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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Ancient She-Shaman and her Shrooming Exhumer: SZAMANKA






The American holiday trifecta has already passed its first hurtle, Thanksgiving. Now the sluggish traffic and unruly Wal-Mart tazing begins in earnest and a skittish mummified shamanic Pisces like me turns naturally inward, for movies are the best way to avoid holiday shopping lines. All those commercials that try so hard to become a patronizing life coach for Americans: "we don't settle for anything less," and "we're always pushing just a little further" like they already know you, like a narc would if he suddenly appeared at the edge of your circle. You don't know us, pal, and we already got the score on you from the roommate of the last kid you busted. So stay inside, like an urban hermit, and savor the unenlightenment, the peaceful darkness of the amniotic sac couch bog, and then just wait for nature to take it's course, that's my life coaching. One century soon, some decadent Warsaw university students will dig you up and put you in a nice preservative solution isolation tank, rummage through your bags and find your secret stash of mushrooms both psilocybe and 'flybane' (i.e. fly agaric or Amanita Muscaria) and then eat them, so they can bond with you, and warn you about the crazy woman fixing to devour your soul, SZAMANKA (or She-Shaman) is her name... and like so many hot girls in cold climates, she's fucking crazy. 


Speaking of crazy, those shrooms: Amanitas are currently legal, and it's easy to see why if you ever tried them. Too many can make you feel poisoned, not enough can make you feel like you're not getting off - and just the right amount gets the colors enhanced and the sweaty glow feeling of being connected to the world, but they also make that world smell like urine. Maybe they were better in Poland or Siberia, 2,500 years ago, because the anthropologist played by Boguslaw Linda in SZAMANKA sure digs them (literally and figuratively). But even he learns the hard way: once you've submitted without fear to the full stripping away of persona layers, divested yourself of all attachment, unmade the trappings of self, remembered your own birth, bathed in the white light of pure love, and forgiven everyone everywhere, then what? No one gets where your coming from, or quite buys your mystic conversion. Your fiancee thinks you're nuts, and the people who do get you wear sandals and patchouli and eat too much garlic and look anemic from not eating meat.

So we need Chile's Alejandro Jodorowsky, America's David Lynch, and Poland's Andrzej Zulawski to guide us in a holding pattern 'til the rest of the world slowly catches up and we sink down into the post-Thanksgiving depths of Mordor Xmas. I save SZAMANKA for when I'm delirious or have been in the cave so long I've forgotten there's even an outdoors. Zulawski doesn't even need to show us anyone actually taking the drugs, the shit's in the celluloid.


I first discussed Zulawski's SZAMANKA in conjunction with Carrie Matheson and Claire Forlan's awesome Dewar's ad while back in November of 2012, during that previously discussed enlightenment breakthrough awareness state: "from boxes heart-shaped shapelessness, bags tossed as rubbish into the Warsaw mud, flown, Angus, darlin' - rather, a punk-en down Dalle Betty Blue-blackend bird spazzing through anthropology classes as her lover pilfers thousand year-old psilocybe and Amanita Muscaria mushrooms from a mummified shaman's pockets. Each wodka shot or peanut butter-covered stem tracking each punch and drunken stumble dream pie like meth and coveralls to grinding mechanical factory sex atop crumbling swamp corpse; grinding academics in their dancing and beer spillage and moving far away from the needle tip distance twixt the ancient fungal shaman's last expression train down through more more the turn style jumped, coiffed, jumped back through and gay references hurtled like Jack Benny's Polish theater troupe bombed and built anew under which in the shelter Zulawski slept as a child. (more)


I dig my crazy jive poetry from two years ago, finding references to everything from T.S. Eliot to SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS to the obscure Lou Reed song, "Billy," but I wouldn't write like that again if I could. I'm too jaded. I was on a holy fool pre-apocalyptic role back this time in 2012, as seen in The Scrooge Satori, all without a single mushroom, And I would never have made the TO BE OR NOT TO BE connection in my current cave-bound form. Yet when else is a Polish theater troupe the main character of a comedy film set and shot in 1942 Hollywood? Before you answer, quick imagine Roman Polanski skittering like a rat through the Warsaw sewers while Germans shell the city above and Russians wait on the outskirts, until the Resistance is wiped out, so they can step in an Iron Curtain the place. What a bum deal. Poland gets screwed double, so who can blame them for being depressed?


Am I going somewhere with this, as some ancient astronaut theorists believe? Shamans are waiting for you to exhume their ancient sashes! Did you hear in the news that a 747 recently crashed in a cemetery in Poland? The Polish officials have so far retrieved 2,000 bodies! (1)

SZAMANKA (1994), aka SHE-SHAMAN, is one of them. Great judicious synthesizers underwrite Andrzej Zulawski's uber-bizarre panic movement-ish meditation on the nature of primitivism, Neanderthal train sex momentum, insanity, eating brains to gain that person's wisdom, and the lack of mores or coherence in 90s Warsaw. And the script was written by a woman, Manuela Gretowska, who co-founded the Polish Women's Party and ran for office... So best believe it's way darker sexually than even Zulawski would normally go. But thanks to his own 'maturer' madness, he makes a pretty good movie around it, way better than that punk Jean-Pierre Leaud was making in LAST TANGO IN PARIS (below, overlaid by me with a Bosch detail for easy decoding).


I mention this because Zulawski and Gretowska clearly know SZAMANKA is a lot like LAST TANGO IN PARIS, and that star Iwona Petry looks and foams at the mouth like Beatrice Dalle in BETTY BLUE which lest we forget ends with Dalle going totally crazy, getting electroshock, and winding up smothered with a pillow ala ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. As with Bertolucci's film, Zulawski's crazy roving camera chases sexy nutcase Petry, running everywhere--onto trains, off of trains--upstairs and down--and at times there's obscene perverse men leering from every corner and it begins to almost seem like some perverse sexual nightmare, ready for a Kali mantis like Beatrice Dalle's in her holy trifecta - BETTY BLUE, TROUBLE EVERY DAY, and INSIDE.   One of her lover's pals notes of some people being "God's fools, with souls so big there's no room for brains," Iwona Petry's "Italian" is at least smart enough to realize they're talking about her, and to knock over their table accordingly. So while Boguslaw Linda goes on his lecture, she's illustrating his tales of Neanderthal shamanism by mouthing a display case and "careening through the streets of Warszawa like a culturally inept marathon runner who's afraid of clowns" (2). While Linda pursues a doctorate in medicine, she's going to engineering school at the same school, so it's a metaphor to the division of labor and culture in Poland, and of woman's sexuality as something so archaically Precambrian as to devour the entirety of Apollonian civilization in a single sparagmosticated brain bite.

Her hotness making her a one-woman cliff for Warszawa's lemming males, it's as if she's constantly trying to keep them at bay by behaving in a way that turns even the staunchest stomach; she also foams at the mouth, eats cat food out of her landlady's cat dish, and in short behaves like a proper panic movement-era primal screen actress, which means undergoing convulsions like one does on, say, too way way much acid. Four times what you usually take, I guess, is enough to get you to that level of walking down the middle of the street with no pants on, screaming at the top of your lungs, each root of hair in your scalp tingling like fiberoptic tendrils pummeling signals from space past all your normal blinders and defenses; from every web string of time and space, sensory impression magnified to the point of distortion, contradicting the other impressions, so that you literally hear your own thoughts talk to you in the roar of a passing truck or the bark of a dog; everyone you see looks like melting Cubist seventh dimensional sculptures, all laden with pulsing blood just millimeters from the surface. And it goes on like that for upwards of six hours (or if on DOM or STP, up to 36 hours). The only salvation is benzos, or whiskey... lots and lots, like you're a raving bull elephant huffing Ketamine in a vain attempt to put yourself under before being slowly clockwork fed through a paper shredder. Sometimes open mouth kissing display cases, salting your clothes, peppering your hair and spraying perfume on your lettuce, will at least help you break free from the normal behaviors of your social and cultural position, behaviors now revealed to be little more than straitjackets pulled past suffocation tightness.

this is your brain on drugs


Zulawski's been there, too. Petry and Linda know all the tricks, and maybe so has Gretowska, I'd imagine, because in SZAMANKA even engineering lectures fuse sexual-reproductive organs into the discussion in a way that would probably blow Cronenberg's mind.
"Zulawski said the animus inspired by his film was mainly directed at his uninhibited actress. The press “hated her and destroyed her, and she disappeared.” He has not made another movie in Poland since: “This country is still in the Middle Ages.” - J. Hoberman NY Times March 2nd, 2012 (my birthday!)


Still in the Middle Ages. I agree, half of America is right there with them, and as Petry's performance is clearly meant to have a certain 'the whole Cro-Magnon Thing passed my evolution by" -style idiot savant savage ambivalence, she's a living contradiction to all the Texas Board of Education--and by extension the International Film Critics Circle-- holds dear, he said, reading aloud from his notebook while running it under water in the sink, then dripping the blue ink all over her naked body. Clearly, he (Boguslaw Linda) is tripping balls. But it's for science! And he doesn't need a frickin' medical hothead standing by overacting like Charles Haid (in ALTERED STATES), or even a shot of him actually taking the mushrooms. He's just suddenly on them, and we have to guess when he's under the influence. He doesn't even need to mention reasons. But he says what they are eventually: he just wants to find the shaman in modern paranoid schizophrenics, realizing that "drugs, hunger, danger, darkness" - were all enough to keep all primitive humans in a paranoid schizophrenic state of delusional pleasure-pain, i.e. the way too-much acid vibe. To find the nugget of truth, Boguslaw starts slowly devolving along the same lines, craving that mystical union with the power of what he does yet know via any ceremonial sex magic or 2,500 year old mushrooms he can find. And like all Zulawski films I've seen, no narcs.


In that sense, no one does it quite as shamanistically correct as old Andrzej Zulawski --Jodorowsky is too vulgar, Emir Kusturica too whimsical, Lynch too straight, and Gilliam too bent. None are the types to take "fucking flybanes" at their science lab and pitch a doctoral thesis to their advisor and future father-in law while rolling around on the floor in the hospital chapel. In other words, to offer fusion of the dramatic, forward-thinking, mystical, druggy, and socio-political all without whimsy, vulgarity, weird-for-weird's sake-ism, or any semblance of humor... or drama... Because Poles, like their Russian neighbors, just don't give a fuck. They sidestep altogether the things that trip up America--for all its talk of freedom--in unhackable tendrils of churchy censorship and narratives in morasses of need to explain things to the rubes in the cheap seats. These students don't need to worry about narcs or rubes, due to the joys of free socialist education. If they find some shrooms in the ancient pocket of the exhumed shaman, they're going to do them. And wait for the shaman in the dish to make the first move. And they're going to hide that they did them from even us, so you have to know what the signs are. And the signs are indistinguishable from 'everyday' Warsaw life in the 1990s.


Dude, I've been on all sides of that equation, everyone except the mummified shaman. And that, according to my spirit guide, is what's waiting in fall 2015. Because let me tell you, without our space mushroom brothers as co-workers, we'll never get off this rock in any conveyance other than space ships. What's it gonna be, big dollar-intensive conveyances just to wind up back with Jessica Chastain in the Pre-Raphaelite TREE OF LIFE shirt reflection, where we could have been all this time through some simple deep breathing meditation and/or a handful of nonlocal mushrooms? By the power of Terence McKenna, I hereby confirm that psychedelic mushrooms are standing by in petri dish agar solution somewhere, ready to work hand in stamen with the next generation of psychonauts, and the future's alien skies are limitless, let the shrooms be your NASA and orbit is instantly transcended... just first make it past the Scrooge tomb slab, the hottie primitive from the Middle Ages eating your brain on drugs as it sizzles apart in the heated pan of pure consciousness, and the cops inside the marrow of your bones.

Maybe the dollar-intensive conveyances would be better, frozen forever 'til some far gone destination, comfy in the couch-like peat bog of the 'old freezarino' in deep empty space. But not even INTERSTELLAR sleep lasts forever. No matter how long they drag it out, the exhuming from the bog of cine-dream will inevitably occur, and one will wake up to house lights, as the terror of an empty screen once more reflects like a DOS prompt on your empty helmet. Fucking flyboys...

NOTES.
1. Old Polish JokeS
2. The great Yum-Yum, House of Self Indulgence (5/30/13)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tales from the Retrofuturist Pharmacy, Part II: PHASE IV, Boards of Canada, SPACE STATION 76 (1st 20 minutes)


The future is always already then, as then is the future, so it isn't written. Some tomorrows are maybe yesterdays' correct prediction and if you're still blind enough to believe man is the axis of his own spinning destiny, consider the wisdom of that hedonistic and empathic era known as the 70s --a scant 40 odd years ago, though it seems like it hasn't even happened yet--when we were much more collectively decadent and forward-thinking (about some things). Now it's a pipe dream wrest from our collective grasp at the first sign of trouble. We had the sexual, spiritual, and psychedelic revolution in the mainstream, but we let it slip through our fingers. Why? AIDS, and home video. The proliferation of a low res saturation that Nigel Kneale predicted in his 1968 BBC mini-series YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS (it predicts THE HUNGER GAMES as well) showed us all in the safety of our homes the sleaze and violence we'd been too scared to go to the inner city to see on lurid grindhouse marquees. We saw the dead end of vice, and the sheer number of grisly misogynist titles made us turn away... but not from the screen.

In theaters there had been successful 'head trips' like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1969) showing us mankind--high  on a big black rectangular slab of LSD sent to us by a highly advanced civilization--ready for his next stage of evolution, one with free love, Evelyn Wood, EST, ESP, and mood rings to go with the Valium, whiskey sours, wife-swapping at all night drunken block parties, and DoodleArt for all. In short, the 70s offered a future we felt we were already reaching, aspiring to and achieving all at once.


Underneath all that was another element: we sensed how even the future will eventually look outmoded one day, that commercial space flight will be reduced to a few 'idle' commie intellectuals in the Howard Johnson spaceport lounge on ridiculously modular furniture. But we felt we could afford to admit our own tacky tendency to grow complacent and glazed-eyed without regular visits to the obsidian obelisk.

Yeah, and part of our evolution, according to Timothy Leary, is that our collective intelligence will meet and merge with collective intelligences from other kingdoms, like the kingdom of the ants. Today we can't imagine giving up the reins on Mother Earth without a lot CGI overkill and Space Marines "going in hot" ala STARSHIP TROOPERS (with or without fascist irony) and that's because we've yet to let go of the individual mind. We succumb to the lure of fascism (or cults) to reach glimpses of the power in letting our will be subsumed in collective oneness, but if we go too far in that direction someone at the top always turns megalomaniacal, greedy, delusional. The PHASE IV (1974) ants would be six moves ahead of that 'leader,' their collective hive intelligence seeing through our paltry mammalian herd cross-purpose milling. They'd dominate us, total victory, but we wouldn't even be anything as coarse as wiped out. Wiping out itself is a primitive notion that involves a fixed identity, and what is unfixed cannot be threatened. The unfixed never needs to worry about new kingdoms slithering over to visit and mate; they can dilate to encompass galaxies, or shrink in aperture to infinitesimal abstraction.

Groovy geodesic designs by ants for ants (PHASE IV)
Recent retrofuturist head trips like SPACE STATION 76 (2014) and BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010 -covered here), provide the full measure of timeless nostalgia for these times un-past, these nearly-fulfilled ambitions. A hauntological subgenre of electronic-analog music spearheaded by Boards of Canada (see below), and sites like The Scarfolk Council, indicate a longing to return to the less oppressive, more tactile future promised by the 70s... one where documentaries about The Bermuda Triangle could sell millions of tickets. No one ever imagined we'd lose that unified sense of an entire planet being ready for things to get weird.

On the other hand, SPACE STATION 76 (2014) was so trite I couldn't make it past the first 20 minutes. I kicked it out of my TV after three strikes: 1) the terribly anachronistic use of bad CGI for the space shots, instead of models which could have looked phony but would have been tactile, which is the whole fucking point of making a film set before the arrival of non-punch card computers; 2) wasting the fantasy of a druggy space station fantasia with a lot of anachronistic alienation and angst, as if writer-director Jack Plotnik had a great idea but then couldn't remember the 70s at all beyond one or two cigarettes and a strung out emotionally unavailable caregiver on Valium, so he relies on the cliches made banal from overuse. When a hot guy lights a joint, for example, he does so with perfectly mussed hair, and rolled-up shirtsleeve, alone in his sexy garage, working on his bike or whatever. And only one cigarette going at a time and even that one smoked like the person never smoked a cigarette before, like a mime in an anti-smoking ad; 3) hopelessly trite and obvious pop music choices, spelling out the mood they're hoping to generate rather than providing any interesting form of contrast or counterpoint. ZzzzzAP! "Welcome to the future of the past" is the tag, and I'd say this isn't the past or future-past at all, but an idea whose time has come.... and gone, sunk by last minute second guess groupthink, or underthink.


Liv Tyler looks good though, even with a paralyzed upper lip and a mousy reticence utterly at odds with her character's supposed accomplishments as a pilot (but not at odds in the mind of a bad screenwriter using those trite cliches we mentioned). Compared to mighty feminist vanguards like Christina Applegate in ANCHORMAN or Denise Richards in STARSHIP TROOPERS, she asserts no sense of competence or strength. Her polyester uniform is sexy in an offhand way I was glad wasn't overly obvious... it looks genuinely worn, lived-in, rather than, say, a sexy space girl outfit of the sort never worn outside slutty Halloween parties. Even so, a good costume designer can only do so much, it's too little too late to care. I clicked it and ejected the silver disc like a Phillip K. Dick character in a novel might, a novel written ten years before the arrival of the last Betamax.

I know that disqualifies me from a genuine review, so why did I mention it? The future, man. I'll see the rest one day, when I'm less picky about my retrofuturist serio/rom-coms. It does inevitably happen; there is a season, burn burn burn. I know because I've peeked/peaked. Meanwhile, to gratify my frustrated retrofuturist jones, I put back on a film I've already seen twice, and which just gets better every time, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)


RAINBOW is a mad druggie psychologist's 70s dream of a geodesic dome paradise for people who are ready to leave behind petty moral strife, behind even if it means working or being worked on in a cold clinical red Cronenbergian psychiatric ward. In a flashback to 1966  the drugged-out shrink takes some powerful liquid LSD, is reborn, eats his mother or... something. Back to the mid-80s, and the rich scientist who set it all up is a shattered junky, his star child daughter a telekinetic Scanner-type kept under protective glass to contain her ability to project thoughts and melt people's brains. The drugged-out shrink delights in tormenting her and talking super slowly in their sessions, each word savored in his speedy mouth for its gorgeous liquid curvature. (more here).

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Right as I was writing this, Craig T. Nelson behind me said the words "phase four" in relation to the real estate development agency he works for in POLTERGEIST (1981). Is it any coincidence that this PHASE IV is the movie I'm writing about at this very moment? Or rather, not writing about it all yet. "Reach back and remember when you had an open mind," JoBeth Williams says to him, right before a chair slides across the floor. As I've written, Craig T. Nelson starts the film in the 70s great dad mode--and winds up a closed-down conservative Reagan 80s dad - she could be talking about the start of the film, when he was cool. "Remember when you had an open mind" could apply to our current world as well - we too were cool. I never thought, as a kid in the 70s, that neo-conservatism would ever resurface. though I wrote a short story predicting it (a stoner anarchist grandfather trying to corrupt his grandchildren while his fundamentalist children roll their eyes). To me that was unimaginable except as science fiction. I was sure things would get more decadent, and/or stay as they were. In Buenos Aires, for example, it's still the 70s in a lot of ways (thankfully not their "reign of terror" part). Why mess with perfection? Sideburns, jean jackets, big collars... at least that's how it was when I stayed there ten years ago, back when not just I had an open mind, but a nation. Not our nation, but still an American one (we're North Americans down there, and mighty backwards, too - according to them, largely probably due to our expensive union-crippled higher education system).

Scarfolk!
But even if the USA has grown too conservative to advance back into the 70s, there is still analog synth mood aplenty to mine, especially in the UK, and outfits like the Canadian Board of Education, i.e. Boards of Canada, whose eerie electronic music seeks to capture that late afternoon feeling of woozy instant hauntologique deja vu, the way, as children with sponge-like minds, we absorbed the 70s elementary school-enforced complex lessons of overpopulation, pollution, Saturn, the world of insects and the darkest ocean depths. Though the BOC is actually Scottish, no doubt their ingeniously socialized education systems shared film strips and 16mm shorts (as did my own in, in a progressive 70s PA grade school - where my classmates and I saw short films on themes like the hole in the ozone layer like THE ARK (1970) constantly, and I've been looking for years but can't find this one thing they showed a lot that was so weird I can't find mentioned anywhere: maybe you know it? It's the one where a lone color butterfly invades a depressing black and white industrial hellscape, almost initiates a revolution, and then winds up pinned to the wall above the manager's desk. We saw that film a dozen times over the years. At least we weren't working or having to take a nap. We kids could handle depressing industrial hellscape cautionary metaphors in the 70s, goddamn it. Parents knew it. At home, on PBS, we watched things like LATHE OF HEAVEN and STAR MAIDENS. Where did we go wrong, as a nation? Before or after we turned to the BBC in all things cool to watch mit die kindern?

But these memories are all now merely ephemeral visually, barely recognizable in the films themselves if found and revisited, but they're activated full bore by the right kind of analog synth notes. Those hazy but persona-shaping memories of elementary school 70s films have spawned a whole genre of music, beyond what trail-blazers like Tangerine Dream, Eno, or the BBC Radio Orchestra could have ever imagined. It's a music so time-specific that a certain generational swath (which includes me) remains hypnotized with a giddily ominous rapturous mix of sadness, dread, and delight --the future as imagined in the past, literally out-of-time, ultra-dimensional, soaring backwards and winding up ahead of itself.

RETROFUTURISTIC SCORES IS NOW


So if England made Scarfolk, Scotland made Boards of Canada, and Canada made RAINBOW, what did we make? Goddamned half-baked overthought de-clawed SPACE STATION 76. Jeeziss. We got to get it to / gether / then.

Luckily, los Estados Unidos rules the actual retro-future. We gave the world SOYLENT GREEN, SILENT RUNNING, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES and LOGAN'S RUN, and--now on Netflix streaming (PS - not anymore 6/16) -- PHASE IV (1974), which used to come skittering through the usual after-school creature features on local TV, and had me thinking hyper-intelligent ants besieging a geophasic dome in the middle of the desert sounded pretty cool. But these ants aren't EMPIRE OF THE ANTS or THEM size. They're not giant (not then at least, on our 70s TVs), and for most of the film's running time we barely see them interact with the humans at all except through basic shapes related via fax machine. They wait until said humans are dead or 'right where the ants want 'em (in a giant hole) before they make their designs known.

Now, as grade school scamp, I saw, up-close, tons of insects, both on nature documentaries and living across the street from a thriving park where every upturned rock delivered unto us kids a vast eye full of struggling worms, pill bugs, centipedes, and spiders. I even had a bug collection for a time, pinned on a cork board, each one labeled, their exoskeletons slowly crumbling onto my desk. Most kids, small and powerless in a strange world of giants, come to depend on tormenting, killing, or capturing, or just cuddling with smaller creatures to feel any sort of power. As kids we relished the chance to feel bigger than something, for a change.

Now though, on the widescreen HD TV, the close-ups look like alien monsters. Now I've put away childish things, taken them back out again, and now left them at some party I lost the address to... and anyway am too embarrassed to retrace my steps and to admit I can't remember which bars I was in where I might have left them. I revisited that Lansdale park a few years ago and the creek was dried up, the trees dying, the park was now just a stretch of crabgrass with a softball diamond. Bugs got zero cachet for me now anyway, and reality is parched and empty while the screen explodes with HD color. Reality is certainly the wasteland the 70s predicted it would be, and PHASE IV awaits rediscovery on Netflix.

Nigel Davenport plays an entomologist whose detected disturbing signs that all the different kinds of ants are working together, and that their natural enemies are all conveniently and mysteriously disappearing in a remote stretch of Arizona. With a big grant he sets off to build a high-tech research station geodome in the middle of the desert, near the disturbances, to find out what's going on and (hopefully) destroy the ants before they wipe out mankind, recruiting a games-and-theory code breaker from MIT (Michael Murphy) to help him communicate with the collective hive ant intelligence.

The film actually moves very fast, even truncated, like a Reader's Digest abridged novel, moving through a cycle of ideas quickly. It's not at all the molasses drip of meaningless I remembered as a kid (though I understand now why I didn't understand it then- it's very mature, adult, advanced). It helps to have taken some drugs, grasped some rudimentary structural precepts, I guess, in the decades between viewings, and so be able to better understand the psychedelic journey of the end, where the couple come together as the ambassadors of a new insect alien intelligence-commandeered Earth, one no doubt infinitely better managed. In short, 2001: An Ant Farm Odyssey


Theory of film recollection:
The more in depth we remember a film scene, i.e. writing about it, analyzing it, getting a thrill from remembering it in great depth, the longer and more powerful the scene becomes, and so how we remember it stretches its meaning until it takes the form of myth. This lasts until we see the film again and are forced to either presume it's been edited, somehow changed with time, or else we were 'on' something at the time and aren't now. The film's presentation might be different - certainly the widescreen and HD makes a huge difference over the old analog square. But we're the ones who have changed, and memories have accrued around initial impressions until what's there isn't there anymore; it's been replaced by cuckoo eggs.

That doesn't mean the memories are false, merely that time is. END OF FILM RECOLLECTION THEORY--

PHASE IV is the only film by legendary credit sequence designer Saul Bass. The script is veery intelligent, of course each ant in itself isn't brilliant, but the hive mind is, so it's tough to not consider the difficulty in combating a non-localized intelligence, and since even our brightest human minds genuinely can't easily understand what they're up to, we're forced to consider them as an entire new form of intellect, genuinely superior to ours because they're so self-sacrificing, so devoted to the whole. Davenport sprays the ants with a yellow poison, for example, they die en masse, but then we see ants dying as they relay a chunk of the yellow toxin through a long ant tunnel and into the queen's chamber, where she eats some of it and immediately gives birth to an array of immune eggs (with the same yellow glow). Humans simply can't evolve that fast, not sober, not after AIDS, not after the Reagan 80s brought us into crash-and-carry modality, for perma.


LANGUAGE arm uakdfgrgdgum84deij-VIRUS:

'How come giraffes haven't learned to talk by now," I used to ask myself, "if Darwin's so great?" But now I know: Darwin is great, the theory of evolution is just a bitter pill we're afraid to swallow, so we misunderstand on purpose. This is not because we're weak, but because it means language doesn't necessarily make us stronger, so language resists our attempts to expose its limitations. Language, as the ants well know, is a soul-killing virus that slowly strangles our five human senses in favor of abstract symbology. Our dogs and cats look at us with concern, like we're crazy, as we stare at the TV in a state of zombie hypnosis, but they see more than we do of the world; when we're really troubled and ill, they know it before we do and comfort us without a word. Their senses are superior, they smell our souls, and so they get cuter all the time, that's evolution.  If we were animals we would have long ago adapted to our natural world rather than destroying it so it can conform to the limitations of language. Animals see what language and abstract thinking have done to us and they say 'no thanks, man' or would if they could talk. The giraffe's evolution involves reaching higher and higher to access more leaves, it has no need of talk. Humans, in our vanity, presume whichever dead end we hobble down is the way of the world, but it's not -- it's just the way of human language.

Maybe one day our evolution will involve curing ourselves of the curse of language, and we'll merge once more into the cosmic egg, fuse our intelligence to that of our Sky Mother, Shakti Kali Durga, the one without a second. There she is, waiting for us to swim once more into her light tunnel womb towards full transfiguration. And the two of every animals will all be waiting to welcome us when we return, saying "hey man, you finally evolved!" And we'll be like yeah, but what's wrong with you, you got the virus? And then we'll all look at each other and try not to say another goddamned word.


The problem with us ever actually evolving, in real time, of course, is that survival of the fittest is no longer a human luxury, quite the contrary - people who by any stretch of the imagination could never feed themselves are allowed to continue to eat and crap the world into oblivion (myself included). And if someone doesn't spray our colony soon, we're going to devour this entire jungle, then turn on ourselves, 'til all that's left is one pissed off queen and a pair of consorts, the three of them stowing away on the next star-powered INTERSTELLAR craft out of here. Count me in.

... to frickin' throw eggs at it! Bonggggg!



 Further 70s "learning" -






See also from Acidemic:

"You rolled, you really rolled" - ROLLERBALL and a 70s Blood Sport Overview. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932) + Peg Entwistle, the Ghost under the Hollywoodland Sign


Imagine if Fu Manchu's insidious sadist daughter Fah Lo Suee (Myrna Loy) in MASK OF FU MANCHU -1932) went off to a girl's finishing school in America, tried to pass as white, pledged a snooty sorority and was "outed" as half caste and hence booted out. She would slowly and creatively destroy the lives of all concerned, with much torture and hypnotic suggestion. Loy's very similar character Ursula Georgi in THIRTEEN WOMEN (from the same year) inflicts more of the latter on the title women (12 not counting her), sorority members who got her kicked out. Ursula knows revenge is best when cold, so waits until the ladies are all married and/or with children. Knowing her vengeance is on its way helps we in the audience endure sleep-inducing scenes of Irene Dunne's Westchester veranda, with its obnoxious brat child and continual flow of chauffeurs, butlers, and cops, and her relentless denial of the occult in this age of rational thinking, and/or the naive notion you can avoid fate through strenuous college educated denial, that a slew of suicide, trapeze accident, and imprisonment amongst her old girlfriends all being predicted by Giorgi-forged letters from Swami Yogadaci (C. Henry Gordon) is pure coincidence.

On a much cooler and shadowy eastern mystic exotica apartment set back in NYC meanwhile, Ursula toys with the Swami's undying devotion. Schooled in the arts of hypnotic suggestion, she toys with his affection to enhance his anxiety about his "skills" at divination (he didn't predict these fates for the ladies, but happy ones). It's based on a novel by Fortean Society-founder Tiffany Thayer, so you know the astrology and hypnotism involved in THIRTEEN WOMEN aren't dismissed as mere poppycock or treated with disrespect. And Tiffany was a dude, so you know he probably got ostracized in school himself. A man named Tiffany no doubt has vengeance on his mind against any number of schoolyard taunters.

Myrna Loy may be gliding through her then-typecast parts as Asian or half-caste femme fatales but she's still got Loy star powers, so evil or not,you'll be rooting for her all the way (unless you're a prom school snob who's never felt the sting of a snubbing), even if it would stung more and been more daring if Georgie was played by Anna May Wong instead, i.e. actually Asian or half caste. The racism would have some real bite, then, but one understands if not forgives perhaps these pre-code baby steps, and if you love Loy as I do you have a special spot in the dark of your heart for her early Asian vamp roles. What she lacks in the warmth and wit of her later persona she makes up for in slow measured cobra staring. 

David O'Selznick produced, which may explain part of why the California veranda scenes are so cloying; he loved that stifling flowers and maids nonsense. It reminds me of being bored as a kid (i,e, one of the reasons I hate the first third of GONE WITH THE WIND). Dunne's star started ti rise as the film was being prepared for release, so it seems like the cool murders were cut to make room for her to stretch out on that veranda. At least the veranda is filmed indoors on a set; something about too many outdoor shots depresses me in a film like this. Real daylight should be banned from supernatural-tinged thrillers, though big crowd scenes at train platforms (LA's La Grande doubling for the Hudson Line out of Grand Central) help make the film feel truly A-list, and the big train chase finale is train lover catnip. 


Alas, even with all that trimming and Dunne-upping, THIRTEEN WOMEN didn't do very well critically or commercially and still hasn't earned the cult reputation it deserves. Perhaps the well-scrubbed rubes of '32 hated to be reminded that their callous racism was inevitably heading back around to haunt them via the slow, inexorable spin of karma. And men don't like realizing just how easily their hormonal desires can be used against them, that falling in love with a pretty exotic girl may mean said girl's manipulated them, that love might be something easily harnessed and co-opted as a weapon rather than a wondrous magical blah blah. In most such miscegenation fantasies, it's never in doubt that the woman is in some way inferior to the white man she loves; she  usually has to die in the end so the white guy can marry the long-suffering dull-as-dishwater white girl waiting at home. But here there's never a doubt that Ursula is superior, mentally and coolly, to every other character in the film. Her only mistake is in letting her thirst for vengeance cloud her judgment. But in her crazed behavior up until then, seducing and beguiling every man in a ten mile radius, shamelessly trying to kill an innocent child, Ursula is pre-code gold. As I've written before, the censors let sexy Asian characters get away with all sorts of kinky madness no white chick would ever be permitted (as long as they were really white, in make-up, to avoid riots --see my award-free Skeeved by an Asian).


And so it is that Loy's Ursula goes down swinging, diving onto the tracks in the wake of an onrushing star, head unbowed, even robbing Cortez of the special joy of nabbing her. And once she does, the film ends with nary a shred of follow-up to the white dogs she's left dead or post-traumatically distraught.



That in itself might make you want to see it again and again, especially since parts of it are better than Nyqil, which then makes the weird Loy sequences all the more dreamlike as you gaze on them with one eye open, and the great rushing shooting star dissolves into the camera lens and all the stars and victims and treasures are no more. In other words, it's pretty short. 59 minutes. No word exists on why they edited two of the 13 women out --did Selznick think his rube audience couldn't count that high? Maybe Hollywood just couldn't handle that many women at once --too dangerous to the status quo? MGM, man... their racism is equaled only by their sexism.


Top: Entwistle as Hazel Couisns in THIRTEEN WOMEN (premiere: Sept. 16, 1932);
bottom: Entwistle as herself in NY TIMES (death: Sept. 20, 1932)
One of the remaining women, Peg Entwistle, was cut out of the film except for the opening scene where she hears her nervous acrobat friend's worry over her gloomy horoscope and subsequent demise, and later a single shot of her knifing her husband in a trance, then reacting to a lurid headline about it, screaming as it's superimposed upon her, her own dire horoscope at her feet. Was it perhaps a bad reaction to her performance in a a pre-release screening that led to the rest of her scene/s being cut mostly from the film? Whatever the reason, she was dropped, almost sight unseen, by RKO, and then gravity, straight down to the rocks. In other words, distraught over Hollywood's could shoulder, she leapt, in real life, to her death from the 'Hollywoodland' sign a few days after THIRTEEN WOMEN opened.

Who knows why she chose not to stick it out? I won't be coy and suggest some life imitates art occultly-foretold fate. Science was a long way from SSRIs, but Peg was far from a failure, at least on the stage. What I will venture is that a lot of actors are bi-polar which makes them enormously susceptible to the emotions of their characters, i.e. their roles bleed into their personal lives. In THIRTEEN WOMEN she's hypnotized into murdering her husband during a black-out, destroying her life, in effect, and this seems to have carried over into reality, as if the missing scenes found a way into her real life, like a kind of self-projection compulsion recreation disorder.

This deep bi-polar affliction may also explain why she was such a success doing Ibsen' THE WILD DUCK on Broadway, in which she plays Hevig, a daughter who also kills herself. She allegedly was so good she inspired a young Bette Davis, who saw her onstage, to become a dramatic actress herself. Maybe she was too good.


In the end, Hollywood rewards tenacity and gumption, though, not nailing the oblique existential pain of Ibsen. Loy had to suffered through a solid decade, stretching from silent to sound eras, waiting for Hollywood to stop saddling her with exotic femme fatales, but that doesn't mean she blew her Asians off. She tackled each new half-caste or full caste with sensual relish, and she rose above the typecasting to become the fist cool wife in cinema. And if Peg had bothered to read her stack of unopened mail before jumping, she would have realized she'd been offered Hedvig again in another production of Ibsen's WILD DUCK, so her options had far from dried up.

Here's the last lines of Ibsen's play, after Hedvig has shot herself (my underline):

Relling:
May I inquire,--what is your destiny?
Gregers:
To be thirteenth at table
Relling:
The devil it is.

And so it is that life imitates art a priori to the art just as much as vice versa. In THIRTEEN WOMEN, Ursula implants suggestions into Hazel Cousins (Entwistle) mind via hypnosis, which is a tool for being able to communicate with and influence the unconscious, and it's this unconscious mind that must be courted and accessed by the conscious self in pursuit of great acting, and it's where paranoia is born. Without consciously surrendering the reins of oneself to one's unconscious in some measure, a truly great performance cannot be achieved. That's the heart of 'method' and it can sometimes unhinge actors to the point their offstage personalities change in affinity with their characters. The unconscious doesn't always give back both reins. Sometimes the unconscious thinks well, it might as well just wreck the joint before being forced back behind the curtain (as in Heath Ledger's Joker). Being too good at playing a suicidal woman onstage surely commingled with Entwistle's own genetic depression. Her mind was a pile of kindling responding to nightly Hedvig matches, sparked by Hazel Cousins, and the summary rejection by Hollywood fanned a fire no curtain call or vodka fifth could quench, all while a letter that would have kept her going disappeared under a stack of unopened mail in the foyer. If that's not a sick sort of unlucky-13 kind of fate, what is? The Hollywoodland sign was right above her house, all she had to do was climb. They took the 'land' part of it down awhile later.


Peg Entwistle's ghost still haunts the hill, and people who've snuck over the fence to visit the 'Hollywood' sign sometimes run into her phantom (as seen in PARANORMAL WITNESS.)  And she leaves the scent of gardenias (her favorite flower) in her gliding eerie path. (See Stephen Wagner's: The Ghost of the Hollywood Sign or the short film and e-book by Hope Anderson.) It's bizarre how that all works, ghosts. She's become an emblem of Hollywood Babylon to the area's many locals, and to me.

I hope one day we'll find the original preview cut of THIRTEEN WOMEN, and be able to see Entwistle's full part at last so we can judge for ourselves her real talent. Maybe then she can rest in peace, the sprockets rolling her up through the angelic white light lens onto the screen of heaven at last, and what was just a truncated wisp of a film only I seem to love unconditionally will finally be weird and pre-code violent enough it can stand up to anything, even the sudsy fingers of O'Selznick. Alongside the Welles cut of AMBERSONS and the excised Myrna Loy in her underwear singing "Mimi" in LOVE ME TONIGHT, this is my biggest 'lost reel excavation' fantasy. And don't think it can't happen! It's already happened to FRANKENSTEIN (the return of the girl being tossed into the pond), BABY FACE ("Crush out all sentiment!"), and THE BIG SLEEP (here)!

And so...
Peg Entwistle, 
may you find the peace in death 
denied you alive in Los Angeles.

May exhumers of dead reels
undo your scene's cold butchering,
And Tinseltown's fearful fathers
be found cowards for snipping you down to a single scream,
lest you shred with your thousand sharp edges
the dull leaf Dunne.

Let the autopsy of your shattered soul restore your role
on Blu-ray
or at least DVR,
but, either way, forever,
so your solo sign vigil might at last, by film's
eternal sentry, relieve thee of Hollywood's foulest anonymity... let it come off
like a shroud that
as if falls
turns swaddling cloth.
Bette Davis and I love you!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Meta Murderous Surreal Post-Modernism in Under Twelve Minutes: TOO MANY COOKS (Infomercial)


No amount of David Lynch or Eric Andre can compare with or prepare you for TOO MANY COOKS, the recent 4 AM informercial on Cartoon Network once and now existing only on the VHS-ish Youtube pages of intrepid dupers. No matter where you think this bizarrity can go, it goes far farther than a fur-forn farddio brand of beyond the black rainbow farrity, beyond even the swords of photo bomb "Bob of Twin Peaks" giallo and Fun with Real Audio What on Was the Britney old Thinking SNL. See it and understand the cryptic proclamations of the pie Von Trier. See at last how the the need to break free from our programming is so intrinsic to the construct of our identity as to be inseparable from the programming itself, i.e. the minute you break free of your character, your identity dissolves back into project turnaround. It's enough to make better actors go mad but that's televaginal enlightenment: the acceptance of one's eternal actor darkness. Heaven for an actor is just the hell of a sitcom cycle of endless retooling fully surrendered to, letting your ego construct dissolve as the infernal flames of Nielsen-baiting groupthink shark-jumping lick your soul clean for sweeps week, award season, reruns, stalker fans, Buddhist hell, and back again backforth fardidio.


For maximized post-modernist refraction, I'd recommend seeing it on your laptop on the couch, with the TV on pause or slow-motion behind it (on any random channel --as long as it's 'desperately' random). Because when a show is this meta, it just needs one tiny push to make it off the screen and across your living room, like a loping North Korean water ghost, through your ocular cavity and into your brain, your life, your soul, our collective oversoul, and then beyond what's beyond our collective oversoul, and back around to the screen/s in perpetual shrinking /expanding Ourobros double dips forever and ever in echo rerun, on perpetually cheapening channels, so help me, God, our legal team Hunginunga, Hunginunga, Hunginungah and McCormack, and of course the holy trinity: Aaron Spelling, Norman Lear, and Steven Bochco. Sing Amen. We're home. Less.

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