I started to write about Ben Wheatley's disturbing KILL LIST (2011) and how British cinema's so edgy and America's so lamely safe, even when it's trying to be naughty cheeky. But if I think about KILL LIST my paranoia leads me straight to the Illuminati and mind control, ala EYES WIDE SHUT meets MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and then I got to write about the alleged 'entrance fee' into the inner circle: child sacrifice or violation, which 'binds' one to the devil and subject the victim (if they survive) to the dissociative traumas used in brainwashing. The big question of course being which is reality? Are the 'buried' memories uncovered in hypnotic regression merely glimpses into the collective subconscious, reaching up like Satan's hoof through the thin ice created by the removal of the conscious mind's rational obstruction, the way, say, it does via fever hallucinations, sleep paralysis, the afternoon nap, childhood nightmares, and dissociative cover memories induced by severe trauma? (That last one of course being the most devious double bind in the Satanic Ritual Abuse canon?)
I'll tell you the gist: Wheatley and his longtime collaborator and co-writer Amy Jump (the Debra Hill to his Carpenter, the Gale Ann Hurd to his Cameron) create a mood of cheery kitchen sink naturalism that makes the subsequent descent into ceremonial strangeness all the more disturbing, in ways Kubrick could never quite manage (the more Kubrick tries to depict 'chummy' the eerier he gets). Neil Maskell stars as Jay, the laziest hitman in town, trying to loaf around with wife and son, and dodge a job coming his way via his partner Gal (Michael Smiley, who also appears in the eerily similar BLACK MIRROR episode "White Bear"); Nordic alien hybrid Myanna Buring (THE DESCENT) wants him out of the house and back in the saddle. Fine, but Gal comes by for dinner and lots of drinks with a strange new bird, Fiona (Emma Fryer) who marks the back of his bathroom mirror with an arcane symbol... That's all I can say, except the super eerie drone score by Jim Williams gives even a simple torture murder a nightmarish edge far ungodlier than just seeing brains bulge out of a cracked skull.
Meanwhile, I've been having a series of mild panic attacks watching ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Season Three, man. No one escapes the trauma of continual self-realization on that show, and it's too well acted and written, and I can watch too many in a row so that soon I can't distinguish fantasy from reality anymore, which in turn reminds me of KILL LIST again, because that's what indoctrination is all about -- breaking down a person's mind and distancing them from the collective 'concrete' reality so they're receptive to programming in order to activate the inner killer. Ever since being dragged to a dry frat rush as a freshman at SU I've harbored a streak of horror and hatred towards the baser elements of the masculine species. And when a man like me is all hopped up on depositions or depictions of rape and sexualized misogyny, I'm ready to go stomp anyone with Greek letters on his sweatshirt. Amp it up a little more, dissociate me so that I think I'm just vividly imagining a heroic role in a vigilante rape-revenge picture and I'm ready to kill... ready and set and waiting for the starter pistol.
There's no word for this kind of ambient rage but it's potent, a justified TAKEN-esque homicidal fury that heightens the senses. It's instinct. A good male populace patrols itself, and if a pedophile or frat boy violates a woman or child it's the job of 'any man that's around' to destroy him rather than hope the law can successfully complete its myriad incarcerating hurtles before the victim is destroyed by endless humiliating cross-examination. This instinct, to protect the weak, is innate in men, it is a good, courtly thing. And yet only a few 'pushes' more and it approaches the same mindset as the lynching, the fascist rally, and the riot. The biological urge to protect women and children and even animals taps or primordial homicidal well with a razor sharp Plainview milkshake straw.
Of course if it turns out the victim is lying, or the story is misreported for ratings, then we may have murdered an innocent man... but then it's no longer a drive-in trash spectacle, it's a self-important Stanley Kramer vehicle. We cut the rope, slink home, and wait for the inexorable hoot-hoot of Spence's approaching train in BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK.
|Bad Day at Black Rock|
I'm no racist, but would probably string up some of the creeps I read about if I had the chance, and the safety of numbers, and was properly drunk, so I need to recuse myself from writing about the Illuminati or Cosby, Polanski, and Allen. It gets me just too damn mad, for I have no target to vent this hostile rage upon, or the wherewithal.
That's why there's KILL LIST, which twists the Plainview milkshake straw to the primordial killer, tapping this collective 'good' male inner killer and the puncturing the sac, draining the jet black sperm of vengeance until all that's left is an empty sac under the igneous strata. Is that the whole point, perhaps, of all this evil in the first place? To provoke a response that will enable us to kill people on command (via post-hypnotic trigger word activated false accusation)? In movies like TAKEN the filmmakers tap that sac knowing we'll instantly be deeply focused on the narrative, that Plainview milkshake straw twisting like clockwork from our empathic response to Liam's mounting bloodlust until we're as fired up as Hotspur in HENRY V.
Only occasionally, as in MYSTIC RIVER or GONE BABY GONE, is the full futility of that fiery vengeance truly exposed, the ease with which it can blind you to the truth of a given scene. The girl who casually admits she was lying after you've already done the retaliatory assault, the abduction that turns out to be a benevolent rescue from the real source of abuse, it all forces us to confront the ugly truth of that primal response. In GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO on the other hand, we're so on the side of Lisbeth Salander that her liberal reporter friend's law-abiding humanistic hesitance at her full measure of retaliatory violence is seen by us with disgust, emblematic of how following society's rules is like being in a cult for some people, making them blind to their own self-preservation. And the result: we grow upset with mankind as a whole, rabidly against anything capable of creating such true vile sexual evil. Lisbeth is our redeemer, killing the men who need killing. When men are too stuck in passive wuss journalist mode, teaching us what it is to be a man and sickening us at the same time, the same way TOOTSIE did in reverse.
Other sources, like SIN CITY, are almost anti-misogynistic porn; women-hating creeps and pedophiles set up like nine pins to be disemboweled in vivid high contrast black and white. It's cathartic, but it also panders. One of the reasons I love old TV like CHARLIE'S ANGELS is that total absence of that sort of thing. If rape or child abuse cropped up on TV in anything made before the 70s it did so in 'special episodes' with much forewarning and the violence was abstracted (such as the candle being dropped in THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE). Now just watching LAW AND ORDER SVU is enough to give me an ashen sense of being brutalized by the system as well as men in general, for weeks. In CHARLIE'S ANGELS a girl might be tied up and kidnapped but she's never sexually abused once so (other shows like the later hour-schedule POLICE WOMAN might be different, that show's way too intense for me). HBO programming like GAME OF THRONES and SOPRANOS meanwhile is so rapey I can't watch it at all. For example: In Season three of SOPRANOS, Lorraine Bracco's character is brutally raped in the stairwell just so the rapist can get off on a technicality and she can be presented with the option of telling Tony Soprano about it so he can kill the guy. She decides not to tell him, thinking herself some great hero I'm sure, but of course leaving the rapist free to continue brutalizing women who don't have the mob recourse. Naturally--it being HBO--the rape is brutally graphic and well acted--and exists solely to create this moral quandary, to challenge our response--is she the weak one (protecting her attacker like an abused wife) or the strong? (not giving way to the thought of revenge?)
In 70s films on the other hand, this kind of shit happened to your wife and child and the vengeful vigilante as hero was born, guiltless and unbroken. The legal systems presented in these films preferred to trample on the weak and innocent rather than risk even offending the sleazy murderers who walks off scot-free every time due to some minor technicality. As in the SOPRANOS, the D.A. would rather harangue Dirty Harry for his off-book mauling rather than try to get the Zodiac off the streets. The biggest, meanest, most New York of all the 70s urban vigilante movies was DEATH WISH, a vile yet huge hit that led to a score of imitators, the best of which is Abel Ferrara's MS. 45. (above) On the other hand, that female avenger's sin is then 'absolved' and dissolved through her nun's habit into the raped nun in his BAD LIEUTENANT (below), where she forgives her two rapist attackers while everyone in the city fantasizes about catching them and beating them to death in front of their parents. Once again, raping a 'good' woman ensures you're not only forgiven and go unpunished, but that she'll consider herself a saint for not getting even (her other option is to go insane, and find God through Joan of Arc-style bloodshed). In a way the rape victim in these films is bound to get revenge on one group or another, either on the attacker/s through violence--direct and personal (since cops are useless due to liberal legal restraints)-or on all the other innocent girls, potential rivals, that will also be destroyed by these creeps in nights to come, as they pillage their way around the neighborhood, unchallenged.
Sorry to go off like that. This kind of shit really gets my goat, as so many of my friends in college were raped their freshman year at frat parties --and when we men wanted names so we could go bash them--the girls all refused, wanted to protect them and what's done is done blah blach backhh... And so many decades later, and having become a total recluse in my off hours, my comfort zone has narrowed down into a tight strangling shroud. Besieged and eaten away by death, money, and employment all changing and shifting, riding the lifeboat of the televisual, these unresolved issues really stir my hackles with rage.
And yet... when in the throes of sexual excitement, what is the fantasy (either spoken or read or performed) that works time and again to bring both parties to orgasm? That's right. I don't even want to say it, so I'll just quote Camille Paglia, who helped me first make peace with this terrible dichotomy:
"Feminists, seeking to drive power relations out of sex, have set themselves against nature. Sex is power. Identity is power. … My theory is that whenever sexual freedom is sought or achieved, sadomasochism will not be far behind. Romanticism always turns into decadence. … The search for freedom through sex is doomed to failure."In other words, as women become more forceful as a workplace presence, their penchant for masochism rises (just as many top CEOs are often into being dominated at BSDM parlors... it's the freedom of total capitulation - of not having all decisions taken away, if only for an hour). This is the roller coaster that once the bar comes down, there's no getting off no mater how much you plead and struggle.
As Skeet says in SCREAM: "Life is a movie, Sid, you don't get to pick your genre." One's life (if you're me) starts out a warm hearted family film, becomes a high school alienation downer, a war movie, a tragedy, a college-set sex and drugs concert film, and then a young couple comedy, then a break-up drama again, a comedy, a drama, a romance again and again and finally the narrative shrinks all together into one of pure and unending horror, and one must begin drug and alcohol recovery. In a horror movie "sex equals death." In a sense childbirth is death as well, death of an old paradigm of self, and isn't that all death is anyway? Yeah but talking to God as you understand It and getting the lord in your heart can lure you right into a nice family movie again. Boring, but safe, you're not stuck as the grumpy uncle or a landlord while young people slowly accrue, ever younger, pushing you right on out of the door of your own house and into a nice pine box or crematorium. You're part of them, and of all life, and all is one big comfortable white cloud with heavenly Tami Briggs harp music, all without having to actually spawn oneself or shun, surlily, children as a class. Surely your unborn children are grateful to be spared the inexorable SOYLENT GREEN future. of play dates, tiger moms, bulletin boards, of the bar coming down on that endless roller coaster of changing genre, long upward climbs and sudden downhill drops.
Now, sober and vulnerable, I personally go out of my way to have never seen LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, IRREVERSIBLE, or any of the TAKENs, any white slavery documentaries, THE HUNT WITH JOHN WALSH on CNN, any of the ID programs not DEADLY WOMEN or WIVES WITH KNIVES and so forth. We watch a lot of DEADLY WOMEN. One thing I've noticed... these women con dumb bleeding hearts like me into killing husbands and fathers all the time, via, what else? Fabricated stories of systematic abuse.
Luckily I live in an age where it's easy to cocoon oneself in a unique patchwork quilt of one's own curation. The result is, I watch a lot of El Rey channel and TCM, avoid all button-pushing true crime abuse-of-the-innocent sagas, and listen to mixes I create that never end and can't tell one ninety-pound chalk-white dude in suspenders and tiny fedora or Children of the Corn hat playing a standup bass or mandolin from the other, nor would I wish to. As a result, unless I get stuck watching THE VOICE, these anemic high-voiced smarmy pishers escape my fury and doubts about the future of masculinity outside Australia.
A guy in my day would have been beaten soundly for being such a wuss, and as a result nerds like me became manly... because that's what men do- we patrol ourselves--stomping out the sign of weakness in our kind (and preying on women and children is the worst weakness of all). Now that it's such a serious crime to harass these dudes, and there's no cigarettes around to make them cool or deepen their voices, these high-voiced needle legged hipsters are just long keystroke or guitar poke fingers, ears with little white 'ear buds' in them, and clunky glasses reflecting some glowing screen or other. Where is their goddamn crippling anxiety and self-loathing? Why did Courtney Love even bother getting sober?
And now... demons.
The goal of demons is beyond just possession, but to create in general a backlash against all spirituality. When priests or beloved childhood figures like Michael Jackson, Cosby, etc. are revealed to be sex offenders, our sense of trust in our fellow man dwindles. The devil takes steps to rob us of the ability to enjoy God's grace. Overpopulation makes even the beauty of childbirth seem selfish. The animals we love to eat are given soulful sad eyes all the better to haunt us with--all various components of the devil's plan to shrink our soul from wispy stratus clouds into contracted dense purpose cumulonimbus so when it rains (i.e. you die) the soul falls, and the water is collected for Hell's steam engines that run the THEY LIVE mind control force field. The agony of collected souls is trapped in its own isolated battery cell, then slowly burned into nonexistence to fuel the steam engine that keeps them in dominion over us.
Human sacrifice involves the idea of throwing another soul under the bus to escape being ground up oneself in the steam engine, being able to hold onto one's evil self, the liquid condensation of the evil ego making all sorts of harmful deals rather than surrendering.
But there is in the end, on the macro level needed to dig where I'm coming from, one soul, so every victory of the demons is another square mile of our precious rainforest lost. That's why we, when our souls are rising and almost up and out of the wheel of woe, so often turn around and go back to help others along. I've done it three times already!
And once I'm back down, buried under the mystery misery I always kind of regret that decision, or rather the ego, which returns, inevitably, convinces 'me' to regret it. The 'Me' who regrets isn't the me who made the choice to stay, it's the difference between a terrified kid on his first day of school and a graduate with a million friends, or the difference between a selfish thug and the benevolent social worker trying to reach him. You can't get to heaven without becoming a selfless love thug. The trouble is that once you're that selfless, you hesitate to go to heaven when so many of your denser soul fellows are still suffering. The rich man can't enter the kingdom of heaven anymore than a camel can go through the needle, etc. Once unburdened by wealth, the needle threader pauses and looks back. Is this wisdom, compassion, or another devil sucker play? Is there a difference?
(1976) Dir. Frank Agrama
God bless British women, British Actresses... for they are in inspiration to men the US over in the hopes that their own girlfriends, actresses, wives, and mothers might be assertive, witty and capable without needing to drag a man down to get there, without becoming a bitch (or c-word) in the process, without mistaking the voice of assertive self-resolve for the voice of browbeating and joyless aggrieved harangue. There's very few shrill Annette Bening types in Britain (or at least British actresses - and the Brit women I've met and partied with). American women (again, this is all in films, mind you) are either simpering objects or rugged bitches, or both--either way their feminine flair is lost when they make the move to GI JANE/Ripley in ALIENS-ism, except as far as motherhood, protecting the nest. But in England, with its rich history of S&M (borne perhaps of their brutalizing school system), women are badass and still sexy -- they smoke and drink and don't sweat their carbs in shallow pools of gossip, and while our women are browbeating their husband for having a faint odor of cigarettes on his clothes, Brit women are saying ah fuck-off and give me one. Didn't we know all this as kids when we first beheld the toothsome Emma Peele in THE AVENGERS? And now, rather late in the game (De Laurentiis sued to hold it up), is QUEEN KONG.
Its young hot female cast is sublime -- barely a man in the whole thing, but QK has two slight problems: 1) its bawdy 'Carry On' brand of cheeky humor doesn't translate well upon leaping across pond and decad; 2) it may have the lamest ape suit in the entire history of lame ape suits--looking like it's just a bunch of fake fur throw rugs stapled together--but damn it, movies with reversed genders (where women are strong leaders and men all fey weak objects) are few and far between. We must cherish every single one. The whole men in drag thing is not the same, and gets old fast and seems more and more sexist as time goes on (if done for comedic effect rather than as a lifestyle choice and because the male comics don't want to share the stage), while the sexy broads acting like they're the dominant strong class and men just few objects of beauty is fresh as can be (think Shakespeare's TAMING OF THE SHREW and Kate praising the youthful maiden faire bloom of the old man on the road to Padua) as if it's still too controversial to even imagine, and that's cuz 90% of men are weak-ass pussies afraid of a aggressive tall broads with cigarette holders and razor wits, broads like there are in QUEEN KONG.
It's telling too that QUEEN gets abysmal ratings (3.4 on imdb), when shittier films get as much as 3.5 or 3.6. Hunted and despised just for being terrible, it's suffered for its progressiveness. It can stand with the utterly unavailable anywhere ALL THAT GLITTERS (Norman Lear's ill-fated 1977 soap opera imagining this same women-in-charge world) and the British-West German co-production STAR MAIDENS (1976 - same year, tellingly, as the QUEEN). Clearly 1976-7 was a high watermark in the depiction of alternate realities where women were stronger than men. And all three examples are either unavailable or despised, tellingly, for our sexist world is clearly slow to change its patriarchal mindset, scared to even imagine an alternative. So when we stumble onto something like QUEEN KONG, it's a blessed relief. Some of that terrible KILL LIST Plainview straw rage melts away when delivered into the hands of assertive British women. Valerie Leon, so assertive and imperious and sexy in BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB, is a favorite in this regard. So when I learned she was in QUEEN KONG, I had to see for myself. That said, she's almost unrecognizable - she's lost some weight and is wearing disco-level make-up, spouting offensive ooga booga lingo, and the print on Amazon Prime is royally messed up.
"Why does she want me?"
|Leon in PREHISTORIC WOMEN|
"She wants you to because you look like Doris Day."
"Who's he?"The leading lady is Luce Habit (Rula Lenska), Britain's answer to Zsa Zsa Gabor or Peggy Hopkins Joyce. At least that's what we figured back in the 70s when she got off a plane like we were supposed to know who she was in an Alberta V0-5 ad. Our not knowing set a chain reaction to the point she was canned by her agent. But all that's in the future. Here we learn she's a grand comedian if nothing else. As Luce Habit she's the Carl Denham of the narrative, offering her loving protection to her shanghaied boy (she drugs him after catching him stealing a KING KONG poster in the Fair, slings him over her shoulder in a sack, and makes for her vessel, a little tugboat party vessel of a thing). She even carries some joints for him. In short, Lenska's Luce Habit is a great camp diva delight as "the biggest producer (of B-films)... with love interest... in the business." In fact, her wry delivery of intentionally terrible lines reminds me a little bit of my own in
Of course they eventually wore out the schtick, at least for me. I liked the JAWS dance but when a lame shark shows up with lipstick and breasts and a big sign around her neck it's a good sign this shitshow's going to collapse long before it's officially over. I confess that I stopped watching after two tiresome battles in the jungle section of old QUEEN. And there was one too many leering Benny Hill ass shots and just too damn much of that damn moth-eaten 'lady' apesuit. But how often do we get a movie that's nearly all female - just a few baggy pants weirdos on the island and the rest either Luce's chorus of leggy bikini models or the all girl Nabonga tribe.... it might be gayer than John Waters and campier than 60s BATMAN but once we're just forced to reckon with this truly wretched ape suit and papier mache monsters; I just couldn't let it go on. I had to stop and take a nap. That's show biz.
And hey, both QUEEN KONG and KILL LIST are British so it all ties together. I wouldn't go so far as to say wonderfully but it's there, because my brain is always making connections to random unrelated events, and its susceptible as hell to the mad loop of conspiracy theory. Unless maybe I'm about to charge into battle or office and need a speech about how the enemy or immigrants are raping our women and children, I don't need or care to have that Plainview milkshake straw tapped and manipulated. It doesn't do me a bit of good. I'm for the kind of killing where the dead person gets up a moment later and takes a bow. It helps avoid trauma to see the fakery of death. The genius of actors like Arnold is we never really take him seriously. We can't distinguish between the real and the vividly imagined, but in keeping everything fake and weird, our narrative immersion dissolves and we're symbolically freed from the drama of our lifetime movie.
When we decide our movie's a comedy, any grim circumstance is just the jet black ink on the page. Past Buñuel and Kubrick, the sans-eyes darkness devours all but your whistling, so make the tune brave, lads. Something from Joyce, mayhap, Oh I was a day in Portlairge, there was wine and punch on the table. God hears our complaints and can only roll His one red eye and hope none of the other mothers at the supermarket judge Him for having such brats as we. It's not fair and we didn't ask to be born, and all the evil, suffering and destruction in the world, all heard by Him as whining about an early bed time or booster shoot, or ye auld yucky Brussels sprout.
As far as God's concerned: the phrase 'no atheists in a foxhole' explains war's entire existence.
And when we take off our masks at the end of our film, like we receive his indulgent applause, the patient father, with only the merest of notes. Godard would know how to save QUEEN KONG: Have Kong slap the pterodactyl's head off (above), or rather the headpiece, to show a saucy human girl inside (ala Ms. Dietrich in BLONDE VENUS) but THEN --have the fight still go on. The girl rampages through the jungle, as if still gigantic. She slings Ray over her shoulder and hauls him up into the sound stage catwalk, singing "Tous les garçons et les filles." Queen Kong looks up as they disappear into the shadows, shrugs, sits down on a screaming native and starts smoking a cigarette, pausing to smash a miniature tank which explodes in a ball of fire. Dividing lines between all textual levels and the real: CUT!