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

Friday, January 31, 2014

Leslie of the Heretics: DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977)

"Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. " - Ahab
But to paraphrase Slim in To Have and Have Not, "what happens if it slaps you back?" The answer is that the undying savage beneath the hotty toddy veneer of Leslie Nielsen emerges, an Ahab born anew for a Moby Dick spread across ozone-depleted sunshine into the minds of the beasts of the American mountains. The entirety, the Beast with a Million Eyes, slaps him back. But first, a little background:

There was another leviathan that splashed the nation in the mid-70s: Jaws, which itself came initially as part of a seventies eco-awareness trend, i.e. whaling was out, and even sharks could only be killed in self-defense. The ozone layer hole had been discovered, aerosol cans were banned, a Native American was crying by the side of the highway, the tab on soda and beer cans was changed to stay attached rather than be tossed into the bay to cut up the feet of pelicans. We kids were keen on Cub Scouts and 'Indian Guides;' TV had Mutual of Omaha's Wild KingdomGrizzly Adams and The Waltons, Apple's Way, and Little House on the Prarie; in school we read My Side of the Mountain; at home a magazine called Ranger Rick. Mom took us to see matinees like The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. We were in the wilderness, pop culturally. All we needed was a beast to fear, a bad grizzly, to make the good grizzly seem even nicer.


This was still before VHS or cable, so if an exploitation pioneer wanted to get funding from the major TV networks in advance of production, he had to entertain three generations, in the same room, looking at the same screen. PG didn't just mean kids can come with the adults, it meant the grandparents wouldn't be offended or confused. And Hollywood was dealing with a surplus of stars who had drawn huge salaries decades earlier and would now work for scale in just about anything ---so ensemble cast disaster films sprang up, with older stars and younger newcomers, and Charlton Heston or some other granite jaw bringing up the rear. Meanwhile, the American western outdoors beckoned as a cheap location for monster movies, far from front office meddling and prying eyes, free from expenses on things like set design and extras. You didn't even need a fake monster on account of coteries of trained grizzlies, wolves, and mountain lions for rent from animal talent agents. And oversize or swarms of vermin (Kingdom of the Spiders, The Swarm, Empire of the Ants, Food of the Gods, Damnation Alley, Night of the Lepus) could be rear projected to look freakishly large and at half speed to seem lumbering around miniature sets. We kids never ratted out the fakeness of the effects and there was no way to rewind or repeat play since DVRs and VHS were still a ways off so we had to tell other kids about it ourselves, and we told it better anyway. No kid ever said "it looked so fake" - even if we thought it at the time. It was the seventies, man, even the monsters were accepted for whatever mask of naturalness and freedom they chose to wear.


There was nothing else to worry about --no blue state / red state divide, we were all purple, like the mountain majesties. And into these mountains strode an eagle-eyed copycat director named William Girdler, a mountain man whose monster films were mountain man-made. He saw there was a way to make a PG monster movie that could combine the children's nature film craze's fondness for grizzly attacks and the monster craze's fondness for supernaturally intelligent oversize carnivore attacks, and he made that movie. And it was Grizzly (1976), a huge hit. He could now afford to empty the cages at the Hollywood animal trainer park, for 1977's Day of the Animals.

Up until the Blu-ray that just came out I thought Day of the Animals was a TV movie. Thanks to Scorpion Releasing though, a gorgeous 'Walden Filter' widescreen vista of an anamorphic aspect ratio has appeared, majestically dwarfing the relatively incompetent action we're used to on the small square screen of the earlier DVD. Did I mention I love this dumb movie? You want to know the plot? There's humans on a hike high in the mountains, and then there's animals driven mad by the ozone layer hole (and close proximity to the sun up there in the mountains with thinner air) and they fight each other. The end. There's one hawk, three vultures, a carload o' rattlesnakes, a tarantula, wuxia mice, a wolf, three panthers, a gang of German shepherds presumably fresh out of a hole in the K9 Academy fence, and savage alpha male Leslie Nielsen, shirtless, as nature intended. Can you prove it didn't happen?


Like all its devotees, I was the right age to remember the night Day premiered on CBS' Friday Night Movie, but I missed their whole dog attack climax because it came after my bedtime. Sometimes I wonder if this blog's real origin story lies in my dad's declaration of kids' bedtimes, a strict law which he enforced regardless of how riveting the movie we were watching was. I missed the end of a horde of great films that way: The Poseidon Adventure, Telefon, Day of the DolphinOrca, The Cassandra Crossing --I still don't know how some of them end. I would be in bed furious and crushed, but I dreamt my own wilder crazier endings. For Day of the Animals when I heard at next Monday's recess that the humans had survived by riding a raft down the rapids with rabid dogs snapping at their hands every yard of the way I envisioned a pretty wild ride.

Naturally it's not that wild in reality, but 'naturally' is the key word here, that's what saves it. Animals was filmed as far away from the age of CGI, mentally and spiritually, as film would ever get. Girdler feels his way along in real time, you see, in real nature, with semi-real actors and real animals--especially vultures, hawks, a cougar, a crazy dog pack, and a tarantula--the scene where the hawks and vultures maul the bitchy girl is terrifying because those birds are real, and they're right there in the shot, and her unease is palpable.

The key signifiers of amok nature horror movies, such as animal mauling, really can't be shown unless you're a dickhead whose going to really kill animals for his movie in which case fuck you, Ruggero! Girdler doesn't do such things, I presume, and that's where the comfortable cult pleasure is for we sensitive types. Quick edits between what is clearly just well staged play wrestling with tame animals, close-ups of  baring teeth, pink foamy blood, actors and stunt men yelling and running, an animal's teeth resting on someone's arm, and then the hawk looking down signals an end to the scrimmage with his cry like a gym coach's whistle. Girdler's films aren't meant to be great gore pieces, but they are great for sick freaks in search of Cecil B. DeMille-levels of under-direction. Actors stand around in a 'funeral processions and snakes' kind of Cinemascope chorus line and wonder what to do, receive no guidance, and improvise.

I.e.... the Seventies.


With smaller animals this mellow mood can be undercut, as when mice on fishing wires come flying across the rooms backwards onto the head of the fat old sheriff, or hordes of snakes sun themselves inside of cars, upping a skeeve factor (though nothing like the paintball battering of the poor rats in Food of the Gods). Dogs try to mute an instinctive wag of their tales as they snarl, as if afraid of breaking character and losing the treat in their trainer's hand. I don't consider these negatives. In fact if this were an Italian or Japanese film every animal in the film would probably be dead by the end of each scene. Why waste money on a trained cinnamon bear for a wrestling match when you can just stab and drug a real, and let him bleed out like Joaquin did to poor Comodius in Gladiator? Sic transit gloria mundi! But film is forever... and no animal murder will ever be forgotten, Ruggero! And if William Girldler hurt any of these critters, he paid the ultimate price, dying in a helicopter accident scouting locations in Indonesia soon after making The Manitou.


If you're too young enough to remember Airport you may not have the same giddy rapture for the Poseidon Adventure-Grand Hotel-Stagecoach type ensemble cast trapped in a bad situation films that were all the rage in the seventies, as parodied in Airplane! (1980). But either way let me give you some background on this too:

Once upon a primetime,  The Love Boat and Fantasy Island ruled the weekends. They had a steady cast of hosts and a sea of B-list celebrities of all ages wandering aboard the boat or onto the island for their mundane adventures. Some people managed to become celebs by doing nothing but showing up on these shows, like Charo! Girdler rides this ensemble zeitgeist too, so on this hike in Day of the Animals we have the disaster movie cross section:

CHECKLIST OF 70s ENSEMBLE DISASTER CASTING
1. The Shelly Winters Broad
Check ("She KNOWS what she's doing!"- only this one doesn't - to the point of dressing for an overnight hike in her Sunday best). She's also an idiot, following the guy with the whitest hair towards her doom, and dragging with her
2. A tiny 25 year-old stunt man as her 12 year-old son (BONUS!)
3. 70s bombshell career woman contemplating her lack of a love life and children while eyeing the hero's ring finger - check -70s mainstay Linda Day George + extra point for Farrah hair and off-the-cuff New York accent to playfully rib the Winters.
4. Christopher George or David Jansen? Former, Linda's husband, occasionally trying on a terrible Southwestern accent.
5. A Richard Dreyfus in Jaws-style dweeb for scientific exposition? check
6. Famous athlete considering retirement / disillusioned preacher? - Former (written in case I'm sure Girdler signed some actual famous athlete looking for some screen time)
7. Native American or black sidekick who will certainly die - Check
8. The insane challenger of the rugged hero's leadership? Leslie!
 9. The 'Newt' or little girl alone and wandering the wasteland - check
10. Attractive young couple dealing with some issue? Check
11. Fat sheriff roused out of bed in the middle of the night to investigate? This better not be another prank!

It's a glorious "Girdler Dozen."

A midnight evacuations of the towns above 5,000 feet is given a few shots, hazmat suits, you know, it's The Crazies but for animals... humans slow on the uptake that they are in danger; you'll have deeper resonance to the phrase "Watch you like a hawk" cuz there are some shots of hawks watching stuff on here and honey you are glad what they watchin' ain't you. Hawks' cries signal the start and stop of attacks and Nielsen going shirtless signals his de-evolution into a Putin-like celebrant of masculine power. He pokes a big stick into the belly of a young man so he can make caveman gruntings at the cowering girlfriend: "I killed for you! You're mine now!" and to the 25 year-old widdle boy, "Shaddup you little cockroach or I'll shove you off the cliff!"


But that's not even his most memorable quote, it's this:
"If there's a God left up there to believe in. My father who art in heaven you've a made a jack ass out of me for years. Melville's God, that's the God I believe in! You see what you want you take. You take it! And I am going to do just that!"
And by it, you know he means that girlie...


It's hard to remember if I had a point to all this or if I even recommend Day of the Animals, though of course I do, if for no other reason than Nielsen and the amazing near-Morricone-level cacophonous percussion score by Lalo Schifrin. But take a knee and let me tell you one last story:

There was this townie up in Syracuse in the 80s who stole all my Tom Waits albums but he had the best dog in the world. This dog, a mutt of medium height, was super smart and sweet, a brilliant actor and almost psychic. When I was filthy drunk in the Syracuse snow some nights, this dog and I would roll around and I'd scream like he was tearing me apart while he jumped all over me making these terrifying growls. We'd go on and on, rolling around growling and screaming, the dog managing to seem like he was tearing my arm off while barely even getting fang marks on my coat. We sounded, I thought, like someone was being mauled to death. One night, someone finally yelled out a window "hey, you and the dog - please keep it down!" and I was like how the hell can that guy tell I'm not really being hurt? Why isn't he calling an ambulance? How can we as humans just instinctively tell when someone is really being hurt vs. just pretending? I remember the dog and I stopped in mid-attack, both looked up at the window, without a word or bark, then looked at each other, and resumed the attack quieter. How that damn dog knew to go quiet, I still don't know. He was some great dog all right. And I think that story shows why I love Day of the Animals, because even very young kids can tell when animals aren't being hurt or hurting anyone for real, no matter how many bared fangs, snarls and screams may come. Melville's bedtime demands solace .

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eric Jonrosh's Spoils of the RED DESERT


"Crazy gorgeous, crazy for real, unstable, reckless, spontaneous--today they'd be called bi-polar--there's a lot going on with modernist European art cinema's women. We love them and they love us back, or are scared of us (by us I mean camera / viewer / audience) since they can't really see us, not quite, but know we're there, watching, like SLEEP NO MORE. It's like they wake up to how trapped they are inside of a rectangular screen and we're their unseen child spirit trying whisper words of comfort across time and media platforms into their forlorn ossicles. We're like the tiny human figures these madwomen dream they give birth to in great numbers. Sometimes you'd swear as you gaze into their gigantic dilated pupils they can see you, no matter how big or small you are in perspective to them, watching like ghost owls from a couchy perch; staring across time in the dark they can almost read your mind. They can almost tell if you are enraptured or at least sympathetic to their cause or just leering down their dress... like everybody else... sigh. Honey, if we had to be a hot babe in Italy we'd feel just the same, all that pawing and leering, like hungry jackals nipping at a dying calf.

Women like the one played by Yvonne Furneaux in La Dolce Vita (1960, below -left/ right), or Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert (1964 - above, below-left-left) are forever reaching for a 'real' connection with the men inside their film environments; trying to trap them into a full commitment, to devour them through hydra hair anemone tendrils; considering how bad Mad Men makes America look at the same approx time frame, sexual harassment-wise, I can only imagine how bad it was in Italia! These poor harassed, molested, objectified and leered-at ladies need more than just assurances from some diegetic dimwit trying to get them into bed; they need a champion, a little man they can keep it their pocket. You should be small, so you can look up to her, so she can be your ideal.

But is she? I mean, she's fucking crazy! And too hot for words, and isn't it strange how they go together? Not really if you realize the toxic effect of a lifetime of leering, inevitable drunk uncles blinded by teenage hotness and cheap vino. Even a sensitive intellectual like Antonioni may fall into the dress-leering trap as he endeavors to sympathize with his female character's neurotic condition. We hope he can succeed, and that his star can transcend the confines of the Mussolini-period architecture and minimalist gallery space and escape out some momentarily open corner of the screen. Whether it's into his/our arms, or, within the screen, someone mature, rich, and debonair, who loves her for her, and can somehow survive the terrible suffocation of her maternal maenad devouring need for constant love, can just fight it out with her in the convertible, at dawn.

Alas, there is only one Marcello Mastroianni, and he spreads himself thin. Only suicide threats seem to get him to come home anymore. Antonioni is much more of a nice guy to his women. In the past his madwomen could find solace and escape from modern life via breathtaking island views (as in L'Aventura), in piquant vacant lots (ala La Notte), or even the quiet of a glider over the countryside (L'Eclisse), but for Red Desert all these avenues are blocked by condemned roads and marshes, or gone altogether. Yellow poisons give the air a red speckled hazy hue; the waters of the river are choked a dull coal black above an almost Star Trek alien worldly sky. Vitti's post-modern apartment seems like just a different wing of the same factory her husband works in.

This time Vitti needs a different escape avenue; she's got to go all the way through the looking glass, into post-modernism metatextual refraction, until her persona finally shatters like a Lady from Shanghai funhouse mirror. Only thing is, we in the dark Chinese theater are the Irish sailor dupe. Maybe in a few more movies, we'll finally lern ta fergetter.

Twelve years ago Dr. Paul Narkunas (the skeptical professor in The Lacan Hour if you're keeping score) lent me his DVD of The Red Desert, painting it in my mind as a lurid desert odyssey that went dark places he knew I'd been to, neurochemically. And he said it was funny, too.

But twelve years ago I was a different person--I didn't know Spinoza from Shitfaccia and the DVD Paul had was a far-off cry from the gorgeous Criterion Blu-ray I have seen thricefold since, weeping with joylessness as my throat pouch widens to encompass more and more hot, psychotropic gas with every viewing because sooner or later I shall 'ribbit' with realizaccione.

But the Narkunas disc was a bust. My TV was smaller and farther away and back then DVDs used letterboxing; even my socialist art filmmaker then-wife was bored after twenty minutes. The story's vagueness and incoherence weren't recognized as intentional even by her from so great a distance. We saw it as just the result of language barriers and our own modernist post-work headaches. I fell into a half-sleep for the rest, and coasted through to the end, one eye open, unwilling to turn it off lest I have to admit defeat to Narkunas, or that I was not man enough or intellectual enough to 'get it' - that my psychotropic throat pouch was.... tadpole-ish.

My problem was not uncommon for an American of my posture, sloth, social conditioning, and drunk-English Lit bachelor degree education. Now I realize my initial response of boredom was intellectual, was correct. French critics labor for years to reach such complete disinterest! And how can a film that bores you stiff the first time get better with repeat viewings? That makes no sense, and no sense is very Antonioni. But Criterion's Blu-ray is gorgeous and now my TV is larger and wider and flatter with deeper blacks. The purple pollution diegetic fog is 3-D now, pulsazione como veleno deliziosa. The purple and dark blue flecks taste like cotton candy to my long-since shattered senses.

Naturally as a result, my outer (or 'real') life has gotten sparser, less anamorphic, to accommodate the balance shift as I merge with the televisual HD clarity. My glasses are dirtier, my mind shrunken and blessedly polluted with rivers of pharmacological run-off. My lily pad is littered with empties (or emptiness). But even as this world fades to a dull scream, the screen breathes and grows, ever sharper, deeper, vaster.


Speaking of psychotropically inflated throat pouches, let us vault into the future for the new post-modern comic mini-series, Eric Jonrosh's Spoils of Babylon, a recently de-vaulted 70s miniseries deconstruction from IFC. Here, at last, is high camp trash deconstructed past the point of being genuinely funny, and more like Godardian abstraction. Somewhere between Ed Wood (1994) and an actual Ed Wood movie, between intentional failure and unintentional result, Real et Surreal, just as Guiliana (Vitti), the crushingly alone and confused wife in Red Desert lets modern alienation vault her into madness, for Eric Jonrosh, the madness is already there, itself, as a whole. Locked in a deadpan absurdity ouroboros, it is madness' final destination.

In both, the acting and writing are intentionally 'off,' with no grounding in anything approaching reality, reaching a heightened abstraction that makes even Sirk's Written on the Wind seem like kitchen sink realism (see here on Splitsider for a shot-by-shot comparison). While Red Desert achieves post-modern affect through mixed signals and ambiguity (in short, art), Spoils achieves it through specific soap signals which are then delocated to the point of abstraction. Giuliana doesn't know what kind of movie she's in -- comedy, tragedy, horror, sexual soap, clinical study of depression --she has no idea what the right response to any situation is and the movie never gives her a signifier without contradicting it a moment later. In Spoils, the link between signifier and signified is forever broken. Meaning spills out everywhere, adding up to nothing through its sheer abundance.


Spoils' story, for example, apes the 70s mini-series and 50s soap only for the first two episodes. By the end there's no longer a sense of being in any one style (though probably it's meant to be the late 60s). The story of foundling adventurer Devon Morehouse (Tobey MacGuire), his capitalist amok sister Cynthia (Kristin Wiig), and their forbidden love begining in the Dust Bowl Depression before rising up in Rink-like plumes of oil, WW2, beatnik junkiedom, hipster underwater observatories and into a climactic shoot-out in front of a bemused Shah of Iran. Just as the core of Red Desert comes from Giuliana's and therefore our inability to decode the social signifiers around her, the six-part series' deadpan humor comes less from jokes and more from inept direction, dialogue, framing, mismatched rear projection and adorable miniatures. Carey Mulligan's voice shows up inside a mannequin playing a British wife brought home by Devon when he the war from home comes a-marchin' - and that's the order they would use those words in France, and maybe under the sloshy pen of trash novelist Eric Jonrosh, played with windy Paul Masson whiny-era Welles-ishness by Will Ferrell. The idea of a mannequin as a legit rival for Cynthia is both oddly foreboding - a Stepford wife moment - and funny, depicting the dehumanized interchangeability of characters when stripped to the bones of meaning (ala the son's erector set robot in Red Desert). The iconography of the mini-series becomes a tattered yard sale as easily as a red velvet smoking jacket might sell for $500,000. if it was owned by Errol Flynn, or tossed into a rummage pile for four bucks if owned by Errol Flynn's stand-in, and yet it's the exact same jacket - and in fact, it was the same jacket (or a Jeff Beck guitar neck), because the two got switched at the cleaner years earlier or later. Deal with it.

The idea of stand-ins and a deep ambiguity illuminating the arbitrariness of place, value, and ownership course through Antonioni's work constantly in both micro and macro, cosms and chasms, and in Spoils there is an arbitrary dividing line set up, an extramarital affair as elusive in its ultimate unimportance as the disappearance in L'Aventura. The forbidden love of Cynthia and Devon is made so only in the sense of social propriety --they are not related by blood -- but soap opera cannot function without such refusals, such sacrifices of love in the name of propriety; this sense of sacrifice helped found the Italian film industry, stemming in part from floridly romantic opera and verse, Verdi and Dante, and the realities of the post-war post-class economy and censorship which also factors in Red Desert --man's willful exile from an Eden that exists only in the memory (being in Eden is impossible by definition, like bringing money to heaven); one can't be an impassioned sensualist and a 9-5 captain of industry. Operatic soapy romantic signifiers are cinema's way of mourning the loss of sensuality, the sacrifice of sexuality and romantic love in the name of victory --in war, commerce, and construction -- and the way the rise of provincial conservative censorship is intrinsically tied into that industrial age commerce, and how grand actress gestures of selfless sacrifice are the icing that sells the workers this bogus cake.

the answer, my friend
It's these gestures of sacrifice that Antonioni subverts, just as the Cinq au sept movies subvert the censor's limited imagination and inability to to comprehend the naughty bits in the center of a quadruple entendre. Codes and the symbolic structure of language point towards specifics; did they or did they not have sex? Sexually frustrated moral ethics guardians insist on knowing! Whole presidencies have been endangered over these nagging questions! But the code can be skirted, the censors stymied by symbolic references that point back only to themselves, forcing the prurient and the narrow-minded literalists into a tizzy... on purpose! And creating modernism... by accident!


"Ooops, I post-moderned. "

In Spoils, Cynthia mirrors Giuliana in Red Desert in that they both need to to waken from the idealized Edenic fantasy their personas embody. They represent the objet petit a and yet seek it, the only resolution: the renouncement sacrificing love on the alter of propriety. Each has an idealized Edenic space to retreat to (i.e. the riverside picnic tree in Written on the Wind), but the difference is that Giuliana knows hers no longer exists, it's been cut-off and blackened by toxic sludge, and that even thinking some new man understands her isn't even a pipe dream. If we've been presuming the signs in the film point towards it being one of Italy's countless 'red telephone' dramas of forbidden extramarital affairs, we're as confused as she is. But the signifiers pointing in that direction don't add up, they're more like one of those Salvador Dali dream sequences from the late 40s, only using smokestacks instead of scissors.

Similarly, Cynthia pursues Devon because forbidden love is sexy and befits the very rich, for whom the only thing they can't have is the only thing worth having. The signifiers don't add up in Spoils either, less out of seeing the world through the eyes of a crazy person and more seeing it through the eyes of an Ed Wood-meets-Harold Robbins-style windbag.


I think being American is a distinct disadvantage to getting the modernist alienation affect. Europeans and South Americans all sneer at us for not tolerating subtitles, or for learning languages (even our own) and yet they admire our innocence, knowing it is born out of a single language system. But if we imagine seeing a German film in German class (hence without subtitles) and not being able to understand because we haven't paid attention ever in class, then we too can get the modern alienation effect so coveted by the Cahiers du Cinema set. And if, after twenty minutes or so, bored and restless, we start to notice how silly and strange the people onscreen seem when language isn't there to contextualize their behavior, then we can feel the spirit of Bazin rise within us like an excited banshee. Antonioni helps us realize we're bound up in signifiers even without language: if we see in this unsubtitled German film the image a woman at a child's bedside against a white wall, and the kid in the bed has what looks like a thermometer in his mouth, we would totally believe that the kid is sick and the mom is concerned. But then we pan back and the thermometer is revealed to be a candy cigarette and it's not a hospital room but a post-modern apartment. So who is the woman? Suddenly an orderly comes in to take her away and you think she's insane and this is a mental hospital, but how did we know it was an orderly? Did he have a white lab coat on? That was no orderly! And it's not a kid at all! It's a pile of clothes she drew a face on. Now. Now we get the post-structuralist leaning tower of Babel alienation!

The Americans and censors don't want this to ever happen. They already demand a certain kind of code of conduct and a secret code to imply sex has occurred if you're adult enough to read it. From there it's a small step to leading that crazy Jack Torrance dirty-minded censor on a wild goose chase through the Overlook maze of contradictory signifiers while oh, how you laugh and laugh. To take Americans outside the prison walls of language takes a great deal of this laughing; it's important to realize that Antonioni arrives at his 'plain as the nose on a plane goes insane from twirling like top' effect through serious artistry, while the three layers of intentional-accidental post-modern intention in Spoils of Babylon occur through the accidental-intentional. It's the difference between acting the role of a guy leaving a half-eaten doughnut on a park bench and realizing there is no audience, or camera, or script around you, and so you were really just a dude leaving a doughnut on a park bench, like, for real. Did anyone in the park see you leave it there? If no one saw you leave it, how do you know it was even yours? Maybe you should quick pick it up and eat it before they notice! After all, maybe you're hungry! If only you could tell... someone.


An example of a similarly dry refracted modernism in Spoils of Babylon is right there in the name of one of the characters: Seymour Lutz, a variation of course on the name 'Seymour Butz,' an old Bart Simpson prank phone call favorite ("Is there a Butz here? I wanna Seymour Butz!")

This joke in its unaltered form would be far too crass for Jonrosh--a great Falstaffian bargain of a man--so in Babylon the name is abstracted, mispronounced by Cynthia constantly, leaving him to finally shout "it's pronounced Lutz! LUTZ!"

Now of course any comedy lover reading this set up will presume Wiig's calling him Seymour Butz instead of Seymour Lutz, which is where the joke would be if it was only once refracted. But Cynthia keeps calling him "Seymour Lund." Quintessential Jonrosh. Also, in saying "Lutz! Lutz!" he's invoking the tone and delivery of W.C. Fields in 1933's International House saying "Nuts! Nuts!" while fixing a loosened nut on his autogyro. Coincidence? Never!


One similar favorite moment late in Red Desert made me finally understand why Paul Narkunas recommended it so very long ago: Feeling guilty about the affair brewing when she's alone with Corrado (Richard Harris) in his swanky bachelor quarters, Giuliana looks up from the bed, sees the door is open, and--worried neighbors or husband or the porter might barge in any minute--she closes the door, but it's to the cabinet by his bedside! 

At an earlier point she runs off after him towards a ship that's been quarantined, to stop him from what she thinks is him risking his life by going aboard to help with the sick, but then she tuns around, separated from the group in the fog, Corrado at her side; the others look at her as if she's been caught red handed in an affair --but are they really feeling that, or is just another passing mood? Now she thinks she's the one who needs to go rescue the sick on the ship. Both impulses are forgotten by the next distraction, just like they would be for someone on strong acid. Everyone seems always about to start an orgy or come onto her, but are they? Is this what being a hot mess in sex-crazed Italy is like? Or are they just ghost Repulsion wall arms?

The answer is she's not crazy, we are. Antonioni is revealing our red-telephone-signifier-trained tendency to seek romantic sparks and soapy betrayal everywhere.


Finally, let's examine the cart selling apples in the street in Red Desert, all of which are strangely painted silver-grayish, on the Ravenna street. Who would buy gray apples? Are they some kind of decoration? Are the apples poison? Then why the gray paint buckets completely painted over as to challenge the idea they are paint buckets at all? Is this art or pollution? We can't tell but when Giuliana sits by the cart for a minute she becomes a post-modern apple/art peddler. Still, we can't deduce what's up with this cart, or her relationship to it, anymore than we can deduce if an orgy happens later, or after that a cheap affair or a tortured bonding, or none of the above, and if we don't fight the surreal de-signification domino effect then not knowing is like waking up from a dream within a dream. The hidden puppeteer hand is clumsily pulled down onto the stage and the mind's tendency to lose itself in green smoke and booming voices finds itself challenged by the sudden sight of an old man wizard in his underwear without a testimonial or diploma to his name.

But there's a reason we like that puppeteer hand offstage and the wizards clothed and behind curtains hidden: once we no longer fall for the illusion then we have to face our own lady death, and she speaks to us, as always, through a collage of remembered movie lines, song lyrics, and poetry, in a voice like Veronica Lake's, grown surly with concern like she just rescued one right guy from another bad orphanage, and her legs are lovely, but they're squeezing the life out of us like an anaconda of mother love. We will not leer.... We will not leer.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Let the Darionioni Nuovo entrain your Dissonance: AMER (2009)


Stendahl syndrome is a real thing and now I know because it happened to me with this experimental-narrative post-modernist hybrid fairy tale-erotic awakening giallo bit of mind-melting genius, Amer (2009). I didn't pass out but I did get a full bore panic attack mind shatter moment of pure Vulcan mind meld between image and reality. I have fallen into this film like Alice into that K-rabbit hole down through the 'David Lynch-as-a-girl twisted up with a giallo fan version of Maya Deren' Wonderland. Amer isn't just a film, it's a disintegration engine, sucking up the distance between the viewer's mind and the screen like lovers on either end of a Twizzler, swallowing towards the middle and into the blackness.

What sets Amer apart from almost all other films, and it's clear from every frame, is that it's written and directed by a male-female team, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. They come together like the reunification of the conscious mind and the unconscious. "It’s because we are a couple that we can work together," they noted in a 2010 desktop interview. "It would have been impossible to make the film with someone else. We trust in each other and we can speak honestly about intimate things. That’s why we can collaborate." That they sure as fuck can. Their names evoke their respective Italian male and French femaleness, which makes sense because there are certainly strains of Catherine Breillat as well as Argento, Antonioni as well as Claire Denis, but then again, they're Belgian... and beautiful. So that does happen.

If it helps the process, maybe have seen enough experimental cinema to check the references in advance: Antonioni-ish ur-ambiguous 'intentionally signification resistant' art, and Argento-ish European erotic fairy tale horror films from the 60s-70s, so the analytical signifiers and references can cascade upon you, the way Un Chien Andalou cascaded instantly recognizable political horror upon rioting Parisian art critics in 1929, or the Basilica of Santa Croce cascaded upon poor Stendahl. Thanks to these two kids who made this wild film, Stendahl syndrome's not just for Florentine tourists, or Asia Argento, anymore. This time it's poison L. This time they came for me.

Until mon Amer there's always been a weird dissonance, a grinding disagreement, between the iconography of experimental film and narrative film, even in Europe, where art doesn't have to be framed and velvet roped the way it does here. A mirror to this twin dissonance might be found between the Jungian anima and the Mulveyan male gaze, between Jess Franco's 1967 Succubus and Lucretia Martel's The Headless Woman. But Amer brings to this twin dissonance (experimental vs. narrative / male fantasies about what girls dream vs. female artist's impressions of girls dreaming about men) a twin serpent DNA lover's frequency that harmonizes all those dissonant tones, and the resulting unified field harmony expands wider and wider until it envelops and entrains other dissonances, widening its wave until even the most ideal sympathetic response to the film is swamped and carried off ever outward into space until the floor rises up to meet you like a wall

and then forward into panic
the image of self within your mind shatters
like Ellison's glass goblin
ancient crumbling nitrate like Edison's ghost dance.
Your crystal skull's shambling pedestal falls
to the marble Florence floor
Its eye sockets, twin gondolas, stay afloat.
Your back's hard against the couch still
watching the shards of your coil's shard's scatter,
the cards shatter off the diving board
couch in a 52 pick-up of fluttering
raven-hoofed watery wings,
and you swim

deep

deep down, Diabolik-ish.
The floor sinks towards you like a mouth,
Betty Blue Boy blows candy canings,
the outcast cowboy burning constantly at stake

But what mouth?
Don't do drugs,
but let them do you if they wish-
it would do you honor.

And what is the difference between faking not having amnesia and not having it but secretly pretending to hide that you have it (as in pretending you know what's going on when you don't but not really, i.e. faking it even to yourself?) This is what we black-out drinkers are familiar with --easing our way into our lives each morning like we know all that happened the night before but we don't - it's an art, a bit of sly detective work as you suss out the night's events and all witnesses' remembrances of your actions without letting on you don't remember. With a level of remorse that would crush a sober man, we eye our girlfriend on the couch for signs of her displeasure, trying to fathom what we may have done to embarrass her... pretending we already know and are sorry, as we quietly (when she's in the bathroom),
and with practiced legerdemain,
spike our orange juice.


Many have tried and a few have come close to harnessing the kind of alternating current a romantic male-female directing-writing team couple can generate: Debra Hill and John Carpenter came as close as anyone with Halloween (1978) but every film has to get up from the table and go pick a bathroom sooner or later, and Halloween eventually chooses the Men's, which means John Carpenter in the limelight, Hill to the side. No film has made it all the way past the border of gender and to the boundary of the split subject, avoiding picking the man as the director, woman as producer, or writer, or vice versa --no film makes it past nationality, temper and even age, smashing through the wall between the bathroom doors and finding its own special hidden alcove. Amer isn't the male gaze or the female gaze but both gazes sliced up in long celluloid pupil Laura Mars strips and arranged in Sergio Leone eye close-up layers to form something as new as neither, something genuinely transgressive without relying on anything so paltry as meaning, story, narrative, coherence or logic... or even cheap shocks. Would your dreams ever deign to use them? Why should Amer? Instead it resists even the fundamental hazard at a guess of meaning critics might find in something similarly post-structuralist like Antonioni's Red Desert or Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. It's something as slick and enjoyable as any modern movie but deeply entrenched in the experimental and certain to confuse or irritate anyone expecting signifiers of the real to properly adhere.

The male-female creative interaction of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani seems mirrored in the zig-zag rhythm of the shots - one step into giallo narrative, one step back along fractured dream surrealism, each refracting and reflecting the predecessor - move, countermove, and so nothing is ever clear or unclear. Everything resists a concrete interpretation but continually beguiles us into wanting one, uses that want for its own purposes, maybe even better than Antonioni did: it doesn't charge ahead like a boy with an Uzi and climax or dissolve into curios like a girl with a flower, yet if you don't run away in disgust, or boredom and if you don't dismiss it all as girly stuff or misogynist or think you don't know what's going on, and if instead you just ride with it, but remain alert and enthralled and ideally high on lack of sleep and Jung and art and Robitussin, then there it is, in its sublime perfection, the mind--both halves--inner and outer, conscious ego and unconscious animus locking into place while busting open at the same time, the unconscious's language signifiers becoming reshuffled, the normal narrative progression cracked open like a nut, the inside goodness free falling in slow motion and for a moment you and the unconscious and the images onscreen are all one - the barrier of screen and speaker between you has evaporated.

When dealing with the giallo genre in the scope of female fairy tale iconography it's important to stress that the collective as well as personal unconscious does not recognize the border between life and death, between the alive and dead version of you, the ego/soul/body/consciousness. Your dreams are the same whether or not you die outside of them - death in your bed doesn't wake you from the nightmare. The razor in the hand of the man chasing you is never just a phallus, penetration anxiety or even fear of death. It's a fear of dissolving, a loss of self, the split - you are afraid to turn around and face the demon chasing you in your nightmare for a very good reason - once you turn around and face it the demon will merge with the 'you' who stopped running, both will cease to exist and a new life will begin. Only through fear of change, or merging, of opening the self's border, does one hold onto the virginity of a tangible unchanging self. All else is transition. All of Amer is this transition - it is a coming attractions highlight reel of infinite length, the narrative arc of the 90 minute film split three ways, and from there three more.

The first such split occurs during childhood - the Freudian key that unlocks Bluebeard's secret dead bride storage: Bava's Black Sabbath, Suspiria, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Brothers Grimm, and Valerie and her Week of Wonders. The second turns sunny and erotic with the girl on the cusp of sexual maturity: Rohmer, Betty Blue, Emmanuelle, Fellini, Blow-Up and Chabrol, and even maybe Cocteau. The third and final turns to the dark again: Argento, later Bava plus Blood and Black Lace, Soavi, Fulci... but with the jittery bipolar modern 'twang' of Antonioni's Red Desert. The eternal dance of metatexual refraction never ends even at the end. The movie becomes a male-female duel in exquisite corpse fashion, each image reinterpreting the one that came before, ever circling dark truths but resisting meaning and remaining the pinnacle of cinematic 'dream logic.'


The only way to describe what's going on is to give these kids a name that can link them with certain of their peers, so I'm calling them the Darionioni Nuovo, a group of filmmakers who have melded the experimental and deeply psychoanalytical styles and substances of Argento and Antonioni into a modern new vision for cinema, one geared towards not just the moviegoer's eyeball but their pupil, not just their ear but their ossicles, a group who refuse to label Antonioni and Godard as art and Fulci and Franco as trash, but to see each as half and half. This is a zone that we usually don't trust 'new' filmmakers with, especially not in America where everything has to be laid out with big yellow lines and breasts and 2.3 children and token minorities and police and moral lessons and zeitgeist-dictated products placed according to rating and market. But in Europe and places where socialized education and less hysterical reactions towards sex and cigarettes lets the youth get super intellectual for free, there is thrives. Maybe it's their less repressive attitude towards sex that frees them from infantile obsession, helping them to make deeper movies: Berberian Sound Studio, Only God Forgives, Boarding Gate, Escape from TomorrowA Field in England... but mainly or totally in this instance, Amer. Maybe they can't be appreciated, or even endured, without familiarity with the 60s-70s European horror film canon, but if you haven't experienced any of it, then what are you, un poulet?



Now when a guy, a bro, a dude tries to make a female coming of age story, no matter artsy or 'feminist' it's still a male fantasy, in the end, am I right guys? And that's a shame, because on the one hand we're not allowed to get turned on by the Blue is the Warmest Color because it's still the leering male gaze, and on the other we can't enjoy Chris Lilley's HBO show Private School Girl because our anima gets jealous. And when a woman makes a coming-of-age film she either lets her animus, "her master's voice" lure her into a phallus-sacrificial circle in the forest, ala Thirteen, or she projects said voice clear out of the room with the cricket bat-like swipe of a musketeer's sword (Breillat's Bluebeard). Instead of either, Amer rolls elegantly along the straight razor length of the blade and into the 'win a free game' hole at the end. When it emerges it is, como si dice?, ready for the Lynchian eraser factory.

Counter, Paul!

And what then? The lights come in corners of this massive eraser factory that have been dark for years. You forgot those lights were even there; forgot the corners were even there; forgot the machines were even there, machines that now start whirring and you realize too you forgot what they do or where they came from. People are applauding you, Nina! You didn't even know you were onstage! You've moved from being just another American whining for his climax to a European calmly engaging the sensual. Now, Nina, Now! Now you really are the Black Swan. And some trick velvet light trap choker snaps shut behind you, the concrete Basilica floor snaps up to greet you like a grounding lover. And on the count of three you are back to one true unified / split. Snap, dragon. Truth or illusion, George, at last, and for all time, there is no difference. Snap. Etc.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It's only real if it wrecks your life: HER, THE WAY WE WERE, LOVE AFFAIR


O Love, thou coaxer of dopamine and norepinephrine through miserly neruological alleyways, you can cure illness, reduce obesity, turn blue meanies into pink happies, sound trumpets and sport horns like the satyr Pan, Zeusishly cause lightning that the thirsty soul imbibes like wine as it zaps the chains from the mind and the sleeping corpse beneath it to electric life. You make once dumb love songs on our car radio suddenly profound. Our old life and crusty ways in rear view mirror fade as you drive us into the warm and final Aerosmith shot of Dazed and Confused dawn sunshine.

But then evening falls. you too fade in the rear view mirror after you drop us off in the middle of highway nowhere. "This is where you get off," you say. There's only so much lightning our Frankenstein shell can take and you've got bolts to throw before you sleep, not that you ever do.


Love in the age of digital communication has led to something so instant it's impossible to internalize and therefore no change in the persona has been possible. We can't sit down at ye olde desk to write to our distant love with Ken Burns' fiddle music mournful in the background because there's never a time when our lover's voice can't be there, here, wherever... Verizon... 4G. No distance or mountain high enough; you can be Tom Hanks on coast-to-coast radio Sleepless in Seattle and wow a nation of ladies with a moment of near-but-not-all-the-way tearful sincerity in your voice, have them all fall in love with you, without even meeting you, because of course they've all imagined a perfect animus-reflective ideal via your sincere tinge. But that's what you are, right, Tom? A sincere tinge? Don't lose the octave-dropping edge of grief in your voice, or not be what they dream when you're seen, and you're gonna wind up with a Meg Ryan atop the Empire State Building, ala the end of Love Affair. 


I hated Sleepless in Seattle because it was the reminder my own relationship in Seattle had been a lie; the sex stopped and we began to gnaw at each other because hot as she was, and cool as she was, we were just not 'in love' in that special thunderbolt way, because I was a poet and my true love became a hybrid of Joni Mitchell singing how she wanted to shampoo and renew me again and again while I drove past a Virginia Slims billboard of a girl with long blond straight hair who looked like one of my best friends back in Syracuse whom I loved in a platonic courtly way. She, Joni, and the giant Virginia Slims girl swirled together into what I even knew at the time was an anima ideal, having studied Jung, with her, back in Syracuse. So now, alone in my car on that route I learned to cry again; my anima began to finally talk to me, using Joni and a colossal-size model with a cool white cigarette, and letters and thoughts of my friend back east, through which to project. My real life / 3D girlfriend in Seattle sniffed this out and thought my being platonic with a cute smart blonde back in Syracuse was impossible. When we saw When Harry Met Sally at the $2 theater in Edmonds she felt proved right and we broke up during the credits, and I still hate that movie.

This is the power of the signal, which is part of our unconscious too, the part neuroscientists and Amazon basin psychonauts are gradually coming to realize: the unconscious core of the soul doesn't come from within the mind or heart but rather is beamed into the pineal gland from an outside source. We are a signal ourselves, from some far off planet or even deep within our own, some fathomlessly long DNA serpent dreaming us from within the structure of the world. We can catch glimpses of its scales in the reflection of neon off the bathroom tiles or at night in the streaky painted light on the blacktop after a rainstorm, but we can't see it directly, or hide from it ever, and either way the voice on the radio singing about love or talking about it is a combo of two signals that are connected at both ends - receiver and transmitter- both just old Svengali talking to himself again. True Love is literally written on the wind, a billion cellular coded mash notes coursing through our atomic structure every second, a net of support so intimate no mask can survive it. No Walter Mitty can have his fancy flights here nor an American Hustle happen once this signal strikes. Only in Her does it meet a receptive transmitter because it is pure signal and it's found a dude who wouldn't know a mask if it came up and spooked him.


Like the less successful film Surrogates (see: The Wringer of Ringerhood), Her takes place in a Catfish future wherein everyone can be whomever else they want in virtual reality, and for some reason choose they selves. Meeting other 3-D real time people has lost much of its feigned jocularity in Spike Jonze's succinctly imagined future; no one smokes or makes wretched small talk or goes on benders; bluetooth sex chats with strangers are as natural as Ambien isn't. If Don Draper could see what his Madison Ave sincerity carousel would lead to, would he ever had turned against Luckies? Better to smoke indoors at the martini bar of masque-on-mask artificiality than be healthy in a bubble of self where a computer voice validates your every movement like a conductor on baby's first potty train.

As a Pisces born during the psychedelic free love eclipse of 1967 I am late to the party or far too early most of the time, so I know too well that when you go out dressed as someone else your old self may not be there when you come back, but accepting that and disguising anyway is something called maturity. I've had my soul shaved into nothingness by transdimensional clockwork gorgons so I also know too well the self is not a constant, anymore than a tornado or polar vortex. And I've known the loving rush of brain exaltation and excitement that can come just from love e-mails, IMs and phone calls, the absence of pictures in those early days of the internet (c. 1995), helped boost the endorphins, as we imagined a haunting gorgeous screen of fluid features. No purer form of anima projector screen has e'er existed outside of fiction.

My first such affair precipitated what AA would call my 'bottom' --after a few months of bliss via long letters and amor-fou-phone calls she sent me a care package: a photo, a watercolor with a romantic original poem, and a mix tape. The poem was... okay, the songs super sad like I love, but her photo was from when she was a child of about twelve, with a cat.

Hmm. From when she was a child... with a cat.

You can guess the rest if you know how internet dating works, and the way alcoholism fuels clinical depression and vice versa. The web was the wild west, all the imposter Catfish tricks were still brand new, and I was a prize chump. I flew to Denver to meet her anyway, too drunk to figure a way out. It was the spring of 1997 and the arrival gate bar was serving doubles for the price of singles. Within ten minutes of getting off the plane I had parked us there until she came out of focus.

Flash forward ten years, falling in love with a fellow writer on the phone from 3,000 miles away.  I wrote this post on Coming Home (1979) for her; photos galore to vouchsafe mad hotness; twelve hour stretches whisked by breathless on the phone, hardly daring to switch my phone to the other ear lest I miss a second. A bad cold had brought my voice down an octave and the opiate-enriched Tussianex prescription made me self-assured, our voices merged like two sinuous serpents. Then Christmas came, dragging us apart to our separate families. I went from slithering through the warm, whispered waterways of our shared vocal embrace to shouting into elderly phones just for a single mundane pleasantry to be heard by my 95 year-old granny. My self-assurance withered under my dad's heat ray glare. She didn't return my call for months. Really it was just four days, just long enough to break the whispered waterway connection. I had e-mailed her pictures, you see, in the interim, along with a poem, a watercolor, and a mix tape...

Blood of the Lamb Lenses

Five years later I finally did find a true love that managed to begin on the internet via long long letters of adoration, this one a big Rilke and Thoman Bernhard fan, and it ended in real life cohabitation. And last year during a three month flash of blissful enlightenment brought about by pre-apocalyptic euphoria and galactic alignmentI got to experience the literal reality of the 'everything looks rosy' or 'rose-colored glasses' effect. I was seeing an actual rose-tint over the world and everything seemed to be infused with a healthy crimson, a flush in the world's cheeks. It didn't last of course, and I had forgotten about it until seeing Her. The whole damn film is rosy. But maybe that's the problem. Any acting teacher or therapist would surely weep with joy over Phoenix's sublime and constant state of emotional nakedness, his wrenching honesty, his palpable joy and heartbreak. But that's all we really see of this guy - honesty. It's a such a lonely word and everyone is so / untrue, for a reason. A man without a mask unnerves even his gooiest friends sooner or later. He's not even really a man, just a crossroads between tears and doofus grins.


On the other hand: consider The Way We Were (1973): Robert Redford's final goodbye to Babs at the end--the first real emotion he has in the film and maybe in his whole career--is so powerful, I cry every time... or would if I had seen it more than once. Redford ("the Natural") can't act in the emotional naked Phoenix style and that is his strength. When he finally does crack the mask, the walls come down where you didn't even know walls were, and that's what art is supposed to do, break down walls where you didn't know walls were. His entire stone-faced oeuvre is worth enduring for this one crystal-like clear water fountain / to the sea / moment. Is that one crack equivalent to or equal to all of Phoenix's performance in Her? I think so. At what point does an unmasked man go from touching to douche chill-icky? Answer: when he had no mask to smash in the first place.


A true story memoir about a beautiful golden WASP Adonis lured out of his quail and ale club by a bohemian Jewess intellectual socialist played by Barbara Streisand, The Way We Were is a star-crossed romance that goes on far longer than most, across acres of history, the lovers crossed as if forever. He initially shacks up with her against all his better judgment and friend advice, partially because, let's face it, WASP girls don't take lovers, only husbands. Babs ain't so brittle. For the progressive socialists, shacking up's no big deal. I can vouchsafe from experience that intellectual Jewish sensuality is totally terrific, a shnozz or some physical imperfection fades in the mystical connectivity of their spirit and electromagnetic heat. And Bab's got such a light spirit you can see why he comes to see her as more than a booty call. There's a complex layer of completion-seeking added when a bronzed Adonis not in touch with his feelings melts for a heart-on-sleeve Brooklyn motormouth. Opposites attract for a reason, it's a polarity thing. A north needs a south for a proper axis.

That's why you can tell the love affair in Her isn't real, not that it matters, which is the point. Minds meet, excite each other, enrapture and engage and then they are no longer the same minds. You can't expect them to stay with the person their previous mind chose as a lover, that would be cruel. Love is an accelerated learning process, absorbing the other persons likes and dislikes and philosophies, and then what? Moving onto the next lesson. But TRUE love is cruel, a teacher who never lets you out of first grade. Opposites can change all they want, but since there's no overlap they can never make each other's input redundant.

Redford and Streisand's characters grow apart not because they've outgrown one another but because around each other they've stopped growing, period, and only later, at the end of the film, when they run into each other on the street, all betrothed to proper class and religiously affiliated spouses - and only then, after it all has happened - does Redford finally crack, because he had stopped growing for so long with her and even without her and now, crack goes the mask - the naked self spurts forth ungainly but true. In Breezy, for example, a whole fifty years of hardened crust cracks right off Bill Holden when he spontaneously bursts into a child-like smile of rapture on the beach with younger girl Kay Lenz, and it's beautiful and makes me weep for joy because he spent those earlier decades being tough. It's the epiphany moment of the hopelessness of love, that impossible star-crossed fate where even if you each ditch your old life and together make your grab for the gold it will never survive, just as it can never die, and so you do it anyway, and ten years later you wonder if it even ever existed (as in Before Midnight), but this one moment on the beach stands tall as a reminder of the vast acres of self you could have claimed that are now forever lost no matter which road you take. But this is at least one road being taken, now. Where it leads to is irrelevant, and you proved to yourself that given the chance to smash your mask, even knowing you'll never get a mask that good again, you smash it? That's bravery...


But in Her, Phoenix the actor stands naked before us from the get-go, hitting these painful notes that are masterfully honest and Jones' script backs him up with eloquent moments like being crouched on the subway steps while a rush of commuters file around him while hearing of how his digital love is having intimate conversations with thousands of other operating systems, juxtaposing how cut off we are from even the surface of our fellow man--streaming past in that commuter rush. All we have when in the Catfish-verse of virtual perfection is the illusion of connection, and the hope of one day uniting with the machine reflection, the 'what we wish we were' vs. 'how we are,' the hope we can one day merge so well that our Frankenstein Skynet Robbie the Robot This is for Pris, Cherry 2000 Absolut vodka Demon Seed love child shall stand as proof that Lady Skynet and John Conner can unite the Capulets and Romulans after all.

 A man moseying along the crowded bubble of his electric navel / real world destroyed
The woman looking outside the bubble at the real world  /  Communist
Two souls alone together in the shipboard bubble / real world inaccessible
Then there's Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in Leo McCarey's Love Affair (1939). Now as a man who now only cries when he passes a liquor store window display, I don't care for Irene Dunne in most things. Studs like Cary Grant and Charles Boyer are too good for her, sez I. But in Love Affair her prissy ball-busting schtick is needed because it is so unlike Charles Boyer's nostril-breathing sensualist --she's the Redford, he's the Babs. But they're the only first class passengers traveling alone on a trans-Atlantic cruise, brought together by their miserable separate tables, so opposites sizzle. Director Leo McCarey is peerless at matchmaking, using precision walk-ons to break down all walls and hardness: a talkative chipper landlady, a trio of weird little girl harmonizers (with Irene Dunne on ukulele), an endearing orphanage manager the kids call Picklepuss, a charming art gallery owner, a smitten club manager, a drunk guy carrying a Christmas tree all the way up to 182nd Street, a heavenly orphan choir singing not too loud there's a baby upstairs, gathered around Dunne's sick-bed, and the celestial Maria Ouspenskaya in her greatest role as Boyer's Yoda-like grandmother. Not a single mean word or ill will in the whole film, just two people cautiously reading the signs that fate's throwing at them and quietly slipping free from all their original plans. And we worry about the final big meeting like saps, because everyone else in the film is also aware of how vital these meetings are, the one thing that can cut through all the crap and yank us right out of our lives, even if it's for the worse, is the one thing worth doing. Fortune favors the bold but love doesn't give a shit about fortune or anything else. In Before Sunset, Hawke misses his flight, doesn't cancel or change it, just outright misses it, because Delpy's smoldering to Nina Simone; Amy Jolly kicks off her thousand dollars shoes and barefoot marches off to follow the Legion. It's the grand gesture, so make it while you're high.

 

And in that height of highness, it's not just the lovers themselves but the romance of light and shadow and sound caressing Boyer and Dunne over glistening rear projection seas that has to pound its board against the surf of uncertainty; the landlocked future already preventing them from being together, like some poison chocolate pink champagne aphrodisiac. You only know for sure it's love when it wrecks your life. If your favorite thing was golf, love will ensure you can never play again; if you loved to touch, your true love hates being touched; if you like to ski, your true love stabs you in the kneecap. You are giving up the shiniest cheap car collection in the world for one battered but sturdy BMW to last you the rest of your life. Before in relationships you would just mark the hours 'til your escape, even if the girl or boy seemed perfect for you, but when true love calls even a Boyer or Redford becomes just a smoov version of Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel! But dig, the trick is 'becomes' not already is, Phoenix! Now crow! Crow into the empty screen for a chance to glimpse your soul's secret norepinephrine stash! Crow before the charm's unwound and your sockets empty of all but stray current. Crow damn yo... (end transmission)

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Best of EK Writing 2013


As always, it seems, 2013 was a prolific year, if not as scintillating or apocalyptic as I "secretly" hoped. If you're a casual follower of this site you may be flabbergasted, yes, flabbergasted, to realize Acidemic is closing in on 1,000 posts. The cake is moldering in the razen sun in frozen preparation. I know, I know, you are busy, no time to blow candleward. So here's the top few pieces plus collected writing from other sites you may have missed. And this site is itself "other" enough to be included. Cuz my dear one, I don't want you to miss a thing!

"Maybe the surest sign of alien intervention is the relentless sameness of our world, where a minor disaster here and there effects only one side of one country, one power grid here or tornado path there, never enough to bring our status quo to a halt, never enough to wipe away our credit card debt in a huge burst of magnetic energy, or enough to wipe out all life through a super volcano eruption or massive meteor strike. Someone is surely looking out for his investment." (more)
(Slant - 10.13)
"He'd received shock treatments as a teenager to "cure" his bisexuality and found solace in narcotics, and if it left him divided against himself, such tortured transfiguration was also the stuff of great literature, a la Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, and he knew it. "I always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter," he told Rolling Stone in 1987. "They're all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there's my Great American Novel..." (more)
What is happening to our horror comedies? Are we finally attempting to solve our American issues, to answer the cryptic misanthropic riddle Romero first posed to us back in 1968? Having felt ostracized most of my life, even with no outward hostility on the part of anyone around me, I would love to create a witchy tornado and destroy the fearful mob mentality faux Christian dickheads who would still deny the benevolence of weed, who cry about freedom when they mean freedom to persecute others. How I would love to whisk them off to Hell in one grand witchy gesture. But... maybe ParaNorman and Warm Bodies are reminders that only forgiveness and unconditional love will ever change a mind. (more)
'....science can describe how DNA might unpack a seed so that it becomes a tree (a gradual fusion of photosynthesis, time, soil, water) but it can't explain why, or where it all comes from to begin with. They have no idea which came first, the chicken or the egg, or why either bothered to come at all. They don't know why sleep paralysis occurs in the way it does, only how it occurs. Why do we sense this evil presence in the room? We usually sense the presence before we realize we can't move, so which came first? Does the demon wait for the right situation --when we're conscious but still paralyzed by natural nervous system sleep cycles -- to pounce? It seems very inadequate to dismiss these apparitions as simply nightmares. We still don't quite know how third eye dreams / imaginings work. We can analyze the cones and rods of the eye, the pupil, the optical fluids, but what we sense in nightmares has no correlation to anything we can measure.." (more)


"You" are a single organism on a single spinning rock spinning around a sun that's roaring through space and slowly preparing to explode. You're unable to 'exist' for more than sixteen or so hours before you fall asleep and are unconscious, or "conscious" somewhere other than here on this spinning rock. When your eyes are closed, all is dark; when your ears are plugged, all is quiet. Yet you are willing to measure the amount of time an alien would need to travel here from Orion based on that same primitive conception of time/space and the universe, one totally anthropomorphized to fit your limited conception of reality. You presume an alien can only be 'real' if you can sense it with at least three of your five senses, in your waking life, eyes open, ears unplugged. Even then you still need it verified by the TV news man before it's really real, even if you trust the witnesses and see the evidence firsthand. If that's not being hypnotized I don't know what is. (more)

"Maybe Fellini spoiled us with La Dolce Vita (1960). We were handed a carnival and told that inside was some artsy malaise, so you got clowns and overkill and when you found the ennui secret chamber you expected some candy prizes. Antonioni never gave candy, his carnival had no inside or clowns or overkill (and even Bergman had problems with clowns and overkill -as in Sawdust and Tinsel) and the only prize for getting the 'art' part was an all-consuming modernist shiver. There is never 'too much' in an Antonioni film, so if you feel special for 'getting it' it's only with the realization that you were probably on Xanax, or in a weird mood, and might hate it the next time around." (more)

All this interconnectedness and online alternate world habitation is a social problem, but it's only a problem if we don't take it further. We must drink our way through the spins, smoke ourselves sober, keep moving deeper into the digital, not embracing each new operating system of the same damned phone like brainwashed tech nerds but moving deeper into our brains and the connection between audio-visual stimulation and our sensory organs. We should be tightening the gap, closing the distance between eye and screen until the eye isn't even needed to see anymore nor the ear to hear. Why make technology that still boils down to a screens and sound? Let it all be beamed like alien space signals in through the third eye so that we become like the monks who attain enlightenment and so abandon all the trappings of the earthly plane, meditating for so long in their remote caves without needing food or water that they become like husks, like mummies with only a glowing pineal gland indicating some slight connection to this godforsaken time-space continuum. (more)
"What mainstream science still can't quite admit, but which leading edge scientists are realizing to their amazement, is that the universe is totally subjective. If we can move past notions of size, perspective, relation, and spatial relativity, then space/time travel is possible regardless of the distances between solar systems. As humans with limited ESP ability (or, as with most scientists, none at all) we can't imagine space travel any other way except by carting our bodies from point A to point B, in a vessel relative to own size, but that doesn't mean we all won't one day be long past that limited conception of ourselves. If space itself is a vacuum, the idea of needing to travel a certain amount of miles to get there is foolishly short-sighted. Why not just collapse the vacuum? Why not merely shrink the space? 
I have no choice, therefore--considering the film's avalanche of uncanny coincidence-- to believe the film was written by me in the future." (more)

"Awash in desolate suburban blight, dark, twisting woods, empty plains, fire-damaged barns, cobwebs trailing down from street signs, Phantasm leaves us with the feeling one has crossed somewhere back from banal day reality into unreal nightmare. These landscapes do exist, even more so now. I saw this desolation most in western Oregon. Every storefront along the road closed and boarded up and not a soul for miles and miles, yet you feel your car is being followed some tall shadow you try to tell yourself is only a tree in the dark of your rearview. Your tank's been on 'E' for an hour and when you see that white light in the distance you know it's a 24-hour Exxon station dropped from the sky by God's Jesus's own flying saucer. Every fellow traveler you meet smiles at you, for they too have survived the swallowed darkness of the empty expanses of highway and the feeling the world has ended and together you are grateful in a profound deep way only spooked lost travelers riding on empty through abandoned countryside know, or an audience leaving a very scary movie as one quivering mass, edging towards its cars." (more)
"...So if you want a nice meta reflection moment, rent it off the box for $5.99 and then watch it on your computer while trolling through online dating sites from your phone, but then you're still going to want to get out of the house, walk around the block and then come home, just to feel you've been somewhere. My girl and I were going to go see The Conjuring up the street but we rented The Canyons instead. For it is the future of cinema, the future, where the cell phone is the weapon of choice as well as the entertainment. Everything else is just the distractions, what goes on between texts." (more)
"The only real separation between Italian-American gangster films and Italian horror perhaps is that death is where the gangster film stops, but horror has a few more places to go, and it's the brutal circumstances of that trip is everything for the Italians of both stripes. If you look at non-Italian or 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. With Argento's murders, and De Palma's or Scorsese's or Coppola's, the moment of the first bullet, stab, or slash doesn't necessarily end the chance 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...."  (more)
"Maybe that's what the real lure of war is for men at home: an escapist grim fantasia where it's just buds against the world; firearms instead troubling wives, the chance to prove one's mettle. Everything is stripped down to just you and the guys experiencing the same hell the next seat over; it gets real, and that makes the joy just as real, the thrill of being drunk in the officer's club instead of terrified in the sky. And Barthelmess--his usually impassive face contorting into a slow burn wide-eyed terror at being finally unable to save his gunner's life--cradles Manners as he dies like a lover. But when it comes to pitching confessional woo to Nikki in their private train car back to Paris he seems to doing some lipless burlesque of what having lips is like." (more)

"How is Barnabas conservative? He holds a grudge and he takes the moral high ground no matter what sordid things he does on the sly, just like the Republicans. Barnabas can't help himself, you see, she cursed him by draining his precious... bodily fluids. Even though she doesn't kill anywhere near the amount of innocent people that he does (those construction workers he killed probably had childrenfamilies!), it is she who must be burnt at the stake for this to be a proper happening. The true neo-conservative doesn't care about the dead workers, after all, unless they're in his direct family. Drinking the lifeblood of labor and youth (he also devours a whole band of innocent hippies) while presuming we'll root for him anyway since he has such good family values is sooooo 1%. This kind of belief system, if left unfucked with, inevitably leads to a people's revolution! Barnabas shouldn't be reading her Erich Segal's Love Story but rather Howard Zinn's The People's History of the United States!" (more


Drown in a Vat of Whiskey
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941)
"...there are people who aren't alcoholics, so they don't know the true joy of the terror of addiction, the horror of convulsions and D.T.s on one extreme and the giddy ecstasy of waking up feeling like death, pouring a 50/50 gin and grapefruit juice highball, pounding it down in a single gulp, repeating twice, and sitting down to watch your favorite bender movie, SPECIES or APOCALYPSE NOW, and realizing it's only six AM on a Sunday, not six PM on a Sunday, like you feared. You have the whole day. vast hours left to try and taper off in time for work. The agony and ache of your morning hangover vanishes and is replaced by ecstasy in a matter of minutes. Next thing you know, of course, it's six AM on a Monday, and you're thinking of reasons you can't come into work, putting that scratch in your voice for when you call your boss. Godfrey Daniel!" (more)
"David Lynch taught us that if you push normality to its extreme it becomes more surreal than your wildest imagination, and the "Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" sequence of this film finally illuminates the appeal of frills and fancy MGM foppery to a jaded, faded, junky nurse like myself by pushing it to an impossible extreme. The cumulative effect is beyond the usual sense of claustrophobia, of being like Sullivan sandwiched between the portly matrons at the movies during the first of his travels, and instead breaking through the roof and achieving a mythopoetic splume of transcendental connection, something even Willie Wonka as a child, trapped by his mom at a 1906 fashion show and looking up the skirts of the passing models could never imagine. He'd have to be reading Little Nemo at the same time, and strung out on Demerol." (more)
And that's why every demeaning expletive and subjugation and atrocity is necessary in Tarantino's last two films--BASTERDS and DJANGO. Because no amount of vengeance, of cathartic destruction can be truly cathartic without it; if it sickens you beyond measure than the film is only doing it's job and this bloody catharsis is for you. This is the kind of trauma we should be getting from our movies, not the casual torture of films like HOSTEL and WOLF CREEK. Serial killers and psychopaths are frightening but they're isolated individuals or groups whose actions are against the law. In Nazi Germany and the Antebellum South, casual torture, subjugation and atrocity are law; extreme racist barbarism is the societal norm. The idea of what's 'right' as far as bloody vengeance is muddied by our inability to see the forest for the trees as far as the social order we're living in, and that's the Quentin difference. (more)
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