Because the screen is the only well-lit mirror in town

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Big City Bioluminescent Brutalism: GOOD TIME (2017)

Like a gust of vaguely moldy stale air-- the sort we used to breathe before cell phones, age, rehab, kids, whatever, curbed our kamikaze habits, the sort of air that flows through shallow uneasy breath and attempts to look nonplussed while being lead from the safety of the cracked sidewalk into snaking maze of backyard broken fences on the off chance a score with a stranger wouldn't go south, the sort of air you smell again only at AA in those permanently-rented church basement "workshops" and half-condemned storefronts that never quite not carry the smell of cigar butts soaked in urine, but fully and always the mold that grows on heater coils and poorly-stored winter jackets--this is the sort of air that fills the sails of the Safdie brothers' kinetic chase scene thriller GOOD TIME (2017).

Occasionally saturated in the kind Day-Glo psychedelic eeriness that somehow heightens the gritty yet warmly soothing dream-like reality of Bronx streets in the dead of night, and of crowded holding tanks, closed amusement parks, public hospital corridors, and bank teller windows, rather than making them too cartoon-like. Amok on 'anything can happen at any time' energy, the molly-shiverin photography (35mm!) of Sean Price William sends it over. Chris Doyle himself could surely no better do than does "eye to the grindstone" William for street-deep GOOD TIME.

From the first moments of Oneohtrix Point Never's propulsive ambient score we feel we're seeing part of a wild new direction in cinema, albeit one familiar enough from past decades (but not this one), a hyperkinetic snapshot of logical but inexhaustible desperation, one bright little fucker's off-the-cuff quick thinking, the power he derives in his pursuits from being white and attractive enough women give his wild-eyed madness a pass through certain needle eyes. So catastrophic in its real time results is his effort that it perhaps makes a fine reflection on America's meddling in third world affairs, so insanely desperate to keep their kid brothers away from socialism that we all but destroy their economy. I'm sure that's not the Safdie's intentions but so what. It's the tale of sketchy quick-thinking newly-paroled ('good time' being shorthand for 'out on early parole for good behavior') Connie's (Robert Pattinson) whose afternoon-through-to-dawn nonstop hustling efforts to 'rescue' his mentally-handicapped brother (Benny Safdie himself) from the mental health system, and then from jail after a bungled bank robbery, start after a dazzling rave-style magenta dye bomb goes off in their escape Uber, the boys go racing down the streets of Queens as real-life passers-by (the Safdies didn't steal their shots, but sure made it look that way) gape at the psychedelic blur, and as Oneohtrix Point Never's propulsive retro synths and drowsy ambient pulse drops surge like a cranked up heartbeat guiding them like the current of the third rail guides the 4, 5, Q and R trains.

First winning critical notice with Heaven Knows What, the tale of a junky crustpunk and her quest to score and/or break up with or get back together with her sketchy junky boyfriend, the Safdies obviously know their milieu, the busy urban streets, dilapidated apartments of twitchy girlfriends always starting to crash on whatever was the last of her sketchy stash, and grandmothers you just met on the bus and now talked your way into something between a quiet home invasion and "just being there to use the phone." High-lowlights include a frazzled Jennifer Jason Leigh finding out--in the midst of a panicked Mamet-style shout at the credit card company--her mom canceled the credit card she stole from her purse before Leiigh could even use it. Leigh's escalating tantrum-sub-junky desperation is masterful - she's trying to play her mom and then the credit card company as assiduously as Connie's playing her, but she's too emotional, too panicked. Also sublimely vivid: the testosterone-packed precinct holding cell, busy late night public hospital corridors, the kind of place where there are so many people on so many different shift schedules, and with no windows and no closing time, the sleep schedule so disrupted that rather than be awake and then asleep at a certain hour, everyone is half and half all the time; if you know where you're going, you can go almost anywhere; arcades where kids drop acid and play video games; and closed amusement parks, it's got it all, even a momentary pause here and there for some random termite humanity, or a barking pit bull.

This is a certain strata of outer borough living a lot of us 'aging hipster' New Yorkers don't really get to know anymore, not since the advent of cell phones made drug buying a "we come to you" thing, not a "let's take a subway up to the shadiest section of the Bronx and see if that guy who knows that guy is still there' kind of thing, the sort born of wearying teenage sobriety. And as rents rise, the lower world dregs are continually pushed farther and farther uptown, and marijuana more and more decriminalized, whole generations of will never know the way these sorts of hustlers sweep you up in their drama so fast that what started as you buying a dime bag and getting the hell back to your friends downtown winds up in you putting up your car up as bail for someone you barely know after running from the police through a neighborhood you don't recognize, with a head full of angel dust you didn't know you'd smoked, and taking another of your dealer's friends to a hospital ER waiting room, hoping to get him admitted before the cops show up and you have to run all over again, and you're too young and/or naive and/or nice and/or stoned to figure out how to make your goodbyes and extricate you from this hustler's Jenga hodge podge of quick fixes before it topples down into handcuffs or a bullet. It's a thing that happens to us all, once. If we're smart, we soak the lesson up good and never even visit that same subway stop again, even if the "sticks" (Xanax) and Oxy seems to flow on tap.

On the other hand it's far more entertaining than most such evenings, more riveting and propulsive, druggy and psychedelic while being utterly real (most scenes shot on the fly in real locations with passers-by who just happened to be in the shot) without the consequences or interminable length or waking up with your wallet and TV gone. It's a headlong zig-zag firefly race into the abyss that shows the devastating dry wit and talent for fly-on-the-wall naturalism the Safdies are second to none, locked in on a street-level substrata that few genuine artists quite penetrate deep enough to feel anything other than a pose. Christ, who would want to go this deep? Only real artists who, unlike so many others, actually may have a flag to plant.


The big psychedelic payoff is what puts this movie into the pantheon, including a wild inherently disturbing scene that trades on one's familiarity with the drug so in question. I.e. if you've ever done liquid or blotter LSD ever, you know that pouring a a goodly third or fourth of a full Sprite bottle of pure acid down some poor security guard's throat to render him incapacitated is a Black Mirror kind of evil, the soul trapped for all eternity screaming, even long after they finally come down. If you don't even know you got there or what just happened, you basically ensure they never come back, jumping through fifth story windows to stop the insane visions, even if they pump your IV full of enough Ativan to drop a mating season moose.

Hmmmm - moose-dropping Ativan IV - almost sounds worth it but no matter how much you may love it, if you know its force, the strength of a single drop to send grown men screaming into the ER begging for a 'stick' to ease the demonic rainstorm tearing their flesh and mind apart, then that Sprite bottle reverberates like a the mouth of Hell itself. Suddenly we look around at the glowing, surreal landscape - both beautiful amniotic, terrible and we are totally unmoored. We've let crazy Connie warp our world around him.

In the end though there are four elements that make Good Time work so indelibly well, the first is Pattinson, proving once again he's been criminally underrated as an actor (see this the same night as Cosmopolis and see what I mean). As he did in 2014's The Rover, he knows how to convey the half-strutting/half-defensive body language of a far too tightly-strung marionette hoodrat, but this is a whole new hood for him - you can tell he's been doing research hanging out with ex-cons and visiting prisons as this is leagues away from the usual Hollywood "street"kid. You can see it in the shots below - the wild animal aggression and just fucked-up tiredness of his hustler - the way everything from coming onto older girlfriend Leigh, to scaring people into line his way of thinking - are all just means to an end, something he's so convinced is 'love' for his brother he never questions it even as it turns everyone's life he runs across inside-out, brother included. He doesn't even realize how animal crazy his eyes look when peeking up from the bushes to clock the five-oh. He'd at least be nominated for something for it, but he's too good and too young and famous to be noticed. He'll have to get lionized in France first, like his ex, dear Kristen. 

The second is Williams' photography--35mm, blazing with rich saturated druggy colors that never deviate from the expected but get Day-Glo powder and paint mileage out of the inside of cars and spooky carnival rides at night; third is the sheer momentum, the snaking cool of all-night anything-can-happen urban amok mission following; fourth is Oneohtrix Point Never's score, both nostalgic to the horror films of the 70s and 80s and forward to the post-clubland post-industrial urban Black Emperor future. Never incorporates the ambient sounds of the narrative, the city sounds into the music so much there's a feeling of reality and this ambient post-rock score fusing in ways I usually only feel when driving to the airport at night in the rain listening to trip hop. For example, he incorporates the key of the hydraulic bus lift into part of the score for the scene it's used in: "My thought was that if the music could somehow be in concert with the key of the hydraulic lift, it's going to be subliminally cool. That kind of sonic language embedded in the film also refers to those New York textures. It makes New York feel like this bioluminescent, science-fiction, sentient being, even though it's real brutalist."

Dude's as termite as it gets. So's the film. It begs all sorts of indulgences for lack of higher purpose but then, as the end sinks in and you go about your business, the deeper meanings of all that's gone by in such a rush sinks deep into you. This is the kind of film that manages to do both, be a dirty vivid urgent urban race through acid-drenched nightmare grandeur, but then a truly great, resonant film at the same time. It lingers in the mind until its genius closes like a velvet trap around your cortices, illuminating a strange redemptive figure eight over the holy cross of anonymous acts of selfless kindness. You never know what form it will settle on while you're following crazy Connie through the dead of night system, but you know it's going somewhere new. Isn't that, in the end, why you never made a quick excuse and ran off when dragged into your dealer's scabby shenanigans deeper and deeper? You just couldn't go back to the normal schedule without finding out how deep the grimy rabbit hole goes now while you have a grimy rabbit to follow.


1. see also: Lana Turner and the Unscrupulous Doser - my review of The Big Cube - for more on this scary subject)

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter Acid Cinema Special: MOTHER!

This MOTHER ain't your mom's hardcore psychosexual "puts the bile in bible" allegory so why was I led to be scared of it by a bunch of babies who made me think it was REQUIEM FOR A DREAM TWO? It doesn't deliver a slow grinding torture that anyone who knows the horrors of withdrawal, or the brutalizing subjugation of woman and the mentally ill can't help but seize up watching. There are heavy-handed symbols galore but this film from a long time ago, before the advent of shock value, a whole new kind of crazy, far more traumatizing (to some, not me) than even Selby would think to go. In its relentless forward momentum it emerges as a kind of pure cinema, catapulting Darren A, if he wasn't there already, into the land of the artsy giants of primordial surrealism, a gut-punch Buñuel for the post-irony age, a truly organic flowing biblical message that treads boldly into the thorny maze where very few other filmmakers are daring to go, where just telling the tales of the Old Testament, without sugary dozing-in-the-pew heavy-handed Christian babbling, leads to scenes far more lurid than any Cecil B. DeMille might devise for his Sign and The Cross. Who else even closely comes? There's Guy Maddin, whose work finds weird new Freudian melting points but whose reliance on silent film's shallow depth and clunky grad school dissertations sometimes get the better of him. And David Lynch, although I found his Twin Peaks reboot intensely frustrating for long stretches, which since it was intentional is not to say it was bad. No, there is only Lars von Trier's early work, such as Breaking the Waves. And hey, not to start fights after school, but

Lars, Darren Aronofsky done took you to church
or rather took you out of it, ducking low to pass unseen between the drowsy Canaanites and sacrificial organist, bidding you come sneak giggling out the back of the crumbling edifice, pamphlets flittering in the breeze of the exit door closing, to ride the see-saw and the horses on the giant coiled spring
though you are too large for that ride, Lars -
like the sea is too large for its banks,
the global warming shore, the bombstruck breeze that glows then blows no---.

Look upon this, the Dark Lord's 'perfect' work--tidily summing up His canonical themes thus far--Old Testament mythologizing made literal and messy; self-immolation as the 'perfect' end to a career in the arts--and despair, Lars. Can you top it?
Lars, you've been outmaneuvered on the very tenement balcony of your spiritual sacrificial misanthropy!
Lars, I didn't see your Nymphomaniac, as I'm still recovering from Melancholia.
Lars, it's not that you guys are alone in a race, but you're the only two out this far on the track, no one else is even visible. Lars! Wake!

You're the Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova in the biblical psychosexual allegorical cinematic event.

And now you are behind, Lars, behind. We've witnessed the rebirth from the safety of heaven's hellish grandstand that is MOTHER.

We now can see the artist as shock-and-awe Old Testament death rattler,
every muse costs a quarter.
Every quarter costs a single limb.
They all grow back like lizard tails in Grandpa's TERRORVISION terrarium.

MOTHER's mix of allegorical pretension, slow-building freak-out panic theater group happenings, a nice adherence to the Deleuzian Time-Image principle, and a totally gruesome but inevitable conclusion boosted along with strong-as-hell acting, ever-increasing dosed momentum, and a fusion of David Lynch-ish kitchen sink surrealism, Bunuelian biblical dry-humping, and Jodorowsky gross beauty leads to one inevitable result: a grueling/exhilarating parable about the savagery that is the human reproductive system once it's run shy of predators and pestilence to thin its ranks, and the barbarity of nature and nature's vilest most profound creation, religion, or man, or whatever. With the Earth and Mankind fighting a war of cancers and disease. If Mama Jones can't whip up a plague virulent enough to at least halve our numbers, we ourselves become the plague that kills her, as if there's a prize in football for how badly damaged we leave the field, or, on the field's side, how thoroughly its floods and pestilences ravage our ranks. Will we have arrived in paradise when we at last give up the need--running counter to all our environmental evidence--to procreate a foot further?

"Why did I ever make 'em?"

Chronicling a veritable Old Testament of wrath and vengeance, worthy in some respects even of The Green Pasturesit's not just the bible getting analyzed and reimagined in Mother, but the messianic complex that results from excessive fame and how it affects the creative process. In indulging his masochistic shock value yen so completely, Aronofsky pulls his own mask off, showing the mirror the wormy, decaying corpse therein.

Through many levels of outrage and layers of subtext both personal (fame as parasite magnet; perfect artistic creations kill their creator), and sociological (pretentious, biblical, nutty, an uncircumcised logocentric thrust deep into morass of chthonic madness), Mother! is surely the film to get Camille Paglia out of feminist jail. Darren Aronofsky's love letter to his legions of slavering townie fans, a thank you for soiling his lawn with their disciple-like squatting, tearing up his lawn and garden for souvenirs, it functions the way random pieces of saints long rent limb from limb or burnt on various crosses are preserved in shrines do --a little finger joint in Ireland, a shin bone in Palermo, or the smashed neck of one of Hendrix's guitar enshrined in The Hard Rock Cafe - it all reminds us of our past sins and how we're still forgiven. Quoth the creature from Tommy's Froopy Land play, "eat of my flesh that you may survive."

Ala Christopher Nolan or David Lynch, Aronofsky is one of the names even the most casual public viewer has heard of. He's in the trades. He's currently dating Jennifer Lawrence, a younger woman, and doing so right out in the public eye, the public not being too worried about it, since Lawrence can take care of herself and Aronofsky's films are so twisted it's clear he's a relatively sane, safe sort of guy. (It's the ones who make the sane films you've got to watch out for- what are they hiding?). So hey, if he wants to posit himself as God, I'm all for that. I'm a writer too, and former poet, and can still be a poet if the ratio of flu and Robitussin is just right. Javier Bardem is one of my favorite actors and did a fine job capturing the life of a poet once before (as in his 2000 portrayal of the AIDs-stricken Cuban refugee poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls) and can surely be a god, too. Both poet and god are difficult roles to pull off without lapsing into pretentiousness or just seeming faintly absurd. Bardem never comes close to either. He is a God and his ability to navigate the mounting chaos without losing his fathomless cool is truly inspiring. I've had a man crush on him since his unforgettable Santeria practitioner in 1997's Perdita Durango (aka Dance with the Devil).  He's no stranger to godlike roles (as in No Country for Old Men) and tortured artists. He even made a great James Bond villain. I'm so glad to see he's spending his time so wisely, eschewing the traditional prestige pics in favor of flavors closer to his funky Almodovar roots. (seek out Laws of Gravity - it'll blow your mind, and anything else you have laying around). And Mother stands with his best, weirdest work yet.

I confess: l have loathed Aronofsky since Requiem for a Dream. I feel like that movie violated me. Yet I loved The Wrestler and have seen Black Swan six times. I tried to do Noah and couldn't get past the idiocy of the first six hours and The Fountain -good god that's some pretty-lookin' twaddle. But Requiem was abusive. I'm easily traumatized but still. I still haven't seen Last House on the Left or Irreversible just because I know they'd leave me disturbed; don't get me started on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or Game of Thrones). Not just that part, the rapey part, haunted me in Requiem but the insanity of a brain tortured by the twin fires of addiction (which distorts time and space) and withdrawal (which is literal hell) ... that's just handled too damn well, so that every anguished tick of the heart clock is like a punishing jolt of electric current and institutional patriarchal malice.

1. Forgiving REQUIEM

But Mother! is a film about forgiving the people who trespass against you, and even posits the whole reason trespassing occurs is for that forgiveness to have resonance. It's an old trick God pulls on us: making things so very, very terrible because otherwise forgiveness wouldn't have the same epiphanic kick. By middle age you either have to forgive the world unconditionally or open fire on it, though I know that's not 'in' right now. So I forgive Darren his trespasses. And instead I blame  the people who said Mother was way worse than Requiem, which is why I waited so long to see it instead of racing breathlessly to one theater after another, with a dirty stuffed rabbit in my hand, going "have you seen my daughter! Her name is Jenny! JENNY!!!" but then running away, tittering like a maniac before the cops came, you know, my usual schtick.

Instead I was led to believe that people were walking out in shock during screenings for the same reason I had to leave during Wolf Creek. And maybe it is as disturbing if you're a 'normal' family man/woman with a baby instead of a recovering addict or alcoholic, and you're all normal and don't know the profound terror and relentless despair-soaked agonies of drug or or alcohol withdrawal, a feeling that just gets worse and worse, like a hangover that doubles in intensity every hour you don't take a medicinal 'hair of the dog' drink, until you're in such distress that submitting to a night of base group molestation by a horde of filthy old perverts is nothing if you end up re-supplied for the week. You'll even dip your hand in a Rio Bravo barroom spittoon for a silver dollar just to get a drink enough to take the shakes away even for an hour.

That was where Aronofsky went for Requiem, the Pulsing 'in/out-in/out' "ass-to-ass" electro-shock so callously done to of speed freak Ellen Burstyn until she's foaming at the mouth, synced in epileptic seizure cross-cuts with the super demeaning and depressing and terrifying "ass to ass" grinding of dear Jennifer; Marlon Wayans undergoing withdrawal in a southern jail cell, and Jared Leto getting his arm amputated, all done in a series of brutalizing rhythmic crosscuts like being raped simultaneously in four separate time zone orifices.

Walking out of that movie on shaky legs, I was so mad at Darren Aronofsky I wanted to go his house and break some windows. I was not alone in feeling violated, we saw a woman literally unable to get up out of her chair because she had an epileptic seizure or panic attack as we walked past. If Darren had gotten up to take questions and our legs weren't wobbly from the ordeal, we'd have rushed the stage and beaten him up (like my buddy John LaGreco and his brother Chuck used to do when they went to the same elementary school, something I never tire of reporting because Requiem upset me so badly).

When Requiem cam, in 2000, you see, we still had some of our souls left to lose. Though every last scrap was being optioned for whatever shock value was still left to wring from it, every name-for-himself auteur amping up the ultra-violence for their own special narrative purpose, making sure we felt the pain of the victims, the turbulent brutality of a man on speed or coke, his empathy eaten away, relishing in the pain of the other. The more of this stuff we watched the more desensitized we became, until you'd have to watch Japanese hentai or torture porn just to feel alive. And then you may as well not be, because the anti-porn crusaders turned out to be right, and now we're fucked. Nothing shocking, ever.

Am I hero for being sickened by Requiem but not being sickened by the sights on display in Mother!? Definitely not. How dare the 'people' steer me away from Mother! which is clearly one of the best films of last year, maybe this decade's Mulholland Drive? At the very least its Viridiana!

Like Saint Joan of Ark, I forgive Darren; Requiem had to follow Selby's text which, like his Last Exit to Brooklyn a decade or so earlier, had to revel in the ugly seams of New York City's (then) vice-ridden fringe shore and offer little hope of escape. I understand. I absolve. It kills me like the Bad Lieutenant putting those two slimy crackheads on that bus with his cigar box of cash. I scream like Harvey in the church at the foot of the lord. I can do no less than die in my car, once I get one.

2. Jonesers Overrun the After-Party (Fame)

(Semi Slow-SPOILER) - The real show-stopper at work here, what makes the first half with its esoteric bits of symbolism and Lynchian soundscape manipulations worthwhile is the evaporation of time in the second half, wherein a single night moves seamlessly from trying to have a quiet night at home (she's serving a very special dinner for two, with candles and courses), to a full scale riot (and onwards from there to even darker extremes) is one of the most terrifying and exhilarating extended 'real time' sequences since Elem Klimov's 1985 film, Come and See. Perfectly capturing the nightmare vibe of an acid test party where what was once a cool quiet evening 'encounter' with a handful of cool loved ones in a safe space ends up a mob scene, everyone inviting everyone else's friends over too, looking to get in on the psychedelic love session whether you want them around or not, because hey, it's supposed to be a loving safe share-everything environment, so let's share everything we got; I got nothing, bro - you can have your fill. So what do you got? Gimme gimme!

Mother's off-the-cuff savagery is so seamlessly amplified that an ordinary celebration can devolve into a pagan sacrificial rite before you know it, but never in a sudden, noticeable or inorganic burst - one thing builds on the other in a frog-boiling-in-the-slow-pot way that's so ingenious it's paralyzing to think of the amount of timing, work and editing done to get it all so right that it seems to all unfold in one continual burst of madness beginning with a quiet celebratory dinner at home in honor of a completed poem, winding up at an impromptu book signing (with Kristin Wiig as the publisher) and then.... I mustn't reveal anything further, but it's quite a night

With the cops already called (maybe you even called them just to get these freaks out of your house) or tried to but couldn't get the phone to work (this being before the age of cell phones by about 10 years) and soon strangers are saying to you, "hey man, I'm not sure whose house this is, but might as well steal some of their shit while we're here, right?" You can't even hide out in your own bedroom, and you end up having a nervous breakdown for lack of privacy, all without the madness ever seeming to jump an unnatural beat, so that one thief leads inexorably to a ransacking, one ransacking leads inevitably to a trashing which leads to cops which leads to armies and religious zeal leads to combat and bomb blasts and huddled masses yearning for the holy sacrament and forgiveness... but I can't go on. It's too horrible. It's beyond horrible, but through it all, it's a realization that yes, this is what we are like and where we are, joneser monsters.

Jesus mobbed by lepers - Jesus Christ Superstar 
Mother seeks solace from the brushstroke of her whiteness 
Forgive them counsels the Man. That's the ultimate thing, through it all, Javier's poet is beyond all materialism, the masses horrible feverish need exists for his thousand metaphysical nipples to nourish, but how can you share all you have with a bunch of filthy takers who give nothing but their full measure of ruin in return?

You can take the only thing worth keeping - the paradise of perfect love beyond all duality and judgment that only forgiving and loving the million claws and clockwork grinding gears
that rend your agonized body / soul to shreds. What is left when all is taken? The only thing that is eternal, unseen until these impurities are washed away, the beggar hands the acid that washes the doors of perception clean.

Ugh, but what a mess for the maid on Monday.

3. Psychedelic Encounters are the New N-- /
Set and Setting - Interrupted

One of the more terrible ideas, in my mind, has always been the way acid, ecstasy and shrooms, i.e. the 'major' psychedelics are most commonly taken, which is at college parties. It's the worst place to take them. Maybe, if you're very familiar with the effects, or it's late enough at night that most of the townies, trolls and trogs, normies, jonesers, wallies, and murphs have already decamped and you and the cool kids are all that are left, ready to do some real drinking and staring into lava lamps, it might not be too terrible - but more than likely, alcohol and the desire to stay awake drinking more, underwrites this late night resolve. But considering that any big college party, especially one on Friday or Saturday night, has a stretch of 2-5 hours where the great unwashed filter through, the schmucks all desperate to be seen out on a weekend night, to "get" what they feel the night is there to provide them. Usually this means long chains of nervous boys trailing their alpha like a centipede of nervous, hungry glances, like a 'train' waiting to happen, leaving a choking trail of Axe body spray loud collared shirts behind them. Trying to hide their scared eyes with destructive bravado, but they got no game, no IDs, no confidence (beyond an unrealistic media-instilled sense of entitlement), the best they can do is try and get to the bar before it's all gone but they don't know how to mix a drink so end up chugging and then being sick. The girls come in more amorphous packs, but seldom stay long enough for boys to get traction, so it ends up being a dude fest, with you tripping your face off, surrounded by pale normie packs of jonesers, wallies, and moochers sitting around, taking up valuable couch space, waiting til the night pays them what they think they're owed for coming out into it, forcing their way into your chambers to get a piece of your glory or booze or acid or cool platonic female friend roster.

I know that if you're reading this then you are one of the cool ones. You get it. And you know tripping your face around those creeps and their blank-faced wally coteries, is the worst. You'll either get skeeved out by all their amped-up rapey insecurity and normie blandness, their terrible townie teeth, or their nerdy smarm-clouded insecurity wherein they think a single beer makes them bold, yet their insights are like lead balloons hanging on your would-be airborne dosed soul.

Even more dangerous though, than being skeeved by this ensemble's unshakable presence, is being nice to them, even for a second, thanks to the flush of psychedelic awakening, you lose your discernment and become all Christ-like and forgiving them their trespasses, trying to quickly queer-eye their style, even giving them articles of your cool raiment, for you move so quickly beyond attachment when properly dosed, you transcend the need to own anything. The power of psychedelics being such that it can override your own discerning ego's judgment, their normie plight can move rather than disgust you. Ugh! When that happens you'll be feeling the fallout for years. You won't remember doing it, as you're also drunk, and later on at the bar some slavering idiot wearing your shirt comes along and is all over you, wanting some of you pitcher, or buying you one if you actually did help make him cool, acting all chummy, and embarrassing you in front of your beautiful people clique. You think this is a game? Jesus was nice to these people too, and look where it got him!

I'm horrified by abuse of psychedelics, which are God's special glasses that let us behold heaven and hell in advance. When I see youtube videos of idiot kids smoking salvia in the living room, with the TV blasting some obnoxious after school MTV reality show while the smoker twitches on the floor and the idiot camera person zooms in and out on their face, an offscreen voice going oooooh and everyone snickering, I'm deeply horrified. It makes me understand perhaps why parents worry about their children and try to make everything illegal. How about a little respect for the human mind? Salvia, done right, is a spiritually transformative tool. if not, it's just ugly.

Imagine if, for example at your local church, the priest trains the young in proper respect for psychedelics, lessens the fear, so that when they are old and afraid of dying, the priest can give them shrooms or ecstasy, making the beyond seem beautiful and inviting. Instead, parents, in demonizing all drugs, seeing no difference between good drugs like shrooms and bad ones like coke or meth, give this huge power over to whomever wants to step in and fill the gap. The result? Some scabby hep-C sleazebag peddles ecstasy to your daughter and she thinks he's frickin' Jesus, Manson, and Gandhi rolled into one. And mom, who told her how dangerous it was to even try, is laughed away as clearly clueless. How can her daughter trust what she says about coke and heroin, either? The scabby sleaze becomes the authority figure for he's introduced her to 'the truth' - and mom can't handle that she can handle it.

The thing is, though - there are the 'good' dealers who provide warning labels, recommended dosage, set and setting, etc. and also to come to the aid of those who wind up wigging out. And it's that 'wigging' that's so succinctly and brilliantly captured in Mother!. I've never seen anything remotely on its level - as far as wigging the righteous way, or showing how the throngs of party crashers seem to be, the monstrous hunger of their appetites tearing your soul apart, when all you want is five minutes of peace in your own room to get your head together. Would there was someone like that to sneak Jennifer out of that party and into a nice quiet air-conditioned space.

4. Unforgiven Trespasses (The Gulls Descend)
(Jesus Christ Superstar - Jesus had the right idea, fuck 'em)

I'm glad this came around on DVD and I could post this right before JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR live on ABC, as that musical and MOTHER share that subtext, the idea that at a certain point, as per Mother Theresa, being selfless and being a victim of gimme-gimme beggar mentality, i.e. opening your arms in love leads to having your organs harvested; opening your house to strangers leads to a home invasion that, once begun, never ends until every last thing of value in your house is trashed and/or stolen, including your own children and you are crucified like a broke junky twitching sick and wild-eyed in the four in the morning ER for a shot or sip of methadone that may not even come since you don't have insurance. After Jesus Christ Superstar watch Mother! and you have a real scathing sad truth to any spiritual enlightenment humility trip. No matter how much wine your drained corpse produces, how many loaves and wafers your flesh can be diced into, the masses never stop coming forward making "pan! pan!" gestures like those Suddenly Last Summer beach boy sea gulls.

Of them all only the caustic already-dead Superstar seems to have it on the ball when, in the song "Everything is All Right", when Judas thinks the money spent on fine ointments for Jesus' sore feet  should have sold it and spent on "the poor." - Jesus sing "there will be poor always / pathetically suffering / just think of the good things you've got," - for Jesus, he has no 'responsibility' to the poor just because they glom onto him and keep ravenously wolfing down every scrap of food in sight.

The beggars Viridiana invites to dinner--as she's so Christian and noble, play dress up with her vestal finery (before stealing or ruining it, and her)
I related to Jennifer's pain in this movie, as my roommate for five years outside of college and two inside, my guitarist Dave, of whom I've spoken so many times, was very much a Bardem / Viridiana character, inviting all sorts of people over at odd hours and, I worried about them ruining "everything" and so Dave would arrange it all very gradually, only letting me know he'd invited a ton of people over after a ton of people had arrived and I was already toasty drunk... and that was how our apartment and before then, house, would end up trashed night after night. As long as I had my bedroom sanctuary I was all right, but sometimes the crowd would spill into there and I couldn't get them out as I'd be too high and young to stand up for myself; and of course having 'dry goods' made me popular and that's the worst thing when you're tripping really hard and really need your space.... all these people trying to get you to offer them some. So the girls be all over you in a weird way, tons of joneser dudes all scheming to get their hit from my special wineskin. (3)

5. Art is Violence: Forgiveness is Divine in direct proportion to the unforgiveableness of the Offense

This is the "it" at the core of all truth - the art, once created, turns back around to rend the artist with its inconceivable needs, the Frankenstein Monster, loosed upon the world thus changes it, and the reaping returns to the artist - Oliver Stone sued by the victims of a child who rampaged with his girlfriend after watching Natural Born Killers; Kubrick working to pull A Clockwork Orange out of circulation in England after a rapist sings "Singin' in the Rain", Judas Priest dragged into court by the bereaved parents of a hideously burned child who heard the Satanic messages in their music. Is this the takeaway message here? Be careful of what you create, for be it a child or a painting or a poem, it will destroy you. Better make sure you forgive yourself in advance for the sin of having made it. Madness awaits the judging sober critic at the loud raucous rock show. Take it from me, who wound up rent to the marrow by the ceaseless thirst of his own pain-wracked body. For god's sake, thank you for your own advance forgiveness of this horrible devouring shell whose mouth I use to scream, and drink, and lie... and sometimes pray.

PS - Believe I am sincere in my desire to forgive the seagulls of my own addiction and past trespassers by visiting my meditation / holy babble poetry site: MEDSITATION

See also past Easter Acid Holiness:

And the Psychedelic Scrooge Satori. 

And the entire chronicle of my 2012 galactic alignment deliverance (and subsequent carnivore disillustion here)Remembering my 2012 Galactic Alignment Euphoria, Non-Duality, Quetzlcoatl Visions, Cult Leadership, and Inevitable Fever

I love you, always.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Vanishing Caloric Density: QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE

Before her there was only Peggy Hopkins Joyce. After her came all of cable TV. And today she has merged with politics -- they can never more extricated. And thus our first lady is a Communist 'handler' for a mole Raymond Shawhshank sleeper agent blah blah, but who cares? She looks marvelous, darling. That bitch can wear a dress. Has a first lady ever been this glam?

In such an age as this, can we really afford to forget about Zsa Zsa Gabor?

Barely two years dead, seldom seen outside a scarce handful of cult movies (and a few forgettable 'good ones' like We're Not Married) it's easy to forget that her unique brand of 'empty' celebrity was once unique in pop culture. We forget her at our own risk: she's the preface chapter to all of trash TV today. But she was not trashy. Along with her sisters and mother, she was Hungarian and a socialite and she got rich divorcing rich old men husbands and got famous for being famous without having anything to be famous about, which has been such a constant for so long now it's not even a novelty.

And yet, there's no one remotely like her today because she had that high-toned class that usually was seen in society pages rather than heard on game shows. She came from a time when TV was campier but less shrill, with relatively little of our current reality show 'loudest voice wins' 'diamonds-that-shine-like-rhinestone' ugliness. Instead, the blurriness of analog color TV signal and the Vaseline on the lens catching her every diamond sparkle, Zsa Zsa drifted along the talk show airwaves like a fabulous pillow feather caught in a cold Nordic draft. Witty enough to be engaging, beautiful enough to be beguiling, but nothing else, we jokingly imagined her as the harbinger of the TV future, the equivalent of what the food industry calls vanishing caloric density, her melt-in-your-mouth hungry ghost illusion left us with nothing, not even the illusion of fullness - only the vague epiphany that fullness itself was an illusion. She knew to play herself dead-on straight, like she didn't get the joke; she was able to be that paragon of social high-toned class that Joan Rivers, in her acres of furs, was a sly riff on. But Zsa Zsa knew she was playing a 'type' as stereoed-in as Charles Nelson Riley or Rip Taylor, yet it worked because she pretended she didn't know it. We were left to fathom what percentage of her schtick was pretense, and it's that which made her interesting. We could keep it up as long as she could. The epitome of composed class and elegance: gowns and lashes for the ladies and gays; impressive cleavage for the straight boys, she was the sort of lady you bring to Vegas on your arm and know she won't embarrass you by getting hammered and pestering you to go upstairs, and if she has any 'needs', she'll make sure they're met, in austere Eastern European style (via some dashing parking attendant from Brazil who conveniently speaks no English). Her vanity and insecurity over her leggy competition might drive you to a nervous breakdown (as it did to the director of the film we're discussing today) but you don't have to worry about her mental health: you could bounce a truck off her old world European composure and worry only about the truck.

Television today has set the bar for glamor is so low it's down in the sub-basement. Reality stars sip Napoleon brandy mixed with Mountain Dew and end up splashing it on each other to signify a fight that will keep us watching past the next add for butt augmentation --but that's inevitable. That's science. Smart folk feel superior to so many people we never realize that it might have a value, that uneducated, ignorant slobs might, deep down, realize it and be desperate to look down on someone, anyone. It's annoying being surrounded by idiots but maybe it's worse being an idiot surrounded by smart people. Luckily a Honey Boo-Boo can make even an idiot know what it is to feel smarter than someone else, and that--in the end--it doesn't make anything better. It's just depressing. Happy now?

Problem is, those shows about dumb yokels are made by smart people, and the contempt they feel for their subjects is hard to hide. Brainy Harvard snob writers eventually start to show their contempt too broadly, like the smirky New York intellectual Walter Matthau in 1957's A Face in the Crowd (left), writing the corn pone slop around Lonesome Rhodes' show like he's doing anyone a favor when in reality his cynicism is what's dragging the world down around his ears. Watching that movie you start to think yeah, Lonesome Rhodes is a monster, but you don't want to punch him in the face as bad as you want to punch Matthau. The type of character, so common in the late 50s-early 60s, that thinks a pipe, white skin, glasses, a suit, college education entitles gives them dominion over women, children, the 'working class' and dogs, they don't respect the savvy craftiness of street smart 'hicks' or the intuitive 'soft touch' of women. They presume their lascivious attention is always welcome, and that their father can help get them any job they want, since their father plays golf with the boss of the boss. These privileged 'wits' end up enforcing a white male intelligence on their subjects, who naturally suffer in strait-jackets of passive aggressive 'dumbing down' dialogue, the sort that used to be so common it was a kind of invisible normal that might make you slowly go insane but you were never sure why. 

It's cuzz city slicker douchebags with them pipes keeping us thinking each other is super dumb by writing our thoughts for us on TV, is why! Fight the real enemy. 

Slap the pipe out!
(from top: Matthau, A Face in the Crowd; Anthony Eisley, Wasp Woman
Another example: Anthony Eisley of 1959's The Wasp Woman who continually treats his boss--the CEO of his company--Janet Starlin, like a child who needs constant supervision lest she sell the empire for a magic bean. With his unlit pipe and bougie bow-tie it's only natural we pray a certain wasp stings him rotten.

Think I'm just free-associating? Our current shitty national situation; Zsa Zsa Gabor and empty fame; snobby Harvard writers, what do they have in common? QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958).

This is CinemaScope
As a fan of bad 50s horror and sci-fi movies (especially Mesa of the Lost Women and Plan Nine) as well as the wry work of Ben Hecht (who wrote the story, not that it's very original) and Charles Beaumont (who adapted it) I am supposed to automatically love this Queen, this presumptive sci-fi shaggy dog classic, this veritable remake of the story filmed first in 1953 (as the far 'superior', Cat Women of the Moon) then also in the same year (1958!) but in black-and-white, as Missile to the Moon. 

 (from top) the heavenly beatnik jazz dancer troupe of CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON; the celestial moon goddesses of MISSILE TO THE MOON; the tired front line of broads from QUEEN 
I love Cat and like Missile but loathe Queen. Indeed, I want to slap the pipe out of its smug Walter Mathau Face in the Crowd-mouth. It's weird since I like both its writers and love the film from which Queen 'borrowed' its wardrobe (the uniforms and a sparkly minidress from MGM's sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet) and it's got babes and a giant spider (there's also a giant spider in Missile and in Cat Women and even Mesa) but most of the time it's just Cinemascope-length assemblages of under-directed actors standing around on opposite ends of a crumbling high school theater stage, ever ready for either roll call or old-school rumble that never happens. The film plays like a box of cake mix, unopened, with an egg broken over it, left it a cold oven by a director who's too busy hiding in his trailer to avoid one of Zsa Zsa's on-set rages to light the pilot. Instead he lets the soundstage fill with gas, like Monty Clift under a Place in the Sun canoe.

The plot you know even if you don't: a shipload of smirking virile Earthmen head to a planet of all women where they help the good leader (Zsa Zsa) overthrow the bad one (Laurie Mitchell [who played a similar role in Missile to the Moon] who hides her deformed looks behind an even uglier mask.Va-Voom! Lots of girls in terrible MGM costume drama hand-me-downs getting freaky, guys makin' moves, and the captain tackling the biggest lay of his life.

sharp eyed fans may recognize Davis in Alta's 'decent' frock from F. Planet
Sounds like I'd love this film if it let me. But it loves its smirky self too much to let me in. Some of the girls are great (like Lisa Davis (right; below left) who rocks great lipstick and smoldering Gillian Anderson eyes) and the writing seems a decent framework for a more straight-faced mature approach (which would allow the magic of camp to cohere better). The problem is in the misogynistic direction and frat boy acting by the men, that pipe puffing smug-snark where actors and director think themselves too smart for their material. They think adding some bawdy audience winking will help put it over, which shows how wrong they are. The smirky douche bag vibe of male superiority has doomed the film to never be a true cult favorite except in the most perfunctory of ways. 

What makes the 'good' bad versions of this same plot (Cat Women of the Moon in particular) work so well as enduring 'camp' classics on the other hand, is the intent to do something straight and good but without the know-how or budget or the talent. With these films we get the genuine eccentricity of lower rung Hollywood really trying to make nothing into something. 
Unknowns and outsider artists mix with actors shunned or forgotten by the Hollywood elite, out of touch and truly erratic due to drug and alcohol issues, left behind by changing times, bad luck, 'lifestyle choices' etc. They all take this last chance grab and nobly fight to stay in character as the set collapses around them. These oddballs and has-beens are--to we classic horror / sci-fi fans--our family - they're the equivalent of the Bad News Bears, or the bar full of flea-bitten drunks in The Iceman Cometh, they're waiting us for us to come watch them again with Hicky eyes anew, to buy them drinks so they can live again through the alcohol that is our eyes. They get that it's all over in under 90 minutes, win or lose. Only the drunks survive, because thirst never dies. 

Maybe this is why (white male) barflies and has-beens tend to have more respect for women and minorities, since the men in these Z-grade films are as disenfranchised and thus less afraid they'll lose anything by portraying women as the badass goddesses they are. I know for myself, alcoholism humbled me down to the roots, made me forever grateful and in awe of the women who rescued me. And that's why we drunks, drag queens, punks, and other outsiders that make up the bad film-lover community aren't going to be drawn to such puerile contempt for either women or their beloved genres. And thus no character in Plan Nine leers at Vampira and says some inane shit like "my coffin or yours, baby." No one in that cantina says to Tarantella in Mesa of Lost Women, "I bet you got a real sticky web." If there were such inane catcalling, these films would be as ignobly remembered as this Queen. It's the celebration, the worship, of female strength, that makes them endure. It's there in John Waters, it's there in Russ Meyer, it's there in Roger Corman. It's not there in Queen of Outer Space.

The 'space women need men' subgenre always has a giant spider - Analyze its symbolic meaning, right down your answer,
then look at the oeuvre of artist Louise Bourgeois to see if you're right!
Only a few elements in Queen from Outer Space take the outsider/sublime approach vs. the Matthau-in-Face in the Crowd attitude, and one of them---believe it or not--is Zsa Zsa Gabor.

No matter what happens, she plays it dead straight. She should have been the evil queen- as the title and billing suggests, with her beauty being the mask and the ugly scarred face appearing after the face cracks off because she's too busy making out with the captain to moisturize. Instead, as the chief scientist and leader of the resistance, she brings that same feathery class to bear she'd bring to any 'real' social event only here it looks like the event happened five years ago and no janitor has stirred therein to sweep up. And the event was an afternoon ladies-only coffee clatch fashion show with a vague Robin Hood theme. If you're old enough maybe your grandmother dragged you to one or two of these coffee fashion shows as a bored child and you barely remember - only now that I hold this medallion in front of your eyes does it come back, like the Vegas casino 'floor' in Damnation Alley, only bigger.

If it's not going to offer anything else, the casting of Zsa Zsa was brilliant touch just for marquee value alone, making Queen of Outer Space live in high camp infamy, a touchstone name easily recognized by programmers who know nothing of the genre. But it's not worth the camp adulation, for it is the kind of self-hating sci-fi that feels the need to leer and roll its eyes every five minutes.  They don't get that it's not 'fun' to presume a planet of all women is going to roll over the minute some douchebag put on a moth-eaten blue powder strut, it's offensive, man. You can't put women in masks deformed enough to scare Picasso out of the brothel (left) and expect them to thank you for it. You can't think some young captain bucko can topple an empire just by toying with the affections of a mask-wearing broad on Venus and have it not be so misogynist I could just scream!

Grandma, what uneven eyeholes you got
Real camp would go the opposite way - it heaps a dozen dead male spacemen at the feet of its evil goddess. Great camp celebrates strong, badass broads. It loves them. It even gives them a magical beatnik free jazz dance to quietly haunting Elmer Bernstein flute music. For Queen the contempt is so thick they don't even have the decency to put some ornamental Vishnu statuary around the place, nor to even make the eyeholes symmetrical on the masks. A Hollywood movie lacking the kind of basic papier-mache 101 most of us mastered before we graduated first grade? Unforgivable! Zoot alors!

Well, either way - if we don't like it- we have two others just like it for solace, each worse than the other and far better in their worseness as a result. Times change - we've been to the moon. We know there's no babes there. Or if there are, they're fast aslep (or as Rutledge says "condition - not dead, not alive"). Alien women are here, instead, and their masks are human. Sometimes I pass one on the street - they have deep light blue dazzling eyes and blonde hair, impossibly elfin. And I send them a telepathic message. They don't answer me. But that's show business. I'm not out to topple any kingdom, certainly not a matriarchy, even if it's run by a puppet doofus via his hot Russian handler. Pass me my pipe and let's get the show started, and then cancelled! 

Greetings from the Bilderberg Jamboree
See also:
Acidemic #8 The Brecht / Godard / Wood issue
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