Thursday, March 27, 2014


Psychedelic awakening, madness, and tonto re forro puta madre yankee nonsense is afoot in Chile, and a beady-eyed, hawk-nosed, blonde-tousled Michael Cera is there, a-swooping down from El Cóndor Pasa with jellied arms akimbo, fulfilling the soul-deadening norteamericano tourist promise even into the ego-dissolving mescaline maw. Luckily (or unfortunately, depending on your tolerance for smug yankee nonsense), the beautiful locals are so chill they don't even tell him to go take a flying leap. Enlightened by socialist higher education and lax taxation, the Chileans accept him despite his inability to accept himself. And so it is that--over the course of Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva's shot-back-to-back 2013 films, Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus--our jittery ectomorph trips, trails, shoots, swims, jumps, screams, freaks out, titters, ducks, snarks, whines, twists, and wakes with his face in the bush. He wants maybe to be a psychedelic icon, but he's not handsome enough to be Peter Fonda, loco enough to be Dennis Hopper, menacing enough to be Bruce Den, or devilish enough to be Jack Nicholson. Cera does have a dash of Dern skeeviness, a peck of Jack loucheness, a minor case of Hopper dementia, and Fonda's penchant for self-aware narcissist feedback loop deafness, and that's a start. Separated like Pyramus and Thisbe by a lean ridge of a nose they're forever trying to peer around, Cera's beady eyes are in front to judge the distance to his prey, but can he swoop down on the bunny before creeping self-awareness blinds him to everything but his own black hole navel?

It doesn't even matter. Because today we'll be using Dali's 'paranoiac-critical method' to pick at this pair of films' paisley scabs:
According to Dali, by simulating paranoia one can systematically undermine one's rational view of the world, which becomes continually subjected to associative transformations, "For instance, one can see, or persuade others to see, all sorts of shapes in a cloud: a horse, a human body, a dragon, a face, a palace, and so on. Any prospect or object of the Physical world can be treated in this manner, from which the proposed conclusion is that it is impossible to concede any value whatsoever to immediate reality, since it may represent or mean anything at all" (Marcel Jean). The point is to persuade oneself or others of the authenticity of these transformations in such a way that the 'real' world from which they arise loses its validity. The mad logic of Dali's method leads to a world seen in continuous flux, as in his paintings of the 1930s, in which objects dissolve from one state into another, solid things become transparent, and things of no substance assume form. -- Language is a Virus
With Magic Magic especially, we can count Sebastián Silva part of what I've dubbed the Darionioni Nuovo, an emerging international school of filmmakers picking up the breadcrumb trail left by 70s Argento that connects back to 60s Antonioni and Polanski, 50s Hitchcock, and 30s Cocteau, in the process conjuring up a beast with Tennessee Williams' sparagmostically flayed wings, Jung's mythically fluid manticore "tail," and a single-first-person peeping tom keyhole crystal ball eye (passed amongst its three gorgon/hydra acidheads). Berberian Sound Studio, Amer, Boarding GateScarlet DivaThe Headless Woman are some of the other films that fit this unique niche --a style too paranoid to be acknowledged even by its originators. Each daring auteur is devoted in their own fashion to the paranoid-critical dissolution of sexual mores and the unsettling irrational paranoia that erupts in even the sanest mind when the comfort of steady signifier-signified connectedness disappears and the "real" emerges, like a strange tropical fruit that becomes--with a blink of the eye--a dead parrot. It's a feeling Europeans and globe-trotting hippies know very well, since language and culture barriers can sometimes make--especially if they're jet-lagged, alienated, or fucked-up on weird drugs which they gulped down in burst of irrational paranoia en route to the airport customs window. For these experienced travelers, freed of the unconscious signifiers that might otherwise guide them safe and unconscious through a same-language environment, once familiar signposts and objects become strange unassimilable things, pregnant with a unique menace all their own. One of the chief benefits of being asleep in the symbolic realm, a loss of fear. Upon waking into the real, death and vividly-imagined pain is felt breathing down our necks. 

Magic Magic --the better of the two films in my mind--taps into the spirit of  60s-70s 'female mind buckling under the weight of the male gaze' films: it's got the same vibe as Repulsion's rabbit rotting-on-the-plate, Antonioni's Red Desert Vitti closing closet doors in mid-tryst paranoia. The Crystal Fairy film by contrast is--for all its mystic leanings-- more or less a conventional 'shitheel learns to respect others' moral tale (Rohmer on Roybal) as well as a very good look at what it's like to have a bad trip where your head's so far up your own ass that maybe you're depending far too much on the psychedelic drug trip you've been pining for. If you expect it will cure all your crippling self-conscious depressive hangups in a single flash, think again, Cera! I know from a zillion bad trips (circa 1988-98) it doesn't work like that. Not to get all Burning Mannish, but the Ancient Mescaline Gods demand full existential dissolution before they lift your egoic agonies. The farther we are from this baseline mortality awareness, the less 'alive' we feel, the more violent the breaking out of the faerie bower has to be, until the whole self splinters like a glass goblin back into its red, green, and blue component cables, back into the awareness/terror/impermanence of unprocessed signal.  If you're not ready for that dissolution of self, the Mescaline Gods' mystical awakening is really more of a reverse keelhauling, as your squirmy psyche is lifted out of its comfy depths and exposed to the sun's superegoic jeering in a northerly clockwork motion, and the comfort of the dark, murky underside of the ship is longed for like a Linus blanket that's no buried at the bottom of the sea.

Crystal Fairy manages to get this exactly right, but in the process it reminds us that even if we're nowhere near as obnoxious as Cera or Crystal Fairy (the equally obnoxious American girl he runs into), compared to the easygoing balanced chill of bros and ladies of South America, we're all hinchapelotas.

At any rate, the photography is lovely. By the end we're managing to hallucinate into the beachfront rocks the way Dali used to do along the Costa Brava and if you've ever been stuck tripping with (or been) the Crystal Fairy type (patchouli, unshaven armpits, ratty faux-dreads, acting the PC den mother no one remembers asking for) or the Cera type (can't shut off their motormouth solipsism for five minutes, their "I'm getting off, are you getting off yet?" babble trying to turn the wordless experience of the divine into a Disney ride), you may wince from painful recognition (these types can leave deep scars of Pavlovian annoyance in your deep/soft psychedelic tissue), but at least you know Silva feels your pain. Question is, is that art or entertainment or just a pained groan of remembrance, like when you recognize your own younger self's bullshit with a groan of pain when some first-trip youngster starts knowingly babbling to you about the truth behind reality.

Apparently cast members did ingest the San Pedro cactus being depicted which may explain the lacksy-daisy narrative progression. I can imagine freaking out grandly, with a big camera crew following me around as I frolicked on the beach, thinking I was making Citizen Kane but really making Hearts of Age. (I've done the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale). I would hate to be in that frame of mind and have to play an obnoxious twerp like Cera's comeuppance-craving Mr. "Magnificent" Anderson of a red pill psychedelic seeker as much as I would hate to trip with him. Forsooth, methinks he is a wally. 

Cera handles the abuse well - but is there really a point? In its way, my problem with Crystal Fairy is the same as with Welles' Ambersons, i.e. a fatal misjudging of audience empathy for a particular actor that makes the film hard to watch, like a cookie filled with arsenic where they forgot the Sidney Falco sugar --so what's there to eat without the ice cream face? I have the same problem with both Ambersons and Lady from Shanghai -- in each case the entire point of both films seems to be to allow Welles the chance to play a larger-than-life egotistical swine but at the last minute he gives the plum role to someone else - and neither Tim Holt or Everett Sloane can fill Welles' mighty big shoes --and isn't that precisely why, unconsciously, he cast them?  

Magic Magic is the better of the films because Cera is only a side player, so his horrible lesion of a self-conscious shitheel matrix doesn't pollute our minds. Instead we have Alicia, an American tourist even crazier than Crystal Fairy, but less obnoxious, substantially cuter, and played by the great Juno Temple. She's on a Blanche Dubois-goes-on-a-Repulsion vacation to Chile, where, instead of isolation (with just a dead rabbit and rapist hallucinations), it's the lack of privacy that drives her mad. Expecting to have a restful visit with her American college exchange student buddy Sara (Emily Browning) only to find her plans hijacked by a car full of other--irritatingly spontaneous--people, including: Sara's novio Augustin (Agustín Silva), his sisteBábara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and Cera, the Ugly American (speaking Spanish with ease but still unbearable). Before she can even unpack, she's off on a long car ride to some remote island. It would be annoying under any circumstances, but after an exhausting ten-hour flight it's just bound to kickstart your bi-polar disorder. 

And it gets worse, a straw too far: suddenly Sara is called away for an enigmatic 'test' and so Alicia is alone with these weirdos. Cera is her designated friend, since Alicia speaks no Spanish, which is worse than not speaking at all. And it's miles to go before she can sleep. Alicia's got to deal with all this life-affirming Chilean ease-in-their-own skin nonsense and it drives her mad like all the rustic Americana did  Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven.

Things go downhill faster and faster, for poor Alicia, even though the island is pretty. Eventually we go from feeling her pain to that of her strange companions, because she can't blame it all on the bad cell phone reception, fear of water, alienation, insomnia, and being more-or-less a captive audience to any dumb animal that won't stop humping her leg.

I know well the feeling of this one too. Tired from the trip, staying with a bunch of relaxed, groovy people who want to party all day and all night, thus preventing you from getting the 12 hours sleep you need to recover from an overnight flight, everyone seems to taunt you with their niceness. As the moody irritable lack-of-sleep depression kicks in, you begin to hate your fellow revelers for rubbing your lack of joie d'esprit in your face.

For me this was visiting friends up in Syracuse for the weekend, after I'd graduated. The people I stayed with invariably had cats and I'm allergic and would be wheezing and gasping all night, depressed by lack of sleep and too much speedy Sudafed which made me intensely paranoid and didn't even really work. And then the auditory hallucinations started: some girl in the kitchen might say to her cute single friend "can you pass the Pepsi?" I'd overhear it as something like "Erich has hep-C."  Which I don't, and I totally would have slept with her, too. That other bitch be cockblocking. See? It's already too late - I now hate that girl who asked for a Pepsi! Even though I, being a psychedelic veteran, KNEW I was having auditory hallucinations, I still had to restrain myself from running into the kitchen and declaring myself fit for duty. 

Such cranky, crazy oddness is what Dali's paranoid-criticism is all about. If you cultivate it instead of trying to escape from it --dive into the madness rather than run from it--the world is yours. Once Carol takes up the razor in Repulsion she's no longer scared, see? She's hacked her way clear, carving a wall of human flesh, dragging the canoe behind her, beyond Ulmer's time barrier.

For the full effect of the paranoid-critique you need to see the preview for Magic Magic before you see the film because the preview makes it seem like a 'Most Dangerous Game meets Welcome to Arrow Beach meets Svengali' horror movie instead of the 'Red Desert-style modernist melt-down mixed with I Walked with a Zombie-style poetic ambiguity' it is. Anyone can do the former, but the latter is a hard thing to pull off and Silva aces it. The photography by the amazing (Wong Kar Wai's go-to) DP Christopher Doyle makes stunning use saturated color (stark yellow raincoat against a purple-blue sea), helping the film look how one might imagine the Polanski mid-60s trilogy: Knife in the WaterRepulsion, and Cul-de-Sac would look if shot today.

Hell yeah, Polanski and Val Lewton (and Dali) would love Magic Magic.

Lastly, I know I've been mean to Cera as well as annoyed by him. I spent agonizing tours desperately hoping a psychedelic trip might bring me out of my self-absorbed depression. I wanted to feel as happy and interconnected as everyone around me seemed, but not being able to get there no matter how high I got, was maddening. Only in AA did I learn that everyone feels that way, just not as painfully so they just muddle past it rather than overdoing it in a vain hope some old magic will return. Then you learn that ego can't be burned off by taking too much of anything. You can't fight it, only coax it into giving up on its own via being nice to other people, through empathy, through service, sharing your story, honestly, therapy, 12-steps and self-expression. Oh yeah, OR you can do antidepressants. 

Or art.

Drugs may not always work, writing about how drugs don't always work does, which brings us to this moment: Back in the 90s, the downtown Manhattan lounge scene, flitting from one exotic storefront lounge to the next in my tuxedo jacket and feather boa, wondering if the ketamine I'd snorted was working, struggling vainly towards feeling spontaneous and free, and failing even when ecstasy was flowing in bumps right off the table and I was dancing with lovely ladies while Moby and Fancy spun away and the city beamed up at us from Windows on the World vantage-- even with all that, it was as if some heavy blanket of strained artificiality was choking the joi de vivre right out of me. Every August my roommate would jet off to Ibiza leaving me to try vainly one more time to drink myself to death (my boss, being French, closed the gallery for the whole month), and then in October---when New York City is the best place to be on Earth--whomever my roommate had crashed with there would come visit NYC and stay at our place, and suddenly the clouds of despair would lift - these Brits or Venezuelans or Germans could get all of us united, dancing, alive, happy, in love with the scene, joyous. Feeling so real, at last.

Then they'd be gone again... The same alien disconnect denial malaise would descend. 

I guess it could have been worse. What if we didn't even know how in despair we'd been?

We might have been Michael Cera.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Laureate of the Laid: Terry Southern, CANDY (1968)

Life is a latticework of coincidence, whether we see it or not. Usually we don't want to --we're worried we'd go crazy if we did  -- and we would, if the stayed down too long. With our blinders up, thankfully, the coincidence matrix scans less as a pineal gland-buzzing 9-dimensional grid of raw wave energy and more as an abstract field of meaningless white noise with the odd splotch of identifiable pattern-- a ghost outline of an unintelligible word that comes and goes long before any deciphering of the cosmic hidden message can ensue. But dig this, man: when you're alight with manic magic or 'awakened' or 'enlightened' or 'tripping balls' or schizophrenic or a genius, then every single goddamn moment of conscious existence holds a hundred thousand coincidence matrix four-dimensional linkages, stretching from your mind into the TV screen and out to America and into your own cellular biology, everything macro- and micro- fractal-ing out and in, through the past and future, and in higher dimensions than we can consciously perceive, except through the metatextual incorporation of media (i.e. virtually).

Whether or not we can handle it, this interconnectivity exists like vast and unknowable tendril lattice matrix betwixt our eyes, ears, TV, film, music (only what is currently playing in that moment) and the outermost limits of one's living room and mind. It's all connected to the point of Rubik's Cube inextricability; the retinal screen tattoos the mind and the DVD spins as if a windmill testament to our mind's ability to perceive shapes, faces, voices, targets. Every single element of perceived external and internal reality is an interconnected 'other' staring back at "us" as blankly as we stare at TV commercials, perking up only when we're going through emotional extremes. This 'other' groans in boredom if we don't keep it entertained, as much as vice versa. If we behold its gaze directly we're either dead or insane, but art, Art gives us the Perseus Medusa mirror shield by which to cautiously glimpse that which we cannot behold head-on, that which the blinders are there to block. In other words, we can keep our blinders on but widen our perception at the same time.

Mandrake, isn't it true that on no account will a commie ever take a drink of water?

And not without good reason!

When these latticework lightbulbs are flashing atop each pylon neuron around the pineal car wreck (presuming fluoridation hasn't encrusted it), one turns naturally to Terry Southern, America's dirty Swift, the Texas Voltaire, the Watergate Lubitsch, the Lenny Bruce of lauded literary lustful libertinism, the acidhead Brecht, the Ayatollah of cock rock lit. Southern took the ball from randy sordid authors like Nabokov, Poe and Henry Miller and threw it straight through the Cuban Missile Crisis' fire hoop, shattering the speed of the three martini lunch's glass bottom end zone and through the Hindu deity receiver's fifth and sixth arms, scoring the free-love mind game psychedelic put-on touchdown. True anarchy of spirit finds full flower of expression in his R-rated Marx Brothers protozoic chest-thumping. His scripts and/or original novels for films like Barbarella, Candy, The Loved One, The End of the Road, and Dr. Strangelove mix jet black humor with guilt-free sex, bawdy anarchy, trenchant satire, anti-Vietnam rants, un-PC skirt chasing, grim apocalypse flashing and vintage slapstick in ways that make the puerile inanity of today's sex comedy seem tragically flaccid.   
Maybe you don't, but I remember the year (circa 1995?) that that girls' dating guide book The Rules reaffixed a heavy price tag to free love. It killed it, in fact. It had just begun to fly (in the 70s) and already it was being called back to the nest for overhauls, when it returned it was all date-rapey, the masses never getting the correlation between the popularity of Game of Thrones and the news' latest sex abuse charge. On a side latticework spider strand: let yourself wonder much sex would be in books if not for the juicy free press provided by censorship, probably not as much. Dirty books once were banned in many countries (including ours), and were therefore exceedingly popular. Authors like Burroughs, Southern, and Nabokov could make fast money churning them out for Parisian small presses, which were then smuggled into America as 'imported' erotica (what they were really importing, was literature. (The only way to get America to read 'the articles' was by printing them in Playboy).

Lax censorship in our current age on the other hand has strangely led to a second Puritanism, reminding one of the clean-cut Nazis rising up from the ancient Rome-style decadence of Weimar Germany. Southern is from an era when 'adult' cinema was adult--by adults for adults--and not the sole purview of 'endearingly' foul-mouthed nerdy immature boys or rapey HBO writers. Literary lions have no place on our bookshelves now, except in the library , where erotica isn't always welcome. And more and more, old dead straight dirty white guys are being scissored from college reading lists to make room for minority and female voices. As a result, erotica now seems the result only of immaturity and a small vocabulary, a sad association from which it may never recover.

This putsch of maturity and learnedness from the realm of sex may seem a victory to the easily deluded PC snobs of the Ivory Tower, but they've never been good at spotting coincidence latticework anyway, their pineal glands being so fluoride-encrusted they're blind to even the idea of blindness. They've forgotten that when intellectual satire is volleyed at sacred institutions, exposing the truth of the latticework to all our awakened horror, it destroys only the dead cells within, leaving the rest vibrant and now hip enough to incorporate critique. Only the mundane and banal need fear (and even then, the teacher's union springs to protect their right to keep boring students). Meanwhile the potty-mouthed prattle of today's grown infants is never a threat to the higher-ed gestapo and can indeed be yoked to the PC mafia's repressive practices, encouraging said banal literati that not one dead cell shall slough off from the obese corpse of "literature."

Jane Fonda - Barbarella
Thus Southern, the Alvarado Swinburne, the heterosexual Wilde, was obscene only to illuminate the truer obscenities of religion, Washington, the pertro-chemical industrial complex, the funeral industry, the American military, Wall Street, academia, the American Medical Association, even the counterculture of which he was an active part. His was the the voice of the savage American expatriate id, run aground in Paris after the War like the Lost Generation before him. First he attended the Sorbonne on the GI Bill, then became a Paris Review co-founder, then a dirty book writer full of unbeatable Bugs Bunny trickster tactics, then a black comic screenwriter. Willing to look deep into the obscene eye of humanity without blinking, or even judging, his adults-only humor wasn't aimed at naughty boys of fifteen, but real live adults, with deep smoker's voices, at least one STD to their credit, maybe a few scars from the war. Theirs was a level of maturity we seldom see today (think Johnny Carson's smooth elan vs. Jimmy Fallon's beer-bloated fanboy gushing or even Animal House vs. Old School -- and weep for an America that will one day make Adam Sandler seem a stalwart fount of manly gravitas).

If there's still an author with 'adult' intellect left standing after this latest PC putsch, one yet able to be lusty without merely lapsing into unconscious misogyny, that author is well-hidden, and would never dare come forward until said putsch hath passed (I predict it will by 2020). One day he (or she --why the hell not?) may write a book that could bring us out of this maturity death spiral, or that could be made into a film like Candy, which seems to condone molestation, drugging women without their knowledge, borderline/date rape, etc., (seems is the key word in that sentence). In the meantime, men now feel so bad for saying no to a relationship after saying yes to sex that we'd just as soon pre-empt the whole thing.

(Sorry, another latticework side strand): I mean how else are you going to know, for sure, you don't want to go out with a girl, unless you sleep with her first? But that's 'wrong' now. Not back then, apparently! Back then no one was meant to feel bad at all; even a man chasing a girl young enough to be his daughter around the room, his tongue hanging out, honking like Harpo Marx, was under no unseen liberal arts lash of penitence. It may have been annoying for the girl, or not, who knows. But either way, there was no lashing going on, no souring of the air to lead to repression, which seems to me the main underwriter of misogyny and vileness.

If you neuter your satiric watchdog, he may stop humping your leg and peeing in the corners, but he's also apt to hide when the burglars of phony morality and 'sacred' patriarchy show up, thus making his entire existence superfluous. And those burglars he lets in are actually squatters who-- once ensconced within your walls--will linger until they've worn your masculinity down to a mawkish enfeebled little nub. All you will have left are James Bond marathons and then only when your wife is away at spin class. When you hear her car pulling into the garage you quick change the channel to PBS, and bury your nose innocently in The New Yorker. And then, only then, will said squatters leave you to your misery.

You know what I'm trying to say: the institutional targets most deserving of take-down sit smugly behind walls of standards and practice policies, while once-proud writers are assigned stories of mundane consensual love affairs between rational adult celebrities who just happen to be married (albeit to other people). All bawdiness is now relegated to teenagers at band camp or softcore augmented SOV puerility on late night cable, and anyone who texts the wrong person at the wrong hour risks having their texts read aloud on CNN or sent around to all her friends by morning, by that afternoon they're out of a job, hounded from the human race. By dinner, forgotten.

And yet, do we think we can shame human nature? No matter how much PC lip service they pay, chicks still pick the brutish lothario over the sensitive poet, most of the time. What's the point of being a feminist if it doesn't get you laid? It took me 20 years to figure out (with the help of Camille Paglia), what Terry Southern knew all the time: intellectual writers could be just as wild, chest-thumping, and aggressively sexual as any jock, greaser, thug, or motorcyclist. We didn't need to associate the masculine literary intellect with pussywhipped PC enfeeblement, is my point. I despise what's passing for a 'men's movement' these days, and their vile misogynistic corners of the web, but that world has nothing to do with Southern's, any more than a rabid Chihuahua to do with an Alaskan wolf pack.

The vanishing of Southern's pack, then, is a reminder perhaps that writers are not allowed groupies anymore, or if they have them they must either hide that fact lest it compromise their nebbish image, or boast like douche bags, and lose our respect that way. Most comic talents lament their loserdom, their failure with women, their small dicks. Reduced to the status of a shiftless older sibling in the home by their ballbusting mom and her incestuous darling son, dads turn back to their buddies for support: bromance, and gay jokes, whistling in the hetero foxhole dark as women become more and more unapproachable (Jody Hill's Observe and Report a rare, glorious exception). When we do see a famous comic in a standard groupie hook-up, it's presented in the most mutually demeaning manner possible (ala Adam Sandler in Funny People).

In France and England (or Argentina) on the other hand, writers can be pot-bellied, balding, too drunk to even make it to the party plane but they're allowed sex, groupies, and lovely ladies on each arm. and they feel no reason to brag or feel bad or be made to look sleazy or pathetic. Smart is sexy over there. Or was last I checked. Or so I hear.

Southern centered
Southern's oeuvre now represents an era where it may have been a little sneaky getting some bird into bed but it was under the rubric that both of them would have a good time, no one would be 'slut-shamed', and that free love was just that - especially if you were a friend of the Beatles. So the high-functioning gropers of Candy may come from Southern perhaps witnessing blokes gone instantly from birdless to beflocked with a single hit record. Maybe he noted the accompanying changes in their sexual drive and finesse or lack thereof, and that's what shows up in Candy and Barbarella. This is because the safety of loserdom allows for Lacanian objet petit a self-construction, i.e. it's easy to be a stud when you're not actually getting any offers. Once the girl makes it plain she's up for a roll in the way, once the free room and bed are located, and once pants come off--then all sorts of embarrassing equipment failures can manifest... Cialis for daily use is still decades away, erection-deflating coke dust in the party plane air ducts, and groupies impatiently waiting, their plaster cast a-drying more with every flaccid minute.... It's no wonder men have to boast later to their bros --getting the entire deed right, from first eye contact to putting clothes back on and sneaking back downstairs, to satisfy her needs as well as your own without fumbling the condom, losing the erection, and making it all seem organic --it's no easy task. It's a triumph, and there should be more than one other person to bear witness!

All of which is an elaborate, rambling set-up for my discussion of Candy (1968) because even in contemporary America's chilly intolerant climb we wouldn't dream of calling Ringo Starr or Marlon Brando a dirty womanizer, or Richard Burton or James Coburn a pathetic joyless bathroom groupie humper -- which is one of the reasons their characters' over-the-top sexual harassment, abuse of patriarchal authority, even medical malpractice, flourishes into full subversive flower in this film, in ways that would be too unappetizing if ugly hairy-backed plebeians were doing it. That Brando, Coburn and Burton, particularly, lampoon themselves and their status' and profession's own most private (dirty) groupie-trawling here should brook no scolding. Indeed, should be celebrated!

Especially when juxtaposed with modern stuff like HBO's use of graphic rutting which stresses the more mutually demeaning and bestial aspects of sex, Southern's brand of erotica is positively life-affirming. He takes the Voltaire hint and presents the sex drive, and the naked body with all its hairs and gasses, as incorruptible and forgiven all trespass. Ultimately, what is being satirized is the sexual repression that forces men to strike comically unaffected postures before lunging at a passing hottie naif, and the way all their strutting oratory just make them all the more ridiculous once their trousers are halfway off, for no amount of bluster and male pride can smooth the awkward transition from civilized gentleman to a spastically humping mastiff. One look at today's conservative hysteria over birth control on one end, liberal PC lockstep on the other, and the Joy of Sex deflates to a pleasant moment before acres of guilt and anxiety. Dr. Ruth is still out there somewhere, but her voice has grown so faint...

And as far as movies are concerned, the kind of ravishment women like to read about in some of the more disreputable Harlequin offshoots is completely out. One false step and you wind up being demonized in a Lifetime movie.

Though only based on Southern's original novel (co-written with Southern's fellow Parisian ex-pat and Olympia Press dirty-lit writer Mason Hoffenberg), adapted for the film by American satirist Buck Henry (coming hot off The Graduate), directed by Christian Marquand (a French actor, as odd and illogical a choice for an American satire as Mike Sarne for Myra Breckinridge [1970]) and filmed by a French-Italian crew, Candy seems quintessentially Southern at first, standing alongside Dr. Strangelove as a savagely honest critique of America's noisemaker patriotism as well as its drug-fueled paranoia and the sexual puritanism that keeps each at odds.

Kicking things off, Burton is mind-blowingly grand, spectacularly pathetic, and thoroughly hilarious as McPhisto, a grandiose 'dirty-minded' poet making his first appearance, wind in the hair, electric rock blaring, at a student assembly attended by Candy (Ewa Aulin), setting the mechanisms in motion. Brilliantly modulating a cascade of punch lines in a cue card rhythm  - "I wrote that," he says after reading his first poem, long hair and scarf blowing, "laying near death... in a hospital bed...  in the Congo... after being...savagely beaten... by a horde of outraged Belgian tourists." His fluid Welsh wit makes great rolling use of pauses and accented words as he orates, speaking in Latin only to admit he's not quite sure if it means anything, mentioning his books have been "banned or burned in over 20 countries... and fourteen... developing nations." Shifting from famous genius grandeur to hangdog contrition as he mentions his book is available... signed by the author... for three dollars... in cash or money order, even bringing Welsh florid anguish to the mailing address, culminating in "Lemmington, New Jersey."

Burton, orating with creepy alien hybrid
Candy: "Oh my gosh, (watching Burton fall out of the car, soaked in whiskey) he's a mess!
Zero: "Well man, that's the story of love."
Moments later MacPhisto has Candy in the back of his Benz (indeed there's the idea he came there expressly to pick out a nubile co-ed) while Zero (Sugar Ray Robinson) drives, though there seems to be a kind of understanding that they share the automobile and like to get into sexual adventures together, ala Don Juan and Leporello (switching roles nightly, perhaps). "Candy - beautiful name," McPhisto says as prelim to his attack. "It has the spirit and the sound of the old testament." A Scotch spigot in his glass bottom Benz gets turned on by accident, and McPhisto winds up crawling around at Candy's feet, booming on about his 'giant, throbbing need' and pathetically lapping spilled Scotch off the floor, getting it on his trousers, and ending up in Candy's basement with his pants off, heroically making love to a doll that looks eerily like abductee descriptions of alien-human hybrids, all while reciting random verses and sobbing heroically.

Then, alas, with a terrible Mexican accent, Ringo Starr joins the fray. Playing the 'innocent' virgin gardner, he hears the noise and comes down and starts molesting Candy on the pool table, all while Zero (Sugar Ray Robinson) helps himself to the basement bar while dispensing bon mots ("Quo Vadis, baby!"), beaming so approvingly at the crazy scene methinks I was in the kind of hetero-camp heaven I once believed the sole province of Russ Meyer!

Alas, the MacPhisto adventure is the best part of the entire film and even that is marred in the second part by Ringo's terrible performance.  Luckily John "Gomez" Astin kicks it back into some sort of gear as Candy's swinger uncle, who comes home later, setting up a nice contrast to his square twin brother (Candy's father, also Astin). Uncle's nymphomaniac swinger-in-furs quipster wife Livia (Elsa Martinelli) tells Candy she'll like New York, where kids "aren't afraid to scratch when it itches" but a drive to the airport finds them all accosted by Ringo's three sisters riding up on motorcycles, their long black veils fluttering behind them for a brilliant wicked witch of the west / harpy / Valkyrie / flying nun effect.

Alas, the film has already fallen into it's start/stop rhythm. Once the whips and brass knuckles come out, the film starts to just hang there. Director Marquand and screenwriter Buck Henry don't know what to do with the scene, how to resolve it or make it measure up to that awesome chase. The family winds up running onto the tarmac and hopping onto a B-29 taking off with a crack paratrooper cargo, always airborne in case of nuclear attack.

Then, determined to seem more miscast than Ringo, comes Walter Matthau as a deranged Albanian-hating airborne paratroop general (it should have been George C. Scott or Lee Marvin -- who ever heard of a New York pinko Jewish-intellectual US Army general?) And another thing -since when would a general waste his rank in control of only a single planeload of shock troops? A non-com could handle that duty easy- it's what they're there for.

Still, ever a pro, Matthau knows how to keep deadpan when mocking military patriotism, but his cadence as he rambles on about having a kid with Candy and sending it to military school lacks the kind of deranged jingoistic ring that Scott brought to both Patton and Buck Turgidson or Sterling Hayden to Ripper: it's just depressing to imagine his scenario coming true, that poor kid.

But Candy's next fornicating adventure is one of the greats, involving James Coburn's toreador Hackenbush-ish brain surgeon Dr. Krankheit ("This is a human life we're tinkering with here, man, not a course in remedial reading!").

Coburn's histrionic operating theatrics might seem a bit Dr. Benway-esque but Burroughs was a friend of Southern's and Coburn has the spirit of the thing, modulating Shakespearian antithesis and masculine actorly power, seizing the chance to let his sacral chakras vibrate and hum. Aside from Burton, he's the only other star in the film's luminary cast to recognize the covert brilliance buried in even the most seemingly mundane lines (which Matthau breezes right over, missing all the half-notes) and to let each word ring like freedom's infernal bell. Amping up his patented actorly mannerisms, Coburn conjures a physician as a liberated but insane as any before or since, accusing the operating theater audience of thinking what he was a moment ago just saying--throwing his scalpel to the floor and just sticking his finger right into the comatose Astin's brain (one slip and the patient "will be utterly incapable of digit dialing"), saluting the crowd with his bloody middle finger in triumph...

My friends, there is no other word for it: Coburn is MAGNIFICENT!

And just when it can't get any better, Anita Pallenberg (alas, dubbed, as she was in Barbarella) appears as Krankheit's number one nurse. Then, kind of worse: Buck Henry cameos as a mental patient in a straitjacket trying to attack Candy in the elevator. Then, better: John Huston shows up as a prurient administrator who seems to get off trying to shame Candy in front of the entire post-op party after she's caught being molested by her uncle. But hey! Krankheit dispenses B12-amphetamine cocktail shots at the party, and the pink-clad nurses wait around like beholden nuns in some religious spectacle. Coburn's medical innovations include a 'female' electrical socket affixed to the back of Candy's father's head, so he can drain off the excess wattage by powering a small radio. Again, the kind of thing that modern films would not approve of, i.e. how dare you satirize a litigious, lawyered and humorless institution like the AMA, sir!? Sir... Sir?

Candy - w/ James Coburn and Anita Pallenbeg 
From then on, alas, the film's mostly downhill: a scene with a trio of groping Mafioso and a crazy Italian stereotype-a filmmaker is just crude, pointless and skippable; ditto the shocked cops playing up their blue collar bewilderment and earthy hostility as they bash frugging drag queens, crack nightsticks down on hippies, and wind up crashing the squad car because they can't help leering down Candy's dress (alas, who can?). Southern's/Henry's dialogue stays interesting but the targets are too easily skewered and not every actor knows where the cherries are in their monologues. Why not have the cops be groovy, just to be weird, man? But it being 1968, I guess cop-bashing was still 'in'. Now, though, the blue collar drooling thug cop angle comes off almost more like class-based snobbery than cutting satire.

Another low point: Candy joins up with a criminal mastermind hunchback (Charles Aznavour), who can climb up walls and jump into watery windows ("an old stereoscopic trick" says the unimpressed cops), all well and good but Aznavour's aggressively twitchy rat-like Benigni x Feldman-style behavior eats up another soul-deadening stretch, centered around a gag you'll see coming a mile off (if you've seen Godfather 2 - which admittedly came after). And seeing this humpbacked little pisher rutting away atop the luscious Candy is like watching a cockroach dying of Raid atop a vanilla cupcake; with all his hippie minions showering them with down feathers from busted pillows from above, it's also very gang-rapey and uncool.

Escaping once again, Candy winds up in the holy water-flooded mobile ashram of the guru Grindl --played by Marlon Brando. Half-baked and not quite at the level of Burton or Coburn--his voice stuck in a congested limbo between Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson and Abie the Fish Peddler from Animal Crackers, Brando's Indian accent ends up just sounding congestedly Borscht Belt, mining the rhythm of Lenny Bruce as Groucho or Alan Arkin as played by Sky Masterson. Brando's way too internalized and self-righteous for this Grindl to reach the compromised grandeur of Burton's McPhisto or confident carnivorous genius of Coburn's Krankheit (better Brando himself be satirized by some other actor). When he says you 'must travel beyond thirst, beyond hunger" while eating a sausage he sounds just like Hugh Herbert, which is great, but it's such a dick move not to share the food that it's hard to feel anything but a sympathy headache with the by then-starving and much-abused naked girl, and since by then the movie's cresting the two hour mark, with plenty more vignettes to go, you almost certainly will be ready to just smack someone, hit stop and go have dinner or a nap.

Shocking and racist as it might be for an actor of Brando's caliber and political leanings to appear in brownface while noshing on a sausage (which no guru would ever eat) and floating phony guru raps to some blonde in the trailer equivalent of a shag carpeted party van, just remember he (and Burton) liked working in European adult films at the time (when adult meant adult, remember) making things like Last Tango in Paris, and Bluebeard (both 1972, both X-rated), respectively. Abroad they could be free to drink, eat, smoke and screw to excess without having to hide it all lest America's post-Puritan pressure cooker explode all over them. The wine was better, the vibe looser. Who wouldn't rather be there than unbearable gossipy Hollywood?

Which brings me to my final lattice strand--the idea central to Candy's Christian values--which begins with what MacPhisto says in the beginning about being willing to giving oneself freely as the height of human grace. Sure it's a line men use to try and get women into bed at the time, but if they didn't try, where would humanity be?  And as Lenny Bruce would say, that's the true difference between obscenity and humanity. The truth of our 'huge, throbbing need' is unendurable any other way except as a joke that paradoxically lets us save face and free ourselves of it at the same time. It's the last bastion of the healthy human body's societal failings, the hairy gorilla remnant that can't be hidden underneath the seersucker suit. We need society's forgiving tolerance of this gorilla, because if we denude the beast of his business suit only to sneer at him or deliver some drab lecture on morals or objectification, all we do is bum everyone out. We become just another nag, part of the problem. It's just sex, after all. In Europe it's just part of life. Only here does the Puritan shaming venom still drizzle.

In insisting on the okayness of these obscene trespasses, Southern proves 'nothing sacred' is itself the most sacred of philosophies, that there's nothing bad about the human biological system with all its warty needs. Let it be satirized but never condemned. Let only hypocrisy be attacked without mercy.

"We are not old men. We are not worried about your petty morals." - KR, in deposition
To sum up: Candy comes from a time when intellectual men were still allowed to be men, and hipsters were not pale smirking skinny jeans wallies crossing the street to avoid secondhand smoke or arguing in a mawkish voice against plastic bags at the food co-op. They were men, my liege! Southern's era had more repression and obscenity laws to reckon with, but they had the artistic clout to bash into them with dicks swinging, brain hanging, and fists helicoptering. If Southern and friends had been at that food-co-op meeting they would be hurling the organic produce at that anemic hipster, bellowing like a lion, inhaling every kind of smoke presented. Back in their own time all they could do instead was rage against the dying of their pre-Viagra erections, and then die for real, as nature intended, either in WW2 or Vietnam or that Norman Maine surf from which no faded reprobate returns. Rather than clinging to bare life like today's greedy octogenarians, bankrupting Medicare so they can eke out one more month (the impatient specter waiting in the reception area, rereading that old Us Weekly for the eleven hundredth time while doctors stall out the clock since they're getting richer by the hour), rather than that, sir, they died... like men!

Real hipsters of the older era--having faced death abroad or within, heroically dodged the draft or fought the war, leapt into the waiting arms of the angry fuzz, or served jail time for a single joint--earned their aliveness and their secret stash of war-issued amphetamine tablets (and any spare Pervatin liberated from dead German's survival kits); they were able to dig on and understand modern jazz, and to smoke anywhere, including the doctor's office. They lingered at the moveable feast of expat Paris, armed with coffee, whiskey, Moroccan hashish, burgundy and deep connections to literature when the canon was smaller and more homogenous; if they pilgrimaged south, to the Amazon, they partook of the holy yage or the magic mushroom. Today we're lucky if we can afford a single Sex on the Beach and there's no smoking, sir... sir.... no smoking (and in NYC no dancing either).

I'm not arguing against women's rights, or equality, or clean air, or any of the huge strides we've taken, just wondering if perhaps in revisiting Candy, we can, as a nation, whisper "Rosebud" for our lost sleddy balls and rediscover how well-read (SWM) intellectual weight might once again benefit from rabid id-driven boosters in trying to make it through the zipper of hypocrisy and into the erect stratosphere. Southern was the first to climb up on the A-bomb of sexual freedom in lettres and ride the New Journalism (which he co-invented) all the way down to the primary target, which is your face, and he had the chops to turn on your electric lattice of coincidence-detectors, because America still knew that facing its own monstrous extinction with a joke rather than duck-and-cover rhetoric was noble, that working through the terror that strikes when a hot blonde girl with no discernible income lands in your lap and--rather than running home to your wife or war in terror--plunging headlong into the moment, is heroic. It was a time when being able to accept and engage in casual sex with a random girl on your commuter train was brave and manly, and not callow, vile, and somehow predatory, while brandishing your wedding ring like a cross in a vampy graveyard, and racing out at the next stop to wait for the next train, was to be a pussy. Gentlemen, times have changed, mostly for the best, but we should still always be ready. Whatever may come, we cannot allow... a NYMPHOMANIAC gap!

From Left: Burroughs, Southern, Ginsberg, Genet

1. Not good: Southern's mincing gay stereotypes (espec. in The Magic Christian and The Loved One)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Choose Death: Revisiting TWILIGHT's Junky Delirium.

"I wanted to fly / she made me feel like I could...." 
- Neil Diamond  ("Shilo" - song about his imaginary friend /childhood anima])

"But we can fly... with these!" -  John Lennon
(showing heroin pills [?] to Yoko  - John and Yoko: A Love Story - TVM- 1985)

"You're like my own private brand of heroin"
--Edward Cullen (to Bella

"When you're on junk you don't drink" - W.S. Burroughs (Junky)

"I never drink... wine." - Dracula (Bela Lugosi)

"My name is Bela Lugosi... I've been a morphine addict for twenty years."
-- (Martin Landau) - Ed Wood

Bella, flanked by sober, aging air-breathers

Vampirism is every young girl's dream, presuming, that is, that she's smart enough to realize her 'fairest of them all' Snow Whiteness will wither to mirror-mirror aging diva tantrums before she even knows what hit her. If she be fair of feature--and self-confident enough to see that there is, indeed, a lovely young woman in the mirror looking back at her--and if she be wise enough to know that if she's ever to bid surcease time's incessant wrinkly pawing, she cannot help but crave any drug or face cream that might slow mortality's downward spiral.

Small price to pay, killing off your inner Snow White via the junky huntsman, if it means no wrinkles, or baggy eyes, or weight gain, ever. The writing on the mirror-mirror - 'sic transit venustas'.

And if there's no such thing as vampirism or eternal youth, well, some drugs come a close second.

Slowing time to a crawl, killing the appetite and sleep cycle, certain addictive drugs give one the feeling of invincible confidence. Slipping off the leaden coat of teenage insecurity with ease, we slide beyond the mortal concerns of human body maintenance; drugs, love, and vampirism replace glazed-eyed homogenous breather-eater lockstep with an unending thirst, but it's worth it... for some of us. Some of us never feel comfortable in our own skin until we puncture it. If we have to keep puncturing until we're track-marked to open sore ribbons, well, the alternative is worse. For some of us, the thought of living an extra ten years as a senior citizen is a fate literally worse than death. To watch one's Twitter following stagnate, one's zeitgeist fade, the glint of desire going out of the eye of passers-by on the street, surely this is what they mean by 'the living dead.' 

And even more ironic: by the time we know how to use what we've got, it's gone. We realize only when it's absent that something was, once, present. Whether that's an illusion ("happiness is never experienced, only remembered" - old AA proverb) is immaterial. Our minds tell us it would have been possible to hold onto that feeling if only we'd looked harder for the right soul collecting crossroads-dwelling devil.

For the first four films of the Twilight saga, despite her moral boy coterie's protestations, Bella wisely wants to get undead while she's still got that pale flawless skin (her mothers' already shows the results of age and prolonged sun), and that is just one reason why I believe the series so subversive. Bella chooses death. She subverts the fairy tale maturity myth; she jams a crowbar into the wheel of her own maturity. Her saga dually functions, not as  coming-of-age story, but a kind of alcoholic-addict flash-froze fantasia wherein the enchanted bower is returned to with a clear conscience. She's hip to the banality of 'the right choice' as are we, through her eyes. You can argue she merely chooses Edward (Robert Pattinson) and death goes with the deal. 

You can argue Edward is a pretty creepy specimen (old enough to be her great-great grandfather, stalking her and watching her sleep all night after climbing in the window) but he's not really meant as a real person: he's a Jungian archetype, a daemon lover / arrested animus projection --her unconscious mind's ego. Their wedding in film IV represents a union of Self akin to the weddings at the end of fairy tales, i.e. a unification of conscious and unconscious drives into one full awakened human being ready to bring themselves fully into the larger social order as a genuine asset. BUT in Twilight, this unified soul is deliberately stunted, warped, turned carnivorous and threatening to the larger social order. The Twilight saga doesn't reflect the move from bleak Cinderella attic to magic pumpkin coach to married princess -- which would mirror a girl's transition from child to adulthood (the beast becoming the prince)-- but the reverse. Bella moves from sunny Phoenix AZ to the ever-cloudy Forks, WA, like Cinderella choosing to move out of the sunny castle and back to her cozy attic. 

In that sense the series is more a tragedy, wherein unresolved past issues come burbling up to drag our heroine back down, like Antigone, she chooses certain death as a kind of inflexible protest/affirmation of power. She's an embodiment of Joseph Campbell mantra: "When falling, dive." Bella is a Snow White who makes the conscious decision to go back to sleep because she can't be bothered with an awake Prince Charming's cumbersome breathing, snoring, bathroom issues, and beastly eating habits, not to mention all the boring functions one must smile through when one is royalty. Her demon lover demands no attendance at such things; plus he never plays X-Box with his loud buddies all day, or whine when he doesn't get his own way. He doesn't even have a TV. He reads books!

And the idea that Edward has nothing else in his life to do other than read, and to stalk her, protecting her always, is creepy sure, but also relevant to the daemonic animus. The ego to the dark half of our minds, the animus/anima slumbers while our daily waking egoic consciousness goes about its day; it then arises at night to take the ego's place, forcing 'us', the ego, to watch its little plays and dramas i.e. dreams. The anima/animus is the one who literally has no life without us. There is no sun or blue sky for the anima/animus. It can only run loose when we're asleep (or, if we're artists and writers, performers or mystics or schizophrenics, i.e. truly awake). 

Edward's daemon lover archetype ancestry stretches back to the grim roots of myth itself; the roots reach down deep to Eros and Psyche and up through the Romantic poetry of Keats and Shelley, the daemon undead druggy lovers of Coleridge, the Bronte sisters, Poe, La Fanu, and Stoker finally up to the Anne Rice 90s before climbing up to the ultimate teenage Gothic animus, and a vivid portrait of a junky or alcoholic in the early stages of withdrawal, Edward. His reactions to her when they're first paired together in science class are the most accurate depiction of early stage withdrawal I've ever seen. And I should know. He reacts to her like I react to sitting next to a whiskey highball when I'm cranky and irritated and everyone around me is laughing and drinking and I know that just one big sip from that person's glass and I'd be laughing and no longer miserable, and since the glass is right there, offered to me, each minute of not downing it is hell + compounded interest. 

I recently re-watched the entire 5 film Twilight series as it was all playing on one cable channel or other last month, and after the entirety of around 12 hours of film it definitely holds up, especially if you really like dark purples and sad chick music. And lastly, it's great because, for me at least, it's guilt-free, there's no objectification of the female body; rather, we have a rare example of the 'female gaze' sd ythr the sole sex appeal on display comes from the shirtless boys. The fact that the sex appeal of these young men does nothing for me compels me to realize that maybe my vague discomfort is how most women go through their movie watching life, enduring vast stretches of unconscious sexism and objectification, not to mentions gunfights. In Twilight: New Moon Bella goes to the local cinema with her mortal, age-appropriate friend Jessica (Anna Kendrick) and coming out laments how crappy the film was, mainly as there's "No hot guys kissing anybody." Imagine, a film daring to lament such a shallow thing! Then I remember Dracula again. I remembered Bela Lugosi commenting on how Dracula appealed mainly to women:
 "It is women who bear the race in bloody agony. Suffering is a kind of horror. Blood is a kind of horror. Women are born with horror in their very bloodstream... It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it..." 
And also, in a way, it is the woman in me, my own dream lover anima, my ego's dark unconscious shadow, who loves Bella as a projector screen for herself, for each anima and animus has their own inner daemons to work through, and so it goes, in fractals either direction. My anima rewards me with dreams of paradise (which for some reason is a cavernous basement with concrete floors and VHS tapes on benches and vague memories of having a fling with my friend's hot young mom, who is not the same mother who actually lived there. Her husband's always away--if I can find my way down there and pick a romantic shallow pool, she meets me. I wake up thrilled, longing to recapture my memories of this hidden underground sanctuary. Other times, this basement looks like a cross between some secret room in a Vincent Price movie, the basement lair of Hammer's THE REPTILE, the presidential bomb shelter at the end of TERMINATOR 3 and Bellevue's old hydrotherapy room. Either way, it is my happy place.

Maybe I am prejudiced; Dracula is my favorite horror character. Bela Lugosi is my favorite horror actor, and next to William S. Burroughs, also my favorite junky. And even Bella's name conjures his memory. So it's sad that so many critics I normally respect tow the sexist party line when discussing the Twilight series, never seeing past the 'teen phenomenon' hooplah. Meanwhile these critics respect, some even revere, the more boy-friendly Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, and Star Wars sagas, which have twenty films between them (so far) and about that same number of  lines spoken by women. Unless they're princesses to be admired from afar, to be kissed before they turn out to be your own sister, and so forth, women seem to be unwelcome in these franchises, yet these films get way more respect in general critical consensus. I can only guess Twilight's detractors are nerds who've never done drugs, or had more than one girl or boy interested in them at the same time, if ever. Don't blame Bella for that, dipshit!

If you're like me, with a loud, bothersome anima who withholds great sentence structure and inspiration from your writing on a whim, then you know she loves movies that feature crazy women she can project onto; and so you know she will reward thee with vast acres of flowing prose when she gets to lock onto an Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted or a Natalie Portman in Black Swan, or a Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion, or even Anthony Perkins in Psycho. (Right at the moment I wrote his name, Bogie says "You're a good man, sister" on TCM behind me - synchronicitous!)  Twilight's rife with such crazy feminine energy. My anima loves that it is not life-affirming but a solid romantic mood poem-- tortured as Edward Burne-Jones trying to score laudanum at the strip mall-- and an exoneration of the death wish underwriting everything from self-cutting and anorexia to just partying like there's no tomorrow or even just sleeping late and missing school, going from rainy day "Gloomy Sunday" blues to hooking up with a pallid junky and getting involved in 'the life,' understanding what that means, fully cognizant of all that will be lost, yet nonetheless daring to answer 'not to be' when Hamlet asks his mortal question. To not only dive but to choose to fall, that is the only way we can prove to ourself we're actually free not to.

Only rubes would think such a choice is evil, and that one should dutifully bow to the demands of the life-choosing next-stage animus, the mature woman's bossy inner-father. The woman's demonic lover turns to paternal inner critic and lecturer. Under his rule, she endorses sanctified institutions without question, trusts doctors, school principals, fathers, husbands, and politicians over her own better judgment or her child's tearful tales of abuse. Belittling her husband, mistaking the vehemence of her emotional response to a stimuli for its importance, this new animus argues over SUV parking spots at the kids' soccer practice, feels the need to remodel the kitchen, run for PTA appointments, hire babysitters scrupulously, monitor her children's friend choices, and even approve her own gradual arrival at an assisted living domicile. Tradition and boredom are championed as worthy in themselves as her staid animus gives her a feeling of total belief in her pro-patriarchal stance. We can see women dominated by this stage of the animus in the Tea Party: Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, and Ann Coulter let their animus possess them even at the expense of their own gender's liberty. It's just as much about being 'captured' by the animus now as it was at the Edward stage, only now its not interesting. It's only near the final 'second childishness' stage of Shakespeare's seven ages that the younger daemon lover animus returns, to shepherd these 'healthy' choice-making woman into the void. This is even pictured in New Moon, wherein Bella dreams of being all super old and Edward as young as ever, waiting patiently all this time for her to be done with the 'living' he so wishes for her. 

To understand the beauty of Bella's rejection of this fate requires perhaps the mindset of the addict, living in a world of fantasy and altered perceptions, the sort of girl who stays upstairs reading fantasy novels when the sun's out or the one who's depressed and in misery until a hot older drug dealer and his drugs combine to sweep her off her feet. They commit to their daemon lover, refuse to let him go, to consign him to dreams barely had anymore. Sure the choice to stick with this demonic animus is not healthy but who cares? The women who choose to keep their daemon as their animus are our romantic heroines in the truest sense; forsaking the daemon may allow them to exit the fantasy and enter the social order (to upgrade animus projections), but who needs another normal well-adjusted girl? Not the readers and seers and livers-in of fantasy. 
"Many myths and fairy tales tell of a prince, who has been turned into an animal or a monster by sorcery, being saved by a woman. This is a symbolic representation of the development of the animus toward consciousness. Often the heroine may ask no questions of her mysterious lover, or she is only allowed to meet him in darkness..." - Marie-Louise von Franz

 Reality is seldom operating anywhere close to a teenager's inner state. Myths are truer than reality in that sense; they are not at all sentimental, for as Jung notes: "Sentimentality is a superstructure covering brutality" (i.e. John Ford). Myths are terrifying because they unveil that which was hidden for a reason. They are beguiling, addictive; once the light is shown over that shadowed corner of the psyche, the grateful prisoner chained in that corner rewards you with hordes of little treasures its stolen from you on the sly ever since you chained him there (usually around your first day of school): bottles of endorphins and dopas and artistic inspiration its fermenting for just such an illumination. Gradually he gives out less and less for more and more liberty to run rampant in your psyche, doing more damage, costing you jobs, friends, and lovers. There's no line between being rewarded with one's own stolen treasures and mistaking them for gifts and being held hostage in the zone between a daemonic dream lover's ardent wooing and crippling drug addiction, the result either way is a delirious Stockholm syndrome high if you know how to treat the agonies and despair of withdrawal as just another kind of masochistic kick, the muscle ache and burning skin just love 'not given lightly' by your inner whiplash girl child in the dark. Similarly, alcoholism, self-cutting, eating disorders, drug addiction all carry a similar loss of control. In the first film especially human blood is the ultimate narcotic for vampires, the 'vegetarian' diet of animals just barely keeps the Cullen clans satisfied. Being around Bella, for Edward, and not killing her, is as hard as it would be for me to have just one drink. The impossibility of moderate drinking for me (I'd consider keeping it down to seven drinks a night a triumph of self control).

"The pain was my only evidence he was real." - Bella 
Enlightenment doesn't occur from sitting around visualizing images of light, but from integrating the darker aspects of the self into the conscious personality. -- Jung
Blood, the life, love: over the course of five films Bella never has a single real hobby other than desire for Edward, anything else engaged in just a distraction; bringing junked motorcycles onto the reservation for Jake (the werewolf) to fix isn't because she likes him romantically but because the image of Edward shows up whenever she does 'something stupid' - i.e. crashing into a tree. Her various death-defying attempts conjure the spirit of Edward saying "Bella, don't" - trying to wrap her in his overprotective shroud, playing the latter stage animus in place of the dream lover (as above, the promise to return at her death bed). But Bella's misery wobble framing steadies around Jake and Stewart shows she's a far better actress than given credit for, as she modulates brilliantly from pale, shocked jiltee, to anguished grieving misery, to playful and sharp-witted, as often happens when one can tell the person they're hanging with is in love with them, and is therefore a captive audience. Bella's using Jake, really, as exploitative in her way as the first poison-brained white trader to swap furs and bear skins for two-cent trinkets. And using someone to get over someone else is not cool, yet how else are you going to do it?

And that's why Bella is so great both as a character and as Stewart's performance: she is not just one person, she has many facets and not all of them are admirable but Stewart plays the less admirable as if they were admirable, which is admirable in itself. When geeky mouth breathing classmate Mike (Michael Welch) finds out she's been dumped, he awkwardly asks her out to a movie with a romantic title like 'first kiss' or something and she snaps, "How about 'Face Punch' have you seen that?" as if she just made it up to send him a clear signal she's not into him.  That Face Punch turns out to be a real movie hardly matters to the brilliance of the scene--its refreshing savagery, it's code of small talk revealing the elaborate complexities of trying to keep clueless guys from hating you while spurning their advances. It probably wasn't even a real movie before she mentioned it. She creates the future before her like a reverse wake, like a zipper uniting the conscious and unconscious halves of psychic jacket, Edward and Jacob zipped together into androgyne Bela.

I can really only think of one or two heroines in film who measure up to that level of realistic fuckerwithery: Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and Cathy in Wuthering Heights. Out of touch critics in the house can't rear back like startled horses over those ladies' behaviors as they do with Bella's, because they're old established literary classics, written by, not surprisingly, female authors. Each has a character smart enough to act like she doesn't know how smart she is, who slouches and mopes and takes advantage of seeming obtainable but is really quite grandiose and fierce, who plays coy and clueless about how much various boys are crazy over her: a total of traits that, in the rom-com world, would be the purview of bitchy villains, not protagonists. They each have two boys madly in love with them, one wild and dangerous and one anemic but reliable. The twist in Twilight is that the wan, pale anemic one is the unreliable love choice -- the vibrant anima mundi-reflection of the Jake / Rhett / Heathcliff is relegated to the lesser mortal bin, the wolf boy; Edward's name even sounds like Edgar, who marries Cathy and becomes as subjected to her capriciousness just as Jake is at the mercy of Bella's in Twilight. 

It's this reversal I most resonate with, because Bella is more than just one of a series of female-penned wantons daring to reappropriate the gaze, she is also one of the 'hurrah for the next who dies'-style lost generation, the Lucy Westerna rather than the Mia Harker. She is the modernist woman 'who chooses death,' realizing in it a truer choice (as in free will) than the one of life and health and mortality because among other things it's a choice that gives her a chance to stare down her fears, to embrace the demon and daemon, to ride over the cliff and into legend rather than get old and fat. Such women include Evelyn Venable in Death Takes a Holiday, Kate Winslet in Titanic, Assumpta Serna in Matador, both chicks in Thelma and Louise, Ava Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Dietrich in Morocco and Dishonored, Sherri Moon Zombie in The Devil's Rejects.  Only by deliberately choosing to act against their own 'best' interests---with gaggles of men and authority figures trying to talk them out of what they're planning--can these romantic feminine characters be free. Whether that freedom lasts another week or a few seconds is irrelevant. Freedom is beyond such things as time. Sooner death comes, the sweeter the terrifying narcotic immediacy of the remaining life (see: Twilight's Cinematic Ancestors). The movie ends either way, so why not go for broke?

Twilight's reversal-of-logical-maturation metaphor is emblematic of death and addiction but also to the solitary life--that of the writer, a life spent largely with the unconscious, getting to know, as it were, one's second undiscovered second psyche through allowing it as free a reign as possible at the typewriter. The risks are many: madness, depression, and spirals of self-destruction. The animus might not even come to see you. It might disappear for months, absent from all dreams, writer's block. All good free-flowing inspired poetic 'flights of fancy' come from this daemonic other. That's why my favorite of the five Twilight films has been New Moon, mainly because the brilliant intertextual use of Bella's birthday to invoke a range of age-related fears and longings (including the dream where she's super old, perhaps the most honest and strangely honest metaphysical rendering of birthdays since 2001), and a high school English class assignment, Romeo and Juliet, which contextualizes both Bella's various adrenalin-rush seeking self-destructive behavior (she becomes, as her human friend says, disapprovingly, an adrenalin junky) as well as the more obvious (and fascinating) 'rescue' of said animus, preventing it from dissolving and reforming as the next phase of adult maturity takes over and the buzzkill 'always right' tea party drip, the safety-first counselor moves in: "Bela, stop."

Addicts surely relate, but even more cogently than Romeo and Juliet, Twilight's arc of Bella's pitiless insistence on becoming a vampire reminds me of Antigone, wherein she chooses to disobey the king's order and bury her slain brother, knowing full well his burial ensures her death. This loyalty to the dead to the point of a conscious, clear-eyed choice against one's own life, reflects the way feminine contrary fearlessness conquers even fate. You get to tell all the smarmy idiots who 'just want what's best for you' to fuck off; you can place your head in the lion's jaws with no fear:
"I shall lie down
With him in death, and I shall be as dear
To him as he to me.
It is the dead
Not the living, who make the longest demands:
We die for ever… "  -- Antigone 
For Romeo on the other hand, there's just grief fueled by brashness. Rather than Antigone's (or Bella's) cool detached insistence on 'forever' with her love, consider Romeo's coffin-side sonnet:
"... I still will stay with thee,
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again. Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chamber maids. Oh, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last.
Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death."
Bella meanwhile finds herself the target of a tracker dirtbag vampire in the first film, and must face him but yet "can't begin to regret the choices that brought me face to face with death, they also brought me closer to Edward."

Romeo is seeing death as a negative, of value only to make life's fleeting moments extra sweet, like Edward he finds life precious only via absence. He's a hothead. World-weary flesh? Unlike Edward, Romeo's never been anywhere; his flesh isn't weary from anything but navel-gazing. His act is merely one of youthful grandstanding, a poseur. If he'd just suffered a few beats more he'd be there when she awoke. Rather than Antigone's or Bella's cold, logical insistence, their refusal to judge death as negative, to back down even with death's teeth at their throat, their measured, carefully-thought-out resolve, he acts purely from cowardice (afraid of the continued pain of loss) and impulse.

Sure Bella needs a hobby, or interest in something, other than Edward, but neither she nor Antigone are living in 'reality.' They are in a story, a myth, they're only one aspect of unified whole. That's the fundamental mistake of so many movies: they think they must somehow reflect 'reality' and set a 'good example.' Just look at the roster of Oscar nominations and you see it -- the moralizing, the historical heft, the inspiration. Who needs it? Only the bourgeoisie, who love to hear their New York Times-instilled opinions validated in a way they hope will elevate the under-educated.

Shakespeare and the Greeks are lionized by the Academy largely for being so long dead. They never cared for setting good examples or reflecting reality, rather they cared for myth, which is a deeper truth of the psyche, a recognition of the impossibility of a fully known Self. The bourgeoisie let these subversive messages pass since they carry the patina of the museum and the text book. And for all their grants and memberships, the bourgeoisie are not ones to scratch below the surface to the subversive undertow of myth. Reflecting the sum total of the unconscious and waking selves, the dream of night and the reality of day merged in the titular time, through symbol and archetypes and and performance, myth is the only language the unconscious speaks. In dreams and in narratives woven from shadows on the cave wall, myth guides us towards fuller consciousness, acceptance and incorporation of dark energies as well as light.

Like the best myths, Twilight cares only for sleep, for chasing the phantom shadows of the romantic animus into the forest depths, and kicking the dull rescuing woodsmen to the curb. Bella fixes herself to Thanatos like a lamprey. She stays true to her animus' original projection. Stephanie Meyer's series is a success because it understands the dimensions and limitations of the anima/animus persona so keenly, and understands as well that there's no truth left in waking reality unless the unconscious depths of the ego are nourished, and listened to.
"Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens" - Jung
In recognizing themselves in their airbrushed pale-skinned phantom Edward animuses, Twilight fans find the same thing that once hypnotized legions of Garbo lovers in the death dream silent theater of the 20s. Their desire for Garbo was so perfectly transmuted onto the screen their love wasn't the male proprietary gaze but something both pre and post-sexual, even pre and post-maternal. The image of her projected face awoke something in their unconsciousness, leaving the rest of their waking reality and relationships seem like vague shadows by comparison (the wives of these smitten men were known as "Garbo widows").
... the animus is also sometimes represented as a demon of death. A gypsy tale, for example, tells of a woman living alone who takes in an unknown handsome wanderer and lives with him in spite of the fact that a fearful dream has warned her that he is the king of the dead. Again and again she presses him to say who he is. At first he refuses to tell her, because he knows that she will then die, but she persists in her demand. Then suddenly he tells her he is death. The young woman is so frightened that she dies. Looked at from the point of view of mythology, the unknown wanderer here is clearly a pagan father and god figure, who manifests as the leader of the dead (like Hades, who carried off Persephone). He embodies a form of the animus that lures a woman away from all human relationships and especially holds her back from love with a real man. A dreamy web of thoughts, remote from life..." - Marie-Louise von Franz

The mistake most Hollywood films make is to misinterpret Franz's "dreamy web of thoughts" as a condemnation, and to make sure their films have no such permanent mistakes on the part of their heroines. But kids need to see their dreamy webs onscreen. They don't need to see a realistic depiction of the maturation process, they see enough of it already. They don't need the visibly uncomfortable gym teacher creeping even into their most private reveries to caution them about protection. Before it shifts gears, the anima unconscious is aggressively contemptuous of goodness and safety, and even sexual gratification, and all the other mundane biological and sociological aspects of becoming an adult. The more one tries to eliminate all danger from their lives, to replace the perfection of the dream lover with some drab human orgasm grabber and baby haver, the farther away death becomes in their field of vision and the staler and duller real life grows. Their animus takes charge, gets bossy, obsesses about the letter of the rules and regulations, pointing out with glee the sinners and rule-breakers, sparking the pyre and laughing in paroxysms of self-righteous sadism.

And so it is not surprising that Twilight draws such rabid hostility from critics, their own mature animas pouring on the venom to convince them going back to the ex-animus, the daemonic lover as opposed to the scolding moralist. If they'd had a good therapist they might know enough to question their initial hostility, as I do in the opposite camp. I know my love of the series comes partly from rueful experience as an alcoholic, an experience seldom satisfied by contemporary myths. In the beginning I loved alcohol so much, I worried my friends, who'd been drinking long before me. I never even picked up a drink at all until high school graduation. It was such a perfect match it scared them. I almost killed myself a dozen times over and had to stop drinking altogether after a paltry 13 year-run. But I regret nothing! And if heroin had been offered to me, or speed, I probably would have gone for that, too. Now it's cigarettes. Every time I see some woman on TV with no fingers or throat or hair croaking her warnings about smoking through her tubes I just mute the sound like I'm sure Poe's Prospero wishes he could have done that striking clock chime in Masque of the Red Death. But these are the choices we make. And if more people made conscious choices to destroy themselves in these slow and pointless ways maybe our world wouldn't be so gruesomely overpopulated, or our country wouldn't be going bankrupt from too many old people draining Social Security. It's only when we're no longer afraid of death that we collectively can truly be free, and take the crowbar out of the spokes of the circle of life. In this sense, Twilight is like a lone dark spot in the unending light, or a light in the darkness --there is, after all, no difference in the end, a Yin/Yang split only works in conjunction with the other.

We see a bit of Western Civilization's knee-jerk pro-life jingoism in New Moon, wherein Edward dumps Bella, and flees with family in tow, hoping she moves, grows up (turning her essentially into an 'Edward widow'). But Bella learns she can get him to appear in a vision by risking her safety through typical teenage bad choices, forcing him to move from  demon lover to paternal but neglectful lecturer, telling her to turn around, to not get on the motorcycle, to not jump off a cliff, etc. He's not meant to be the stern authoritarian, that's supposed to be her next animus. It's great because we hate Edward for causing her so much pain. We relish with her the chance to bother him by remote control through such disregard for personal safety, forcing him to reveal a stern buzzkill authoritarianism that is utterly without effect or genuine authority, i.e. she recognizes that authority as a voice in her head rather than gospel. The adult animus turns so many women into dour nags, mistaking their dream lover's stern authority as gospel truth. Bella rejects that animus out of hand, forcing Edward into the role.

It's so bitterly fitting that even after the female director of the first film, Catherine Hardwicke, scored a hit both artistic and commercial and the film made zillions, she would be  replaced by a guy, Chris Weitz, for subsequent film, him borrowing a lot of her aesthetic sense  as well as all the animal and color symbolism. The first thing a film company does when they see a woman has made a hit film is to take over the sequel and kick her to the curb so she doesn't queer up this hit 'they've' lucked onto. I'll quote at this time a woman, from one of the few mainstream sites worth a damn, The Guardian:
"Twilight the film has been a massive success, but its audience is dismissed as fangirls, groupies, teenyboppers, airheads. It is sneered at by the same critics who misogynistically savaged Sex and the City and Mamma Mia, two other films made for women, with such blatant transparency. Strange that the belittling should be so vociferous; we women are the biggest group in the world, yet our viewpoint is ridiculed and denied, our testimony ignored. But that's the way it goes. The studios will use Twilight's profits to fund more films in which there are no decent roles for women, no women in major positions behind the scenes, no women directors. That's happened with Twilight's sequel: Hardwicke has been sacked and replaced by the guy who made The Golden Compass. The female gaze has been blinded yet again." -Bidisha, Guardian 2009."
I wouldn't go that far, Chris Weitz does an amazing job of preserving the female gaze, and there's still tons of mythic resonance on all sorts of levels, but there's also a sense of really picking up on what made the book and first film work - whereas to me the weakest of the series is Eclipse, which is directed by the dude who made 30 Days of Night - which makes sense as Eclipse is almost a sequel to that film as well as New Moon (I even lumped them together before I knew they had the same director in a post on the Nordic Circle rom-hor genre).  It's a fine enough film, with more action and flashbacks, as opposed to grand archetypal coming-of-age myth junky metaphor soap subversion and brilliant purple and mist scenery of the first two films. I should point out too that The Golden Compass has a young capable girl in the lead, boys to the side, wicked stepmother and a Catholic stand-in bad guy contingent similar to the Volturi in New Moon. Bad box office killed the chance for any sequels, alas, and the Christians backlashed it both for the anti-religion angle and, no doubt, the capable girl with powers angle.

It's a case again perhaps of deep-seated castration anxiety undercutting a lot of parents' good sense. But since when have fairy tales and myths had anything to do with sense? If they did, Red Riding Hood wouldn't even talk to the wolf in the first place, and all kids would be bored sick, and then probably have to go talk to wolves for real and get eaten and it would be your fault, mom!

There was a time when women screenwriters ruled in Hollywood, before the code came into effect, and talking to wolves was all the rage. But with the arrival of the code in 1934 came the feeling that, as now, telling women's stories is too important to be left to women. So stories of grandiose emotion and feeling were replaced by smug sermonizing where childish women are brought to heel, weened of their immature desire to be independent by endured humiliations at the hands of twits. Twilight dares to undo all of that, to go back farther than even the pre-code box office tallies can reach, down into the murky recesses of the Brothers Grimm, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, and pre-Inquisition alchemical magick, straight like a hot shot into the archetypal vein, the pulsing warm narcotic rush of the eternal feminine distilled and uncut, so primal it invokes knee-jerk revulsion from most men, a revulsion so deep they don't even recognize it, merely sense it as their chained-up anima kicking the floorboards, trying desperately to be heard among the macho ego din.

If, as Bidisha says above, the profits will be used to fund more male-centric films, well, we can only hope more films about women ruling the dark abysses of true myth will succeed at the box office. Snow White and the Huntsman and Black Swan did well by their women, even if directed by men, and even Disney has dared, for the first time ever, perhaps, to make an evil queen the star of a film, Maleficent (a very interesting name, as her own 'male-efficient' animus is already running the show). Starring Angelina Jolie with Art Deco cheekbones, it could be a bust of CGI 3-D boondoggle like that James Franco Oz, or it could rock. One can only hope it doesn't end with her falling in love with some doe-eyed dork prince and abandoning her witchy black magick ways so she can dote on him hand and foot, as is done, say, in post-code films like I Married a Witch and Bell, Book, and Candle.

I still remember when Jolie sparked bonfires with her Gia-Foxfire-Girl Interrupted power. We'll have to see if there's any of that blood left in her, or if her legions of biological and adopted kids have drained her dry. I'm happy she saved the world and all, but some of us just want to watch that world burn.

What's tragic isn't that we want it to watch the world burn, but that we have to clarify the 'watch' aspect to placate nervous censors, the NSA, common 'decency', and Batman. When we let life-affirming paternalistic morals rule even our dreams then our dark shadow hearts may have no choice to but to act out into the real, or worse, retreat --until all that's left are church socials, Lassie, freckled children, chaperones, white picket fences, and enough treacly strings to drive even a good girl straight to the devil. Isn't that why he set it up? Why he put the morals in and took himself out? The devil can't corrupt your soul when he's busy on the screen. His biggest triumph is convincing us not to put him there, not to project him out at all, just let him smolder unseen in his buried celluloid coffin like a sulky genie, until even the tiniest spark...

My alternative mix for the last two TWILIGHT movies.

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