Friday, March 27, 2015


As bi-polar March melts and freezes and jumps 30 degrees up and down almost every day here in NYC, I'm a veg, Danny, my SADD dragging me around like Angel tied to the back of Mapache's automóvil. My mother died last month, so who am I trying to shock with all my crazy gonzo rambling now? Who's next in the Agatha Christie keelhaul that has slowly dwindled down my little nuclear quartet? In the hell of my natural Brooklyn habitat the rent keeps going up up up up; I've been writing about the lysergic properties of The Green Pastures all week, but with all the instant crucifying going on in the blogosphere I'm worried it's racist instead of merely clever. If the weather wasn't so unendurable I might hazard a guess, but the barometric pressure makes clarity impossible. Soon enough, I'll just be chillin' with some entries in the drive-in triple feature canon instead. Because good recycled trash just might be the only haven from the demons at our doorstep, whomever they be. And so I turn to Joanne Nail to fuck the shit up on my behalf, for my God is one of wrath and vengeance and he's tired of bureaucrats and bourgeois liberal tenure-trackers bearin' false witness. Hear these words long written down: the Jezebels will be back! 

(1984) Dir: Bruno Mattei 

Time and again El Rey has delivered the great trashy 1970s-80s Italian goods, stuff I'd never know about or normally just avoid based on the title. Films like Rats: Night of Terror (1984) for example, is a title I've seen over the years but always drew a vaguely irritated shrug, conjuring in my mind yet another  Willard or Food of the Gods, or Rats, as in the Frank Herbert horror novel about giant rats. Which I liked -- but the movie sucked.

I was wrong, wrong like sticky traps; El Rey and Mattei were right - this offers the more humane snap traps and we must either watch it or lose dominance of the planet.

What sets this one above the dregs is that it's not the usual rat movie (an exterminator in the busy NYC streets finds dead hobos bobbing up in the sewers and gets in too deep), but a post-apocalyptic gang war style sequel to the Warriors of the Wasteland, and Escape from the Bronx, etc. all made in Italy in the wake of the creative and box office success of Escape from New York, The Warriors, The Road Warrior, and Conan the Barbarian. All four elements are swirled together in the Italian trash auteur tradition - it makes a meaty stew. Mattei steals from the best! SNAP.

I still would have run the other way seeing this on some 80s pan and scan cable channel, but El Rey and HD have brought new life to it: the restored deep blacks and deep rich grime shades help us get over the general displeasure seeing masses of rats congregated in a room with no clear motive or cheese incentive. In fact these poor rats all seem rather bewildered, tired, underpaid. Even the white haired ringleader seems like he still hasn't even seen his contract. Lukily director Bruno Mattei made sure no rats were harmed during filming. Oh wait, this is Italy, so yeah they probably were. But in a hellscape like this, the dead are the lucky ones. And at least we don't see them look all betrayed and startled as they're shot with a Bert I. Gordon pink pellet paint gun in slow motion like we do in Food of the Gods. I saw one running on fire, but in general they're mere extras; we don't see them much and shots they figure in, for real as opposed to puppets, are looped while the actors try to turn running up the basement steps in single file into a whole scene, they're game--they try hard and the editor tries to make it all fit together and I suppose it might if you were half asleep in a dark drive-in.

The rest of the action follows a post-Road Warrior style biker gang with tricked out vehicles that must have been left over from the 1983 Enzo Castellari film I nuovi barbari (The New Barbarians AKA Exterminators AKA Warriors of the Wasteland) which were from his classic 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) and its sequels. In fact, in Germany, Rats: Night of Terror was billed as the Rifts III - Die Ratten von Manhatten i.e. billed as third in the Bronx Warriors trilogy--hey, there were others still to come, and hey, they borrow from the best, including themselves. Hey!

So these Bronx "Rifts" pull into a deserted (bombed out in WW2 and never restored?) Italian (not supposed to be?) villa and soon are besieged by shots of molti ratti --never funnier than when being pulled en masse via an 'unseen' carpet underneath their feet, towards our "terrified" antiheroes and their molls on the other end of the dusty, empty room. Keeping up the sci fi end, there's a secret chamber with futuristic radio equipment and an opening scrawl that delivers a whole series of post-apocalyptic upsets. You know: evolution amok, up and under. None of it matters or makes sense except as setup for a 'gotcha' ending, which if we're 14 years old we just won't see coming or laugh at the 'suggestions of rat' tongue puppet and great exploding bodies where all the rats come tumbling out.

But what makes it work (for the fans) is the terrible dubbing and game if amateur acting/directing, centering around the dubious wisdom of gang leaders Kurt and the competitor for his alpha position, the Native American GI-esque Duke. Duke's right, after all, Kurt basically makes all the wrong moves, he must have got the job for being best looking, and says lame shit like"Open up in the name of humanity!!" after blindly trusting Duke to unlock to door and to guard the women in the other room while he and a bunch of other guys try to turn walking down a small flight of basement steps into a whole scene (lots of walking in place and reacting to rats that were presumably going to be overlaid). All that shit's gold and Mattei packs in way more Ed Woodsian details than the gotcha set-up demands. This gang seems to have dropped into this world from an amnesiac nightmare, initially psyched to eat uncooked flour, they're soon enough wondering where it came from, and then all in the same long night wind up trapped, somehow, and living in the middle of a rats conquer the world zone, but rescue by a fumigator hazmat team may or may not be on the way. The diving bell and ominous jet landing synth pads and little rat skittering drum loops of the Luigi Ceccarelli score is perfect if not great and the film looks foxy and retro-chic on the El Rey print. For those of us who saw the Escape-Road-Warriors trifecta over and over and over as young teenagers; it's enough that this film tries hard to look like them, though caked with the usual gray dust and has explosions and mounted machine guns.

Could-a done without the rats, though. Twist!

(1975) Dir. Jack Hill
"The only thing a man's got below his belt is clay feet."

If you love to see men the target of feminine violence, then for you, almost always, lurks Jack Hill, the auteur behind SPIDER BABY, COFFY, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, but almost more importantly, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS. A preconfiguration of what was to become a street gangs/amok youth craze that fused the urban grime apocalypse of 70s street gang violence--ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976), THE WARRIORS (1978), SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)--and do-wop post-HAPPY DAYS greaser nostalgia--THE WANDERERS (1979), THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH (1974), HE GOOD LOOKIN' (1982), GREASE (1978) . SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1973) predates it all, looking back only to juvenile delinquent movies of Corman and Mamie Van Doren pics of the 50s. The cast includes Lenny Bruce's daughter Kitty as Donut (lower right), the gang member who gets picked on regularly by doll-faced, sweet voiced but tough-as-nails Lace (Robbie Lee). No one fucks with new girl in town Maggie (Joanne Nail) though, cuz she's not averse to whipping off her chain belt and/or grabbing a switchblade (they all use their jackets as a kind whip/shield, a good whip to whack a knife out of someone's hand). Lace isn't threatened by such moxy but Lace's one-eyed suck-up Patch (Monica Gale) sees the writing on the wall: Maggie's gonna steal Patch's man, the goomba Alpha of their male counterparts, Dominic (Ashner Brauner); Lace just thinks Patch is jealous of the beta female position but ole Patch is right; the sparks between Dom and Maggie are real enough, even his breaking into her room to rape her can't change that. In short, this is Jacobean tragedy of the most Shakespearean order, with a roller rink subbing for the town square, and an enemy family in the form of a Crabs and his drug dealing bunch of smartasses posing as a local political group who run up against Dom's operation. But eventually the men are thrown over.

So why did it fail? The film's original title THE JEZEBELS possibly made drive-in audiences think it was that hoary old Bette Davis southern romance (so it bombed). By the time the distributors changed the title, word had gotten around that JEZEBELS was the film to see, but now they couldn't find it. D'oh!! If it had been called KNIVES OF THE JEZEBELS or better yet, I'LL SLIT YOUR FUCKING THROAT, it would be talked about to this day. Hill's previous great feminist-with-a-knife film, SPIDER BABY (1968), had the bad luck to be come out at a time when drive-ins didn't want black and white movies anymore, unless maybe they had graphic cannibalism. SWITCHBLADE SISTERS was a great title either, making it seem like some ditzy Andy Sidaris softcore lesbo thing. SPIDER BABY just sounds vaguely cheesy or boring, too; it should have been called THE SPIDER GIRL GAME or better yet, I'LL SLASH YOU TO FUCKING RIBBONS!

Anyway, you can guess the story, SISTERS is great when you're really pissed off, like I am right now. It goes all the way, from sleazy initiations, cigarette burning, a rape/abduction by a rival gang triggering massive retaliation, vicious bite blow-jobs, a constant flux of acting ability, butch prison guards, roller rink massacres, and keeps going long after other films pull back. There is a feminist black militant ghetto uprising with machine guns and a badass armored Cadillac, a shocking Cagney-by-way-of Lorre raving mad closing monologue (maybe my favorite ending in all schlock cinema), an OTHELLO-style jealous mind poisoning, the Daryl Hannah-prefiguring eye patch of Patch, the heavenly blonde jawline of Janice Karman (she barely speaks here but would go voiceover work as part of the THE CHIPMUNKS), the badass 70s funk score by Medusa (their one screen credit), the way Ashner Brauner sounds like Ralph Meeker when he's really mad; Hill gives us all that and more, and Quentin Tarantino brings us to the Hill by way of his Miramax "Band Apart" label, looking damn good by way of Netflix Streaming. Forever.

Maybe I'm really pissed off right now, and taking it out on the infinitely carvable idiots in my mind who've kept my office working until four while a blizzard's been raging outside since noon. So I protested by sulking in my office, blasting this movie on Netflix like a badass, then tripping on my snow boot shoelaces like a four alarm ponce. Even so, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS is the shit. See it when you're in the mood to stomp on someone, it will 'flatten out your sine curves.' That it's on Netflix in HD with gorgeous colors is one of cinema's current great gifts. See it when you're super furious at the world (did I just say that?) or just strung out with the shakes because your dealer never showed, and bask in the cathartic powers of the fabulous Joanne Nail, the way Robbie Lee's eyes widen and dilate, then contract into a glowing glaze. And Joanne Nail's final rant to the fat cop, her face streaked with blood, eyes wide and maniacal, delivers just the right amount of Meyer-esque camp to her lines.  Joanne Nail would be back all right... in the fascinating 70s all-purpose drive-in capstone, THE VISITOR! (1979)

(1981) Dir James L. Conway

Am I crazy to have had to get this on Blu-ray? I had to see what was going on better as all early videos were notoriously too dark. Not that I saw any. I read all the reviews and chat rooms about such things and was turned off by the title: "Boogens" is like what some gross kid sitting across from me in 7th grade lunch might call the peas he stuck up his nose. These Boogens showed up during the height of the slasher boom and seemed part and parcel with all the bland baghead movies coming out like blood from America's open veins, sending my alienated 14 year-old feminist arms all akimbo in indignant horror. Well, maybe it just needed 30 years for both of us to get clear of that goddamned early 80s nonsense, because now I think the BOOGENS is fucking great. Okay, it's just 'good'. Okay... good enough. You can take the peas out of your nose now, Eugene. I'm here to stay. Hmm, maybe put them back in, Eugene. I'm too mature to handle it after all. BOOGENS sucks.

What really sets it apart from the pack right off is an early 20s Canadian-style maturity (the film company is situated in Salt Lake, so--you know): the snowy Utah mountain environment (the outfit making and releasing the film was big on nature movies like GRIZZLY ADDAMS) creates a sense of believable daylight savings eeriness and the way the two young male characters (Fred McCaren, Jeff Harlan), both fresh out of engineering school, tackle the job re-opening an old silver mine while preparing to spend the weekend with two young women (Rebecca Balding, Anne-Marie Martin--one the girlfriend, the other a final girl type just there to ski and maybe let herself be set up with the single friend, not in a skeevy way, in the real way you can imagine you and your friend arranging a similar thing--neither sappy love at first sight strings nor revulsion and clashing, but real 'arranged' hook-up between young adults of legal age kind of vibe. Unlike most horror scripts, the dialogue between the boys and girls feels written between two people with differing views rather than one hack writing everyone the same. The dichotomy works really well because we're so used to the extreme polarities of geeky virgin nerds and hunky alpha bland lotharios, sluts and final girl virgins, with nothing in between. , The 'in-between' is on full display in The Boogens, making us realize how under-represented this type usually is. Boogens asks: What about the guys and girls old enough to not be virgins, but not sluts, but young enough they're still a little insecure when real emotion intrudes on the mechanics of a one-weekend stand, but mature enough to not let fooling around affect your self esteem one way or the other? Sure the 'sex talk' coming out of the girls' mouths in their dialogue together in the car and before the boys arrive feels like it's written by a dude. What it really needed was to let the actors improvise and find their own rhythm, because the actors aren't up to making mediocrely-written small talk seem spontaneous. A Debra Hill or a Gale Hurd or a Daria Nicolodi could have really helped. 

Still, despite the immature sex stuff, the characters are at least professional at their jobs, and the scenery is beautiful. The mountains, the mines, and the monsters have an ingenious connection to the land and to all the homes in the neighborhood (via ancient tunnels connecting to air vents) and in their cool blobby way they recall the crawling things in Hammer's Island of Terror (1966). As is so important, the film takes its time not showing the beasts too early, which is how it should be, and each scene stretches out, confident in its moment-by-moment accumulation of unease, like when one of the girls is chased around the cabin fresh out of the shower (we neither see the monster nor gawk at the nudity); and there' an explosive ending and some good (presumably real) cavern scenes, which we can see and appreciate now that it's no longer on a dark smudgy cropped VHS screen. 

Blu-ray --is there nothing it can't do?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Great 70s WarDads: Brad Pitt in FURY and WORLD WAR Z

I started writing this post a few months ago during the 2014 Golden Globes, prepared for the usual mawkish acceptance speeches and self-congratulatory montages, but I was shocked instead by how much blubbering was occurring over, of all things, kids. On and on these winners went about how they love their kids, how their kids are shining stars that transport them safely across the deserts of artistic blocks and emotional meltdowns and give their lives' meaning.

It was appalling.

Sure, I'm being a curmudgeon, but I have nothing against the kids themselves. I feel for them. Imagine being one of the children of those Globe winners, staying over at a slumber party and everyone's watching of course on TV and noticing your dad is a wussy crybaby who's totally bound to you hand and foot. Christ, I would have packed my sleeping bag and bailed on the spot. Kids have honor, a code! In order to grow into decent human beings these kids need to know dad isn't going to fall apart on them, crying and clinging and making them fight for every second of privacy. They want to know that they can move out one day and while mom might cry, dad will sigh in relief.

Maybe instead of their kids, these dads should thank Brad Pitt, for showing the way a great 70s dad behaves, during World War Z (2013). Maybe the first film to actively redress the Dads of Great Adventure complex that's befouled our decade's disaster movies (you know the type: the widowed, divorced or absentee workaholic/slacker dads who wind up with custody of the kids during the apocalypse because it strikes on the weekend--and his biggest fear is they'll die on his watch, and he'll look like a bad parent), Pitt's dad is competent and responsible for the world outside his immediate family as well as for said family, without showing any strain. All under his watch are taken care of, all without his sanctimonious belittling, clinging, or simpering (or on the other side, ignoring, spacing, procrastinating, stalling).

Pitt's professional compassion exonerates his apocalypse dad from the usual sense of proximal guilt that trips up rubes like Cage in Knowing, Viggo in The Road, Cruise in War of the Worlds and Cusak in 2012. More than all of them, World War Z makes a genuine manly effort to show male viewers a kind of post-Fight Club code they can live by without feeling like second class citizens in their own home. UN troubleshooter Gerry Lane and family (including urchin collected en route) are choppered off to an aircraft carrier packed with refugees so he can jet off to locate Patient Zero somewhere on the other side of the world. His global nation-hopping journey takes him from South Korea to Israel to a remote medical testing facility in Wales, and finally to a refugee camp in the one place savvy doomsday preppers have eyeballed since 1999, Nova Scotia!

The real-life world-savin' pair of Jolie and Pitt got started on their global betterment tour when Jolie starred in Beyond Borders. She really brought her work home with her. As if continuing that film's message, Brad's UN agent has already survived in some of the most harrowing third world hotspots. so the disasters of this zombie plague don't stress him out the way they do other dads. He has a strong, supportive wife, two glowing children, and great fun family rapport. Over the course of the movie these kids and wife are never really in danger, or at any rate, they don't panic because they trust in their heavenly-faced father. We sense that-- even when the zombie spittle is flying fast and furious--no harm will come to any of them. In fact those who stay super close to Pitt miraculously survive even as everyone else around them are infected and/or dead. The concern is solely as to where and how Pitt's UN unfazable superdad will solve the zombie problem, not if.

One of the tricks Pitt's Lane knows is something that the earlier dads of great adventure never mastered: triage. Even if he should make eye contact with people being bitten and devoured, he refrains from stopping to help them if it means risking his life or the lives of those he's with. You can imagine a lesser dad shouting 'somebody do something!' every time he sees a lost kid in a corner, but not Brad. He knows when to cut and run. There's something reassuring about how Lane's status with the UN gets him driven all around the world without need for check-in or bag search. His ability to think globally and survive locally rather than thinking locally like the dads of great adventure is what earns him this first class status.

On the other hand, telling moments in Z reveal a savvy about the proximal responsibility issue: the grateful singing of the Palestinians being let into Israel to avoid the plague excites the zombies and drives them over the impregnable wall; the one moment of true Brad danger comes when his wife's phone call rings as he's trying to sneak around sleeping zombies. This is a movie that knows how any glimmer of empathy, proximal responsibility, etc. can set off a chain reaction. Only Brad's compassionate but survival-based mojo manages to know when to run in true triage fashion.

Fury (2014) finds "Wardaddy" (Pitt) not saving the world per se, but blasting the hell out of the German homeland defenses with a tank crew of uncouth but loyal brigands. A clean-shaven newbie from the typing pool is 'daddy's' latest adopted son (Logan Lerman): he quivers and quakes and resents papa Pitt forces him to shoot an unarmed German prisoner (to toughen him up) and--as in Saving Private Ryan--there's some of that distasteful anachronism where he's the nerdy typist character (played by squirmy Jeremy Davies in Ryan) is too wussy for 1945, hell, even for 1975, but wussy like they only started to make 'em in the post-PC 'declawing' of masculinity, beginning around the early 80s. Wardaddy does the right thing in forcing him to kill an unarmed soldier --it's a matter of Pitt and crew's on personal survival that the kid be forced to surrender his squeamish morality. This suggests all sensitive typists (like myself) could use a few months on the front lines of a war with a guy like Wardaddy to toughen us up to the point we can turn compassion into an asset rather than a liability, so that we don't hesitate on the trigger when its time to kill or be killed, and that we know when to run past someone in danger, even if they make soulful eye contact with us, if it means certain death.

Pitt had proved he could be wild and liberated even whilst a young scrap of a fella, back in Thelma and Louise, so that's never been in doubt, but even so, here we got some extra layers of toughness as borne out by his scarred and diesel oil-stained face. We see him get kind of cleaned up when a nice little breakfast served up by a couple of frauleins in a little second floor apartment that's gone un-bombed, but when it's invaded by the rest of his motley tank corp, we see Pitt forced into a weird no-win zone between solidarity with his rapey crew and an innate gentlemanly spirit. It's the most tiresome scene in the film, it stretches on and on, and I'll confess I FF-ed part of the way, but it's almost worth it for the brutal pay-off, which finally brings things to bear for our milquetoast. Eventually the lad even learns when to let a kraut fry to death and when to chop him in half.  Hell yeah, Sgt. Rock loves this movie, wherever he is.

And if the whole last stand thing means that yet again the Saving Private similarities come too close to call, what is so important about Fury is what's not there: no balderdash bullshit about needing to ask a goddamned woman whether or not you 'earned it' and all that trying to find some greatest generation noble cause lollipop at the center of the severed head tootsie roll. It's finding your manliness in the company of men and smoke grenades --that's what it's for, war. David Ayers supposedly had a fight club thing going on each morning with the cast: each man fighting the other. It's true, as many of us know (but moms, wives, and soft-handed typists never have): the fastest way for men to become friends is to fight each other.

We all knew Pitt could bring the nihilistic badassitude, as could Michael Pena (Observe and Report), the real surprises in the crew are Jon Bernthal as the unkempt creep whose Iron John energy finally connects with Lerman after the fraulein incident and--most amazingly--Shia LaBeouf, whom I've always regarded with some level of contempt, but his work here completely changed my mind. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, of sharing last cigarettes and drinks before almost certain doom, it's Shia who really brought it home for me. I felt his clear-eyed look at mortality deep in my socks. I felt in his suppressed quiver of finality the feeling of being fully cognizant of imminent extinction, how one's death is pressed right up on the glass and always just a tap away --and of standing firm, fully in thrall of the only thing that can transcend the overwhelming instinct towards self-preservation: devotion to one's team. The crew, the captain, and the Pitt, the Wardaddy, the king. It's something that, for all its greatness, the entirety of Band of Brothers was never able to achieve as it lacked an actor of Pitt's unique combination of toughness and charisma, the combination of the great 70s dad. We feel the love for that combination in Shia, who gets his voice down a full octave and takes swigs of booze so believably we're made intolerant of all the lesser actors who betray their lack of experience as boozers by drinking straight whiskey like it was iced tea). With this crew's clear wincing we feel we're really in there with them, in that tank. We can smell the diesel fumes, mixed with the tang of explosives, dried blood, sweat, burnt oil, and cigarettes. It's the tang of the great 70s dad.

There's no voiceover in Fury, either, which also sets it above so many of its 'mother, am I a good man?' counterparts. And the ending credits are some of the coolest I've seen, with Steven Price's great A Silver Mt. Zion-esque soundtrack blasting over high contrast color-res images of the rest of the war. Any idea that  the war was already won by the time we crossed the Rhine is put to rest. A whole lot of pointless killing and destruction is left undone. The soldiers that were just kids and old men still are dangerous if they have ein panzerfaust (and most of them did). Yet, knowing the war is lost, all the fighting becomes somehow robbed of the honor it had when the outcome wasn't certain. Now it's not a matte of survival against evil but a delaying action waste of property, architecture, and lives rather than a noble cause. All that's left, then, is loyalty and brotherhood.

Ask the guys in Afghanistan and Iraq what they're fighting for and the answer's always the same: the guy next to them in the foxhole, their buddy, their brother by fire, they fight to keep each other alive. That's the kind of thing that would sound trite in a voiceover but if a movie like Fury can show that rather than tell (or ask for meaning from teary wives), then maybe the senselessness itself can make sense. War is hell right up to the end but so is life when the unimportant stuff's stripped away. More so in Fury than most war films (since maybe the 1930s) if you're going to survive, you need to become Hell's chosen badass. So here we finally learn what Spielberg only hinted at in his clutching for decency: that every milquetoast has it in him to face death with both barrels blazing if it comes to that, to let go of burdensome humanity and at the same time find a whole new Nietzsche paradigm.

Patton knew it. Kubrick knew it. Pitt's Tyler Durden knows it. Sgt. Aldo Raine knows it. "Wardaddy" knows it, and director David Ayers knows it. In filmmaking, as in war, the comfort of phony personae is the first thing that must go. The fastest way to shuck it is in a bare knuckle brawl with someone you're not even mad at. Even since the 90s, the Pitt persona has never wavered from that punchy code. He is our tousled lord, our approximate Arthur, our Kalifornia king.

He's all that's still standing between us and the terrible apron string hydra we choose to call mother.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


It seems we're living in an age where feminist worries about the detrimental effects of sexual violence in the media really have proven valid. Popular cinema is awash in white slavery, child abduction, sexual sadists, date rapists (the horrible disillusioning for those of us who loved Cosby as a child) and dead hookers as nothing more than 'what stays in Vegas' punchlines. Was Laura Mulvey right, the male gaze is the root of all evil? Her "Visual Pleasures in Narrative Cinema" essay opened a dialogue on the male gaze but unfortunately spawned a downer academic feedback loop as--in their drive for tenure and full professorship--film and media theorists have sometimes erred on the side of humorlessness. Attempting to highlight all the dirty bathwater they burn the baby, or drown it, or both. At least it keeps them off the streets, which aren't safe, if the last million films starring Nicolas Cage or Liam Neeson are correct.

But as winter melts away and pollen and seasonal depression lurks, a man whose gaze is only half Mulveyan at most needs deliverance, needs a break from the heavy theory and artsy shizz, and liberal arts guilt.

I'm supposed to go to a damn Laura Mulvey lecture/film screening at 6PM today/tonight (no joke)!  Jim, I'm becalmed, and no avant garde collage detournement deconstructions of 50s Hollywood's feminine ideals can raise me spirits. Not tonight, Josephine!

I'm sure Mulvey will crush it, or whatever term is gender-awareness allowable, but her film will probably be--as is so often the case when the male gaze and its 'western eye' is unplugged or jabbed-- inert, demoralizing and irritating. Fuck that! I need to see women literally crush it to feel better instead of worse. Not the usual direct-to-cable bimbos in halter tops running along some Philippine beach with plastic guns in hand, mind you, Laura, nor dour sermonizers who feel bad about all their finely wrought violence either. I'm talking women who are confident, fearless, and could believably put a hole through a windshield with a single kick.... Ain't many. Let's see two:

(1985) Dir. Corey Yuen
This Hong Kong hyperkinetic comic ballet has as its comic center three bumbling petty crooks who accidentally grab a MacGuffin microfiche during a robbery. Now all these crooks want to kill them! Cue manic slapstick! The ballistic Cynthia Rothrock and graceful Michelle Yeoh are a pair of HK (Rothrock sent across from 'the Yard') detectives trying to get it back and/or protect them from evil spies. Both women are great, but Rothrock is extra ballsy and fights like she's really fighting (she was a real-life karate champion). Yeoh on the other hand fights like she's dancing which is perfectly fine, and her balletic style matches that of most of the guys she battles. But she tends to kick a guy then let him recover and strike back before she lands the next blow, like one might at a martial arts demonstration rather than a competition. Rothrock never gives her opponent time to recover, she just moves in bam bam bam, like a boxer, no chance for her opponent to shake off the previous blow, or even the one before that, until he's down and out for the count. Best part is a great climactic knockdown brawl wherein their two styles merge and they bond, and its glass-and-face-smashing greatness elevates the soul. The three doofuses wear on the nerves quickly but you'll believe a girl can fly through a glass window to dodge a guy's kick and then swing around underneath it and kick him through the same hole in the glass all in one smooth flip. And you'll be right: ROTHROCK RULES!

(1986) Aka: Righting Wrongs / Dir. Corey Yuen

Biao Yuen stars as a Hong Kong lawyer who watches as scumbag rich criminals get off scot-free by merely having all the witnesses to their crimes, plus their children, blown-up and/or shot (by a black guy in an American army uniform); there's an undercurrent of the old British rule being corrupt and the powdered wigs they all have to wear in court look horribly itchy. Yuen winds up so pissed off he takes the law into his own hands and goes gunning for the bad guys on his off hours. He's not a very good driver but he's good at close quarters fighting when hired hit men try to run him over in a third-story parking garage. Investigative cop Rothrock talks about the evil of vigilanteism while watching a toy train run its track at a Xmas party. Great! The only drawback is the slovenly cop she picks as her assistant; he's one hell of a sloppy gross eater, to the point a sensitive guy like me has to look away. Rothrock though, man, she can fight... so I have to look back.

The final climactic brawl occurs in an airplane hangar and makes good use of everything from a propellor to an on-airplane fight to the death. Yuen more than holds his own, but its Rothrock--as an HK cop who starts out investigating the murders of all the high level scumbags but winds up on Yuen's side--who really registers. She's not here to make friends, and though she doesn't get near enough screen time, it's enough to make us realize just how much ROTHROCK RULES!

(1989) AKA Lady Reporter, Righting Wrongs 2 / Dir. Mang Hoi

Lots of the typical HK action-comedy elements, this time centered around an American FBI agent (Rothrock) who works the SF Chinatown beat and has friends in HK, so she's sent back there to crack a counterfeit ring by posing as a reporter. As per usual, all the men are either spastic morons or grinning evil bad guys, crooked pols and cops with shady motivations and/or the sullen flunkies. Rothrock isn't quite the boxy brawler from YES MADAM! and ABOVE THE LAW anymore. She's more along the Yeoh lines: graceful, agile, but the fights are often sped up slightly more than usual and her kicks don't look like they hurt as bad as they did a few years ago. Now the guys just bounce back up again and the spastic imbeciles with their bugging eyes run hither and yon with equal speed. This spastic Lewis-esque mania can be blamed maybe on director Mang Hoi --his crooks here make the ones in MADAME seem like the goddamned Danny Ocean's Eleven. We may make allowances for Continental Asia's love of 'big crowd pleaser' comedy, the kind that gets theaters full of all ages people rolling in the aisles, but then comes off labored on video alone at home or with your discerning Rothrockian film snob cronies. Helping offset the damage is a fine centerpiece battle with bamboo poles up and down three or four stories of a half-finished domicile. Its DVD is OOP but it's streaming free on the old YT and one day I swear I'll spring for the iOB. 

(2011) Dir Steven Soderbergh

Smoky-eyed UFC fighter Gina Carano is most believably ass-kicking American babe since the early Hong Kong Rothrock, but this is no Hong Kong street brawl, this is Soderbergh making up for the outrages of CONTAGION (same year). This time the liberal hand-wringers are nowhere to be find and there's only two problems: it's rushed open ending and Ewan McGregor's terrible haircut. Otherwise it's perfect. This is Steven Soderbergh's big masterpiece as far as I'm concerned. I could go press play and re-see it right now. I've probably seen it ten times already (I bought it on Amazon streaming! Six dolla!) and I can't get enough. I sure wish it made a ton of money so it would make a dozen sequels. Instead, here comes OCEANS 18.

OK still here? Let me tell you about HAYWIRE's touching military-trained sense of cool in the face of danger, the close bond between Gina's merc and her father (Bill Paxton), a former Marine (like her) now writing books on WW2 desert warfare way up in the Colorado mountains (?), or the cold blue-eyes of Michael Fassbender as an MI6 agent lured into thinking he can kill her easy; the way Michael Douglas as a Washington insider doesn't buy her high level betrayal frame-up, and just encourages her to keep killing her way up the ladder all without ever saying anything over the phone that might implicate him in anything, and the intrinsic way she understands this; Channing Tatum as her lover / would-be assassin and their great diner brawl opener; the confused but smart hipster who gets told the backstory; the cool reflective Soderbergh surfaces and post-modern globalism that only he and a few other directors--Assayas, Liman, Greengrass--can really deliver.

Too bad though, that Carano hasn't been given much other proper material after this. She could be a new kind of Jenn Bourne, instead her best post-HAYWIRE work is in the most recent FAST AND FURIOUS, which allows her one big subway steps battle, where we're supposed to believe Michelle Rodriguez would have a chance against her. Never happen, kick-boxing class or no.

(2014) Dir. John Stockwell

We see the importance of Steven Soderbergh's way of pulling out great depth of dark-eyed beauty from Carano's face and movements, the way she seems to be leaning way back into herself, even while throttling guys in waves of UFC leglock mount moves. During the tepid IN THE BLOOD all the best moves occur early on in a big nightclub brawl where a honeymooning Carano rescues her new husband from pimp Danny Trejo's club girl stable. That said, there's sunshine, island mood, and unrepentant violence including some sideways likenings of Carano's actions to those of Shagur in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. She even commits some cold-blooded outright murder, including several cops! Female action heroines are seldom more cold-blooded than even their most despicable enemies! Mad respect.

The story is a kind of THE LADY VANISHES or BREAKDOWN as a zip-lining accident leads to Gina's new husband's disappearance, and his rich father (Treat Williams) and sister accuse her of killing him for the inheritance. It's up to her now to carve a bloody torturous trail through the brush; her particular set of skills collaterally damaging several mostly-innocent people.

Director Stockwell gave us the excellent INTO THE BLUE and BLUE CRUSH (so he knows his tropical island island action) and TURISTAS (so he knows his gringo organ harvesting). But has he ever seen a lassie go this way and that way, so goddamned fast? He tries to catch up via limb-shredding and gun fire brutality, but we'd rather just see Gina kick some crap out of some Triads or Golden Tongs and aside from that nightclub scene, there's woefully little fight choreography. The anti-climactic Danny Trejo speech at the end is priceless, though. His island ladies need tourists after all, and when rich white people are attacked, it's no good for anybody's business. Amen.

(2014) Dir. Christopher Ray

Zoë Bell has stunt doubled for Xena and Buffy and Uma long enough. She's stepping into her own here (after breaking out atop the Challenger in DEATH-PROOF) as an action hero lead and her hair looks great. Directed by the ersatz maniac behind MEGA SHARK VS. CROCOSAURUS, This is the B-chick version of THE EXPENDABLES: fellow Tarantino alum Vivica Fox, Asian-American badass Nicole Balderback (BRING IT ON) and TERMINATOR 3 babe Kristanna Loken team up with Bell against a dyked-out Brigitte Nielsen. The unsavory white slaver angle is handled with some level of tact, though a massive machine gun massacre of the imprisoned 'product' leaves a bad taste. Mostly there is a lot of mean talk and discovered girl bodies dealt with via vengeance of a mostly cathartic order and-- in the boondogle EXPENDABLES tradition, albeit with around a 1/100th of the budget (its director is Fred Olen-Ray's son, as if the word 'Crocosaurus' wasn't enough of a tip-off)--it walks that thin line between camp and dour angst very well.  Low budgets never stopped Hong Kong actors from delivering the goods, so why should the word 'Crocosausus' convince these ladies to phone it in? Ray can barely figure out where to put his camera but Rothrock rules eternal, even when leaving the high kicks to the kids.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Young Jack in the Post-Poe Po-Mo Hellman Hole: THE TERROR, THE SHOOTING

The legendarily muddled Roger Corman Poe-ish Gothic horror THE TERROR (1963) famously came together spur of the moment when, supposedly, Corman still had two days on Boris Karloff's RAVEN shooting schedule and-- not wanting to waste them--shot Boris in a different wizard costume, walking around in various parts of the same castle sets, interacting with RAVEN co-star Jack Nicholson,  talking about killing his young bride after coming home from the war, and now her ghost is around, or being tormented by her ghost in the nicely lit family crypt, trusting a film could be built around it with minimal effort. He was right about the minimal, but that's just part of the film's shaggy dog-eared charm, its inscrutable but eerily poetic ambiguity. Corman sent Francis Ford Coppola up to Big Sur to shoot some exteriors and add some folk horror realism, and then later, Jack Hill as writer and Monte Hellman as director came along to reshape, rework, and reconfigure, shooting in and around Playa del Rey, Leo Carillo Beach, and what was then the AFI. So there's a lot of hands in the mix here: the final product hits all the traditional Corman/Poe Gothic beats but adds something else, too, the voice of a younger generation who could keep one foot in Roger's Gothic/Poe dream wold and one in the zone of artsy mid-60s California mythopoetic magical realism (the zone that also gave us INCUBUS and NIGHT TIDE).

There are some critics who dismiss THE TERROR as a jumbled mess, they're right that it's jumbled, but they're wrong to dismiss it. Maybe they never saw the complete version in the right environment, and in the right mood, and on the right print, and in the right edit, in the right aspect ratio. Seen 'correctly' it's more than the sum of its occasionally contradictory parts. One shouldn't get hung up on what the correct 'sum' is, as there isn't any way to know; there's no clear single auteur by which we might decode it. Or is there? Maybe we can find the auteur stamp via a process of elimination. Corman's hip-but-never anachronistic Poe-Gothic voice is partly there but there's no existential Matheson wit or silvery Price slink; Coppola's voice isn't quite formed yet, aside from a focus on art school naturalism; Jack Hill's future balls-out stealth feminist drive-in moxy isn't there yet either...

But Monte Hellman's vanishing point identity and existential narrative-dissolution? That emerges, like a 4-dimensional pupa. 

In fact, THE TERROR fits beautifully in the Hellman canon; and his two later acclaimed existential works, THE SHOOTING (1966) and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) actually become easier to read as well, the three click together like puzzle pieces to form graspable mythic trilogy; they become scrutable!

Jack and an enigmatic girl in The Shooting layered under Jack and an enigmatic girl in The Terror (by me)
While the Hellman style wasn't yet a recognizable 'thing' in 1963, after seeing his more well-known works you feel that innate "Hellman-ness" in THE TERROR's dreamy 'edge of forever' tide pools, spinning compasses, the ambiguity of relationships, and the fluidity of feminine identity. Hellman's female characters tend to be nameless (billed in the credits as "the woman" or "the girl") and this anima ambiguity perfectly fits the ghostly figure played by Sandra Knight in THE TERROR as she appears to lost Cavalry officer Lt. Andre Duvalier (a young Jack Nicholson) at various points along the shore or cliffs, sometimes luring him to near to death like a siren (to quicksand or rockslides), sometimes swooping or circling overhead as a falcon, or --depending on who's turn it is at the auteurist telephone game--she's either an air elemental hawk/girl spirit, a normal human girl who thinks she's a ghost thanks to hypnosis coordinated by the mother of the son who the Baron killed when he found her in bed with Ilsa, or the spirit of Ilsa incarnated through the witch's black magic as a kind of bewitching golem/ghost combination). If that melange of answers seems a vague nebula, remember that Hill and Hellman were coming in for the second half of a project begun by Corman as a straight Poe-ish Gothic and, rather than unifying and completing/circumscribing it with Coppola's witch hypnotist revenge folk tale, brought it farther out into the murky depths, wherein fantasy, reality, love, and dehydration-spurred hallucinating become inseparable, the relentless ocean tide whiplash a mirror to eternity's corrosive caress.

Part of the weird sway THE TERROR has on classic horror fans such as myself is that it never seems to tell the same story twice so it can be rewatched endlessly. In order to understand how and why you just have to dial your focus out and consider the film's post-release history (the differing hands at the helm being just one of many aspects). As a title that's long been lapsed into public domain, it has been aired, screened, and sold constantly. It's appeared on diegetic drive-in screens in TARGETS and HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD; it's been on $5 video tapes sold on dirty sidewalks and down in record store basements; it's in nearly every budget classic horror collection (the 100 for $10 variety) on the market, next to THE DEVIL BAT and WHITE ZOMBIE. And since there's no quality control, the film often appears edited on TV, duped to blurry streaks, with out-of-order (or missing) reels, faded color, cheap VHS tracking issues (carried over onto cheap DVD burns), scenes cut and added from different prints of different quality, etc. As a result, if you're a classic horror fan, you've seen THE TERROR dozens of times, maybe never even by choice... and seldom all the way to the end without dozing, or being distracted due to its murky opaque quality.  But as the films of Jean Rollin prove, what's wrong with dozing while watching a movie? Some movies are amazing that way. Since it's been around on TV and college horror festivals forever, it's gained an amorphous ability to fade into background, not unpleasantly, as a kind of 'baseline' Gothic horror movie, as ever-present and free of narrative linearity as a white noise machine, makes it perhaps the benchmark for what we fantasy and horror fans call dream logic. Because it's so atmospheric, and fun on so many levels--especially considering Nicholson is so young and sometimes confused--it's endlessly re-watchable even if you're not really watching. You can fall asleep to it real easily, and dream your way right into its unconscious landscape.

Young Jack with then-wife Sandra Knight - THE TERROR;
Middle Jack with Maria Schneider - THE PASSENGER

This has helped in making the film 'great' in the sense that you can watch it a dozen times and never understand it or have any idea you've seen it before, and it never gets boring (or exciting), making it a great gateway into the work of dream logic extremists like Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. And if you're a filmmaker of any caliber, TERROR is a call to just grab a camera and go. It's a prime example of how our mind fills supernatural landscape gaps, and how our unconscious savors the randomness our conscious minds resist. From the loftiest Kubrick enigmas to the accidental Brecht of half-listening as your child babbles at you about a film they saw in school while you half watch TV commercials with the sound muted, until they blur together, it all is just a mirror by which one may gaze at the Medusa of one's unconscious mind, a gorgon that, if faced directly, as in a bad acid trip, will turn you to stone, or a babbling schizophrenic.

Hellman finds the third route, neither right nor left but purple; not forwards nor backwards but bird. A viewer can become totally lost in between logical narrative and the placeless locus where dreams cohere and dissolve into a cloud of slow-mo exploding books lapping into seahorses, or a Napoleonic officer separated from his regiment winding up on the coast of Northern California without ever even seeing a boat.

Karloff, making three movies at once just by standing there

And all that is my way of defending the loopy narrative of THE TERROR. I now know, watching it on Blu-ray, trying to understand the plot, that it's the daughter of Isla being hypnotized into seducing her father to kill himself by posing as her own mother, whom he killed 20 years ago... did I get that right?... Erik posed as the count after killing him in an effort to assuage his remorse? And she's actually a ghost because... he killed her too, as she and the count were having an affair? I mean, Erik?And the witch is the girl's mother who brought her spirit back from its hawk habitat to wreak revenge or is she Erick's mother? Is young Jack like one of those smitten lovers who winds up alone as his vampire lover vanishes in the waves at the end of a typical Jean Rollin vampire movie? (or LaRuocco in THE LACAN HOUR?) Supposedly Sandra Knight's Helene isn't really 'Isla, the Ghost of the Baroness von Leppe' but Eirk's real daughter (or wife) whom he tried to kill and so an old witch keeps her around... hypnotizing her? But who is Karloff, then? The servant or the Baron? Substitute a dotty old handyman for the witch, and that's the plot of the similarly elegiac Monogram Lugosi film THE INVISIBLE GHOST (1941), another PD title we all saw constantly on TV back in the 70s and which made no sense at all for kids too young for 'nightmare logic' or Jungian archetypal psychology. But since we didn't understand a thing, in a way, we understood perfectly. The arcane occult coded language of adults was something we had to take on faith would make sense to us eventually, for now we just soaked it up and waited for monsters, if any. Sometimes we came home empty-handed. For GHOST, the best we got was Lugosi killing people by putting his coat over their heads while they slept. Sometimes Lugosi was enough for us all by himself, but not this time. The one thing that registered: how sad it was to see him eating by himself, talking to an empty chair. And meanwhile it never occurs to him the ghost outside might really be his wife, not dead after all.

One guilty patriarch's mad wife in the attic is another's ghost on the lawn

So, yeah, there's a lot of the same contradictions and cross-current enigmas in THE TERROR, but such things make semiotically inquisitive post/modernists like Monte Hellman come alive. And the final cumulative impression of THE TERROR, when you finally do see the whole film, after all these centuries, on remastered Blu-ray, sober as a judge and mature from all your Antonioni and Bergman Criterion discs, is that it's a weird bittersweet reverie on death, memory and how film disintegrates when washed in a salt water flood tide lapping up against moldy stone.


Because in the end there is no right answer to what's really going on or who these people are, and that's the Hellman difference. Hellman is cool with it, he knows how to work enigmas. Every thread doubles back on itself, refusing to pick a side, until the strange and haunting ending, where it's just yet another beautiful girl's youth and beauty slowly peeling away in the tide to reveal eternity's twisted waxwork skull as the soul flies free as a predatory bird in the SEVENTH SEAL dawn. When all is revealed as melting clay returning to the sandy foam of the Pacific, then the world will be seen as it really is, not meaningless but so packed to overflowing with meanings and counter-meanings and alternative deconstructions and author intents and last minute story changes that all meanings are there at once, exposed on the forked rocks.

Ironic then that it had to be pulled from the sludge, cleaned up and digitized before we could savor its analog tactility.


If "Monte Hellman's THE TERROR" still doesn't resonate with a profound metatextual dimension, consider its ambiguous 'collapse of identity' aspect as not accidental, but as creating an ancestry, a back story, for Hellman's acclaimed existential western THE SHOOTING (1966). It was Hellman's first western, and he filmed it back-to-back for Corman (but without Corman's influence or presence), with the more recognizably 'genre-specific' RIDE THE WHIRLWIND, out in the Utah desert. With colors recently remastered for the Criterion Blu-ray, under the eye of Hellman himself, the two films look better than they probably ever have, even on drive-in screens (where they were created to be, as a cowboy double feature). They were the first films Hellman had made in the States since working on THE TERROR (he made two films, also starring Jack Nicholson, in the Philippines). Warren Oates stars as a bounty hunter recruited by an enigmatic young woman (Millie Perkins) to find his brother who supposedly ran over a kid back in town; their journey takes us from nowhere to farther out into the desert wasteland, until all is abstract, and the only constant is death by dehydration or the gun Jack Nicholson a hostile young turk in black who's clearly along to kill Oates' brother, maybe. He's not saying and there's never any connection between Oates and the girl. Oates agrees to handle it, but does she think he did it? Did he and just has amnesia?  Is he really going to let her kill his brother or try to talk her out of it en route? Or does she plan to kill him deep in the wasteland where no witnesses but vultures can see?

She stays a mystery. In this it especially echoes THE TERROR in the way the characters seem adrift somewhere between life and death, outside the normal confines of civilization and its consensual notion of reality. It starts in a recognizable location, a mine, with a tent nearby, but there's never any 'town' with a sheriff, nor bar fight, nor whore house (that we see). There is only alien primordial terrain, characters hoping their forward movement will mask their amnesia. Like Karloff's character in THE TERROR, Oates here may be finding his brother for the alleged crime or he may actually be the guilty one and can't remember, or won't tell us, and one regularly wonders if even he knows the difference. Meanwhile he's threatened by young punk Jack Nicholson, who is clearly enamored of the unknowable 'woman' to the point of murder.

It's this terrain-based amnesia that makes THE TERROR and THE SHOOTING readable as parts one and two of a very strange textural existential genre meltdown Hellman trilogy (along with 1971's TWO-LANE BLACKTOP), a strange mirror to Antonioni's trilogy of BLOW-UP (1966), ZABRISKIE POINT (1970) and--also with Nicholson--THE PASSENGER (1975). In TERROR,  the plot twists are layered back on themselves, then unwound back to separate fibers as if time's moving diagonally backwards; THE SHOOTING's movement is outwards, never back, never up or down, just out into the white blankness of the desert, until its far too late to turn around (or reach any outpost civilization); TWO-LANE BLACKTOP by contrast manages to keep in almost constant motion along America's back roads and highways without going farther than a few inches inward or outward. A marked step up in art house complexity from THE SHOOTING (which was itself a step up from TERROR), in TWO-LANE Warren Oates is back, as a GTO driver who sees each new hitchhiker as a chance to change his backstory. The plot hinges on a weird friendship / cross country race between GTO (as Oates is called in the credits) and the "Driver" (James Taylor) and "Mechanic" (Dennis Wilson). They have no backstory at all, but when the dust finally settles on 70s cinema, it will be TWO-LANE BLACKTOP that wins the pink slip. All else is vanity. (See Stillness in Motion: CALIFORNIA SPLIT / TWO-LANE BLACKTOP).

Mystery thy Name/less Woman

Sandra Knight ("Helene / Isla The Baroness Von Leppe")  - THE TERROR (1963)
Millie Perkins ("Woman") - THE SHOOTING (1966)
Laurie Bird ("the Girl") - TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971)

Again as in THE SHOOTING and TERROR, the enigmatic multiple readings confound but intrigue. This time we wonder whether Hellman's love of open-ended existential landscape wanderer identity-collapse was fueled maybe by Antonioni's 60s films, or was there the need to situate Corman's low budget 'shoot first make sense later' raw material in some kind of framework, and nothing lets you cut corners like being 'enigmatic'? When you're falling, dive! Did Julian Schnabel break a dish by accident, and decide to use it in a painting, or did he break the dish on purpose? Answer: Crash!

Either way, a style is born.

"The Patients and the Doctors" (detail - c. Julian Schnabel)

By the end of Hellman's trilogy, we know for sure that he's finally reached the 'break with breaking' point as TWO-LANE BLACKTOP runs into an abrupt and final apocalyptic projector jam celluloid burn (which one day, far in the future, will mean nothing to audiences who've never even seen a film projector, but for whom this movie glows as if brand new), the ultimate fusion of experimental, narrative, pop culture, and metatextual Mecha-Medusa media formatting.

But it's been a long road to that apotheosis along those two fronts, the meta one being a result of the first two films enduring decades of public domain (or in SHOOTING's case, pirated) dupes, and BLACKTOP encountering legal troubles due to lapsed royalties on a Doors song heard for less than a minute, mirroring the decomposition and erosion of Helene's face (or rather, Corman's drizzling carmel syrup on Knight's face to save money on make-up effects) mirroring the billion year-old erosion of the stones in the Utah desert and its scorching emptiness in THE SHOOTING, which mirrors the vacant highways of BLACKTOP, mirroring ever more blurry and washed-out duping, now recently replaced by gorgeous remastered Blu-ray. The vistas in THE SHOOTING are now staggering, dwarfing the people traveling through them while mirroring their actions in the way the stars predict our fates and vice versa.

THE SHOOTING: In nice remastered form
that old Madacy dupe

I remember seeing the shitty SHOOTING Madacy disc awhile ago and imagining how great it would look if ever seen in the proper formatting and with colors restored instead of the muddy muffled blur it was on that crappy disc (Madacy may you die a thousand deaths). But now that this has been done and I have both THE TERROR and SHOOTING Blu-rays, I can't help but feel they miss something that those blurrier 4:3 crops had, and what they miss is the protective fog, the boozy cushion of crumbling, outmoded non-digital reproduction, the protection from real life offered by the abstracting bath of video to video to video-to-video, that oceanic whip of disintegration, the law of the universe of everything disintegrating into chaos until all is white as snow and wan and gone...

From HD to PD: THE TERROR (1963)

If I had the artsy time, I would edit a 'dissolution edition' of THE TERROR into a cohesive 'unfinalized' cut. I'd make an edit that starts for the first half hour or so with the new widescreen HD remaster, then devolves to the widescreen new DVD, then the old shitty PD dupe, and my copy of that old PD dupe, and so on down the ladder of quality and formatting... until it's as impossible to see as those old dupes of dupes that Max and I made in college, while drunk, from our two connected VCRs and then never watched, and eventually threw away. I think, then, it would all make sense, kind of like Bill Morrison's DECASIA, but in reverse:

What initially appears to simply be a surface effect that is not a feature of this world rapidly begins to suggest otherwise: that the decay we see twisting faces, burning bodies, and cutting holes in the world is not just the effect of time on nitrate film stock, but rather an inherent feature of the world itself rupturing the imaginary divide between then and now. The ravages of time apparent on this film are also the decay inherent in the world it depicts, and a part of the world that produced these images." - Michael Betancourt [Dread Mechanics: The Sublime Terror of Bill Morrison’s Decasia (2002) - Bright Lights 1/14/15)
In other words, as media moves forward into clarity of HD, the past moves into a murk, the dissolving coherence of the image mirroring in nitrate clouds Hellman's vanishing point ambiguity. I'd add that the Blu-ray of DECASIA itself might be factored into this. Very old celluloid after all decays in very trippy ways which on Blu-ray are impossibly beautiful, abstract in ways no lifetime spent learning After Effects or Final Cut could match. The compromise of the media formats of lesser quality in the century between the nitrate of the '10s and the Blu-ray of the our new '10s aren't as aesthetically gratifying: streaky, not aesthetically pleasing or artsy in the DECASIA sense. In fact there's just such a video! VHS GeneraTion LOss! It has its own weird poetry...this is my generation!!

But even that stays incomplete.
The eternal flow will never dry,
but drip Knight flesh-like,
clips from the drive-in TERROR
 intertextually screened there
by Peter Bogdanovich
during the Aurora-esque 

And THE TERROR's exquisite cadaver
refracts ever further from its border.
There's no melting Baroness can end
Post-Modernism's funhouse lathered mirror runoff.
Only Orlok /Karloff, stepping down
from limo seat and screen to
cane crazy Bobby, stalls the carnage.

Even then, no end,
any more than an ever-forking 
hydra capillary river
which--even dried to the flapping whirling played-out reel
and the white block of screen mean an end to all film.
Flooded to the gyre-circled cliff's stark edge,
it never unspools in full,
even breaking the apparatus
only makes a broken apparatus po-mo sculpture display,

destined to run long past it original length, permuting
past its 20s gallery opening, its wrong bent
long since
ceased to shock
and now just boring art history freshmen,
one of interminably endless screened

And still its taloned hawk truth
affixes anima anchor barnacles
to the Big Sur Prometheus, stuck deep into crack.
Hear the groaning and sloshing of the seagull tides
up his old crevasses, and through his cavern eyes?
How twisted deep the bloody shadow path
between his glossy, mossy rocks?
His liver,
like the liquor,
is gone
but still post-modernism's waves
lap / screech on.

 Rewarding only stereogram-staring patience:
the perfect meditation-intent-determination-entheogen-paranoia combination
the perfect showtime...
one night a decade.
Oh Young and Saucy One,
Oncle Promethesarus,
here comes the Orlocked projector...

free yourself with fire, white dupe!
BLAM... "Blam"

You are forgiven
in advance
for living past
the living past.
Whatever you are or aren't,
not while one spare bulb somewhere
in this cold closet waits,
unpecked, unlaid,
for thy cold lens' threading glow--like crows
staving for the gore
of Prometheus' greatness--
there is no end
to decay's grand show.

You are for.....given
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