Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception, for a better yesterday

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Acid Etched Damascus: MANDY


In MANDY, Nicolas Cage proves his levels of fearless crazy have no bottom (or top, same thing), and Canada's Panos Cosmatos proves his debut film BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW was no psychedelically-distilled Ativan fluke or one-off experiment, for Mandy too is insane, "strange and eternal," druggy with slowed-down sound, psychedelic movement trails, pineal-buzzing drones, rock and roll violence, but the big difference in Cage, who goes so nuts he becomes a demon before our very eyes. As Red, a woodsman (aka lumberjack, for the chainsaw hath replaced yon axe), Cage starts out soft and intimate, but then gets mad, walks with his gut out, his butt lit, his eyes covered with shades instead of goggles when he uses his home forge, probably a good drinking buddy, guzzling his shower vodka in his underwear and pouring it over his open wounds, howling in a way that's new for the actor--not nasal and hysterical but deep, tragic and genuinely scary, riding a demonic ATV through the wild north woods in the dead of night, and fighting chainsaw duels, burning churches, doing every drug in sight, crushing skulls, losing his shit over a demon ripping his favorite shirt, saying wild shit like "a psychotic drowns where a mystic swims" and telling super-cool Bill Duke he needs his crossbow back because he's hunting "Jesus freaks" (spoilers why); oh he's tremendous!

And so is the Mandy, saturated with a pleasing palette of deep reds and blacks, and propelled by a bed of murky drones and synths both thumberling and quiscubescent (two words I just invented). Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario) delivers the perfectly weird score, if it's not quite as instantly riveting and tripped out as Sinoa Caves' for Rainbow, it's more varied, moving from romantic minor key Eno-ish dalliances to thunder god forge burbling, eerie droning, and-- when old Red preps for war, joint or cigarette in mouth, goggles on, gut out--pulse-quickening synth cycles that sound like an old flying saucer getting kick-started deep in the woods with no one to hear it.


The plot finds us in--as the first chapter title explains 'the Shadow Mountains - 1983 A.D. That AD is a key right there, for this is a story that could be told in the wild west of 1883 or some Middle Ages Belgian schwarzwald (where it was films), aside from its one Piscean foot being in the world of Mandy's current fantasy novel, and her interest in the planet Jupiter. The Shadow Mountains are the kind of place so deep only truckers, loggers, drug manufacturers, and the assorted good and evil forces and businesses they engender, dwell. It's a kind of old growth paradise, especially shot through with hazy lavender and pink sunlight streams which bathe the life and pad of Red and his artist wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in haunting lights - every frame of their existence is gorgeous. Happy as could be, they live as any of us would at the time, if we could--with great sound editing capturing their intimate whispers, talking about Galactus, Erik Estrada, Jupiter, the stars--real intimate talk, like the film, rooted in reality, the stars, and pop culture. With her glasses and crow's feet proudly un-Botoxed, her Bette Davis x Peter Lorre eyes staring right into him across the water (they live "out on Crystal Lake") and their backyard campfire, distant howls or human moans too abstract to investigate, Jóhannsson droning over them all Vangelis Blade Runner "Love Theme"-ish dreamy - it's a new kind of paradise, the nightmare nipping at their toes... we're deep in it with them, with Nic, staring at Mandy through the flames like she's the anima princess of his dreams.

She is, and the film follows her all the way into the mystic. With her mind alive to the infinite, taking weird Antichrist-style sojurns into the chthonic woods, via her dreams and the novel she's reading about serpents eyes and red skies, Mandy is perhaps open enough to the oceanic currents that she gets ensnared in the neural network of Manson/ Papa Jupiter (!)-ish cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) who takes it as divine right that he should have her as part of his flock (They are 'the Children of the New Dawn'). Ere long the horns of Abraxas summon a gang of evil demon bikers, somewhere between the Cenobites, the gang in Mad Max, and the radio active ash-blackened New Mexican derelicts in the new Twin Peaks. And well, that's when it gets really interesting, because one thinks they have this movie all figured out -- some variation on any of Nic's angry cult-busting, child or bride-rescuing/avenging adrenalin junkets, like Drive Angry--but the left turns start coming, we veer into the realm of deep myth - with his gone eyes Red walks 'the demon path' like Lone Wolf sans Baby Cart, violence overtaking him in a kind of supernatural shock like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs and/or Shauna Macdonald in The Descent as well as, of course Max von Sydow in Virgin Spring. The side that didn't want war always takes the first hit, but the sting of the slap wakes their fury, and nothing's scarier than a civilized human who suddenly has nothing left to lose. That sounds cliche'd, but it's only when the filmmaker forgets the archetypal roots, the forge, the legends and myth underwriting their own variation, forgets the moon and paints the finger, that it becomes hackwork (like a dozen Cages what shall be nameless).



As Cosmatos' fantastic feature debut 2010's  Beyond the Black Rainbow, mixed elements of classic Canadian sci-fi horror films (Scanners, Blue Sunshine), here the threads seem to be Valhalla Rising, The Virgin Spring (there's definitely a Norse mythology undertone at play) and that Canadian classic Heavy Metal, along with Ralph Bakshi, and The Wall (via animated dream sequences), but the same style and mood--a slow druggy deep woods where people seem to swim through the LSD atmosphere and a psychopath uses strong psychedelics as a means of control and reality-bending--and the same theme: the way under strong drugs, murder and torture, can come as easy and peace and love (depending on the dosage and your gullibility), and how the descent into dark archaic demonic madness is always just a drop on the tongue or in the eye... away; the monsters of the fantasy novel you're reading are right there, outside your window while you sleep. Elements right out of Mandy's current book: the Loc-nar-evoking Serpent's Eye jewel; the 'Horn of Abraxas that summons the Black Skulls; the "tainted blade of the pale night, straight from the abyssal lair," monstrous demons slavering while they talk in rumbly inhuman voices, their ATVs roaring like otherworldly beasts, their LEDs beaming like the eyes of dragons, they manifest from the woods like Mandy is the gatekeeper of reality, the dream of the dreamer, turned nightmare. Starlings smashed in sacks or set ablaze - all horrors doubling back along the Moebius ouroboros.

This archetypal warp seems to be, now that Cosmatos has made two films using it, a genuine new, and profound style. Deep immersion into a druggy slow motion bizarro world awash in deep ASMR whispery intimacy creates space for both the stars, the page, and the woods to merge into one; reality bending and warping match the perceptions of the totally tripped out, take it from me. I was there. For every peak, a valley... and some so dark it takes getting even darker to find the light again.


Saturated in dark red and blacks, with all sorts of deep dish manipulations of light and sound, Cosmatos creates a magical zone where idealism has crashed into the trees and Canadian and US indie horror and sci-fi films from the 70s all find their sequel, a zero sum flashpoint. Just as Tarantino turns to the Shaw Brothers, New World, and the Italians for his pastiche palette, Cosmatos turns to the wilds of Canada and NYC: Cronenberg, Lieberman, Barker, De Palma, Bakshi, Cohen, he turns to Frazetta and prog rock album covers, and most of all, to what Terence McKenna would call the 'heroic measure' of psychedelics for his inspiration. The wild fumes of 20x salvia divinorum and the LSD - ecstasy - amphetamine concoctions of trans-dimensional Berkeley chemists. The sort of stuff where you take it on Friday and by the following Wednesday your tuned-in wife's wild mystical artwork is still moving on the page, the wild willowing branches of the endless tree that becomes tentacles and tendrils reaching for the inner light. You make Gandalf seem like Gob Bluth. It might take a month to totally fade, but by then you've taken other things, kept the ball rolling...

Nic, powering up for battle (i.e. guzzling vodka in the bathroom and screaming).
These aren't your average hackwork stepped-on ecstasy capsules or weak-ass doses. These are special variants, super-charged by Berkley chemistry majors going down a way more psychedelic rabbit hole than your boring ass meth manufacturers. Many who went into the hole thanks to sampling their wild concoctions (like DOM, and Ethyl) wound up lost in the woods, spinning like Susan Strasberg suddenly able to hear again at the end of Psych-Out - 'til the right cult found them (Manson on the dark end, the Rainbow Family on the other; when I was doing DOM in the mid-90s, even Burning Man was still just an insular Wickery cult rather than a midlife crisis tourist spot). The few who rode the snake all the way and--resisting the temptation to stay egoless in the ecstasy of blind guru-worship, joining the flower people, or 'the Children of the New Dawn' and following a failed acid folkie into oblivion-- climbed out of even the ego trip of egolessness and became themselves again, only shinier -- the gunk of the moment's residue cleared away under the acid washing. In Rainbow, Cosmatos shows the previous decade's deep dish mid-60s LSD experiencers--seeking to use consciousness to make inroads into western medicine--had by the early 80s lapsed into babbling junkies; here we see how mystics and seers with their joyous followers in the 70s devolved into delusional hungry ghost cultist members, all too passive and fucked-up to question the ease with which some pitch-shifted pitch and an LSD-spiked light show won their soul over to a charismatic psychopath. That was what acid users often weren't prepared for. There was a reason the CIA used it in mind control experiments - it left an unsuspecting person's hard drive decrypted and wide open for hacking.  If drugs didn't open their mind enough to see that it was their own mind opening, on its own, then how could they not let some scammer take credit? I saw them all the time at Dead Shows in the 80s... only there in a more benevolent, large-scale way - music dissipating the Satanic darkness; but it wasn't hard to see the power that band had, the way so many people were willing to be subsumed in the larger ego --a nice way to live if you surrender fully, until you're exploited, which, how can you not be? Be it Led Zeppelin abusing willing doped-out groupies up in the Edgewater, or the SS charging into the Final Solution all amped up on Pervatin, or Manson's women singing at their own trial. Such worship of false gods is the ultimate in cheap highs.

No, my children, it's not Richard Lynch
Mandy's LSD-quaffing cult leader villain, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) is reminiscent of Richard Lynch in God Told Me To as much as Manson, or anyone whose charisma is enough that their psychoses rubs off on their followers, giving people a feeling of 'permission' for their darkest violent impulses. Roche has some very chilling moments facing a mirror, both shaming himself and giving himself a pep talk, where he goes from a kind of panicky infantile shame (we sense, as with Manson, a very rough abusive childhood) to dead-eyed sociopathy that's truly chilling, as are some Mansoneque vocal cadences (in the sound mixing his voice seems to echo along several dimensions, slightly doubled and delayed, the way movements give off trails. Some of the best druggy effects in recent memory occur when Mandy wakes from her abduction to find a solid dose of acid going into her system via forced eye drop and then a sting from a weird -- soaked in bizarre honey-style psychedelics--gigantic hornet, placed against her jugular ("the cherry on top"). It's so trippy that Laura Palmer's drugged excursions with Leo and Jacques north of the border seem like Normal Rockwell paintings by comparison. It's part of the reason Jeremiah's weird combination of seduction, initiation, brain-wash, flashing and insecure first date resume (playing his songs for her like an insecure weed dealer - hear it on Spotify - Amulet of the Weeping Maze!) as he trues to lure Mandy into the fold, is so disturbing --with all that power, he's still just a pathetic guy craving sex and adoration. His turning from semi-optimistic to darker than midnight is a riveting example of the way blind faith leads to atrocities, a psychopath allowing his flock entry into a dream state of us vs. them permission reminiscent not just of Manson but Naziism, in ways hard to shake off.

99% of all great horror/genre films remember people
watch TV, and they keep their sets on all the time.
The few non-cultists met on the journey include the still badass Bill Duke as a trucker friend of Red's who reports word coming down from the big rigs, and the attuned-to-cosmic-purposes and wavelengths LSD manufacturer (Richard Brake), who sets Lizzy the tiger free in a scene that's so open-eyed and openly acted in and around a hint of slow motion as to attune one to a whole weird electric plane. With the addition of the 'Cheddar Goblin' on TV (If I learned anything from Terence and Phillip it's that Canadians love their Kraft Dinner), the tiger, grizzly hallucinations and Jupiter, deep into dark mountainous tunnels, the Pagan Nordic warrior vs. the onset of Christianity the original death cult, this dark fairy tale becomes part Mad Max in addition to Robert E. Howard, and every fairy tale wherein the remote isolation and woods absorb the screams and buzz of chainsaws, planets and skies change colors and size, and thus wild outlaws can run around pillaging and destroying in the lord's name without a soul to stop them, except one man, made insane with rage and loss, who might fashion a Norse God-style weapon, retrieve his crossbow from Bill Duke, and ride into battle, even he--mind reeling with blood loss and agony, can stop and stare mindlessly at a Cheddar Goblin commercial, repeating the slogan as if a mantra (2). Grief and suffering heat a man to a cherry red blade ready for an oil quench and a sharpness test. This is not what the blade does to this railroad spike; it's what this railroad spike does to this blade. But forged in the anguish of murderous Jesus freaks, that spike is going to be gutted.



Though filmed in the wilds of Belgium, presumably the black forest region where Hansel and Gretl were chased by Suspiria witches, it's clear this is a film with the wild depths of the Canadian provinces in its heart - dark forest lands that maps can't do justice to, as if our entire USA is engulfed in old growth and chilly salmon-stoked streams, wilderness where meth and LSD labs and wild ATV-riding nightmares run amok. We forget how vast empty country is, our minds pull towns closer together like a wormhole. But if you've ever driven across country, in the North, Highway 80 or 90, you've seen it - the vastness, the emptiness, like it's a whole separate dimension. That vastness coupled to the deep old growth forest vibe is what makes dark Nordic folktales spring to life when enough residents are high as hell or have done enough astral voyaging in their lives that they can shrug off massive doses of the 'good stuff' and laugh mercilessly at the penis of their insane captor. And yet are no different than people you probably know, that cool couple (4) who exist casually in that gulf between blue collar outdoors jobs and white collar education, who love all the things they do and are humble and just out for the same things the rest of us are. The self-imposed dream exile of the Jesus freaks and Black Skulls, these makers of dark myth, are the real losers.

That may be the highest auric ray inherent in the glow of Mandy, the idea that if the average person living their own rock and roll life, may feel smaller than the fucked up maniacs out there, maybe it's really the reverse. The 9-5 job-working couples eating dinner in front of the TV are more mythic than all the Jesus freaks combined. If we 'normals' can slow our roll down, bring our Iron John larger-than-lifeness to even the smallest detail instead of letting it just evaporate in a boozy haze, if we can live so minutely, so that just taking out the trash can reverberate with druggy slow-tempo grinding, the analog synth scores, giving our lives grand menace, until it's as if reality around us will crack from our seeing it do so, maybe the glowing green gem we somehow lost during the 90s via Bjork, Portishead, DJ Shadow, Moby and Massive A.- all that spinal fluid-draining MDMA heartbreak (3) will turn up at last, the warm amniotic fuzzy completion that lies even beyond duality and total union with the OMmmm.

Maybe, deep inside some shrieking hippie's gut pocket, it's still waiting --back there in 1983AD, when we were still reading paperbacks and watching arial TV, rocking to guitar solos, smoking crappy weed, and riding through deep forest canopy. Art was still made on paper and canvas and computers weren't real. If Red and Mandy could see us now, how much of our days are spent staring at screens, our real life slowly moving to the other side of the mirror, they'd run... to where? Maybe Canada, the remote parts, with the terrible cellular reception --on purpose. Or would they just stay where they are, until the clear-cutting got to them and they were bought out for a Pathmark super lot? Either way, the amazing wild energy of Nic Cage has transcended even his old craziness, always kind of half-assed around the edges, and hammy, as if he was fumbling around on a radio dial of insanity looking for his 'One True Signal' - something deeper and wilder than anyone ever before in film and never picking a station 'til he found it. Here he found it- here he's busted through all that at last - this is no longer a giddy Crispin Glover kind of crazy or a method free-style crazy, but a crazy from the masculine diaphragm, laughing and hollering and roaring in the face of dragons. We are delivered. The glory of the Iron John myth, from steel first softened via the nascent Men's Movement of the late 80s, hammered in the Forged and Fire of the anvil-ringing now, now cuts a hole in the fabric of false gods and gossipy phantasms. It will cut. It will kill. The serpent's eye is lifted from the abyssal lair, strange and eternal. Mandy of Jupiter ascends.

Dad, if only I ever got to see you working.


NOTES:

1. See SHINING Examples: Pupils in the Bathroom Mirror (10/11/11)
2. The Cheddar Goblin commercial is very gross (he vomits mac and cheese on lucky kids' heads, but makes a great counterpoint to Red's horrible loss, and is made by the genius behind the beloved Too Many Cooks.
3. It took me ten years of mourning to accept that warm 'first night' rush would never come back. Craig got it all down so beautifully I cry to this
4. See also: The Devil's Candy (2015)

FURTHER:
The Acidemic Nic Cage Reader (Knowing, Kick-Ass, Drive Angry, Bad Lieutenant, Vampire's Kiss) 
Tales from the Benway Pharmacy (Beyond the Black Rainbow, The Machine)
Manson Poppins: The Deathmaster

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Criterion Marlene Dietrich Set Review - Part 1: MOROCCO, DISHONORED, SHANGHAI EXPRESS


If you're looking to worship a higher power of your choice in this screwed up age, may I suggest it be via the church of the recently released Dietrich-Von Sternberg Blu-ray set from Criterion? It has all six films they made in Hollywood (mit aus der Blaue Engel)? I know there is a God, that He/She works through the magic of cinema, and that real magic is available in these films, especially with their Blu-ray clean-up. The set also includes great essays from writers like the incomparable (a friend of this site from way, way back), the Siren, and Gary Giddins, whose books are like bibles of great film and music criticism, even if you don't know a thing about jazz. Me, there's not much I can add to their insightful comments, but I can doodle in the margins, and call back to the one academic source that would have made the set complete, even if its focus might be a little too involved or risque, the masochistic spectator theory (the counter to Mulveyan male gazing) championed by the great feminist film theorist Galyn Studlar (see my Verboten Masochist Supplement from this past July).

Well that's the wonder of this out-of-the-way hole-in-the-wall kind of site. We say whatever weird shit we want. And so, with obsessive worship of Dietrich's glorious features, clothes, and otherworldly cool now so deeply etched into the blu, let us examine these films one at a time in their new setting and format. For even though I've seen them all dozens of times, no matter how many trips to the well, these are unwaveringly cool and intoxicating draughts.

Giddins' essay points out that the six films can really be separated into two parts - the first three films being all of a piece in presenting Dietrich as a single super-cool character (they could all be sequels except for that firing squad). The second three find Dietrich stepping into different characters altogether, each sharing some of Dietrich's elegant nonchalance but each also trapped in the trapping of all the rest of her fellow stars stuck doing domestic drudgery, prostitution-funded motherhood, shop girls swept off their feet by obsessed noblemen, princesses and paupers. Naturally I'm far more partial to the first three, for I never like seeing Dietrich play a character unworthy of her larger-than-life uber-grace. These first three Dietrich films feature her as amongst the coolest of all the cinema's characters, chameleonic if need be but is overall unflappably sublime, in a class by herself until the arrival of Lauren Bacall (who even borrows the "to buy a new hat" line from Morocco as if in tribute, as if to announce that finally, after over a decade, a worthy heir).

I'd go Giddins one further and add they could all even be sequels, a firing squad aside (and since when did death ever stop a girl like this?) With the lover in all three films being essentially the same man (an officer rising from private in the Foreign Legion, to colonel in the Russian Secret Service, to a chief surgeon in the British army in Shanghai Express. In each the level of maturity and game playing grows and falls just a bit, in each she in turn grows, as chameleonic within a single film as he is in all of them combined

MOROCCO 
(1930) ****
Criterion Image: B

When I first started the Criterion Morocco (1930) my heart sank a bit. I was hoping it would be opened up and enriched by the transfer to Blu-ray under Criterion's impeccable eye, but--perhaps due to negative being so old or the settubg--it still has that early washed out fog; the layers of desert dust and hookah smoke in the air tends to whiten the image still (not sure if it can ever look better or not, or why - etc). But, no matter. Previously this was only available on the cheap double-sided DVD 'Glamour Collection' set - which caused us fans no end of worry (those things scratch so easily), cheapening the Dietrich mystique with what looked like a tacky K-Mart perfume box cover.  At least now Morocco finally has the setting it deserves, even if some of us still dream there's a better print waiting to be struck.


Like the next two films in the collection, this tale finds Ms. Dietrich as a world-weary cooler-than-cool seducer of men, larger-than-life and beyond anyone gender, belonging to no one woman or man. Here, as cabaret singer Amy Jolly, she begins the film looking bedraggled on a boat arriving into Morocco's port (a suicide passenger - they're always a one-way trip, notes the captain) to play an extended cabaret gig. Before she even gets off the boat, Monsieur La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou) is making a play. He's not an officer this time, (2) just rich, classy, and influential. He's also not the jealous kind. Far too well-bedded to have any illusions. He still takes her into his arms whenever she wants, slavishly, and even drives her to find her real love when he's wounded.

That real love is Legionnaire Pvt. Brown, played Gary Cooper, he's the male version of her, i.e. a figure all the girls are in love with, who never says no to a proposal, and as a result is juggling everyone from his commanding officer's wife on down to the Arab girls jangling out the windows to him (arranging rendezvous via hand signals while he stands at attention in the winding streets with his regiment. Like Amy, Brown is free from all illusions about love and the opposite sex, yet he still has a rock-solid sense of honor; while reticent in that lanky Cooper way, he's not above sticking his neck out to the point of even making veiled threats to his senior officer about naming his own wife in the investigation of an attack on Brown and Jolly orchestrated by said senior officer's jealous wife. While the officer notes "I appreciate you trying to keep my wife's name out of it," he nonetheless names her and then takes Brown out on a death march, there to follow him into the thick of Arab snipers, ready to shoot him in the back and make it look like an accident. Luckily, an Arab bullet nails the CO and relieves Brown's problem. Yet Brown, ever the cool customer, is not one to rejoice such a loss. This is just blind luck.

For Legionnaire Brown, who's used to girls throwing themselves at his feet, his not making any forward advances on Amy becomes the ultimate transgression. For her, his presence is so intense she wants him to leave mere minutes after he arrives at her little studio apartment ("it looks different now" he notes, indicating he's had trysts with singers there in the past - it's clearly a room the club keeps for their touring attractions). For her part, "there's a Foreign Legion of women, too... but we have no wound stripes" as if evoking the lash welts so coveted by cinematic masochists. He leaves, but of course she follows soon after, anxious for another parting, and it's there in the streets, such as they are, that the trouble begins. If they'd stayed in her room, they'd have been fine. But of course one can only say goodbye once or twice there.



It's actually Cooper and Dietrich that have the most touching romance of all in the six films because both are masters of the small gesture, and Dietrich would not find someone so attuned to that aspect of acting again (the way he always nearly bumps his heads on the low doorways) and the quick exit, exhibiting the reticence of real feelings vs. showing practiced ease with glib seduction, and through it all finding a way to practice a strict abiding moral code, a real even Hawksian (or certainly Jules Furthian) moral code, vs. the bourgeois morals of marital fidelity and so on. In each other, Jolly and Brown find someone who feels as they do - with the same sense of dissolute sluttiness coupled to unshakable honor. Both of them are used to stirring up feelings in the opposite sex way more than they themselves are stirred up, they're comfortable just easing back and letting warring lovers slug it out between them. But now, instead, they're too evenly matched --neither one is the aggressor (at least not successfully), maybe they forgot how. They only know how to evade real feelings: "you better go now. I'm beginning to like you," she tells him, this after he's barely been in her room for a minute or two. It's the ultimate compliment, to kick him out because she likes him. His ultimate compliment retort "I wish I met you ten years ago." And you know he means it. The only way to prove he does mean it is to leave. Hooking up with her would just prove that it was a phony line. Now it's real. His only way of proving his love, is to leave before anything even gets started.

It's hard to go back in time to remember my ambivalent feeling about all their reticence the first few times I saw Morocco. I didn't quite get it and thought both of them were being chumps, and that the censors were behind their lack of connection, but at the same time, I was in a long distance love affair, tortured by longing, and yet every time we got together in person we were just friends, no spark -but we still loved to hang out, and then after she left I would chalk up to my being too shy to bust a move. We were madly in love only by phone and email (I won't name names, but you know you are). Now that I'm older and if not wiser at least on SSRI meds, the torture underwriting those letters is but a memory; it seems absurd (3). And at the same time, now I get the ever-parting sacrifice aspect of Morocco. This is what cinematic love really is, in a way, something that cannot exist in presence. We can fall in love with Dietrich, and even Cooper, but we can't take them home. They don't even see us, yet they stir something good in us. This is not a lusty film where we're meant to ogle or get excited, but thrilled and moved. This is a film of dares and defiance, where no one acts just how some mundane dinner guest might expect. Rather than live a cushy post as the wife of Monsieur La Bessiere, Amy kicks off her high heels and follows her man into the desert on a long march, barefoot into the ever-blowing desert winds.

(It just occurred to me that this isn't really the end (some critics have said it marks Amy's suicide/ death as she won't survive out there- will be left behind, etc). I don't think anything is over. No doubt Monsieur La Bessiere will wait a bit under the arch, then drive in after her. Once her feet get a few blisters she'll probably just sit down and wait expectantly, for his car to drive up.  There's no doubt that Mlavishly, La Bessiere drives her around to check on Brown in all the army hospitals after hearing he's been wounded. (why these guys have to hike everywhere when there are supposedly roads for fancy limos is anyone's guess - just joining them of your own free will suggests a unique kind of masochism).

After all this searching, she finds him and he's sitting there with a cute Arab girl in his lap, who's wearing his hat, no less (a kind of subtextual mirror to Amy's male gender signifier-appropriating métier), while he drunkenly carves Amy's name into the table with a heart around it. When Amy finally finds him he covers it up with the scattered playing cards. He receives her coldly, and she adjusts her frantic tone appearing suddenly nonplussed, only mildly surprised to find him there. The best he can offer as a warm greeting is another evasion --as his company is called back to the barracks before a long march - "come see me off tomorrow" (his regiment leaves at dawn). She does see him off, of course, though for these night owls getting up at dawn seems yet another masochistic indulgence.

This weird dichotomy of absence/presence is our first taste of Von Sternberg's sense of freedom of total debasement in the flame of the other as the goal even more so than actually being with the other --thus deserting his outfit and running away with Amy Jolly to the Riviera is a nice idea but would ruin their love, turning it into just another pair of attractive scammers on the make, when in this masochistically unfulfilled state, it could blaze on forever (so he writes on the mirror--"I changed my mind. Good luck!" - and she later admires it as a kind of to-the-point eloquence unusual for a soldier). There's a mirror of this, a cautionary tale of the other option-- in another Garden of Allah, where a deserter (Charles Boyer) from a holy order of monks, hooks up with Dietrich, breaking his vow of celibate devotion. Eventually he's guilt-tripped into returning, but at least gets to taste the sweetness of life outside the monastery. Nonetheless, the intensity of their love increases in the frustration of the absence, and his willingness to flee his vows to be with her is what paradoxically lowers her high regard for him. And then there's the movie Von Sternberg and Dietrich made in Berlin, The Blue Angel, wherein the professor runs away to join the show and marry Naughty Lola, and winds up as the clown enduring Chaney-esque humiliations onstage and lumbering through the audience after his wife's performance, peddling the same dirty postcards he was confiscating earlier while an esteemed professor. We can't imagine that same fate for Cooper, yet what else would he do? Sell apples? His honor would be gone and soon she'd be pregnant admonishing him for not having a job.

Another unique touch: as their romance develops, each character talks in that measured careful way that one can't quite tell is something JVS thought was sexy or just what what the early sound equipment demanded (in 1930 the fewer words... in a line of dialogue... and the more pauses... the better), the feeling is that a lot of emotion is being withheld in those pauses, and that's largely because the leads themselves are so luminous, and the sound effects around them so intoxicating. As with their previous collaboration, The Blue Angel, what the actual dialogue might be limited by in terms of clarity does not effect diegetic sound (of which, like Fritz Lang in M, Von Sternberg was an early master): bird calls, distant Arab singing, chanting, Islamic prayers, and idle conversation outside windows, the slow arrival and fade of military bugles and drums (1).  The crowd scenes especially in Von Sternberg's mise-en-scene carry far more complex movement and little termite details than we find almost anywhere else.

This is also, surprisingly, one of only three times Dietrich will sing in a cabaret in the films (the other two being Blonde Venus and The Devil is a Woman) and it's a shame there wasn't more such scenes as she clearly belongs there. It's where she got her start (when she had to cancel her violinist career due to wrist issues); the songs in this hot Morocco club, with the fans and the orchestra leader with his tuxedo collar popping out, the jacket off, wiping a big cloth o3n his forehead with his baton hand (also holding a fan), are so iconic we wish the film was an hour longer and just included her whole set (like Criterion's MONTERY POP box, expanding the Hendrix and Otis Redding sets in full as separate discs). Imagine what that would be like her just singing and wandering around the club, playing off the varied clientele, for a full forty minutes or so - that would be some kind of outtasite Heaven.

DISHONORED 
(1931) ***1/2
Criterion Image: A-

A loose re-telling of the 'possibly true' story of the other (i.e. not Mata Hari) WWI sexy super spy  'Fraulein Doctor' (see also 1968's Fraulein Doctor), this starts out with Dietrich as an Austrian war widow-turned-streetwalker living at a Viennese apartment house/brothel where despair and gas-powered suicide are so common the cops barely shake off their rain-soaked ennui long enough to make a tsk-tsk noise as they carry another one out, but Dietrich, watching from across the street, won't say die. Her unflappable cool and stubborn loyalty to a country that's forgotten her leads her to be recruited as special agent X-27 by secret service man Gustav von Seyffertitz. First she hits a streamer-packed masquerade party, uncovers the treachery of military bigwig Warner Oland, gets a load of Victor Maclagen playing the clown and talking through his teeth, and later gets information that sends 'thousands of Russians to their deaths' while wearing no make-up and making cat noises. Posing as a maid servant in the Russian border HQ, it takes even us awhile to realize that's her. Damn girl, what make-up will do. Nonetheless she's aces at getting a colonel drunk enough while playing tag that she can spy on his papers after he passes out. Her prowling black cat gives her away (Mclagen remembers it from his midnight visit through her window), but he can't kill her until the dawn (there are rules!), so there's one of those magic dissolves to the snowy night woods, indicating sex has occurred, maybe (even pre-code had a code, and that's it). And soon she's back in HQ playing out the plans in a scene that no doubt inspired Hithcock's similar one in Lady Vanishes. 

Either way, the role of female James Bond fits Marlene well. She and her Russian op counterpart McLaglen are like advanced serpentine predators in a world of clueless prey. They are keen observers and always five moves ahead of the pack, yet Dietrich is dumb enough to keep her spying orders (uncoded) in her coat pocket where McLaglen can find them, read them, replace them, and promptly head off to try and catch her in the act on the front line hotel where she's headed. He's also dumb enough to accept a drink from her, though she patiently waits until the very last minute to drug him, seemingly resigned to her fate. She really is unafraid to die, and that's one of the reasons he finds her so exciting. "Hope you're on my side next war!" is his equivalent to Brown's "I wish I met you ten years ago."

He could easily have killed her on the spot instead so it's clear that, while not exactly collaborating, McLaglen and Dietrich make it pretty for the other to escape when they fall into each others' clutches. In this they're a bit like Adam West's Batman and Julie Newmar's Catwoman... Apparently, that's how the KGB and CIA were with each other back in the day - rather than keep killing each other, they'd swap enough secrets, turn each other into double double agents, share enough tidbts to make their bosses happy, then lean back and get drunk together. I mean, that's the smart play, after all. Why kill each other over this shit? If either side wins, you're both out of a job.


And that's partly the problem for Dishonored's detractors, of which I used to be one: we were appalled that this sensitive seductress would deliberately sabotage her own sworn duty by letting someone as leering and one-dimensional as Mclaglen's Russian spy escape during her interrogation, and then not even deign to answer the charges of collaboration against her during the military tribunal. They desperately want to cut her a break but she won't help. The best she can do is say "I've lead an inglorious life, it might be my good fortune to have a glorious death." So she never got far from that Viennese gas jet asphyxiation suicide state of mind after all.

I always imagine her adding the word 'scene' at the end of that sentence: to have "a glorious death scene," for it's always clear that in these films there's no such thing as a 'happy ever-after' because somewhere along the line Von Sternberg has turned us into frustrated lovers, longing--not unlike the odious Johnny in the latter BLONDE VENUS--for the sort of happy ending American directors love but sophisticated jaded intellects like Von Sternberg can't take seriously. We think we'd love to see X-27 back on the case, keeping a date with Mclaglen at some monastery after the war, like Constance Bennett in After Tonight. Or do what Myrna Loy does as the same character (Fraulein Doctor) in Stamboul Quest (though ideally not with smirking American tourist George Brent) or --better yet--as in Fraulein Doctor, laughing sardonically in her allied nurse disguise after watching a whole frontline of French soldiers choking in agony via gas she stole from a French female chemist during a lesbian tryst (if a female chemist making WWI poison gas sounds familiar, you maybe saw Wonder Woman? It's all connected).

In the JVS-Dietrich-verse, it's all about how you die or behave at the end of the film, for that's the echo, that's what people remember, the ghost image, like the imprint of a dead man's pupils recording the last thing he saw. X-27 knows her masks are all there is (and even her peasant disguise -- not wearing make-up at all-- is a mask) and through her nonchalance (and even rapturous smile - left), she devours conscience of the firing squad with the ambivalent curiosity of a cat playing with a box of regimented mice. Dietrich in the JVS movies knows she has only 90 minutes in which to exist so she may as well go out on an impaled-butterfly-pin high rather than preserve herself in some uncertain happy ever-after of old age make-up and bucolic leaf-eating caterpillar drudgery. Her Dishonored death pleases her for the same reason it frustrates us, as well as the whole secret service: her inability/unwillingness to explain why she let him escape (I think in El Dorado they'd call it "professional courtesy"). Just as becoming X-27 helped her shed her prostitute guise, the firing squad becomes a chance to shed the movie altogether. That she'd want to escape all mortal coils and comforts for some barely spoken maybe-not-even-love sends the patriarchy into masochistic fits. ME too! Throwing away money and power over men away in favor poverty and oblivion in the name of some undeserving but very tall smirking lover --it makes me want to scream!

But then the young officer leading her to the wall has his outburst about it and it just sounds childish. He's led away and a different officer takes his place immediately. Von Sternberg has the last chilling laugh.

Only when starting the film over at the beginning immediately after the ending does it make sense in a Mulholland Drive-style Moebius strip way. The snow of the backyard firing squad wall gives way to the rain of the courtyard to the front street, the snow dawn to the rainy evening - as the asphyxiated body is lifted outside ("She didn't even leave enough for the gas bill" notes a sardonic landlord) by the cops. We first see her watching the morgue wagon parked in the pouring rain in front of the building, seeing it perhaps as a kind of nihilist prom limo, and she knows it's stopping for her not long from now. She knows the girl in the coffin is destined ere long to be her But her ethical code doesn't permit suicide, so she must wait until her death scene can be proper and glorious, with a weeping audience of young soldiers to perform it for. This is the one mask that can't come off, because to pull it resets the whole damned show. In the space where that Paramount logo mountain tag provides the Alpine breather, here alone Dietrich can fly free. Naturally she wants to get back to it asap.

The Criterion Blu-ray image is intoxicating as the steep curve upwards I was expecting with this set begins to kick in after a so-so start with Morocco. Her Ziggy Stardust-style masquerade attire sparkles like an obsidian sky beflecked with diamonds and as no doubt JVS hoped when meticulously filling the screen canvas, the ever flowing streamers and confetti of the ball scene, as it plays out on two levels at the same time, glistens so that every streamer is clearly visible and separate from its neighbors. X-27's fancy apartment now attains a nice cavernous dream-state 3D quality and the elaborate study of Warner Oland's traitorious general carries extra masculine gravitas. We feel for her how it would ever be possible to search the whole place in the time it takes for Seffeyritz to distract him on the telephone, etc. and the opening scene with the rainy street and the prowling camera now carries an almost dark angel mysticism.

--
 SHANGHAI EXPRESS 
(1932) - *****
Criterion Image: A-

"I wish you could tell me there'd been no other men."
"I wish I could, Doc. But five years in China is a long time..."

Second in my heart only to His Girl Friday as far as sending up the harbingers of decency, this not only has a great pre-code Paramount jazz score, bullfrog-voiced Eugene Palette, Warner Oland, and Gustav von Seyffertitz getting tortured for the crime of shutting off fans (a major offense since I always watch this in deepest summer), and Dietrich--never lovelier--but Anna May Wong at her most coolly exotic, passing back the prim boarding house matron's business card with a cold stare, sharing the compartment with Dietrich, playing the gramophone and turning their shared space into a den of stylish cool like we imagine Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenberg might have while traveling together on a Rolling Stones tour circa 1966-7, wandering into some dream version of Paramount's already surreal champagne-and-opium 1932 via some kind of Donald Cammell time warp.

Oh saints of alternate reality, would that Von Sternberg and screenwriter Jules Furthman made a dozen movies with Wong and Dietrich luxuriating in their car in her long black silk gowns, listening to jazz on the portable gramophone and smoking stylishly, barely speaking between themselves but sharing that "professional courtesy", wrecking dozens of souls all along the China coast, the dutiful reverend Carmichael (Lawrence Grant) trailing behind to help turn the broken, desperate men towards god before they blow their brains out, but never never judging them because, when the chips are down, even Shanghai Lily prays, and beautifully.

That Carmichael turns from ranting about the train's "cargo of sin" to sticking up for her against Clive Brooks shows he's the most dynamic character in the film, the only one who demonstrably changes his opinion, because he puts his money where his mouth is. It's hard not to be moved by his gruff assurance to her that God is "on speaking terms with everybody." This is where Von Sternberg blows the mind, along with masterful Jules Furthman on the script, as he did with Morocco (and so many of the best Hawks films, making us wonder if its Furthman, not Von Sternberg or Hawks, who supplies the unique sense of moral code his characters share, a moral code leagues above the petty sense of bourgeois 'decency' uptight prudes mistake for morality, but a true chivalrous code where a word is as good as a bond, and death isn't flinched from even though it's known all too well).

The whole first half of this film is a glorious ribbing of censors, colonialism, and British prudery, only to reverse the flow later by having the Henry Davidson harrumpher turn over to Shanghai Lily's side of things, and the train to at last reach the station. I watch it every summer, sometimes more than once, with all the fans blowing high on me (to spite that loathsome Gustav), rapt in a unique kind of midnight ecstasy.

(PS - 2017 re-viewing): The ultimate rationale for why artifice and illusion are cinema's--as well as woman's--stock and trade, what I come away this latest viewing is how frozen in cigarette ad abstraction is our Major Harvey. His banter with Dietrich is like a long secret code, repeated in abstract mantra form like some Karloff Latin mass, the cigarette smoke like holy incense. She's an exotic danger to which his only defense is to freeze in place and betray no desire. She too mustn't betray her true feelings at first, mustn't tremble the leaves and tip off the prey; she must stay aloof in the same way the image mustn't include a boom mike shadow. (from EK's all-time favorite - top 25, - #4 after Big Sleep, The Thing and His Girl Friday)

(PS - 2018 re-viewing on Criterion Blu-ray): A cleaned-up sparkly Blu-ray of Shanghai Express is still only marginally more satisfying than the past DVD from TCM, though the blacks are much deeper and obviously special care was taken for the key iconographic moments, like the one above, the shadows of the darkened train compartment now glisten with 3D velvet obsidian against which the silky white of Marlene's face gushes in rapture. The opening and closing scenes of her with the black feathered boa and veil now show the sharp plains of her face like some creamy cliffside or glistening creamy Ivory soap bar. The twinkle in her eyes and glistening of the black feathers carries an intoxicating electric allure. The added sense of depth allows us to revel in the layers of activity in each frame (even inside the cars, the foot traffic past the compartments continues; waiters and porters get in the stars' way, and the backgrounds are alive with comic bits so fast an innocuous it takes years of viewings to suss them out.)

ASIATIC EXTRAS (Blu-ray Extra):

Especially in films of white colonialists swept up in Asian affairs, like Shanghai Express (as opposed to, say, The Good Earth), exotica is the rule, and a chance for art directors to go nuts with foreign bric a brac and religious iconography. Exotica, in the term of using the cultural art and style of another country as pure 'other' decor-is still super common. Just walking down the hall at work to get tea just now I passed an office where I could see a little Krishna statue amongst on a fellow staff member's desk --their sole connection to Hinduism being, maybe, a yoga class. I have a Buddha head on my desk though have never even entered a Buddhist shrine. What would we feel I wonder to find Jesus souvenirs sold to Buddhists as souvenirs? Everyone needs a dashboard suction cup Jesus or a Jesus on the cross pencil holder! With Christ being no more than an exotic piece of souvenir detritus.... how would we take it?

In the words of  Kali Bahlu, "Oh Buddha, I'm so confused!"
---

The first three films in this set--as we have seen--get steadily more beautiful and unabashed in their unconventional Weimar decadence-meets-Hollywood opulence pre-Breen/pre-Hitler libidinal freedom. They are ahead of their time pictures of fallen women who--as opposed to say some saintly working girl ala Joan Crawford or Loretta Young--remain unabashed by their state, never judging themselves for wrecking men up and down the China coast, or buying into the condemnation of the 'moral' right the way, say, Loretta Edwards or Joan Crawford, or even Mae Clarke over at Universal (in Waterloo Bridge), would do in similar circumstances. They don't hold themselves in lower esteem than anyone else, in short (the way say Jean Harlow is expected to stay out of sight when a 'decent' Mary Astor shows up in Red Dust). Dietrich's characters are all-knowing and beyond self-judgment; they'd never renounce their past (the only thing Shanghai Lily would do different after five years as a 'coaster' is not bob her hair), they know that as Dietrich's Paramount compadre Mae West put it, "when women go wrong, men go right after them." At the peak of her power as Shanghai Lily, Dietrich becomes a mix of Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter and the wise man on the mountain in Black Narcissus. The moment on the train when Marlene and Anna May Wong psych out the proper prim matron of a boarding house in Shanghai Express (Yorkshire pudding is her specialty) stands tall as one the greatest in all of cinema. So often only the boys can be bad and not be punished for bucking convention. Here it's character that counts, and though she's a high end prostitute 'adventuress,' Lily clearly has her own form of integrity way beyond most proper ladies. When she agrees to leave with Chang to save Harvey's eyesight, she knows she must stick to it ("a man is a fool to trust any woman," notes Chang, "but I believe a word of honor would mean something to you") and would, except for Wong's timely knife. That she lets Harvey think she wanted to is proof of her daunting moral code. So often in the world of exotica films (especially, say, the Todd Browning/Lon Chaney pictures, or Al Jolson sagas), love means debasement and loss of identity. In these films love may claim lives, and even reputations, but never honor. And the opinion of Yorkshire pudding-making matrons and doctors of divinity in service of mankind don't even rate on her scale. Menjou's masochistic patient suitor in Morocco gets it, and so plays the rules. When he wishes Cooper's legionnaire "good luck" on his march, you believe he means it. "You see," he tells his dinner guests, "I love her."

Man, we know the feeling. That logos going to swallow her up from our sight no matter if we beg and plead like infants or stand tough and game-faced like soldiers, like worthy lovers, like... her. Bye-bye, or rather au revoir... auf wiedersehen... bis spater. Bald, hoffe Ich, sehr bald. 

Aber, bitte mit kein kindern? 

end part 1
NOTES:
1. The sound of a distant diegetic tribal drum was a common atmospheric thread amongst colonialist dramas, often either based directly on W. Somerset Maugham works (The Letter, Rain, The Narrow Corner) or inspired by their success (The Road to Singapore, Mandelay, White Woman, Red Dust) . It could denote anything from a native uprising to a chief's son at death's door ("when the drums stop," as --- notes in Black Narcissus -- he's dead") but often served as a kind of voodoo call towards a pair of errant lovers, a kind of manmade version of howling wind or monsoon rain. 
2. but once again he's he so often is in these sorts of films, all of which fall into a kind of loose romantic triangle: the handsome private in love with a beautiful nurse or singer coveted by his superior officer or just a rich, influential, older man with the power to transfer him to some dangerous, remote outpost, ala Prestige, Farewell to Arms, Friends and Lover
3. Lacan really helped with this, too. Understanding that the pain of absence really is the reward of love, that the objet petit a structures the whole foundation of the self - attaining it leads to depression and disillusionment which can be a reward unto itself, setting you free to--in the words of Lou Reed--find a new illusion. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Erich K's HEREDITARY Witchcraft Conspiracy DSM-IV Reader


I'd forgotten about all about conspiracies, Saturn, Satan and schizophrenia until I finally saw HEREDITARY, which brought it all cascading back, buckling the thin walls of sanity I'd set barely nailed up after exiting the paranoid conspiracy zone writing some of the posts linked below. Not that this amazing new horror movie is just conspiracy paranoia-tingling, no, no no! It's also a deep character study that takes its time to get going and, true to the name, rides the raft of inherited mental illness all the down the DNA river into the tributary to the sea of true madness. There's a recently deceased mother with "a lot of secrets" and a whole family tree of suicides and despair and then Toni Collette, the daughter, and also the scariest yet most sympathetic mother in a horror film since Essie Davis in The Babadook, coming to terms with things like her son not trusting her just because he once woke up one night to find himself and his sister covered with turpentine and mom standing over them while they slept with a book of matches in her hand. She was sleepwalking! He doesn't believe her, not even now. We don't see it, but it's a haunting slow burn image that ranks with those moments in Paranormal Activity as far as making all our unconscious eight-hour stretches in bed suddenly seem so unsafe we wonder how we ever managed to sleep at all. (If you've ever encountered a sleepwalker, then you know how terrifying it is, that flat dilated black pupil look in their eyes). This movie does what great horror movies do, it takes these nuggets of forgotten uncanny everyday living and slowly compiles them alongside enough sudden calamities and random bits of disturbing 'accident' that it's much more than a mere thrill ride, it's something that slowly builds until it turns by extension your life into a horror movie, like a virus. While you were distracted by one narrative, it snuck around behind you with another, and pushed you out of your safe viewing distance into something like terrified rapture.

The debut feature from young Ari Aster, the film successfully gets the whole "there is no difference between inherited paranoid schizophrenia, manic depression, and witchcraft" route (the kind mastered in Rosemary's Baby and duplicated almost nowhere else since... until now). Treading so close on our actual fears it crosses the line where imagination becomes insanity, like that normal-seeming friend confiding in you all sorts of paranoid-sounding statements, like someone is breaking in at night to move boxes around in her closet (am I the only one with weird friends like these?). This is the kind of film wherein a roster of DSM IV-spiked beliefs start to dovetail with the Old Testament, making us wonder if the ultimate conspiracy theory paranoid schizophrenic manifesto might be the Bible. Is it so hard to believe that, once the blinders on our perceptions are opened through chanting, stress, sleepiness, magical potions, or prolonged trauma conditioning (PTC), the witchcraft can begin in earnest. Maybe we can only fly when no one who doesn't believe we can is watching. Maybe if we can let go of our bodies we don't need a broomstick; when no one is around to listen, the sound a tree falling in the woods makes is like music in the eye of a screaming demon.


Here lie some links to past conspiracy writing should you be a glutton for madness, or need more ideas for similar mind-benders afterwards:

The Goat of Menses and the Fox in the Atheist Hole: THE WITCH
(March 2nd, 2016)

"So see the movie and understand at last why patriarchal science and religion are both such hardheaded dicks about the unknown and supernatural, and why Christian zealotry has never not been on the rise and why women are always considered a zone outside of western rational objectivity. Only in one or two other films have we seen beautiful women materialize out of the darkness of the woods or the gleam of the bathtub, as irresistible as a warm slug of whiskey in an unfriendly wilderness, our willpower long gone, we lower our lips towards their hearth and then suddenly these figures grab onto us as if with clawed tentacles and thorny paws. They are not hot and young at all, but decomposing and very old. You've been tricked, son of Adam! The distance of time between that first kiss, the wedding bells, funeral chimes, cold ground worms boring through rotten pine box walls collapses into a single Donald Sutherland death rattle.

This powerful motif, the 'young-old predatory woman' reflects the tradition of the sidpa bardo in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the level of purgatory where you see and notice only undulating lovers like flames in an otherwise all-consuming darkness. If you let yourself be drawn too close to them you run the risk of finding yourself stuck like a fly in the frozen web of the woman's newly-fertilized embryo, like being sucked over a waterfall. Then devouring demon rock below shreds your current construct of self into a million pieces which sink or scatter in the rapid current below; only the core I AM remains trapped in that sticky embryonic web- and soon you've forgotten you were ever anywhere else-- the 'you' you believed yourself to be is shaved away like your hippie hair under the electric razor of a FULL METAL JACKET barber." (more)

The Illuminati, Hypnosis, Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Kubrick, and Tom Cruise 
(DP - May 2016)

As per Zizek via Lacan (or vice versa), the Big Other's whole purpose is to remove the 'constituent anxiety," to make sure there is no "traversing" the fantasy which would dislocate the subject from its void-circumscribing orbit. In EYES WIDE SHUT, Ziegler's positing Dr. Bill as an outsider who will never be a member of this exclusive shadow society, no matter what mask he dons, is doing him a massive favor, because this forbidden society exists solely in order to exclude him, and thus perpetuate constituted (rather than constituent) anxiety. It's a gift, son! This lack of a gift is the best gift he can give.

A similar effect occurs with UFO crash sightings wherein the military steps in, harasses and bullies witnesses into silence, and reports it was a weather balloon or crashed satellite, then hauls it away never to be seen again. In doing this they perpetuate the revolution around the desire. They fan the flames of the need to know, and so perpetuate the illusion that they have this thing well in hand. If they announced a spacecraft was found, the world press would swamp them and create panic, but by simultaneously threatening witnesses and lying to the press they create a subliminal consolation. Instead of worrying about aliens (which is terrifying - coming with a sense of total powerlessness and vulnerability) we're angry at the government for not telling us the truth. We always feel protected when denied knowledge. It brings us full circle back to the feeling of invulnerability we had as five year-olds bugging our mom about where babies come from, free from any worry she might actually find out, that she'd lie to protect us from the whole bloody-terrible besital truth. (full)

Genealogy of Flies: LORDS OF SALEM (2013), HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2008) + My own Salem Witch Connections
(September 2013)

 I have to mention, as always when discussing Salem and genealogy (characters here are descendants of the hung witches and/or judges and executioners) that all these descendant movies are fascinating on a personal level for me because the one side of my family tree that kept immaculate records is from Salem, having arrived in Boston in 1631 (with fellow passenger Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island): This side of my tree includes nuggets like these (copied direct):
The family of John Perkins 1583-1654 - freeman 18th May 1631
Married Judith Gates, born Newent, Gloucestershire, England
Children: 
1. "Quartermaster" John - b. 1614 0 d. Dec, 14, 1686
2. "Deacon" Thomas 1616-1686 (not the witch hunter, he died before that)
3.  Elizabeth 1618-1700 / married William Sargent (5 children)
4. Mary 1620-1700 - "She was accused of witchcraft, sentenced, but the execution delayed and the citizens recovered from the delusion." (+5 more)
The Family of Elisha Perkins (born - 1656 - Topfield) died - 1741 in Methuen
Married Catherine Towne - 1680
--
Children:
(9 total), including: John (third son) born Aug. 12, 1685 - died June 22, 1750
married Mary Easty (whose mother Mary Easty and Aunt Rebecca Towne Nurse were hanged for witchcraft) --etc.

Age of Asherah: ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)
(May 2014)

"In conveying Rosemary's gradual awakening from compliance ("you're gonna think I really flipped,") Polanski exploits our willingness to grant power to unseen forces, and thus allows us to see the link between paranoia and pregnancy, and how the patriarchal condescension in the big city can completely dominate even a free spirited young woman from Iowa whose determination to be hip is both her saving grace and undoing. Taken in total, her story has devils of both the psychoanalytical interpretation variety (paranoia brought on by hormonal surges due to pregnancy) and the physical arrival, up from the subconscious realm, of a devil ("Hail Satan!"), in other words, Rosemary's Baby is the opposite of a film like Inception - which is a story about people invading other people's dreams. Baby is about a dream incarnated into living tissue, the rip in time is the rip in Rosemary's womb from which out claws the Elder God.

When we sense something is being kept from us, whatever it is gains in power as our fears project onto it and projection is exactly how the coven operates: they chant together and use combined mind projection to astral travel along an associative nine-dimensional curve via an item belonging to the victim into that victim's nervous system (like following a DNA print through space the way a cell phone signal follows a chip). This is the same 'reality' that paranoid schizophrenics and remote viewing agents live in (tiny microphones in their teeth, men following them in brown town cars, etc); it's an ocean wherein all dreamers are linked together, are as fish, surfers, sailors, drowners, whales, or dolphins, in a matrix of nonlocal consciousness. The Satanist sails on the surface (hence Rosemary's dream of being on a boat and seduced by a Naval officer, like Nicole Kidman's fantasy in Eyes Wide Shut - see Make-Up Your Mind Control); the psychedelic shamans surf until they're wiped out or transcend the ocean altogether; unconscious dreamers bob in the waves; and the schizophrenics drown but do not die, just hover in that agitated drowning panic until medicated or the spell subsides. Rosemary's dream begins on the ship and winds up bobbing, then sinking, before clawing her way back to land (finding the secret passage between the apartments). In the end she joins with the cult because her maternal instinct is too strong to resist. (Besides, she wasn't even invited before - that's what stings, being left out, when she's the most important part, like not inviting the kid with the fake ID who bought the booze to your party. But now, no one even has to ask her to come now - it's really her party, whether they like it or not). "What have you done to its eyes?!" she asks, horrified. "He has his father's eyes," Castavet answers. And its the eyes of Guy's rival for his coveted part that are affected by the telepathic sabotage of the coven - the windows to the soul. No one has their own eyes anymore, the souls are long since funneled. (more)

(October- 2013)

Cinema's pagan devil culture can't quite capture the ephemeral chain of cause-and-effect karma ouroboros-boomeranging to the point just watching a film creates bad luck, but it can generate a feeling of unease through depiction of the most sophisticated or banal of circumstances if it but tweaks them with little uncanny ripples of fatalistic coincidence that benefit or harm as befits 'the bargain.' With Satan there's usually a gruesome payoff after the subject sells his soul for a drink, where he learns he's "always been the caretaker," and so forth. Ask not whom is sacrificed on the ancient altar, because if no one told you else it's going to be, then it's you. You're doing both the killing and the being killed. Two ends of a scroll slowly rolling towards each other, when they meet, your text has disappeared.

So is there free will in a Satanic model of reality? Maybe the one who has 'always been the caretaker' can play Christian the way a closeted gay guy can play straight i.e. stunting his own potential and becoming far less than he was meant to be, or he can let go of the handrails and let Satan's vacuum suction pull him towards the full realization of his unholy destiny. If your Christian family would rather have you as a stunted straight than a fully blossomed gay person then they are the cursed, not you. Thus the devil exists only in advocate position --where there is hypocrisy he brings truth; where there is repression he brings exultation.

If we apply that logic to the actual making of these films, wife Sharon Tate is doomed the moment husband Roman Polanski helps her get the part in EYE; Polanski is doomed to exile the moment he shoots a scene wherein a woman is drugged and date raped by Satan. It all connects, from the devil's murky fatalistic machinations within the story--recreating itself through helping Guy get the part in that play (as, fittingly enough, a cripple)--to the reality of its makers (Castle's kidney stones, etc). The devil's happy to crib off your paper, so to speak, to make reality out of the image you made of him. It's as if film was little more than a halfway point, the equivalent of a pie cooling on the windowsill before its opened up and devoured, except the windowsill is a mirror, and the pie sliced open is a young and lovely actress -- an accident that becomes a rupture in the fabric of pop culture history. (More)

(October 2013)

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG is on TCM in the background as I write about mind control, totally by chance. Onscreen: an audience of power elite have assembled to watch a demonstration. An automaton girl in German peasant attire is standing before a series of mirrors (which I've just learned they use in Monarch mind control programming mere minutes before this comes on), singing that she's under a spell and delivering an almost exact description of sexually subjugating mind control techniques (including having the demonstration occur before an assembled audience, which mirrors our standard dreams of being exposed naked at a school exam). Coincidence?


Maybe nyoets, for if there was a blueprint for mind control it would probably be geared to work towards reproducing--as close as possible--synchronicity, the iconography of normal subconscious dreaming, and the mechanics of sexual repression, allowing the programmers to tap into the unconscious' control state with maximum ease, 'speaking its language' so to speak. Programming their automaton women, the "standard pleasure model" ala BLADE RUNNER, DR. GOLDFOOT, etc. (see CinemArchetype #16 - the Automaton) to fall in love with whatever billionaire diplomat is breezing through town for a weekend, these girls wouldn't even know they had microphones in their teeth to record any business secrets that might get spilled in pillow talk, or which could be used for blackmail. They wouldn't even remember being there. Or suffocating him with a pillow and making it look like a heart attack.

I don't believe this was what CHITTY was trying to achieve (then again, Walt Disney was a 33-degree Mason) but it shows you that once you let this paranoid stuff into your mind, it mutates and transforms even dishwater dull children's movies into rabbit holes of horrifyingly vast circumference. (full)

Caretake Sparkle: ROOM 237
October 1, 2013

Call the critics in ROOM 237 paranoid, overreaching, seeing too deeply, perhaps mildly schizophrenic, but at least they know how to look deeply.... deeply... into the Kubrick's crystal ball. And as long as it’s well written I’ll read good crazy film deconstructive analysis over lifeless, if intellectually advanced, Bordwell style 'post-theory' any day. To the average academic, a crazy person is someone whose words must by definition have no meaning; to Acidemic, a crazy person is someone uniquely aware of how awfully close death and blood and pain is to the surface of our skin-thin reality at every given moment -- he goes crazy because he can’t shut it out of his mind; it doesn’t go away after eight hours like it does for the humble tripper, or fade with some deep breaths like it does for the anxiety attack sufferer. So if it makes him unusually aware of how everything is connected, to the point he even sees connections where there aren't any, well, maybe we're not digging deep enough. Maybe our teeth really do contain hidden microphones, but the dimension where that happens is far beyond ours. Somewhere advanced 8th dimensional beings are recording every human word and sigh for some massive Akashic library, using the teeth like crystal sets…. (full)

Daze of our Lies (or "As the Reichstag Burns"): SECRET HONOR, HITLER (1962), UFO HUNTERS, Lord Lhus!
(September '11)

If you surrender to Hall/Nixon's fever dream rant (and you may as well since there's nothing else going on in the film) you enter a pretty spooky world, a U.S. with the curtains ripped back to reveal giant white owls devouring a pile of gutted mice and money. Presidents like Nixon (and now Obama) are just straw dogs set up to take all the shit the manipulated American public cares to volley after being robbed and deluded by the previous office holders (who conveniently step down right before it hits the podium). Watergate was Nixon's way of reversing the straw dog parabolic mirror. Instead of the plan to throw Nixon to the wolves so his puppeteer overlords could sneak off to the inky darkness of the Bohemian Grove's towering redwoods, Dick snags up the strings by pretending to fall off the stage, derailing their entire evil plan... for now.

Meanwhile we see the paintings of Eisenhower, Lincoln, Jefferson on the oval office walls, and they all seem twisted and arcane, as if swirling reptilian pan-dimensional aliens were, even now, within the confines of a portrait on television on television, writhing and breathing and corrupting the deepest tissue of man's democracy with Martian spider eggs(full)

CinemArchetype V: The Human Sacrifice
(Feb. 28, 2012)
In the movies the sacrificial subject creates a great unease because it hits so close to home; the death is intrinsically tied into the act of viewing itself. The tribe always gathers to watch the sacrifice, otherwise what's the point? Watching these sacrifices now (i.e. slasher film killings, etc.) stirs up deep archetypal responses from our past lives still seeing through the two-way crystal ball eye. If the film is clever about it, the whole process sneaks up on us and suddenly, too late to do back out, we feel the big black body bag suddenly close over our heads and the credits roll us right into the cremation furnace; to our horror, our friends regard our anguished pleas with the same ambivalent mix of compassion, gratitude (better us than them), and morbid curiosity, we felt looking at all the other victims. Sometimes we're led by the nose ring of desire, sometimes we're manacled unwillingly to the Satanic altar, either way it's like a spin the bottle game where sooner or later the bottle is going to point to us... and then when it does we're always hoping for that last minute rescue and when that last minute's up we try one last gambit: take my wife, please. If that doesn't work, we try to substitute our children, our friends, anyone! And all those members we would have so willingly held down had the bottle not pointed at us now hold us down. We can't even complain it's not fair, since we've already killed so many in just this same way to avoid being killed ourselves. Every cult member knows this truth - every innocent drop of blood spilled is just another interest payment on the massive carnivorous debt we owe that dark insatiable thing below.
  (full)

The Primal Scenesters: TWIN PEAKS
Nov. 2016

Consider the implication in a lot of these stories (THE INNOCENTS and THE HAUNTING in particular) that deep cover memory repression of dark events provides the current that activates the dark ghost 'residual energy' captured in the walls, so that traumatic moments in the past keep repeating. That energy stays there, up for grabs to anyone with the right wireless router to tap into. And who has that router? Free-floating demonic spirits--formless and powerless initially, like inactive ions or dried-up flies in the corners and basement doorways--the trauma recorded in the stone provides the energy jolt back into corporeal existence (on some higher or lower frequency from the spectrum of most human's perception). Be the energy coming from the trauma of past dark crimes or--in the case of poltergeists--boys or girls hitting puberty, the huge amount of psychic disturbance shocks the inert magnetic anomaly some choose to call Satan into our dimensional spectrum.

In other words, incest or similarly abominable crimes are like a wave generator that gets the boat of consciousness bobbing, allowing the usually unseen barnacles on the lower hull to rise above sea level. Thus the unseen barnacles whisper to sleeping seamen above them through the wood, bidding them to obscenely vile doings. (full)


Dentist Chair Don Juan: Love Radio and the Scaly Father
(C-Influence - March 21st, 2011)
...mystical visions can trick you... In September of 2006 I was meditating one afternoon after work, when I felt the sky and wall dilate open behind me an a giant electromagnetic hand touched my shoulder, enlightening me instantly in a profound holy 'beyond duality' glow. For two months I was completely egoless and in tune with love for my fellow man. But I got carried away, got cocky as  cult leader, and would up making a pass at this girl I was infatuated with, too soon, and who--rather expertly-- rejected me, depositing me in a vast swarm of subway commuters so that I couldn't get over her to try and kiss her goodbye--I saw her wry smile (though she was too deft to reject me directly to the point I might get violent or sullen-- a real pro!) and I felt that inner God voice I'd been following (and which had led me to all sorts of secret gifts prior to) sneering and laughing at me the whole subway ride home. I was so shaken and abashed I missed my stop and rode it to the end of the line. That laughter was heartless and terrifying. It was as if everything from the hand of God moment had been a way of conning me into risking my soul for this girl and getting shot down -  it was Trickster God 101 shit - and I'd fallen right into it (Hamlet's friends were, you may remember, worried the king's ghost was just such a trickster). Now that I was in such heartsick misery, I felt the god feeding off me, like I was a slot machine that he'd been rigging up and now was paying off big time - all that holy soul energy he'd cultivated he now stripped off me like he was expertly rolling a sleeping drunk.

Now maybe I was just 'imagining' all this - it was 'magical thinking' my shrink would say; but at the same time, so what? If she'd done any LSD she'd know it's all magical thinking, the whole damned show of 'perception' -- we have to go on what feels more than real, especially if we're writers and artists who want to depict more than the boring surface of the world. Whole months can go by these days that don't seem as real as that godly hand on my shoulder, or the glowing demon in the bookshelf. There's a certain assumption among left-brained scientists that hallucinations are somehow 'less' than reality, but it's the opposite: they're more. They spill through when our perceptions overheat and dilate, letting in more information than our egoic inhibitors would like - it's like we're five and our mom passed out drunk and left out her pornography stash all over the floor so as we wake up and go downstairs we see things we were never meant to, by her, that is, until we're much older. Our senses have built-in 'blinders' on them that filter out up to 90% or so of all the information coming at us. Our visible world is just a swath on a spectrum. Hallucinations and visions could be said to be moments when the blinders fail and dreams and reality leak into one another-- but isn't this in a way a much more 'real' situation? What about dreams, then? As we spend 1/3 of our life sleeping aren't we rather too quick to dismiss everything we experience with our eyes closed as just fluffy nothing? Are Van Gogh's electric color bands considered hallucinations since 'sane' normal people don't see them? Matter is just vibrating energy waves. The image of them as solid, permanent objects is what is the illusion. Meanwhile memory and reflection change even the most concrete experiences, shrouding and distorting the more we record, write, and relay them. (full)

Bad Acid's Greatest: 70s Paranoid Feminism Edition
(Oct. 2009)

Made at a time when psychedelic drugs had changed the face of American culture, LET'S SCARE .... DEATH (or LSD!) is nothing short of elegant in the way it blurs the line between subjective and the “real" to demonstrate how paranoia can bend the nature of reality itself, exposing even the most realistic objectivity as a paranoid conspiracy. Polanski set the bar high for this in ROSEMARY, by having Mia Farrow's paranoia be utilized to cast doubt on the reality of her situation, even though at the same time as we know the supernatural is behind it all. Rosemary and Jessica prove you can unsplit the difference between the real and the delusional, and that in fact, the difference is--as quantum physics proves--all in your head. (full)

(July 10, 2010)

Take it from me, the first time you run into 'The Lollipop Guild' (while astrally traveling the psychedeli-brick road) is enough to give even the gutsiest space cowboys the yips. They're like those little weird demon guys in the bottom corners of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which scared me as a four year-old (back when first hearing the full alien weirdness of Harrison's sitar on side B, was terrifying beyond any palpable physical threat). When in college I began to read the work of the pioneering psychonaut Terence McKenna on 'the machine elves' -- common mushroom and DMT hallucinations-- small, elvin beings that exist in alternate dimensions but are nonetheless real, dancing in lockstep unison as they paint the plurality of worlds onto the time/space canvas like a curtain of slow motion paint bristle soft shoe that's hilarious yet terrifying, joyous yet disturbing. When I saw them during my own travels in college (and after), they were even wearing plaid, just like the Guild (which came first, is of course your immediate question - did I see them like that because of the movie or did the movie costume designers dress them based on patterns from their unconscious?!!) Mine had garden hoes instead of lollipops and lacked that terrible gold hair, but otherwise - yeesh. Good thing I'm a drinking man. Or was. I'd nah go down that road again unarmed. 
--
Thus as an LSD-quaffing college kid I found the living link wherein Eastern mysticism, indigenous shamanic vision quests, and Western schizo paranoia are all linked. When I learned that the Monarch 7 program used Oz imagery during their hypnotic programming, I wasn't a bit surprised. But in thinking about it, I also wonder where the line between hypnotic programming and mythic archetypal psychology intersect. Saying the iconography of Oz is used in a ritual that is itself possibly fiction, makes it the definition of myth (in my mind) come into focus as a narrative both true and untrue, a 'possible fiction' or a reflection of some truth so large normal reality cannot encompass it (full)


ALSO - OSLA -

Blue Testament: History Channel's Hot Hot Hell. 
(DV, 2011)

Occult Streams of the Amazon: 13 Prime Witchcraft-y Recommendations:
Blood-Orgy of the She-Devils (1973), Haxan (1922), Southbound (2015), Witchouse (1999), Satan's School for Girls (1973), The Church (1989), Burn, Witch, Burn (1962), Voodoo Man (1944), Chandu and Magic Island (1934), Little Witches (1999), Mark of the Witch (2014), The Eternal (1998), etc.
(Oct. 2016)

Guide to Cable's Paranormal / Ghost-Hunting TV Shows

(DP - August 2012)

Rite of Passage - the Archons begin their Feb 2013 chi/soul energy harvest
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