getting away with something naughty, stapling art film posters on the naked poles, so to speak. As in Canyons, Bernardo gave equal shrift to shirtless boys; as befits the semi-invisible hand of boymonger film geniuses like Gus Van Sant (who appears in The Canyons as a therapist) and Larry Clark (Kids) who have both made some great films about their boy obsessions because they have bothered to plumb the depths, such as they are, of the skater, drug, and homeless kid cultures the way most rent-boy-cruising Sebastian Venable auteurs do not. I have to say though, in a way, I admire Schrader and Ellis more for not plumbing in this instance. Why do their heavy lifting for them? Let them fail on their own. It's the only way they'll earn.

Lohan is only 27 at the time this film was made, but the constant hounding of the paparazzi furies have left her as scarred as a hot bitch Orestes. Even so, by 27 you should be beyond letting yourself get sucked into menage-a-quatres just to flatter the closeted vanity of your rich cretin boyfriend. If she likes it she should let us know, instead of moping through apathetic oversexed and drugged ennui in search of a new bon-bon to distract her from all the strewn wrappers. Such lurid behavior should either be a turn-on or turn-off (Two Girls and a Guy, for example, was both) or far enough over the line to be either profound or traumatic (Two Girls was neither),  but instead Canyons strives for meta resonance with those empty cinema shot connectors as comments about how nobody goes to see movies in the theater anymore ("premieres don't count" - LL says) and showing the subterfuge when characters are so busy arranging intrigues on the cell phones they don't know one might be happening right in front of them. They even watch their own messages on "Text TV." Do they even intend to watch their own film? I can imagine them all at the final cut screening room barely looking up from the cell phones except when they're onscreen, to make sure their hair looks right.

James Deen, and a portrait of... Herbert Marshall?
The lead rich kid douche is a porn star named James Deen, and he does a grand job of playing an insecure shit, of course you can't really do a bad job of acting badly 'on purpose.' The film's best scenes are strained bouts of he and Lindsay lying about where they've been, as we're meant to muse on how sharing each other with strangers is okay but actually falling in love with someone else is unforgivable, and lying about it is grounds for psychotic tantrums. I guess that's understandable for porn stars, as any long term relationship they have must come with a complete lack of sexual possessiveness, naturally overcompensating on the emotional, on 'love.'  But this is nothing new, again, or particularly traumatic. It was a similar weakness that brought Valmont/Sebastian down in Cruel Intentions but here there's not even a cathartic Verve Pipe-scored coke-cross bust!

I remember partying with these sorts of people in the 90s; I could feign a strained pose of Adonis-like disaffect with the best of them, my every pithy comment a dying faux-carefree butterfly, my clothes and pose always style-infused. But just because you can capture that misery doesn't mean you're inventing it. Meanwhile even Lindsay is too old to know if kids are still putting out for bracelets, or ever did. Everyone's hiding something, even in this film. Did LL's court orders that ensure we only see one little coke bump snorted over the course of the whole film? Take it from me, orgies are impossible without either coke or ecstasy. Did I already mention the thing about the coke thing maybeyouknowherewecangetsomeIknow! Iknowcallthisnumberokayokaythisisgoingtobegood
butweshareitonlywiththoseofuswhoputin, okay?

I was always too uptight, too British, to ever fall into orgiastic abandon, no matter how much I tried. No matter how drunk I got or how much coke or ecstasy I did, I was invariably a gallant gentlemen; my body would just run away no matter how much I wanted to stay and get group naked. And I don't miss stepping over the myriad entwined forms on my loft floor on my way to the bathroom at four in the morning during the days I was detoxing, trying to sleep to the incessant thud of terrible Euroclash from my roommate's in-house turntables. Coming out of my bedroom to plead for mercy--the sun mere minutes from coming up to signal the dawn--and seeing only his coke-black shark eyes looking back at me without a shred of empathic connection. It was, I'm sure, fun, and still is, but unless you have a tolerance and money for coke, as well as a loose sensual disposition, a tactile calm born of being good on guitar and appealing to men or women or whatever you're into, then you're just a bystander. Even when deep in the orgy, just a bystander.

I don't miss it, and so I feel sorry for everyone involved, even as I applaud their freedom. Luckily the music in Canyons is amazing, full-on retrolectro tryptahol courtesy Broken Social Scene lynchpin Brendan Canning, moodily pretending like the 00s never happened.

I don't miss the 00s, or orgies, but I do miss places like Amoeba and Kim's Video and the time when theaters had no bedbugs or blue square texting-addicts. But since I tended to go to music and video stores when I was lonesome and agitated, I associate them now with the depression that Effexor took away for good back in '04, and now I have Amazon Prime, and cinemas these days give off an unsettling feeling of a shared dream with deformed fellow earthlings who have lives and bodies and gastrointestinal problems which they now carelessly reveal to their fellow audience members, accentuating how we here in the trenches are vastly different from the gods and goddesses out in LA, especially in The Canyons.

Luckily there are still a few demographics who go to the movies: packs of single ladies at a chick flick on Friday night (+ one or two spooked straight guys on dates), and kids who can drive and who consider any hour spent not in school or at home to be pure bliss. So, as you sit down as a family to rent The Canyons, be glad you don't have to live alone. Even working on a movie, it seems, is no escape from the inescapable pull... of loneliness. Theaters have become a reminder of what we're trying to escape from, our sad aging husks, our burdensome bathroom-bound humanity. But the perfect goddess we once sold our soul for still works on, no amount of Vaseline on the lens can save her from growing old and cheap and sad. Johnnnyyy Johnnnny come back to me she says, as her once firm and upright fan club dissolves into a hydra of a million nonstop texting blue lighted wrinkles and blemishes laid out before you in the seats like a blanket of frumpy stars. She once helped us escape from the hell of life even if only for two hours at a crack, we swallowed her whole, but all the time that white witch had a hook deep in her feathery bustier. She can be as frumpy as nature dictates now because you're on the line. And there's no need to struggle, against the sinker, little fishy. You've already evolved as far as you could go in such shallow surf. Time to belly up, or else go deep.


  1. Another great piece. I don't think I want to see this one, but I will admit to being intrigued. Can't figure out if that is just because of Ellis' last name.

  2. I didn't want to see this one until I saw Lindsey Lohan host Chelsie Lately this week. When she is allowed to represent herself before the camera, she is just as charming and magnetic as she was in the films of her childhood - and as the father of a 15 year old girl, I am pretty sure I saw all of them. I hope this does pull her up from the tabloids and back into a real career again. She is a very talented actress, and at 27 - the age of my oldest son, and with the plethora of other resources she has had, it is harder to blame her shitty pimping parents for her bad adult decisions; doesn't she know some of us were worried sick about her? On the other hand, AUTO FOCUS is one of the most unnerving, depressing and painful movies I have ever seen. I couldn't even tell you now what it is about that movie that give me emotional and physical queasiness, but it did. And does.


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