Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Troopers of the World, there is one Bug you can not beat: the Bug inside: STARSHIP TROOPERS, NAKED LUNCH, SCROOGED, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

(The following was written whilst whacked out of my gourd on the strongest drug in the world, withdrawal sickness, coupled to flu-like symptoms and twelveteen shots of knockoff brand Robotussin while trapped at brother Fred's house for Xmas. He lives in sunny Phoenix, AZ. Compared to NYC, my home, Phoenix is an armed camp. It swims in a deep unconscious trance born of desert wind chill, plentitude, and cordite. I was gonna scuttle this whole review as it's nonsensical and strange, but I wanted something to run next to my AMY (2015) review, to get that film's buzzkill taste out, I need something like HEAD after AMY'S LOST WEEKEND. So take the following for what it is, a deeply whacked Xmas poem, riddled with diseased insect sci-fi poetic film references, enigmatic but revealingly pretentious typos, and a profound realization borne from watching NAKED LUNCH and STARSHIP TROOPERS off Fred's savvy Tivo on Xmas at three AM (after SCROOGED)

As Bill Murray so egocentrically says "I get it now" Three films! Three ghosts. Three AM - Three 3s.  

Consider the randomness: One film is about a bitter TV network executive who has a religious experience after disgruntled employees (maybe) put LSD into his Xmas gin; the next film is a monstrous (latex pre-CGI) 'realization' of the insect hallucinations that accompany both hashish highs and opiate withdrawal, i.e. the 'Kafka high' rabbit hole, wherein one's typewriter takes on insect features and moans when you press its throbbing keys. The third film (with early, excellent CGI) finds giant insect aliens learning our secrets through drinking our brains like milkshakes (instead of vice versa, as in LUNCH). The sim of the three's moral: Beware your own response to the big bug you squash, for you squash yourself next, with a giant arachnid claw! 1/27/16

-- If yrt terllin; me that there's a difference, a fundamd,emta;a diffferemce. netwntwwme starsjip stroppp[ers amd Naked lunch, er lust, yr a lawyer and and I;m tellin hyou so

Put it another way - if there IS a difference between STARSHIT TROOPERS AND NAKED LUST then it exists only in the minds of MINOLTA, a Japanese company (dey bore dat into me, their Asian drill proboscis jingle).

Think about that, Mr. Farewell to Manzinar, Mr. Smarty pants peacenick vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzn Revenge comes dripping wildly in the shifty stick of the teenage kamikaze diver via bedroom high scores or USS Bismark Iwo Jima body counts.


Return of the Insectoid Meta-gaze, i.e. the projector watches you watch its
projection with its 3-color projector eyes from top: WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953),
THE VISITOR (1973),  STARSHIP TROOPERS (eyes as projector beams),
SCROOGED ("no eye in team" - just in the glass)


Would you like to know more?

There's no correct answer, for we're going to, KNOW MORE, that is, regardless. 

Starship Troopers - 1997
This post - present
NO more Regardless:
the whole terrifying endurance test of full-awareness is coming.
We shall inexorably, like a keel-hauled eyeball, KNOW MORE.
The conveyor belt of fascist indoctrination magnetized to our chains-
as snug as if we were pinned to the tunnel floor by an arachnoid claw,
awaiting the slow gurgling arrival of a brain bug on the 3D screen.

God or parents or Ford
convinced us of the space-time continuum's permanence.
Its row of inky black arachnid eyes behold us in the patterns within our urine-froth,
"I" first noticed 'em while gazing deeply into the froth of my piss at a party house toilet bowl
and then later in the beer from the keg, and the foam from a highball. 
Those bug eyes kept showing up, unblinking and drunkenly unafraid
and forgotten, filed away under layers of alcohol and potty training,
now returns with a probe to suck our brains dry as a keg and we
screaming all the while on the human conveyor belt: stop stop!
At least hit pause!
The bathroom pulls me from the bladder forth, the magnet of water to water, eye to eye


The "like to  know more" button is hit again and again, purse-taken, Stalling,
for the brain bug WOULD like to know how to SWAT God.
It may be a bug bit it knows just where to go for that knowledge,
knows just what fleshy tendril to hit the button with, to slurp the brain slushy cup
down to the ice--rattling in its spinal column tumbler
'til clatter shatter and scatter down to the plinth.
Jig again jiggedy Jigga JF Sebastian's Methuselah Syndrome alone
should warrant God's head be, by Batty, smartly swatted.

Naked Lunch

Life is but Death's slow yawn. 
Once it ends, he regains composure, his breath; betwixt the columns he flits,
like some gay brain donor; fancy free flitter, hitter of the snooze button again and
again snooze button
LAW button
NO snooze MORE butTON, (is the hand that makes) WOULD YOU LIKE TO...please, NO MORE!!!
Starship Troopers

The NO MORE Know More LITE button (the hand that heals) snooze NOT TO SPILL BLOOD
hit again ("Kiki come and see the parrots with me") LAW no more; he slurps your soul's slug white glop from the gurgling straws pushed down into your sleeping head; the sound of your own animal snore crashing like waves of liquid lead, along Poe's obsidian shore, my little lovey glovey...

Vot ISS da LAW?
O'er the Grampian Hills beyond beyond, Harryhausen stops time to move another dinosaur a quarter of a fraction of a 16th of an inch --by these measures the past creeps along through jungle kliegs.

(and once again, says weather on the one--we have cool conditions)

Cool as the keeper
of the LAW
hung from a tree, 
his beard glued for hours; a flag to--from its prideful fascist twisting--flee.

Weimar lock-stock to Hollywood's larder, Breen's censors barreling belief in their lust to even here swastika snip the decadent (Jewish) shadows from their UFA art.

The best thing about Verhoeven's ingenious and endlessly re-watchable masterpiece is the idea of an all-branches-of-military-service DNA imprint manual for fascist military mobilization. In America we didn't really get these until WW2. America's devout isolationism reflected greatly in all sorts of bitter anti-war tracts instead (such as the forgotten man pilots of John Monk Saunders). TROOPERS propaganda boilerplate goes only as far back as the early 40s and easily seeable semi-docs like GUNG HO, or B-17 STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS with the end of high school and the end of other various key moments in life shared by the representatives of labor (lion, roughneck), intelligence (scarecrow, gestapo), and passion/drive or heart (tin man, flight school) and the way all of the Earth has been homogenized into a tract that could be at home as a Japanese anime, a Nazi recruitment film, an Army or National Guard recruitment film, or an anti-war satire of any genre or age. Verhoeven's sense of irony is very Dutch and very abstract, coming from an--'ow you say eet?--"occupied" country? With nothing but windmills and spies, yes? Its borders easily tromped across, like an unarmed neighbor's lawn, to get around the La Linea Maginot.

this is your typewriter on drugs
But this could also even be a boilerplate movie for and about bugs, not human soldiers--"we're in it for the species, people." We've been at war with those suckers since the dawn of time. Only when we're finally ready to start eating them in force will we have a ticker's tape of a chance. Children, I was on the front line in the war against the Japanese... beetle, that is, in the 70s and if it wasn't for DDT they might have won. I'd get a dollar per jar, all captured and dumped into soapy water, until the jar turned dark yellow and the squirming stopped. Quite a lucrative occupation for an eight year-old during a major PA infestation. Would you like to know more about the slight itchy pain when they dug onto my childhood palms, the difficulty in getting them to let go? Did I learn a hint of masochism even then? I lay at night with a ten year-old's imagination conjuring turning the cute blonde girl Susan Salter in my class into an Amazon queen of the school and me her slave, crouching naked at her feet in chains. Weird but true...  I had my queen, and I her submissive consort, fit to die after mating if I ever found out what mating entailed.

Denise Richards, nailed to the cross of her passive viewing position - STARSHIP TROOPERS

My red state brother and his gun-crazy family and friends--as well as my liberal bleeding heart pinko east coast komrades--all agree on one thing, STARSHIP gets better with each viewing. No matter how many times you see it. Be it a satire or a genuine (as Heinlein apparently meant it) call towards dissolving of borders in favor of one global and eugenically fine-tuned communal military spirit, blessed with a conveniently abstracted enemy in an insect of the sort that may not be as evil as the higher ups paint (for a NWO hangs together by its extra-terrestrial foe, as Reagan said), at least if there's any ENDER'S GAME sequels, which I doubt. (its box office losses transcend comprehension: $100 Million Dead!)

The little tiny bugs inside your money

Next up in the Xmas Viewing Cycle: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

And the Song WE'RE IN THE MONEY.
I saw this time, in my delirium, a literal interpretation that made me giddy: Ginger Rogers and company as sprites, bugs, if you will, within the money, moving with the tick-tock military march rhythm, like a click-clock salvia divinorum dragon teeth zipper revolution through the space-time continuum thread counts. Literal gold diggers burrowing into the gold of coins themselves, literally little will-o-the-wispy mites 'in the money.' Little Midsummer Night golden sprites behind-inside every coin, the way the green fairy could be singing "I'm in the absinthe."

Where did the phrase 'in the money' come from and what are the similes? In the cool of the evening' - 'in clover' - 'in love'? It's not 'in the love' though, so more like some bumper crop that stays singular all through, like we're in the market or get in the game, I caught some fish. (You don't say "I caught Japanese beetle; get in game, we're in money... etc.)

a money sprite oscillates her 12 legs lures to hypnotize unwary prey
I know I said this, but life is still but Death's brief yawn, arachnid eyes in the urine froth, the chasm of blank urinal stare from which infant to elder crawling towards bathroom like flogged Christ doth breathe but brief; we in our robes like Lebowski, like Peter, Paul, and Prokofiev on his week off, but shadows that for awhile--while the byang root tea arrived on time--were comported almost like the barbarity that passes for civilized, but when the tea stopped due to mail mix-ups, we still had to fulfill the void, because that of yawning Xmas mail irregularities chasm of need, that King Kong Emperor Jones clanging on his hollow huffalumpagus skin drum, chanting madly to the bloodstream like an anguished and unassailed suitor, begging for alms and change and unchanging except to intensify like a slow building amp feedback squall with no volume limit and no off switch.

Not getting the cosmic joke makes the joke on you, and that's the whole joke--it is all there is, there's no actual joke beyond it being on you. So to feel hip, laugh your own laughter's mirthless rueful hollowness; as the flames consume Richard III and you become just another wAVE IN THE SEA-SKY CONTINUum (so you can at least avoid being seated next to him). The mark inside is the one mark you cannot beat, would you like to know more, you brain bug behemoth tottering towards me now in the guise of a pit-bull? How'd that song go?

Now, in the guise of the pit bull.
Tomorrow the guise of the floor where she lay.
Form of an avalanche,
Form of a water glass,
Form of a sailor stone-drunk every day.

Booze's bars closed down hard upon him
("kerPLUNK" was the sound they made)
and with a drowning howl did he comply
to the exit (hurrpy up plays- iTS's time)
and proceeded to haunt Davy Jones' Liquors (in LBI)
for it opened always to him.
Penny-eyed and seaweed wreathed, the early morning sunshine
on bottles glistening like DEEP morphine pearls in Nick Nolte's mits,
'til scraping enough off his barnacle billfold
bought him a pint pocket of air... just enough to get
up to a messy, sloppy speed...high
and how he breathed this song:

Now, in the guise of the lily
tomorrow the guise of the hay.
Form of a whiskey jar,
Form of an after bar,
Form of a drunk on the concrete, prostrate...

His saliva as thick as the oceans
to the tiny ass gremlins,
sprites in a sidewalk black chewing gum circle fairy ring
drown in the foamy surf of his drool.

And were there concrete pock-mark impressions on his cheeks when at last he rose? 

Probably, man.
He can't feel it.
Even drunk he comes to know more
than we'd like to remember ourselves.
Click the 'like' button not the "to know more" button, click the snooze button, click it to yourself, Bill. and member dis
Remember me, Cloris in DEADLY.

Cuz of course only the Spectral Relief Pitcher of Self Annihilation so terrifies our Babe Ruth ego he finally says: "Here Pee-Wee" (the nonegoic amorphous open-hearted self, the one vulnerable in its generosity, easily swindled by sad-eyed strait waif who keep the change tossed, and bring no fat goose to no Cratchett), "you go ahead and bat this once and I'll sit out the inning." Then, the mighty Pee-Wee lets fly and sends it out of the park, and the Pitcher vanishes! Freedom.

And if we've been a team dominated by its needy spotlight hog insecure star Babe Ruth ego all season, keeping Buddhist Pee-Wee on the bench permanently lest he either embarrass the team or outdo the star, then once Pee-Wee hits the homer, Babe Ruth comes running back to the field to take the credit for not taking credit. He needs to take that spotlight again and rant about how he "gets it now." He takes credit for not taking credit.

He gets it now... no wait, now he gets it.... wait...
"I get it now," says Murray at the prolonged wearying climax of SCROOGED. In grand 80s Cruise-narcissist man-boy tradition (though, really, the same "it's all about how great I am now that I finally realize it's not all about me" shit goes on in CASABLANCA, and everyone looooves that) we're expected to weep with joy at seeing an egotistical prick pull his head out of his own ass with the same awe as seeing Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, or De Mille part the Red Sea.

That ending has really dated badly but we used to LOVE it. In the time of the film, the Scrooge 80s it was the kind of thing people just didn't say. This was the era before Dr. Phil and Oprah, before children became the household tyrants, back when they were meant to be heard only in the basement until the haunted house was ready for the parents to be led through one at a time blindfolded, or failing that, to wait until the bridge game had wound down and they were drunk enough to be amused rather than annoyed by our prattle. This was a time when therapy was still a shameful secret and a kid had to commit suicide successfully before his parents would consider it.

In the 80s we considered that Leo Buscaglia love trip strictly 70s naïveté. Scrape 'em off, Claire--that was the 80s rallying cry. Arnold Schwarzenegger was our spiritual leader in so many ways, steam roller paving the Hollywood political trail blazed by the mighty Paul Ronald Reagan Bunyan (though everyone knew her as Nancy), in a backwards Terminator motion, icing the Sarah Connor pro-drug 60s-70s with the kind of "NO" bumper stickers that Lennon worked so hard to flank with a "K" and a "W" in YELLOW SUBMARINE. In vain, John - in vain, and in vein, and chest.








End Transmission

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Dirtbag Menace: AMY (2015)

What should it benefit the world if it should gain a talented jazz singer with an old soul, perfect pitch and a deep affinity with Ella and Monk, but then lose her to a tattooed snaggle-toothed dirtbag junkie in one of those goddamned mini-fedoras? Maybe we'd have been better off not to know her at all if means watching her make a slow-motion leap into the first smiling thresher that rolls past. The pain of our loss is so great there's only three things can stop it: crack, heroin, and sweet sweet booze. The things that make our fear of death bearable are the same things that kill us. Poison numbs the misery of being poisoned --this is the slow relentless clockwork coiling of the strangling python of addiction.

That's the pain of AMY, Asif Kapadia's chilling documentary about Amy Winehouse, which uses clips from her amply videotaped life, starting from her youth as an innocent Southgate shiksa with loyal friends, family, and the voice of a 40 year-old gold-piped diva, to straggly bulimic loping after a K-Fed-ish skeever. If we happen to be addicts ourselves and have read a few celebrity bios, then we might very well shudder with the realziation that perhaps glommers like her boyfriend (above) are the natural parasites of famous alcoholics. Even Lee Marvin had them, like lice, so tough guy stance has nothing to do with it. When you're drunk and stoned all the time there's not much you can do if a fast talking charmer locks in on you. Addiction has already taught you that the best way to live with yourself while slowly dying from your own lifestyle is to convince yourself you want to die in the first place. The egg's just an excuse for the chicken to sit around on its ass all day.

This is the realization that life's grim absurdity has all but demanded your slow sacrifice to it.

Jonesers and leeches come along like all the extra parts and warranties in the packaging of addiction. Never wanted, never asked for, but you don't throw them out since you may need them one day, when the shit don't even numb the pain of the shit's not working, and all your sane, sober friends are gone. This dirtbag glommer still asleep in your bed will mix your drinks for you, even lift them to your lips, even inject you with speedballs while you're already passed out. They'll never say a word about your 'problem' because they're part of it. They wouldn't be there at your side, access to your wallet unlimited, without it.

And when you're famous enough that passers-by feel you owe them a picture of you smiling next to them, and the paparazzi blind you with epileptic seizure inducing flash bulb light shows every time you peek your head out the door, what you want is someone who's going to keep you well insulated, warm and toasty in the twin orbit of narcissist neurosis, someone who can act as a 'cross-section of the American public' like Susan Foster Kane, or Joe Gillis, someone with whom you can play outlaw couple.

I've championed a lot of messed-up female artists (Lindsay Lohan especially) on this site. I've championed their right to revel in their time, to be ranked with the 'bad boys' rather than denigrated as 'skanks', warranting the pooh-poohing of the stern Puritanical popular Scarlet Letter press. But enabling is second nature to me. It comes from growing up with a heavy drinking dad whose rages always made me feel very very calm, as if I could counterbalance him through Zen stillness. So it's easy to see now that I've been to AA, and therapy, why I feel so relaxed and calm when in the striking radius of insane hotties, even as I shudder to see their insanity consume them in self-immolating hall-of-mirror narcissistic frenzy. It's far easier to criticize the brutal cost of our enabling pop cultural blind eye and schadenfreude than to make bad blood-boiling polemics on the near impossibility of holding onto your self integrity while surrounded by the flashbulb equivalent of the cannibal boys in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. Kapadia's film may damn the British tabloid press's insatiable demand for complaints against its insatiable demands or--with the wry guidance of indirect directions--show how such a feeding frenzy creates the very death and tragedy it craves--their sneering and mocking a defense for their rubbernecking the slow-mo car crash that is a vibrant 23 year-old pop star slowly devolving into a bulimic walking corpse--but it offers no alternative. In a way, the film itself is part of the problem. Film corrupts and films about the corrupting nature of film are not somehow double negative made positive, i.e. immune to that corruption.

It's all there in Winehouse's hit song, based on a real attempt by her friends to get into rehab, an attempt kaboshed by her enabling moocher dad. "They tried to make me go to rehab / I said no no no." Dad was the one who told her she didn't need to go, that she was fine (which, I admit is what my mom would have said in similar circumstances), that she had to do another tour so he could get his share as her manager. A man who was largely absent from her life until she became famous and he realized he needed to take care of her, dad's the real villain of the story, not the press. His enabling is out of control. He even crashes her drying-out facility with a camera crew and rags on her for not taking care of her public, and flying her --while unconscious from the night before-- to frickin' Eastern Europe for a show she didn't want to do. But she allowed him into her entourage! How could she judge her dad without judging herself? No wonder she fell for such skeezy men. And I know that feeling too well, because when soooo wasted you can barely walk, you don't know who your friends are, so you just have to trust the ones who seem to know you, from somewhere...

So if it's not the dirtbags', jonesers', and moochers' fault then whose? Slithering beneath it all, right down in our chromosomes, that's the enemy. The sensitive / artistic gene is the same one that falls prey to drugs, alcohol and eating disorders. Our own chemical imbalances, genetic addiction, depression is what makes us artists, man. It's as tied up in the wheels of the celebrity death cult as anything. You can always tell the hacks from the real artists because the hacks have no drug problems. AMY delivers this global socio-historical truth in such a clear and concise way that it makes me kind of ashamed for my advocating self-destruction on this site. On the other hand, I've never stood up for cocaine, heroin, meth or their myriad derivatives and these are the ones that kill most savgely. These terribly un-psychedelic drugs bleed all over the psychedelic warrior's noble shoes by association. Me, I'm a drunk too, and if I vow I won't drink again until Hell freezes over, rest assured I'll freeze it, somehow or other. It shall be frozen.

All in all, AMY is a hell of a harrowing portrait of what alcohol, cocaine, and fame can do to a sensitive artist and her real friends and comes recommended, though the decision to show the lyrics of her songs as subtitles--every single song--seems sophomoric, for these lyrics aren't especially detail-oriented, or so I'd tell her if she was in my creative writing class, if I had one, and she was in it. Without the lyrics onscreen, maybe her raw bluesy chutzpah could shine better, for me anyway. I didn't like Whitney Houston either for the same reasons I'm not a fan of Winehouse. It's like hey, pick a note and stay there, all that single breath octave climbing gives me a headache. Give me Leadbelly or Blind Lemon Jefferson for the blues, Give me an old rocking chair and a song like "In the Gloaming," and Stumpy can take the bottle away.

In case you can't tell, that last sentence referenced NIAGRA and RIO BRAVO. May you find them now, on DVD. And for all the still sick and suffering in and out of the rooms--see you in Hell. I'll be the guy riding the Zamboni.  Watching a poor girl disappear down the chute of bulimia and alcohol addiction just isn't the kind of thing one should be sober for.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reeling and Writhing: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)

Seldom seen since its 1933 limited release,  ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Paramount's champagne and hashish centerpiece, can stand on its head proudly, for it turns out to be awash in the same surrealist insanity that so scintillatingly varnishes the studio's peak pre-code '32-34 comedy output, i.e. MILLION DOLLAR LEGS, SNOW WHITE, DUCK SOUP and INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (1933 Paramount was, sez I, the best). For a long time we had to take it on faith that this movie was as boring as those few who saw it said it was. Well, now that it's all pretty as paint on TCM, it turns out those few were wrong.

All I know is that I would have flipped my lid to catch this ALICE on a five AM Saturday morning UHF station as an early-rising kid in the 70s (or an up-all-night acidhead in the 80s catching it on Night Flight). This is its rightful place. For the rest of us, in the age of cable and hydra headed options, we can at least imagine, or if we're old enough, remember back-ack-ack-ack.

Come with me then, back to a time before cable, before even Betamax, a time when there were three main channels (ABC, NBC, CBS) + PBS (Channel 12 in Wilmington Phila, Channel 13 in NY); and then local TV on UHF (a separate dial and antenna) which ran lots of weird stuff like Wee Willie Webber presenting Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot. Kids' TV was a big tent, lack of choices made us all much broader in our horizons. Rising up at the crack of dawn as a kid on Saturday mornings, a 5-AM late night PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE or VELVET VAMPIRE showing would segue into weird Z-grade European 'kiddie matinee' nightmares like RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS before finally morphing into stuff like HONG KONG PHOOEY and LAND OF THE LOST. This was our magic time, a solid three-to-four hour stretch with parents still asleep, sugary cereal creating a special mental space where the lingering images of dreams from mere minutes ago in bed would seamlessly into surreal late night monster movies segueing into early kid puppet show imagery.

And finally seeing ALICE on TCM the other night, I know it would have fit right in there, the living link between Seals and Marty Kroft shows, the Marx Brothers, and Ed Wood. That director Norman Z. McLeod (MONKEY BUSINESS, HORSEFEATHERS), screenwriter Joseph Mankiewicz (DIPLOMANIACS, MILLION DOLLAR LEGS) and set designer William Cameron Menzies (CHANDU, SVENGALI) have somehow alchemically combined all those influences and so it makes sense that now, in 2016, it all feels brand newer.

But I still haven't captured the vibe. Let me go back: can you remember when you were a small kid on some haunted house or pirate ride at an amusement Park, when everything was so much bigger and scarier as it was all so much more vividly imagined? You know, the feeling of cozy excitement in the darkness and cacophony? And maybe, like me, you imagined what it would be like to sneak out of your little car/log flume and into the elaborate animatronic forests on either side of the car/log, to get off at the corner and hide there, amidst the robotically moving figures and twisting anamorphic papier mache trees? Well, if there was a 1933 Paramountland, or a Fleischerland, with a ride through Max Fleischer's surreal pre-code classic dioramas, all rendered in black and white, and you were kind of stuck there--and, like Lisa Simpson at Duffworld, drank the acid-spiked water, and were hanging out with a spookily calm and fearless ten year-old blonde who dragged you off the flume long and around to all the little vignettes after the ride closed but the lights and engines stayed on--then you would have this ALICE IN WONDERLAND. And if that sounds like a good time, and if you love cheap rattletrap carnival haunted houses, and miniature golf courses, and psychedelic mushrooms, then with the help of Mankiewicz's absurdist wit, Carroll's trippy source material, McLeod's zippy unpretentious pace, and Menzies' surreal backdrops, this Boopland paradise for you, as it is for all the other acid-addled pre-code Paramount devotees who've had Mystery Cave dreams after too much rarebit or cold medicine.

Flash forward 15 years or so, to my late 80s-early 90s Deadhead/Floyd period --there was no better time of the night for an older kid like me than when the show was finally over, and I and my crew were safely home with the whiskey and VCR and every last parent and wally long tucked away, able to sit down in a comfy chair or couch and not have to stand there, swaying to yet another encore. Still tripping our faces off, but all the anguished paranoia of driving home without getting arrested being finally over, and us safe and able to finally take our shoes off, with hours and (presuming the whiskey stash as flush) and highballs to go before the color bands flashing behind our eyelids would be muted enough for sleep, we needed to watch something that wouldn't bum us out, and I mean we 'needed' it, desperately, for our good trip could still become a bad one with a single ugly scene.

And at those times, when they were needed most, Paramount pre-codes (before anyone knew what that meant)--Betty Boop, W.C. Fields, Marx Bros, and Cary Grant--were like glowing toasty fires in the cold darkness. One look into their crazy eyes and we'd know they could see us watching them, somehow, they would lean out of the mise-en-scene and shoot us sly winks. They "got it." If MGM was the studio of amphetamines and apple pie, Warners of beer and coffee, and Universal of laudanum and black tea, then Paramount was the studio of psychedelics and champagne and thus ALICE IN WONDERLAND was and is their ideal 'literary adaptation.'

That said, there are missteps: fully obscuring Cary Grant's beautiful head in the mock turtle costume, for example. Then again, which Alice adaptation is--for kids' and critics' alike--perfect?  None. Disney's 1951 cartoon version is too literal; Tim Burton's lacks surrealist savvy; Jan Svankmajer's is hallucinatory and uncanny childhood nightmare-level disturbing but lacks class and diction; and all the BBC versions are too much the same other way around. But Paramount's pre-code Alice is sooo wrong on the other hand, it's better than right. It dissolves like a sugar cube under a steady stream of absinthe, maybe a headache will result later but for as long as now lasts, magical. Woozy, weird, dizzy, and then --before it gets older- over.

Anyway, I had trouble getting past the first few minutes that last time it was on TCM, the whole opening bit of Alice back on 'Earth' with her aunt or guardian is zzzz, but this time I came in after the first quarter, half-paying attention and soon there was this crazy mock turtle with a strange yet familiar voice, and I wasn't at all sure it even was Cary Grant inside the shell, until he sings "Turtle Soup" with a bizarro British music hall trill and suddenly there it is, the foundational bedrock upon which 'the' Cary Grant was formed-- the vaudeville pratfalls and "love to be beside the seaside" hoofery that fell below the surface, deep into ocean canyons (surfacing occasionally, as in Sylvia Scarlet) until to provide the bedrock underneath his rising star. So it's rather gratifying to see (or rather hear) this sudden resonant force, returning like the repressed under the safety of this inscrutable sea horse turtle persona. It's so out of character for his usual cool that it made me think of that scene when he breaks down in front of the child services judge in Penny Serenade and you're like whoa, Cary, we never ever see this side of you. It makes us weak in the knees all over again to realize the vast wealth of brilliance and jubilance folded and edited and streamlined until Grant was, as Stanley Cavell put it, "fit to stand the gaze of millions."

Amongst the stand-out sights are a king and queen of hearts perfectly gussied to resemble the English pattern playing deck, the king especially looks exactly like him. We've all seen that face since we first learned 'Go Fish' as a child, and suddenly wham here he is, in black and white and surrounded in a curiously 2-D dream space, as if childhood memory, card game, and fever dream had crashed ceremoniously together, launching us into the primal magic zone from which all the symbols of our lifetime are born. 
Here, though, that gaze is rendered moot, so there's no image of cool to live up to. The turtle shell armors and anonymizes so he cuts loose and large. One wonders what kind of miracles Grant could put into, say, a Pixar film. You won't find, say, Tom Hanks or Will Smith going out on a far limb into madness in their roles, not ever, not like Grant does here. Grant is committed to the madness, like he's reading/acting out a story book for agog infant children while hopped up on mescaline backstage at a 1920's Vaudeville show.

And just when you're wondering why they didn't just make this whole thing a 
cartoon (there was, after all, a Betty Boop version, in 'Blunderland' the following year), 
a Fleischer animation of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" shows up, providing a nice break
 from the live action, which by then has settled into miniature golf course tableaux 
connected by all sorts of surrealistic dissolves, implied drug use, and dotted line followings. 
Other familiar faces and voices help navigate the off-putting (and rather flatly lit) weirdness, like recognizing an old friend in a throng of strangers during a bad trip moment at a Dead show and then realizing - whoa, it might not be them! But then... deciding it is, wait - do I even know them, really? So there's old Ned Sparks snarling through his clenched hookah stem jaw as the caterpillar; there's Edna May Oliver, strangely sexy with upturned nose extension as the Red Queen; Roscoe Karns and Jackie Oakie as the Tweedles; Edward Everett Horton singing about the tea-trays in the sky (and waving around saucers to make sure we get the UFO connection) as the Mad Hatter; Charlie Ruggles as the March Hare; Richard Arlen as the Cheshire Cat; W.C. Fields as an exquisitely churlish Humpty Dumpty; Louise Fazenda--looking like a hybrid of Ginger Rogers and the girl in the Eraserhead radiator--as the White Queen'; and Gary Cooper as the vertigo-ridden White Knight.

As Alice, Charlotte Henry is a tripper role model, demonstrating how to keep cool and open-minded in a crisis. Moving from freak tableaux to freak tableaux, size to size, being to being, with an open mind, her deadpan performance never lapses into treacle, camp or obnoxiousness. Where other people would surely cower or freak out or stare rudely or wince in disgust, she just politely notes that things just got "curious." Is it any wonder a nervous sensitive Mad Hatter-type artists like me would worship her? (1)

whoa - I've had childhood 'too much chocolate' nightmares that look just like this!

any similarities to a human ass may be coincidental
This is your dinner on drugs --but  play it cool, bro
It's tempting to be like other lazy critics and dismiss the film for the crime of hiding Cary's and Gary's faces, each then at the peak of their beauty, but instead we should appreciate how, protected from the job of persona-guarding via such anonymity, they show us the character actors they might have been had they not become such huge stars. Grant becomes a music hall maniac, trilling his "sorrow of a sorrow" while a gryphon laughs and chessmen chortle, and Cooper goes deep into his own laconic cowboy persona for the White Knight (below). It's pretty funny to think this tall laconic drink of water could ever fall off a horse, but he does--with great, typically laconic low-key nonchalance--again and again. Unshaken even with his head in a ditch, he tells Alice: "what does it matter where my body happens be? My mind goes on working all the same." Showing Alice his bizarre inventions, like his little box (upside down to keep the rain out), his empty mouse trap, and beehive, he's proud but reticent, like a shy ten year-old boy trying to impress his babysitter by showing off his action figure collection--half shyly, half with little boy bluster.

Gary Cooper, "seated"

But the real selling points for this as the bad acid rarebit fiend K-hole nightmare miniature golf course-cum-carnival-ride childhood fever dream are the grotesque images that linger in the mind afterwards, etched on the soul like dark scars in the thick unconscious muck where nothing ever dries or heals, just festers until it erupts into sudden hallucinations and terrifying vertigo with the right 'trigger'. When I see this big lumbering dude in a mouse costume flopping around in a shallow concrete pool (of Big Alice's tears) as if some plushy Overlook refugee paddling forward in the Freaks climax rain, I feel as if the deep well of my childhood nightmares (which I thought long since paved-over) was flooding up all over the basement couch and soaking my kitchen floor. By the time we get to the scene with the crazy fat mom throwing the baby around while the cook hurls insults and pots and the frog (Sterling Holloway) sits outside, the water's up to my knees. Then Alice holds the baby, who oscillates from an actual baby to Billy Barty (in a baby costume) and back, and then to a plastic doll, and then a real piglet-- the water's up to my neck.

It's over my head and leaking into the above floor for the croquet scene. Ask yourself, are their croquet mallets drugged flamingos who stiffen when they try to play dead, just limpid puppets, or dead flamingos in the process of rigor mortis? Like gramps in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), they waver between all three, and it's in that in-betweenness wherein they become truly creepy. Then there's the way the white queen says "better" over and over like a mantra until the word slowly turns into a sheep 'baaa'-ter and she dissolves into a sheep selling a giant egg, which Alice stares at until it turns into W.C. Fields as a giant Humpty, demanding she stop staring at him like he was an egg, and state her name and her business. At that point the water goes up my chimney and hits the bell. A winna!

At dinner there's a talking roast (it's bad manners, we learn, to slice off a piece of someone we've been introduced to) illustrating perfectly what it's like to eat dinner with your parents while trying to hide from them the fact that you are peaking on an unexpectedly strong and delayed psychedelic trip. Then, Alice is crowned queen, and everyone dances around and the dancing intensifies until they choke her and it all meshes in a swirl like a combination of the big circus FREAKS and BLUE ANGEL wedding dinners and the entirety of Allendro Jodorowsky's canon, boiled and distilled into one black and white raging fever dream bad trip delirium tremens nightmare peak moment. And everywhere we look, things change. The more we stare the more what we're staring at seems to breathe, to grow or shrink.

Our gaze, in a sense, makes monsters cohere from the shadows. Is this not how 'reality' passes itself off as something concrete?

Bringing as he does the same sense of deadpan fluid riffing absurdity that made his MILLION DOLLAR LEGS and DIPLOMANIACS scripts so pitch-Paramount perfect, I'm not sure if adapter Mankiewicz ever tried mescaline or reefer or anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had. For he's aces at nailing the freestyle way staring at something long enough turns it into something else, or saying any word more than once or twice renders the words themselves alive and fluid, strange and absurd. Taken as a whole, this 1933 ALICE could be the bad trip counterpoint to YELLOW SUBMARINE and like that film it's also the perfect guide to tripping, offering the same sage counsel employed by any good 'guide':

The sage advice: Don't try to recapture the sense of where you just were, are, or what size you are or where you're 'meant' to be or where you will wind up next. Let go of trying to judge or control anything that happens. Most of all, don't worry what those words someone spoke at you, don't try to nail words to the cross of meaning for they'll wiggle farther away the harder you try. Don't try to reclaim the perception of yourself and the world you had before you started to 'get off.' A wilder weirder more wondrous world is yours as long as you don't try to own it, tie it down, recreate it, or control it. Don't worry some dark corner of Wonderland is going to ensnare you, for the flux of constant change works both ways: Nothing can keep you--whether you want to be kept or not--all things are transitional. Nothing can last or be returned now that you're finally loosened from the bonds of self, language, and linear time. Just accept this truth: when you wind up were you started, you still won't be 'back' - the old 'you' won't be there to welcome you, any more than a spring husk of a summer cicada welcomes or endorses the thing that steps out of it. So if you can let go of needing even a single string back to sanity, if you can throw that last breadcrumb thread into the wind and fall fall fall, then Hole-in-One, baby. You're awake for the first time again, and ready for a whole looking glass country of archetypal forces to reshape what seemed so mundane before you left. It's all real, and you were there, Uncle Gus in your patched pants, and oh Auntie Em, there's no place like home's...
in a mirror...
stared at
until the illusion of its 2D space deepens inward
and you can crawl inside

Longtime readers note one of my graven image idols of worship is the giant Alice statue in Central Park - see Erich Kuersten: A Poet's Journey

Monday, January 11, 2016

Best Erich Writing 2015

PERIOD - END OF REPORT: Sigh... it's been a rough year so forgive the claws, self-aggrandizing self-deprecating ragged scuttling sees and bees plusses reeling and writhing and tea trays in the sky and grim bahnhoff fahren auf der dumbkopf-- ness, ah Grand Hotel where nothing ever happens and we shall return, whomever I am. Aside from some pieces for Bright Lights Film Journal, and Art Decades, I've not panspermiated witticism hither and yon as in year's past. I just been here like a madman, so hard, bro. I'm here so hard. I'm here with a vengeance. y sin venganza tambien! Por que no ambos? Consider the HD Anamorphic widescreen as seen through a clarity-induced foglessness by mind-altering (prescribed) drugs, and unprescribed, and unmindscribed scribbled: I shall not wander that glorious stream of sights and sound. Let the tea trays land where they wilt. Unto thee, this pledge: Nichts mehr mit dem mich-krieg --all bandersnatches shunned and turtles dovetailed shall towards mockery's glam opposite gesture if not attain. BEGINNING...

Ferociously Her Iron Age Druid Bog Mummy Telekinetic Alcoholic Hottie Self: THE ETERNAL 

(April 15)
"One of the unique subtexts at work here is an undercurrent of pro-drunken anger - as still sick and suffering alcoholic Nora regularly has drinks taken out of her hands by Jim who says "none for us, we're quitting" and makes a big show of enjoying life without it. That kind of balderdash makes me want to retch. And I should know. The way the drinks pass her wide eyes by, or the way she works hard to seem deadpan when getting offered some Scotch down in the basement once Jim's upstairs with the ginger kid --it's the kind of stuff only drunks like myself would feel keenly. How nice that there's whole films and wings of Irish literature just for us! No matter how adept his Walken impression, or grace around the dance floor, Jim's refusing drinks on Nora's behalf stings like a slap, especially when he turns out to be sneaking sips on the side from a flask. Only Eugene O'Neill really ever wrote scenes that captured the way every offered drink, every vulnerable liquor bottle, chills the alcoholic's blood like a siren call, and every 'no thanks' on their sickly behalf like a gut punch they're not allowed to wince from. And only Hawks and Huston ever understood it well enough to capture it; only Hawks and Huston understood how cigarettes and drinks are the currency of cool loyalty, how they bring the world into focus as well as out of it. Almereyda doesn't have time to stretch out on these branches. There's no mariachi band playing the Death Song to steady her nerves like in Rio Bravo; no agony of being denied a desperately needed drink just for 'singing lousy' like in Key Largo. No time; the sub-plot just dries out. Plus, "Why be serious? That's for people in sad countries like Poland or Africa" notes the girl narrator. And anyway, the mummy catches on fire and bursts through the window and gets zapped by electric current just like Hawks' original The Thing and add the cigarettes (Harris is constantly lighting them and sticking them in his wife's mouth; the young girl does the same for the old woman, keeping one for herself-- a wee lass smokin'! Save your sermons, o nanny statesmen --this is Ireland!) and drinks (and drink awareness) and that's Hawks enough. We don't need soberin'. Not here. Not no how." (more)

(August 29)
"And when Hamlet comes down from the parapet he's alight like that annoying kid who comes back from Burning Man or the Rainbow Gathering with dreadlocks, a dour but smokin' hot activist girl's phone number, and the feeling he's been chosen to keep the world green. For one semester's stretch he doth berate unreceptive ears with facts gleaned from phone calls with his allegedly corporeal Greenpeace girlfriend. Mel's Hamlet, crying "like a whore" and unpacking his heart with words (and pamphlets) rather than direct and violent action (blowing up a factory), is the woeful midnight tantrum of a lad who realizes no amount of feeling-- poured into his angry young poetry slam soliloquy notebook even unto whiskey stained margin--will undo the catastrophic damage his already crumbling American white male legacy hath wrought upon the whales of the world. Even if he pounds his plodding pen to plastique it would explode no illusion beyond popping the proud bubble of his own inchoate solipsism." (MORE)

(Bright Lights 10/31)

"If nothing else remains of the Halloween experience once you’re too old for trick-or-treating or costumes, there are still the movies, and lists of what to watch abound. Well, no list is quite as eclectic as this one, which stretches back to 1929 and ahead to 2008, making stops for over-the-topExorcist rips, ‘70s paneling, Mexican legends, abandoned Norwegian ski lodges, Irish mansions, and California malls, and avoiding all the usual stops. It’s the list of weird and worthy lesser-seen treats for those game enough to seek them out. They are rich with meta refraction, strong female leads, little-to-no misogyny or sexual violence, and are cage-free, except for the cages we build for ourselves, she said, as the shape drew closer . . . the cage we use to keep things out . ." (FULL LIST)

"By 1970 we had already given up on the utopian ideal for a united and very hip America, one inflated to new heights by the California experiment. We thought universal Love, reefers and LSD would convert every last square to the One True Vibe. Instead: Altamont. Instead: 'free love' grubbers from the 'burbs. Instead: Manson decoding The White Album. Instead: cokehead troglodytes dropping by your intimate ego-dissolving LSD party at four AM, drinking all your bourbon and harassing the women, and you realizing you need your ego after all, because only your ego could get aggressive enough to kick them out, and all you can do instead is try, vainly, to formulate a coherent sentence without contradicting the love vibes you've vouchsafed. Instead: peaceful but filthy barefoot hippies clogging ever last public bathroom pore of the Haight and everyone being too cool to work or pay money, just presuming they'll be taken care of by the very social order they spit on. Instead: communes all slowly coming unglued as psychedelic unity and the blazing tribal consciousness that had emerged from the primitive inner rolodex for the first time in 1,000 years gave way to petty squabbles, malnourished infants of uncertain parentage, and tension over undone chores." (more)

(March 2nd)
"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 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 Oates is a GTO driver who sees each new hitchhiker as a chance to change his backstory; and the "Driver" and "Mechanic" 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."

(Divinorum Psychonauticus)

Sun Ra doesn't actually, like a crazy street person, believe he's from Saturn, but he believes in the power of myth, of fiction, to recreate himself as a myth. The one time I saw him in 1989, singing at a Polish union hall in Syracuse, it was adorable as in this dinky dusty rattletrap lodge hall suddenly there are twirling dancers and all this pageantry (no fancy lights or anything), then Sun Ra comes up to the mic and in this sweet tiny voice starts singing "I am not from here," to "Space is the Place" or whatever his theme was, "I'm from out there," and in this dingy gray place where you'd expect to see, say, a Varsity awards dinner or some union lodge meeting, or an Elk club smoker, a rinky dink piano in the corner, etc. In the freezing hellish snow of Syracuse, those words took on great meaning - a denial, a refusal in a way, that is the heart of meditation, astral travel, music and art - a denial and refusal of the banal limitations of our own place in the time-space continuum, of being black of course, born in the South. Sometimes we love being here - other times, non. But the Exit door is never locked... space is the place - from which no traveler returns unchanged.... (More)

"Knowing what we know about eating disorders (and knowing she was kicked out of two boarding schools for being anorexic) makes it hard to revel in her alien beauty in the Alphaville-esque city wandering scenes, and/or the Warhol factory and YMCA pool party footage. She died mere weeks after her color footage was shot, and you can feel it. Hers is not the knowing sadness, the glimmer of a gorgeous new type of maturer beauty that we find in Marilyn's footage in the unfinished Something's Got to Give. Edie doesn't even fathom where she is, not that she cares, and watching her is like watching a psychic interacting with ghosts, half in this world and half in the past, but was there... ever even another half? Andy Warhol supplied some of that other half, but he supplied it with a vacuum. And who knows how many times the Andy she interacted with was only Andy's double, and Andy's relationship with Edie itself a double, a bizarro mirror to the gay artist-female muse/proxy/twins bond between Waldo Lydecker and Laura... or Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond, but who was who, by which I mean, their relationship was composed of celluloid, light, and shadow... and without a projector, it was just a spool. Swoop swoop, oh baby rock rock." (More)

"Even if feminism and PC sensitivity have killed The Sunset Boulevard model for everyone inside Hollywood, there are still Canadians like David Cronenberg and Frenchmen like Olivier Assayas, to keep the luridly self-reflexive spirit of Billy Wilder and Robert Aldrich alive. And they know a secret denied the average Hollywood hack: the 50s-70s 'horror hag' spirit need only be taken one meta-level further to resonate in our new century's junk TV-addicted consciousness afresh. So they bring us Julianne Moore and Juliette Binoche playing Gloria Swansons playing Norma Desmonds instead of just Norma Desmonds hoping to play Salome. Brian Oblivion would be so proud! Long live the new old flesh. (more)gm

(January 29)
A real sunflower beheld by someone with their imaginary-symbolic blinders on is merely a sunflower - identified against one's inner rolodex of flower names and then dismissed, its full elaborate mystery screened out since it's neither a source of fear (unless you're allergic) or desire (unless some sexy new lover gave it to you). But for someone without those blinders, like a yogi, Buddha, starving artist, tripper, child, or schizophrenic --that sunflower breathes and radiates light and is alive with the little yellow petals around the big stamen center like yellow flames. This radiant crown image is not a 'mere hallucination' though a less enlightened friend might dismiss your enthusiasm, saying "dude, it's just a sunflower, chill out." In fact it is that idea --that the real is completely contained within its symbolic component, that it is 'just' its label--that is the hallucination. The symbolic breaker for this less enlightened friend as overstayed its welcome, leaving the friend trapped in a morass of the purely symbolic-imaginary. The only time the friend can feel a glimmer of the 'real' beyond language is when they buy an expensive item or paint the bedroom a new color--thus forcing them to reset their symbolic GPS. And even then, the result is fleeting. These imaginary-symbolic-trapped folks paradoxically dismiss NDEs as just dying brain hallucinations, when the reverse is true. These same people are perhaps also most likely to consider "it's like a painting" the highest compliment they can give an outdoor vista. Or, if they behold some surreal carnage or high strangeness in the real, they note that "it's like something out of a movie" i.e. the more 'real' things get, i.e. outside their language's dismissive pincers, the more things get "like a movie."

(Divinorum Psychonauticus - March 4)

Imagine consciousness and 3D space time as a radio we got for Xmas. We've had it all our lives, and yet we don't even know that we can adjust the dial, change the channel to a different station from the one we're on, lets call it 'Hot 97 FM.' To the left and the right of the dial wait crazy radio stations that can take lifetimes to tune in, or can be found almost immediately on reception, only to be lost when we turn back to Hot 97 and then try to find them later. At the far end of one direction, we can tune into channels full of light and angels; god, loved ones who've departed, heaven. In the other direction, darkness and demons, in between, a million permutations. (more)

(May 6)

"There's a time to play Monopoly and a time to kick over the board and throw the play money in the air like we're motherfuckin' Scarface. Miami Blues (1990) is for that time. Those of us who love charismatic maniacs--especially when they're safely contained by distance, time, or screen--love this movie, for it has a great one. As hopelessly sane writers and artists we need the destructive playfulness that can only be found in certain rare 'awakened' megalomaniacs to spark our pens to life. Such a sparker is our Junior (Alec Baldwin). He is the expression of our id-unleashing dreams, a herald for the maniac renaissance of the early 90s: before Mr. Blonde, Mickey and Mallory Knox, Wendy Kroy, Hannibal Lecter, Tommy in Goodfellas, Harvey in Bad Lieutenant, Lisa in Girl, Interrupted... the was Junior. " (more)

And of course, Babes of Wrath, but I just wrote it last month, so it wouldn't be right to include it here.
(PS - I didn't know there was a Roller Derby team called that when I wrote the piece, but I'm glad - it's a great name)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...