Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

If I were a guest TCM Programmer 2 - THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE, GET CRAZY, FACE BEHIND THE MASK



My last virtual TCM schedule was such an excess they said add another - and I never say no to a menage-a-trois, I just run home to call my sponsor. Or hide in the movies, and no movie hides you better than the three-plus hour opening film chosen here. Which Criterion should release on DVD, but they don't. They haven't. And it's not nor are the other two on DVD at least in North America, not even DVR, and yet all are essential! Let us not forget these brothers in the shadows of the shadows. Alongside my 2012 entry, advocating John Huston's FREUD (1962), Howard Hawks' CEILING ZERO (1936), and two films that have since come out on DVD-R, COBRA WOMAN and DISHONORED.  here she is, my Friday Night Guest Programmer fantasy. May they all come soon, so i can turn over and find a new delusion.


THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE
1973 - dir. Jean Eustache

I haven't seen it since it screened at Lincoln Center back in 1999, but even at 31/2 hours and in grainy black and white it stuck in the hearts, minds, and nostrils of a theater full of foul bourgeoisie; it was pretty great, hilarious, touching, and helped break me up with my then-wife by convincing her I wanted a menage a trois with my hot blonde friend from AA, even though I didn't (just wanted to sip the JVS well of masochistic sexual tension) And so denied it, and made her think she was crazy and didn't even hook up with said AA girl after my wife left (the first time). You think I should have gone for it? It's pointless to regret it now! But I will praise this film to high heaven for its effect on my marriage- it delivered me from still waters. And not just because it made me feel all artsy (since I was covering it on my first-ever critic job) before I even knew who the bourgeois were, but because my first long-term post-marital affair was with a beautiful married Frenchwoman who'd come by my place after work for cinq a sept and bring me bonbons and coffees. As for the film itself, it was 13 years ago I saw it but I know I laughed at least once and only had to move three times to different sections of the theater to get away from bourgeois eaters with their clickety dentures, cheeses, and whispering nannies (this was right before the dawn of cell phones, thank god). Luckily the packed Walter Reade was almost empty by the time the film was over. Even cheese-eating bouregoisie have to get up and read their New York Times on the way 3 train in the morning. But not me. I took the 6, to the C, to the G!


Maybe it's so relatively unknown here because Eustache (left) killed himself shortly after completing it, and his only other credits were some slaughterhouse documentaries, so we don't have a pop culture icon face to go with him like we do for Truffaut or Godard, nor a vast oeuvre like we have for Rohmer, but he belongs in their ranks, for this film encompasses in spots all three of their styles: Rohmer's real time naturalistic three-way, Godard's May 68 brick-throwing and 'pop-bang-wiz!' And Truffaut's Jean Pierre Leaud, impossibly young despite Gauloises. And like all three: obsessed with sex, impotence, class-consciousness, and the kind egocentric humanism only the French can make work.

Leaud stars as Alexandre, a Parisian slacker who's still trading on his high profile in the riots of May 68, and keeping an "open" relationship with live-in girlfriend Marie (Bernadette Lafont). A sexy nurse comes along named Veronika (Francois Lebrun),  even more liberated than either of them. The three of them later try to make it as a menage a trois, but mostly they talk, drink, smoke, look good and play endless records on a cheap turntable on the floor, and 215 minutes of running time goes by faster than any five minutes of Last Year at Marienbad. Isabelle Weingarten is Alex's bemused ex, and Jacques Renard Alexandre's his male chum. The English subtitles were the dirtiest things I'd ever seen... up to that time.


FACE BEHIND THE MASK
1941 - Dir Robert Florey

(POSTSCRIPT: This is showing on TCM - June 20, 2015 -1 AM -EST)

Here’s a classic rarity that used to be shown a lot on UHF TV in the 1970s. If you love weird classic film then you too probably remember the first time you saw and heard Peter Lorre as a kid, it's like he reached across time and the TV with that velvet Siamese purr and starts whispering in your ear with the immediacy of your own wild kid dreams. Rarely did this great actor have a chance to star totally in a film – even as Mr. Moto he had to share to bulk of the screen time with bumbling comic relief, smugglers, and straight-arrow couples meeting cute, so to speak. But for director Robert (BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, MURDER IN THE RUE MORGUE) Florey and a budget of about eight bucks, Lorre gives it his all. Every scene no matter how paltry the set or set-up has a moody jet black pathos that as a kid really resonated with me, and still does.

It’s the classic rise and fall crime story, but the twist is that Lorre starts out just an idealist immigrant excited to seek his fortune through hard work in his new home, New York City. A great early scene is where Lorre's naive friendliness wins over an Irish cop, his immigrant joy as infectious as a dose of Capra concentrate. Instead, his first night in a hotel, he’s horribly burned in a fire and has to wear a thin mask over his face, otherwise he scares and horrifies everyone on the street. The make-up of the mask is ingenious, with Lorre’s face seeming just a little latex stretched over his skin, bunched up at the sides and Lorre's acting so good that in its inexpressiveness his face still says volumes. The deep philosophical and reflexive aspects of this situation seem unlost on either director or actor, who throw away almost everything extraneous, and deliver agonizingly humanistic pathos (with a great turn by George E. Stone as the Ratzo Rizzo type who befriends the shunned pre-mask Lorre). Even with blind girl Evelyn Keyes' love offering a doomed shot at redemption, it's never corny or mawkish (leaving even that Capra concentrate in the dust). Instead, Florey and Lorre take the same low budget of a Sam Katzman or William Beaudine Monogram and turns it into raw poetry, a cross between Sam Fuller punch-and-pathos pulp, Edgar Ulmer dimestore fatalism, and Nicholas Ray underdog dissolution, with Lorre dressed all in black with his hooded eyes, while with the sunny cheerful Keyes he's like Frankenstein by the lake with the girl, or a Bauhaus Weimar Caligari in the suburbs.

And it’s the best Lorre movie. Ever. He makes the most of it. Thanks to his velvety feline vocal delivery and his own weird real life looks keeping him from ever ‘getting the girl’ in films, no matter how many he’s in, Lorre’s scarred ugliness in MASK seems like the next logical extension. Like with Fuller and Ray it's a cinema of polar extremes, the warm moments have value because we know they're doomed, we know the despair of rejection and the joy of finding a friend, someone just as down as you are, but not out. As a kid I saw this movie a dozen times and loved it and yet feared it because it’s kind of a downer, as was another frequent local TV horror movie feature, THE BRUTE MAN, starring real life acromegaly sufferer way cooler because Rondo, God love him, was never much of an actor. It was where I first saw Lorre, as a young child when we got up so early for Saturday cartoons we'd see the second half of the late-late horror movies on local TV. There he was, this little guy with a weird face, tied to an airplane in the middle of the desert, ruefully welcoming the end. It's one of my most vivid and mysterious childhood memories. It's the perfect kid movie because it's all about the importance of being good to the little guy, the ugly kid, the lost immigrant, and raining comeuppance on those who are mean to you.  It's just not something kids would ever see today, anymore, alas, in the age of cable and Netflix. Their loss, just as MASK's digital unavailability is ours.


1983 - Dir Allan Arkush 

One of the greatest crimes of the digital era is the total unavailability of this midnight cult show classic, set during one long crazy New Years Eve at a kind of Fillmore, in a kind of 'everyone shows up to pay their respects to this imperiled classic venue' kind of setting. Allen Garfield is a kind of Bill Graham named Max Wolf, who's ailing and needs a fix of success. Lou Reed is a mercurial recluse rock god who's apartment evokes Dylan's "Bringing it all Back Home" record cover. He sings his "Baby Sister" over the credits, to a transfixed few after driving in a cab all night jamming out and uttering cryptic nonsense.

There's a Muddy Waters-ish blues legend named King Blues (Bill Henderson) who delivers one of the best badass eulogies in the history of funerals and later sings "Mannish Boy" a theme that echoes through the set lists of subsequent performers, like Mick Jagger-Bowie-Jim Morrison lizard king-ish icon Reggie Wanker, played so brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell you want to follow him into the Caligula dawn of drug-fueled moments of transcendental pagan abandon, the wild fury of the mosh pit, and onwards. There's a great Piggy Op-ish animal (Lee Ving) who urges people (including Paul Bartel) to dive off the balcony; a scabby punk rock poetess ala Patti Smith amidst a Runaways style scab band (above); a flooded bathroom with a shark swimming around it; a giant hypodermic; Daniel Stern pausing to inhale some smoke from a $1 hookah hit-sellin' Rastafarian in one of the stalls; a Satanic pimp alien coke dealer shows up when anyone says the magic word; magical LSD winds up in the water cooler; there's a crowd-surfing refrigerator; acid rock hippy freaks and twitchy punks grooving side by side; an uptight fire inspector, and that's just the tip of Malcolm's talking penis. "It's the beginning / of a new age" he notes - and as acid flashback sensory signals turn our saliva electric tangy, we believe him.  Now for gods' sake, solve the dumb licensing issues or whatever's holding this back and let it loose. Ding Dong! The wicked keg is dead!

1 comment:

  1. Lou Reed doing comedy in "Get Crazy" is definitely worth the price of admission on that one.

    I never knew this existed. Amazing.

    ReplyDelete

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