Tuesday, November 27, 2018

All the Missed Mystics: Nicolas Roeg's GLASTONBURY FAYRE (1972)

While Filmstruck is still with us, let's chance upon the few small good things we have before they leave forever (to become expensive DVDs or unavailable). The recently also departed Nicolas Roeg is featured in one of their mini-title collections, and for the intrepid explorer there be his 1972 concert film, Glastonbury Fayre. If you've e'er loved a Roeg (Performance, Track 29) then don't miss it. And if e'er loved thee the psychedelic music festival movies of the late 60s-early 70s, and wondered if the movement e'er survived its American Altamont apocalypse, seek this film and say to yourself, ah there it is! The mystics did not burn out or fade away, they just snuck back to England and just didn't tell their boorish American cousins. Thus, here in Glastonbury 1971, while the wreckage of the husk of Age of Aquarius was still being picked over by Manson biographers across the pond, the cool kids quietly gathered, by a big pyramid stage, correctly situated along the Stonehenge ley line for maximum magnetic current, at the solstice, between two hills...

Shot by Roeg as one of his mystical odysseys, the focus is less on the packaging the hits (there's only one, at the end, via Traffic, at night, the climax of the movie, with a whole mass of dancers in the crowd, reveling, each with enough space to swing their arms if they choose, Roeg's camera straining to find them in the swirl of night) and more on the mystical currents of the landscape, the joining of friendly locals and open-hearted visitors, the ease and beauty with which it all comes together. There's little of the Pennebaker's Monterey Pop chick habit (i.e. showing a distinct sexual gaze by focusing on all the lovely girls, their painted-faces and limbs in fringed sashay, nor the acid-drenched face clawers and drunken bikers of the Maysles' Speedway. Instead of looking for a Big Encapsulation of a Generation, it's enough, more than enough, to feel the solstice, the moon, and mystical movements of planets past the pyramid. These things the camera of Roeg senses and captures, the way the builders of nearby Stonhenge captured earth energy. Hardly surprising from the man behind Walkabout and Performance, there's a truly mystical power at work here - and the camera itself seems tied to the magnetic waves in electric union.

Roeg films the throngs arriving from low angle gliding shots, as if he's a child looking up at some kind of ethereal parents. This is a time when parents were cool, unworried and free, but mere hedonists wallowing in Roman orgy or idealist hippies passing out Marxist pamphlets at anti-Vietnam rallies. This is more some mass impromptu tribal coven; the druidic roots of Stonehenge breathes through them; the Green Man is coming out of a long sleep, shaking off the Roman occupying sloth like a flaky outer crust, like the last 2,000 years never happened; and communicating through the grass and sky and vibrations in the air rather than placards and megaphones. Here festivalgoers form shapes like moving temporary crop circles in some ephemeral alphabet that transcends any one meaning. Similarly, the film offers no words onscreen or introductions to let us know who any of the musicians are; there are no signs and markers we associate with concert festival films--no indication of drugs or overdoses; no backstage chatter; no overloaded bathrooms and crowded freeway helicopter shots. If the guy with the stars in his eyes and the world in his beard is the promoter, his talk of getting a vision of his partner, pulling the car over, calling him and hearing "We have the farm" is delightful, his giddy shrooms-and-lovelight laugh, manic yet rooted. We don't need the backstory behind it, i.e. which farm, etc. The laugh is the thing, the inspiration to pull over and call. The Green Man is at work, sifting the clouds and conjuring images in minds as needed to get this revelry underfoot, putting glowing embers in the minds of initially reluctant farmer neighbors, and this wild eyed bearded guy is in the circuit. He could tell the land was with them, just as those who till it also could. We see young dudes all draped on ominous framework metal bars erecting a giant pyramid stage, wondering how roadies manage to do their dangerous intense work while literally and figuratively high, or how that all works. But work it does, the Green Man acts as a reverse gremlin, causing guys to look again after initially passing an un-tightened screw, or sending a tuft of wind to right a wobbling climber. 

In short, nature decrees it all be perfect, so it might perhaps drink what auric energy it may from the celebration. There is hyst the right number of people (7,000-ish), the right weather (for England), the right acts (including lots of insane howling and warbling and babble), the right time (solstice), all of it humming with love and the power of abandonment. The acts range in intensity and weirdness  from the gentle twee of Fairport Convention, to the open-shirted madness of Gong (?), from flute-noodlin' Hawkwind to the northern soul of Terry Reid or whatever, nothing terribly sticks out, or clashes no one band or pale fiddler is distinguishable from another- there are no stage introductions aside from some concern about the corn fields - but the big moments come in the sense of group dynamics at sunset...

 right before Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come (I looked 'em up).

This is where it all gels:

The place gets eerie quiet. As the sun sets between two hills and the pyramid stands shadowed, a small procession of ominous robed figures enter the frame, silhouetted against the sky. 

They light three crosses on the side of the hill. We think of Jesus, I guess, and the Romans again - but whatever, like those crop circles that form in the area, these symbols are universal, transcending any one meaning.

Roeg is the right man for the job. As with his Walkabout and Don't Look Now we're so subsumed by the land and sky it's as if we disappear; our illusory ego and locus of perceptual identity within the film is unraveled back to basic elements - fire, air, earth... water.

As the solstice light disappears behind the hills and the pyramid stage lights up. It's the climax of Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising, the cumulative gut punch of understanding initiatory mysticism via the Golden Bough or Henry James' Varieites of Religious Experience. The profound feeling you had while breaking the 'bread', sweeping away of the sticks and seeds, in the Houses of the Holy gatefold in high school suddenly makes sense. Shrooming in the graveyard in 1987 I/We felt the pull of the earth and moon in balance, and I/We feel it here, again, now. The band starts: Arthur Brown emerges: a tall strange figure in warped KISS make-up (1), a fusion of the dream cabaret performance rock madness of Alice Cooper, the rooted bluesy grip and star of Zappa, soul of Captain Beefheart, the modulated ominousness of Nick Cave, the paradoxically zany steeliness and falsetto of Foxy Shazam.

Who the hell? How'd I miss this guy? (I think I mixed him up in my mind with Arthur Lee). I looked him up: A frequent opener and collaborator with Hawkwind, The Who, Hendrix, etc., Brown seems to be one of Britain's best-kept secrets. I could swear he wasn't there before, in the counterculture. I read loads about Hendrix and remember nothing of him. Is he me from the future, who went back in the past to save Jimi Hendrix, but then forgot, and wound up here, at Glastonbury, a message to me, here, now? If so, the message is: mission accomplished. Tall, crazy, beautiful in a masculine deep sense, alive with light and lightning, his Spotify roster may be sparse and inelegant, but hey- somehow he stayed pure, beyond big American label signings, maybe be avoiding America's obscene corrupting love (to bend a phrase from the great Nanno Jelkes). I'd never heard of him before, but there he is, somehow seeming to conduct his band and the moon and the crowd and the fire at the same time, ranting and holding wild weird notes. He's what I strived to be in a younger man's dreams and open mics: semi-pretentious/theatrical but genuinely eccentric and fierce with loving Iron John wild man archetypal fire. 
It's so fitting then, on a personal level (what else do any of us know, Jedediah, except love on our terms?) that I saw Roeg's Glastonbury Fayre  the night before Thanksgiving, while packing to leave on the early morning train, wondering if it would be the last film I saw on Filmstruck, wondering why the Time-Warner bigwigs in charge of so much of our cinematic heritage hate artistic film, the art house crowd, and anything small enough to only draw a small profit or debit, as if they're just dying to mow down the last museum in town, to undo the historic monument housing protection, to make room for yet another skyscraper housing development or Target - advertised as 'so close to museums and parks,' but then the parks go away for more apartments. After all, the real estate value has gone up due to the presence of all the parks! Ugh! 

Ommm! Center myself... bring it back... t
A moment I marked down in my first viewing: Brown is sitting on the side of the stage while the band jams on, takes a pull of some can (can't see the label) and burps --he clearly doesn't know the camera is watching -but he looks calmly over at the drummer and burps suddenly, at firsts unconsciously--as burps are--but as it's about to come he transforms it to the art, he burps fiercely, full of 'walrus through the ice'-roaring joy (5), but not conspicuously, loudly, boorishly, but a man whose warrior soul is calm and in the moment, turning even the smallest, usually unconscious gestures (unseen by the audience) into fierce warrior accents. He's not worrying about if he felt enough in his singing or the is high enough or how he looks, he's not trying to get higher or to recover from a hangover or all the other things that hung up America at the time. He's just in the zone.

Another stand-out is the also-better-known-in-Britain folk singer Melanie (below), whose teary, raspy voice and urgent guitar deliver a strong, moving, dynamic tune ("Peace Will Come") that seems to encompass the beauty of the oceanic moment, tempered with the foreknowledge of its inevitable passing. Triumphant, sad, and hopeful: after the perfect oceanic union passes, our sadness will be tempered by the foreknowledge that such perfect moments--having come once--will come again. I love how it all--audience, nature, band-- quiets to a hush when Melanie starts to play. Everyone seems to be in the same sleeping bag, hushed and reverent, all 7,000 like a single listening being. Even the asleep nod their heads and smile. America's folk singers come off as a bit too protest agenda-ridden, or corny (aiming for  pop appeal or to stop the war), but Melanie cuts through it all, her hair flying in her pretty face, howling beautifully; her music looks beyond all wars and all peace to come. As with Arthur Brown, she made me an instant fan realizing all that American AOR promotion quietly kept out of reach as it didn't fit the pigeonholes. She made me long for a second chance, to go to Britain in 1971, or just 71 AD, for that matter, to find the people that carried the psychedelic torch far past Altamont and Manson (and personal level American demons like mine), and may have it burning somewhere still. Melanie, playing back in time, too, seemed to understand my longing all these decades in the future, the rasp in her voice cutting through time, assuring me as beautifully and strangely as these peaceful moments came before, they'll come again. Trying to stop them only increases the force with which they eventually break through. 
I've enough of a continental mind that I've been to one or two literally magical weekend parties, the best of which was held one autumn solstice (c. 1991) at my cool rich hippie friend's Vermont cabin for a weekend of tripping and drinking Jaeger shots after blustery hikes. My ugly Americanism yielded willingly to the older alchemical ways of a huge bearded Brit with huge hair and a pungency of patchouli, a weird girlfriend, and--most vitally--a vial of pure delicious liquid LSD around his neck, dispensing drops into the eyes of the willing (everyone, me included). It was 'the good stuff,' pure gorgeous chemical perfection sending us all into wild dances that became -- due to surrender to the movements--elaborate ceremonial snowflake Pollack morphings I could never duplicate (or probably even notice) their magic in a 'down' state. I left him, and his posse, after coffee on Sunday, the steam from the cups like Monument Valley smoke signals across the vast expanse of the wooden coffee table, as the music of Dennis Wilson's "Pacific Ocean Blue" played on his expensive perfectly modulated stereo system. I would have stayed forever, but the friends I came with had work Monday. I drove back home (to suburban NJ) without a whimper, realizing--as was my kick at the time--that sacrificing great things in the name of love was tragically beautiful. Leaving the best time of your life for another week at the Ortho mailroom was just part of the game. I kept my holy aura for weeks til it faded. I even started going to yoga, which was hard to find in suburban NJ in 1990. In short, I kept the flame... for weeks... but.... hey...

And when the same solstice party was held again in the spring we were all excited - I went with such high expectations! Naturally, it turned on me and I had the terrible bad trip. I felt the sort of cursed emptiness, the 'unable to enjoy the party no matter how high and drunk I got' alcoholic depression Jack Kerouac describes so vividly in the second half of Big Sur. (6) The same people were there, same acid, same everything, but meh. Maybe I didn't bring enough whiskey, nor did I horde what I did bring. (For I was sure I wouldn't need it, so free would I feel). My bottle was all gone in minutes, and the stores all closed and far away and me too high to drive. The weather was vile. But more noticeably, no amount of whiskey, ecstasy, shrooms, acid, and hash brownies could alleviate that terrible want - the expectations of greatness dashed the moment. Instead of bringing the party down the hill to the Ortho mailroom, I'd brought the Ortho mailroom to the party. 

Isn't that what's happening to Filmstruck? The Mailroom --seeing the party as a distraction of its workers -- has squashed it due perhaps to not exceeding high expectations. 

Here goes my stress again - the rage against the --
Focus back to me, Erich - Ommmmmm
The people here at Glastonbury are beyond wanting or expecting anything, as is--in most of his films (until the arrival of his beloved Theresa Russell)--Roeg himself.  We see some couples canoodling, but Roeg films them mainly for the the wine glass shaped background behind their bobbing profiles. The men don't seem sex-obsessed like they do in Psych-Out and The Trip (though there they had to bow to the drive-in's licentious demands). The "I Need" of American hippiedom becomes the "I am" of Britain at Glastonbury, becomes the "Aummm" of the eternal, as even that is transcended for the oceanic experience. that which is beyond opposites. The one without a second. 

With an attendance of only 7,000, it's easy to see Glastonbury as one of those rare parties where just the right amount of folks showed up, all able to move into an eerie group mind perfection and not step on each other's towels. Roeg captures it all, or some of it. It's okay if he misses important stuff. He notices the way a simple rhythm brought in to the camp site by a travellin' group of friends on a drum gradually, casually, builds (but not ostentatiously) into a little percussion circle kind of scene happening, aways in the middle ground. Roeg's camera (6) feels no need to pick up his tripod and get closer to the group - he's no amateur - not about to chase the willow the wisp, and maybe miss the next one. With his patient eye he never misses a solar flare or bead rattle that comes his way. Soon a bottomless freak is dancing on stage wailing and screaming, but to a slowly increasing beat, looking out into the crowd their not gawking or video-phoning but clapping along- the rhythm and the spirit overtaking them like a gentle liberation, naked people roll around in the mud in strange childlike joy--as if the adult hang-ups stem from mom stopping us from wallowing in the mud naked as children, and now- we're finally doing it, and there's no mom to shame us, and all hang-ups are liberated. We crosscut to the black priest visitor who notes he didn't feel awkward at all, or sense anything pornographic or wrong about it "I was amazed at myself," he says. 

Nature and crowd and performers merge - The flutter of recorders imitate a flock of hysterical geese sitting joining in with Ornette Coleman and it's no longer possible to tell who is in the band, a performer in the crowd, a flock passing east, or just a reveler caught up in the moment. People cover a rolling naked man in mud, and you feel him surrender to the moment' in his eyes you get the sense he's barely believing he's letting this happen and that it's all okay, and it's surrender to the Green Man's caress. It's not the kind of crazed desperate, froth-at-the-mouth zonked nudity of that big would-be crowd-surfer lady during the Stones' Altamont show in Gimme Shelter or the preachy agrarian bathing of Woodstock, but a genuinely altered druidic freak-out, (10) audience and then reuniting them into muddy mass; the Green Man stirs in the moss. This ground, this mud, is sanctified and rich with history - the same mud the ancients' blood was spilled in, the oxide still in there. Some weird American gets onstage with a chicken on his shoulder to babble about freaks and animals or something --he's a sore thumb. America: this need to elaborate and personify and annoy and turn into a schtick, to somehow commodify and personify, it shows just how young we are. Cosmically immature. 

Upper left is "the Maharishi," but it's not the Maharishi of the Beatles, but a different one- who with his white suit and entourage seems like a kind of Jim Jones but whose borderline incomprehensible English rant fills us not with light and love but suspicion. He seems the most uptight in the bunch - needing to show he's got a limo, his way paved forward in flowers and white runners, dressed like he's about to rescue Scarface from the gallows with a heavy bribe and a last-minute reprieve. Maybe he's holy, who can tell from this distance? 

Shorn of the loud American throng, the ugly tourists, the consumerist mindset, the big swath of the pie, here are people who don't seem to be 'consuming' but being. Chickens are not killed but sung to. This is Burning Man before it became a scene, before seagulls on the charred remains of Police Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward). (3) This is Joni Mitchell's dream of getting back to the garden. And she's not there, and maybe that's why. It's British, it's a thing America (and maybe or maybe not even Canada) would need to shucker loose from half its population to embrace. By the time we got there, it would be over, if it was lucky. When it comes to treading lightly, we're bad news. We bring liquor. We love it. We will destroy you with our boozy woozy love. Your corn will be demolished. Boiled down to grease the pen of the artist.

And yet, maybe I'm just talking about me -I was part of that part that's left behind. I failed the America in the 60s class I took sophomore year. And why? Because my friends and I loved getting high and listening to the music of the 60s too much. We made a video for our final project but remember to list our sources. What we gave the teacher was just a video of our band playing "Purple Haze," "Evil Ways," and "Viola Lee Blues,: spiked with talking head inserts pondering "how the 60s will remember the 80s," (oh shit! I just noticed). And also, Dave's and my guitars were out of tune. And also... mainly we all just talked about how drugs don't make you stupid, and yet, we did not--I now realize--sound very smart... not at all.  It pains me to admit it now - to wonder about the shady character of drugs. If a drug is valuable when used correctly (as they seem to be here at Glastonbury) means any sensible American must immediately overuse them, for we seldom turn our back on the idea that if ten is great, taking twenty is twice as great.

But hey, you can't help being a middle class American white boy with enough alcoholism in your genes that you don't consider it a party unless you can't remember it. You blew it, Billy. Altamont is you (by which I mean me). That's why I found Fayre so reassuring. What's stressed here things that American filmmakers would shy away from: God, magic, pagan symbolism, the transpersonal energies that connect all things. When you or I plummet to earth in pain, strapped to a gurney or shaking uncontrollably alone on our couches for days on end, these are the things that reassure us. Prayer aligns our thinking to a higher power, for some reason why just never seem to remember that until we get really low. Now matter how small, if we stop waving our microscopic cillia against the current, we can expand to ocean size in the celestial current. 

That's why it makes holy sense that I'm seeing Glastonbury Fayre on now on the vanishing Filmstruck as part of the Nicolas Roeg package. How fitting. Bye Nicolas Roeg, RIP... RIP Filmstruck... bye bye. It's a hard world for little streaming services as Lillian Gish says in Night of the Hunter might say. Small profit margins are eradicated the way a giant bank-owned tractor eradicates a dustbowl Okie.

But hey, the art goes on and the past isn't going anywhere. No one is going to come take our DVDs away.... yet.  But we can't take 'em with us, after all. Why have the moon when we can have the stars?

The weirdest part: the inclusion a protestant minister holding a small service in a corner of the parking lot area, a sad-eyed gaggle of older folks (nurses, bakers) and some devoted youth, wearily but peacefully stand around him, which Roeg snarkily intercuts with ecstatic krishna dancing and chanting going on elsewhere in the festval. "The meaning of Christ is very simple isn't it?" notes the minister in his cloudiness / cut to the dancers basking in the sun./ back to the flatline priest: "If we want to live, we must die."

It's a cheap shot, which along with the cross burnings the night before seem to indicate some swirling dark current of Antichristian sediment stirring in the mind as a counter-reaction, which considering the eastern understanding of transcending duality, the rapture that lies beyond the separation of this and that, seems far too short-sighted a mind-set for anyone with any real enlightenment in their souls.  The promoters here are glowing like auric kliegs, so why pick on the easy marks. One can't rightly argue against the priest's prayer for "one whole community" even if it is waterlogged with seminary tradition. Crosscut as you will, the man is there. He showed up, right into the lion's den, the fiery furnace, with no pay check or choir to preach to. 

Alas, it ended. We--the hungover Americans (the ones, 'sigh' I came with, I apologize again for Jason's behavior)--just walked/staggered home, draped in our Glastonbury 71 bootleg shirts, declaring "we did it." We "did" the festival scene. Time to curl up with a good book... on tape, and leave the --what is it called now--raves?--to other people's children. Stay hydrated, kids! Peace will come. As for us, Hendrix is dead, man. Altamont was a mess. But it's done. They (the onslaught of bums, pervs, freeloaders, skeeves, speed freaks, psychos, poseurs, dipshits, murfs, horndogs, frat boy rapists, snickering sexually frustrated raincoat brigades, wannabes, and wallies that swarmed the free love buffet once the word got out) ruined any chance for real transformation. We--the cool ones who 'did' the festival scene and supped full at said buffet--drink at home now with the TV on / and all the houselights left up bright, (9). We prefer our community in abstract, via the safety of the screen. 


We only come up for air during the credits. And commercials. But now on other streaming services, there are no commercials, and episodes of our current binged series link up with a 'click to skip credits altogether. So... We do not come up for air anymore--

Not until the season is demolished. Turn Turn. 

But hey, that's later - seasons go as fast as they come. Now, other things than us are going, one by one, a reverse ark, so... one more time. So glad you made it.

Just watch the end again of Glastonbury Fayre if nothing else, before midnight this Thursday... - all that hair shaking through the night, thousands of people bopping up and down to Traffic jamming "Gimme Some Lovin,'" happy as larks, beautiful, free, with room to swing a cat, and all the cats swingin'. Steve Winwood, tall and majestic with cigarette; drummers and keyboardist rapt with the groove-beatific focused smiles. I'd forgotten all about that perfect rapture. I'm so glad it lasted as long as it did, if not forever. Then again, nothing is, not even its absence. The trashy sadness of our present is but a bathroom break in the scheme of the cosmic binge watch. Somewhere too ancient to be totally silenced, I'd wager the Green Man is planning something, but this time less friendly. Ask not who stands within the wicker man's hollow head... Next time, we're all burning. 

PS - 7/19 - Well, good news - Glastonbury is now on Prime; and the Criterion Channel is pretty awesome. So once again, the Lord, in whatever prog rock form you salute Him, cometh thru)

1. We've ascribed that black and white devil clown make-up forever to KISS, which is very American of us, but there you are, it's KISS even if you don't really like KISS.
2. I can't judge man, for I too went this way, from that first glorious rush. They only today announced conclusive proof shrooms treat depression, man I could tell you the stories, that black and white Kansas misery finally opening up into Technicolor OZ in Cinerama. It was my freshman year of college, waking up to joy only to inevitably succumb to the shuddering bad trip misery of not being able to stay there; chasing hit after hit with whiskey after whiskey just trying to feel less like I was in self-conscious hell, never mind about good, while being pawed at by girlfriends and jonesers or, maybe,worse, left alone. Home and stranded, to be terrified by the TV showing Flatliners, tuning in halfway through while having a shroom anxiety attack, thinking death had overtaken me and this movie was like a gateway pamphlet announcing to me, gently, I was about to die. Or was dead.
3. ref. The Wicker Man 
5. That was my power animal mantra during some intense shroom trips in 1987 -the warrior roar, the lone bull walrus breaking through the ice mantle in the Arctic sea, the only living thing for miles in all directions of snowy wasteland, but roaring - wild and proud and free - I am alive! Without fear or loneliness or panic, the warrior roar that makes life your bitch no matter what may come. 
6. The biggest nightmare a drunk can have is when the 'click' never comes (as per Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) no matter how drunk you get - you could be so sloshed you feel it coming up into your eyeballs but are still sober as a judge, and beyond miserable. It's remembering those experiences that help keep up drunks sober through the tempting times. That and the impossibility of stopping once we start, without going into withdrawal (i.e. the DTs) and needing hospitalization. 
9. "The Last Time I saw Richard" - Joni Mitchell 
10. Voodoo is actually part Celtic, part African ritual - as Celts and African slaves were mixed together on Caribbean islands in ancient maritimes. (Hence the similarity too between Irish and Jamaican accents.) 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Miss Chthonic Temple: SUSPIRIA, SABRINA (Chilling Adventures of)

We're finally there, at the point in time wherein women have eclipsed men as their own worst enemy and the Apollonian phallus comes crashing into the sea like a blood-caked sandcastle to be replaced by a whole new tower: the blood-soaked erect white Tamm-Pon. Symbolizing birth, the shedding of the unfertilized eggs, the eclipse of the moon that recommences the menstrual cycle, Tamm-Pon looms tall, bloody but unbowed. See it rise, Amphitrite! Kali! Asherah! See its bloody exit unleash the Paglian chthonic floods, washing out the coastal regions like a melting ice cap blood tide. It is time. 

Witches are in the theater. Witches are on the Netflix. 

In theaters there is SUSPIRIA remake, made by the guy who did Call Me by Your Name; on Netflix is a show called THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, something that by far was America's Halloween post-trick-or-treating binge of 2018. Earlier this year there was Hereditary. What else do you need, sister? To write your own story yourself? (Men created all three). Did you think men wouldn't be so naive as to let a girl write the story of a woman's magic triumph? We haven't listed to a voice other than our own in so long, we can't really pass the talking stick, so sorry but that's one phallus you'll need to actively pry from our metallic grip. It'll take more than beach erosion to end our ceaseless filibuster!

But hey, women star and feminine sensibility pervades, rather fearlessly in fact, relative to past witchcraft movies. I gleaned from the imagery presented, for example, a dark feminine secret: that bedknobs and broomsticks might be associated with witchcraft because they are items--always close to hand--a young girl may safely 'employ' towards her first orgasm (alone at night, or alone in the house during the day doing chores). And her first orgasm never really stops once it starts; it's like a fire that can destroy the patriarchy with a single moan. Is this not why censors of the past so feared it? 

Maybe they were right!

All my film geek friends love the new SUSPIRIA --and the Erich-targeted Alamo Drafthouse ads on my Facebook never shut up about how much their own geek contingent adores it, too. For my sins, I saw it. What a joint.  And I like that it's (Suspiria, I mean) totally boy-free: there's no romance, no sex, no pregnancies, no walks of shame, not even a throw-away glance from a pretty eyelashed young houseboy like in the original! This new version switches from a co-ed ballet academy to an acclaimed modern dance troupe and unlike the original there's actual dance performances. But something that made the original great is lost --the lurid, nightmarish color and sense of genuine menace. Terror, color and loudness have been replaced by body horror, Eastern European drabness and long-winded psychosocial allegory. The threat now is not to the soul and the neck but the ligaments, masculine pride, and joints. The scharzwald Hansel and Gretel primary co.or rock and roll of the original is replaced by gray rundown 1977 Berlin that already feels nostalgic  for the gold grey misery of the Wall (it stands here right outside the Hene Markos Dance Academy, replete with tasteful graffiti). In order to properly justify its political heft, this remake is an extra hour longer than the original, making it perhaps the longest horror film since The Shining.

Further differences abound: the exposition-history-relating parts played by Udo Kier (at his most devastatingly handsome) and Rudolf Schündler in the original are now combined into one old duffer played by Tilda Swinton in good old man make-up but an unconvincing falsetto voice. S/he spends great swaths of time reading the diagram-packed diary of a missing dance student patient (Chloë Grace Moretz --whose insane babbling in his office apartment a highlight) and wasting time puttering back and forth across the Berlin wall to his country house while the idiosyncratic and wildly misguided Thom Yorke 90s-style alt rock balladry moans in the background with relentless melancholic portent. The reason it's set in 1977 soon becomes apparent: so we can overhear lots of TVs on in the background of scenes set in hotel lobbies, apartments, and bars as German terrorists try to free the imprisoned Baader-Meinhof quartet via a plane hijacking (as seen in Uli Edel's Baader-Meinhof Complex.)

It's interesting that the film presumes there are connections to be made, yet never really makes them, as it finds out too late that there is no real link between the aetheric consumption of Suzy Bannon's youthful vigor by the evil unseen Helena Markos and the crunching up of a generation by the pro-Arab children of Nazis. There's a much more vivid connection to German history in Ferrara's Addiction just from visiting a Holocaust exhibit, but it was all perfectly contextualized in the plot. Here, instead of actually making valid points, the film just hopes this old duffer's puttering around drab streets and reading diaries full of arcane markings will somehow cohere into profundity. Perhaps director Luca Guadignino presumes we'll one day be pausing and reviewing up close to the open pages, to unscramble archaic clues the way those David Lynch pronoiacs do on Twin Peaks. In my case, good sir, Luca presumes in error.

Thanks to the pre-show videos at the Alamo, I knew before the movie started that its screenwriter David Kajganich had done research by watching videos of and by female European modern dance choreographers from the era, soaking up their worldly artistic views and goals, before and after the war. A lot of the choreography, credos and sociological underpinnings seem imported wholesale from those videos. The dancing in the film, the movements we do see seems legit, like they worked at it. Dakota Johnson especially gives it 100%, and there is some really excellent sound design: her every sexy breath and the whoosh of air from her movements can be felt in the solar plexus. But the director and editor seldom trust a single dance movement, a jump or a spin, to play out on its own in a simple medium shot, not when they can add thirty crosscuts to random things like faces of those watching, strange angles, other movements by other people in other areas of the school, faces, artwork, architecture, and then, maybe--if we're lucky--back to the dancer finishing their movement. It's the kind of thing that would probably make Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly so mad they'd break the editor's legs. In its trying so hard to craft associative meanings in the editing room, Suspiria lets itself get all carried away by the magic of crosscuts until you kind of wish DW Griffith had never been born!

That's not to say there aren't moments where this rapid-fire cutting works. There's a s moment when Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) touches Suzy Banon's (Johnson's) shoulder blades, arms, and legs before she does some difficult movement in practice, injecting some matriarchal chthonic oomph into her muscles, the force of which --while invisible to the eye--is felt via clever sound design (where we feel air currents in our lower chakras) and quick cuts to clued-in dancers and instructors all throughout the building, as some (dark) matriarchal force blows through the building like a puff of wind.  That sort of thing is great, but then while she dances we cut to seeing the girl who tried to escape being contorted with breaking bones in linked puppet agony mirroring Suzy's movements, and back to those dancer and instructor's faces as the magic happens, and on and on until it's like beating a dead horse that's somehow still breathing. The original Suspiria murders were grand terrifying, artistic and disturbing, but there Argento knew to keep the camera on the action. He didn't feel the need to crosscut to five other things. In the first murder, for example, we only cross-cut between the murder and the roommate feebly trying to get help pounding on their neighbor's doors, and close-ups of the knife going in. In the remake we'd probably also cut to the interior of every single neighbor's apartment as they debate answering or calling the cops, as well as Suzy back in her cab driving to a hotel, and the janitor out having a smoke, and the guards on the wall, until all the dread and shock was drained out, replaced by some half-assed grand statement about the Cold War, feminism, or something. 

What this remake reminded me most of, actually, was the recent Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron. The point of that film may have been that 70s Berlin was a mess, or that James MacAvoy is a drink best served on a short leash, but it was also about how intoxicating Theron and Sofia Boutella look under red and blue lights, in loose-knit sweaters, kissing in a neon-drenched club bathroom foyer (left). Similarly, this Suspiria remake's point might be that 70s Berlin was a mess but it's really about how sexy Dakota is when she's writhing around on the floor, her grey-white-peach accented skin making a gorgeous counterpoint to her gray gym clothes, her breathing creating a nice swooshing circular sound design like she's conducting great swaths of air in and around herself in some shamanic ecstatic circuit. 

Her skin is gray as the Wall! Ladies and gentlemen.. her pale peach-gray skin! I can hear the blood rushing right behind its lustrous surface! I can almost forgive her terrible orange-dyed hair. Where are we, 60s Italy? Doesn't anyone know this color makes everyone look like they're dying in a bad wig?

One thing that made the original, as well as Halloween and Psycho, so iconic, was the presence of a female voice behind the scenes, to correct, perhaps, countless irritants as to what women would or wouldn't say and how they say it. Daria Nicolodi, Debra Hill, Paula Pell, Alma Reville, Gale Ann Hurd all helped make the films they worked on the classics they are. We see what happens to Argento when Daria isn't there (in his later work), he just goes in for gory murders without much style or interest in the rest. Daria supplied him with a needed Jungian counterbalance that made good films into classics. In the documentary accompanying the film (on my DVD), it's clear she brought the Jungian fairy tale weirdness, the dreamy Alice in Wonderland haunted quality to Suspiria and after they split up, that kind of magic begins to fade away from his work like a dream. In the remake there might be a lot of women in the cast, but few behind the scenes, thus we have to wait for the big climactic reveal which--upon closer examination--makes little sense--for any kind of chthonic payoff.

For all it's length, a lot seems left out, things we'd have rather seen than all this 90s mope rock Mennonite funeral wandering and old man notebook reading, precinct-bothering and wall-traversing. A good woman behind the scenes could have ripped out at last 1/2 the script, and maybe added some things that actually made sense.

That's not to say the sheer abundance of grand old German broads in the cast isn't a great thing, or that the men who made this Suspiria don't love and appreciate strong women, but maybe that's the problem? A woman writer would know how and why women are both scared and scary, they'd go places a man wouldn't dare without a woman leading the way. The male voice here hems and haws around the edges instead, trying to work up the nerve to plunge deep into the menses pool. We see the coven carousing and swilling food and liquor at the local restaurant, but from behind the window, out in the street, unable to hear what they are saying-- as if small children left out of adult conversations. We don't get to see female-empowered evil as an unknowable, strange otherworldly force but as a kind of henhouse pyramid scheme, where young women sacrifice their youth so that their elders can act like five year-olds at ein Kindergeburtstag. In the original, the presence of evil was like an ice cold razor blade, we could feel it deep inside the spine of our coiled kundalini serpent down at the base of our spine. Every shard of rain in the opening scenes of Suzy's first night arrival in Germany cut deep. It was like long thin razors were falling between the tall trees, like we were leaning over a tall ledge, plunging down an old elevator, or imagining being dragged along concrete. This frisson transcended misogyny or the body or any kind of normal Michael Myers brand of fear. It was the fear of a real abstract maternal threat. Here the pain is all dancing, twisting Red Shoes-kind of prolonged misery. It's so over the top and abstracted it becomes numbing. It's not evil as a malevolent force but as mere Saw-style sadism. The rain doesn't sting it just wears you down. Thom Yorke does not howl and rattle metal sheets and whisper "witch!" in a pursed hiss through the echo chambre, instead he just does Radiohead sans energy. There is nothing to fear here in this new Suspiria, only to mourn. We mourn for fear.

On the other hand, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina now on Netflix, at least has the willingness to look under the dark rocks. The story of a young witch in a Salem-like town about to have the occult version of her blood-spattered bot-mitzvah, Sabrina builds up to her big signing of Satan's book during a deep woods midnight ceremony that involves--among other things--the sacrifice of a goat. The catch? Sabrina is only half a witch. Her mom was human. And she balks at the last minute, even though the goat's already been killed... and why? Because she has some pie-eyed faux-Wahlberg chump human boyfriend at her human high school named, of fall things, "Harvey Kinkel" (grown-Disney kid Ross Lynch) and she doesn't want to have to give him up and go to a new school. Oy!


But, in a show that positions boys so far to the side they're as superfluous as wives in a war movie, we're put in a very unique spectator position.  The presence of this Harvey, this lump of proletariat Jungenfleisch, makes an interesting en verso to all the buzzkill fiancees in films like Gunga Din. The whole show seems to want this boy gone. Even his dopey name signified what our reaction should be. Sabrina clings to him like a security blanket while the Satanic magickal side of her nature--where our interests lie-- beckons, luring her and therefore the show away from banal Archie-ism into something sexy and October-dark and cool.  We really don't need another show about a girl who turns her back on her own blossoming career/powers to support some half-written sensitive 'perfect' doormat. Harvey doesn't even have a motorcycle! I mean, his dad works/worked in the local mine. How townie can you get?

There's an unwritten cardinal rule when writing female protagonists, something--alas--many showrunners and writers only learn the hard way--no one likes the boyfriend of the heroine. The only way we like him is if she meets him for the first time over the course of the film or episode. If she starts out with a boyfriend, we don't like him. And if we like him, we don't like her. This is always true, in life and in TV/movies. Thus, this Harvey character--while innocuous and sweet--is a burden unto her, a sash weight affixed on a fledgling hawk so it can't escape the nest. Anyone who loved a beautiful girl in college knows him. For she usually left a rather clingy high school townie boyfriend behind, the type who was popular in their small town, but not together enough to escape the circumference of the family gas station, except to invite himself up to her dorm on weekends, trying to pull her down from her limitless horizons into his same go-nowhere small town quicksand like a clinging vine, the chocolate diamond engagement ring (he went to Jared!) the last desperate thorn in his slowly shredding tendril.

Either way, among things Sabrina will do other than sign the book is--as the series progresses--raise Harvey's brother from the dead (just because her dear Harvey misses him) despite it being one of those "sometimes dead is better" deals-- and slit a fellow witch's throat to do so. Why? Because she doesn't want Harvey to suffer. One thinks of Katniss running high and low like a nervous mom to protect her little Peeda in The Hunger Games. But while Lawrence invested Katniss with a kind of dour humorless resolve, at least she didn't expect us to back her up and presume she was 'right' to do so. Kiernan Shipka, on the other hand, cocks her heads and purses her lips with a kind of false pride in her own smug cutesy poo morality, never doubting she's on the superior end of the spectrum, even as every fiber of the show around her seems to side with Satan and letting the dead stay dead.

It's a very wary weird line to tread, for this Sabrina is not always sympathetic but she's acted as if she will always be judged 'adorable' by a jury of her peers; and we're regularly put in the position of morally ambivalent observer, relishing the evil around her for its style and cool, rather than rooting for Sabrina with her smarmy Sullivan's Travels/Barton Fink-style weepiness over the glory of the common man. What's not to celebrate in one of her rival's enjoying a luxurious orgy before her sacrifice at the hands of the Satanic coven as the pièce de résistance for their horrifyingly literal combination of Thanksgiving and Catholic communion? If Sabrina thinks we're going to side with her third wave feminist virtue signaling over their Nietzschean exultation, she best think again!

And that's what makes this show great. Aside from the sprawling, beautiful art direction and framing which takes full use of HD's ability to clarify darker color schemes, it's unafraid to go pretty frickin' dark in its deeds, while never putting on the dour self-important face of something like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. There's plenty of dark comedy but it's all played straight. The witches here make no bones about being aligned with the Devil and it's not condemned overtly as morally wrong (since the humans are even worse - hanging witches from trees, even in their current township). In sum, this isn't Tabitha and Dick York; these bitches got a hotline to Hell; in the caverns below the town, Satan himself pops up now and again to suck the soul right out of an unlucky miner. Hell is literally a place under their feet and the honesty and directness of that, evidenced in the Satanic statue adorning the foyer of the Witch school, and the way Sabrina doesn't want to turn her back on evil, totally (since it's 'her heritage') is the film's great strength. The Comics Code Authority would shit themselves if they saw this back in the day, and still should. Let what they did to EC be done unto them!

As with the pro-occult 'dying and heroin are cool'-subtext of Twilight, Sabrina's subversive delight in her dark prowess is almost invisible for being so pronounced. Maybe other viewers' opinions will differ but what we have is the typical story of a college (or witch schoo) girl who could be such a badass except for her townie anchor. Why she keeps hanging around that drip of a human boy instead of spreading her limitless wings with kids more in her league, only her creators can guess. I can only hope the producers intended us to have a negative reaction towards him. (2) At my house over Halloween we were shouting at the screen "Sign the damn book already!" and "Dump that idiot!" For the powers of darkness seem formidable indeed here; as with the paltry human company in Twilight, humanity is seen as rather anemic and dull by contrast. The idea that anyone would cherish that life (homework, sock hops) over the supernatural (drugs, Satanism) is pathetic. We, as moral humans, don't need to be 'saved' from evil like Katniss needs to save lil Peeda from a chest cold. We already know what it's like not to sign Satan's book: life bubbles thick and sludgy, one 'blurp' at a time. There's nothing noble or 'decent' about it. It's why we've escaped to this show in the first place. The human side is so lame on this show that not even a non-binary Lachlan Watson as an Amelia Earhart-ish ghost ancestor of one of Sabrina's human friends can save them from an unenviable torpor.

And most importantly, the evil witch adult cast is sublime: Michelle Gomez (above), as Satan's evil henchwoman, hangs back from the action in the guise of Sabrina's (human) school counsellor, to make sure Sabrina has enough rope to hang herself, and so be lured into the fold. BBC Dr. Who fans of course know how awesome Gomez is at playing characters who inhabit her body, rather than 'are' it --she was the female incarnation of the Doctor's long-time archetypal shadow, 'The Master' (and it's perhaps Gomez's brilliance in the role that led to the new Dr. Who being reconstituted--alas rather lamely in some social preachiness (stopping in Jim Crow Alabama or Colonized India, etc. instead of wild wild planets) as Jodi Whitaker--and she's aces as the sexually alive deep-breathing agent of Satan on Earth. Apparently her master (she's really "Lillith"), The Dark Lord is taking the long way around to win Sabrina into signing the book, and it's this arc that constitutes the general thrust of the show. Gomez is, as Pauline Kael would say, a dirty kick, luxuriating in her own evil; we root for her wild schemes every step of the way and find Sabrina's smirky hypocrisy and sense of busybody superiority more and more insufferable by contrast. Her only excuse -- youth. 

At the same time, we realize this is a topsy-turvy realm where we can almost suspect some masonic secret message encoded in the tree bark, gearing us all towards a kind of meta-Satanic paganism. The rush of evil, in other words, transcends the screen, and just as Sabrina is being systematically corrupted and morally compromised, so are we being trained to see wrong as right, up as down, darkness as light, square as round... If Sabrina cannot survive corruption, what chance have we? And why indeed, would we want to? Jack Chick pamphlets must be fluttering up from their landfills at this mainstream 'come true' conspiracy. 

According to Suspiria's big climax the best we can wish for, as humans marooned outside the Satanic coven, is either blessed forgetfulness or peaceful death. And maybe there's no difference (we can't remember).

With evil, at least, there's dancing.*

Speaking of Witches (respectfully, for they are always listening), visit 

* Erich Kuersten is still getting over the bitterness he feels towards Giuliani after the brutal implementation of NYC's Cabaret Law in 1998.
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