Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception... until the screen is a white glaring rectangle

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hallucinatural: MIDSOMMAR

One of the cooler and more noteworthy things about the critical buzz for the highly trippy new horror folk film MIDSOMMAR is the notion that one should not do psychedelics before seeing it. There have already been a few freak-outs in the theaters showing the film. (I won't link to the reports, because lightweights have no place on this site) but I am fascinated that psychedelics at the movies has become such a commonplace thing now that it's not a question of whether one should trip at the cinema or trip at all, but a question of which tripped-out druggy horror films are best seen straight. "Sober audiences may feel like they’re tripping," notes Fast Company's Joe Berkowitz of Aster's new film, "but tripping audiences will probably feel like they’ve died or perhaps were never born at all."

I agree with Joe: Midsommar Delivers the Most Realistically Trippy Drug Scene Ever, for Better and for Worse. It didn't occur to me to go see it tripping, but now I sure wish I did! I'm a fan of that 'never born at all' feeling - isn't that what movies are all about? (3) Between this and Climax, and last year's Mandy, and shows like Euphoria, its heartening to see the ways psychedelics have moved from this kind of dirtbag-disreputable guilt-by-association into a kind of hipster mainstream respectability, done in hopeful moderation when the time is just right and nonfatal nightmares of self realization when the time isn't. They can be informative without being didactic. Gone are the Judy Blume-style inaccuracies of after school specials like Go Ask Alice, replaced with a knowingness about the pros and cons of the trip.

In the past, when psychedelics were represented on film, it was always with a patina of dirtbag mummery: naked broads in body paint frugging through a kaleidoscope via a hyperactive zoom lens.  Hallucinations were usually embodied by actors or latex puppets, completely divorced from the context in which they were perhaps originally hallucinated - the impossibility of getting the full scope of expanded consciousness across all the telephone game hands it takes to put into practice. (6) Drugs were associated strictly with a certain swath of music, and mired in an ever-oscillating mix naive idealism and burnt-out paranoia. For before we could really delve into the nature of a drug hallucination, it would be gone. A lot of us preferred to stay home alone, tripping and trying to record our visuals via painting, or ranting into a microphone, or scribbling poetry - but that too was dangerous, with no one to bring you off the ledge one could think oneself into a bad trip pretty fast. Thus the bulk of drug-taking imagery in cinema has always been--until recently--of a Lowest Common Denominator kind of vibe, both naive and skeevy, a bunch of easily-influenced kids shimmying to a guitar solo like lemmings to a cliffside chimera.

With Midsommar we finally move past those breakwaters - gone are the banal psychedelic imagery we're used to on film, and now -- forever, hopefully, thanks to CGI and director Ari Aster's modicum of restraint comes the imagery of psychedelics as they actually are. Anchored to the expansion and contraction of the breath (is one 'hallucinating' when they become aware that the entire planet 'breathes' in ever expanding/contracting waves of energy?).

As the backpacking guests at the weird Swedish commune take mushrooms and then drink some unknown herbal tea, we have to pay attention to see the way the deep black interiors of the flowers in Dani's hair widens and contracts just like a tripping pupil, or the way the tendrils of the vines wrapped around her May Queen throne stretch to accommodate and encourage her ever-more tarot-style royal movements. The sacred space and time generated by ritual circular movement is made palpable in the flow of energy up the bark of trees, or the flow of energy between people entraining their breath and movements to the music guiding them in an endless May Pole dance.

Ever quick to invent new phrases, I dub this new trend, so indelibly volleyed first by Ari Aster in his new little horror semi-gem, Midsommar, 'hallucinaturalism' - i.e. going for what a drug trip visual actually looks like, the way hallucinations actually work, not as kind of totally separate from the world around them, but a space beyond time where we can see the breathing of flowers, the growing of plant tendrils, the spiraling out of the breath, the rays of the sun, the soul leaving the body.

The Ingestibles
“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.” ― Joseph Campbell 
"Who is to say what is real and what is not? 'Real' is a distinction of a naïve mind." - Terence McKenna
Am I myself getting of ahead? Surely the plot should be pretty familiar to you if you've ever gone to visit a rural commune with a friend of a friend for either a weekend camping/party or rock festival (we had the 'Barn Bash' at our guitarist's family farm, among other events). Such areas make the perfect tripping zone - no cops, no cars, no drawer-searching rehab-calling parents, unless there's a pen with a bull stamping around in it, no real danger. But even so, one can find one's mellow being harshed by one's buzzkill old lady, the type who invites herself along and then makes frowny faces every time you want to do funnels, or shrooms, or whatever (she doesn't want you to do them without her, but she doesn't want to do them yet... and it's always yet). Our main backpacker heroine is a kind of damaged co-dependent bi-polar buzzkill Dani (Florence Pugh), tagging along with her passive-douche boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), the kind of guy who's too cowardly to break up with her so close to the triple suicide of her sister and parents, or figure out how to not invite her as he tags along with his anthropology masters degree buddies on a summer vacation to the solstice midsummer celebration at the agrarian commune of their Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Bolmgren) who seems pretty normal. They're expecting a kind of cross between Burning Man and an Amish barn raising party. Well, they get all that and more too, in the clear light of day, forever (the lack of a setting sun or nightfall is one of the film's most uncanny elements).

Bobby "Haxan Cloak" Krlic's avant garde string-heavy score might veer strangely close to Colin Stetson's for Aster's previous instant horror classic Hereditary - especially near the end, when the Phillip Glassy synth drones and cascading triplets come flowing into a kind of transformative sound re-baptism - but he gets the paranoid long-bowing bottom-dropping coccyx- tingling drones, Lygeti-esque solar wind socking, and encounter group breath work flowing through the barn door cracks to just the perfect level of strange. And if the cast lacks a force like Toni Collette to center things and if if it doesn't really add up to much beyond the sum of its parts, and if --at 2 1/2 hours--it still feels like so much of the film is missing, it's got enough great moments and, again the 'truest' hallucinations ever in cinema, and maybe the best druggy ceremonial group sex scene ever. Encompassing all that is interesting, beguiling and terrifying about such 'communes' - the collapse of privacy, the loss of independent thought, the way 'breathing method' panting seems here a seamless part of conception, and the lack of abjectification within the ranks (no one sits it out) --it leaves us reeling in a kind of dream daze that the rest of the film takes and--if not runs with--certainly walks in imperceptibly slight slow-motion ceremonial steps right into the fire and flowers.

Dani's moaning and screaming at last finds its entrainment absolving
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” ― Joseph Campbell 
"It's very, very dangerous to lose contact with living nature." -Albert Hofmann
There's a feeling of being totally unmoored from one's place in the world very common today--when constant texting for validation from peers isn't enough to fill the 'god-sized hole' (as we say in AA) and our leaning on a current sex partner or best friend to somehow make up that vast chasm of disconnect is a sure way to swamp our craft, so to speak. For a lot of us, especially if we're not on meds, or they're not working anymore, the despair of isolation is so great that thoughts of suicide, on repeat, like a stuttering record, are our only salve. Dude, if even Ativan doesn't work (we see a bottle in Dani's cabinet - and if you know Ativan you're bound to get jealous), you know you're fucked. And if your pair-bond doesn't fill the hole, then what? You can join AA or some other group - that's kind of a cult, and can be totally a cult if you wind up at the wrong meeting and let some weirdo sponsor you because you're too passive to say no. Or you can meditate... on drugs.. chant you're way clear of the orbit around that damned hole. Accepting that the gaping emptiness at the core of the self can never be filled is the only way to escape its gravitational pull. It's Lacanian! 

 Paranoia and a feeling of secure group belonging, a kind of tribal security. are--one would think--opposites with a huge grey area in between - it's that grey area where most of us exist, never quite committing to the rapture of the group mind via becoming one of a tribe (a "worker among workers" as they say in AA) nor spinning off into complete isolation (wherein you paint your windows black and don't answer the door or phone anymore, and spend your nights screaming into a pillow as hands come out of the walls and just being able to put on your shoes and go outside for a six-pack seems like some impossible dream).

On psychedelics one isn't necessarily free of one's issues, they're just magnified. But with the right group--a primal scream therapy group at your therapist's office every other week for example--you can magnify your woes to such a large degree they disappear from the horizon.

Now, if you have taken drugs like psilocybin, LSD or ecstasy (I refuse to call it 'molly' - it's 'x' or 'ex' damn you) at a big hippy commune or outdoor music festival or pagan commune or weekend party on some sprawling farm - and you may have been, as I have been, dozens of times, dancing away, surrounded by happy hair-twirling hippies high as hell, and suddenly--out of the blue-- gotten paranoid. These people are all rabid monsters and you might be sacrificed to some ancient god during the height of the ecstatic rave orgy and even if you could escape, you have no idea where the nearest cop is, or if he's in on it, or even how to dial a phone in your current state. Every girl seems to be hitting on you through her ecstatic breathing, tendrils of pink azure longing tapping your chakras and filling you with her scent and wiles, but not in a good way - in a Monarch 7 Eyes Wide Shut kind of way. Every guy you know seems to trying to lure you someplace remote so they can hit you up for shrooms but you don't want to share any - they're not ready for this shit - their neediness and jonesing like daggers in reverse. Only your reflection in the mirror reminds you that you're even you, and how far over the rainbow you are. A few shots of Jaeger and a deep breath, a song you like, a chance to go onstage and sing "Sweet Jane" and maybe you're okay again. The trees wiggle indiscriminately.


“The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.” 
― Joseph Campbell

"Without a gang, you're an orphan!" - Riff West Side Story

Whether hot coal walks or bad acid trip paranoia, initiation ordeals leave us tightly united to the group without the need for a common enemy. Rather than bonding through collectively hating on some outcast, which is like the cheap knock-off Elmer's of social binding, it is through this initiation (which when it goes too far and frat dicks get ahold of it becomes 'hazing'). (2)

AA gets it (I mean Ari Aster, though it goes both ways) Between this and Hereditary he's proving himself the champion auteur of the New Dysfunction - one where drugs are so numerous the zone between one's shrink and her litany of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds, and the herbalist with the plastic baggy or the 'tea' - cease to exist. There's no 'normal' to start out from anymore and if you're not 'in' the group you're soon to be devoured by them.  There's no 'normal' to start out with anymore - no common 'normal' that connects the social order - only degrees of dysfunctional isolation and co-dependence. In neither film do we ever hear from anyone like a policeman, a narrator, a court appointed grief counsellor, a psychiatrist. As in films like The Shining- the socially conditioned polarities of right and wrong, linear time and the concept of future obligation cease. Like psychedelics themselves, the 'snap' of cabin fever frees us from the kind of rote empathy that locks us into the social order like an archon trick. We're beyond such things - life and death and the degrees of 'goodness' are lost in the presence of a kind of Hanging Rock/Quetzalcoatl sun god green man archaic pre-Christian hunger for human sacrifice. 

Maybe you've seen 2000 Manics (left), or the Wicker Man (either version), the real terror of it isn't anything bogeyman related but the idea that such macabre human sacrifice could become as routine and accepted as, say, fireworks on the 4th of July, or the lighting of a Lincoln Center Xmas tree. The scene at left is terrifying because we see the ease with which such a tableaux can fit easily into the apple pie and potato sack race shenanigans of a town centennial. As with Hereditary, Aster brings to the horror genre reflections of our own subconscious paranoia -that there's a secret society right there in plain sight, as banal as an old photo album of your grandma's showing a bunch of old ladies showing off their arts and crafts talismans, or a group of blonde farmers all dressed in white with big loving smiles and flowers in their hair--their actions too ancient, to rooted in archaic magics to be called evil in the pejorative sense. In both Aster's films, there is no sense of Machiavellian lip-smacking, there's no sordid rapey underscore in the process which 'spoiler' etiquette prevents me from detailing. Everything is ritualized and slow according to the nature of the being, of the breath, and the understanding that screams of the dying can be drowned out with group screaming in sympathy, that the most harrowing howls of pain and anguish can be matched and calmed through the entrainment of the support group and that all such negative emotions can be dissolved into the group like salt in the sea.

Between Chris Hemsworth's seductive cult freak in Bad Times at the El Royale and Tarantino's new Manson film, as well as new TV docs signifies the enduring appeal of the archetype of the holy madman is back, tapping into the aging millennial's desperate need for a blood-and-flesh tribe, a version of the fantasy of belonging they found in Twilight, Harry Potter, and so forth and the dozen other 'magical school' franchises glutting the market. They crave a world where they feel included, loved, protected, in a hermetic magical zone, able to face danger and the threats of life knowing a strong group as at their back. We might get this, as I did, through being in a band in college, or a street gang, the military, or maybe a sports team or something, but for the drowning psychotic the god-sized hole of desperate feeling of orphanhood is too much to navigate the give-and-take of a clique. For such people, being swooped up in the rescue gear of the cult-building mystic is a true godsend, the fragile ecosystem of social mores instilled in them by a failed family unit and educational system gets washed away with this shining all-inclusive paradigm. The ocean of support and 'being held' they receive more than making up for things like the total loss of independence, personal property, and connection to the outside world.

Why it's so seductive in Midsommar's case is that we're not dealing with usual Hammer Films gathering of British extras in robes cavorting and waving around goblets and bunches of grapes while Charles Grey glowers behind an altar - we're dealing with drug effects we may already be familiar with --their abilities to bond a social group and/or weird one out along the same line--and harmony with nature, though a nature that is inscrutable in its demands - the sun and light of love they feel goes hand in hand with a clear-eyed and unflinching view of death, and a view of sex and mind-altering drugs completely free of all Christianity's and conservative parental hysteria's restrictions and taboos. We can't help but feel the attraction, the druggy pull of inclusion and oneness. Coming out of the theater into the warm summer evening or late afternoon, walking home from the Alamo in the soggy summer heat, we may be grateful we're safe in the city, and sober, more or less, and happy more or less, in our world of pair-bond-cohabitation, our online communities ever a click away, aware finally that pursuit of balance not happiness is they to... happiness. And that air conditioning, vaping, CBD gummies, anti-depressants, ant-anxiety meds, sleeping pills, herbal teas and Coke Zero, taken continually, makes everything all right, but not so all right we fall into mania and therefore, inevitably, a massive crash. If, like me, you spent the first 30 years of your life on a treadmill running from all-consuming massive depression, you know what heaven is - being able to stop. The question then becomes... then what? What do we do now that we don't need to do anything?

"And Goats have kids, like people have kids, like me and you!"
- 70s Sesame Street song ("What Kids are Called")
"Mythology, properly understood as metaphor, will guide you to the recognition of your tiger face. But then how are you going to live with these goats?" - Joseph Campbell (full)
One thing I kept thinking about on the walk home was, what are these folks lives going to be like in the winter? Just as the days are endless in midnight sun Sweden, the freezing winters are eternal darkness. I couldn't help but feel the eerie echo of their Viking ancestors, imagining roaring fires and furs and elaborate homemade woolen wear. I thought too of the goats. Not that we see many of them, but enough. What is up with goats and their strange supernatural power? Their susceptibility to supernatural forces both coming and going is more than passing strange. My mom is currently reincarnated as a goat at the Carl Sandburg House goat farm in Flatrock NC, where she volunteered for years. If you see a goat named Nancy, tell her her son is glad she's found peace in a nice and supportive herd.

But why are goats such able vessels for human and daemonic spirits? Is it because we attributed it to them, based on Pan, satyrs, the frolicking horned one, etc? From Hunchback of Notre Dame (where a little black goat is actually tried and accused of witchcraft to the recent The Witch.) Which came first, the power we ascribe of the power they already have?

Or does this shit go far deeper. If you don't think goats are supernatural you've never seen one standing out on a tree limb like a high wire act (above) when you know there's just no way that's even possible?

Sorry this ends so randomly. So does the film though; if it's not more than the sum of it's parts, its parts are still good. Maybe that's what tripping is like too. You may find nirvana, the pieces of your life coming together in a perfect mandala jigsaw puzzle you'd normally spend lifetimes c ompleting, but with nothing else to do, one can't help but break it all up so you're not bored for the next 50 years. Or you find the Hell of self-conscious empty needy anguish, the alone even in a herd of friends despair, so amplified crawling into a lit fireplace seems the only available recourse. Either way, it's over then too. You can declare you're 'done' with psychedelics, that you've 'passed' the acid test like the forced Ken Kesey to say after he got busted with a joint, the 'man' making him turn his back on LSD. Or you can try to minister to the onslaught of needy mouths as they sense someone with 'the answer' and a free tab, like a flock of hungry seagulls around a lone guy throwing breadcrumbs into the wind. Or you can barricade yourself from the beaks and hole up with a lover or two and a bunch of recording equipment and art supplies like Turner in Performance. Or you can join a commune, experience the oneness, and maybe it's not a cult after all (no messiah figure). Either way, someone has to do the dishes, and it's not going to be me.

Shout out to Ryan for the req!


A cool movie with a similar plot arc, believe it or not, is 1978's THE LEGACY!
CinemArchetype 15: Human Sacrifice 
Bell, Book and Hallucinogenic Tampon: THE LOVE WITCH
13 Best or Weirdest Occult/Witch movies on the Amazon Prime
The Goat of Menses and the Fox in the Atheist Hole: THE WITCH
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call Summersisle: THE WICKER MAN (201o)
Genealogy of Flies: Lords of Salem, House of the Devil (+my own Salem ancestry)
All the Missed Mystics: Nicolas Roeg's GLASTONBURY FAYRE (1972)
Acid's Greatest Horror #1: ANTICHRIST (2009)
Avenger of Whatever: KILL LIST
Why don't we just Go Ask Alice? 
Alice 2.2 - The Looking Glass Dolls
The Ancient She-Shaman and her Shrooming Exhumer: SZAMANKA 

and David Del Valle's Lovecraft/Satan piece from back in Acidemic #6: Sympathy for the Devil:
Give my My Skin: BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and the Devil Films of the 70s (2009)

1. yes I practice meditation daily with a light-sound machine, I recommend it 
6. My recent DT hallucination of Veronica Lake swimming in ice below the tiles in the ER waiting room, beckoning me to jump in, would no doubt by the time they made it into a movie, be represented by a real actress dressed as Lake standing, dripping in the middle of the room, pointing at me and making a drowning noise, in other words completely divorced from the floor waxer brush prints from which my brain's pareidolia center and my recent drunk viewing of Sullivan's Travels worked with my heated brain to conjure Lake dancing in icy water below the floor. I was there at 4 AM and the floor had just been waxed. Would that image last through CGI effects team interpretation, presuming the animator has no experience with such mental states? Consider how much better films like Altered States, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Naked Lunch might have been with a more vivid and alert recreation of drug hallucinations rather than this kind of broad cartoon literality? Nothing against those films per se, especially Naked Lunch. I imagine Aster doing them all very different - i.e. with this CGI breathing subtlety. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Indelible Ennio (Primo); 7 Giallo Classics on Prime (Morricone Scores Pt. 1)

I was asked to explain 'why Ennio?" while preparing this post (i.e. watching 20+ Ennio-scored movies back-to-back on Prime), and I really tried: When it comes to scores, I said, proudly, there is Ennio Morricone and there is everyone else. If 60s-70s Italian genre cinema--westerns and giallos in particular--found a market the world over--it's because of Ennio. Each  of scores (and he's done over 500 films) is a blueprint for engagement with maximum ironic modernist counterpoint. As the filmic images and diegetic sounds unspool Morricone brings antithesis and counterbalance, ironic poise and unbearable intensity levied with winsome notes of lost childhood and operatic rock energy all embodied in a single sustained electric note. "So you don't know either?" she said.

I was at a loss. Why one guy's recording of female 'la-la-la' singsong vocalizing over shuffling cocktail jazz was better than another's, and what exactly it added, she wanted to know. I glowered and made a 'boing' sound in reply. That's all Ennio would have done. And it would have been perdect.

top: Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion / bottom: Black Belly of the Tarantula

Thinking of why he's so many leagues above the rest, I'm reminded of the bit in Amadeus when the king tells Mozart to add more notes. You hear the hackneyed Salieri-style orchestrations of lesser composers for whom this adage is gospel, determined to justify their 100 piece orchestra by having every instrument involved in big elaborate sweeping gestures and micro-managerial helicopter (or 'mickey mouse') scoring. Ennio never uses any instrument when none would be better. His is a kind of intuitive drive and love of cinema that transcends scores as we know them today.

There are only a few working composers that get the Morricone touch, that continue and expand his approach in unique directions (away from classical and jazz influences and more towards avant garde and modernist) such as the great Hans Zimmer. But even he knows - Ennio rule (see Zimmer's "Ennio Morricone- My Inspiration"). 
His music is so intensely personal and seems to speak to the individual. Much more than grand pieces that seem to speak to a crowd of people, each piece Morricone writes seems to be personal to the individual listening to it, and that’s a really amazing achievement. (full)
And the best news about Ennio: there are a great many of his scores on LP and on engines like Spotify and Amazon Music, and a bunch of his movies are on Prime, to the point I can't even cover them all in one post. So there shall be three. First: these 7 groovy gialli, all from 1970-75, and all with decent HD or very good SD image on Prime... then, an equal number of westerns, then crime/corruption/communism! After all that, maybe you too can annoy your co-habitants with your obsessive swooning over his masterful use of music to enhance any scene until they too ask 'why Ennio?' Boinggg! zzzzZZZzcch (knife running down E bass string-- exeunt)

(PS -  Some of these have more than one upload -Autopsy and Cat O'Nine Tails for two- with different quality sources, so if you get a crap/SD/compressed one, try again)

PART ONE: Il Boom del Gialli (1970-75)

"Macchie Solari"
(1975) Dir. Armando Crispino 
***1/2 / Amazon Image - C+

What could have been just another super weird Mimsy Farmer-goes-schizo movie ala Perfume of a Lady in Black (1974 - Dir. Francesco Barilli) where tricks are played with narrative to undo murders and create seemingly random conspiracies just for the hell of it (and no Morricone), Autopsy (Italian title is better: Macchie Solari - but I can see why they didn't call it 'Sunspots' as that sounds like a comedy about a misfit girls' soccer team). is a zippy giallo that, not unlike A Quiet Place in the Country, understands that hallucinations are examples of paredolia amplified by lack of sleep, drugs, withdrawal, mental illness or high fever, and structured by desire and fear, the way a musician on a song might bend and warp the LP you're listening to into the shape of a grooved, spinning golem rising from the turntable mud. Sure, it's just a hallucination - yet it's in far more dimensions than just that 2-D groove you were carved into, that illusion of music, that ghost you called the real world.

The grisly title kept me away from this charmer for a long time, for I thought this was the German medical thriller I'd already seen, or any of the other zillion shows called Autopsy. A pox on lame namers of things Autopsy!

Farmer is playing, for a change, a total professional - she's the one doing autopsies. And due to sunspots there are a ton of suicides in town, which means--for a doctoral candidate in post-mortem medicine doing her thesis on real vs. artificial (really murder) suicides--she's too busy cutting dead people open to stay sane. Her hallucinations and being prone to violence are all understandable due to the stress, the long hours, the sinister way everyone seems to be plotting against her, and being in leering macho rapey Rome. As with Perfume she has a handsome rich boyfriend whom she pushes and pulls with her love/hate psycho killer closeted aversion to sex, prioritizing her doctoral studies. She likes long walks on the beach and lapsing into strange reveries. The lighting is generally better in (at least the second half) of Perfume, but Autopsy makes more linear sense. I don't know why I have to compare them just because Mimsy Farmer is in both. She's the queen of giallo! Or maybe... the king?
All hail Mimsy Farmer, King of Giallo! 

Barry Primus is Father Paul - not your average priest, he used to be a race car driver - who quit after his last collision killed 12 people. Today Farmer works in the effects department! Coincidence? Morricone's score builds on sustained drones that slowly build and then end in moans and gasps from two women who are either dying or orgasming or both, then the drones start back up again, like the wheezy noises that might creep up from the grave of a murdered organist. Other places Morricone's crew stays busy like little flights of bees trying to keep their buzzing volume down so they can get at the nectar before it's taken by some bullying hummingbird. Piano keys hammer like late-added semi-colons trying to find their place in the ghostly lines of a letter long since sent. Then, whirling dust storms of bird coos thrown through a dissecting machine. More moans, it just keeps delving deeper into that line - the heavy-breathing, dilated line you can taste on your tongue about 20-30 minutes after you drop acid.

The Prime print is a strange beast. It looks beautiful-or adequate (non-HD but at least anamorphic). but I saw TWO uploads of Autopsy on Prime - so keep trying if the one you click on is all messed up, compression-wise. There are TWO.

"Le foto proibite di una signora per bene" 
(1970) Dir. Luciano Ercoli 
*** / Amazon Image - B+

Though it's labeled a giallo in the traditional sense, Luciano Ercoli's Forbidden Photos...  has a direct link with the romantic-sexy soaps of the era meant for bored housewives, guilty about even fantasizing infidelity, so needing elaborate justifications, i.e. she needs to cheat with a younger handsomer, more virile man to save her husband's life or business reputation.  Through an elaborate sequence of events, sex with a handsome stranger becomes, not a marital indiscretion, but a noble sacrifice. This time-honored ploy stretches back to the silent age, up through the pre-code era (Blonde Venus) up to the 50s (Jeopardy) and even the 80s (An Indecent Proposal). Oftentimes the night of passion (or afternoon) was depicted as something sexy or enjoyable, but just as often vile and sordid, and only occasionally - as here- both). Still, whether or not she enjoyed her ordeal, or even fantasized about such an overpowering beforehand, is irrelevant - her feelings were her own.

Ah, but there was the alternative, where the woman is so horrified at the changes it's making in her - ala Blue Velvet and this red telephone keeper from director Luciano Ercoli. She showers and showers afterwards, but still feels his pawing.

The cast is relatively small, narrowing down the suspect list, with clingy undersexed housewife Minou (Dagmar Lassander) doing what's necessary to hold onto husband Peter (Pier Palo Capponi) a business tycoon in danger of losing his company. Simon Andreu is the mysterious masterful man with a tape of Peter confessing murder. Andreu's love den black and full of exotic art, like white hands coming out of the wall. "Don't worry, you'll enjoy yourself a lot more than you imagine," he says. "Take off your coat!"

Other suspects include Dominique (Nieves Navarro), who was once a lover of Peter but that's all over, or is it. Another suspect: pills, since Minou is taking Valiums again her erratic behavior may be the result of a breakdown. At least that's what Peter says.

Clearly "mother's little helper" was creating a whole splinter group from the main drag of the Edgar Wallace-centric giallo, beyond its loosening grip lay orgy sex clubs and Satanic sects. In films like Case of The Bloody Iris, All the Colors of the Dark, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, the married wife left too long at home in bed sexually frustrated while husband's gets menaced by attractive knife-wielding male (or is he just  fantasy) trying to get her to return to the sex club they started.

I'm not a fan of Dagmar Lassander's look here: her stooped, defeated posture, the combo of tacky powder blue frock with matching eye shadow, fake red hair, and pink lipstick, but I am a huge fan of Nieves Navarro as Minou's sexy-cool liberated bisexual swinger friend Dominique, even though she rocks a lot of the same pale blue/pink look. A star of an array of quality if unexceptional giallos, Navarro  always seems to play the same part: a cool liberated character who seems to have created swinging late-60s/early-70s Milan or Rome to suit herself. Some of her ideas may not gel with today's society ("I'd adore being violated") but I don't think that would faze her much; I also like Andreu and his love den ("I must say, your performance has been more than I expected.")

Morricone factor: One of 17 scores Ennio did in 1970 alone, he's just doing a job here, but doing it well: the title theme coos along with the traditional wordless vocalizing (something that no doubt helped with international markets to avoid lyric confusion), with a gentle trumpet part floating high over a dreamy Barcelona netting of strings. Later the suspense builds with the same netting rattled by a single four note refrain, swimming against the grain of trumpet and strings like an incessant, nagging guilty conscience. Elsewhere woodwinds move in and out of mimicking police sirens, funky organs and wah-wah guitars groove in the nightclub scene. And if that scene gets confusing it's because both Minou and Dominique are wearing strange new wigs!

Leaving Prime at the end of the month!

Cosa avete fatto a Solange?
(1972) Dir. Massimo Dallamano
***1/2 / Image: A+

Based on Edgar Wallace's crime novel "The Clue of the New Pin" this beautifully-photographed (and lushly transferred to HD) thriller occurs in that most ideal of all giallo settings, a private Catholic girls' school (in England, supposedly). Devilishly handsome Fabio Testi is the 'phys-ed' teacher (you can hear Billy Wilder cackle in his grave) trying to devirginize his latest star pupil; he thinks she's once again holding out by saying she saw a knife flash as they drifted past a maybe murder scene in a rowboat built for two. She wasn't, but kind of was. The knife thing as Freudian a fear of penetration excuse is so on point here it kind of cracks the code of what Diane Keaton called that "whole Italian... thing." Morricone's score starts on a mournful bottom note single-hand piano refrain that slowly builds into two hands, wordless cooing vocals hitting dreamy high notes and strings cascading sadly like a waterfall trickle of circling hawks. Also, nothing is more gross that lying in the bottom of a boat, I don't care how dry it is, it's not dry. The score gets pitch-shifty as it turns out there was a murder but how can Rassini explain being at the scene of the crime without getting fired? But soon the killer knows he and his star pupil saw something and the murders begin anew... Someone is killing off the girls in his class, it's up to Rassini to stop it ("for once your intimate relationship with the students will prove useful," declares the shocked dean). With the cops running parallel and intersecting investigations.I'd say more about the message inherent in the subtexts, but that would be a spoiler.

Instead I'll talk about the slinky Morricone bass line, brushed drums and honking off-key trumpet mute (expertly blending into the honk of a BMW car horn) let us know this is going to be a touch Hitchcockian as well as sordid, even cop show at times, like a kid smashing a funky TV cop show score into a Herrmann-esque thriller then recording the crash, and riffing off the dying honk of the steering wheel, viola!

One of the more interesting and successful elements in the characterization of Rassini's wife (Krimi star Karin Baal - who'd later work with Fassbinder). She starts the film as a suspect, with her lack of makeup and pulled sharply back blonde crop (always signifying repressed masculine tendency), glowering at her husband with weary daggers. But as the murders commence, she begins to have compassion for her husband, and seems to age 20 years younger and become desirable again, to both him and us (the way she can modulate like that evokes that of Jeanne Moreau in La Notte). Meanwhile Rassini has to solve the murder. Questioning a hip black photographer, Rassini learns  that the girls were virgins, technically; they did everything but as the hipster black photographer tells him. "You read the Kinsey report?"

Director Dallamano got his start after garnering notice as cinematographer of the first two films in Leone's big-breaking "Man with No Name" trilogy. He knows his way around a gorgeously composed shot. Amazon's streaming image appears sourced from the recent Arrow Blu-ray (which I have, and is recommended) with dusky deep blacks and vivid deep colors. Even a protracted scene at confession works because it's so gorgeous, girls' faces so luminous, and Ennio's toss-off incidental church organ melody indelible. Even the track Rico plays for his student girlfriend on an LP sounds sublime. Even the carousel sing song theme of the merry-go-round stake-out park scene... That's one element of the Morricone genius, to co-opt the diegetic music into the score, so that they merge and we begin to take the score itself as part of the landscape.

Some of the moments anticipate Picnic at Hanging Rock like this bicycling clique flashback
The Amazon Print is in English only with English subtitles for the Italian version - which leads to some interesting jarring notes between what is actually said (to match the lips and the tenor of the time), and the subtitles, especially at the end. (I often watch these with subtitles on anyway, for those very reasons, you can get a weird dissonance and that's what giallo is all about).

La Tarantola dal ventre nero
** / Amazon Image - B+ 

There's only a few reasons to see this stylish but mindlessly derivative giallo entry: the gorgeous, well-turned-out women (including Bond babes Claudine Auger and Barbara Bach) and its habit of giving us the full giallo littany: the kinky gold curtains, spiral staircases, and fetishistic toys and latex gloves... and mannequins, it's almost an Argento "animal" trilogy remix, the challenge being to use every element, only without any zip, energy or insight.

Thank god then, for the Morricone score which provides a cacophonic counterpoint whenever it can. You don't even need a story when Ennio is at the top of his game like he is here. All crumbling electric guitars, atonal mashes of the keyboard, deep breathing and wheezy organs, he catches and balances the woozy mise-en-scene the way a patient friend might help a stumbling drunk to his car.

Considering the by-the-numbers direction of journeyman-hack Paolo Cavara (Mondo Cane) and the fact that Tarantolo's screenplay was written by woman (Lucille Lans) it's perhaps no surprise that a) the film is lacking the drive and momentum that toxic blend of male Catholic guilt and seething sexual frustration can provide, and b) its strengths lie in its 'weaknesses,' in its swooning, feminine sexuality, which we guilty scholars will note is almost completely free of voyeuristic "eye"-conography. The stripping nude of the female victims and the paralysis method seem to set the stage for kinky trauma, but the editor knows that when they stop screaming and act dead, the tension goes out and it just becomes mannequin-jabbing necrophile boredom. We have Spasmo for that! (Another great Ennio score in that one, but it's not on Prime).

With so little suspense or empathy generated by the killings, the big mystery becomes how a cop as foggy and strung-out as Giancarlo Giannini's Inspector Tellini ever made it to homicide in the first place. He should be handing out parking tickets, at best. From a surrealist standpoint the detective's confusion and rank incompetence puts him in the rarefied realm of somnambulist shamuses that have been knocked into weird zones between realities: Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart; Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense; Asia Argento in The Stendahl Syndrome; Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly-characters who may or may not be already dead, as if they awoke from a dream into the film and don't really remember a damn thing about investigative protocol. But at least in those films the target always turns out to be someone or something intrinsically tied up with the pursuer. In Belly, the final disconnect becomes more of a Dirty Harry sort of "this time it's personal!" punch out, which illuminates our hero's darkened path not a watt. Oh well, if you're so xanaxed out you don't even know where or who you are it helps to have some really weird Morricone to help you home. One psychedelically twisted note of discordant guitar and you know that you're safe in the beloved giallo genre, where druggy amnesia isn't only forgiven, it's practically essential. (see full -6/09).

Giornata Nera per l'Ariete
***1/2 / Amazon Image  -A

Franco Franco Nero smolders and drinks valiantly against the rushing tide of fatalistic Ennio Morricone-scored vocalizing and surging drones in this fine giallo, an example of how you can dip into the tricks and trappings of the Argento-via-Hitchcock paintbox, rather than be merely derivative, create something vivid and cool, vibrant and alive. Partially excavating the deep roots of childish lack of impulse control beneath macho vanity and alcoholism, Nero plays an ex-husband womanizer journalist who still loves his ex-wife (Silvia Monti) even though he's shacked up with cute blonde Pamela Tiffin. Teetering between Keitel Bad Lieutenant transcendental-abusive and Nick Nolte Affliction DT-delusional, Nero follows clues leading him to murder victims that he knew, and so forth. I've seen it six times and I still can't follow how any of these people are supposed to even know each other. Maybe Rome is very small, so when you hang out at a bar one night (the opening swinging nightclub scene, cracked to bursting with stares, slinky electric organ music, and possible leads), everyone you meet will have all sorts of interconnected secrets. As long as modernist international architecture leads to wild post-modernist compositions like these, baby, you go right ahead.

A highlight is Ennio's dreamy music for a passage that finds Nero spying on through a side window on some languid afternoon sex show being filmed in silhouette on a wall shot through glass beads, laden with queer innuendo as one realizes the extent being gay in the 60s-70s meant continuous exposure to blackmail, so everyone had to sneak around, drawing the eye of curious detectives and journalists following up any random clue. Here we get glass beads, strange hungry looks, and Ennio so breathy perfect time stops altogether in a fairie bower haze.

it's all in fun
As in so many detective thrillers of its time (when the real-life "Zodiac" was big in the public eye), astrology factors into the murders. We realize the killer only strikes "on a Tuesday, sacred to Mars, favorable to Aires!' (The Italian title translates to 'Black Day for Aires") Light through Venetian blinds, the roving camera, crisp sets, good dubbing, a sense of the phoniness inside the souls of the characters that not only excuses phoniness in the film but resembles Antonioni-esque fatalism as much as it does Argento diabolism. Even when the crippled heiress (the ever-glowering Rosella Falk) is being terrified, crawling across the floor like a snake towards her distant wheelchair, she's framed beautifully by a stone lion, dark yellow curtains, and a gray cat, Morricone's organ fugue underscoring her funeral even as she's still alive.

Debits for the heavy reliance on day-for-night in the stalking/killing sequences, as if they all occur in some heavy gravity zone of deep blue eternal concrete twilight, where all light sources, tunnel roof lights etc, glow with a deep azure-green halo like you're just watching with very dark sunglasses on. Were they shot by the AD while Bazzoni was lining up his international style architecture lines and making sure the light gleans deep and merciless into Nero's weeping, drunk crystal blue eyes?

Il gatto a nove code
(1971) Dir Dario Argento
*** / Amazon Image - A+

I often imitate the little three note stand-up bass line Morricone lays down for this neat little follow-up to the landmark Argento giallo Bird with Crystal Plumage. It's easy (if you have a deep voice) and makes everything more slinky and atmospheric and while giallo purists sometimes give Cat the airs, fans of classic detective thrillers from Hollywood (ala The Falcon, Charlie Chan, etc.) will love all the deep cut callbacks (the poisoned milk! the clue left in the coffin in the crypt in the graveyard at n-n-n-night). Blind puzzlemaker Karl Malden has a window overlooking the Terzi Institute--a guard was slugged and the place broken into - then someone was murdered! His little seeing-eye niece calls him Cookie and their cool positive relationship is the sort we'd see again later in Phenomena with Donald Pleasance and Jennifer Connelly (and reflected perversely in that between the possibly gender-disoriented and certainly automaton-esque heiress Catherine Spaak and her older "father" and the founder of a sinister genetics institute (villainous eyebrow wearer Tino Carraro).  Malden and Franciscus get some good comedic rapport during their long Lewtonian walk through the nighttime graveyard (Argento would never resort to day -for-night so there's real night) and create a good vibe between themselves and Lori as a kind of journalistic unit. Morricone's score seems made by leaving a flute outside on a windy day and rubbing a cello string with a hot microphone.

Maybe the fact that it's not terribly memorable helps it hold up well over repeat viewings. It's got a good spritely rhythm with all sorts of ingenious clues and termite herring encoded into every little shot, with paradoxical dialogue ("Gigi the Loser's the winner!") and riffs on gender identity (the more intimate you are with someone, the more their gender identity melts away), with little queer panic allusions seeming to mocking some closeted censor: bare feet safely touching the floor, some hands, and Spaak's zonked immovable eyes, all planted for later recovery, with the killer as omnipresent as that funky minimalist three-note Morricone bass line, violently plucking back the root cord evidence of his/her identity until the very Hitchcockian rooftop chase climax. Meanwhile, classic little bits of McGuffin clue stashing familiar to fans of old 30s and 40s mysteries abound amidst the giallo kinkiness but it doesn't matter if they're old tropes, it's that Argento knows them so well he riffs on them, the way a jazz trumpeter who can't necessarily care whether you know "Take the A-Train" well enough to appreciate how far he's counter-rotating the melody. He's doing it for him, and the Chan fans. We can dig it, man, we can also groove to that crazy Morricone mash-up of a score: his repetitions of little refrains, atonal reeds evoking howling winds outside distant windows, flute melodies that cycle around on repeat and sing-song high voices that seem to drift around over thudding bass lines like a cloud of smoke.

La corta notte delle bambole di vetro
(1971) Dir. Aldo Lado
**1/2 / Amazon Image - C+

Prague may be beautiful, architecturally -- since it managed to avoid being bombed by either Germany or Russia during ze War, so it's still Mitteleuropean charming- but the weather is generally as grim as the sociopolitical mood. There's only so much pretty girls and woozy Morricone strings can do against Communist party counter insurrectionist spies, and sinister old classical music appreciation clubs so bloodless and all-controlling they make any attempt to shine a light on the truth seem way too naive for an allegedly worldly foreign press journalist like aggrieved Jean Sorel. If he keeps refusing to believe the dire warnings of the KGB-style local detective, and the urgings of his older ex-lover and fellow foreign press scribe Ingrid Thulin, he's going to deserve what he gets. And we already know what that is, because he begins the movie on a slab in the morgue, poisoned with some kind of drug that puts him in a catatonic state so close to death that even his friend a medical technician can't successfully shock him back to life! 

Some scenes seem to be missing and it's too bad as those were the scenes I'd like most to see: Why is the Texas millionairess 'planking' next to mighty Mario Adorf at the party? There's weird touches involving butterflies and so forth, but the center doesn't seem to hold and even Ennio Morricone's score lists along at half-mast, limiting itself to some screechy panic attack drones, somewhere between Bernard Herrmann's future scores for Cronenberg and an orchestra tuning up before playing Bartok. Still it's Ennio and it rocks in its draggy way: I had the soundtrack long before seeing the film and used to love to listen to it on my Discman while walking through Prospect Park at night with my dog Inga, every shadow on the stone bridge walls like death incarnate as we walked through the long tunnel from Grand Army Plaza, the Bartok-Herrmann-ish avant garde jangles frying my nerves in the most giddy of ways. Alas, Sorel makes one pine for Franco Nero, hell, even Giancarlo Giannini. Good shock ending though - AGHHHHH!

COMING SOON: Morricone-scored Westerns; Morricone-scored Crime and Misc.


3/17: 12 Weird/Cool Italian Films streaming free on Prime
12/16: I never said it wasn't terrible: 10 Sci-Fi Curiosities on Amazon Prime
2/19: Post-Futuristic Gang Violence on Prime, Italian-style: 6 Badass Trips from the early 80s
10/16: 13 Best or Weirdest Occult/Witch movies on the Amazon Prime
10/16: Taste the Blood of Dracula's Prime: 12 Psychotronic Vampire Films

Acid and Giallo: Drive-In Dream Logic III, Italian-style
Post-Giallo Nightmare Logic (old Netflix roundup)
BEYOND, THE (1981)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Dance of Tripper Mimsy: RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP (1967)

Based on true events! The AIP/MGM police/hippie hybrid movie RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP (1967) reminds us that back LA's rock venue-packed Sunset Strip was once so clogged with amok youth that the lawmakers had to enforce a 10 PM curfew for everyone under 18. The kids took to the streets in protest, or were already there. Sonny, Cher, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda attended to show their solidarity. Fonda got handcuffed! What a world.

Today, those of us who don't live in LA probably just hear the words Sunset Strip and prepare for yet another old rocker to start in about seeing the Doors at the Whiskey a Go Go back in whenever or how the man made them change the name to 'the Whisk' or how they razed Pandora's Box--the main all-ages (non-alcoholic) venue--to the ground. Or how Buffalo Springfield's inescapable "For What it's Worth" was written about the protests. But I'll just say that you can draw a dotted line down the road of AIP counterculture classics, from the Strip to The Trip and then Wild in the Streets, the year after that it's films like the (AIP-influenced) Easy Rider. And then Cult of the Damned, and Manson! It's all connected like a dashed highway line...going straight to hell! For fans of the scene, of LSD and of the Doors and Jack Nicholson, then, come and dig the Strip - and see the dance that lit the flame, the Helen of Hippie film Troy, the wig that launched a thousand swigs, Mimsy Farmer!

Hanging around at Pandora's Box, clearly starting trouble
Released an astonishingly short four months after the riots happened, Riot on Sunset Strip alternates between the police and the kids camps. The kid camp revolves around a sweet, innocent girl named Andi (Mimsy Farmer) from a broken home (she lives alone with her alcoholic mom - below) who starts out as a nice kid just digging bands with her girlfriend Liz-Ann (Laurie Mock) and their two nameless boyfriends. Her slow slide begins when she starts smoking, gradually dressing sexier, craving some kind of parental structure but just getting mom's incoherent babbling (and dad nowhere to be found). just hanging out digging bands at Pandora's Box, but getting busted for being young, but still trying to be good--she ends up dosed on acid, and dancing! Come on, Liz-Ann says, "it's a freak-out!" Andi says she's never done acid.  "Come on, Alice in Wonderland," says Liz-Ann: "You haven't lived!"

As we follow her descent we also bounce back and forth to the precinct struggles of her absentee father (Aldo Ray) a police captain in charge of the youth problem to be fair to both sides of the argument. He doesn't want his men to start cracking heads, nor does he want the local business owners to form their own vigilante task force. In trying to be fair to both kids and adults, he pleases neither; that doesn't bother him though, when gives interviews for local TV, preaches a modicum of tolerance: "These are your sons and daughters!" It's a fair point. But Aldo, what about your daughter?

above -Mom, in bed with her demons; Andi - smoking
(there was no age restriction on it then and damned if it doesn't make her look cool)
Andi, tired of being harassed by the cops, forced to call her teacher to pick her up from the police station rather than her drunk mother, acquiesces to the freak-out. But once there--even though she's vibing with the cute older boy who's got the sugar cubes, she still just says no - preferring to hang around the invaded home like a wet dishrag... which can be very frustrating as a rocket-boosted hormonal and very high male out to score. She seems--in your drugs-and-testosterone-addled brain, like she's 'asking' for something: she wont leave the "happening" alone, yet she will not make the scene. If she will not make the scene, then the scene, with its tendrils of long hair, and its medallion beads clattering like a clacking Cabeza de Lobo beach cub billion beak peck cat castanet jelly donut death racket--will make her. 

Her old man, will he come rolling home?

Maybe none of this would need to happen, oh if he only would, but he's too busy lecturing other parents for not rolling half as good as he would were he not busy lecturing.

But then, for all their woe, whatever that is, we'd miss one key moment worth the whole damned film: Mimsy Farmer's sublime acid dance freak-out, one of the great peak pivotal moments in 60s LSD cinema! Since it's only 1967, and the AIP countercultural LSD movie cycle is just getting rolling (if you'll forgive an anachronistic colloquialism), one could consider Farmer's dance the opening act in the huge paisley cavalcade to come, the way exotic dancers perform flame rituals in Arabian shiek's tents prior to taking tea with a bronze-dripping Robert Taylor. Setting the mood and opening the gates, Farmer's dance shows how one might take a hackneyed non-relevant 'breather' as Laura Mulvey would call it (woman as a kind of narrative door-stop, preventing the flow of linear time to allow for a kind of desire/possessive gazing on the part of the viewer) and reverse the flow so her madness seems to possess us by contrast - her constant oscillating from one extreme emotion to the other forcing us to be afraid of her, for her, with her, and without her all in quick cycling succession. it's still a milestone in trippy dancing few have equaled since (more sophisticated nuanced actresses just come off as ridiculous or overly maudlin, worse just come off as vapid)

 Overall, Riot is rather pedestrianly directed by (59 year-old) Arthur Dreifuss, but--though he's clearly a generic square, old Arthur wisely lets this one moment land, with a keen eye for how dancing on acid feels in the moment (had he done any?). The vaguely mystical-tribal sun wall sculpture on the wall behind her evokes a subliminal temple backdrop, the pink lighting soaks into her golden skin and her form-fitting pink and army green dress making her at times seem to appear and disappear. She wears what seems like three identical wigs, all slowly growing, widening in a halo gyre, gradually getting wilder and more libidinal-schizo as she slinks to the ground and luxuriates cat-ready against a corner. She notices her arms and hands as if the first time, alive to the joy of movement, reacting to any stimulus with a second-by-second switch--from revulsion to agog fascination to cautious luxuriance.

Andi sees her hands for the first time
Dreifuss captures it all, beginning to end, with just a hint of slow motion here and there, perfectly matched to the music even so, as if she's slipping in and out of linear time, floating in the tehrer somewhere between the vampire cult converts floating around in 1972's Deathmaster and the fairies in 1935's Midsummer Night's Dream.

If you've ever felt those kind of things while slinking around a living room in a surrendered-to joy of movement, then you may feel as I do while watching--i.e. my palms start to sweat and I feel a metallic tang on my tongue, as if in anticipation of the inevitable 'kicking in' of the drug one's taken. It's like getting all the sensations of going up a very steep incline on a roller-coaster, up and up and up - even though you're just sitting there on the beanbag chair, rolling joints in a Pink Floyd gatefold, watching as the blood rushing in your hands slowly starts to redden and glow just below the skin, like a latticework spider web, and they feel like they're trembling but they're actually steady as rocks.

But of course, the slimy lad who slipped it into her 'diet drink' has been keeping an eye on all this, waiting for the right time to slink up and make a move, bringing her upstairs with all the finesse of Sidney Berger in Carnival of SoulsIt's clearly his and his buddy's MO to dose young girls and take advantage, en masse, once the girl is too zonked to complain or resist. In other words, loathsome date rape behavior wasn't solely the proclivity of frat boys spiking the grain alcohol punch with 'ludes and then all sticking to beer. We didn't quite imagine it was as vile as it was- as a freshman feeling just lucky to be in there and drinking for free and underage I never imagined the vile things going on upstairs when girls got too drunk off the punch to resist. It was just too odious and vile to imagine. "Date rape" wasn't a term yet. It only got started around my senior year -- too late for a good half the girls I used to drink and trip with.

Alas, I hope this doesn't turn off Andi to the wonders of alcohol, weed, and psychedelics. At MGM drugs may be a cry for help, or a way to dilute resistance, but at AIP they're a way forward! They're enlightenment, and--if you go too far--madness. But at least they're a trip! It's not for everyone, but those of us not cut out for the two kid garage and white picket doorbells, they're a rocket to the next option.

Maybe it won't. Andi doesn't seem to be too traumatized afterwards. We never hear her complain or resist. We only learn she had 'entertained' five of them when she tells it to her father, who--of course--walks in on her in the bed, now totally 'down' from her trip, apparently. Telling him the details is, in a way, it's her ultimate fuck you, meant to drive him swinging pathetically into the night. It's the real fantasy moment in the film, the kind of thing a kid might imagine getting her never-around dad to witness, especially if he considered himself such a paragon of the law.

That kind of familial crisis is what lets you know that, though it was released by AIP (and has all the AIP earmarks on the surface), Riot is an MGM product. For AIP, family is broken, useless, but MGM can't let the 'father' go. Even when delving into lurid subject matter the studio tends to employ a kind of roundhouse morality uppercut that dates back to their seemingly transgressive (secretly moralistic) pre-code films like 1931'a A Free Soul (left), wherein booze, premarital sex, and drugs aren't lines in the sand against the previous generation's antiquated norms, they're just the symptom of parent-daughter estrangement due to parental addiction and/or absenteeism. The dad must fix his character, and the daughter will re-merge into the patriarchal order with pleasure. In Soul, Shearer uses Gable for sex and thrills, but secretly hungers for the safe, flaccid decency of Leslie Howard and the long nights nursemaiding daddy in and out of alcoholic sanitariums. In Sunset, the dad has to stop worrying about the other kids, kids as abstract, and realize his own kid needs him, i.e. up close, with feelings and real
connection and that drugs and sex are her cry for help. We're lured in by the sex and drugs then WHAM! the family. Dirty tricks, MGM!

Dreifuss went from Riot to another AIP drug movie after this: The Love-Ins (above) next, a tale that functions as a Tim Leary roman-a-clef about a disillusioned college professor  who drops out and becomes a cash-minded LSD guru. I haven't seen it myself, but the insightful Chuck Esola notes the incorrect way acid use is depicted: "not only are the hippies high on it all the time but one hit and the characters in the film are either flailing about wildly on the lawn, jumping out of windows or becoming convinced that they've become Alice in Wonderland (I'm honestly not sure which is worse)." Hey, in the words of Bruce Dern's guide in The Trip, you're really into some beautiful things here, man.

As for Mimsy, she would soon escape to Italy where she was to specialize as totally cracked giallo heroines, as in Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Armando Crispino's Autopsy (1975), and Francesco Barilli's Portrait of a Lady in Black (1974). Her character in these films was often the same, as if she became so splintered by her LSD/rape primal moment in Riot she splintered into shards that all fell into different giallo movies. Her characters all had the same short blonde hair, exhibiting the violent revulsion/attraction approach to sex, repressed lesbian desire, and habit of talking through clenched teeth when enraged. Walking the razor line between being a totally free spirit engaging in sex and drugs as self expression, she turned on a German math student to hard drugs and group sex a mere two years after Strip in Barbet Schroder's More (above), which has a great Pink Floyd soundtrack if nothing else).

Busted - for being teenagers
As for the curfew riots are forgotten today but the music they inspired--and that was heard on the Strip at the time--endures. Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" was written about them (and now it's inescapable) and The Byrds, The Seeds, Love, The Chambers Brothers, and The Doors are all classic rock radio staples and were bands in residence on the Strip. None of them either appear or are heard in the film. Instead, we get the garage rock of the Standells (they sing theme song, noting that "even parents are beginning to scare" over their crazy children and the cops) and the Chocolate Watchband rips some raucous, royalty-free standard blues. But, like the AIP movies it stands with (Psych-Out, and The Tripfor example), the good bands are offset with a lot of dated paisley drippiness courtesy dull treacly sludge by bands like The Mugwumps and The Sidewalk Sounds, (who coo: "I want to make the music pretty / for me") not to mention a lot of generic library flute rock instrumentals. When you think of the great stuff being played at the time (or the great songs on the Cynthia Weil/Barry Mann songs on the similar AIP gems Wild in the Streets and Angel Angel, Down We Go), it's kind of a drag, like seeing a fictional movie made about Altamont and just hearing the Flying Burrito Brothers. 

Pandora's Box was a real club (above), at the center of the riots as it was
being demolished by the establishment for its role as a lightning rod in the disruption.

Still, its great. Newly arrived on Amazon Prime and looking good (these screenshots are all from it), 


- HaPPy TRails! 

Maybe it was because I saw it the morning after getting back from a mostly-overcast vacation in St. Maarten but I was in just the right mood for Riot. And well, the crazy psychedelic dance of Mimsy is really a showstopper. I made the collage above myself, though there's nothing like it in the film. There should be, for 'trails' in tripping are a sign of transcending space/time and perhaps the origin for the multi-armed effect of Hindi gods and goddesses. 

And in a way it's too bad. Neither Corman nor anyone at AIP ever figured out how to do "trails" correctly (they're aren't any in Gilliam's Fear and Loathing either, though at least he gets some good subliminal mileage out of the hotel carpeting). in an effort to capture the true nature of acid hallucinations (they don't come out of nowhere, they build up through paredolia and just seeing the world more clearly and without the usual structuralist blinders.

Actually, I saw a great Mimsy movie on Prime last night that did some decent psychedelic acid trails (or DXM if you want to be fancy), Autopsy (1975)! It wasn't acid but tiredness or insanity or something - but here you GO-go-o-go-go:

Tripper Mimsy finds the right dosage, at last...

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