sometimes you eat the bar, sometimes the bar eats you.
A Netflix original directed by young Australian fox auteur Kitty Green, CASTING JONBENET is a true story, on both levels, and even beyond. Rather than just recreate the infamous events, Green kept the interviews and auditions for the main parts of "Lifetime"-style movie about the infamous JonBenet Ramsey case. Using local actors recruited from the Ramsey family's Colorado hometown who knew the people involved, the story unfolds: the weirdly specific three-page suicide note written on the family's stationary, the discovery of JonBenet's body in an anteroom of the cellar; the unconvincing grief displayed by the mother--did she kill her daughter in a fit of rage? By all accounts, JonBenet was a brat at times, forced into the child pageant circuit by a failed beauty queen mom, etc. The mystery of her involvement is profoundly reproduced during montage of auditions re-enacting her initial phone call to the police: with a script in one hand, the phone in the other, the actresses carefully modulating the tremor or anxiety and desperation in her voice as they read from the script. Green trusts us to unpack the massive electric charge inherent in watching an actress auditioning by performing the mother's real life phone call, the mother's call herself being possibly a performance, one that didn't entirely convince the outraged nation she wasn't guilty or complicit in her daughter's death. The mission of the actress then is to not either be too convincing nor too false in her performance, and seeing more than one actress try it is to realize an even broader canvas, the mutability of the truth along a mythological axis. Even if we've never heard the actual Ramsey phone call we know the 'type,' and the child kidnapping/murder is a tabloid boilerplate fastened with adamantine bolts to the mediated public consciousness.
|Kitty/ Kitty/ Kitty Green|
Casual viewers may be confused by the layers, but the interviews with the auditioned actors and non-acting locals delves deep into issues such as how to play a someone who keeps their cards so close to the vest you yourself don't know what the cards are. So these actors don't know anymore than we do: was the father molesting her at night? Did mom know and is helping her cover it up; or is it that JonBenet's then-nine year-old older brother killed her, as older brothers occasionally try to do if jealous or neglected, and the parents are covering it up by making it look like a kidnapping so they don't lose their son too?
The cast interviewed is fairly evenly divided between suspecting the mother, father, and brother as either guilty or in collusion and NOT, as some thought initially, the mall Santa the mom tries to finger or the skeevy pederast John Mark Karr who confesses to the murder but who's proven to be nowhere near the scene (the actor cast in this role--Dixon White (below)--gives the creepiest most memorable performance in some time; hearing how he prepares, entering this guy's mindset is to realize the true fearlessness of method acting, to essentially access one's inner creepy pedophile sociopath just for an audition is something I'd never in a million years do, but this guy plunges in and the film buckles a little bit under his intense stare once he goes into character.)
Lynch's masterpiece was originally supposed to be a TV series, but the network passed on it, so the pilot was melded with new footage to 'close it' (there was a similar thing done with the pilot of TWIN PEAKS, for markets where it was shown theatrically - see here). If you can find this addition footage ending you can see a midnight call bring Cooper to the boiler room and a confrontation with Bob himself, here in a weird human form, hence killable --followed by a telling "25 Years Later" Black Lodge coda that's remarkably prescient to the new series, albeit unsatisfying as a whole. When this MULHOLLAND DRIVE came out we figured it would be more of the same, and it kind of is, to a point --Robert Forster's homicide detective gets only a single scene, as does (thankfully for I find him a most unsightly character), the dreamer in the Winkie's (his name I refuse to disclose) and the sleazy hitman guy also seems like he was to have a more involved arc. But, the deep end the film went down, with the tiny elderly tourists trickling from the monster's paper bag and so forth, brought the events full circle and tightened the noose so fast we were left breathless; no one was quite ready for the reflexive meltdown critique of Hollywood and the psyche of the actress, this ALL ABOUT ACID PERSONA meta-miracle. With each passing year it gets more relevant, daisy-younger. In the recent BBC Culture poll of the 100 greatest films of the new century, it comes in at #1.
Even if you have the old DVD, it's worth seeing on Netflix for the HD restoration with glowing flesh colors and a much greater depth of field to the many surreal shots of nighttime LA. Lynch's LA ain't yer La-la Land; it's deeper --it's the LA of dreams where once you get off that plane, take your first script to hand, you're never quire sure what reality is, or if it's even still there. When someone says "Cut" while you're sitting in a restaurant do you automatically stop eating and look around for your director, only to slowly realize you really ARE just in a restaurant and whoever shouted it probably shuffling cards? This idea was explored more in-depth for Lynch's follow-up, INLAND EMPIRE.
Performance is always a reliable subtext for art cinema: it instantly layers the meaning--and the more you let the seams show, the artsier (not sloppier!) you're being. Instead of an actor playing a role you have an actor playing an actor playing a role and somehow all those quadruple negatives become a super positive, achieving a level of truth impossible even in the relatively artifice-free realm of mundane daily life. If you're in the hands of an post-Brechtian like Charlie Kaufman you may even have an actor playing an actor playing an actor playing another actor, so many layers that the actor himself winds up trapped inside them and it becomes just that two headed coin of narcissism and insecurity. Kaufman's sexually frustrated self-conscious prick schtick has been a stone drag ever since we all first tried to like ADAPTATION. But for regular Joes like David Lynch, performance has a more fixed singular function - and if there's sex to be had, it's had and not all this 'piece of shit at the center of the universe' moping. Lynch meditates - his ego is "right-sized." For him, the pretty young ingenue is essentially a split character, not an object for self-laceration or fear/desire, but an anima - beyond duality - the dual lipstick pair-bond narcissistic template addends an Apollonian ideal as old as western culture itself. ("No woman should have a memory," notes Lord Illingworth in An Ideal Husband. "Memory in a woman is the beginning of dowdiness.")
We never see, for example, Laura Palmer doing charity work but we hear all the raves from the elderly lives she touched via Meals on Wheels, reading to the blind, etc. (and romance with doe-eyed 'good' biker, James) are the opposite of the bad girl self, whom follow the thread of her drug use, her running with the bad crowd (wild-eyed Bobby, Leo) and eventually the trauma that caused the split (her incestuous Bob-possessed father coming to her bed "since she was seven"). We can well imagine the Kaufman avatars being amongst the dysfunctional rubes simmering with desire for Laura on one side of that divide or other, trapped in the mind of a powerless infant unable to speak to a hot girl without spitting up on his bib, fuming with unspoken jealousy while she goes out on the porch to talk with some guy in a leather jacket who just pulled up in his Harley. Lynch's idea of these druggy parties at remote cabins has the surreal prepubescent nightmare current to them -- drugs and sex mixed in the mind of someone who's experienced neither, depicted in a hyper-surreal nightmare fashion, what McGowan calls Lynch's fantasmatic dimension.
To study the making of films in Hollywood (and the world) and the on-set drama that goes on, is to be faced with tales of these jealous infants left behind; viewers/husbands/lovers fuming in the sidelines as their ideal gets it on in full nude scenes with some despicable monster she or he barely knows while eight gaffers heavy breathe behind the kliegs. In that torrid audition scene in Mason Adams' office (it made Watts a star) we have the makings of a master thesis on the proximity of acting and prostitution. As I wrote in 03: prostitution is itself "acting" as in to not just engage in sex for money but also (presumably) to seem to enjoy it. Indeed, a prostitute may actually enjoy herself during the contracted sexual act as long as she pretends it's pretend enjoyment (if she is seen to be too into it, he may expect his money back - who's servicing who?) Within her domain (the boudoir), the prostitute may be--more so than outside in the 'real' world-- completely "herself," - she may be experiencing that moment of complete subsumption into character which is at the heart of good acting. When "cut" rings out (or whatever the mutually agreed-upon safe word happens to be), she can resume the waking dream of societal expectations. (In DRIVE we have no inkling of Betty's capacity to get super quiet-erotic at the audition - does she?)
Of course that can lead to a kind of karmic celluloid looping (the actor who plays the same role onstage the same way, for a three-year Broadway run) that's escapable only if the script is deviated from, without warning, like Camilla's journey in the beginning of MULHOLLAND DRIVE ("we don't stop here" - as if they've made the journey a thousand times - and they have, more or less beginning and ending the film with it). The crash that forces us to wonder if it's the hit taken out by Diane against Camilla, or if there's a more sinister reason besides the treacherous curves and idiot teens combination of the titular drive. The deviation that sends Camilla down the hill to Aunty Em's house can be read as both the deal with the devil/mob hit that her ex-lover-cum-rival Diane took out on her (she's taken out of the car at gunpoint but then whatever was planned is interrupted by the crazy kids/concussion) and her own deal / deliverance - escape into a new identity.
We think we want to find out who we really are, to chase down the clues, but we don't, really. For in finding out we also realize our entire life is merely a distraction, an elaborate puppet show for the kids, to distract them from their real surroundings ---the dirty trick their parents played on them, leaving them chained to time's abattoir assembly line like sacrifices to some sawmill Molloch, left with barely enough time to repeat the dirty trick on the next generation, and if we're artists, to maybe sew together some new puppets. The search for the meaning of the self always leads to the morgue; the trail of who post-accident Rita ends with their discovery of Diane Selwyn's dead body, a bit like Candice Hilligoss if she saw her own body being recovered from the river even in the Salt Lake Samara she fled to; or Jimmy the sax man in the surf at the shocking conclusion of Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS.
The Ingenue/Mistress to the MobJust as in Lynch the women are all the aspects of the same woman who is an aspect of a single psyche (the collective unconscious celluloid through Lynch's projector), so too the dark chthonic 'devouring father' is as aspect of that woman; if say, Betty/Diane is the unconscious ego the male conscious ego (i.e. Lynch's dream other) then the unconscious's ego in turn has an inner male, a dark force of conspicuous enjoyment, the terrible father (ala Mr. Big in LOST HIGHWAY, and Frank Booth in BLUE VELVET), the one who separates the child from his mother, and who 'enjoys' all the women and pleasures while the boys sulk and bide their time; in MULHOLLAND he's a very shadowy nebulous figure in a wheelchair behind thick glass (the locked door to the ulterior basement of the unconscious mind, i.e the basement's basement) who sends his own agents and provocateurs out into the workaday world to inflict his seemingly unknowable bidding (we're never permitted to learn why he is so insistent that Camilla Rhodes is "the girl.")
THE META LYNCH-IN
(A Sleepy Viewer is the Most Awake)
(A Sleepy Viewer is the Most Awake)
There was something quite reassuring about all this combined with the film; it made it seem like we were all sleeping over at their inn during some New Delhi storm; it made sense. I fell asleep halfway through the (around the time Naomi climbs in the window of the dead girl); and yet was somehow still following events; it became clearer actually, I even remarked to myself--the way one will when they realize they're asleep yet still self-aware--that through some weird force I was dreaming while watching- third eye-open and trained on the screen; it like watching a movie in 3D and finally realizing I was wearing the glasses backwards. The theater was one of the old type where the ceiling was low and the slope downwards small or almost nonexistent and the projector beam seemed to shoot right over head, the light making a visible beam in the air where a tall man would have blocked a lower portion of the screen; also we could hear the loud whirr of the projector in the quieter passages, or which there were a lot - considering the post-modern meta cinema qualities of the film, that all fit is so perfectly. I know I myself was falling asleep to that soothing projector whirr, the blue light it cast especially matching the Club Silencio and when Rita -- sings her a capella "Llorando" and the pair of lovers cry from her passion, I could hear sobbing too in our own theater, as if our natural defenses had been lowered by the comination of being sleepy at a midnight show, the hour and the quiet nature of the film and the whirr of the projector all lowering our big city defenses so we had no ability to shut out the torrent of emotion the song + the response of thse two women (after their steamy hook-up) engendered.
When we all were released after the film it felt like we'd all had a marvelous weird dream together - bonded; and outside was this weird warm mist. Everyone else on the NYC street was gone - the streets were dead empty - odd for NYC even on a weeknight no matter how late it was. And we all parted from each other hesitantly, almost like we would say goodbye to people we knew; we walked together as long as possible, barely speaking - the magic of the film following us home. As if to up the weirdness, I read a Voice piece (that I can't find) mentioning the magic of their own screening and--from the description--the same theater, maybe even the same showing.
|any similarities to a TV screen strictly sublimacidental (my guess is a formative sexual-musical moment in Lynch's life occurred in front of a 50s-early 60s TV set, when some facsimile of this group came on Ed Sullivan or Bandstand or whatever|
AUDITION AS VOYEURISTIC ILLUMINATI SEX RITUAL
This audition scene is hot enough to give wood to the dead, but it's also very odd-what is the difference between this kind of focused sexual heat, turned on and off in the moment, with an escalation of lines (and an imaginary knife), but performance veering very close to targeted seduction, she could very easily plunge down a rating into the seedy world of X-rated movies and then, who knows, bumming scabby cigarettes from gross scumbags before getting it on with them (presumably) in the back of a van in exchange for--presumably--money for crack and the promise to keep her eyes open for any new girls that might come staggering down from the Hills.
We can perhaps understand more about MULHOLLAND if viewed as a sequel to LOST HIGHWAY, the "hers", BLACK SWAN / to LOST's "his", WRESTLER. LOST saw a man (Bill Pullman) literally split in two along his Moebius strip tape splice. The Barry Gifford murder mystery noir plot he's embroiled in finds him jailed for murdering his brunette wife--something he has no memory of doing but which is on tape--but then transforming into his younger alternate incarnation, Pete (Balthazar Getty). Betty similarly becomes Diane Selwyn, that hardbitten mediocre talent who brings her cute giriflriend on an audition and finds herself eclipsed. Soon the director has signed her lover, Camilla to a contract and she becomes a young mob ingenue (maybe one of their daughters or mistresses?) or devil's subject (she sold her soul for the part, and the mobsters and cowboy act as agents to fulfill her dreams before they claim her soul).
There's even a Midge, so speak, Diane's ex-lover (presumably?) moved out as a kind of Midge / Anne Hayworth type - the also-ran still in the peripherals making a weary to-do of coming by to get the last of her stuff - in effect positing Diane in the attraction change of the endless upwards spiraling triangle of desire, everyone chased by an old lover who still wants to be in the picture even as a friend or peripheral and the one who's recently thrown us over and we stalk or try to avoid or drink at; who we cry while masturbating to, and eventually put a hit on, sign a deal with the devil so to speak, the way Bill Pullman did with Robert Blake's devil man (below), who can be two places at once.
From a paranoid mind control Illuminati angle we can also connect the steamy audition Betty nails for a room full of people to the striptease Alice is forced to do at gunpoint for Mr. Eddy and his contingent in the LOST HIGHWAY flashback. The split subject then is explained through the elaborate mind control rituals, of which the connection between both HIGHWAY and DRIVE audition scenes connecting to conspiracy theories about Monarch 7 (1) or the collective subconscious and its tendency to arrange its repressed libidinal desires around pentagrams and black candles in some hidden room of one's parents' basement - with parents, grandparents, strange carnally-attuned neighbors with pointy glasses (like Nicki [Michele Hicks] below as the assistant to the casting director). Note the odd, knowing, carnal, paranoia-engendering gazes into camera below.
|Ready to bring you "over the rainbow" (2)|
PSYCHE FLOOR PLAN
Second FloorAbstract thinking / super-ego / higher reasoning / artistic /: TRUTH OF (FILMED) EVENT
(Controlled by the Flow of True Events)
(Controlled by the Flow of True Events)
Laundry chute to basement--> creative function / film (i.e. hearing down from the depths and translating to narrative for the upper floors
steps - transitional - performance/ duty / expression, from effort to finished film.
(Controlled by the Ego)Waking Consciousness: (pay checks / paint brush cleaning / disclaimers / jail-time)
POINT OF SEMI-CONSCIOUSNESS
steps down - transitional from awake to asleep'
THE BARRIER DOOR
(controlled by the Anima)Incestuous desire or childhood repressed fantasized sexuality depository (imagined spanking/ child is being beaten/ desire for neighbors, fellow classmates, friends, etc.)
Ulterior door/ barricade: Cover memory / split personality
Laundry Chute 2
(Whatever lies beyond our conscious/unconscious' control/will)
(controlled by the Anima's Animus OR Illuminati/Reptillians)
(controlled by the Anima's Animus OR Illuminati/Reptillians)
Any actual (real physical space-time) incest / abuse -TRUTH OF (Traumatic) EVENT (repression depository for memories of actual incest, satanic abduction)By the above Lynchian hierarchy of consciousness we can pinpoint the problem with False Memory Syndrome - actual horrors endured are hidden below the sub basement level of merely repressed libidinal desires and fears, colored through lenses upon lenses warps upon warps etc. The traumatic real event from the basement (Mrs. Bates' actual withered skeleton in the dress) reaches up like a hand through the sock pocket of repressed unconscious desires (the frock and wig and Norman's mind), the hand reaching up through the laundry chute to kill women who arouse him (there's no lock on any of the doors between the floors of the psychotic, schizophrenic, or--alas--bad tripper). The falseness of some recovered memories under hypnosis involves reverse-direction sock puppeteering that doesn't go far enough down, mistaking the sub/libidinal fantasy basement for the ulterior basement of actual truth. During the 80s Satanic panic it took the feds actually going down there and physically digging where all the bodies were supposed to be, under the foundation to where the ulterior rooms are, to realize there was nothing substantial there; the police were believing in empty sock puppets.
For Lynch, a figure like the cowboy is a herald from one floor of consciousness to another, a sock puppet sent up from coming from the lower basement, the agent of his own dark undersoul; the conveyer of actions dictated by the unseen monsters of power (seen here in big dark empty rooms --with nervous supplicants speaking to them from behind clear glass walls, a metaphor for the divider between unconscious and conscious, the way ideas and decisions are passed across a slot in the wall from the depths of psyche into action or art). The levels of heavy power invested in these characters is impossible to understand until one translates their meaning across three spectrum - the meta outer spectrum (the blue-haired 'ultimate viewer / voyeur' at Club Silencio; the inner viewer (Camera POV) and innermost (character 'identification'); that a childhood icon (a popular plastic toy) like a cowboy to deliver these ultimatums is no accident: he's outmoded but recognizable, an ageless archetype as fitting in its proud anachronism as Sam Elliot in THE BIG LEBOWSKI.
Similarly JONBENET the film operates with multiple layers - with the innermost core being the mystery of 'whodunnit' the unknown story that no one could successfully descramble and so has fostered endless speculation; the outer--the narrative recreation; and the outermost - the casting and personal interviews - the telling difference which separates this from fiction of MULHOLLAND DRIVE is that the truth has a habit of doubling back around on itself while fiction tends to just reverberate out into the wilderness, the difference between bloating in a bathtub and dissolving in the ocean. So here the actors auditioning for the roles turn out to be friends and neighbors of the Ramseys, each with their own piece of the mosaic as precious yet macabre as a handkerchief with some of Dillinger's blood.
In Lynch's film, of course, there's no real blood, and all the handkerchief's have the same initials. The guy in the wheelchair is really one aspect of the same self that includes the cowboy, the mobsters, and both women; the fictive world of the film is as a universe exploded from the same ball of psyche. On the other hand, saying it's all one man's psyche, and the various archetypes within that psyche's unconscious, doesn't mean its cast of voices is smaller than the Ramsey case's 'real' people cast. Events are rooted in time, relationships of cause and effect mutable only in the varying vantage points from which they are witnessed and remembered or performed, as if some endlessly variable mythic template (the way, say Pagans perform the roles of sun and moon during solstice). The world soul and the individual psyche are linked in ways that are beyond limitless. The brain might look like a ball of gray oatmeal but it's bigger than all the oceans combined and, if you try and get too close, will take a broken shard of mirror and fuck you up real pretty. But in the end, you will understand the most important truth--that there was nothing to understand at all.
1. I'd rather not go down this lane, as I'm as susceptible to hot button outrage and paranoia as the next man, and reading this stuff disturbs me. The result of getting too far into it is clear via the ridiculousness of armed civilians crashing the Bohemian Grove or Pizza Gate. Regardless of if it's true or not I personally can't believe it, for my own peace of mind, but the very hot button of it all is what fascinates me, the way our paranoid collective subconscious so mirrors the reports of actual programming that one can only assume it's intentional - either they imitate our dreams or our dreams imitate them.
2. Read the copious conspiracy theories Monarch 7 program's use of the Wizard of Oz as a hypnotic/programming tool (as seen in EYES WIDE SHUT)
4. Read my work-assigned synopsis/review here ("course description" at bottom)