"If you think you're free, there's no escape possible" - Ram Dass

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mater Testiculorum: SCARFACE, SUSPIRIA, CARRIE

"Masculinity must fight off effeminacy day by day.
Woman and nature stand ever ready to reduce the male to boy and infant."
-Camille Paglia (proud Italian-American)
"Son? I wish I had one! He's a bum!"
--Mama Mantana (Scarface)
 You can argue that gangster cinema began at Warners with Cagney and Robinson, but a few pre-code masterworks aside, the gangster never hit his grandiose peak until it became a distinctly Italian-American saga, directed by an Italian-American with maximum tactility. Robert Evans knew this, and so insisted on Coppola for The Godfather (1972). An Italian director for an Italian story, this according to Evans' Kid Stays in the Picture. Defamatory? Maybe. But the Italian-American Anti-Defamation league was founded by one of the heads of the five families, Joe Colombo, as a front for mob activity, so who can you truss? Me, 'ass who.

And so you need an Italian-American director, or an Italian straight-up, one who is going to ideally bring in a sense of Italian flair and artistry, i.e. the Scorsese 'boy pack' forward momentum, the Coppola darkness, and the De Palma operatics. And just the word "opera" should make you think of Argento, an Italian, straight-up, whose films have such elaborate beauty, brutal violence and strange rhythms that he even called on of his films Opera (check out my 10/2009 companion to this piece, "Nightmare Drive-In Logic, Italian-style); they transform the work of everyone who sees them... whatever that work may be. Mine included


Italian-Americans and Italian-Italians don't all love opera but it's emblematic of their artistic genes, along with the poetry of Dante, the art of Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the masochism of Catholicism (each centurion lash upon the wrecked torso of Christ fantasized about in excruciating detail). All this and more pumps, drives, twists the flagellant Italian heart, consumed by "original sin," which stretches its exposed raw nerve beating-heart history back through Roman orgies, gladiators, court intrigues, brutal inquisitions, the plague, Il Duce. Thus the murders in Argento and De Palma and Scorsese and Coppola play out like operas of the damned, in which every emotion is heightened, and played out in full, wringing every last drop of blood and pain. They present characters who are adults, who sometimes joke around but never about business and when violence occurs to or through them it's always painful, always transmitted across the screen with time for the victim to scream, or scrawl a note on the tile steam, or be confronted by his own pulled-out small intestine, to try and crawl away or--with some visible screwing up of macho courage--to stare one last time into the eyes of their killer and shout "Fack Yew!"

In Argento and De Palma films, death may be cinematic and beautiful at times but it also hurts. No one dies easy; no one just gets shot or strangled and dies in a second. Characters get time to register the horror of realizing their whole life is about to end, suddenly and with no good reason, and so much left undone. They see death coming, and if they live long enough to kill in kind they make sure their opponents get the same luxury. There's a feeling of what's really involved with killing people. In normal gangster films people just get shot, Blammo! But when being true to Italian operatic rhythms, one needs time to die, a whole scene with one lengthy tortured aria, while Ennio Morricone strings play a semi-mocking eulogy overhead and you look at your killer with a slow turn from pleading to fear to anger and oaths, to resignation and then downwards or up into the infinite abyss, or on some busy Rome street while passers-by hustle past you on your way to work and it's not until you fall face down and the blood pools in the middle of the sidewalk do they stop and scream. Death isn't the scariest thing in De Palma or Argento films, it's the loneliness of it that hurts the worst --only your killer is there to hear your last words.


It makes sense then that De Palma has no real interest in capturing Latin culture of Miami and Tony Montana, filling the score instead with the boss Italian synths of Giorgio Moroder, and the gaudy pre-fab architectures of the Italian disco. Hawks' 1932 Scarface bounced around with merry good-cheer and a mock-Italian comedy-team rhythm that made a stunning counterpoint to the violence; Paul Muni showed that thing we all love about our one Italian-American friend: their positive life force always on, never wavering, comical even at their baseline. Even when breaking your thumbs for not paying your debts they can joke around and make you feel like a regular guy and ask you how's your mother. And if you dated one then you know how nurturing they are, cradling your head when you throw up, and only crying and freaking out when they realize you are never going to stop drinking long enough to be much of a take-home-to-the-parents-style boyfriend.


Scarface's ice princess blonde, played as a bundle of nerves snaking themselves through sheer brass will into the shape of a svelte cat-eyed bombshell Elivra (Michelle Pfeiffer in her big breakthrough) is the opposite of the gaudy Italian persona. She's so trapped in the narcissist WASP mirror she can't wait to clear the lines off it, the better to see herself with. But if you can get her to laugh, a woman like that? Ah Manolo, she break her contract for you. Plus, she's forbidden. That's the boss's lady, ogay? But Tony values only that which he cannot have because he's too dumb to know in advance that attaining it will bring him no satisfaction. Instead he has to look closer to home, towards the ultimate taboo of incest. He falls for his sister the first time he sees her as a young woman and that he's been in jail for five years in Cuba excuses it somewhat at first but then he makes no effort to rein in his incestuous impulse. He can't even admit he feels it, so makes no attempt to question the violence of his jealousy.


As Tony, Pacino is filmed first in long shots, his musky tan face paint dripping off when he's hot which is all the time, or being bathed in Angel's blood with a gun to his head, the blood and brown make-up swirling together to form a muddy rust. In the early scenes, where he's bluffing his way up into Lopez's good graces, he seems to fold into himself like a sullen teenager; all terrible bangs and loud shirts, short frame and hairy arms, he's an illiterate peasant trying to cover up his clueless innocence with tough talk and bravado and big cigars (see below). De Palma's camera doesn't circle but rather observes him from on high, in a kind aloof regard. As Tony increases in stature and drive, De Palma's camera moves in for close-ups and low angle shots, subliminally accentuating his rise in stature. Pacino's performance imperceptibly mutates as well, oscillating back and forth between tough guy killer and loyal clown, gradually losing the clown aspect along the way and replacing it with self-absorbed money-obsessed paranoiac, as if Elvira's glum narcissism is seeping into him through prolonged proximity. 


We learn from books like The Devil's Playground that De Palma knew something about cocaine, and if you look at this movie and the bloated satire of Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and The Untouchables (1987), as a trilogy, you get a saga of desire, loss, and how empires might be built on the underbelly of America's endless thirst for solace; the futile attempts to inflict the morals of senator's wives onto the common people while their rarely-home husbands get rich from under-the-table kickbacks, the money increasing relative to the intensity of government crackdown. The importance of not getting high on one's supply is understood so deeply you can feel De Palma's good judgment slipping away as the film goes on, for he too is breaking that rule.

To bring it back to opera, consider that Verdi's La Traviata begins in a beautiful party and a rich paramour's baubles and ends with her broke, all her stuff being carted away as she dies in bed, alone but for a nurse who wonders if she'll ever be paid. Substitute Tony's paranoia for Camille's noble self-sacrifice, i.e. her betrayal of her courtesan code by turning noble, and the way Tony sacrifices his empire because of some dumb refusal to kill kids. 


Despite all these problems, Tony lives on today, twenty years later, as a kind of living demi-god. As a character he has aged less well than the the emulators might think, however. If there's something heroic about his "say 'ell to my leedle fren!" last stand, it's tempered by his blindness to his monitors, his letting his security team get slaughtered, his own impulse killings of Manny and Alberto the Shadow. Mired in cocaine and confusion, he pulls the plug on his existence by blowing the hit, letting his coked-up ego and repressed love of kids and guilt over his mama knock him into a winner-lose-all fugue state. His final shoot-out can be read academically as a zero point tantrum of grief and self-absorption. He doesn't know how to handle success, but blazing shoot-outs? This he knows. He's comfortable when he has nothing to lose, but having everything is too much responsibility.

And like Tony, and Tom Hanks in Bonfire, Untouchables' Al Capone's unlimited wealth doesn't compel him to hide his working class roots, such as the pic below where he's getting shaved by his old barber in a beautiful palatial space under twisted dark manly flooring. This is wealth spent by the man, to realize his aesthetic, not to placate some rich wife's drive for respectability. No flowers, white tiles and dinner parties with all the best snobs. This is instead the nouveau riche bachelor in full flower, wherein the dark sleek look of the Corleone compound, the Italian aesthetic, free of WASP petit-bourgeois wife redecorating, allowed to flower in its own dark orchid fashion, and it is beautiful, because darkness is and because today's man gets only one room, his 'man cave' in which to express his taste.

Fade to Black, from sun to setting sun image to dark marble death
Looking back at it now on an anamorphic DVD, Scarface looks shoddy in spots, badly blocked: sets seem to end a few feet from the side edges of the screen and the backdrops often look like freestanding drywall in the midst of slow waterlogged-curling. Loepz's BMW dealership back office with its tropical sunset (above, middle) cuts off into a blackness on every side, with the setting Miami sun wallpaper giving off that flat chintzy feel of a direct-to-video porn film or travel agency. We start the film sensing this will be a big budget panorama: Cuban refugee stock footage, crowded sweaty scenes under-highway encampments, dishwashing, stabbing, twilight phone booths, the wild Colombian chainsaw set piece, but then the gradual tightening noose of opportunity boils it all down to that La Traviata garrett. As Tony "makes his own moves" there are few places that are seen twice in the film, and fewer actors stick around as the scenes tighten up in a forward Apollonian arc that begins to wither into fecund limpness: real Miami sunshine devolving to that car dealer image of a sunset, hot disco ladies devolving into some dorky dancer dressed like 'El Gordo' and more and more mirrors diluting Tony's vibrancy, as if the vast empire of Scarface merchandise was already draining his snarl of tragic meaning. The architecture eventually turns to gold trim and black marble (a symbol of death like the 'X' markings in the 1932 version) that Gina enters like a ghostly echo with her flimsy negligee open and gun like the fish-eyed demoness at the climax of Suspiria. I'll go even further on a limb and say that Suspiria borrows quite a bit in color and nightmare logic pacing from De Palma's big break-out Carrie which came out the year before (1976 -though Carrie was still in theaters, and drive-ins by then, as it had become such a cultural landmark even parents were going to see it. It did for proms and telekinesis what Jaws had done for sharks and the ocean two years prior).



But this crazy "Fuck me Tony" scene with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and her nightmare black halo and temple of Dionysus sacrificial dress is where De Palma truly comes to life: mixing that queasy, death-saturated Argento color scheme and slowed-down time (which he mastered with the nightmare pace of the prom queen stair climb in Carrie) and the queasy sense of post-modern sexual displacement emblematic of his idol Hitchcock (i.e., he can't realize he's in danger until it's 'on TV'). Not until this final bloody incestuous kiss-off does De Palma find the pitch black death rattle wide-eyed in the face of horror wit that Hecht and Hawks understood better than most, though for them the preparation for facing death was great, the actual death a bit of a joke, whereas with De Palma death comes before there's much time to fix a game face, but the actual process of dying stays as felt and faced as in the grimmest of Italian horror films.  

From top: Suspiria, Untouchables, Bonfire of the Vanities
To get back to the sister, Tony doesn't really understand the way incestuous desire for her as just another hot young stranger (his having been in jail in Cuba while she was maturing with mama in Miami) is all amped up by brotherly love, paternal instinct, and narcissism. I know the effect of seeing your relative whom you've only seen every five or six years suddenly showing up in your neighborhood as a bona fide hottie. It's so so wrong, and for the mentally aberrant, like Tony, it's the ultimate. Just as it was for Caligula, another crazy Italian powermonger, Tony sees all taboo as dares.

Carrie
The only real separation between Italian-American gangster films and Italian-Italian horror perhaps is that death is where the gangster film stops, but horror keeps going. And the brutal circumstances of that trip, the violence of going out, is everything. If you look at non-Italian American horror of the same approximate time, death doesn't dawdle. Even most slasher films, the American ones, like Halloween, are really about the stalking and POV camera: when death comes it's almost a relief, since as I pointed out in "A Clockwork Darkness", we now know where the killer is so there's no more worrying from where and when he will strike, how the person will die or if they will escape. No onscreen death can match our dread of the potential for it. But Argento's murders, De Palma's or Scorsese's or Coppola's first two Godfathers, are the exceptions: the moment of the first bullet, stab, or slash doesn't necessarily end the escape chances of survival, or mean a close to the episode. Death throes might go on for a full reel of near escapes, feeble cries for help, and forlorn looks up at the uncaring sky or (as in Fulci's Don't Torture the Duckling) busy highway, pleading for someone to stop...


And architecture plays another part in prolonging the sense of helplessness. In the apartment building where the first murder goes down in Suspiria, the multiple reflective frosted windows, the bizarre wallpaper, strange vertical angles, unholy lighting, and the howling, strange music and create a sense of complete alienation, an inescapable interior 'Hotel Overlook'-style space (though far less recognizable), we feel we recognize from our own nightmares. We're never sure what is a mirror and what a window; the smoked glass of the bathroom shower stall seems to look right out on the hallway elevator!

De Palma is more rooted in the concrete at least in Scarface, and his vision less baroque, more enthralled by the surface, the mirrors reflecting Tony in ever increasing distortion. De Palma has a natural tendency to use crane shots to create a mood of unease. In the climax, it is Tony himself who is the Mater Suspiriorum, or rather Mater Testiculorum Fide and the Bolivian hit squad is Jessica Harper sneaking in with her sewing scissors.  


In the above quotes at the top of this article I wanted to exhume the roots of the Italian artistry as the constant need to escape from mama (or even kill her symbolically, as in Suspiria). In the end of Scarface, Tony realizes even a macho endeavor like criminal empire management can turn him matronly ("Got tits," he drunkenly laments to Manny, visualizing his future as another complacent Lopez, "need a bra"). I say unto thee, blessed is the filmmaker who can recognize his own mom-haunted apron-string slashing anger as art and not feel the need to apologize to both women and the social order in general for his venting. As long as he's conscious of it. And both Argento and De Palma revere strong women, but fear them as well. They are conscious of the animas' warped ferocity and respectful of its power. A strong woman can make a man feel outgunned at every step, emasculated (since nothing he can do--even killing--will ever measure up to the raw violence of giving birth) but if he can stare death square in the face and say hello to his little friend --this is his balls. And balls alone can deliver us into the sad twisting architecture of the last breath, the byzantine nightmare realm where reality and dreams switch place, and life disappears like those fading scraps of a dream after you just woke up.


Mom would pull you back from that void. She's afraid you'll fall. If you heed her, you no longer have your balls, just your word, and the words is: be good, call more often, and take out the trash. Being a safe distance from the void may please her, but bores the rest of us stiff. God bless the director who says mama, back off-a me, and then dives right over the ledge with his camera

He who chooses hell over heaven, death over life, he is alone truly free of those apron string jelly fish stingers. He looks at the modern reverence for life, health, the family, and winces. He knows these gym rats and granola moms are all just scaling heights to nowhere, preserving their mortal husk on entomology's display board both in vain and vanity (or that old excuse, 'for the kids'). We men are from birth trained to apologize for our own measly drives, our desire for younger girls rather than the husks our own age; we apologize even our desire for death, and so we follow some vague plan of being 'good' or even 'true' -- yoking ourselves ever further beneath the plow to compensate for our inexcusable appendage. Missing the brass ring circle of light on the swim out of the merry-go-round abyss, we may well wind up permanently trapped in Lucifer's pool filter. All we can do when that happens is throw some of our magic seeds out onto the grass over our heads and hope it's enough to leave some kind of weed in our name that will survive the mower. All we had in this world was balls and words, but mama's world can find no use for either. Our writing is still ours, at least, unless-a someone pays us for the rights. Either way, our balls are yours, Cook's Tours! Take them around that womb globe. Sow their seed like Set sowed Osiris's chopped-up body, or else get stuffed, into the palatial tree coffin, the polluted womb. Marry well and often and love your chil--no, don't do either, just run! Run before she gets here she .../// Vito! Where are you going now, you silly boy! 

See Also:
Two hearts stab as one: Brian De Palma + Dario Argento = split/subject psychic twins of the reptile dysfunction

Saturday, July 20, 2013

CinemArchetype #25: The Fisher King


The cinema has done louhght and songed to the Fisher King. What are these two odd words? They wrong and right, sought and longed for mixed inextricably together -- fusing until body, mind, and soul bleed into each other. The point where they intersect and overlap is the wound of the Fisher King. It is what sets in motion the search for the Holy Grail--which can be anything from la sangre de Cristo to a a needle full of opiates, a sled or a stolen golf trophy. You a-silly English-a person! For without the blood of Christ there can be no cure, and so the land in turn is turned to waste, and the day is wasted if you're not. To paraphrase gentle Ben, up sluggard, and waste not the drinking day!


The grail in these cinematic contexts can be read as either deliverance or the final abandonment of the futility of hedonistic pursuits and the embrace of the divine. Imagine being, say, a rock star in the early 70s, living a nonstop drug-fueled orgy. Well, if you spent your painful pre-rock adolescence dreaming of such a life, then as a youth achieved it, then what ever will you dream of now that you are living it, a beat too long, 'til thou art old and irrelevant? Now the young groupies look at you askance. So, being a dad, try that maybe? To paraphrase Colonel Rutledge, any man who engages in child rearing at your age deserves all he gets. You're screwed, bra, wounded in exile. When one's desires are fulfilled beyond measure one is put in the painful position of being forced to realize one's desires were idiotic. Or as Mick Jagger says, "sexually satisfied, philosophically trying." He was debauched enough by then to know debauchery is only useful as an artistic tool, a perspective-widener, rather than something that builds long-lasting happiness.

Apparently, happiness can be found in one's children and one's art/music. The alcoholic, like me, compulsively chasing the next drink, would be destroyed within weeks if he one day inherited a fully stocked bar (as I almost was). The Fisher King's wound--a mirror to Christ's own wound from the Roman spear in the thigh--reflects the agony of achievement without God. It's Dr. Faustus painfully walking amongst his signed-for splendor without joy. No amount of gold can match a hunk of rock if the lord hath tossed it, so sayeth fans of the lord.


Depending on whether you're hearing Wagner or reading Wolfram Von Eisenbach or Maria Franz or Carl Jung, the Fisher King's wound is from either possessing the spear that pierced Christ and mishandling it, or being stabbed by a Muslim warrior (Parsifal's own long lost brother, in one version) who then flees with it or it's stolen from the Muslim warrior, or the Fisher King is just stabbed in a joust with a visiting Muslim knight and the spear and grail come later, or it's the spear that wounded Jesus on the cross or whatever. Whatever the cause of the wound, the Fisher King's power endures. Enough of cinema's most memorable patriarchs display some visible wound or weakness that mirrors their nation/family's current pestilence, something that can be symbolically healed and thus also the wasteland restored to Edenic flower.

This is an archetypal quest. We are given an unconscious purpose in life by the Fisher King, a chance to perhaps save our father from his lonesome death and thus stay our own irrelevance (we being next on mortality's gruesome daisy chain). Gandhi made himself almost die of hunger to give the newly freed Muslims and Hindus a purpose, to stop their escalating reprisal spiral. FDR's wheelchair made his resolve in the face of German and Japanese aggression that much more motivational, etc.

Watching Lincoln (2012) the other night made me aware that if the Fisher King archetype inspires only a single Parsifal on a hero's journey, it is enough. As long as leaders are smart enough to display their wound, their symbolic groin castration, to exploit the Jungian collective unconscious, they will always inspire the independent man who's heart craves a worthy cause. For true men are not inspired by the heat of the mob, the social contagion of mass hysteria, or the fear of others' power. True men, the best of us--if we are to walk, unarmed and unblinking, into the bloodied batons of salt mine sentries, or the spray of redneck fire hoses, or Japanese machine gun fire--must be reached on personal, mythic level. The Fisher King, the wounded leader, must activate the warrior spirit in us, so that we risk our lives in the service of his quest. Convincing free thinkers to lay down life and limb takes the kind of touch where a single speech or TV broadcast can galvanize a million individual human minds and hearts, like Martin Luther King, or Lincoln, or Kennedy, or Bulworth. And look what happened to them! They were given their wounds, too well. 

God be praised.
Sorry. So yeah, I'm the Fisher King, too, as are all middle-aged warrior spirits too long left wandering in the woods, wounded by age, loss, irrelevance. My wasteland du jour: Park Slope, Brooklyn with its infernal stretches of brownstone front lawn flower bushes, willowy fairy children, co-op organic red kale jutting up from the cardboard boxes they carry with a sanctimonious sneer as I rush past in my Spotify and cigarette isolation. I, who feel born for war and abhor their comfort and ease in their own skins and if I'm too lazy and peaceful to fight, well, I can at least sneer back at that kale. In the words of Lana Del Rey, I got a war in my mind. Maybe that's enough as far as keeping it from bursting out into the real. Maybe that in itself is some kind of heroic deed, a Herculean act of containment; I see others with those wars outer projected: terrorists, street corner ranters, rageful feminists; the burning cross flame-fanners at Fox news... but in hating racists and misandrists, misogynists, what am I? I am more of the same. I am wounded, my knights. Wounded...

1. Charles Waldron as General Sternwood
The Big Sleep (1946)

"You are looking at the end result, Sir, of a very gaudy life." - General Sternwood isn't being self-pitying with these words. just rueful of the way wild women and whiskey has taken its toll without even leaving him much in the way of pleasant memories. Hell, I am rueful too, so is Bogart, who takes an instant shine to the General. Though alas he is only present in this one scene, the loyalty General Sternwood's searing honesy inspires in both Marlowe and the D.A. supplies impetus to keep digging into case even after Vivian calls it over. Sternwood is a capital Fisher King, the wheelchair providing apt analogy to FDR, with the blackmail letters concerning his wild daughters hanging like the grail spear of Stalin over his orchids.

2. Bill Murray as FDR
Hyde Park on the Hudson (2012)

The movie itself is one of those anemic too-pretty art flicks, a Merchant-Ivoried bit of dreary memoir where tiresomely reticent hearts, fields of flowers, arrays of butlers, polished silver, antique cars that look fresh off the assembly line, and the lack of any legit rhythm to the dialogue. The only actors with any ability to stand out from the wallpaper are Bill Murray as FDR and Olivia Williams as Eleanor. And it seems very disrespectful that the sexuality of a president is once again relegated to an off-the-wrist HJ, poorly and confusingly alluded to. Is this proper, to focus on a great man's Clinton-like indiscretions? Perhaps a great politician is by nature an emotionally stunted lover. Did Ken Starr produce and insist we add this quick one off the wrist down on the auld main drag to the lexicon of the presidential persona? The writer and director have no idea how to film a friendly genuine social interaction or even to provide a demonstration of presidential authority. FDR's mom orders her son around; she comes off as bitterly irritable; the visiting king and queen are portrayed as two squirrelly twits afraid of their own shadow. Having first referenced Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky via the off-the-wrister, they now go off to reference The King's Speech and Lincoln (insane shrew of a wife or mom trying to make a great man's home life as miserable as possible). The music rummages through John Williams' most corny and obvious passages while he's in the shower, not that he'd be able to prosecute, having stolen them in turn from long dead Russians. Laura Linney seems like she's rehearsing for a job reading Hallmark cards to her mentally-impaired grandchildren. Bill Murray fails to represent the full width and power of FDR; he seems too subsumed in mannerisms. In the end it all seems like a painful memory from the eyes of a very bored child stuck watching grown-ups talk, and remembering them only as a bunch of strained, uncomfortable simpletons. The men grit their teeth and wait 'til all the bitchy women (moms and wives) finally go to bed so the real drinking can commence, which then we don't even get to see.

Of course Murray's a Fisher King in and of himself, and FDR inspired an entire nation to rise up on a bloody hero's journey --you don't get more Fisher King than that. Too bad they're both left stranded in a doily-decked, sickeningly perfumed bed and breakfast, with the martinis measured out in eyedrops and the old lady owner banging on the ceiling with a broom if we so much as creak a chair after nine PM.

3. Nigel Terry - King Arthur 
Excalibur (1981)

My interpretation of the Fisher King might differ from various texts of Parsifal, but always Parsifal needs to answer the questions of the grail correctly to win the grail; the variants condensing in Boorman's Excalibur posit Arthur as the Fisher King, sort of, the wound inflicted not by a Muslim warrior but by lightning thrown from his evil sister, timed with his spotting Lancelot shacked up with Guinevere, leaving behind the sword of power - stabbing the earth in his sorrow, and having the sword run through Merlin, all timed to this double betrayal. "The king without a sword! The land without a king!"

Percival finds the grail at last by recognizing the Fisher King is Arthur, who is synonymous with the land, and the stuff of 'future legend.' Arthur sips from the grail, is restored, retrieves his sword from Guinevere, who has kept it all these years, and when Arthur and his nights ride forth to battle Mordred, the wasteland blooms as they pass by into a flowering kingdom, a beautiful brave scene scored to De Falla and bursting the stitches of Jungian archetypal symbolism into an operatic intersection between myth, psyche, music, and cinema. Boorman never made a better movie since, maybe even before.

4. Max Von Sydow as King Osric
Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Conan is the ultimate teenage alienation movie. The dark dad comes, kills the old, and kicks you out of your home life, shackles you to the wheel of woe (school), and you go deep into your room and comic books. When you finally make a friend, the movie's 1/4 way through. Before Subotai shows up there's no banter, no joy, just unrelenting grimness, we feel the release of a lot of tension when Conan finally has someone in his life who's not out to kill or enslave him. Conan gets a girlfriend after that, and the three of them are off and running, until they get brought before the king after robbing a cult of serpent-handlers. Rather than punish, the king salutes them. He seems not quite "now grown old and sotted" as Mako narrates, but he does have two hot babes at his side. And he hates the serpent-handlers since his only daughter ran off and joined them. They're like Woodstock if everyone smoked salvia divinorum instead of pot (if you don't know the serpentine menace lurking beneath the divine sage, you won't get that joke).  Osric isn't notably wounded, he has lost his daughter to a shady Eddy Mars of a grifter named Set (James Earle Jones) and wants Conan for a Sean Regan. Conan agrees because he's sworn to kill Set (he stole his fatha's swoahd), which right there tells you that Excalibur the mighty phallus is alive and the character of Conan is thus presented with the third father so essential to a fairy tale, and Conan's path to helping King Osric is his path to confronting the dark father, Vader-voice made flesh, James Earle Jones, and Max played his own dark father in Flash Gordon (1980)

5. Jack Harvey as Jeffrey's Dad in 
Blue Velvet (1986)

The sudden mortal vulnerability of the father is a terrible thing for any son to witness. Regardless of how mature the son may be, he is never ready for this, as he can't help but realize that he is next in line. The son will soon be in this exact spot, dying, wounded, vulnerable, a tube up his nose, unable to talk, only burble. The son will then perform the phallus, as it were, enact the father's stiffness in his absence. For me, for example, that consists of mirroring my dad's home life: sitting on the couch, drinking, smoking mounds of cigarettes, and yelling at the TV, presuming it hears my cutting japes. The severed ear Jeffrey finds is his first glimpse of the grail, the start of the breadcrumb trail, the purloined mail that Jeffrey returns. Sandy "heard a few things about the ear." Too much? Soon dad is back to mowing the lawn, and the beauty and banality of Lumberton is restored, all indirectly because of Jeffrey's dogged detective work, i.e. he's Hamlet if the dad was just in the hospital and the treacherous brother sucked on laughing gas while molesting his mother.

 6. Charles Durning - Warring Hudsucker
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

There are a lot of Fisher King archetypes in the constellations of the Coens, from the Colonel Sternwood-riff of the 'other' Lebowski (also Durning), to George Clooney's machine and oxygen-tube dependent old boss in Intolerable Cruelty, but the best for me is Durning as Waring Hudsucker because, though he may jump out the window, he's always present. His death a mystery but a sacrifice, his letter, never delivered by the incompetent Parsifal (Tim Robbins), figures out the riddle, at which case the angel Warring doth re-appear.


Katherine Hepburn is evoked (flawlessly, at first) by Jennifer Jason Leigh (with dashes of Marilyn Monroe, Vivien Leigh later, even Stanwyck); editors spitting out questions in the manner of the news reeler in Citizen Kane; two bum taxi drivers at the lunch counter do Lady Eve's Stanwyck talking to her mirror while discussing her rivals for Hopsy; Paul Newman chomping on cigars and showing off his incredible 70 year-old abs, a living connection to the invoked studio era. The only drawback is Tim Robbins' discomfort with playing such a reticent spazz; he seems to amuse the Coens--they give him long loving takes to do his business--but it takes a lot of forgiveness on our parts to stick it out and just appreciate the unified field theory, geometric symbolism, those horrible dreams you have that you're still at your last job and ordered on some unfathomable mission, and Waring's triumphant reappearance, playing ukulele and singing "Comin' Round the Mountain" like he wrote it.

7. Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab
Moby Dick (1953)

He turns the Holy Grail myth on its head; instead of a potion to cure his pain he seeks the strong venom of vengeance, but in this case it's far beyond mere retribution, and that's why I think Peck's strange performance is so great, and I fie and foo and even fum those critics who call him a confused Lincoln. I know Welles wanted to play him and wound up playing Father Mapple instead, wherein he does a grand job. I think the combination of a difficult water shoot and difficult Welles would ensure they'd STILL be working on it otherwise. What makes Peck so great is that he seems like a pretty normal, capable guy, but the combination of having been struck by lightning in the past, and losing his leg to Moby Dick has left him with a kind of unholy power. He won't be cured until Moby Dick is dead, so in this case the Grail is filled with the blood of the whale, and when it comes, he gets a chance to drink deep ere he departs, if not of the blood then at least the salty water Dick calls home. He in effect becomes part of the etchings around the lip of the Grail -- in addition to gold letterings of harpoons and scar, thar he lies, a skeleton caught up in mariner's ropes beckoning... beckoning to drink deep therefrom its whalebone rim, and let the hot blood within roil down into your inner furnace.

8. Daniel Day Lewis
Lincoln (2012)

While Spielberg makes sure Lewis is as penny-and-five dollar bill-like as possible, Lewis makes Lincoln gentle and full of biblical anecdotes, speaking in a Walter Brennan voice modulated like the ebb and flow of a leisurely incoming tide, until the zero hour at which point he becomes a paragon of democracy, fire and brimstone. And when the canons fire and the celebration hits the streets he becomes gentle once more... ebbing and flowing again. This kind of long game rhetorical strategy should of course be in any decent politician's schtickbook... but isn't, nor is it achievable for any ordinary actor no matter how talented - Lewis is miles beyond his closest competition in the modulation ebb and flow department -it goes beyond mere 'realism' or brio into something like a Beethoven symphony. For his inspiring wound, Lincoln also uses his terrible posture, his tall thin geekiness, the ache in his heart over losing his first son and having a bi-polar harridan wife. None of this is ever cured by the Parsifal grail of victory in his time. In fact, the bullet from John Wilkes Boothe may have been that grail in a dark hue.

Maybe men with mentally ill wives often succeed at their jobs because they never want to come home. The office becomes their place of comfort and relaxation; they dread weekends, rather than the reverse for most people. When our dear Lincoln dies it's almost his own marital triumph, as if his spirit moves into every five dollar bill, painting, and film about him; his death is a rebirth into a holy legend, one of the greatest of Americans is now and forever free from his crazy wife.

As children we're brought up to think that 1776 was a long, long time ago, and that democracy is solid and inescapable, woven into the fabric of our humanity itself. But power corrupts, ambition kills those around it; America was constantly in jeopardy then, and so is today, both from within and without. In that sense we were in 17756 a lot like Israel is today; Israel is only 70-ish, right? That's approx. how old America was circa Lincoln. This is how I imagine history, through such leap-frogging. I try to be the Fisher King for holy grail of 70s encounter group open shirted enlightenment, to make sure I record and remember a time of sexual and experimental freedoms that I witnessed in awe and envy but never got to experience. We choose now forget how far we went, to murmur it down to shag rug and black light panther poster that we wince at once in awhile, never looking past the tackiness of the chosen signifiers to recall there was something real behind them. It's something we hunger for, well some of us do; others hunger too-- as Loki says in The Avengers--for subjugation. For some people, freedom, real freedom, is far scarier than any conservative tyrant's crushing grip. Goddamn it, I sometimes think I'm one of them.

9. Bill Nighy as Viktor
Underworld (2003)

Vampire Kate Beckinsale's mentor hibernates for millennia while upside down and vertical in a giant ornate bronze tube and isn't scheduled to be rehydrated for another 200 years. But Kate needs his help because her lover's a werewolf and her ex-boyfriend is a vampire out to gun him down. This is really big, but she forgets it's only big to her. How dare she wake him up just to prattle about some boy? Does it turn out Viktor is evil and whatnot? Of course it doth. He's got dark secrets, and when your dark secret lord takes a drink it better be Christ blood in a pure gold chalice (no silver) if you wake him early.

Whatever you might say about the Underworld films, they have a great coterie of Brit thesps and a unified dark blue look. There hasn't been a ray of sun anywhere in the series' four film run, and for that I am truly grateful. Beckinsale is beautiful and can act, as can the mostly Shakespeare company-ish cast, so the only drawback is Scott Speedman whose a little too heavy-lidded WB hunk slackjawed, with that weird mix of constantly wet shoulder length rich kid hippy hair and puffy gym muscles we associate with 80s porn stars, or the kind of guys Syl murders in Species. 

10. Gabriele Ferzetti - Morton
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

If you got into Italian cinema via Leone, you may have wondered why you instinctively didn't like the romantic lead in Antonioni's L'Aventura (1958). That's because his sweaty railroad baron in Once Upon a Time in the West, a Fisher King tycoon gone to seed, crippled by polio and losing control of his body, and his men. He needs his champion to bring him the cure, which in this context is the Pacific Ocean.. to know the railroad made it all the way across the country before he dies. But this is no Jungian self-actualization but the scourge that is capitalism, big business, ambition and naked greed at the cost of decent wages and fairness. Men needed to be corrosively driven. Apparently their odyssey started out pretty well but out here in the endless wastelands of Monument Valley it's a bit like Aguirre, Wrath of God or Apocalypse Now, only the darkness-infused hearts can survive. In the end, Morton hits the dirt to a nice little Morricone death cue, and a few final good-by bullets from his angel of death, a brilliant Henry Fonda. Not every Fisher King gets to live through his wound's rough cure, but there's at least an ocean in sight, even if it is just a painting on the wall.



11. Brando - Vito Corleone
The Godfather (1972)
"There just wasn't enough time, Michael."

 13. Burl Ives - Big Daddy
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  (1958)
The family basement is packed with souvenirs and statues from a Cook's tour to Europe Big Daddy took with his wife, who takes after the mendacity side of the family. What could be just a cliche'd rendition of Charles Foster Kane's big ole basement becomes a mythic underworld, with Burl Ives as a kind of pot-bellied troll king, and cobwebs on tall lamps draped to resemble stalagmites and tree roots. There's moments for Burl and Paul to each smash stuff in a clutching heart attack way as their illusions of immortality and glory are dashed on the altar of passing time and irrelevance. Facing finally the full horror of all existence, they are redeemed by embracing what they as men fear and recoil from the most - genuine feeling and human love. 
I've had those breakthroughs before with my own big daddy. Maybe you have too -- the late night boozy moments of truth when you can look at him and suddenly see--instead of a paragon or symbol of authority--a fellow aging human, ever trying to escape his future by ignoring his present, just as you do, and if alcoholism runs in your veins you can bond quite well until the hungover morning when you scarcely remember the progress you made. Like many of Williams' plays, it seems made for me, made for a brooding drunk writer by a brooding drunk writer - with booze as the thing that both gives you the brio to stare into that void, and at the same time shorten the distance to the bottom, where the teeth of Sebastian's Venus fly trap garden go Click-clack!
12. Jeff Bridges - Jack
The Fisher King (1991)

Man, if I wanted to see an alcoholic artist slacker in the late 80s taking advantage of the kindness and fierce protective instinct of a goodhearted Italian-American girl, I would just look at my scrap book! Twice! That's why I was happy to see Jeff Bridges finally becoming.... Jeff Bridges. Robin Williams in prime 'who's crazier, the crazy guy or the 'sane' one in an insane world?" is the Parsifal, making our friend Jeff, the dude, the Fisher King by restoring his faith. Look at him the dude There, above. Aren't you proud? Grail achieved! What is it? It's a golf trophy Williams stole from an UES apartment! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Getting to Own You: CLOUD ATLAS (2012), RUGGLES OF RED GAP (1935)


In my eleven feet of apartment, in a couch gone saggy from my restless weight, armed with a hairless cat and a vast battlefield of Coke Zeros and Camel Lights, I spent the Fourth of July weekend watching a  six part Revolutionary War documentary and marveling at the mule-headed courage of our American forefathers (many of my ancestors fought in it, from Ipswich, Mass --how Lovecraftian!): "All men are created equal," Jefferson wrote, believing it "self-evident," yet even on his deathbed the man could only bring himself to free five of his many slaves. What a complete bastard, but perhaps the meaning of freedom is lost on those who are born free. Unless they watch the right empathy-triggering movies, of course.

Here now I celebrate my freedom from the bondage of self, from the need to socialize to stave off anxiety and depression, to reap the benefits of age and medication which allow me to sit and be fully absorbed into what I watch. I observe no bed time, no three course meal structure. I am free to gild my cage and wallow in the tube's glowing captivity. Fuck the picnic grilles and distant echoing screams of children. The world outside the screen becomes more and more like an easily forgettable dream, the waiting in line portion of Space Mountain, a place to freshen one's palate before the next dip into the collective cable-DVD-Blu-ray-Streaming never-ending ocean of dream options. I am free to choose any illusion.

A true slave, at last, am I.


And over in 'real life,' what is it about owning our fellow man that is such a vile turn-on? Why are we natural enslavers of ourselves, and each other, we who revere freedom with such sanctimonious lip service?

I didn't realize my next choice of dream submission transmission, CLOUD ATLAS (2012), would perhaps explain all that and more. There are whippings and escaped black slaves, SOYLENT GREEN references, unlawful incarceration, schizophrenic devil visitations, bombs on planes, cannibalism, Tom Hanks as you've never seen him before, an ingeniously understandable futuristic neo-ebonic patois, interesting predictions, way too many Jim Broadbents, and strangely CGI-dependent faux-epicanthic folds. There is misery and the sweet sting of freedom's disconnect and the bizarre difficulties in trying to whittle a human soul down to a commodity.


Its source novel-- written originally no doubt in that page-turner potboiler manner where something bad is almost about to always happen at the end of every riveting chapter--each small victory against the tyranny of evil men comes cathartic through the door at the last possible moment, and even if we're all going to eventually be sucked under by Miss Fellowes-closeted dykes, racist capitalists and homophobic Capulets, somehow we go on to write interesting if overly familiar philosophy about our intertwined destinies, one life after another.


The fantasy at play in ATLAS' life-after-life thesis isn't just reincarnation, for there are enough documented cases of past life remembrance to make that a fact for anyone willing to look at the copious research, the true fantasy is that our words, art, or music will somehow endure through the ages, even if it looks for all intensive purposes like we'll die in obscurity. But even if we only get a handful of copies of our music out on CD-R, or LP, or our films are only seen by a few hundred on YouTube, or our abolitionist diaries are only used to prop up piano benches, as long as we reach one other person in the future then we will have succeeded, because that person might be us, or have known a future/past version of us, and even be interested in helping this future version of us, based on what they read or heard by this past us. And so, each piece of art or writing is a message in a bottle, every shipboard journal or pirate broadcast a possible future bible. It's what we writers and artists and musicians tell ourselves when laboring in near-obscurity, writing sermons that no one will hear, casting messages in bottles out in the waves of infinite time and space. Even if we're world famous we still have to face that blank page alone, and it's never satisfied, even long after inspiration has flown it begs for words like a junkie. It's a fantasy we cling to like a leaky life raft. Only a focus on the perfection of craft has any results, bailing-wise. But is that a purpose, or a distraction from our true one?

Hugh Grant - Reloaded
Hugo Weaving, about to get (finally) clobbered by a Scotsman
All writers of today and even yesterday dream and wonder about whether their words will live on to tomorrow, or disappear forever in some massive power outage that kills all internet files. We wonder if we wouldn't have been better off writing everything down in longhand and saving it all in a mysterious pouch for our future descendants to marvel over in 3-D Technicolor flashbacks, but years of typing and bad posture and impatience has made our thoughts too rapid for slow pen movements. I end up writing three sentences ahead of my previous one. My text collapses in on itself like a slowly forming whirlpool. Doesn't yours, Mr. Anderson?

CLOUD ATLAS understands all this. The censors of the mind are some seriously twisted villains, cast against type mostly, except for Hugo Weaving who is cast as, depending on the century, a Papa Legba-style demon, a corporate assassin for big oil interests, an old world evil enslaver of black flesh... and an evil female nurse at a no-escape Dickensian old folks home wherein s/he looks unaccountably like Matt Damon or Dexter. And then, evilest of all, Hugh Grant as a cannibal, another slaver, and an old grotty rich dude who traps his brother in said gulag rest home.

But the siblings Wachowski and Tom Tykwer may have brought over too much baggage from THE MATRIX. For one thing, they are way too into face ornamentation and futuristic neo-pagan nonsense (who can forget the shark jump douche chillbient rave scene in RELOADED?). The many lives/many genders thing is great, though, and the vibe of impending hostility and anti-freedom crusaders breathing down your neck has never seemed so urgent. Having one of your writer/directors be a real-life transgender undoubtedly helped this, as who else has the chance to live two distinct but intertwined lives in one skin? But more than gender, this crazy threesome bask in the glory of art and letters to transcend time. They want us to know that without art and letters it's all meaningless (life, not necessarily the movies). With the ability of writing to transcend time and keep flames of freedom alive it's like V FOR VENDETTA all over again, or THE FOUNTAIN (see: American Grievers), wherein one letter writer gets an art exhibit and people flock to gaze at their faded penmanship of their past selves. Experiencing the full magnificent weight of ATLAS, you get the feeling they're already justifying to themselves that it's okay if this film doesn't make any money. Future generations will recognize it as the defining film of our century. Hell, maybe it isn't, but here it is anyway, permanently.

The Fountain 
And who amongst us, late at night, alone, drunk off our asses with notebook in hand, haven't looked down upon our incoherent scrawls and felt the surging power of Wagnerian music in our unbound soul, as if every line will one day be memorized as gospel by millions? Does it really matter if that's all just the booze? As long as you feel famous, who gives a shit whether anyone's ever heard of you? They all suck anyway.

But if you could feel entwined and get that old unfamiliar familiar feeling listening to a dead stranger's music, or seeing their art, or reading their life story, or seeing them act in a film, does that make them you in a past life? What about a future life? (Which is how I feel about John Dies at the End). Or what about contemporaries? Can't you be living more than one life at the same time, separated from it by a wall of conscious amnesia that only art and music can cross?

Didn't I write this....tomorrow?
See, I feel that way about Lou Reed (hear me sing "Sweet Jane" here). I felt a deep connection to him and his music even BEFORE I ever did drugs, drank, or realized we shared the same birthday, and studied the same subject at the same University. And so I feel that reincarnation can occur in a contemporary phase. If all of us are connected and time doesn't really exist then it makes sense that not only will we live many lives along a linear historical axis, but we'll live every life in all eras, eventually.

Unlike the Wachowskis and Tykwer I'm not a big budget story teller. Rather I am a story liver-througher. I treat what I see onscreen and hear through my headphones as part of my own living heritage. As Peter Tork said (while wearing a white robe): "It is impossible for the brain to distinguish between the real and the vividly imagined." Media is more meaningful to me than my own reality, I feel it too deep. I can read the future in a passing synchronicity ("plate o' shrimp") on TV, and find any mood or exaltation reflected in any actorly face. God, in other words, speaks to me through the randomness of TV chance. Film is my I Ching.

There are reasons for this: I grew up in the land where color aerial TV was the height of home entertainment and no child overruled their father on what to watch, so we learned to take it all in without distinguishing what we liked or disliked.  Cartoons were on until dad came home from work and switched on the news, without so much as an apology, and I regularly had to go to bed before the end of the prime time movie, forcing me to dream the rest of it. I learned to roll with the boredom, exalt in the heights, soak it all up sans filter, ride the cathode ray like a twin-stalked lobster surf into the blue dream mystic.

Anyway, my point is this:

Close our eyes and think hard enough and we can feel the feelings of being anywhere any other human has ever existed. If it can be imagined or performed, if we can hear or see our fellow man, if we can feel and hear and taste that which is suggested, then it's all true, and those instantaneous links our words and music and art create are proof we are immortal. We're the cumulatively encompassed transparadoxical double helix time line of Self.

Hugo Weaving, comin' ta get ya!

By contrast, the evil people--the racist, classist, sexist, and intolerant-- the Hugo Weavings and Hugh Grants in their various ATLAS incarnations-- will always want to isolate, enslave, incarcerate, or annihilate a subset of humanity, the way they'd like to lance a boil. Our unified field of self is proof of their evil and separation. They refuse to be connected in any compassionate way to the people they've deemed lower than themselves in order to justify their inhumanity. But to oppress humanity in any of its forms is to abjectify an aspect of oneself, which is what leaves homophobic racists on a shrinking life raft until they finally have to try and lynch their own toes. What anti-gay marriage proponents forget to mention is that up until 1968, it was illegal in most red states to marry outside your own race (see: Anti-Miscegenation Laws). Nowadays even the Rushes don't dare wish this law was reinstated. But those toes ever more foreboding grow. (2)

Olivier's Richard III
I pity the haters in many ways because I know the horrible feeling of powerlessness that underwrites such veiled misanthropy. These souls feel like they can only create human bonds the cheap, fast way, by demonizing a subset. "Not it!" they cry, always first, always terrified of being "it" in life's game of tag. But they know it's only a matter of time before they're next on their own chopping block, like the Duke of Buckingham (above) in Richard III, slowly realizing the unspoken rule of paranoia: if one sells out others one shall inevitably be sold out in turn ("... and then they came for me"). It can be no other way, by definition.

BUT even within the context of this, there's something downright unnerving about CLOUD ATLAS and its suggestion that evil souls can survive through many lives, rather than the common conception, shared by me, and Buddha and probably Rosicrucians, that after one life of such condensed navel-orbiting they get ground up in the archons' furnace and recycled into new tadpole souls. Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving in ATLAS however are unconscionably evil shits for centuries, persecuting the same souls over and over. It's horrifying in a way, to suggest a persona so split it's PTSD survives through aeons in two separate incarnations, the one dominating, incarcerating, flogging and inconveniencing the other without relent.

I don't believe this is 'really' how reincarnation works. I believe Weaving's character would probably wind up re-melted in Satan's forge and caste in lower forms after one go round, or better still would reincarnate as his own victim. BUT - it's damned scary to think that some souls are just evil forever, given a license to shit on the same other soul throughout eternity. That idea is just too odious to bear, though it does make for riveting viewing. Real nightmare shit I don't advise seeing it alone, high on DXM and a fever, unless you want your old FLATLINER death signals reawakened.


I cooled down after ATLAS in the warmness that is RUGGLES OF RED GAP (1935). In this Leo McCarey masterpiece the struggle against systematic oppression involves a third generation English butler (Charles Laughton) learning to stretch out in America's limitless potential as a Washington State restaurateur, and to stand up to both his original British earl "owner" (Roland Young) and current harridan employer, Effie, the petit-bourgeois wife of Egbert (Charlie Ruggles, in his finest hour), the laconic heir to a vast lumber fortune in Washington State. But getting there first involves the pain of being 'lost' in a poker game he wasn't even present at.

"You're going to America, Ruggles," the Earl (Roland Young) simply announces that morning as Ruggles lays out the Earl's suit and hands him the paper.

"The country of slavery, m'lord?"

"Oh that's all finished, I think", the Earl quoth.

And yet Ruggles has been used as pokers stakes. He later takes to drink, and starts worrying about Indians, perhaps unaware they are basically genocided out of existence. Still it's quite interesting to hear an English valet dismiss America as beneath contempt for its practice of slavery even as it boasts of its classlessness. Meanwhile, a few major cities like New York and Boston hold onto 'old money families' who vainly try to bring their strict stratifications across the land like a plague of misery to the land of the free. Among other brilliant things (I cry every time), Ruggles recites the Gettysburg address, learns to have fun, and is even allowed to drink on the job because Effie is "broad-minded."

Director Leo McCarey shows his humanist steak in spades here, and I think it's his best film. The Hugo Weaving of the piece is snobby Boston in-law Belknap Jackson (Lucien Littlefield) who, together with Effie, turns the mansion into a gigantic antique shop all tacky and stuff. He tries to fire Ruggles for various perceived insults (including, outside a beer-bust, Ruggles kicking him square in the arse), and generally gets what's coming to him to the delight of all. Bellknap and Effie are the types who used to uphold to the traditions of slavery because it was 'being done' in all the best southern families, and if it's tradition and prizes one type of person over another, i.e. enhances or upholds some brutally oppressive class system, then it must be superior to the French ideal of liberte' egalite' et fraternite' which is way too populist for the rich afraid of losing their riches... even now.

But as I learned while working in a high end art gallery through the 90s, the really classy people--Ma, Ruggles, Nell, and Egbert --avoid the bourgeois nonsense and stick to drinking and having fun. The highlight being that the Earl and Egbert sneak out of the house to avoid the guests at the dinner party Effie's giving in the Earl's honor. All they really want to do is drink and hang out with pals like their cool-as-hell ma (Maude Eburne, below right), a wise woman cinemarchetype if ever there was one and there was, never getting involved in the petty domestic squabbles, just paying the bills and shrugging it off with a good laugh. We should be able to do the same, and thanks to Warner's Archives, RUGGLES is at last on DVD, and looking great. Don't ever not see it.


I'm about out of time so in closing, America, happy birthday again. For the most part, you rule! Just don't try to rule me, because I am not even here, psychically or spiritually. The last thing I want is for you to find that out and come looking for me inside the screen, hunting your lost property like a relentless alarm clock, insisting as my mom used to do that I come outside, to work, play, and be my awful trapped-in-the-sticky-amber of linear time self along with all the other kids. It took me years to be able to let all that go and indulge my misanthropy and vanting to be alone. But I made it, Ma. Look at me looking. After all, I am not really even my own master - I belong to that remorseless muse, riding me forever deeper into the muck, heedless of fame or fortune, caring only for the next crazy turn in the untraveled yellow wood pulp. As long as it's the one less traveled, and a dead end, I'll keep going; even after it all vanishes in an electromagnetic pulse back to page one stone age tablets, I'll be so stoned, m'lord, lord... lord.


NOTES:
2. I of course refer to that old folk tale about the scared lodger who, spotting two shiny eyes at the other end of this bed, scared in the dead of night blows his own big toes off with a shotgun (the nails of the big toes resembled eyes in the moonlight) - as apt an illustration of projected hatred as war on self one is likely to find. Makes sense it's from Appalachia.
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