Thursday, March 28, 2019

10 Surreal Cult Gems of the 80s: A Prime-Stream Special

What was the 80s and why was it such a golden age for weird sci-fi and head trips? Was it thanks to the dawn of MTV and Night Flight and their power to amuse stoned kids back late from the punk shows on weekends? Repo Man, Return of the Living Dead, and Night of the Creeps in theaters; Liquid Sky and Street Trash were at (shhh) inner-city theaters; drive-in and the video rental places co-existed comfortably.., for the moment.  Conan, the Terminator, and Robocop made such big money that art house wonders like Brazil and Blue Velvet could be seen and occupy hallowed places in the press.

Also, it was the height of Nancy-fueled anti-drug hysteria, and so--just as, during Prohibition, imbibing booze had become a symbol of American freedom and defiance of knee-jerk puritanism, so now there togetherness and patriotism to be found in smoking weed during the 80s (when you could go to jail for years just for having a joint in your pocket). Today weed is mostly legal and so innocuous its users are unnoticed. But back then, getting high and going to the midnight movie was a rite of dangerous passage. And going home to watch Night Flight and weird rented movies was simply the norm. And as a result, thrived a momentary nation of the strange. We were a decade away from the ecstasy-and-blue recovery roller coaster of the Prozac 90s. We had to invent micro-tripping just to get by - so we liked it weird. As ye shall see, brave wanderer:

(1989) Briam Yuzna
***1/2 / Amazon Image - A

For sheer over-the-top surreal class-commentary, nothing really beats Brian Yuzna's SOCIETY which has one of the best WTF denouements in cinema history. I'm going through great pains to not spoil any of it, let's just say that in best surrealist form it taps into the Freudian Id impulse and the anxiety that one is shut out of a massive 80s upper crust orgy--that even your parents are in on some licentious surreal group sex cult secret. It's this very real feeling that underwrote the Satanic panic of the 80s (and continues today in things like Pizza-gate, Q-Anon, and the conspiracies of David Icke -[here]), so it makes sense this came out in the "me" decade, a time when Reagan was in office and 'yuppies' were gobbling up everything, their little IZOD collars turned up and Ray-bans on in slavish imitation of their god, Tom Cruise. Not for nothing, then, does Society star the euphonious Cruise-clone Billy Warlock as a privileged lad who enjoys the finer things thanks to his adopted family, yet is ever reminded of just how much better a slightly richer contingent at his elite school has it.  He begins to realize something is going on when his older sister's paranoid ex-boyfriend-cum-stalker plays him tapes he secretly made of the sister's private conversations with their father re: her debutante 'coming out' party. It sounds, in this weird conversation, like she's going be offered up to some evil reptilian throng as a sexual offering, forced to sleep with everyone in the cult, including her parents and local officials--and that she's looking forward to it. But that can't be--can it? 

To amp the paranoia we're never quite sure, til it's too late, if we're just reading into it. Billy is paranoid, but the truth is far crazier. Along his journey, he picks up a hot mess girlfriend (Devin DeVasquez) and--in the weirdest element--her "mother" (Pamela Matheson), a bizarre hair-eating nutcase that seems to have wandered in from a John Waters casting lagoon, and seems younger than her daughter, starts hanging around with them, regularly trying to eat Billy's hair. 

 Yuzna produced those early Stuart Gordon gems From Beyond and Re-Animator so clearly knew how to hire and use the best effects teams. The gooey weirdness would be CGI today but here it's all latex analogy--the weirdest coolest mess since Carpenter's The Thing. Too bad that, like The Thing itself, so few people saw it in theaters --did it even get a release? Either way, what a blast! It goes everywhere Eyes Wide Shut does in about 1/3 of the time, and then a whole, whole WHOLE lot farther. Along the way it lays down full bushels of insight on the nature of desire, social-climbing, consumer culture, the parasitical nature of the rich, and what's known today as FOMO - or the feeling a massive beautiful people orgy is going on whenever you're not around. Kurbick really should have gone out more, or at least watched some horror movies --Society would have maybe saved his film from its fatal inertia.

And even today, some still believe there's a secret basement where gorgeous women abandon themselves to hairy ugly men at the clang of Get Out teacup rattle or an Eyes Wide Shut Rammstein-style synth/chant dirge. How that 'missing the orgy' feeling ties in with priapism and paranoia could be a full semester course (see here for full syllabus), but Society says it all in 99 minutes and without bitter aftertaste. 

(1982) Dir. Slava Sukerman
***1/2 / Amazon Image - A+

We're deep in the height of the artsy early-80s downtown NYC New-Wave scene, back when it was cool, underground, emaciated and addicted to an array of pills and powders. A small alien saucer lands on the roof above the balcony apartment of trendy new wave icon Margaret (Anne Carlisle) and her drug-dealing lesbian roommate Adrian, played by Paula E. (Alice in Alice Sweet Alice) Shepherd. Across the way in a parallel story is Susan Doukas as Sylvia, mother of Jimmy (also Carlisle) a strung-out sneering male model struggling to pay for a high-end cocaine addiction. A German scientist is lured up to lonely Sylvia's apartment for dinner but really he wants to spy on the saucer across the street. What is it up to? It's zapping anyone nearby at the moment of sexual climax, using the orgone (?) energy for, presumably, rocket fuel or their own form of drug. 

There's oodles of great stuff, style, and disaffect, but the ultimate in weird 'scenes' has got to be Anna Carlisle going down on the male version of herself while a bunch of fashionistas hanging out (while using her gorgeous roof balcony apartment for a photo shoot) jeer in a very punk aggro manner that would be scary if it were done by a bunch of straight dudes, but done by coked-up gay aesthetes it's just kind of punk. As Walter Sobchak might put it, there's nothing to worry about --they're nihilists. 

In the end it's Margaret's zonked renouncement of sexual pleasure in favor of drugs and mind expansion is what saves her while all her lovers are zapped. She doesn't say no to sex, even with her old teacher/mentor who drops up (a different time to be alive in NYC, oh me brothers). Then the aliens zap the life essence out of these lovers in the moment of orgasm and--until Anna complains--leaves their corpses piling up in the apartment. If you're not totally down with this film by the time Adrian starts an impromptu smack-shivery poetry slam while playing one of the corpses's bald head like a conga, then well, you may as well leave the city and move in with your brother out in Phoenix, know what I'm talking about? Me, I belong to this film, I love all its little moments, like Sylvia's a hilarious brunch with her sneezy, coke-withdrawal-wracked son. Now that the image is so lustrous, the sun streaming in through the window makes his suffering so beautiful and uniquely NYC I got a 90s strung-out flashback chill just watching him/her -- been there, bro! Not for coke or heroin, but for alcohol. They are actually similar in that (as I learned in. CASAC school) two withdrawals they have to medicate you for in detoxes, i..e. quitting cold turkey can be fatal! So if you've ever tried to hide how hungover and strung out you are while eating brunch with your mom, you'll really relate.

Clearly, this is the female east coast parallel to Repo Man. Was it an influence on Alex Cox? And like that one-off masterpiece, it's a film to be revisited, again and again - especially now that it's been so lovingly remastered. It probably never looked this good even in its initial NYC run. The shrill pre-programmed Casio synth music mat make the raucous punk on Repo Man's soundtrack seem like Mozart by comparison, but it works.  (see full review)

(1985) Dir. Terry Gilliam
**** / Amazon Image - A-

Time was this was the bee's-knees, a universally praised cult hit, and it's kinda forgotten today due to being kinda dated. Though one of the most gamely dark and savage satires of modern bureaucracy in the history of cinema, here in the paperless 21st century its big anti-bureaucracy messages can seem rather labored. The whole Orwellian hodge podge and endless ducts and malfunctions feel so yesterday since  the entirety of the film's vast "Dept. of Information Retrieval" would be replaced by a handful of geeks on laptops. Still, as the missing link between Kafka (a rather heavy debt is owed) and--alas--one of those whimsical too-obvious Danny Kaye 'daydreaming office drone thinks he's a swashbuckler' odysseys, the level of detail and imagination is stunning. Since it's all before CGI and so beautifully remastered in HD, we can really savor the level of obsessive termite craftsmanship (the clouds in the fantasy flying sequences alone are worth the price of admission). 

Terry Gilliam's trouble as a director has always been that--like Ridley Scott--he can never trust the story to work on its own so his films gush over with detail and interesting things while the mythic root is lost like a child in a Black Friday opening door crush of overworked imagery. Here, since that crush is what it's all about, the overkill actually works perfectly, turning it all into a ballet of post-futuristic 30s decor crumbling under the weight of add-on tech (temporary things installed to fix problems with the fixes to other problems, etc). Still, Jonathan Pryce's flustered Walter Mitty-everyman schtick starts to get wearisome during his prolonged panicky run-for-it with the girl of his dreams. With her short hair and trucker's job she'd be instantly pegged as a lesbian today, making her initial resistance all the more glaring. It never even occurs to Pryce to ask if she likes him. 

That's the cool thing about Gilliam's vision - though a knee-jerk leftist reading is the most obvious--i.e. that Pryce is a hapless hero in a coiled universe strangled by evil bureaucrats-- a closer reading shows that the dystopia is the fantasy as much as the clouds. Reality chokes itself on its own exhaust so millions can relax in air conditioned privacy and dream of angels, or watch The Cocoanuts in their own bathtub while smoking a joint. Hey, I relate, I don't have a bathroom TV but I've smoked weed to Paramount Marx Brothers movies on air-conditioned couches far and wide. Realizing the extent to which my first world consumption habits butterfly tsunamis out to mass poverty in the third world doesn't help me change my habits. Trying to change them now would be like throwing a pale of water on a forest fire. It might make me feel less guilty, but it won't even slow the blaze--and I don't like being hot. 

Regardless of whether you think Pryce's character is a hero or just a trust fund Marxist floundering in the deep end, it all gorgeously done, with an extended wordless chase set piece finale that finally fishtails into pure fantasy that references everything from American in Paris to The Red Shoes and (of course) Potemkin under a dazzlingly expansive Michael Kamen score. And what a cast of first-class Brits! Ian Holm has never been funnier as Pryce's nervous wreck boss; Michael Palin is a chilling blast as Pryce's nonchalant torturer college friend and--marvelous as ever--Bob Hoskins is a miracle as a sinister blue collar duct worker. And cuz ya gotta have an American, there's Robert De Niro as a combination Groucho Marx and Che Guevara, zip-lining in and out of windows and balconies along the tall apartment complexes to make bootleg duct repairs without the proper forms. If Gilliam never made another movie after this, he'd be remembered as one of the masters of surrealism and dark comedy. But dystopia has a habit of dragging on... 

(1984) Dir. W.D. Richter 
*** / Amazon Image - A+

The problem with this film was that it kind of positioned itself a shoe-in for cult status, and that's not how cults are made. Cult films are born of legitimately weird outsider types trying to make a normal film, not a normal person trying trying to make a weird outsider film. BUT just because the motives are baffling and the weird hybrid Captain Midnight-brain surgeon-mad scientist-Formula 5 racer-rock band frontman thing is just a little Too Much Johnson, it doesn't mean the cast, effects crew, and too many moments to count in the script, aren't worthy of Sub-Genius-style lionization. Let the lamp affix its beam! Even if one can't simply whip up a franchise out of thin air (Lucas, never forget, used carefully imported mythic ingredients, plumbing Joseph Campbell as well as Alex Raymond), "No matter where you go / there you are" became an instant classic line.

And what a cast: Peter Weller and Ellen Barkin have never been more beautiful (the way Ellen Barkin opens her mouth for a kiss is so carnal and raw it collapses time and space as we know it), and it's clear they vibe on each other's energy. Jeff Goldblum is saddled with a ridiculous cowboy get-up that's just not working for him, but he's great as usual, and so is John Lithgow as Big Booty or Dr. Lizardo (top), and on and on it goes with way too much fan club stuff ("I'm Buckaroo club, Genus chapter!" like anyone watching was old enough to remember Captain Midnight decoder rings)- did they really expect such fan clubs would start? 

One thing too - this is one dense film - packed with mythos and character running which way and that. You can see it over and over agin and are still noticing little details. Around the tenth viewing, it starts to really work except for, it never quite does. Great end theme though. Too bad there weren't ten sequels! Weller - you are or were a gawd!

(1988) Dir. Thomas R. Burdman
*** / Amazon Image - C

A chamber piece that plays like some off-off family sitcom from an alternate reality (we never see a window or an outside - are they all in some gigantic multi-generational cross-galaxy spaceship? Did I miss that part?). No moment of the typical domestic bliss-ticked early-60s-late-80s sitcom is missed in director Thomas Burdman's (and co-writer Lia Morton)'s keen eye for absurdist surreal digression. The doofus grandpa needs force feeding with a giant syringe; the half-dog half-human 'pet' needs de-lousing (the boys shoot the bugs off him with a slingshot); the boss (Richard Portnow) comes over for dinner and dad (John Glover) is planing to ask for an overdue promotion; wife (Nancy Mette) hopes dinner goes just right!  The cute daughter (Juliette Lewis!) is getting ready to go out on a date with some new wave glorkenspruling doofus; the tentacled one-eyed watcher in the foyer (security system?) makes sure no lurkers walk past unnoticed. It's all played letter straight, such as it is, and the weirdness never stops. 

It's very tube-oriented; everything is round and comes out of tubes that connects to a vast system,  one that is cleaned out chimney sweep-style by men covered in pipe cleaner tubules who speak so abstractly they need subtitles (the same font Spheeris uses in The Decline of Western Civilization!). Lewis does her Lolita thing in due earnest here, clearing the way for her iconic stretch of films as a jailbait thumbsucker from the early 90s (Husbands and Wives, Cape Fear, Kalifornia). Just look at her in the top center picture! She's almost a different girl and who's that on her left? It's Bobcat Goldthwait --pre-screechy voice -- as one of the weird cops who carry her home. 

Come over for an evening with the Hollowheads, and stare agog at a universe that might have been. If the 80s was really that kind to weirdness, this would be on muhfuggin' Criterion!

I confess, I was only able to finish Meet the Hollowheads over several 20 minute viewings, as I found it too weird to endure for longer, especially in such bad quality (it's about akin to what you'd find on youtube, duped from some old first run VHS scored at a close-out) though as soon as I finished it, I started it right up again, so what's that tell you? And it's no dis - I watch Godard movies the same way and I love him. If you love crazy Godard too (for the comedy) and if you like the friendly day-glo genuine insanity of Pee-Wee's Playhouse, the industrial Kafka savagery of Brazil, and post-industrial ennui and alienation of Eraserhead, then this is your film. Just watch it from far enough away you don't get any on you. And though the image is bad it's all worth it for the wacky climax which finds the lecherous Portnow running amok, killed more times than Rasputin, the kids coming home wasted after hacking into a forbidden drug tube (the title I'd give it were I in charge: Forbidden Drug Tube-Tap) and the wasted son almost giving the whole show away by thinking the bruised near-dead boss is a monster. What a family. What a film! What set decoration. Would it was clearer, image-wise as that deep red in the round living room alone is to dye for. Stick with it and it you may never get it off. Maybe you won't even want to. 

(1984) Writer/dir. Thom Eberhardt
*** / Amazon Image - A

With a weird cult-ready veneer that's quintessential 80s, this sci-fi/cult/horror/comedy tics a lot of boxes but does 'em all right. The heroine survives the comet night apocalypse because she was shacked up in the El Rey theater's projection room in a sleeping bag with cult douche Michael Bowen, for god's sake - and rather than work her usher job she eats Twizzlers and rules the Galaga high score in the lobby, saved from being fired by her beauty. Writer/director Robert Thom was one of those almost-iconic auteurs who made too few films to have a following, aside from weirdos like me who love both this and his Sole Survivor (also 1984, though much less widely known - seek it out immediately!) - I remember I saw Night on the big screen in the suburbs during its initial release--by myself, while skipping a high school--so you you know I'm the right guy to defend it. And if you love Mary Woronov and any movie where the teenage heroine warns a guy trying to kill her that she's "been trained" and doesn't want to hurt him (and means it, and does) then you'll love this film which now looks better than ever thanks to a great Shout Factory dusting and color-depth-asizing.

The dazzlingly-haired Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney star as the cool sisters Regina and Samantha--capably rescuing children and mowing down punk mall cops thanks to their CIA op father teaching them home defense before departing for Nicaragua. Woronov's fellow Eating Raoul star, Robert Beltran is a truck driver who answers the girls' survivor call (they set up base at the local LA radio station). Woronov heads an underground lab looking for a cure to the slow decay that hits those who survived the initial mystery dusting of the comet. God, zombies were so much cooler back then. What happened?

One thing may turn some folks off if they watch in the wrong context: this is the film with the quintessential first shopping montage set to Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Echoing Dawn of the Dead as much as foreshadowing Day with its underground scientist think tank bunker, it's not the film's fault that trying-on-clothes montage set to that song have become inescapably and inseparably cliche. We might wish for a world in which it was cliche instead to have super cool, capable girls like Regina and Samantha as our stars of horror and science fiction films, but they're still rare in any genre. (see also Anita Skinner in Thom's Sole Survivor for another cool Hawksian, this one even quoting To Have and Have Not -here)

(1985) Dir. Dario Argento
*** 1/2/ Amazon Image - B

When the plot of this was first described to my roommate and I by his girlfriend back around 1994, we knew the movie we needed to see after a drug-addled weekend. The description was so weird we doubted it even existed. This being long before the advent if Wiki and imdb, we could only trudge video store-ward and scope out the Argento titles, and nothing even remotely insect-concerned appeared. Years later, when I finally did get to see Phenomena it was the uncut version presented by Anchor Bay (as opposed to the American butcher job, Creepers) and in widescreen on DVD (as opposed to murky VHS) so it was even better than she made out. I was never so happy. Why am I telling you this? Because to relay the actual plot of it is like giving away the trick ending of Psycho if it was all trick endings. While Argento certainly references everything from (the previous year's hit) Firestarter as well as Carrie, (Jennifer Connolly loves insects and they swarm at her telepathic command) it also goes in all sorts of zig-zaggy directions. I'm not a big fan of Argento's insistence (continued in Opera and other late 80s films) of using heavy metal to underscore the murders, ghoubh. Time has been as kind of Morricone and Goblin as it's been unkind to Iron Maiden, in my opinion. At any rate, the rest of the score is the perfectly accentuated flanger-drenched guitar music of Claudio Simonetti, evoking the film's windy foot-of-the-Alps setting with a palpable unearthly chill. 

What I most love about it though is the weird midnight bond that forms between young Connelly, a wheelchair-bound entymologist played by Donald Pleasance, and his helper chimp, Inga. The dubbing is excellent and a real weird unique mood holds between them, as the ever present chilling wind keeps rolling down and up the Alps creating a totally unique mood in the Argento canon. There's also Daria Nicolodi as a nerdy teacher and Daria Di Lazzaro as the sexy-bitchy headmistress. The last 1/3 is a never-ending cascade of shocks and twists guaranteed to keep any jaw glued to the floor, and in the midst of it all, sweet innocent Jennifer Connelly finds herself swimming in lakes covered by burning fuel and calling insects and drowning in pits of maggot-filled decomposing bodies, and almost decapitated, all in great style. You may be warned, but there's no way you can be prepared...

(1986) Dir. David Lynch 
**** / Amazon Image - A

I'll confess it took me a long way to come around to this movie: I found its violent thuggery disturbing and without a cathartic resolution. After a few decades of repeat viewings, and absorbing deep tissue analyses of the film by Todd McGowan and Zizek, I was able to unravel my private relationship to its Freudian subconscious Oedipal separation trauma, so I could let go of my ambivalence. Turns out the purple and blue velvet apartment where Kyle McLachlan spies through the closet blinds isn't merely his anger/anxiety over a woman being hurt, but a primal scene as understood through the mind of a child who mistrusts the animal grunts of sex and seethes with resentment over the dad's power to shut him out of the bedroom at a whim. So, turns out, the problem was mine, not Lynch's! I myself was Frank (Dennis Hopper) as much as Kyle - and I didn't want to be either one. I had to make peace with my inner monster. I tried, and am trying, and sometimes I love this film and sometimes not. I prefer actually Lost Highway, perhaps because it isn't as good. I'm not really connected to it, and that's just fine.

Laura Dern co-stars, at her dreamy-but-chipper best; the beautiful Dean Stockwell as a kind of dream world pimp lip syncing Roy Orbison (see CinemArchetype 18: The Aesthete) while Kyle tries not come off like a frightened kid who visits his drug dealer on the wrong night and ends up a veritable hostage in an all-night road trip binge. An initiation into a darker realm of life beneath the grass line of sunny Lumberton, these scary people eventually guide him into becoming a mature man through their loving abuse (like in Sonny Boy, with which it would make a fine double feature!).

Lynch's subsequent works would all point back to this key moment, some improving on it (Mulholland Dr.) some not so much (Wild at Heart). But Blue Velvet is Lynch's first great 'cracking it wide open' while still staying in a recognizable (small town noir) genre format. It's his "Demoiselles d'avignon," his Pollock's 1947 drip stick moment. No matter how many times you see it, it's never the same movie, but it's always, always disturbing. It's the dark nightmare of childhood brought into the light like a screaming, still-alive, tar pit mastodon.

These are definitely cult/surreal and look great on Prime but --me--personally - I couldn't stand them. I hate them And I'll give you my reasons why, in case your mileage varies. One critic's bias should never lose a film's chance at the right viewer.

(1989) Dir. Alex Proyas
*1/2 / Amazon Image - A

In and around a cloistered shack in the middle of a nowhere post-apocalyptic outback, two wildly overacting eccentrics--one a wheelchair-bound aviation enthusiast, one a Gothic virgin introvert--help a monosyllabic punk rocker type escape the empty desert plain via a homemade airplane. Though the scenery is lovely, the actors are grotesque and do little to allay the monotony. The film seems to last forever as nothing happens, but not in a cool Jarmusch way but in an overwrought hammy Aussie way - the worst of both worlds. It needs either a genuinely macabre element (ala Burton's Beetlejuice), savage gallows satire (ala Gilliam's Tideland) or deadpan zest for living (ala Kusturica's Arizona Dream). This has none of the three! NONE! I hate it the way I hate those stale nightmares I used to have when suffering from a bad flu. The deep aqua-blue tint of the wide open sky and the burnished gold sand indicate gorgeous cinematography and color-grading; the Tangerine Dream soundscapes keep it all at a dreamy windswept beguilement; Melissa Davis hams it up like a kind of Helena Bonham Carter gone butoh missionary, but it's not enough to make it worth enduring the spittle-flecked hamming of Michael Lake, usually filmed for maximum grotesque close-ups (his teeth need work).  Director Proyas went on to make The Crow and Dark City, so he has his fans. The rest of us might survive if we view it as a prequel origin story for Bruce Spence's pilot character in The Road Warrior. Nonetheless watching it is too much like that feeling of being trapped in the middle of nowhere I used to have as a child in the suburbs. God, being forced to hang out with these three people the rest of my life seems far worse than any death by dehydration. 

(1980) Dir. Richard Elfman
* / Amazon Image - B

Though zany and strangely familiar to any one who's watched old Betty Boop cartoons while macro-tripping, the ceaseless toilet humor of Elfman's little miracle gets very old fast, in fact before it starts. There's so much shit imagery and septic tanks I wonder how mired in infantile poop obsession can any alleged adult be? Further, Oingo Boingo is one irritatingly uncool band. Clearly a lot of effort went into this film and Herve is amazing (those dewey eyes....sigh), but everyone else -- good lord. I felt sick to my sacrum for weeks after only ten minutes of viewing. God blind me to the sights herein. 

Friday, March 15, 2019


Hey sweetie, let a man 'splain it for you: the 70s were a great time for feminist horror, though the word back then was "women's lib." It was all about being liberated --via sex, pills, books, grass, the sea, castration, and the occult, and violence, too! Paths out one's domestic bliss trap were varied and didn't all have to end in death or marriage. Horror movies latched on for the ride, but the trip would usually make the girl go Ophelia-level mad before she found she wasn't crazy at all: the whole world was a massive patriarchal cult determined to keep her 'down'.  In films like Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971), The Sentinel (1977) and Stepford Wives (1975) she's actually sane and everyone else is nuts (as in Polanski's Rosemary's Baby). In 1975's Symptoms, for example, it was the other way around (ala Polanski's Repulsion). But it turns out there's a third way (beyond Polanski's ken), where the woman is crazy and 'liberated.'  Truly a product of her moment, far outside the reaches of conventional nuclear family values, she's a heroine for her times-- sweet as applejack with a kick that could geld a stallion at thirty paces. It's not traumatic though because the people around this crazy lady genuinely love her and are, more or less, normal, or at any rate, pleasantly debauched (you know, not a bunch of drags). There's only one film like that in all of western civilizations: Matt Climber's 1976 near-cult semi-classic, The Witch who Came from the Sea. It's not hard to guess why this film has never become a big cult classic it deserves to be (or why there's no Polanski template). But now, on Prime in HD and looking good, albeit slightly faded, there's no reason not to batten down the hatches, zip up to and delve into primal Freudian/Jungian chthonic murk so thick and rich it must be good for you to get this squeamish. If you're an ally, plunge in!

I'll confess: my squeamishness when it comes to seeing females abused in movies--even if the abused, or Liam Neeson, wreaks suitable cathartic vengeance--will make me avoid a movie altogether no matter how ubiquitous it is in 'the conversation' (I still ain't seen Last House on the Left or Irreversible). My Ludovico-induced feminist liberal arts programming is too strong for such imagery not to linger in my brain, tainting all subsequent media consumed by association; I have to write vast screeds on Bright Lights to vent about it just to breathe. So I staved off seeing Witch even though it's right up my alley (if you'll forgive the expression) as far as being pro-castration (I'm no militant, but I consider Teeth too sensitive and Hard Candy too soft). Imagining a depressing 16mm treatise on child abuse and dirty wallpaper (looking dour and grungy like Romero's Season of the Witch), I avoided Witch who Came From the Sea even though I've been long drawn to Witch's poster of a defenestrating Kali Venus, rising on the foam of the castrated lovers. So I was glad it showed up on Prime looking all engorged and gorgeous.  I finally had the nerve to see it last weekend after coming home from Gaspar Noe's Climax at the Alamo, since I was already in shock (so knew I'd be, temporarily, invulnerable to further trauma).

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. It rules!

It 'gets' it - the brutalizing way so much abuse is depicted on film clashes with the mind's ability to cover up unendurable experience in the shroud of dream and abstract memory. Thus the childhood trauma flashbacks are warped by cartoon and ocean sound effects and bizarre incongruous details that make it all too strange to feel brutalized by, instead the feeling is like remembering strange nightmares from childhood, too bizarre to be terrifying- the brain abstracting trauma until its palatable (and then splitting off a separate persona as a side effect).

Millie Perkins stars as Molly "The Mermaid," a single barmaid at a seaside dive on the beach of Santa Monica, "The Boathouse," owned and operated by the pleasantly grizzled Long John (Lonny Chapman). She's not just great babysitter to her two adoring nephews, beloved of clientele and employees, but she has the ability to 'get' good-looking men as if fishing them out of the television. Aside from headaches as her brain struggles to keep the lid on her buried incest childhood by cloaking it in all sorts of nautical imagery and oceanic sound effects, she's perfect. Maybe she's mad as a hatter, and has a weird thing for good-looking men on TV, as if they can see her from the screen, and are propositioning her. Maybe she keeps talking about her lost-at-sea captain father as some kind of omnipotent hero despite her more grounded sister who assures her kids he was a monster. But she's not 'victim' crazy, not a cringing trauma victim or a twitchy mess. She's crazy in a way that encompass sanity within itself. When a bubbly blonde actress (Roberta Collins) at the bar bemoans not being liberated, which is now a requirement for TV she glances over at Molly in her patchwork denim and declares she could be in commercials: "You look liberated." The older barmaid Doris (Peggy Furey) adds that "Molly is a saint, a goddamned American saint." Later when her nervous welfare-collecting sister Cathy (Vanessa Brown) shows up to try and convince them of the truth, "you think she's just about perfect," she says to Long John. "Yeah," he snaps back, "why not?"

We agree, thanks to Millie Perkins' dynamic, confident, warm portrayal we love her as much as the staff and her nephews do. Anything she does is all right with us. She's a goddamned American saint.

That's what makes it so tragic. Molly is a liberated saint, yes, but she has no grasp on reality, and it's not the social world's fault, it's the fault of the family dynamic that would let her vile father rule the roost in such a horrifying way (we never see if she has a mother). It's a mix of latent, incest trauma-induced schizophrenia, wherein she sees people on TV talking to her, and her childhood is--understandably--warped and blurred in a salty sea spray of nautical mythology, punctuated by deeply unsettling visions. She has a habit of being drawn to people on it or connected with television, only to then kill them or is she merely fantasizing. She presumes the latter but lately, who knows. If she hears someone is dead she announces she won't believe "if it's true or not until it's on television." As if TV isn't lying to her constantly, the men on it leering out at her, calling her forward. Her dichotomy seems to be a relaxed ease in the anonymous oceanic of the bar, and the bed of salty pirate Long John, a grizzled old reprobate who accepts Molly as she is, no strings. ("Molly is the captain of her own ship.") The bed seems to be in the bar itself, and as such it becomes a very weird uniquely 70s cool spot, with panelling and aquariums and mermaid and nautical bric-a-brac, including those painted mirrored wall tiles that are often associated with orange shag and faux rock walls.

"Her father was a god; they cut off his balls and threw them into the sea."

The ocean plays a huge part, though the film never gets out on a boat, we see the ocean outside the window, and hear it deep in the sound mix, the town where they live seems largely deserted, so shops like Jack Dracula's tattoo parlor loom with an almost Lemora-style surrealism. The flashbacks are all given a surreal, sometimes darkly comic, patina, with comically distorted or ocean sound effects as if her brain is working overtime to contextualize the most primal and odious of endured horrors in terms of oceanic myth. The sea itself becomes her father, a timeless chthonic wellspring, an ultimate signifier connecting this film to everything from Treasure Island (hence the name Long John) to Moby Dick (the local tattoo artist's long tattooed face evokes Queequeg). The soundtrack is a brilliant melange of background sound (the ocean's waves are never out of earshot) and ironic electronic counterpoint: when the melody of a sea shanty she's half-singing while going in the bathroom, the two football players tied up, is suddenly picked up and finished by the ominous soundtrack as she comes back with a razor, its the kind of darkly comic interjection that would make John Williams probably shit himself with fear ("do you shave with straight razors, or is this all going to be agonizingly slow?"). When Molly learns of Venus, born in the sea, according to one of her pursuing men, ex-movie star Billy Batt (Rick Jason - above) she says, with child-like sincerity, "You're lying to me." It's a brilliant line, she could be kidding in a cocktail party way, or it could be an indication her concepts of reality, myth and TV are hopelessly blurred together. And in fact, it's both and why not? This is the age of liberation and free-thinking - where the structure of reality is far looser than it used to be. A latent schizophrenic barmaid isn't even judged for her violent bedroom actions, but loved and accepted by those around her, neither in spite of or because of her castrative tendencies.

And as in any ocean, there are storms: when all other boundaries fail her, her oceanic visions become terrifying pictures of being tied to the mast of a free-floating raft, surrounded by dismembered male bodies, as if remembering some primal prehistoric siren past (only without a hypnotist Chester Morris pulling the strings). The split between her castrating angel of death, turned on by sadism and dismemberment, both as projection revenge against her father and tricks maybe taught by him (we never really know - or hear his voice), and her sweet aunt / fun carefree cool barmaid type is as vivid as the difference between TV and reality. "Let's get lost at sea, Molly m'lass" is what we learn her father used to say, "and we got lost at sea so many... many times." The ocean surge mirroring the rise and fall of the bedsprings - its base horror itself part Greek myth (Elektra) and part Sumerian or druid sacrificial cult, the young boy castrated and his loins thrown into the sea to ensure a good harvest of fish (or wheat if on the fields).

Long John seems somehow to be spared, to share a bed. Maybe due to his easygoing attitude, age, that he's not on TV, and his ability to be contextualized into her nautical miasma (he's a "pirate"). He certainly never reigns in her sexual adventurousness or belittles or infantilizes her. He says he's too old and experienced to get jealous, he says, and we believe him. But you know he loves her, and is willing to take her at face value, as much as he can. He's no fool though, and when he asks her when she lost her virginity and she can't remember that far back, starts stalling and getting a headache he realizes immediately and to some horror the truth; the script and film don't need to underline the moment. He gets it, and his whole demeanor changes, and so we get it too, without ever needing it heard aloud. It's a brilliantly modulated bit of acting by them both. These are smart, interesting people, with unique bonds.


One thing that most horror movies, or any movies, lack is the presence of TVs. They're hard to film due to streaking, so often they're just left off, but it really spells the difference between a believable reality and this kind of utopia where people just sit around in empty kitchens waiting for their cue. Here, though we can clearly see the TV image is superimposed to avoid telltale streaking, that actually works to give the images an extra eerie frisson.  TV is a constant extrasensory, imposed presence: in her childhood memories a very creepy black-and-white clown makes all sorts of weird swimming gestures towards her, beckoning to her/us in a way that's genuinely unsettling. Watching, I had the distinct feeling some terrifying being from my own childhood dreams had found me and was beckoning me from across time and media. Other genius moments tap into LSD experiences (every hippy's schizophrenic sampler), as figures talking to the camera on TV seem to be addressing us/Molly directly. No sooner has she seduced Alexander McPeak (Stafford Morgan) after seeing him in a shaving commercial ("Don't bruise the lady,") she's receiving bizarre directives directly from his TV commercials, telling her where and how to take that razor across his jugular vein.
"He's stark naked! Everywhere... looking at me!"
It's a weird trick to pull off - Molly is a tragic figure who we don't have to 'protect' or 'fix'.  There's no evil or malice in anything she does. ("Does it help that I didn't hate any of them?" she eventually says, "except that first little bastard," she notes. "His mother sang on television," thus spelling out why perhaps he was doomed, "and he sang with her!") And that's why for me, the film really takes off, with a script that looks at the whole mythopoetic televisual-schizophrenic pie, from the raw ingredients to the final delicious slice, ocean-to-table, as it were. Rising from ocean depths to behold the facile screen and its leering Apollonian males, and find those titans in need of gelding by a dark agent of the chthonic. It's a perfect role for the right actress, and Millie Perkins is just that actress. Maybe she had a hand in creating it (she was married to screenwriter Thom, and played the senator's daughter in his AIP hit Wild in the Streets). Between her turn as Anne Frank (in 1959's Diary of Ann Frank) and as the 'woman' in Monte Hellman's The Shooting (1966), we know she's very comfortable playing strong women who are quite comfortable in situations that might make ordinary female characters cringe like crushed flowers. Molly the Mermaid is not a wuss, or one of those rote timid types that become punching bags for every bully and sadist in a 20 mile radius before finally getting down to revenging. She behaves in a way that is indicative of the kind of liberated female vibe of the decade the film is from. Though she's clearly "a mess," she's falling apart from a place of strength so beyond most modern female characters that even a mess she's more together than they are. With her voice given a druggy surreal echo or pitch-shifted to a just slightly low-enough to be eerie (not enough to be goofy or obvious), she becomes the deranged siren, as if stirred from the primordial past).

Trying to find out how this amazing film could be made, could emerge so fully formed from the frothy foam of independent horror cinema, we need to look at the credits, for both Thom and director Climber have unique outlooks on feminine strength indicated by their other films. Thom's body of work shows a latent queer eye for strong young beautiful men, fully-formed (non-objectified) females, and his films often feature a strong, domineering mother figure (as in his scripts for New World: Bloody Mama and Wild in the StreetsAngel Angel Down We Go) He's the exploitation market's Tennessee Williams, tapping into the same vein of Apollonian beauty reaching like Icarus, for the sun, swallowed up by the maternal chthonic of the devouring mother. In fact, Witch's conspicuous absence of a human mother figure allows for the sea itself (ever-present, either in the sound mix or the frame) to step into the role (and nobody does it better), its warm, forgiving maternal tide like a ceaseless flow of half-dissolved titan testes, and scuttling crustacean claws (by Gillette). Keenly aware of its archetypal resonance (yet avoiding literality), The Witch who Came from the Sea would make a great mythopoetic subtextual gender/death-swapped  double bill with Suddenly Last Summer, with Molly's sister as the Mercedes McCambridge (there's even a bit of the same speaking pattern), Long John the equivalent to Liz Taylor, and Molly herself as the dead Sebastian and hid cannibal bird beach boys, soft-swirled into one many-armed/headed deity. 

Promise me you'll think about it? Constantly?

Director Matt Climber is the other major "ally" that helps make Witch so redolent, as his love of strong female characters very much in evidence. Basically the real-life inspiration for Marc Maron's character in GLOW (there's even a passing resemblance between GLOW star Alison Brie and Perkins), between that and his 1983 Conan-ish film Hundra, about a wandering blonde Amazon warrior who teaches an oppressed group of women how to rise up and smite their bullying men, it's clear Climber's got a unique appreciation for very strong, assertive, capable women. He also loves Molly as much as Thom, Perkins, and the actors and their characters in the film do.  I love her too. I love this film.

I love the weird, uncommented on details I haven't even mentioned: the way Molly and Long John sleep downstairs in the bar, that it converts to a bedroom, one with a cigarette machine by the stairs (who doesn't want a cigarette machine in their bedroom?). We never quite figure out how that works, if the bed pulls down or something, but it doesn't matter. I love the way all the scenes have that strange 70s mirror tiling and gorgeous deep wood decor, as if they're all the same place. Things that bear examination aren't addressed, but that's to its credit. Not since Antonioni's Red Desert (1964) have commercial and private space been so subtly blurred. I love the way Climber uses the cinematic time image as a reflection of Molly's dysfunction (just a single cut could bridge years, hours or seconds, how she can seemingly commit murders in the space between taking a drink and putting the glass down). I love the seamless way she goes from being playfully sexual to totally deranged, and the subtle pitch-shifts in her voice as her inner siren emerges, voice getting low and draggy like a riptide. It's all so very fierce. I've already visited its shores three times since that fateful post-Climax night! Won't you sail away on it too? It's on Prime so there's no excuse to shun it. Not anymore. It may not put you in that tropical island mood but it will give you that old-time religion.... older than Aphrodite, older than Innana, Ishtar, Asherah and Astarte! Old enough to sail the sea without a rudder, knowing your raft is safe--at last-- in your mother's foamy talons... Adieu, Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks. Good night. At the count of three... a wake.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The Broken Mirror Dagger in the High of The Beholder: CLIMAX

Numerous and horrific, indeed, are the woes that can result when one is dosed with too much LSD without knowing it (which if you can't control the dosage, the unscrupulous doser you can easily slip you Monarch 7 levels). It's unbelievably cruel.  With the right set and setting, and--most importantly--dosage-- a big LSD dance party can be a great life-changing thing. But at the wrong time, when one is not prepared, and in the wrong company, on the very much too wrong/strong dosage (one drop on your tongue = bliss; a whole dropper full = a face-clawing nightmare from which you can't awake without massive amounts of thorazine or benzos, and/or hospitalizaton.) Yeesh - so important to know and trust your dealer, bro. And when in doubt, feel it out. 

This is the takeaway moral of Gaspar Noé's latest masterpiece, CLIMAX (2019), the story of a dance troupe undone by some dissident member's spiking their post-rehearsal sangria with a massive amount of liquid acid. And what a rehearsal it is! The whole first half of the film is more less all dancing, only after that key is turned, does things spin out of control and then out of out of control, the dancing never stops--these people are dancers, after all, and the music keeps throbbing (the DJ never changes tempo)

Noé' shows he knows how to film dance properly (as opposed to the disorienting hyper-cutting of Guadagino's Suspiria [1]). He films it MGM-style, i.e. in long take medium shots, allowing us to soak in the speed-of-light movements to the ripping techno bass-drenched beat and to appreciate the entire body of the actor/dancer within their environment (and turning their navigations around each other into improvisatory art). Even during the after party Noé stays with the long take medium shot approach, and the movements keep going in variants, signifying in a sense that--much as some of the company would like it to--the dancing never stops--an techno The Red Shoes with half the cast cutting their own feet off, and the rest having sex.

Mostly the POV embodies the persona of an invisible mingler, following one dancer to their next interaction, then leaving with another person as they walk across the floor, before following the next, and so on, i.e. the average restless mingling where you don't really know anyone but the music keeps it from being awkward. The result is a long arm elliptical pacing, like slow motion whirl-a-gig tentacles at an amusement park. Gradually, but gradually, but grad...ually the movements begin to resemble some kind of coked-up frenzied ritual repetition, an invisible time-space lash spurring these damned souls on as their most repressed unconscious rending desires spill out like a gravity free Exxon Valdez. In a way their slow, metered movement from just engaged mingling dancers full of excitement about the tour ahead to chaotic savagery reminds me of certain Mingus compositions like "The Shoes of the Fisherman's Daughter are some Jive Ass Slippers" or any of the group dances from The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady album, the way Mingus takes a kind of Duke Ellington melody and walks it around and around in tightening circles until it suddenly realizes it's captured in a suffocating clinch. 

 Adding to the frisson, the space they're in, an off-semester dance school/dorm building, looks suspiciously Suspiria's Tanz Dance Academy-like anyway, with its psychedelic dark green and red lights, and its strange wall hangings. "I don't like that flag, man," one of the dancers says as the drugs make things paranoid and werid, "I don't like that flag."

 This mix of French and English-speaking dancers are staggeringly talented, and hot. And hey, by the time the shit kicks in they're already on their third or so glass, their laughter and conversations getting progressively more deranged. By then it's far too late to even stop drinking. The best they can do is try and hide the choreographer's young kid, locking him in storage so no one can accidentally rip him apart or put him in the oven thinking he's a turkey (his screams to be let out joining the general cacophony underneath the endless propulsive beat). There's not even time to hide the sharp objects! And then a kind of lynch mob mass hysteria takes over, especially in those dancers from the violent world of the banlieus. Those who haven't drunk anything are suspect and persecuted, sometimes horrifically, as possible suspects. Old grievances flare up, and forbidden taboos--incest, etc.--are no longer able to stay submerged. Not being believed about an early stage pregnancy results in perhaps the peak horror of the scene, though there's more to come. This is the nightmare of anyone who's ever done way too much acid and tried to find their coat and their friends at a crowded party seething with a sudden surge of nasty-looking meth-and-coke townies, the smell of menthol and diesel, of death and evil, choking the frigid air they bring in with them.

Naturally I remember nights like this too well: forced to listen to Dave Matthews and Jamiroquai while trying to find my coat, shoes, friends, drink, a space to stand and get my head together in my own damned room, and been unable to so much as dispel a single invisible cop or paisley air-pattern and every time I try to tell people to get out of my room it just comes out garbled and insane. They laugh, then ask -where's the drugs, Erich! They want some, but I'm like no way man, you're not ready. My widening pupils should be enough to send them running. But they just get creepier, pleading, needier... their skin like the thinnest of bags holding gallons of racing red blood.

Sound terrifying? Don't worry, you've got me as your guide this time, sober as a 'hic' judge. And I'm better than Bruce Dern ever was in Roger Corman's 1967 opus, The Trip. Hell, this whole blog is designed as a kind of guide, waiting for just this moment! 

Sofia Boutella (center above), the lush sinuous Algerian dancer/actress (she was the latest incarnation of The Mummy and a cute alien in Star Trek: Beyond, etc.) stars, or is the most recognizable and sympathetic of the gathered dancers, though we only follow her about 1/3 or so of the time as the relentlessly prowling camera regularly checks in on the various fates of various poor damned souls. She's the coolest, along with some willowy brunette I swooned for (top, middle) and when they dance together we're pretty into it. So is this horny, pawing sexually ravenous bisexual white guy David (Romain Guillermic), who winds up badly beaten-up or worse by the brother of a girl he likes, etc. Another noticeable memorable character is 'Daddy' (Kiddy Smile), the DJ responsible for keeping the beat so relentless and propulsive, driving these characters ever onward like he's a reincarnation of the Red Shoe-maker, except he's the one totally sweet character in the film, and he never loses his giddy glow. I wanted to list some of the atrocities that result from this dosage, but one is better off not knowing beforehand, nor the actor's amount of neurochemical 'preparation' for their roles. Their ferocity is so convincing and the dancing's flow from organized normalcy (if their wild-but-controlled arcane dancing style, a mix of modern and street filmed--in the longest take--from above, like a zonked Busby Berkley can be called normal) to insane madness so organic that--being dancers all--even in their wracked state their bodies never cease moving and twisting to the throbbing incessant music, blurring the lines between this as an 'acid test' tragedy horror film and a kind of extended 90 minute dance performance. It seems almost impossible this isn't cinema verité from some weird circle of Hell, capturing a very real experience with some magic invisible camera, the floating soul eye from Noé's 2009 masterpiece, Enter the Void meets an impromptu Panic Theater happening down at Aronofsky's Chilean basement, or something, rather than a film shot piece-by-piece according to a pre-set script. Since we barely see anything of the outdoors, or any 'sane' perspective after a certain period in the film, we lose contact with the real world as much as the actors, leaving us lost in the same weird cabin fever collective break. It feels too real to be fiction, or even, in the end, reality of the day-to-day. It's the reality that we spend our day-to-day lives avoiding.

As for hallucinations, we don't see trails or distorted imagery but the sound mixing takes us there. When I saw it at the Alamo, I could feel the drugs kicking in just through the way the sound subtly changed and flowed amidst the speakers, creating the feeling of blood changing its pressure inside the head, flooding from the usual mix to a kind of woozy 4-dimensional binaural sound sphere. Voices seemed to slowly flow from the front of the room to the back, to deepen and widen, as the drugs kicked in. As the screams and madness increase the incessant throbbing beat moves to incorporate them and in the sound mix; you can hear every detail, all growing louder and quieter as the camera follows Boutella or some other dilated-eyed escape-seeker to the next room, or down the hall, looking for some kind of oasis from the needy gathering, the impossible nowness, the music and screaming fading or building according to proximity, but also whooshing in the mix as if our inner ASMR headspace is constantly readjusting itself. When the music shorts out the effect is like being suddenly thrown out of a warm bed onto a busy winter street, a feeling of sudden nakedness and vulnerability that has them scrambling for a battery operated boombox, to keep the beat alive --at the very least, it structures, and leavens out, their never-ceasing flow of unbearable existential nowness.


With LSD's appearance in recent festival favorites like Mandy, Good Time(subtextually at least) Mother- and Rick and Morty,-, our current 'cool' media landscape is connecting to older LSD-era films like 1969's The Big CubeThe Trip, and other films reviewed on this site in the "Great Acid Cinema" series (see the Lysergic Canon collection in the sidebar to the right, bro). In other words, what I was hoping for when I started this site back in 2003, out in the desert like Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West, has come to pass. So this site is finally au currant, but be careful what you wish for with such a dangerous substance. The overall mission of this blog has always been to help situate these experiences, however surreal and nightmarish, in a less-demonized or ridiculed context, academically, to incorporate the expanded consciousness of the psychedelic experience into mainstream academic parlance. Too often these experiences have been depicted in fashions either condemning and prudish (Go Ask Alice), too literal (the transformation into an actual ape in Altered States), self-important (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) or naive (Revolution). While trying to chronicle the psychedelic experience, filmmakers have the knee-jerk habit of running back from the lip of the void like nervous seagulls in the surf. Few filmmakers are able to include a validation of the genuine mystical experience offered by the psychedelic solution without getting naive and Aquarian, self-important, or preachy. And if it's the other, the condemnation, there is usually ample proof they're totally inexperienced, writing through fear. The only people qualified to condemn would be, in my view, the ER nurses at a 1967 San Francisco hospital on a Saturday night, as one hippie after another comes in terrified they're dying or worse, got too high on acid and fell off a roof or out a window, or drank bleach by mistake or something. I don't know the numbers on that, it's impossible to believe anyone who wasn't there. But Gaspar - he breaks the rules by knowing them. You can feel the lysergic emanations from this film, and there's no guide to stand in for reality (ala Charles Haid in Altered States, or Willem Dafoe in Antichrist).

Only a fool follows his death drive over a 'literal' edge. The rest of us can feel the splat of the concrete without ever even opening the window.

Gaspar Noé's film hears the voices and goes over, but also is wise to the set-up. He's going to the deep and genuinely disturbing places (4) on our behalf. Picking up where Aronofsky's Mother! left off,  bringing it all back home to Zulawski, Von Trier, and Bunuel, he captures, in a vivid gut-punch sense, the quickness with which sanity can be shed like a loose garment. That thousands of years of socialization can be stripped away with a few eyedropper-loads slipped into a punch bowl hints that the natural state of man may well be a kind of group madness, a collective insanity, where uninhibited carnality and sudden, brutal violence, incest, auto-abortive violence and self-immolation all occur naturally in a desperate bid to escape the terrifying totality of the unpartitioned self. As in very few films made outside France (naturalmente), we're exploring a very hard to find area of the psychedelic experience, the second and third stages of Stanislav Grof's Prenatal Birth Model, the feeling being trapped in the canal, the sadomasochistic horror of raw experience. The falling from blissful amniotic union with the mother to the trauma, kicking and screaming, of raw unencumbered consciousness, where pain and pleasure are intertwined in the yawning chasm of unfiltered, unpartitioned 'experience' of pre-egoic consciousness.

Why only in France? Directors like American Abel Ferrara, the Polish Zulawski, Spanish Bunuel, and the Argentine Martel often wind up working and living there, maybe because that's where they're 'understood'? As one of the dancers says before the shit goes down, (I paraphrase) only in Paris (and maybe Belgium) do they respect the true artist. And baby, the only ones able to accurately hurl a mirrored dagger into the illusion-loving eye of today's world are the artists so batshit crazy they're all but booted out of their native lands, spiritually-speaking. America, simply, has no thousands of years of socialization to shed. When we strip off our socialized paradigm, all that remains is a frozen-stiff Nicholson.


I can't spoil the coherent acoustic mood of Climax, the organic flow from dance to total madness, the sudden eruption of "is he for serious" inter-titles, but I can try to tell you about the feeling of tripping harder than you could have prepared for, totally not being in the right mindset, having it done to you without your knowledge, and being totally unable to react, to tell how much is what and how, and how you'll ever come down, so that--when you're that fucked up--even getting a coat to get outside into the snowy evening seems all but impossible. (5)  When you're that far out, there's suddenly no frame of reference to the past: all links between signifiers and direct experience are removed. Everything is so strange that cutting your own arm or stabbing yourself is no more difficult than putting on your shoes. At least if you lose enough blood maybe you can just go to sleep and escape the overbearing 'nowness.' Unless we're schizophrenic, we have blinders to screen out all the extraneous nowness so we can get on with it. We only become aware for example (this was my thing when having a bad trip) that there was so much blood inside human bodies, that only a flimsy human skin holds it all in. I could see it rushing behind the epidermises of my friends, myself, the whole world a sea of endlessly pulsing blood held in place by these ridiculously thin membranes. How could hearts and lungs keep beating and breathing so relentlessly, year after year?

CLIMAX has been called part of the noveau-giallo, post-giallo or what I called darionioni nouveau only it wouldn't quite fit that as it lacks the Antonioni component, there's no metatextual collapse of signifier aspect to the film itself and its signifier chains (as there is in Berberian Sound StudioAmer or Magic Magic), it just duplicates the gut punch sensation of when those signifier chains collapse. In it's reliance on gut punch extremism it cultivates a kind of intensity as its own reward aspect. There's people who don't like this movie, but I'd say the are either scared, "inexperienced," or seeing it in the wrong situation, on the wrong drugs, at the wrong time of day or not on on the big screen with a big intoxicating surround sound and thudding bass.

Noé's detractors will accuse him of being shocking just for press, but really -when hasn't this been true of any artist? Yet there are those who are merely shocking for shock's sake (I'm looking at you, Eli Roth) and are not the least bit transgressive. And then there are those who can be transgressive without resorting to shocks (Antonioni, Godard), but meanwhile, anyone with any sense recognizes the value of capturing this kind of insanity, that it can be a tool for breaking the conventional imaginary/symbolic signifier boundary and approaching the unendurable real. This is what the shocks should deliver! One can't feel without nerves! Sensation to most people reaches its zenith with the orgasm, or the roller coaster, but that kind of 'thrill' is just a glimpse, the difference between the way the ladies ride and the cowboys ride in that old bouncy knee thing.


As tests in the day proved, the difference between Jesus, a tripper, and a schizophrenic is that, usually, the tripper is in that state intentionally, to seek wisdom, and he knows, eventually, even if time has ceased to function, he will be 'down' and hopefully none the worse for wear. Jesus need not come down for the burden of the ego, the need for the split of the great I AM into duality and judgmental divisions, space, time, etc. has been sacrificed, along with all possessions, attachments, concerns. The tripper needs drugs to access this state while the schizophrenic must rely on drugs not to be in this state. For the schizophrenic, the ride never ends, there is only the salve of temporary deliverance.  ("The mystic swims where the schizophrenic drowns").

PS - 

All that said, it's colossally racist. A few exceptions aside, there's a pretty clear color line who reverts to brutalizing savagery and who just wants to hook up and/or get high.

PPS - In case madness or a Climax situation happens with you, play the Spotify list below. The JC intro stuff may be skipped if it's too late to understand English. It will explain the journey and how to surf instead of drown. The rest of the music will lift, the rest will anchor. Play it in order, for analog flow like an old school Erich mix. Don't worry. Salvation shall lift thee when thou art lost, God --as  you understands God--shall find thee when thou art low. The bottom is the only place to 'touch off' from. What did God make Hell if not for the heat that lets you rise like heavenly smoke. So switch that burner on!

For Further Reading (relevelalant)

1. By which I mean, as in the terrible CHICAGO, SUSPIRIA succumbs to the irresistible urge to constantly crosscut to parallel actions, viewers, close-ups, varying angles, etc. so that it's impossible to enjoy dance in its ideal form, the type for example Gene Kelly, Stanley Donnen, Berkely, Powell, Fosse and Vincent Minnelli. In other words, for dance you hang back and let the dancers do the work in a medium shot, so the whole body, head to toe, is visible in extended single takes. You don't constantly crosscut to parallel actions, the eyes of those watching, close-ups, dutch angles, different camera placements, etc. That smacks of covering up due to either filmmaker flop sweat or lackluster choreography.
4. As opposed to faux-disturbing, i.e. Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Michael Hanecke, where the urge to shock comes with no genuine soul or originality, any true crazy behind it. There's no love, no genuine vision, that the shocks serve. It's all just to provoke a feeling of shock, to take us back to the first time we saw R-rated movies as a kid, before we were insufferably jaded. 
5. It's happened to me, a few times, mainly via some joints going around in a circle via some dirtbag who then when it's finished, announces it was laced with PCP. Burn! Now just try to drive home in time for dinner with the folks!
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