Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Retro-Futurism was Sure to Go: 10 Cool International 60s Sci-fi Trips Streaming on Prime and Criterion

 Lately I've been unable to escape a yen for all things sci-fi mid-60s --the stretch between Sputnik and the moon landing, when an ex-Nazi rocketeer named Werner released, through Disney of all things, a series of speculative documentaries about NASA's plans for ze future: moon landings, orbiting satellites, revolving space stations, little robot-armed one man capsules, and maybe even explorations of Mars and Venus. Movies--from Kubrick's to Margheriti's--took it all as writ. Science later realized a lot of his proposals wouldn't work (like you couldn't duplicate Earth gravity that easy), so these films don't get trotted out too often. But we've got the movies that sprang from them and now they look better than ever, streaming through the ether to your little paper-thick phone!

Von Braun points out his plan for a new space station in a 1955 Disney film. 
This round revolving shape would henceforth be the go-to design
for the next decade+'s science fiction space stations. 

more post-Axis sci-fi: X FROM OUTER SPACE, THE

This era between Sputnik and Apollo became known in comic book circles as the Silver Age: the era when Marvel made superheroes that were complex, with a cohesive universe full of crazy Steve Ditko abstraction. Onscreen, the squaresville atomic caution of the golden 50s lurched into colorful space opera cocktail decadence. Strong female characters no longer had to fight sexist blowhards to be respected as officers. Now they could heads of communications and operations, doctors in astro-biology and chemistry; they could be pretty without having male crew members snicker behind their backs or lick their lips. I've deliberately eschewed any movie from this list that contains even a hint of that type of dated 50s sexism!  I've also avoided any streaming titles of less than watchable quality, though your mileage may vary. So.... What are we waiting for!? The future's not going to get much older!

(1962) Dir. Wesley Barry
***1/2 / Amazon Image - A

I'm beginning to see what the fuss was about vis-a-vis this being Andy Warhol's favorite movie. It's fast becoming one of my favorites too! It contains everything I love in a late night sci-fi chill-out film: deep dark reds and grays, extendable tubes, silver eyeballs, skeletons, space age decor, pulp novel skies, heightened theatricality, an 'all in a single night' time frame, and spooky analog sci-fi music. I love the total absence of exterior shots and that it all occurs against painted backdrops that seem lifted right out off the covers of early-60s space age paperbacks (including great lighting and cinematography from the legendary Hal Mohr). It also has an endlessly fascinating premise that warrants its talky nature: it's a post-nuclear future where cities have become more advanced than ever but most humans are sterile. Robots have become highly advanced and do most of our heavy thinking and machining, but not everyone is happy about it. They don't like that the machines look like us, even if they have gray skin and silver eyes so you can tell them apart (for now). Don Megowan stars as "the" Craigis, a member of the Order of Flesh and Blood, a space age luddite hate group, out to halt the production of humanoid-looking robots as they're too much like "us" for comfort. They hassle robots on the street and strut around in fascist sashes and Civil War caps. Dudley Manlove--in his second best role--is one of the robots, cementing the film's queer-coded message (i.e. 'we're closer than you know, we mean you no harm, and we don't intend to stay in the shadows much longer"). David Cross (no relation) is Pax, the 'clicker' (as the robots are derisively called) in 'rapport' with Cragis' sister Esme (Frances McCann). Cragis tries to get her to break it off via a 3 AM visit, but not everyone is afraid of having all their needs met by a mechanical device in this most perfect of all eternal nights. She just happens to be up having cocktails with her friend (as I say, great stuff!)

Beautiful to look at and never boring (even if no one seems to ever 'move'), this is clearly some writer's real labor of love. I like to imagine it got workshopped at some off-off-Broadway East Village coffeehouse all through the 50s as, for all its measured talkiness, it's never dull, uneven, or repetitive. Occasional deadpan jokes ("we did make you a bit thinner,") land like gentle spiders amidst the vocalizing space age echoes on the soundtrack (courtesy an uncredited Eward J. Kay). The serene George Milan is Acto, the head robot; he gets the most lines. Able to seem comforting yet otherworldly at the same time, Milan makes a great team with Dudley Manlove as his right "man". So much more than a Woodian bad movie, I imagine it plays best watched as I watch it, by oneself, late at night, with a loved one sleeping next to you (as I tend to do), so you can gaze down at them occasionally and wonder... Andy? 

(1966) Dir. Antonio Margheriti
*** / Amazon Image - A

An instant immersion in a future world of moon bases and orbiting space stations, cocktails, anti-matter bombs, and astronauts soaring through black soundstage space on visible wires onto planets that breathe out through their craters. The ever-marvelous Giacomo Rossi Stuart (Kill Baby, Kill) is Commander Rod Jacskon, in charge of the Gamma One space station, tasked with finding the gravitational disturbance that's destroying Earth's weather patterns. Sultry-eyed Terry Sanchez (Ombretta Colli) is his head of communications and an organized officer; Rod loves her, but his needy cat-eyed fiancee (Halina Zalewski) on Earth ("a no-good ground chick!" as his pissy right hand man calls her) happens to be the daughter of General Norton  (Enzo 'Italian Burt Lancaster' Fiermonte)! "It's too involved" Rod tells Terri. There's no time for that now, though; if we don't find the source of the disturbance there'll be no Earth to go back to, and--as the ineffective Norton puts it--"it's not a matter of days, but hours!" As with all the best science fiction films, we never barely see Earth at all aside from some disaster shots on the monitors and a coda funeral/memorial. Instead director Anthony Dawson (Antonio Margheriti) makes sure everything is space ships and a soundstage alien asteroids, full of odd sound effects and eerie music.

The wild planet they find causing the trouble is an uninhabited but impressive red ball, 25 miles in diamaeter, with fields of cold red gelatin quicksand and islands of hairy ground surrounding craters breathing out plumes of cold steam. Going into one to plant anti-matter charges, they find themselves attacked by white tendrils that bleed but repair themselves as soon as Rod stops hacking at them. It's quite a destination.

I love this crazy movie. It has some of the best dubbing ever, matching the lips with weird hesitance and fast-talking when necessary. Dialogue is rich with technical savvy, using the weird pauses of the actors to create mood and drama... rather than just making them sound drunk (though there's that too): "Read your retros - don't get clogged, Mack!" / "Who's got the flagship?!" / "I'm engaged to her, Terry... not that... I want to be."

The imdb score is unfairly low, and perhaps based on old faded VHS pan and scans but the Prime print puts it on a whole other level. The deep greys, blacks and reds that make up the bulk of the colors look really rich and alluring now, making Gamma-1 seem the place to be, way cooler than the Enterprise or anyplace like that. So if space opera style drama and mature adults doing work as an organized group in constant radio communication is your bag, with plenty of women in capable professional positions (Rod doesn't really even try to stop Terry from going along on all the dangerous missions - telling her "it's every man for himself"). This film should be the cornerstone of your spiritual Euro-6os science fiction pyramid. As Commander Rod says "use your retros!" And then seek out Wild Wild Planet, Battle of the Planets, The Snow Devils and The Green Slime as well as Battle of the Worlds (below),

(1968) Dir. Peter Bogdanovich
*** / Amazon Image - D+

When I can't sleep in a foreign land I like to fall asleep to this crazy movie, with Mamie Van Doren and assorted blondes wearing seashell tops and fin-evoking hiphuggers, as Venusian mermaids telepathically interacting with cosmonauts from a relatively expensive-looking Russian science fiction film. As the cosmonauts encounter man-eating plants and various dinosaurs, the hippie mermaids watch and sing, swim, spy, eat raw fish while treading water, worship a pterodactyl, and wait to see what happens. When the cosmonauts shoot down their pterodactyl god (in self defense), the ladies take action, get really  mad and create volcanos and floods through chanting like witches. 

The story of this brilliant melange is cinematic legend: Roger Corman acquired the rights to several 60s Russian science fiction films on a trip east and tasked young Peter Bogdanovich with dubbing one into English and adding Mamie Van Doren and a cadre of her fellow blonde sea nymphs (with great hip hugger green lame flair slacks subliminally evoking mermaid tails -- a truly inspired high-fashion solution courtesy Alice Mitchell) to jack the sex appeal. With the new soundtrack's near constant flow of ocean sounds, eerie pitch-shifting electronic wind, spooky-swooping two-note siren singing, the satisfying ambient noises, the deep mechanical voice of the ship's robot, occasional bursts of Keith Benjamin's score, and Bogdanovich's hipster narration (as the younger, romantically inclined cosmonaut, replete with allusions to Welles in Lady from Shanghai), it's the best white noise in the galaxy.

Some of the ways Peter (and production coordinator Polly Platt) merged new and old footage is ingenious: a Hollywood-made rubber pterodactyl corpse washes up in the surf for the girls to find, pray over and send back... back to the sea (after the far more elaborate Russian counterpart is shot down by the cosmonauts).  I love the dopey, near muppet-like voice (uncredited) of Commander Lockhart, and the chef's hat Mamie wears when praying (evoking the hat worn by the one Venusian we see in a reflection at the very end of the Russian version); I love the way the sirens completely blend in with the rocks around them when lolling in the sun (the way seals often do) or the attention to clever details in the underwater scenes (the Russian footage showing nice undersea flourishes like a cloth octopus, merging with our LA sirens spying and undulating). The giant maneating plant, the attack of the man-sized Allosauruses, a passing brontosaur, are just icing on the cake

The Prime copy is bad, but there is no existing good quality DVD I know of, and frankly that's a shame, the bane of the PD property, I guess. I have the Retromedia double disk set that includes the Russian original (Planeta Ber, aka Planet of Storms)- which looks amazing but one can see why Corman felt their needed to be an infusion of hot blondes. The proof he was right is visible in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (a remix of the same footage but without the sea witch coven), but the frame of Retromedia's version keeps skipping! PS - if you know of a good quality non-skipping transfer of VTTPOPW let me know!).

(1966) Dir. Mario Bava
**** / Amazon Image - A+

Fourth on the bill, Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires is actually the best as far as gorgeous cinematography and clever, if not always successful, in-camera effects (Mario Bava is still ahead of his time). The storyline fuses elements of Last Man on Earth with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and looks forward to Night of the Living Dead, and most notably Alien, which clearly borrowed more than a few things. Wise choice, as it's a gorgeous and fascinating film that would be worth seeing even if you had to see it in Italian without subtitles (and didn't speak it). The plot concerns a rescue mission to a strange foggy planet where the soon-dead crewmen are taken over by fourth dimensional aliens eager to hitch a ride off their dying world. The co-ed crew wear sexy high-collared black leather uniforms with deep yellow trim (the sexiest, coolest and most high fashion space crew uniforms ever), and their ship is a huge minimalist black floored matte and mirage wonder. The outside miniatures make the ship look at times like soap on the rope anchored to the bottom of an aquarium (but that's okay) and the planet is a bizarre landscape or red and blue gels, swirling fog, petrified tentacle tree rocks, quicksand type burbling pits, and weird noises and disembodied voices barely audible in the whooshing winds. The shots of the outside guards looking deep into fog for signs of life are some of the most eerily beautiful in all of science fiction. The dubbing is good (lead Barry Sullivan does his own) and the music is super eerie. It just gets better with every viewing, especially in this HD color-restored super-marvelous shape.

(1966) Dir. Curtis Harrington 
*** (image quality: A-)

A tale of first contact with Mars; space exploration is done mostly by young people played by hip Corman company future-stars like Dennis Hopper and John Saxon, led by Basil Rathbone. The mission: escorting a female vampire alien from a Martian moon to Earth after her ship crash lands. Ready the launch! It's a case of reverse engineering as Corman protege Curtis Harrington intercuts footage from Corman's imported print of Soviet bloc sci-fi film MESTRE NASTRESHU. Acting as a fine mirror to issues of gender as well as Soviet-American relations of the era, the footage is matched brilliantly to its respective sides: the Dionysian and ornate deep red Russian footage for the female vampire Martian ship and the "Red" planet surfaces / the Harrington-shot Earth scenes and space ship interiors a nice powder blues with cafeteria grays on threadbare Apollonian sets; the combination works perfectly - allowing for an artistic level of special effects quality and, for devotees, a chance to marvel at the ingenuity Harrington used in matching the footage. The end result is not only atmospheric and strangely sexy, it's coherent, and looks way more expensive than it was, not to mention there's a uniquely bitchy silent antagonism between Florence Marly's classy, mute green-skinned queen and Saxon's girlfriend (Judi Meredith), who seems to wear even more make-up. Indeed, her lipstick and eyeliner alone can cut through any amount of interplanetary white noise, but in this case, the Prime print comes in blazing restored colors. See it and realize that--in warning of the short-sightedness science,  the prioritizing of bringing the human-devouring, egg-laying monster back alive no matter how many astronauts die along the way, this is one of the influences behind Alien.  It's also short (79 minutes), and damned nice to look at it late at night while drifting towards dreamland. 

(1966) Dir. Hajime Sato
** / Amazon Image - A

Thanks to an amazing Prime HD image, this sexy-terrible Japanese fusion of underwater Bondian supervillain lair-trashing and Jules Verne-style fish people enslavement (ala AIP's War Gods of the Deep, Japan's Atragon, the Philippine's Beyond Atlantis, and Italy's Island of the Fishmen (AKA Screamers - also on Prime) is finally worth seeing! A young Sonny Chiba and a cute blond gaijin named Peggy Neal (The X from Outer Space - see below) star as a pair of intrepid diving reporters who follow fishmen tracks in search of a missing scientist while their contact in the American Navy (Franz Gruber) tries to get clearance to help them. Naturally the lovers find a grotto underwater, run into a squad of fish men; wake up at a secret lair on the bottom of the sea after trying to find her dropped camera, their wetsuits replaced by sleek white tunics; youthfully gorgeous and well-lit you understand their horror when the evil sunglasses-wearing villain starts converting them to ugly fish people -"with no differentiation between the sexes"!.  Biloxi-born Neal's revulsion at being "scaly" comes off as comedy and the inevitable fish people have opaque black marble eyes are set too close together and skin is like silver appliance wrapping; when their mind control radio signal gets jammed up they run amok, shooting everyone in sight and carefully fighting hand-to-hand (their fish suits get torn up really easily - as the now glistening HD print shows all too clearly). Meanwhile Gruber labors to convince the top brass to send a search sub once the pair go missing. But will he find them in time?

Towards the wild climax the editing gets really wonky; each shot last whole seconds longer than it should; asides and pauses for no reason drag the usually frenzied editing scheme of an 'underwater lair about to implode' kind of climax to an agonized crawl. The general space of time between a shot of someone looking at something / cut to what or whom they're looking at clearly needs to be shorter. When the gang are trying to escape and battling the bad guy's minions for space on the emergency elevator, this sluggish pace as each new emotion is formed on the actor's faces, is super aggravating. I haven't seen it enough times yet to appreciate its badness of all that, but I already love the way Chiba has to carefully fight with the monsters so as not rip their tissue paper-thin skin. And while he's suffering blow after blow in that pristine white hallway, the professor and Neal just stand there, for minutes on end, looking 'horrified.' Never thinking to help him or try to save their own lives. 

Though there are one too many unflattering close-ups of the sunglassed megalomaniacal gaijin master villain Dr. Moore (Erik Nielsen) and the snaggle-toothed assistant scientist Mike Daneen, there also many lovely close-ups of Chiba and Neal, whose blazing white form-fitting tunic and villain-regulation slacks hang on her just perfectly; beaming with vitality and poise, flipping her short bob of a blonde hairdo, she's a perfect gaijin counterpoint to Chiba, whose deep dark eyes can drown any unsuspecting viewer gazing into them too long (and we have plenty of opportunities). Shunsuke Kikuchi's memorably groovy score and the gorgeous evil lair lighting on Prime's flawless HD print makes experiencing TERROR BENEATH THE SEA fairly painless, just make sure you don't forget to bring your rock bottom expectations to keep you from floating away.... 
Il Pianeta degli uomini spenti / Translation: Planet of Extinct Men
(1961) Dir. Antonio Marghereti
**1/2 / Amazon Image - C- / D

There is a stand-alone version of this PD title on Prime (the "Comic Book Edition") but it's been so yellowed by someone's idea of color grading (for the old yellowed newsprint effect of old comics?) I find I prefer Prime's "Double Doses of Sci-fi: Hostile Planets and Doomsday" version (starting on the 0:17 mark - ending 1:22) It's a shoddy looking analog transfer clearly taken from a VHS tape but--as with the above Planet of Prehistoric Women--there is no good HD upgrade available. Take what you can get, and say thank you to the nice Prime.

Sort of the prequel to Margheriti's 1966-7 "Gamma One" Tetralogy (note its American title is Battle of the Worlds, and is not be confused his War Between the Planets or War of the Planets, both of which came later), here we have a runaway planet entering our solar system and taking up orbit around Earth, all predicted by an aged, vaguely portly Claude Rains in owl spectacles, hamming wildly but dubbing his own voice as a mathematics expect. Such a team player, he sells the dialogue like its Shakespeare and even wears a space helmet during the big alien planet-landing climax, racing around like a kid in a candy store through miles of alien tubing and red gel lights while issuing grating 'music of the spheres' from his portable synthesizer. (The alien UFOs are maneuvered via soundwaves, leading to lots of overlaid asynchronous tones as ships race into heavily-edited dogfights  Mixing Mycroft Holmes and Peter O'Toole doing Henry II, Raine's mathematician physicist is so brilliant he can just write an equation on the observatory floor in chalk for the world's leaders to see (via camera phones) and he initiates an interplanetary war. Meanwhile the young couples (a pair from a Martian outpost, and a pair from his own observatory) fawn and stand around in awe and then saddle up when it's time to ride out of orbit and take on "the Outsider" (as Raines dubs the interloping world). Mario Migliardi's score smoothes over any soft patches and helps to give the rocky island scenery a proto-giallo sense of class, though the barrage of synth noises in the second half may wake your sleeping girlfriend if you don't keep the volume low. Long a PD title, one can dream of seeing this one day remastered to look as good as the (above) War Between the Planets. What else is the stuffing of the stars, Professor, if not such dreams?

Operazione Goldman / Operation Goldman
(1966) Dir. Antonio Margheriti
*** / Amazon Image - A-

As with some other features on our list, above and below, we're still exploring the uninhabitable vastnesses and it's still a trip, man, and in this, a superior example of one of the countless spy movies that proliferated in the mid-60s (from Goldfinger and Thunderball), we get both rocket topplings and a trippy undersea lair powered by an undersea volcano. Figures it's from that inexhaustible mastro Antonio Margheriti, as it's got the same sense of spontaneous termite energy as his "Gamma One" films. Packed in amidst the quips, drinks, and car chases lurks some exciting footage of real-life Nasa rocket failures seamlessly interwoven with spy Anthony Eisley's staggering around in front of an ocean of fire. The rest of the time he's either being shot at by a lovely blonde (Wandisa Guida) or trying to score with his lovely handler, Captain Flanagan (Diana Lorys) in what's supposed to Florida but sure looks Mediterranean. Action highlights also include a long chase/brawl through a brewery from the loading docks all the way down the grain silos. And that underwater lair is a major trip. Mid-60s Bond imitations could be stodgy with endless travelogue footage, stripteases, comic relief, static plot-heavy dialogue, trite pick-up lines and fashions so dated and sexist you can smell the cheap cologne in the air even now, but Lightning Bolt is worth standing in the rain for. Riz Ortolani spy music is on-point and on-message throughout and the sublime HD prime print makes the old new again.

(PS Just don't let it convince you to try others in Prime's vast mid-60s European faux-Bond arsenal, most are incorrectly formatted, just for starters. Operation Kid Brother starring Neil Connery isn't bad, even if it has a shockingly imitative Morricone score.)

(1965) Dir. Robert Gaffney
**/ Amazon Image - A

Puerto Rico really needs your help right now, but Frankenstein Conquers the World isn't the reason, entirely. Sure, some fancy critics give FMTSP a bad rap and, sure, it's a little too self-aware of its Party Beach hotrod absurdity, but some of the scenes have same kinetic weird nouvelle-pulp energy we fist saw in Rollin's Viol du Vampire and Franco's Diabolical Dr. Z, while still staying as gosh-darn American as a NASA-sponsored apple pie (filmed in Puerto Rico!). The plot follows a pair of evil aliens--the bald pointy eared, vaguely Uncle Fester-meets-Jon Lovitz Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell) and the aloof Princess Marcuzen (Marilyn Hanold)--as they abduct a bunch of bathing suit-and-cocktail poolside frolicking women to zap back to their home planet (their side has won a nuclear war but now is sterile). Threatening any resistors with their pet space monster, they're quite the hammy pair, milking every line like they're getting paid by the minute, but there's lovely black-and-white footage of driving past NASA's gates and a funny press conference with their newest astronaut, who--alas--freezes halfway through the Q&A - and so we find the secret: he's a robot! When his ship crashes (thanks to alien toppling powers), Frankie falls to earth a burnt amnesiac who proceeds to run amok until his creator (the great--always precise and deadpan--James Karen!) and his girlfriend (foxy Karen Grant) fix his circuitry and turn him around against the alien threat. You better believe the title match is coming as the space monster is warmed and readied. The military meanwhile, is on the way, too, but daren't attack while all the girls are inside the (parked) ship. Man, Puerto Rico seems like quite the spot! Never before has military footage from our Air Force and Army training maneuvers been so seamlessly interwoven with western poolside garage rock decadence! Those teens who first saw this funky gem at the drive-in probably thought they were dreaming. I know I am.  Cutell's Dr. Nadir makes Dudley Manlove's Eros in Plan Nine seem a model of deadpan cool; and scenes of him and Marcuzen examining the visibly uncomfortable swim suit models (from the Miss Puerto Rico contest!) veer close to icky; but once everything is sorted out, the ever-cool James Karen and his lady friend enjoy a free and easy moped ride through scenic sunny San Juan, set to the romantic sax and harmonies of pop group The Distant Cousins.

Now Come with me to Criterion Channel...!

Uchû daikaijû Girara
(1963) Dir. Kazui Nihonmatsu
*** / Criterion Channel Image - /C

With a happy astro-theme song and groovy lounge soundtrack (courtesy Taku Izumi), cheerful blue colored outer space backgrounds, and cute if unconvincing space miniatures and sets, X is set in that once-seemingly inevitable future of permanent bases on the moon, operated by a United World Order where young people of both genders hold high-level positions on orbiting space stations and meet after hours at the space lounge to dance and be interrupted by urgent news. Here we got cute blonde gaijin astrobiologist Lisa (Peggy Neal) as the girl in a group of four bound for Mars, stopping off on the moon to party with cute Michiko (Itoko Harada), whose got a crush on Capt. Sano (Shun'ya Wazaki), who crushes on Lisa (Neal) who likes him too but knows Michiko crushes so much harder. Franz Gruber sports a goatee as a high-ranking scientific advisor (he also counsels Lisa when hearts gets too heavy). Planetary danger erupts when Lisa collects a tiny alien spore she found stuck to the ship's tail fin and brings it down to earth in one of those sample jars that alien spores tend to escape from when everyone is off having cocktails. This one leaves a chicken size footprint etched in acid and immediately grows kaiju massive. Though joyful and triumphant, Guilala's attacks are a bit on the weaker side compared to his more esteemed Toho comrade, but with all the fun jetting back and forth from the moon to Earth to that swingin' pop score, the soap dish UFO visits, the widescreen medium shot compositions, the luminous glowing skin of the two lead actresses, and Guilala's aerodynamic head curling its edges when blasting laser spitballs, you may forgive the soft foggy print on the CC.

Grooving at the moon's astro-lounge
The Criterion image is soft but hey - if not for their "It came from Shochiku" Eclipse series, it wouldn't be out on anything but a $60 Japanese import. To think, I may never have known it. And as a result I wouldn't have gone on to hunt down and see Atragon and Latitude Zero on overpriced Tokyo Shock DVDs.  Man, I'm sick just thinking about it, because if there are cocktails being served on space stations or the moon in a 60s science fiction film, I shall be crawling forth, insatiable. There is no 'counting days' when there are no longer 'days' without Earth's gravitational spin. In space, no one can see you relapse!

(1972) Dir. Andre Tarkovsky
 **** / Criterion Image - B

Tarkovsky's acclaimed science fiction masterpiece (which seems like a 60s film, due perhaps to the slower pop trendshifting behind the Iron Curtain) is set in a future on space station orbiting above an all-ocean, possibly sentient, planet that's started causing long dead lovers to re-appear, out of nowhere, with amnesia. Based on a novel by Polish sci-fi novelist Stanislav Lem, it's slow, depressing, and long, yet never less than compelling. It's certainly no slower or less ponderous than its western counterpoint, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Less trippy, though, unless you turn up the volume and pay close attention to the sound mix. Once you let the slowness hypnotize you, which is what it's for, weird things start to happen. The long drive through Moscow's tunnels and elevated highways to the the airport for example, becomes otherworldly when you tune into the way the sound of the traffic begins to discombobulate into the rush of rockets and radio static; slow pans around rooms shiw Kris's (Donatas Bationis) dead ex-wife Khari (Natalya Bondarchuk) appearing in different points in time and space. I've seen it five times and only managed to stay awake to the end once. Any Big Message is entombed in its weird mise-en-scene of ever shifting memory. Tarkovsky refuses to bless us with a momentous narrative or some wild "Beyond Jupiter" light show climax, but with regularly mismatched glimpses of things both there and not there, he does evoke the bathroom/bedroom rebirthing scene of 2001... if stretched to three hours and included a girl, and a film projector...

Did I nod off?

But what better film to wake up to? It's long enough you can wake up from a sound nap to find it's still playing! If that happens to you, do as I did: just sit up and keep watching where you woke up from. To watch it in between bouts of consciousness, to blank out right in the middle of some portentous cosmic revelation, to come to alone with the screen in the engulfing silence of space, is this perhaps the ideal frame of mind fo Solaris? Nyet to whatever the answer is. Nyet.

Adieu to the cautious cocktails and radiation-eating hopes of the space age. Adios to swinging astronauts being hoisted around on wires while saving the day. Dasvidaniya to the idea of a perfect romance with a mystical anima projection in the form of an ex-wife at the prime of her hotness. Such is the realization of Tarkovsky's most surreal film. It takes ideas similar to those in many other older science fiction films (including Ib Melchoir's Journey to the Seventh Planet) and drafts a meaning so high and profound it can use swirls of algae on still water, wind-rustled plants, stormy clouds, trees hanging over empty space, and a beautifully knit autumnal-colored afghan wrap held against the glow of a round space station window, to evoke the inscrutable majesty of that alien otherness beyond even the reach of our sleeping unconscious, past the light behind the dark behind the man behind the curtain, that fractal form of probing consciousness we damage the minute we behold it the way water crystalks change just from our looking at them. Such things lie far beyond the limits of special effects, and even human imagination, to interpret in any concrete form.

So we bid farewell even to the most.... basic.... functions...zzz

 (If you refuse to watch SOLARIS, let the tenth film on this list be Criterion's DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968- Dir. Ishoro Honda) Yeah, boy, Akira Ifukube's pounding score, female aliens (above) turning into rocks, and a full roster of kaiju favorites uniting to really stomp the shit out of Ghidorah. I mean it's like six against one, and they basically curb stomp the poor thing. It's not like he came there voluntarily! He was controlled by the Kilaaks, same as they all were hitherto the signal being broken! Get Criterion channel now!! I also recommend GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), also on Criterion, which has a cool alien possessed princess side plot, and the numbers are much more even --since Ghidorah counts as three monsters at least... because of his three heads.

For other cool Communist sci-fi films from the 70s that seem like they're from our 60s, I highly recommend these two films from East Germany (avail. only in OOP DVD and sometimes youtube)

Im Staub der Sterne
(1978) Dir. 
*** / DVD image - B-

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Just a Juggalo: JOKER + The Psychotic Sometimes Swims, Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn

Meanwhile, back in Gotham, here comes another chaotic neutral character from DC Comics, the whirling sexy batwielding, bat-smashing Harley Quinn. Unlike the more Jungian equations of Marvel, DC has always been more of a surface player ala professional wrestling. Their mythic arcs offer a fusion between totemistic mythology, civics lessons, and those old Mexican wrestling movies, the kind where cultural and financial differences are worked out in masks, tights, and fights. Now that JOKER is a work of art, building on the versions by Jared Leto and Heath Ledger, which in turn riffed off Jack Nicholson and Ceasar Romero, we can draw a straight line in DC from camp to art. And dead in the middle? David Ayer's underrated Suicide Squad.

Ayer, paragon of macho (he made Fury with Brad Pitt for god's sakes) is the reason we have Joker getting edgy acclaim, as well as the new Birds of Prey: The Emancipation of Harley Quinn opening this weekend, so it must be acknowledged that some special magic in SS made it a cultural touchstone despite mediocre reviews. Maybe those fight club mornings  helped make everyone seem tougher but Robbie was so alluring in the way only hot messes can be (and isn't in Prey, falling instead to Tank Girl over-quirk); or maybe I'm loyal to SS since I relapsed to it back in Xmas 2016 and my feeling of insane 'emancipation' was perfectly matched in the theme, style and plot. Alkohol macht frei! 

You may shake your head in disgust at that last--admittedly personal/posional--connection. If you haven't been incarcerated by sobriety by for 20 years you don't know what it means to go from utterly miserable for days on end in a tiny one room cabin as everyone around you shouts drunkenly at Alexa every five minutes, throws darts over your head, laughing and swilling--to laughing and swilling yourself, brain suddenly alive and liberated after so very long. To haver a movie beginning right at the moment the booze kicks in for the first time after 20 years, and to have that movie be Suicide Squad. I owe David Ayers everything. What could have been a depressing surrender became a triumph; that movie was right there with me, every step of the way.  

It's almost worth being miserable and winding up in the hospital for that hour of total freedom and a sense that your horizons have just widened by a significant "Kansas-switched-to-Technicolor-Oz" level. for however long your biological parole counsellor Viola Davis decrees. Her jugular vein bombs were my own biochemistry.

No wonder I too feel the draw of the madness of Joker, a 70s NYC-ish Gotham-set saga of mental illness and delusion... and white male rage! Todd Phillips' film proves a fine echo-drenched tribute to the golden (70s-early-80s) era of Scorsese, and hence perfect in the same year Scorsese slanders comic book movies and delivers his own (early-90s) Goodfellas-"tribute," The Irishman. It all happens in the order it does for a reason. Some day you'll understand that (1).

Living in a loosely delusional zone between Taxi Driver (if Travis was fired from a temp clown agency), and King of Comedy 2, if Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) took over the Jerry Lewis role and finally met someone twice as crazy as him. Joker loses his mom, his grip on reality, and his illusory girlfriend and then he finds his true self when a Goetz-y self-defense killing of three rich a-holes on a late-night subway triggers all sorts of fun insane civil unrest as people reason killing the rich is pretty cool if they can't see your face because you're wearing a clown mask. And Fleck, I mean the Joker, I mean "Joker," doesn't disappoint his fans.

To paraphrase that old Joseph Campbell quote about "the mystic swims where the psychotic drowns," Joker sinks to the bottom and realizes he's got gills. When you've lost everything, as Tyler Durden says, you can do anything. Of course you can argue it's a symptom of our trigger happy white male rage mass shooter age that we mustn't laugh at such things, and that's what makes it funny (though ironic the genius of Joker is acknowledged but the genius of the perhaps even darker Observe and Report is slighted). And thanks to a great color and lighting scheme (how his red, orange and green suit contrast against the dingy gray of the city) and the way---during his celebrated stairs dance---the low-end roll of convicted felon Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (part 2)" pumps perfectly through the channels opened by the mind-meltingly deep and true cello chords of Icelandic genius Hildur Ingveldar Guðnadóttir, we do get one of the defining moments of the cinematic year.

Pauline Kael would have loved it.

But first, before the psychotic can swim (2)-- he or she must find their animal or elemental or archetypal talisman:a penguin, a cat, an egg, ice, earth, a playing card, fir or ice, a coin, or even just riddles, their talisman and namesake; then their psychosis and amoral love of crime and villainy can take to the air like a kite. And Bruce Wayne can have an excuse to cut out of whatever gala he's slumming through, glad to have--once more--someone to chase around, so don't worry about him. The deal: just tie him up and roast him over some hot coals, rather than merely shoot him. You're all each other has, so make it non-lethal.

But Wayne's just a kid in Joker. It's all just Phoenix looking in the mirror and abusing his smile. But that stairs dance to Glitter's anthem works so indelibly as a moment because it takes the time to work, to breathe into it, and because the music is perfect; the stairs are perfect and the sight of this clown, literally, in this super clean clown suit is so perfectly etched against the filthy melange of urban decay/gray that it makes you stop and catch your breath. We can't help but love him because there is nothing this clown wants from us. He's broken through to the other side. He no longer whines for our love or attention (the way, say, Jerry Langford used to do back in his bellboy days), and that's why we must give it. Usually there's something terrifically desperate about a clown, the human equivalent of a needy puppy that starts to whine the moment you cease petting it. But this clown has moved beyond us. The only person he needs to make laugh is himself. And he can't stop.

Everything builds to a fine old triumphant juggalos amok climax, but very last WTF scene after that kind of annoyed me. No, it really did annoy me. But I sure am fascinated nonetheless about why it seemed so imperative to add this little coda.

My guess: everyone worried the ending--the triumph of the loon--might incite the juggalos to rise the way they way gang violence used to erupt at inner city Warriors screenings, or the old Aurora Dark Knight Rises incident. They even once worried Fight Club would motivate the trolls (back before they were called that) from out mom's basements and teach them the ways of men. The ways of men went on in basements too -- and punches hurt my widdle hobbit hands!

But no worries, the time for fight clubs has passed; the time to don thy juggalo paint and raise a mighty ruckus is also passed. The popularity of Joker (and its cop-out "Scarface on the gallows" ending-ending) assassinated the present and there's no sense fighting if the opponent is but a dream. Safe in anonymity behind the goofball mask, we avoid the sting of teargas and truncheons by living outside the flow of time - clickclickclackclick. The NYC of the 70s, the one of pay phones and rampant street crime, seems long gone today. But Joker reminds us that should our 5G network go out, the 70s won't be far away. Joker is with us when we walk home on NYC streets deserted of brick and mortars. So why worry about the present with its Disney and Warner Bros. flagships that we once bemoaned for cleaning up the dirty streets of Gotham. Their clowns bounce with big bulbous heads, and if the Joker was just more cartoony, he'd be one of them. But let's face it. He's gone dark. He's joined the past, hanging out in front of the stores that were once crumbling movie theaters showing kung fu movies and pornography and posing for invisible tourist pictures.

Welcome the overalls
And now - the ex-girlfriend of the Joker (a sexier, younger Joker, mind you. Time is dead), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) comes pogoing onto screens this weekend. But things are looking grim based on the suspicious lack of advance critical notice. From her 'riveting raver' jumpers, pompom shoulder wraps (made from police tape_ replacing her Suicide Squad baby doll trash and vaudeville slutty clothes (probably a good thing), to the somewhat grating (and all too sane-sounding) Brooklyn voiceover (monologues for crazy villains should sound crazy -- as in "So I wanted to stop the lightning shooting of my forehead and the only way to do that was steal the fingers of my old math teacher or so the shimmering blue triangle in my bathroom said," and not banal girl power edicts like "so the Jokah and I broke up and I was reel sad) Marilyn Monroe dance recreations to express my freedom from lack of materialism." Or whatever. It's kind of shocking to think that even broken free from tenuous sanity, this is the goal..

Of course Anna Biller set the bar really high in Love Witch (2016) as far as able to bring a truly feminine eye towards lady sexy craziness. It looks from the outside like Yan and Hodson aren't even going to try, delivering instead what looks like another 'freshly broken up girl throws Ewan McGregor a beatin'' plot. Now, I'm all for beating up Ewan McGregor. No actor in the last two centuries has seemed to so fully warrant it (3) but the kind of crazy that's psychotic and sexy-gutsy, rather than just a mopey crying-jag downer, in films is all too rare, it's like striking gold when we stumble on it, Hence the preciousness this year with Joker, the Beach Bum; the Parasite birthday picnic, the crazy subterranean's weird smiles in Us, the second half of Climax. But so much else in modern movies seems mired in a by-the-numbers sanity that unfortunately dogs even Frank Miller's DC adaptations like a plague.

When money is more than just paper, signifiers connect, and noir cliches about shadows in crumbling alleys rule over all, then we never really lost anything to begin with, did we, doctor?
"I don't know who's crazier, me or you." - Iris to Travis (Taxi Driver)
Phoenix, coming into Joker, knew he had big shoes to fill.... big shoes to fill.... big shoes to fill... (4) The ballsy insanity we see finally erupting from the ratty shell of lil' Phoenix is like the origin story for the comic book bizarro "dog chasing cars" mania we see fully formed in Heath Ledger's "latter period" edition (in 2008's The Dark Knight.) Scenes like his burning his share of the mob's stolen money, a vast mountain of it which he pours lighter fluid on (just his half!) or his giving a loaded gun to Two-Face and leaning his own head against it (after blowing up his girlfriend). We loved Ledger for putting his head in the lion's jaws of true insane criminal genius. He became a kind of totem of lunatic freedom unseen in films since, perhaps, Tyler Durden in 1999. That model hasn't aged half as well ---too laddish. But Ledger's Joker lives large in our modern age of #metoo (he's not rapey) and global warming (he's all about depopulation). He's selfless in his homicidal genius, beyond desire and fear and even the need to commit weird social jokes. (Durden in turn was the descendant of Sir Guy Grand [Peter Sellers] the millionaire in The Magic Christian [1967] who ends the film by pouring a lot of pound notes in a big vat of sewage waste, so he can judge all the bourgeoisie who go wading in, their expensive suits be hanged [9]). When he throws down weird games of kill your friend or anonymous group on another boat before they kill you, it's not--despite Batman's smug analysis--some sick need to prove Gotham is corrupted, it's for amusement and cajones measuring, in the tradition of Price's Prince Prospero in Masque of the Red Death (1964) or Boris Karloff's General Fang in West of Shanghai (1937).

Jared Leto's Joker in Suicide Squad was, in my opinion, an underrated and very druggy cool serpentine performance, the first embodiment since Ledger's untimely death. Seen through the prism of his adoring lover Harley, we see him first when she was an Arkham shrink, through to his issues trying to fight his gooey feelings towards her by convincing her to fall backwards into a vat of, presumably, toxic magic clown combat syrup, planning to let her drown in there, then sighing and jumping in after her. That was so romantic! I hadn't cried like that since Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Anyone in a relationship they're always half-escaping, a love despite their self conception as a rover and a bounder, a love that challenges even their cracked self image, could relate. Is it what we imagined we wanted? No. It's real, and that's even worse. Even virgin nerds could respect that kind of vivid anarchic outlaw couple love. We end up with the person who can stand us, and who we can stand. Those two things are themselves miracles, triumphs. Even if they drive us over a cliff, we can at least lean out the passenger window and flip off the cops and ride it straight to hell with a psychotic laugh.

By contrast, consider the dopey self-absorbed sexual heat between Ilsa and Rick in Casablanca. Rick needs a whole movie to help another man leave with the girl he loves just because that man wrote some inflammatory ant-Nazi pamphlets. Rick and Ilsa are too suffused with self-pity and pious mopery to crank it. (19) If it was real love, Rick and Ilsa would leave Lazlo behind at the airport, shouting your pamphlets suck! Love doesn't let doofus politics or even wars dissuade it. Neither marriage nor jobs or children - it's worse than the most addictive opiate. Rick says "if you don't leave with Viktor you'll regret it, maybe not today but tomorrow and for the rest of your life." Love doesn't give a shit about that, and does regret it for the rest of their life but still, there you are. Love insists on leaving a scar.

There are so few examples in modern movies it's almost shameful. I think of Gun Crazy (1950) and the scene where John Dahl and Peggy Cummins abandon, spur of the moment, their 'take separate cars' getaway plan, or Thelma and Louise going over that cliff. So few outlaw couples films get that moment right that when they do, as in Suicide Squad, it makes my palms sweat. We feel there's a Harvey Keitel in our earpiece begging us not to do it, to accept the cavity search that welcomes us back into banal time-space crawling.

Then there was that Enchantress (Cara Delvinge), alive like a sharp intake of breath, with tentacles and dreamy electric cloud shapes on exhale, her shimmering South American rainforest ayahuasca energy pulsing and slithering around the bigwig government Pentagon offices like an anaconda of kundalini dark magic. Yet she could still say "you don't have the balls" when mentioning her Jekyll side's boyfriends threat to stab her separated straw heart). Or what about the interesting low-key bond that forms in the margins between Harley and Will Smith's sniper character--Smith gamely recognizing the cliche inherent in his character's constantly threatening anyone who steps to him and/or just wanting to see his kids, and doing something new with it. They're both the coolest and most level-headed natural leaders of the group, and smart enough to talk to each other in their indoor voices.

I feel like I'm trying to justify my love of the Squad. Is it that dirty a kind, the kind not the sex kind of dirty but the need to justify with intellectual pretension dirty?

One gets a feeling that for her Boids of Prey "emancipation," Harley is not being allowed to keep that kind of moment-to-moment beyond good-and-evil kinetic batshit DSM-V charting, sexy-crazy-cool, becoming instead a kind of de facto good girl whose crazy is limited to a few giggles, endless video game-style choreographed fights, and the odd goofy dance or slow-mo walk away from an explosion. After all, there was that one wrong note where Enchantress shows Harley a possible future as a banal housewife with a baby and Joker heading off to his legit 9-5 job in the sunshine of the early morning. Ewwww! She likes that kind of sick shit?

No offense to the married and childrened, but offense meant for implying that underneath her bravado and kinetic psychosexycrazycool, she's just acting nuts because her "puddin" is nuts and that she hopes one day he'll grow out of it and get a real job, the way friends who didn't know you were gay or bi, presume you'll grow out of it after college and settle down to 'what matters." Love makes us do funny things: Kate Hepburn even gave up a lot of her own freedom to correspond to Spence's antiquated notions of femininity. She even plunged to her death rather than embarrassing Herbert Marshall with a kid out of wedlock in Christopher Strong. She did get a statue out of it but not the golden man kind, the silver art deco Central Park kind. Still nice, but then again the patriarchy always honors scary freedom once it's safely dead - the passed past is where freedom rings its scary drum. Statue please!


What makes DC comics different from Marvel is that Marvel generally makes every character (this being Stan Lee's secret sauce) complex--grey rather than black or white. There's no all-good hero or all-bad villain - everyone has their reasons and their weaknesses. They are 3-D people down to the smallest role. DC on the other hand, is all about types, ala professional wrestling. Gotham in particular, is a land of 'types' - everyone not in the main character roster is as banal and shorn of tics as a civics lesson film strip. The news vendor must sound like a blue collar guy from the 30s ("papah heeeeah!"); the thugs must be brutes with bad teeth and a thoid grade education; the victims must cower in the corner of the parking lot before saying "Th-th-thanks, Batman." The mobster on trial must cover his smirk with his hand as the rigged jury finds him innocent. His lawyer must be a shifty mouthpiece; the DA a noble idiot whose hands are tied. Even Batman with his childhood trauma of seeing his rich parents shot, is a type: seldom smiling, all justice-vigilante, but never killing anyone (that we see, he risks terrific collateral damage in order not to directly kill or permanently maim even the most evil of villains). Who wouldn't be crazy in a city like that? And who wouldn't be motivated to crime, as if no one but you really exists, that this is all a dream so there are no consequences to your actions?

Thus, it's fitting that the villains generally wind up not in jail but in Arkham, Gotham's asylum for the criminally insane, where it's very easy to escape. In short, being the only complex characters in a city of 'types' like Gotham has made them crazy. There's no reality to challenge them. Even Phoenix's Joker, whose Gotham is perhaps the most realistic, has no firm grip on reality. It's all a dream within a dream. Phoenix being the origin story Joker, is just realizing this - the rudimentary feeling that marks psychosis and schizophrenic narcissism. His Arthur Fleck/Joker thought he was in real life for the longest time, but by the end he knows it's "just a comedy." He's free. But the flip side is a terrible loneliness you can never wake up from. That's why his romance is so touching in the long game of Squad. 

Harley on the other hand with her doctoral brilliance, does believe people are real, and so they are. The best moment in Squad, for example, is Harley asking one of the other members if he can see the wild light show effects circling above the amok Enchantress and her newly incarnated temple god brother (it is really there - she's relieved to find out. , into their own evil power station; her relief to find out. The Joker wouldn't worry whether the orbiting cloud of stuff was real or not. No true psychotic ever bothers to sort that shit out. When Don Birnim screams at the sight of the bat eating the rat in the wall during his DTs in Lost Weekend he's proving he's still a punter. A seasoned tripper wouldn't blink twice, even if the bat and rat were really there he'd presume he's hallucinating and shrug it off. We've all looked down at our hand and seen the flesh melting off the bone during bad acid trips, but we're not wally enough to try to cut it off with a bandsaw like in Psych-out or demanding someone drive us to the ER.

There is one Batman movie where Gotham is nuts as the villains, i.e 1997's Batman and Robin, (above) in which everything resembles one big black light poster; all the graffiti is Day-Glo and ridiculous art deco sculptured skyscrapers threaten to swallow up the villains to the extent they become normal inside the context. It's Batman with his copycat hangers-on Batgirl and Robin, that become the odd ducks. Freshman 15-afflicted Alicia Silverstone as ill-equipped for form fitting black leather tights and also too short to seem at all menacing; Robin bidding for Poison Ivy's attention with Bruce's own money like a bitch, trying so hard to seem straight while wearing little green shorts and a sailor boy crew cut. Clooney's Batman doing his best with this dopey coterie of kiddies but gladly letting Uma and Arnold take the cake and run. But run where? It's all like being trapped in an 80s new wave club, trying to find the bathroom but finding only day-glo graffitti on painted black plywood dividers.

Heath Ledger's Joker in Dark Knight on the other hand gets that he's dreaming for no city could be this 'film they show you at jury duty'-level banal. He thinks he Batman are the only normal, cool people in town. Batman on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge the divide, doesn't even grant Joker a courtesy laugh.  Sadly, Joker is alone in his full consciousness. He just gave Batman the benefit of the doubt because of the kinky get-up. But sometimes loners dress like bats for reasons that have nothing to do with pleasure, or so they keep telling themselves.


Everyone has their favorite villains in this DC-verse and their least (Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor). When it comes to Catwoman I belong to Julie Newmar. See my praise on nearby Mediated "Kitty Kali" if you doubt that I'm down. Her playful ease with her mouse-eared crook gang in the 60s TV show is exactly the way I imagined myself in her presence (me being merely seven or eight when I first fell for her), a kitten luxuriating in the clawy grasp of a lithe black-spangled diamond snatcher with the kind of brilliance of real cats. Runner up Catwoman would be Ann Hathaway, who still rocks the best eyeliner in Hollywood. Michelle Pfeiffer's was okay but that Burton sequel was rather leaden and hard to wade through with all Danny DeVito's hamming and Michael Keaton's sulking. And Halle Berry's the worst Catwoman of all, mistaking mousiness for for normal and materialism for a superpower (she's only a hero because when she's about to rob a diamond store, someone is already there first, so she settles for kicking their ass -stealing from thieves being the lamest kind of heroism).

As for the Riddler, there is only Frank Gorshin. As for Two Face, who gives a shit (or who doesn't)? The rest of my love goes to Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. and Dr. Zodiac himself, Ceasar Romero as the TV show Joker (far underrated over the sea of time, check him out again if the series rolls past you and give a close reading of his giddy mephistophelean relish for crime and cunning).

As for the heroes, there's no such thing as a good Robin - the whole boy sidekick idea is misguided and shows a horrific lack of understanding of the average child reader's psyche (Marvel never had them after Stan Lee took over). The best Batman is Adam West. Batgirl by Yvonne Craig looks marvelous, but the idea of just feeling the right to imitate Batman's schtick out of some little sister copycat style impulse is kind of anathema to what superheroism is all about, Mom! Cindy, get your own cave and animal totem. I support the lesbian slant of the new WB's new version, but what's with the terrible red wig?

And now, between the three recent Jokers--Phoenix's low key psychotic, Jared Leto's druggy serpentine hustler, and the late Heath's ambulance-chasing dog anarchist, the bar has been raised mighty high. The big issue which we will learn this week is: Does Harley Quinn survive her girl power makeover emancipation or does she become just another over-costumed mannequin on which various craftsman all drape to the point of overkill in between her letting her hair fall in her eyes so she can be doubled by her stuntwoman? Shall she be drenched in the stagnant swamp of unconscious Gotham sanity? Shall the Birds of Prey lure her into peppy 70s-scored montages ballet kicking? Will this become another girl Ghostbusters making genitalia jokes in between 3D stream crossing, or tired Charlie's Angels boasting of their concert hall-style closets=?

Make no mistake, DC villain roster! After Phoenix's Joker and Robbie's first rendition of Harley Quinn (and maybe the second), the writing is on the wall - go nuts. I don't mean the hamming it to the rooftop with evil laughing nuts, I mean DSM-V-charting here comes the warm jets surrealist gibbering nuts. I mean the 'break the shackles of the establishment and terrify the old academy into turning the channel lest the villain crawl through the screen and grab them around the neck'-kind of nuts. The last thing we need now is another step back from the ledge into some generic half-hearted Eisenbergian titter. We've come so far! Just one more push! And this time, no "it was all a psychotic break hallucination," por favor. Some of us still just want to watch the world burn! We know it's a movie. We don't need an extra layer between madness and the real world outside the theater.

Oops, forgot. Outside in the parking lot... the world is engulfed in fire. I was kidding (myself) before, the happy ending to Joker is not the same as Robot Monster or Wizard of Oz but the same as Brazil. What we don't see from inside Arkham is that the world is burning outside. And the 'just a dream' coda is our see-no-evil last gasp denial of our responsibility for it. We didn't stop the fire, we just warmed ourself at it then quietly snuck away. The engulfing flame of mob violence, and Jennifer Lawrence hitting the 'reset' button (6), take saints and sinners alike in its arkless arms. So hide in the comfort of your televisual straitjacket while ye may, Erichs. And let the Ativan work its magic. Note how soothing are these nice white walls, their bubbling white paint like polka dots. Feel how gobsmacked this electric current is by her flames; even the electroshock machine melts in her mouth of madness.

In the name of Pauline Kael, Molly Haskell, Camille Paglia, and Kim Morgan, let the gutsy brilliance of true feminine lunacy ring. xoxo 

2/7/20: The film is out and the critics have spoken. So far the reviews are positive Looks like I was wrong to rant so (though the critics are all dumping on Suicide Squad at the same time and citing references to Tank Girl, which I do not care for.

PS -2/15: I saw it, stay tuned for a new post on it, Batfans. Crazier than even this one!


Monsters Crash the Pajama Party: DARK KNIGHT RISES, TARGETS (8/6/2012)
"Gunman turns movie into surreal horror: 'This is real'" - News headline (Aurora Shooting)"

Creedence and Ivy's Eco-Terrorist Revue: BATMAN AND ROBIN, TROLL 2 (9/12/2012)
Rolling her eyes and carrying on about the plants of Mother Nature having their day, luxuriating over her plans to rid Freeze and herself of the feathered and furry caped crusaders, Thurman is at least in on the joke and exhibiting some signs--lacking in all the other cast members--that she's actually seen some of the films Schumacher is referencing. Bane, too, is ten times more fun in this issue as a hulking, mute, seemingly-inflatable Mexican wrestler under her control instead of Chris Nolan's musclebound Marxist professor.

Burn the Money: DARK KNIGHT and The Joker's Post-Fascist Used Topia (8/5/2008)
Chris Nolan seems to underline the hyper-commodity fetishism of Wayne's world, offering a sly socialist critique even as he fulfills his conspicuous consumption fantasy obligations to the producers and advertisers (Alfred is always interested in knowing what of Wayne's many cars will be taken out for drives. "The Lamborghini, sir?" he says, all a quiver)

All Clawed up and Nowhere to Go: CATWOMAN (8/10/2004)
Showgirls was camp feminism as imagined by bearded men with coke habits and million dollar tabs with Heidi Fleiss, but at least they weren’t afraid to portray the kind of feminism they wanted to see: Sharon Stone sticking that ice pick; a Joe Esterhaz stand-in getting the tar kicked out of him by a stripper in high heels --that’s real feminism as only the heirs to the Russ Meyer throne can portray it! But leave it to a Frenchman to get camp so very wrong. Here the feminist icon can’t crack a convincing smile let alone a whip.

Kitty Kali: (4/4/2011)
a sexy supervillainess makes the Batman mythos operate at a far more evolved level than with male baddies, for instead of an all-boy group of kids pretend fighting in the backyard, there's the female element of the hottie next door who makes all the boys stammer; the yin-yang dichotomy is in place. She becomes the chthonic enemy of normal patriarchal civilization, its inescapable shadow. How easily she gets our dynamic duo in tied-up situations, yet always leaves them room to escape; she likes the chase and the drama and the last minute rescues and, like the other villains, there's a clear idea that without the dynamic duo to wrestle with and subject to various colorful slow torments, a life of crime would be a drab, dull affair--no one to play with..


1. as Bogie once said to Ingrid in Casablanca, a line that smacks of patriarchal condescension (she's been trying to get him to understand it all through the movie; then she realizes the easiest way to get those visas is to play along and let him think it's his idea)
2. To paraphrase that old Joseph Campbell quote (? was it Jung?) "A mystic swims where a psychotic drowns"
3. Though to be fair, I'm basing that off of three movies he was in where he played a reprehensible swine, his smirky wally in The Men Who Stare at Goats; his entitled abusive/possessive poet in Moulin Rouge; and his bad haircut-sporting traitor ex-boyfriend to Gina Carano in the oft-seen-by-me Haywire.
4. Simpsons quote (S1: "Krusty gets Busted"), because we shouldn't let the last 20 seasons sway us from remembering the brilliance of the first 10 
6. See: Mother (2016)
9. The kind of gross 'dead-horse-dragging' belabored hipster triteness that makes you turn your back on hipsters and never want to watch the movie again for no other reason than the memory of it makes you want to retch and it's such a waste of Raquel Welch as a whip-wielding galley master. Who was the idiot editor who said "less Welch in leather please, and more posh shit-wading
19. In the flashbacks we see how cuckoo he is over her, and how for her it's just sex at first but also amused at his naivete and goo-goo eyes. This is now Americans fall for Europeans (or girls from Buenos Aires), our inability to realize a relationship can be just sex because when we find a girl for whom it's just sex we fall in love since we've longed for such a thing. It's the ultimate irony that then our innocence and adoration wins them over, as if that kind of naive swooning was as precious to them, moored in old world cool as they are, as their slutty self-assertion is to us (whose sex is mired in neo-Puritan 'Rules') But it's not really love, not the way Thelma and Louise, or the Joker and Harley, or John Dahl and Peggy Cummins, do it.  The problem with the Lazlos of the world is they force everyone to either kill them or join the fight. It takes a Switzerland to know how to stay neutral even when the Lazlos are grabbing at your lapels like old Ugharti begging for a place to hide.
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