First off, in case I've forgotten to mention it here, I'll be interviewing the great actor Sy Richardson on my radio show, Modern Products, next Sunday, March 8 4-6pm, live on Eastvillageradio.com. You probably know Sy best as Lite in Alex Cox's Repo Man, or in the other Alex Cox films STRAIGHT TO HELL, SID & NANCY, WALKER and, most recently, SEARCHERS 2.0, or from Charles Burnett's TO SLEEP WITH ANGER and MY BROTHER'S WEDDING, or from Jim Jarmusch's MYSTERY TRAIN, or John Carpenter's THEY LIVE, or the TV show PUSHING DAISES, or the Charles Band nudie version of CINDERELLA, with Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, which is to say he's had a long and varied career in some of the most interesting films of the past few decades. We'll be talking to Sy and playing music from the soundtracks to his films. I've also been making some screenshot galleries that I'll be posting some of here, some of on the Modern Products blog and all of on Flickr.
Negative Pleasure/Modern Products/Me is also now on Twitter. If you think that might be interesting, give it a shot...
Meanwhile, I've been getting way behind on putting up reviews here due to a combo of winter malaise, slight yet persistant illness and, rarity of rarities, a couple days of freelance work this week. So, in the interest of getting caught up, here's some capsule style reviews of what I've seen lately...
1. INSIDE- I've seen a handful of recent French horror films that have come with much hype and failed to live up to the promise. INSIDE, finally, is one that really delivers. A young pregnant woman is attacked (and attacked and attacked) by Beatrice Dalle, who seems, for reasons unknown, inent on taking the woman's unborn baby. Dalle, always great, seems to feel very at home in the role of animalistic she-maniac. This is really pure horror, in that it proposes a scenario that is genuinely horrifying, not entirely unbelievable, and consistently unpredictable, we watch things go from bad to worse, to worse, to worse...At a certain point it becomes apparent that there is a strong possibility things are not going to work out happily. I mean, the same could be said for any horror film, but generally speaking, we know who is going to survive and who isn't. In INSIDE, it's not so easy to predict. The film keeps giving itself potential outs, keeps teasing that things might be alright. Ultimately, the threat is nothing more than one woman, so when the police or other interlopers show up, there's a sense of relief. As each potential savior is dispatched, the feeling of dread increases. Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, from a script by Bustillo. Alysson Paradis plays the lady under seige, and does a good job of it too, playing trauma and toughness off of one another. Even from the beginning, she's not an especially likable character, but our sympathies are with her, and it's believable that someone of her disposition could hold her own in this kind of survival scenario. Even so, Dalle has an animal magnetism that's irresistible, and I couldn't kind of help but wind up rooting for her maniac character. Good stuff, tough stuff, grisly stuff, it's nice to think of France as the country that brought us this and "Eyes Without a Face" instead of the country that brought us "Haute Tension" and "Frontier(s)."
2. BLOOD CAR- I really feel like I should have hated this indie comedy. It's crude and fairly smarmy and thinks it's more clever than it really is. But I dug it, I dunno, because it's crude and fairly smarmy and not as clever as it wants to be, though it is somewhat inventive, and certainly stretches a low budget pretty far. Mike Brune is Archie Andrews (yeah yeah yeah), a preciously precious hipster vegan kindergarten teacher who dreams of making a car that runs on wheat grass. Anna Chlumsky (yeah, she's hot now, they're all hot now) is the preciously precious vegan juice stand operator who vies for his affections, which are ultimately stolen by the considerably more lascivious Katie Rowlett, who runs the meat stand across the way. The whole thing has a raunchy yet laid back Southern charm (it was shot in Atlanta) that veers into gallows humor as Archie accidentally creates an engine that runs on blood. It's not entirely unlike the original LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, but unlike Corman's skid row original, BLOOD CAR falters when it trys to outstep its' means. Certainly, I appreciate an ambitious low budget movie, but trying to portray a worldwide government government conspiracy on a shoestring budget, it just starts to look pretty threadbare. No, BLOOD CAR works best when it's wallowing in the gutter, which it does quite well.
3. REDBELT- David Mamet's take on the martial arts film starts off slow before settling into being a really good David Mamet film towards the middle. By the time it becomes a martial arts film, I was already hooked. I mean, not that being a martial arts film was going to make me lose interest (even if it is the kind of cheesy wrestling-ish mixed martial arts, and not a real movie martial art like Jeet Kun Do, drunken Wu-Tang style or ninjas), but I was already digging on the deliberate pacing, stylized acting and near poetic dialogue that are the hallmarks of Mamet's cinema (and theatre, of course). Mamet makes good films and then sometimes he makes great films, this is probably just a good one, but a lesser Mamet film is like a lesser John Ford or Sam Fuller film, it's still pretty great. "Mike, tell him what's the best weapon in the world." "The best weapon in the world is a flashlight." "Tell him why." "So you can look deep in other guy's eyes."
4. QUEEN OF BLOOD and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES- Two ultra stylish science-fiction horror films from the 1960s. Curtis Harrington's QUEEN OF BLOOD (aka PLANET OF BLOOD) is one of several Roger Corman produced sci-fi flicks from the era built around stock footage from Russian films. The Russian special effects footage is pretty outstanding, and Harrington was an excellent choice to build a story around it. Coming from avant-garde filmmaking, Harrington brings a strong sense of camp and ethereal otherworldliness to the space vampire story. Plus, John Saxon is the star. Y'know, fucking John Saxon, he's good in everything. Everything he's in is better for having him in it. Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES has a very similar story, and is absolutely one of the best-looking movies ever made. Bava may have not been the greatest storyteller who ever lived, but he had an eye. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is sleek and stylish, frequently beautiful and surprisingly atmospheric, and it's not just the cinematography (also by Bava) but the production design and costumes as well, this is a complete aesthetic package, and a lot more influential than I realized, whole visual passages of the film were copied more or less verbatim in ALIEN (see also IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE).
5. THE DESTROYER- I've been waiting years to get a copy of this vaguely comedic horror film starring Anthony Perkins and Lyle Alzado along with 1980s movie mainstays Deborah Foreman (April Fool's Day) and Clayton Rohner (I, Madman). I first saw it on late nite TV, jeez, maybe a decade ago, and was struck by the cool setting (an old prison) and premise (Perkins is directing a low budget horror film), some small flourishes of comedy and the likability of Foreman and Rohner as the leads. Watching it again, I was disappointed. The setting is cool but underutilized- is it really that difficult to make a scary movie set in an abandoned prison? The film-within-a-film and filmmaking in-jokes aren't particularly knowing or funny. Perkins is fun to watch as always but doesn't have enough to do. Alzado makes for a ridiculous killer, perhaps not as much so as Jake Steinfeld in HOME SWEET HOME, but there's still no way around the fact that despite his size, he's way too goofy to be frightening. Foreman and Rohner remain appealing.
6. CHERRY FALLS- Geoffrey (ROMPER STOMPER) Wright's take on the slasher film made a good impression on me when I first saw it in 2000, watching it again a few years later I wasn't as impressed, but watching again now, I kind of love it again. CHERRY FALLS is stylish and perverse, with some humor and a sleek, almost minimal veneer. The plot is appropriately ridiculous, or at least the reveal at the ending is while the actual plot, about a killer stalking virgins in a small Virginia town, plays on the sexual fears and insecurities of adolescence (not that it ever gets much better) and deals with sexuality in a significantly more mature and thoughtful way than most films about teenagers, horror or not. The cast is odd (Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr, Candy Clark) is odd, but effective given the slightly tongue-in-cheek nature of much of material.
7. GETTING STRAIGHT- The original post I wrote last week, then lost, was about this film and the recent movies NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST (horrible) and WHAT WE DO IS SECRET (good) and the relation of counterculture to mainstream cinema. It was probably as pretentious and stupid as it sounds, perhaps as pretentious and stupid as Richard Rush's attempt to do a mainstream film on 1960's campus revolt, GETTING STRAIGHT. This film, from 1970, suffers mainly from a preachy, heavyhanded script and an over-the-top performance by Elliot Gould, a great actor but not especially subtle even in his best roles (his turn in THE LONG GOODBYE is about as perfect as acting can get). Here, his character flies off into a rage at the drop of a hat, shouting and spitting self-righteousness at anyone and everyone who dares to disagree or mildly annoy him. He even more or less admits that he's an asshole to long suffering girlfriend Candice Bergen (who was much better in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE a year later), but then still goes on being an asshole. Given that the film the issues of the day are Vietnam and civil rights, it's a serious anticlimax when, at the finale, Gould discovers his true spirit of rebellion and throws it all away because one of his grad school professors suggest that F. Scott Fitzgerald might have been gay. That said, whatever works in GETTING STRAIGHT is all because of Rush (though co-star Robert F. Lyons, as a whacked out hippie, is pretty wonderful), he really knows how to direct a scene. Simple dialogue sequences are shot and cut with an energy and urgency, while the campus riot sequences (with some chilling, very believable moments of police brutality) are absolutely astounding, balancing perfectly a replicated realism with a rhythmic sense of staging and movement. These elaborate stagings are no doubt some of the inspiration for some of the scenes in THE STUNT MAN, Rush's most significant film.
8. ACCION MUTANTE- Alex de la Iglesia's 1992 debut feature, a French-Spanish co-production produced by Pedro Almadovar, seems like a raunchy postpunk sci-fi social parody splatter flick, but it's really a trashed out tribute to the Spaghetti western. In the film's second half, with the characters stranded on a desert planet, orchestrating double and triple crosses and all other violent indignities, Iglesia (who of course later directed the more straightforward Spaghetti western tribute 800 BULLETS) is at his most assured and honest, though the earlier sequences, which look something like a scumbag version of BRAZIL, are fun as well. Basically, this is a just a really cool, funny, gross fucking awesome kind of a movie, though the jewel in Iglesia's cinematic crown remains the sadly still unavailable DAY OF THE BEAST, which lacks the genre setting but is funnier and sicker.
9. CHAPTER 27- This, I guess, is supposed to be a serious movie about the last three days of Mark David Chapman before shooting John Lennon, but between Jared Leto's whispery, Forrest Gump like performance and the fact that Chapman didn't do very much over those last few days, CHAPTER 27 is utterly hilarious. It's just 90 straight minutes of poorly performed voiceover, not just poorly performed, but...it sort of sounds like Leto is pretending to be an old woman, a slightly retarded old woman who says really poorly written, idiotic things, possibly written by an angsty teen. And it just goes on and on. And Lindsay Lohan shows up for some reason to look somewhat concerned that the obvious lunatic she's somewhat attracted to might be an obvious lunatic, or something. And Judah Friedlander is here for some reason too, I'm getting really sick of that guy (I saw him on a panel at comic con with Method Man, and though fairly knowledgable about film, he's also kind of a crowd pleasing, obvious joke making doofus). And the whole CATCHER IN THE RYE thing is certainly wrung out for every possible drop of significance, with numerous, lengthy scenes of Leto muttering to himself "The book...CATCHER IN THE RYE...this is me...John Lennon...Holden Caulfield" et al. ad naseum. Admittedly, I've never been a Beatles fan, and I felt kind of bad for laughing at a movie about the murder of a culturally significant artist whose life and work were important to a great many people, but this film is just a ridiculous piece of shit. If you care about John Lennon, I think you would do him a great tribute by not watching CHAPTER 27.
10. SEX- THE ANNABEL CHONG STORY- Though certainly very intimate, there is something very...bad? false? pretentious? about this documentary on Chong, the pornstar who had sex when a (then record) 251 men at once. Well, not at once, that would be impossible, but in a row, or whatever (this doc wasn't even finished before the record was broken). It's clear from fairly early on that the subject is suffering from deep emotional problems, if not outright mental illness, and I only learned from watching some of the extras on the DVD that the director and Chong were having an affair while the documentary was being made, which gives the whole thing just an extra level of, y'know, illness. This is all very 90's, doing gangbang porn as some kind of academic pseudofeminist exercise, but mentally ill, though I suspect watching SEX served me better than watching a 251 dude gangbang video would have, but so would have punching myself in the face. As it stands, this just wasn't that great.
After months of passive readership, I finally decided to get active and send a couple haunting childhood TV memories over to the kind folks at Kindertrauma. Take a look at the posting over there and see if maybe you can't remember what the hell these horrible nameless things that have been haunting my memory for decades are, traumas indeed...
I wrote a long piece the other night that I intended to post about the films NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST (sucked), WHAT WE DO IS SECRET (pretty decent) and Richard Rush's GETTING STRAIGHT (seriously flawed, but well directed), but it was accidentally deleted and I haven't really had the time or energy or desire to go back and try to re-write it. So, yeah, I'll be posting some new shit soon. I'd still maybe like to write about QUEEN OF BLOOD, and the similar, and superior (though both are pretty rad) PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, which I saw recently, also the extremely misguided and unintentionally hilarious CHAPTER 27 (with Jared Leto as the guy who shot John Lennon), or mabye the documentary about Grove Press OBSCENE, or maybe Alex de la Iglesia's sublime ACCION MUTANTE, which I rewatched recently, or Swedish filmmaker (of THEY CALL HER ONE EYE) Bo Arne Vibenius' challenging, lurid BREAKING POINT, from 1975. Or maybe some other shit. Or whatever. I don't know. This has been a weird fucking week. I'm going to bed. Keep checking back here constatnly for your salvation from mediocrity.
On the one hand, I want to give the movie GUTTERBALLS some credit because it genuinely bothered me. On the other hand, I want to give it absolutely no credit at all for anything, ever, because it's a truly awful film, not just technically, but ideologically, it's really troubling, but not in a troubling, make you think kind of way, it's just, y'know, wrong. I'm generally not that quick to cry misogyny, although I think that's something that's very prevalent in our culture, I think it's also a term that gets tossed around a bit to casually, and often in the wrong direction, but GUTTERBALLS in misogynistic in the worst way. Over the course of the movie, the audience is asked to take pleasure, or at least amusement, and possibly arousal, in a brutal, violent rape, then later is expected to feel some kind of chatharsis when the tables are turned, not on the rapist, but on the rape victim. Seriously, that's fucked up.
Academically, there's a lot of material to be mined here. For all intensive purposes, GUTTERBALLS is a rape revenge film, but it doesn't seem to be aware of the mechanics and devices that make films like MS. 45 or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE work. In those films, the audience is encouraged to side with the victim-turned-aggressor, even if the female characters in these films are somewhat detatched and ambiguous, there is at least something in them that viewers can identify with. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is a remarkably brutal film, but it remains consistently brutal throughout, it plays like a series of gut punches, it leaves you kind of dizzy and nauseous and unhappy, but you genuinely feel for the protagonist and experience some kind of relief when she gets her revenge. GUTTERBALLS is punctuated with lame attempts at humor and sexual imagery that's designed to titillate, while the victim of the early rape scene is treated more or less as an afterthought, it's really not about experiencing her revenge, it's all about putting as much offensive shit up the screen as possible, without any regard for the ideological consequences.
The movie's final moments, in which the rape victim is fairly casually gunned down, with the camera then lingering on her blown-open stomach, spilling intestines and bared breasts, is more or less emblematic of the whole GUTTERBALLS experience. We've been watching the film for 90 minutes now, and it hasn't been good, but the finale is the one chance to pull it all together, to give the film a reason for being, to make some kind of amends to the viewer for being so shitty, for wasting their time, but then comes this killing, like a slap in the face, it totally undermines everything we've seen up until this point, not only the rape itself, but the series of killings that have supposedly been in the name of vengeance. We've ultimately been given no protagonist, not one character who is meant inspire even the most basic identification. The film's "final girl" has been, up until these last few moments, a marginal character, we've built no alliegence with her, and there's really no victory in her survival. When we see her stumbling and traumatized into the sunlight from the darkened bowling alley where most of the movie has taken place, there's no real sense of what she's been through, really only a few minutes of intense experience, during which she's all too quickly taken up the gun and shot down her former friends. We are made all too aware that we are watching a shitty movie in which poorly drawn movie characters are having unrealistic movie reactions to contrived movie situations.
The film's general sense of sexuality is also suspect. Is it significant that some of the sexual material borders on hardcore, that we're seeing exposed labia and penises, breasts and oral sex? I want to say yes, as this is, despite its' content, essentially a "mainstream" film, in that it's not a porno film and not an underground or experimental film, and the presence of hardcore in mainstream films is always of at least some interest. Except, it's not. All the sex scenes are staged with the tenor of porn, the language of porn, the aesthetic of porn. It brings the narrative to a grinding halt, and we are painfully aware that we are watching a movie which is going out of it's way to shove some genitals in our face. In a better film, where these scenes were integrated with the rest of the material, this would be challenging and interesting, but here the acts and body parts and supposed challenges exist solely for the purpose of their own existence, there might as well have been animated arrows up on the screen pointing at the actors' genetalia, and captions reading," Hey, look at this, can you believe we're doing this? We're really doing this! Is your mind blown yet?" It's kind of depressing.
Aggressively violent, sexual and offensive filmmaking can be effective when there's some kind of thought behind the action. Look at THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, that's a film that makes you want to take a shower after you've watched it. Hell, it makes you want to stop it halfway through and take a shower just so you can get through the rest of the movie, but it's also a film with a worldview, it knows what it's doing and why it's doing it, and the point isn't just the be disturbing or offensive, there some artistic intent going on behind the scenes, however grimy it might be, it's a truly effective and affecting movie. Look at something like NEVER BELONGS TO ME or TOKYO GORE POLICE, two Asian films seeped in sexualized violence and gential obsession, but they're kind of loveable because their characters are so well established, because their pervesity is so unique. GUTTERBALLS, meanwhile, plays like little more than a frat boy's rape and torture jerk off. Never mind morals, it's emotionally bankrupt, it's total bullshit. Fuck it. I wasn't necessarily depressed after watching it, it didn't inspire enough feeling to muster that, but in retrospect, I'm depressed that it exists. Like, becuase I know it's out there in the cultural consciousness, this is how segment of the culture thinks and feels, this aggressive, thoughtless segment of people, these are like my enemies. GUTTERBALLS is my enemy.
Meanwhile, this is the first time I've made my own screen captures for Negative Pleasure. Hope they came out all right. Feel free to snatch them and use them however you like, anytime, any image. Share and share alike, right?
From last year's show, here's a sketch by Becky Cloonan (complete with coffee stain integrated into the drawing). I've always really loved Cloonan's art, though she's never done a series that I've been totally into. I'm also pretty sure we were at the same college at the same time, though in different departments...
And best of all, from last year's show, a sketch of Dr. Fate by one of my all-time favorite artists and writers, Keith Giffen (his DR. FATE series with JM DeMatteis is one of the best things ever, not to mention JUSTICE LEAGUE, AMBUSH BUG and THE HECKLER, and pretty much everything else he's ever done). He was kind of a dick, but in an endearing way (I'll still read anything with his name on it)...
So, this isn't the kind of thing I normally scrawl about, but I was sort of inspired after seeing the exhibition of Yukinori Dehara at the Giant Robot Gallery/Store (437 east 9th street, near Ave. A). Dehara creates clay figures, sort of crude action figures, each with a strange story behind it. Aside from figures, his various characters are the subjects of photohgraphs he takes, and he's adapted his characters into action figures, stickers, cel phone charms and other various media, as well as using them in advertising and animation. His general aesthetic is kind of insane and trashy, most of the characters are hyperperverse but still kind of cute and charming, Dehara very masterfully balances the difficult and appealing aspects of his work. It's all very cool and well worth a visit to Giant Robot. The show runs until March 4th...
My friend Claire
Some Gloomy Bears, also available at Giant Robot...
So, I'm starting to get over my cold, which is alright. It's kind of amazing how much being sick can fuck with your brain. Yesterday, I was totally freaking out over some shit or another. Kind of spectacularly, a few friends came through to totally talk me down, and I'm feeling pretty good and lucky in general today. Not to be all sentimental and stuff, but friends, y'know, they're good. It's easy sometimes to forget they're around...
Anyway, I wanted to write about Joseph Losey's BOOM!, from 1968. This is one of those notoriously bad movies, like THE OSCAR, that I'd heard about for years and years before finally seeing. It's been a couple days, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the movie. It's bad in some ways but in other ways it's pretty great. To be fair, BOOM! might have been a victim of exaggerated expectations. Director Joseph Losey had done a number of unusual, acclaimed and controversial films- TIME WITHOUT PITY, THE DAMNED, THE SERVANT...Screenwriter Tennessee Williams was adapting his own play for the first time since THE FUGITIVE KIND, 8 years earlier, and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had just two years between WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF? and this.
It seems like a project with this much talent behind it would be garaunteed gold, but all the players involved happened to be at the head of the most wonderfully weird phases of their careers. Hits aside, Losey had just done the pop art mod spy musical MODESTY BLAISE, and would soon do the mindbending SECRET CEREMONY, also with Taylor, and the even stranger FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE, with Malcolm McDowell and Robert Shaw. Taylor and Burton, together and separately, made some geniunely bizarre and risky films in the late 60's and early 70's. She had just been in John Huston's underrated, but admittedly perverse and odd, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, he had just been in the all-star international pop art mod psychedelic sex comedy megabomb CANDY. Together they'd starred in the unsucessful DOCTOR FAUSTUS, which Burton co-directed. The play Williams adapted his screeplay from (in turn, it was adapated from a Williams' short story) was a huge flop. In retrospect, most of this work is really stranger than it is bad, in some cases was ahead of its' time and in all cases remains pretty fascinating.
That said, BOOM! is kind of a mess. It's meandering and incoherent without any real story, but moments of the creators' collective brilliance shines through. Taylor plays Sissy Goforth, an extradorinarily wealthy madwoman who has sequestered herself on a private island in Italy as she slowly dies (of cancer? we're never totally sure), although she's not entirely willing to admit to herself that she's dying. Goforth spends her time working on her rambling, philosphical memoirs and berating her staff. Burton is a homeless poet who shows up on the island for some reason. At first, he mostly lurks around the edges of things, looking for something to eat, but finally the two engage, hour for an argue or so. Noel Coward shows up for a while, then leaves. Finally, Taylor dies. The end.
The interaction between Taylor and Burton is clearly meant to recall their intense verbal sparring from WHO'S AFRAID FROM VIRGINIA WOLF?, but whereas that film was painfully intimate, Losey keeps a degree of distnace and detachment throughout BOOM! Viewing the film means accepting ambiguity and frustration, accepting the unexplained and unexplainable, reading between the lines, understanding that some things can't be understood. The audience is kept intentionally at arm's length, and as a result, the film is often far from engaging, but it has moments, some really great moments. Williams' dialogue shines repeatedly, with lines like "Did somebody tip you off that Sissy Goforth was about to go forth this summer?" and "I have always found girls fragrant in any phase of the moon."
I suppose you have to have a taste for infuriating cinema, but if you do (you are reading Negative Pleasure, after all), BOOM! is kind of great. Not good, not especially enjoyable, but a consistently engaging and perplexing viewing experience, one which requires some effort and thought on the part of the viewer, yet gives little in return, yet still manages to maintain an air of intelligence and provide some kind of rewarding, if not wholly satisfying, viewing experience. Which is to say, BOOM! is a pain in the ass, but I kind of loved it anyway, almost despite itself.
Losey followed BOOM! up with the equally difficult, yet more entertaining, and in many ways superior, SECRET CEREMONY, another film with Taylor (and Robert Mitchum and Mia Farrow) that provided some odd intimacy in its' distance, while requiring a certain dedication from the viewer it seemed to want to simultaneously alientate. I suppose it's a particular brand of filmmaking unique to its' time, owing heavily a debt to the films of Michelangelo Antonioni (La Notte, L'Eclisse), a particularly European sensibility, one which thrived on an air of mystery, which played on the distance between the characters.
At a certain point, classifications of good and bad cease to matter. BOOM! is in no way a good movie, but it's far from a bad movie either. Rather, it's a viewing experience, with emphasis on EXPERIENCE, one that vexes the viewer and refuses standard narrative satisfaction, yet provokes a strong reaction nonetheless. I'll take a wonderful failure like this over a film that holds your hand through all the difficult part and easily explains everything any day.