|Icons from top: "Summertime Sadness," I Walked with a Zombie, "Tropico"|
So while some are threatened or indignant (same thing) over this death drive fancy of Del Rey's I say hey, man, be grateful her death drive is visible, in your sights, because all she has to do is pout, turn slowly away, and take a backwards slow mo Peg Entwistle dive off the Hollywood sign and down through Diane Selwyn's pale blue skylight and it's YOU who die, not her. Once you can't see her you'll know she's behind you, with a gun or sharp sword. You will not be saved by the god Plutonium, or Visa Platinum. You can follow her around like Boris Karloff follows the hottie Greek wurdulak in Lewton's ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945); you can be a whole internet worth of Karloffs reigning down torrents of ancient superstitions and gossip on anyone who'll click your link; you can drip a whole nation of self-appointed sanity over her sun roof... it does not slow her rush home to death one hourglass grain.
It's fate, baby. Watching CAT PEOPLE today on DVD it's possible to see just what's in the deep dark shadows around the swimming pool: there's a black hole cartoon animation in there, a shape that mutates from vertical to horizontal, ever so briefly. When Irina turns back human she moves from paw prints to high heels prints (not bare feet - Lewton never tries to literalize), she wears a fur coat that when she changes tightens in around her and, if you look close at her body lying on the ground outside the panther cage, she looks like a bearskin rug with a teddy bear's head sewn to one arm, but we only see it from far off, up on the street lamp. In ISLE OF THE DEAD we can see, if we look very close, the way the undead Mrs. Aubyn seems to materialize out of the moonlit reflections on a stone wall, like she's only semi-corporeal but never in that common special effects way that would make it obvious. DVD's clarity alone makes these things at last visible; they were never meant to even register consciously.
Lewton's subtlety reveals a Russian's love of great literature that extends deeper down than the average bourgeois tenure track, deeper even than the blood (his real name is Vladimir Ivanovich Leventon), deeper than the cauldron from which are dredged all our hopes and fears, and our tomorrows are like a thousand yesterdays. And great literature is always about death, that's how you know. It's where we go to prepare, to remember that a vast elevator full of blood is only a thin, easily-punctured epidermal layer away, and the only freedom comes in whether to ignore this dread out of fear, or embrace it out of courage, love, and rock and roll who-gives-a-fuck-it. This is where Lana Del Rey's coming from with her comments about being a feminist and thinking it's cool to die young. Would you get mad at David Foster Wallace, or Hunter S. Thompson, or Hemingway for saying those things? No. And they're all dead, at the hands of the same assailant, the only one that truly makes it. Performance.
Now, if my dad killed himself because of Lana Del Rey I'd be pissed. But my dad was killed by doctors (he died, after all, in the hospital) and it's hard to be pissed at them, as a whole. At home with an ocean of bourbon and ginger ale he was immortal. He kept death close so it couldn't sneak up on him. But that hospice-strength IV cocktail's got no spirits. Without his whiskey and gin, the door opened right up and waved him in like a pit crew waving in a race car. Maybe when we try so hard to keep the body alive we kill the soul. Who wants to die sober? Only those for whom sleep is the cure-all; for some of us, the fucked up artists and writers who do what we do because we'd go even crazier if we didn't, the only cure-all is music, literature and films. We can die because we've already left our immortal imprint on the living world. Lana Del Rey is both the cure and the cause for the cancer of Hollywood because she embraces the theatrical aspects of emotional anguish, with herself as both the sufferer and the object of longing; her faux-period home movies, painstaking in their iconic recreations, are like the restaged car accidents in Cronenberg's CRASH, only transcending sex in the service of art, music, and obsession.
|From top: CRASH, LEOPARD MAN|
It should have been me, puking, like the princely changeling in Midsummer Night's Dream. I had to quit her, my whiskey... sweet whiskey, and ride off with AA Oberon. My sober life --that's my cross to bear, my LSD Albert Hoffman problem child, the thing that robbed me of the gleam, my lost Lenore. But I'm not a star. No one even notices. Not even the guys at Liquor Warehouse on Broadway, still the best prices in New York City.
But I still haven't forgiven Angelina Jolie, or Liz Phair. Ladies, you broke my heart!
|Never stop smoking or drinking - even knowing both are poisons,|
for you've already spilled more than secrets (bottom: SEVENTH VICTIM)
Now your love is funneled to some off-camera cradle
Which makes you worthless to those not there, who know you not except from screens.
We loved you through the screen in ways we
we can't through your kids' eyes,
for we are not John Cusak trapped in John Malkovich's child.
Then again, what else would you do with yourself
once we eventually moved on?
You'd have to leap off the edge
like Lana Del Rey.
But she does it in advance of your gaze, and so
you will never move on
for she will leave first.
In a semi-deserted Bijou in 1943
a nervous young assembly line worker calls in her sick day,
watches SEVENTH VICTIM or THE LEOPARD MAN at the half-empty Bijou.
The dark shadows of the empty seats around her,
where a boyfriend or husband would be,
onscreen in the shadows she sees him, beckoning...
She knows in her heart he's just been shot down over Europe.
Doesn't even need to read the telegram.
Lana Del Rey is the eyes that discern changing shapes in that darkness, and Lana Del Rey's eyes are that darkness. On digital, nothing escapes notice... even the void hidden within the void.
|This is the girl|
And then... Frank Sinatra's voice like a phantom mellow echo; his mastery of mic technique giving his songs an almost unworldly amniotic sound markedly different from the rest, welcoming you to join him in the pulsing warm fog between two shores: "if our romance should break up / I hope I never wake up /if you are but a dream." You are. Hardly even born yet. There in the unrealized amniotic slumber of the Stygian crossing, as Sinatra's songs coast overhead in ceaseless tachyons towards the past, you can hear your father's conception becoming re-buried in the sunken space between the words.
The way Lana keeps her expression blank --she does it for our haunted projector, so too Val Lewton's deep black shapes --they accept our projection just as American small towns became a ghost towns for the wartime duration: the younger healthier men all drained away by old Europe's vampires, even in Hollywood, until all that's left in Hollywood are German and Russian Jewish intellectual exiles (and gay Weimar actors to play the Nazis that drove them out) and, as stars in the B's are the tenderfoots, the old men, the crippled, the meek, the short and reedy. And everywhere, in the air wafting from Europe, the smell of death --the inevitability of it--in ways we can't imagine with our current wars and their paltry kill levels (we might lose a few dozen thousand but nothing close to Europe and Asia's combined sixty million in World War Two). Only a full scale nuclear war would even put a dent in us now. We need hundred of million dead, and it would still be the same % as we lost in WW2--a spit in the bucket. Half of us could die and we'd only be where we were in the 1970s, when we first started to worry about overpopulation via films like Soylent Green (1973). It's not death that dooms our planet, but life. Our blind clinging to health like panicked survivors swamping the lifeboat. If we could all just die like gentlemen, like the great Solomon Guggenheim on the Titanic. If Lana Del Rey can lead us by power of bad example, and if we leave right now, we just might make it.
|Echo of my undead soldier (from top) Del Rey, DEATHDREAM|
Lana Del Rey--her "self" as persona, her videos, her willingness to invite nanny state feminist shock and outrage--returns Freud's 'death drive' to its preferred verb status, floored and drunk down Route 66. Her music is ideal for drug overdoses, lover's suicide pacts, long drives with tearful anorexic cutters, and self-immolation at the graveside of James Dean. Without Morissey-moping but rather with hair done up and radio playing Elvis with JFK convertible top down, smoking, hovering over Marilyn's lifeless body like a wraith, hiring an actor to dress like Elvis and sneer while rubbing up against the old time microphone stand in front of the John Wayne's rawhide coffin before falling backwards off the Hollywood sign in slow motion, falling, but never landing, to paraphrase the Donne-quoting devil-worshippers in Lewton's Seventh Victim, death falls to meets you as fast, halfway. And death x death = life.
What Del Rey has done is to embrace the sacrificial phoenix icon of the damaged hottie in ways Lindsay Lohan never understood well enough to capitalize on. When it comes right down to it, Lohan is sharp, talented, and ballsy, but not smart. Such people are mystified why they always land in jail. Lana Del Rey avoids the trap of co-dependence or prison or rehab by becoming the 'act' of the drunk, the Baby New Year of New Death Drive. She is her own exploiter, the manager of her singular vision --where Lohan avoids the stake and the torch of the frightened villagers by promising to get help, Del Rey climbs right up and starts the fire and directs the camera angles, but it's an act, man. She acts it so she doesn't have to be it, whereas Lindsay is it but can't figure out that she should act it rather than vainly trying to act "normal." If you get angry at Del Rey and think she's fake, or are worried it's real, well - all your rants and raves will do is boost her hit count --as the boost in album sales she got after her hostilely-received 2012 performance on SNL (see "Kiss Me Del Rey").
|The Leopard Man|
Del Rey trusts we're not going to kill ourselves just because she says it would a sweet gesture, would show her we really care, that we've played her lyrics backwards and prepared our pyres. That's her whole secret, knowing we know. How many films other than Lewton's and Lana's with this level of guts? I mean aside from The Black Swan and Enter the Void? I sympathize with Kurt's daughter but really, Rolling Stone, it's you should be ashamed for soliciting angry responses from a girl who never got to know her father any better than we did --to me that doesn't reflect badly on LDR's statement, or FBC's retort, only on your journalistic 'ethics,' RS. You who were a once mighty countercultural institution (even smart enough to be aware of the paradox in that phrase) but are now reduced to running back and forth passing gossip like some tattletale angling to be ground zero of a viral thread, leaping down the throat of anyone speaking out against the principles of bland nanny state life-for-life's-sake-PG-tedium, that dares still think of rock as something other than sanitized, ad space-buying rebellion. Maybe you should go run another cover piece about Bob Dylan and Tom Petty together again! Like all the other fallen giants, you've let 'trending' become the new version of stock market panics, all genuine rebellion trampled underfoot. Well let me tell you about another bunch of tramplers, and the shit they've come to trample is the flimsy wool over your own eyes!
|"National Anthem," ISLE OF THE DEAD|