I've been pretty fucked up with the flu for the past few days and haven't felt much like writing (or walking or talking for that matter), but I wanted to put up a quick post to say Happy New Year and also give a big thanks to everyone who's been reading this blog. It's pretty wild, but in a few months, since the beginning of the Halloween deluge, Negative Pleasure has gotten over a thousand hits, which is totally awesome. It's been a pretty wild year, sometimes pretty good, sometimes really bad, often just plain weird. Throughout all of it, Negative Pleasure has become an important outlet for me to vent about some of this stuff, as well as a place to explore my various pop culture obsessions. Anyway, thanks for reading and making comments and generally being awesome. Now I'm going to crawl back under the covers and welcome in the New Year by sleeping and hoping I wake up less ridden with disease tomorrow...Happy Negative New Year!
So, after a few weeks of nominal movie watching (and even more nominal movie watching of interest), I've managed to bounce back a bit over the past weekend by peeping a few gems, all providing some negative pleasure. A couple were of the so-good-they're-bad variety, one was of the I-can't-believe-I'm-watching-this/I-have-no-idea-exactly-what-I'm-watching variety, and one was a genuinely good film, but depressing.
The first and worst was Neil LaBute's 2006 remake of "the Wicker Man." First off, the very idea of remaking "The Wicker Man" is really pretty stupid, the original, from 1973, is a truly unique cinematic experience, clearly the product of the creative vision of several highly artistic minds (writer Anthony Shaffer, director Robin Hardy, as well as composer Paul Giovanni, who plays a large role in creating the film's unsettling ambiance). The film works precisely because of it's uniqueness, because it looks, feels and plays like no other film you've seen before. Though largely considered a horror picture, it's really a genre-defier, falling into a category all it's own. Remaking a film like this makes about as much sense as remaking "Repo Man," "Mystery Train" or "Two-Lane Blacktop." There's nothing generic about any of these film, nor is there anything wrong with them that would necessitate a reinterpretation.
Nonetheless, Hollywood has remake fever, and especially horror remake fever, so here we have the remake of "The Wicker Man," starring- gak, shudder- Nicholas Cage, who should change his name to Ham N. Cheese to more properly reflect his acting style, as well as his choice in film projects (though I must admit to really liking Gore Verbinski's "the Weather Man"). Cage is genuinely awful in an otherwise relatively mediocre film. He chews scenery like it was Bubble Yum, and the film seems intent on placing him in the most ridiculous scenarios possible, mainly involving punching women in the face, sometimes for little-to-no reason, sometimes wearing a bear costume. The height of his mania comes when he karate kicks tiny Leelee Sobieski (one of several semi-interesting actresses wasted in small roles) into a wall.
In general, the whole production has an air of misogyny. I'm generally not quick to attach that label to some films, especially horror films, as I think it gets tossed around far too much (then again, maybe not often enough, given some of the shitty horror movies that have come out lately that are focused almost entirely on torturing women), but here I think it applies. The pagan island of the original has been made into a matriarchy, a sinister conspiratorial one to boot, and since Cage is presumably the film's hero, his opposition to this cabal is supposed to be the audience's as well, and thus presumably we're supposed to cheer him on when he's socking these dainty babes in the jaw. LaBute has flirted with the issue of misogyny throughout his career. His debut film, "In the Company of Men," was essentially an examination on the topic, with seemingly pretty unappealing male protagonists. But there is something hysterical about this film, a genital panic of sorts. The portrayal of Cage's policeman character is very different from Edward Woodward in the original. Woodward was too stiff and old-fashioned to be all that sympathetic. He represents a force of conservatism and repression. In a sense by visiting the island he is given a chance to open his mind to a larger world, but he is stuck is his uptight English, Christian ways. Cage, on the other hand, is set up to be viewed as sensitive and kind, a bit gentile for a cop, good with kids, lovelorn etc. etc. etc.
Aside from all this, the movie itself is just plain bad. Cage run around screaming and freaking out in a bear costume. The final sequence is draw out ad nauseum. Once we've gotten the point, the film drives it home over and over, with some ludicrous dubbing as Cage is attacked by his female aggressors ("My legs!"). And then the film continues on for like another five minutes to wallow a little more in the whole matriarchal conspiracy thing. In a nutshell, LaBute's "Wicker Man" just plain sucks, though it is good for some laughs.
Considerably better is Nick Cassavete's "Alpha Dog." I was prepared to hate this movie for any number of reasons. In my mind, it belong in the same category as "Domino," easily one of the worst movies ever made, in the sense of being this like coke-fueled, hyper-visual vacancy-fest focused primarily on pretty people posturing about with guns and agonizing over some shit or another. Instead, "Alpha Dog" is somewhat toned-down and generally well-acted...at least by the younger performers. The adults in the cast are another story, particularly Bruce Willis, who I generally kind of hate and feel no differently after seeing him in this, and Sharon Stone, who towards the end of the film gives one of the most genuinely, gut-wrenchingly BAD performances in any movie I've ever seen ever. Ever. Clad in a ridiculous fat suit, she cries and wails and howls, nashes her teeth and, well, that's about it. In general I don't have much to say about this film. I wouldn't call it good, per se, but it's not horrible. I'm a little pissed that it wasn't as bad as I wanted it to be, and kind of disappointed in myself and ashamed because I thought Justin Timberlake gave a decent performance. I just hate myself so much sometimes.
Far more interesting that either of these Hollywood stinkers is Teruo Ishii's 1969 film "Horrors of Malformed Men." Actually, that's only partially true. A good 60-75% percent of this film is a confusing and kind of mediocre mystery (based on Japanese mystery writer Rampo Edogawa, which translate roughly to Edgar Alan Poe, and was the pen name Taro Hirai, who wrote many popular mystery novels in Japan under the name), relying heavily, HEAVILY on exposition. It's confusing and dull. But every now and again, director Ishii busts out with of the most insane, disturbing and downright brilliant imagery this side of Alejandro Jordorowsky. The opening features a "Shock Corridor"-ish sequence where the film's protagonist is trapped in a room with a bunch of mentally unbalanced women (all inexplicably topless). One chases and taunts his with a knife. The man falls to the ground and the women fall down around him- it's like a dance. The sequence concludes with some humor, which plays uneasily throughout the film. The humor is fairly typical and goofy. There are some bumbling, horny monks that will feel very familiar to regular viewers of Asian genre films, and in general the humor falls around that level. Once the story kicks in, the main characters arrive on a Dr. Moreau-like island populated entirely by the disturbingly deformed (or maflormed, as the case may be), ruled by a mad scientist, malformed himself, who we first see moving jerkily, awkwardly around the rocks against the surf. This is followed by a barrage of all sorts of beautiful yet troubling visuals, which sadly come to get bogged down under the weight of the nearly indecipherable narrative. The film's finale provides another burst of mad, striking images.
The juxtaposition between the disturbing/brilliant and medicore/dull in "Horrors in Malformed Men" is odd and a bit unnerving. The story itself plays out in such an average and generally uninteresting (and confusing!) way, that they horror elements really seem to come out of left field, it takes a second to sink in what you're really seeing, and then it's like wow, that's some pretty strong stuff there. It's good, it's bad- I don't really know what it is. But it makes the film well worth your time and attention, although admittedly I watched it with a friend and we spaced out a bit during the lengthy exposition scenes. But, man, when they first get to that island, it's really something else.
The final film I watched over the weekend was Kevin McAlester's 2005 documentary "You're Gonna Miss Me," about Roky Erickson. I've long enjoyed Erickson's music, first with the 13th Floor Elevators in the 60s, then later with the Aliens and Explosions in the 1970s and 80s, but I knew very little about his life. I was aware Erickson had experience some legal troubles, and perhaps was a bit burnt out on drugs (the Elevators were responsible for coining the phrase "psychedelic music," if that's any indication of their level of drug consumption in the 1960s), but had no idea the extent to which he was damaged. In that respect, "You're Gonna Miss Me" is pretty disturbing and depressing.
The present day Erickson is something of a spectre in this film. He appears on screen frequently, but it's difficult to get a sense of him. He's not so far gone that he's indecipherable, but he's pretty out-of-touch (to the point where's he's basically unable to live on his own). Erickson is seen performing in archival footage, but even there, it's difficult to get a sense of what he was like as a person. We get a far clearer portrait of his family, which is dysfunction on par with what we see of R. Crumb's clan in Terry Zwigoff's "Crumb." Erickson's mother, with whom he lives, seems to be genuinely mentally ill, and all sorts of difficulties exist between the mom and Erickson's four brothers, with Roky somewhat blissfully unaware that he's kind of at the center of a lot of it.
In a way, this is only marginally a music film. Erickson's early days with the Elevators is covered, we hear some of their great songs and see some early TV footage of the band, looking pretty clean cut, from before the release of their classic "East Everywhere" LP. Later we see some footage from Erickson's late 70s comeback, when, with the Aliens, he really shifted gears and busted out with some crazed, disturbing tunes like "Stand for the Fire Demon." Largely, though, the film is about the Erickson family, with Roky's music a secondary concern, and Roky himself, so difficult to pin down, kind of floating in the ether around the whole thing. In addition to "Crumb," it also reminded me a bit of "The Devil and Daniel Johnston," though Erickson is infinitely more sympathetic and likable than Johnston is. That said, "You're Gonna Miss Me" is also more depressing than that film was, and less redeeming. At the end of his film, Johnston still has an art and music career. Erickson, on the other hand, can still play (we see him serenading his therapist), but he largely choses not to (though, on an up note, he's taken to performing occasionally since the release of the film). He seems happy, but it's a sad kind of happiness to watch. It's a decent flick, though. I think I would have found it interesting even if I'd not been a fan of Erickson's music.
So that's that for now. I guess technically it's Christmas and I'm writing this so happy holidays, and all of that. Check back soon for more film reviews- next up is the seriously fucked Indonesian witchcraft picture "Mystics in Bali" and the made-for-TV kiddie porn epic "Fallen Angel." And comics, I hope to have more comics to scan and ready to post any day now, any day now blah blah blah
I've been meaning to share this with you for a couple of weeks, hoping to get a good scan of it. Unfortunately, it's too big for my scanner, so you'll have to settle for a so-so snapshot instead. Hey, settling for less than you deserve is what life's all about, right? Because you, dear reader, deserve nothing but the best, and I absolutely promise not to ever give you anything even remotely resembling that. Anyway, it's a Mexican lobby card for Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" starring Klaus Kinski (their first of five films together, not counting Herzog's documentary "My Best Fiend," made many years after Kinski's death) and it's quite lovely if I don't mind saying (no, I don't mind saying, I don't mind at all). Click the picture for a larger image...
Well, it hasn't been that long since I last posted, though I still feel the urge to apologize for whatever reason because it feels, to me anyway, like I haven't posted in a bit. Shame wields power beyond reason sometimes, I suppose. Anyways, the new job is going well (I dare say I actually like what I do), and I'm adjusting to the my new schedule okay, but I'm still pretty tired at the end of the day, and haven't been watching many films, and haven't had the chance to sit down and scan some more Kirby comics. The good news is that I recently came into a nice sized stack of Kirby stuff to post, and I still have a number of Kinski flicks to peep. Because my time is at a premium, though, I'm sort of putting a semi-moratorium on the Kirby/Kinski theme, which is not to say that I'm not going to keep posting material on both, but I'm not going to limit myself to that. Which is to say if I watch, or read, or hear something interesting that isn't realted to either Jack Kirby or Klaus Kinski, I'm going to post it.
Which is cool because one of the few decent films I've had a chance to watch recently has nothing to do with either. "Twisted Nerve," a UK film from 1968, directed by Roy Boulting, is maybe best known as the source of some of the music in "Kill Bill" (from the theme by Bernard Herrmann, which is very similar to his "Taxi Driver" score), but at the time of its release, it was quite controversial for linking autism and psychosis. Apparently at the time a prologue was added explaining that the two conditions were not related. (This prologue was absent from the version I saw).
Controversy aside, Twisted Nerve is a decent film, certainly a descendant of "Psycho" and "Peeping Tom," and a precursor to the less violent but equally grim "Deep End." Hywel Bennett plays Martin (one wonders if this had any influence on George Romero's "Martin," a film that is certainly a spiritual cousin to this one), a mentally ill young man who seems to have fooled everyone around him into believing he is autistic and trapped in a childlike mentality, but is actually quite intelligent and cunning, if unbalanced (at least, I'm assuming he's not actually autistic, the film doesn't make it crystal clear, which is fine by me, the ambiguity is interesting). Martin becomes fixated on a cute young librarian, Susan (played by Hayley Mills). He tricks her into believing his is an idiot man-child, and even manages to move into her house as a boarder. As Martin's actions become increasingly desperate and unhinged, Susan becomes increasingly aware that something is wrong with him, along with another boarder, Shashie (Salmaan Peer). Naturally, everything comes to a boil somewhat violently.
Generally speaking, "Twisted Nerve" isn't exactly a masterpiece, but it is reasonably effective and consistently pretty interesting, despite moving at a slow pace, without a whole lot of action necessarily taking place from scene-to-scene. The atmosphere is engaging though I think the film would have benefited from a more natural approach, as it is the proceedings are somewhat formal. Some of the visuals are quite nice, though. Hayley Mills is pretty great as the female lead, and really also kind of sexy, which is a bit unnerving given that I know her best from the original "Parent Trap," made about seven years before this. Bennett is alright as the antihero, although he more-or-less is just aping a mix of Anthony Perkins in "Psycho" and Karl Boehm in "Peeping Tom." The prominence of Peer's role is quite interesting, as we so rarely see a North Asian hero in a film, particularly one of this vintage. It's somewhat akin to George Romero's casting of an African-American in the lead of "Night of the Living Dead," made more-or-less at the same time as this, though unlike in Romero's film, Shashie's race is a subject of discussion amongst the characters in the film.
Unfortunately, "Twisted Nerve" is unavailable on DVD (or VHS, for that matter) in the States. It's well worth a look, despite its flaws. It should also be noted that film inspired the name of Twisted Nerve, a decent Scottish postpunk/deathrock band that played from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s. They recorded tunes like "Twisted Nervosis" and "It's All in the Mind," though to the best of my knowledge, they never covered Herrmann's theme to "Twisted Nerve." (Was that meant to be a joke? I'm asking myself, because I'm not sure. It seems like kind of an old man joke- i.e. corny not funny. Which I guess would make me an unfunny old man. Fuck it, I'm tired).
Check back when you can for more groovy-ass shit. Though I'm moving away from tying myself to a theme in general, I was thinking of changing things up in January and making the subjects actor George Sanders and comics artist Walt Simonson (Sanders vs. Simonson), but who knows? As mentioned, I still have a ton of Kirby and Kinski, though I suppose that topic will keep. It feels like I should do something different for the first month of the new year, although maybe I shouldn't kowtow to that kind of meaningless symbolism...
Still don't much feel like writing. Things are depressing adequate and nothing more. The new job is going well, so if it weren't for this other personal disappointment and general frustrations I might be riding high, but no dice. I know there's a lesson to be learned here, in regards to pretty much everything, about not trying to force life to conform to my will, and accepting situations as they are sometimes, but it still stings more than a little, just feeling let run, run down, just plain down. But whatever, it happens, right? Things could be a hell of a lot worse, and I'm sure they will be eventually. Boo fucking hoo.
Meanwhile, I realize that I posted the previous Captain America stuff in reverse order, with the newer stuff first and the older stuff second. Doesn't matter much, but for the sake of perfectionism and self-debasement, I thought I'd fess up. The first entry was from 1976 and 1977, the second from 1975 and 1976. From right in the middle comes today's entry, featuring Kirby's 1976 work on Black Panther. This, as far as I know, was the first superhero comic from Marvel or DC to feature a Black character (African, not African-American) in the lead, unless you count the Falcon's appearance in the title of the many issues of Captain America he appeared in. Black Panther was also more-or-less the first Black superhero, first appearing in the late 1960s in the Avengers. He was, in fact, another Kirby co-creation.
The 1970s Black Panther book is much better suited to Kirby's talents and style at the time than his work on Captain America was. Black Panther's world involved many aspects especially in tune with Kirby's sensibilities- a secret kingdom, some frequently very mad science. Captain America is a great street hero, but 1970's Kirby was more geared towards the cosmic, and Black Panther gave him a chance to explore that, not to the extent that he did in his work at DC several years earlier, but moreso than Captain America. Kirby's work for Marvel on the comic adaptation of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, and a series, also called 2001, that would expand and extrapolate on some of Kubrick's ideas, would prove even more fertile ground for Kirby's predilication towards the cosmic (expect some issues to be posted some time in the near future)....
I have to scan more stuff before I can post again, but adjusting to my new work schedule is pretty much dominating my week. Up next, we'll probably be going back to Kirby's 1970s DC stuff, I still have OMAC and Sandman to post, plus some special stuff, and a few things coming to me in the mail. I also have at least one cool Kinski artifact to scan. Unfortunately, I haven't been watching films at all this past week, which is very unusual for me, but the combination of general tiredness (I have to get up at a specific time now, not just whenever I actually wake up), moderate stress and mild-to-mildly-heavy depression has prevented any serious film viewing, particularly Kinski-wise. I did start watching Duccio Tessari's US-lensed Eurocrime pic "I Batardi" (the Bastard, natch, circa 1968) with Kinski, Rita Hayworth (in one of her final performances), Giuliano Gemma (I think he's the Bastard) and Claudine Auger, but I passed out a few minutes in, not from disinterest, just from tiredness and general lack of focus...
Did I say I didn't feel like writing, I meant I totally feel like writing, and actually I feel kind of better, and a bit guilty for complaining so much, which I suppose I could always go back and edit out, but really my feeling is that honestly is the best policy, and my general intent for Negative Pleasure in the first place was to put my shit out there uncut (after months and months of incessant, obsessive self-editing on my thesis earlier this year, and for two years prior), so fuck it, I'm leaving it, if you think I'm a whiner, maybe I am, but so fucking what?
Ok, now I'm just getting hostile for no reason. I think it's bedtime. Sweet dreams...
Hey, don't feel like writing today. On the one hand, things are going well. I've ended a months long job search by finding a position that everyone seems to think is "perfect for me," of course at about half the pay I was hoping for, but still, when nobody wants you, I guess you've got to go where people will tolerate you. On the other hand, I fielded a not-terribly-unexpected but still pretty unpleasant personal setback today...not even a setback, really, but rather just an affirmation of the status quo in regards to an area of my life where it just seems like I can't do anything right. Oh, woe is me, or whatever. Anyway, work I suppose will provide a distraction for the next few days until the stinging dies down...
Meanwhile, here's some more 1970s Captain America by Jack Kirby. Enjoy, for all I care...
Note that the villain in issue 193 bears a strong resemblance to Nobel Prize-winning war criminal Henry Kissinger. In the end, the bastards will always win. It's their world.