Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Gummo Marx Way: INHERENT VICE (2014)

With glazed eyes and a suspicious tan, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) began languidly gyrating atop our semi-supine and stoned hero (Joaquin Phoenix); her slow deep rhythmic breathing began sending twisty second chakra waves out from the screen into my own shattered nervous system like a hot shower in the reverse direction, kicking the little dusty stem I'd eaten during the previews into slow un/coiling kundalini life at last. The barnyard pungency of the leather coat on the hulk in the seat to my left became--through this Shasta-breathing kundalini awakening--no longer overbearing but reassuring, earthy. A few more deep Shasta breaths and the whole theater of imperfect Brooklyn specimens glowed and merged as one--ever-more rhythmically frenzied-- grinding energy vortex. Each shadowy spiderweb sketch line filament of Inherent's cinematographic glow was now a haunted hazy amnesia-curing brushstroke, framing two lovers against the darkening afternoon of a "Gordita Beach" apartment in the early evening. Shasta's Tropic of Capricorn-style twisted sexual power trip extended single take monologue slowly drove us all into a sympathetic breathing response, and our hero into a ferocious rutting frenzy. 

"You're moaning again," my girl next to me whispered. Apparently this was a thing I did in such moments, quietly I hope, at any rate unbeknownst to me.

I've felt the glowing anguish that results when a a tripping male is suddenly placed in close quarters with some random hottie wearing intoxicating perfume with low cut blouses and short skirts. The intensity can buckle you to your knees. Not being able to just attack her like you're some cameo-making midlife crisis male in CANDY is like having to explain to your children why you're getting divorced, only instead of kids it's a seething sacral chakra. I've felt it a dozen times, but seen it captured in a film only once: Terry Gilliam's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, when just being in an elevator with a laughing Cameron Diaz is enough to send Benicio del Toro's acidhead lawyer into a slow-building howl of pain that infects his mind and body for the rest of the film and results in him even pulling a knife on her friend. I'd never felt it over a movie scene before though, until this moment in VICE, on that one dusty stem... 

Benicio is a very attentive lawyer for both Hunter and Doc (from top: FEAR, VICE)

Everything else, every other trip I'd take later in college and after, never equalled that one perfect moment, it was all just more of the same, but less effective, like 99% of horror movie sequels. Well, that Katherine Waterston scene in director Paul Thomas Anderson's crowded canvas VICE does deliver something new, something PTA's sorely needed, a damned good femme fatale anima for all his damaged fathers and sons.  There's even a holy ghost this time, via a moving and very weird scene with the great Eric Roberts, and a spirit operating a drug dealership via Ouija board.

And most of all, VICE is set in 1970, California, via the literary tripper's choice, based on the book by Thomas Pynchon.  I wanted to hang onto everything--being such a PTA fan--but most of it is a blur of names and faces and places. What resonated for me: a stray streak of sunshine on Doc's face during a drive to the beach, a sunrise reunion of a reformed junky family (the glow of the doorway and the horizon line behind matching in perfect transcendentally lucid pink), and that Waterston 2nd chakra-activation monologue --that's what I remember most. Just a stem and a cap to heighten the gorgeous golden magic hour moments, just a little Gordita Beach Turkey Ranch, that's all I got. Just a couple of acres. Groucho looking out from the ANIMAL proscenium CRACKERS arch, talking to Doc like a most gnarly cross-mediated platform surfer? Stuff was on TVs back when everything was thrice the magic for being so ephemeral. The only screenshot you could make was to take a photo of the TV screen. Always is that magic of the untaped TV-chronicity in a Pynchon; he'd be a great film critic if he wasn't so regular falutin'. Knows his pop culture  but spikes it with post-modern glug glug glug, like a drowning submariner crying Lot 49. And if those strange figgers, mysterious figgers (Anaconda 148) don't add up, neither does life, it's just time lapping into seahorses, and for my sins, they gave me some. And neither does BIG LEBOWSKI. Make sense, I mean. But that's okay, it's not from a book, and so it doesn't fall into that over-reverent, 'trust the meaning is there in the lit' white elephant manicuring that, for example, pulls a bit of the stream-of-madness energy from John Huston's UNDER THE VOLCANO and flattens it out into detailed 'giving the cinematographer and art director way too much money and time' sumptuous over-thinking. There's no extended dream sequences or surreal "it had no bottom" odysseys for Doc Sportello. He's nailed to the events occurring in ways more significant to a detective yarn where it all makes sense and the paranoid 'maybe connections' are meant to add up. No scene can go off into its own little termite dream realm because there's the 'book' to honor and it is a work of literature not a lean mean skeleton on which to hang an array of detours. Yet neither Pynchon nor Lowry are very 'exterior' writers, and to nail their florid dense text to a single narrative film and expect it--due to its literature pedigree--to make 'narrative sense' is rather silly, like expecting Holly Martins will be able to pontificate on Joyce's Ulysses just because he's an American and an author. 

But Shasta adds up. Those legs sprawled naked and soaking in a storefront alcove, Phoenix's scroungy Marxist professor from the 70s look, from back when professors bedded co-eds with sanctioned impunity, and Nazi bikers worked as Aquarius Age bodyguards, and nymphomanic maids screwed everything that wasn't nailed down in her madame's boudoir. Or is that just priapic fantasy?

Mystified mainstream critics have reasoned English major Generation X stoners like myself who remember the 70s from a wide-eyed childhood perspective, aren't seeing the 'real' thing. Our parents are disillusioned with that decade, just as we are with ours (the 80s). I still get weirded out when I hear the Y generation venerate the 80s like it had some mystic power, when for my generation that power faded in the anguished morass of puberty and puerile sex comedies and misogynist slasher movies. For my generation we feel connected to the mystical 'truth' of 70s-style Fleetwood Mac/Sonny and Cher California consciousness raising. We see the Aquarius high water mark with a glowing rose tint. We remember an orgy we saw from afar but never experienced, and that orgy--our expectation of attending it later--being what formed our psyches. But we let the distance between that peace sign-sticker flanked scene and our own embarrassed shyness widen until the distance until our longing soured into bitter frigidity of the slasher movie, feeling our last shred of innocence die at the hands of David Mark Chapman, moaning in pain as the AIDS 80s slammed the door shut right on all future orgies right as we were approaching the 'right' age.

We, these mainstream critics have noted, will probably dig INHERENT VICE more than the bourgeois top critics on our more mainstream newspapers, the "Top Editors" who keep us second stringers reviewing Tyler Perry and Veggie Tales movies. They grab the Paul Thomas Anderson film for themselves, alpha dogs grabbing for the chew toy just because they sense we want it. For these top dogs, the decade's Aquarian tommyrot is just an embarrassing reminder of the month they tried to wife-swap with their bridge club. Paul Thomas Anderson, as far as they're concerned, hasn't made a decent movie since HARD EIGHT. La dee dah.

The Gen X-ed of us love everything but HARD EIGHT, and now, or yet, THE MASTER had thrown us for a loop. Speaking for myself, I dutifully saw THE MASTER twice thinking it would cohere into genius a second time, but no, it was still just gorgeously photographed acting of no more lasting effect than being made to chop wood at my buddy Al's grandparents' house, and liking it despite grousing before during and after. Seeing it again, I can smell the wood burning. But it doesn't get me high anymore

I'm not sure I like INHERENT VICE, at least after one cinema viewing -- high expectations? The only moment of THERE WILL BE BLOOD-level badass Babe and Bunyan truth in either of his last films is when Hoffman shouts "Pig Fuck" with a coiled unresolved adolescent fury any frustrated enlightened charlatan knows all too well. The more spiritual drivel you speak, the surlier your squirming toad cortex seethes below, til that wicked tongue snaps forth and puts someone's eye out. But it was hard to buy the idea that Seymour Hoffman, for all his towering talent, could ever be a cult leader--his fingers were too stubby. Neither he nor Phoenix is the sort, for example, you'd want a bedroom poster of, or to pray to on an altar, the way say we would James Dean, or Daniel Plainview, or "Bob" Dobbs. Phoenix also seems all wrong for a detective, or cop or skip-tracer. He's way to tiny. He seems the type you could just brush away with a strong broom like sweeping motion.

Luckily, in VICE we have the sexual power of Sam Waterson's daughter. She seems legit --the real thing. Her vaguely cat-like face and ease with her body, that sweet sad wistful 'already gone'-ness cracking in her voice, the sort of real no amount of acting workshopping can fake. Her Shasta isn't hung up on Mother Jones sermonizing or slumming Edie-ism. She's complex, and you can believe she doesn't show anyone her full self, and those who come close to getting the big picture are just as likely to lose her with their first inauthentic breath.

Keep your eye on the red bullseye - Lucky Strikes means fine tobacco (LSMFT)

But this is INHERENT VICE: Ultimately, as the narrating Joanna Newsom notes, a nameless eternal evil has seeped like a vapor out from the ancient opium Pacific and co-opted the Age of Aquarius. But just where has the vapor condensed? It's a hard thing to trace in a 1970 California where hippie-dom is apparently so very near becoming the dominant culture that cops don't even bat an eye when you spark up a joint in their presence. They do beat you up for having long hair though - even if they're  your friends. Ain't no gettin' around that. So just assume the passive stance of protecting head and fingers and groin and let the billy clubs fall where they may.

Thus the strange ancient frenemies relationship with Josh Brolin's cop Bigfoot. And Brolin's character invoking hazy memories of the 'Twinky Defense'-copping assassin Dan White in MILK (2008), connecting with Newsom's debut album (The MILK-eyed Mender). Coincidence?

PTA's always been first and foremost a filmmaker for de facto cool older brother relationships, and part of what BLOOD's power emerged from was the relative lack of a feminine element. Certainly, to my memory, no female character has a line of dialogue in the film, aside from maybe Mrs. Sunday. Instead there was this boy scout-cum-capitalist narrative nursing on the crude oil teat of the Paul Bunyan masculine John Henry Steel Driving consciousness, drawing from it as if a deep well from which to dredge up the dark oil-slicked father of modern oil-based economy. THE MASTER tried to do the same, but Amy Adams' as Hoffman's wife snaked forward with more power perhaps than even Hoffman (as his Clinton-esque hand job indicates). Now, in VICE, it's even narrated by a woman, and not a Spacek in BADLANDS blank slate woman but a savvy all-knowing Cali free spirit shamaness of no small wit, harp expertise and mystic acumen. Her albums are rich with great existential lines that would stagger Whitman and leave my iPod devastated--"and though our bodies recoil / from the grip of the soil / why the long face?" She and Waterson are not stealth buzzkills like Amy Adams, but wild untamed goddesses of strange alliance, orbiting men in motion like moons or cats but belonging to no single planet or territory or direction.

Then there's Joaquin as old Doc, the hippie detective. His office lurks deep in a medical suite, Anderson's ex-girlfriend Maya Rudolph as his doctor office receptionist; Doc in his gynecology chair, a xone for smoking weed and staring at the window, huffing laughing gas when the myriad threads get too much for a single viewing. Seeing double somehow allows the plot to come into focus for old Doc. Not me. I do know that it's Maya Rudolph's mother, Minnie Ripperton, singing the song that rises triumphantly from the soundtrack during Doc's mosey back to his office:

Ring all the bells /sing and tell 
the people everywhere that the flower has come
Light up the sky with your prayers of gladness 

and rejoice for the darkness is gone... 

Of course 1970 it was still possible to be idealistic enough to believe that darkness would one day be gone, or even had gone once and come back. And it's Anderson's genius that he can recreate not only our Gen-X collective memory of that era, wherein he and I were children of similar age, but to make it a source of lasting mythic resonance. For me, every strand of long blonde straight hair I see reflects the gossamer shimmer of Anita Louise's as Titania, queen of the fairies--my anima! If it's over a denim jacket, I'm agog. Why? My mom volunteered part time at a runaway shelter, which was basically a typical suburban house with a big porch. I remember one Xmas my dad's company bought them a coffee percolator. They were part of the Jaycees, my parents, so fell into stuff like that. My mom brought this girl named Toots home for Xmas -- a gorgeous 16 year-old thing in a jean jacket and perfectly pressed long blonde hair. My mom gave her two packs of Marlboros as an Xmas present, maybe some other stuff - I only remember the cigarettes. It left me forever a-swoon for her type, and dying to be a smoker. That was the 70s, you'd take in runaways and give them cigarettes and it wasn't considered a felony or 'suspect' or 'corrupting the morals of a minor." Don't get me started!

For Xmas, my rapture over her every movement paralyzed me so I still remember how hard it was to croak, "Hey Toots, want to do Doodle Art?" Those words etched into my brain with some small shame, the way my voice broke on the word "Doodle" and made it seem somehow scatalogical.

It was the 'Mythology' one (left -but w/different colors)- and ten years later it hung in my college friend's drug den living room -- it's the circle of life. Mythology. Coincidence.

But it was mainly that fate had deposited her there, on my orange shag rug, like an Xmas gift from the karmic wheel. In the safety of my family, she let it all hang out. And it's a family affair of adopted and actual sibling cinema in camp PTA too: Sam Waterston's sexy daughter Katherine is the femme fatale; Martin Donovan is the angry dad of a runaway, the stand-in for Col. "I enjoyed that drink as much as you did" Rutledge in THE BIG SLEEP; Elaine May's daughter Jeannie Berlin is Doc's savvy New Yorker Aunt Reet; James Brolin's son Josh is the cop; Eric Roberts is Julia's brother; Serena Scott Thomas is Kristen's sister; Jena Malone is a reformed heroine user looking for her man.

And some of us remember Joaquin didn't come up the ladder to fame so much as be revealed standing there after brother River died (sister Summer's also in movies); Joanna Newsom is married to Andy Samberg who later that same night (that we saw VICE) showed up on ERIC ANDRE SHOW uncredited as Eric's double and their schtick together evoked the mirror scene 1933's DUCK SOUP, starring the Marx Brothers, and the street name Gummo Marx Way--Gummo famously the only Marx Brother never to appear on film--is on one of the files looked over by Doc at the Hall of Top Secret Records in VICE.

And what about GUMMO? It's by Harmony Korine, who also made SPRING BREAKERS, set also on a beach involving pretty people doing crimes while engaging in deep druggy binaural second chakra breathing. Of course that film was set in Florida, where Elmore Leonard set so much of his oeuvre, and that oeuvre a clear inspiration for Pynchon's source novel, along with Hunter S. Thompson (Doc and Duke sharing Benicio del Toro as an eccentric lawyer) and The Firesign Theater's How Can you be Two Places at Once when You're not anywhere at all? And back around again. Gummo Marx's film oeuvre, a study through which someone in some Allen film obtained some film doctorate... which brings me back to VICE yet again, and Martin Short's obscene corrupting uncut Cockaine dentist love... with Shasta an underage girl ("But it did happen."), a wild child ala Camen Sternwood, falling onto Sam's lap while she's standing up.

And back to that wow of a super sexy girlfriend free spirit played by Katherine Waterston (Sam's daughter) named Shasta Fay Hepworth. She basically owns the movie, no mean feat considering the heavy hitters in all directions. She's the mystery, and by the end we can understand why this stoner detective is so crazy about her, and why he's ultimately so frustrated being unable to find any clues as to her whereabouts when she decides to be gone. Like Lebowski is about that rug, or Gould's Marlowe about that vanished wrong guy friend, or Hackman for poor Melanie in Night Moves, it's the obsession that guides him, the film, us. Woke last night to the sound of thunder / how far off I sat and wondered / started gummin' a song from 1970... was it Minnie Ripperton's "Les Fleurs?" Yo, Minnie's daughter Maya Rudolph was that fleur? She was born two years after that song came out. So no. She wasn't even a gleam in her father's eye. But in Hindustani texts Maya means illusion and is eternally beguiling. No coating of black enamel could hide her value from his eyes. Maya is the woods we must hack our way clear of towards the clear-cut riverside of Nirvana, with no Excalibur machete or golden ankh to wave. And let's just take a look at this fabulous Yucatan Blue! Price: only what the traffic will allow, delivered to me, Ralph Icebag, by a brown-shoed square in the dead of night. Now of course PTA and I are too old for such things - to fantasize about young hotties in the 20s is to feel slightly skeevy, the line of parental concern sneaking in to kabosh lewd longings, that coupled to desire's gradual dimming. We've been fantasizing about and desiring girls in Shasta's age group since we were seven. Are we supposed to magically stop just because we're now enlightened? Can we really put the social awareness genie back up the bottle? Now in middle age, men are only desirable if they do not desire. It's in accepting this awful compromise that an ex-swinger earns his only chance at long-term respect. Sportello in his quest for justice or whatever he's after winds up with no magic credit card full of money for his labors, that goes to Coy Harlin - who also gets his family back. What does Doc get as this agent of Borgesian karma? I can't tell you but it's also the name of a short-lived 70s soda brand. Give up? Even then, there's bound to be hurt feelings with a certain assistant-DA (below, right). This is the ever-evolving world Doc navigates. Riding one paranoid clue to the other. The final reward being a great bit of acting tough during the Martin Donovan talk where he momentarily seems somewhat scary, before sinking into his stoner fog once more.

I had no control over it, but I watched, and then I read about it, so I know that by the mid-80s, when I became a hippie and besties with Toots-like hippie blondes, America had already given up on the utopian ideal for a united and very hip America - only in certain pockets of California, Colorado, Connecticut and upstate NY maybe did it all still thrive. The alternate reality of Pynchon's LA can't decide if the counterculture infiltrated the mainstream and tools of government to any degree. I was too naive at the time to realize how much the 'free love' grubbers from the raincoat 'burbs had trashed the Hashbury Ideal until it hit me personally: Maybe you experienced it: townie and/or frat cokehead troglodytes dropping by your intimate ego-dissolving LSD party at four AM and you realizing you need your ego after all because you need to get aggressive enough to kick them out. All you can do instead is try, vainly, to formulate a coherent sentence without contradicting the love vibes you've vouchsafed. So it was wherever clement outdoor park service did thrive. Hordes of long haired peaceful but filthy barefoot hippies clogging ever last public bathroom, everyone being too cool to work or pay money, just presuming they'll be taken care of by the very social order they spit on.  The center cannot hold. Communes go unglued as psychedelic unity and the blazing tribal consciousness that had emerged from the primitive inner rolodex for the first time in 1,000 years gives way to petty squabbles, malnourished infants of uncertain parentage, filthy sinks (the water turned off for no one paid the bill) and squalor enough to reduce even the most enlightened of near-Buddhacatholichrists back down to grouchy adolescent Earth, craving the comfort of mom's clean sheets and the now-weakened capitalist behemoth's car keys.

But they had brought all the trappings of the counterculture with us back to our home suburbs, and 1970 signaled the beginning of that smooth Laurel Canyon sound on the FM dial. The radio lit up with songs that managed to be sexy and vaguely dangerous to us kids without seeming to offend or challenge in any way. Parents and children in unison swooned from the emotional connection of "American Pie" or "Go Your Own Way" or "You Light Up My Life." Vietnam still sulked around but there were bridge games, wife swapping, martinis, and above all we kids. Our parents gave up total freedom but we were unleashed, freed by Jaycees' many parenting lectures all hip on Buscaglia, Spock, and EST - all attended and talked about and the methods "tried out" on us to great success.

I took advantage of that 70s freedom. I stole every cent I could. We kids ran loose like dogs. It was okay with us that we could still get spanked or slapped in public by people not our parents and no one would bat an eye. One whack for every year on our birthday in front of the whole class by the teacher. At home, indoors, we towered like Godzilla over wood block towers we'd smash again and again before sloughing back into the depths. No mom objected to us playing with realistic looking cap guns unchaperoned wild in the woods and streets for days at a time. Vertical wood paneling was our rec room horizon; orange shag carpet our jungle canopy; couch cushions laid in a line on the floor our Bridge of Toome in County Antrim, Ireland. We'd march up and down it in time and pretend to be hung like Roddy McCorley. PTA was there, I was there. Were were you? Where were you? Which war? Which side or drug were you on?

I don't know how many times I've seen BIG LEBOWSKI. A dozen?  I don't even like it but it's endlessly re-watchable; some part is always just right for the moment I stumble onto it during, and its always on some channel or other.. Sooner or later though, it grates on my nerves. But it's never the same film twice, until now. Jackie Treehorn's shoe prints are all over the Pynchon PTA's lovingly detailed semi-sordidness. VICE even uses the same Les Baxter-Yma Sumac Tropicalia vibe that was Treehorn's leitmotif to conjure the same crossroads between the Jack Horner nurturing free love spirit and the Treehorn mobbed-up porno-decadence. But that's just one of a thousand twuggy-druggy twiggy-wiggy branches. You can dig it. I can dig it. Cyrus, the one and only.... But most of all, Paul Thomas Anderson has exhumed himself from beneath THE MASTER's weighty muck to re-dig it.

Who knows what would have been the result if Welles made a 70s stoner detective film. Would it have been INHERENT VICE? Or is there just no character titanic enough within the story to hold his interest? There's no core or center to VICE, no 'hurrah' moment like the pool party in BOOGIE NIGHTS or the bowling alley climax of BLOOD. Phoenix is a great actor, but he's a scrawny shell of a thing, a short wiry little weirdo. We don't gravitate to him like we do to Warren William or Bogart in similar roles, or even Dick Powell or big Jeff Bridges (or his father, Lloyd Bridges, for that matter). As for VICE's detective narrative, it's more coherent than some, but trying to explain the plot to my underwhelmed partner last night, all I could do is relate the anecdote about Hawks calling Raymond Chandler from the BIG SLEEP set to ask who actually killed Owen Taylor and Chandler not knowing the answer either. It doesn't matter.

She thought it should.

I've seen BIG SLEEP a dozen times at least, and I'm almost ready to blame Joe Brody, but Joe's saying he just sapped him for the incriminating picture from the back of the head of Krishna, So don't even draw the connections, baby. Just soak in Eric Roberts' brilliant monologue that rips the guts out of capitalism with an LSD trowel and reveals nothing but jewelry-coated vultures beneath the black enamel topsoil, the breathing aurae of cinematographer Robert Elswit, the spiderweb lines of light and shadow haloing around every actor; the great clothes and cars like some old analog album came to life, Phoenix a little monkey wiggling free of his angel dust entrapment cuffs and every drug you have ever done shivering to your DNA surfaces.

You're home, if you're like me, comfortable, almost amniotically sound, in this murky mythic din of countercurrent flashbacks. Every time you smoked angel dust it was because some dirtbag laced his joint and didn't tell you til it was too late. You were only three but you well remember the morning when every TV channel showed only the streaky continuous feed of astronauts bouncing around the moon in molasses air, like they were underwater, the audio just transmitted astronaut chatter and space interference, hour after hour, the usual old science fiction movies of the morning pre-empted, their futuristic fiction now outmoded into ancient fact.

"Ain't been high since '69"
In some strange way that was true love, that one stretch of continuous time --no commercials, no political dissent or grandstanding or fear-mongering, no sponsor, no agenda. Just community, finally. Harper Valley, we didn't know how much you meant to us until we thought we'd lost you.

But a new time has come: your cosmic Maya has given birth to a new generation of Rippertons. We're free to love movies like those mythic moon moments again, free to see you and me in the same slow motion bouncing astronaut ground zero persona-dissolving mythic glow. A new go-to comfort food bible is born, if you care to blast for it. It's the Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective, brought to you by Wild Root Cream Oil Hair tonic. Yeah, it tastes electric... crimson... almost like fire. Almost. But were real 70s cars ever this collector clean? Or ever a humor in this Woman One? Take this lozenge from my tongue, this quill from out my heart, this pink and blue Tab (languette) of / Purple Barrel Plums / Untie from me the TruCoat, Ralph Spoilsport. Though our bodies may break and our souls separate, why the long face? We don't need no sealant, not anymore. No salt coheres along an ever-moving shoreline. Arise for the darkness has come / back! Remember Les Fleurs, Walter! Ils brillent dans le noir. And most of all... Rejoice, sisters and brothers and siblings transgendered: there's finally a movie where being a stoner isn't the same thing as being an idiot. I never in a million addled years thought we'd overcome that dopey stigma, let alone Washington and Colorado, let alone, baby.  Let alone.

Dirty up that car, Paul. This ain't no expo
Al Shean Presents: Vice Grip of the PYNCHON

1. Jackie Treehorn -(Big Lebowski) Pornographer played by Ben Gazzara (a riff on Eddie Mars in Arthur Gwyn Geiger + Eddie Mars in The Big Sleep) - "I'll Say She Is" - title of the last (unfilmed) Marx Bros. Broadway revue / Jack Horner - Pornographer played by Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights)
3. "when the drugs began to hold..." - opening lines from Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing... Vegas 
4. "Turkey Ranch... that's all I got" - Hank Quinlan - Touch of Evil (1959) / "lapping into seahorses" - Patti Smith, "Horses" / "Steel Anaconda," etc. - Animal Crackers, Pynchon - Crying of Lot 49
5. "Spoilsport Motors," "Where were you, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Smith" - Firesign Theater (How Can you be Two Places at Once...) / IV. "Communiss" - Confederacy of Dunces / 7. "Roddy McCorley" - Irish drinking traditional (via Clancy Brothers album we had as a child)
6. "like the Andalusion girls used..." -"crimson... almost life fire" -  James Joyce, Ulysses 
7. Trucoat - protective coating / sealant - scam extra Lundergaard tries to sell - Fargo (Coen Bro.s)
12. Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic - "Again and again the choice for men who put good grooming first" Squaresville, in short. (Sponsor for old radio show "The Adventures of Sam Spade"  / Walter - (John Goodman in Big Lebowski; also Dick Miller in Bucket of Blood)
9. "Take this Longing..." - Leonard Cohen / "quill from out.... my heart" - Poe, The Raven 
42. Tab - common 70s slang for square from a sheet of blotter acid, also one of the earlier Diet colas: the latter of which I am now hopelessly addicted, and for which I blame past use of the former - ya dig?
ii. ".... Why the long face?" - lyrics from "Sawdust and Diamonds" by Joanna Newsom / "make you lasagna' - Clerks
iv. Purple Barrel... - play on a common form of mescaline from the 80s
87. "Holly Martins..." - Third Man, The 
xx. "If you care to blast for it" - Ben Hecht - Nothing Sacred (1937)
17. Harper Valley - Cockney-ish slang for Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA) - re: "Harper Valley PTA"
21. Al Shean - AKA Abraham Elieser Adolph Schönberg (Marx Brothers' uncle, credited for coming up with their names and schtick) 


  1. Your writing here was mind-altering.

    I LOVE Thomas Pynchon, and I am thrilled one of his books finally got made into a movie before he died (I assume he's not secretly dead, anyway). Sure, it's sort of a bummer that the one that Hollywood grabbed up was the least consequential thing he's ever written, but hey.

    I thought of the Big Lebowski similarities when I read the book, and like you, don't LIKE Lebowski but feel compelled to watch it every chance I get. It also has a hell of a lot in common with Pynchon's previous work "Vineland," which played up the same hippie vs. crew cutted cop schtick.

    So I'll dutifully go see this one and I'll be happy about it - at least until "Gravity's Rainbow" finally gets made (probably as a multi-film deal)...

    1. thanks Katy, as always. I read Vineland but like Gravity's Rainbow before it, very little of it sunk in. I was in Northern California for awhile during the whole near Civil War of 1990, when drought conditions and amok military squads made the usual cash crop of the area nearly impossible to come by and no weed + no money made the old growth loggers and tree hugging hippies pull knives on each other in the middle of the street like the Old West! When I read Vineland I really related.

  2. 1970 didn't really hit South Texas until about 1975, and I was 12 by then, so a lot of this movie spoke to me in very clear tones. I knew you would get it more than any other reviewer/columnist I read. Great write up. I loved that it was a real Detective story and not a Wrong Man in a Mystery story. I wondered what favor Doc had done the doctor who provided him office space and a receptionist, and gas, and wondered if that was where "Doc" came from. You wrote an article here about how Phillip Marlowe took the fall for the mistakes the Inside Cop friend of his made, creating their give and take, and I thought of that watching Bigfoot and Doc. And wow, I thought Bigfoot was going to be a cartoon character, but every one of his scenes made him richer and deeper, especially when his wife chewed out Doc for the cost of his psychiatric co-pays. I loved that it had, sort of, a happy ending. I loved the way it looked. I loved that it made me think not so much Hunter S Thompson as Uncle Duke from Doonesbury. I see GB Trudeau's influence in a lot of places lately; this movie, Mozart In The Jungle, lots of sprawling casts with a lot of threads, but the story being told through the pairing of just two or three characters at a time.

    I disagree with you about The Master, though. That movie really got under my skin. I found myself in both Hoffman and Phoenix's characters at different times, with very specific soldiers I served with taking the other character. I loved the ending of that movie, with Joaquin telling the girl in his bed that she was the bravest girl he knew. I took that as growth, and that is what I am always looking for. Unlike There Will Be Blood, which, I think I got it, but I didn't really care by the time it was over.

    Great write up, as per norm for you. I can't wait to see it again. What a cast! Jenna Malone and Belladonna in the same movie.

    1. Thanks Johnny - glad to hear you sticking up for The Master. I'm trying to remember what girl you mean - the British pub chick? It's been awhile. It's been awhile for Doonesbury too, but I definitely came to it long before being 'turned on' in college. I guess it was a gateway! After reading about your thinking of guys you served with, I wonder if my ambivalence towards the Master comes from my own experiences as an AA sponsor, and sponsee! There were definitely fucked up lost causes like Quell who wanted me as a sponsor and I turned away, to regret it later... like I mentioned in my rambling piece on it a few years ago re: Gurdjieff.

  3. Hi Erich, Yes, the British pub chick. There was something about him treating her as a person, after his ink blot psych eval, the sand mermaid, and the couple of hours that led up to that ending that I just really felt like he came out the other end a little better a person than when the movie began. When I got clean seven years ago, and I asked a guy to be my sponsor, he said yes and then stopped coming to meetings. I never called him, but that was a weird thing to have done. Maybe he relapsed from the pressure. Have you heard the Marc Maron WTF podcast interview with Paul Thomas Anderson? It's pretty great! PTA even talks about his father being Ghoulardi. They started rerunning Doonesbury dailies with new strips just on Sunday; I think he's busy with Alpha House. It's pretty funny reading the strips and remembering the punch lines from when I was ten years old. I found Doonesbury before I ever heard of Hunter S. Thompson. Doonesbury was definitely a gateway! Gateway to what, I don't know, the path has been circuitous and continues to stretch beyond.

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  5. Your writing on the film entertained me more than the film itself, which I found flat and way too straight for the time and milieu it was trying to portray. Going in to Inherent Vice I was hoping that PTA would capture some of the dread-funny, creepy-crawly tone of Downey, Sr and early Landis, but it was nowhere to be found. I liked the movie, it was fine, PTA is too much a master filmmaker to disappoint with the basics, but I wanted more. The only thing that surprised me was how sexy the movie was, but that's not what I wanted, even if looking at Belladonna's face for five minutes was my erotic mainstream cinematic highlight of the year. I thought PTA really has an opportunity to let loose with this movie, let his anarchist freak flag fly, but he severely reigned it in, and I don't know why, although I think Hoffman's death may have had something to do with it. As a child of seventies Los Angeles, who remembers that time as well as I remember yesterday afternoon, all I can tell you is that Post-Manson the city was an ever scarier place than it was before. There was something very sinister in the air and I don't think PTA captured that, in a formal sense or editorial sense. I also thought the music choices were pedestrian. Where was the Beefheart, Leon Russell, 13th Floor Elevators...ah, what's the point. I got the movie that was made, not the one I wanted. But it was the first PTA movie I didn't love, that I thought could have been made by someone else. PTA seemed absent from Inherent Vice. Hopefully he'll be back for the next one.


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