Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Angels of Groovy Death #IV: Lynn Lowry Special Edition


With her big cat eyes, button nose and sudden smile, Lynn Lowry was a startling presence in the post-Manson horror of the early 70s, playing more or less the same character, a starry-eyed flower child, part of the latter downward spiral of the LSD generation, the ephemera poster girl to for the wary terrified but even more intrigued way Middle America now looked at the 'happy folk' and their girls they watched grow up. What Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, she glowed with a kind of worldly ephemeral luminescence. There was the urban legend of the strung-out babysitter who cooks and eats the kid and puts the chicken to bed on acid, such a strong and common legend and source of real anxiety that when Alice finds out she's been dosed in Go Ask Alice (1973) she locks herself in the closet to ensure she wont end up 'testing' the Radarange.

Well, now you know... the innocent serpent flower child was a new kind of femme fatale--framing you for murder or shaking you down with blackmail like in the 40s-50s; she wasn't even a new version of the old spoiled nympho drug addict waif like Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep; this new acid waif homicidal cultist was never be spiteful or mischievous, their heart was too full of love; acid had burned out those small minded reptilian fear-desire tail-biting instincts, and it's this above all else that made them dangerous and unpredictable. Utterly without the kind of morality and impulse control that guided the culture, they belonged more in a comfy psych ward where they couldn't have long fingernails or access to sharp things like pointed scissors until the drugs wore off. If you're a guy and you look at that picture below left you know that you'd have no problem ressting the ones on the left and right but the girl in the middle, if she wanted to go home with you, and your wife was't around to shoo her away, she'd go home with you and more than likely you'd be dead by dawn, and she'd wake up snug in your entrails with no knowledge where she was or who you were. Then she'd shower off the blood, eat enough acid to send a rhino to the psych ward, then fingerpaint on the walls with your coagulating blood while softly singing "tralalalala."

The 'Manson Girls" singing and chanting as one, had become national figures and though I was too young to remember the Manson hooplah I do remember the urban legends about the baby in the oven and the fear some crazy cult would put razors or acid in your apples on Halloween, so better cut them open first. This fear goosed the 70s along and gave seemingly helpless little street-corner waifs and psychedelic flower-covered urchins a kind mobster street gang clout. No one dared mess with them. And as a kid nosing through mom's record albums, the ones with similarly clad babes, or electric fros and evil looking dwarf monsters all had a queasy bone-chilling dread about them. I felt towards them as a rabid dam worker might towards a splash of water. Then again, my aunt on my dad's side in Chicago ran off and joined a commune, and we went to visit, and man that was a hairy place - I tried cat food for the first time, and ran through lots of beaded doorways, and groovy art, and so forth. My aunt was dating her fourth guy named Randy... four Randys.... in a row... the mind boggled.

My parents were just a few years too old for that scene, there's was the one seen in Mad Men, that bridge club wife swap 70s middle class golf game walk to school of your own accord freedom type. And after school, TV.

And if you grew up kind of crushing on Susan Dey (from The Partridge Family) even if you rarely watched it (Danny was gross; the music too horrific), then she might be who comes to mind the first time you see Lynn Lowry; with that downturned lip and sultry eyes and wavy straight hair, Lowry strikes me first as if she's Dey crossed with a cute alien hybrid drawn by a Disney animator unwittingly dosed by a CIA operative at a Washington cocktail soiree. Someone sure should have dosed the Partridge Family. God I hated that redheaded kid Danny, that plagiarizing ginger ("he had to save Boa," yeah right) with his unheimlich neediness.... and wasn't too crazy about the mom either. With her sister wife collars and androgynous hair, Shirley Jones was like that mom who eavesdrops as you try to pick up her daughter than snidely put you in your place, so that you blush and stammer and run home to sulk with your comic books, and then you never come over again (one would as her name promises, Shirley Jones for Dey to come out). C'mon get happy, yeah right --quit tellin' us what to do. You could tell she was one of those hovering mothers that never questions why she's always grabbing things out of her daughters' hands and lavishing them on Keith, whether he wants them or not. Feeling badly, Keith waits til mom goes off to pray or something, then gives sis back her shit, nice, sweet doomed Keith.

On the other hand, if Mrs. Brady saw you clumsily putting some moves on fair Marcia (in The Brady Bunch), she would probably just call you into the den, give you some hands-on sexual advice and then kick you back downstairs with a strip of condoms in your hand and lipstick on your forehead like a governmental seal of approval. Why? Because unlike Mrs. Partridge , Mrs. Brady got laid, really laid. You could tell, and her sexually satisfied glow kept the decade alight with a special base line magic.

David Lynch would make great use of this terrifying yet sweetly innocuous smile.  Lowry goes for it without hamming, knowing just how to make untrammeled flower child joy and rending maenad frenzy indistinguishable
I mention all this to illustrate how the Partridge Family vs. Brady Bunch dichotomy provided parameters for our collective 70s child's Jungian psyche, and maybe that's partially why the idea of a Susan Dey archetype untethered from her prim bitch overprotective mom and ginger brother, running away with a Satan-worshipping boyfriend and winding up on post-Manson LSD and rabid (in 1970's I Drink Your Blood --her first movie role) seemed a natural progression. She could slice off a woman's hand with an electric carving knife and still be an innocent. She's a free spirit cranked to eleven, then the dial breaks, snaps and spins out of control before the amp catches on fire. If you've ever known and partied with the type then you know how rare and intoxicating they are right at the moment before that happens, and how sublimely chilling after.

give the little lady a hand / just don't expect it back
Lowry's wide-eyed beauty is so 'there' in that moment she can make grown men blush and stammer just by watching her on the screen, as if she can see them and is blushing back, but at the same time she seems to be thinking about killing us, if we're lucky. In that moment we're still protective of her, nervous like fauns we are, genteel-like, the gaze of the camera seems to shudder with the realization it's privilege to some special moment in time and person when it gets her all alone in a private thought.

A sweet, sweet Scorpio (born Oct. 15), she's the kind of friendly animal a Pisces like me would let ride on my back as I swim the channel, but I'm too savvy to ask why she'd sting me to death halfway across. It's not even cuz Charlie told her too, it's just her nature. Her long straight hair  likewind-stirred gossamer over a denim jacket picturesquely dabbed in a cop's blood, when Lowry starts slowly laughing at the carnage going on down the hill in The Crazies there's a weird schism that marks a great unexplored middle ground between the sane heroes and the 'changed.'  Rather than turn zombie or something where the line is clearly drawn between normal and 'possessed' or us vs. them, Lowry extends the 'in between' in a kind of new contracting and expanding organic breathing. She's already a "little" crazy, so going all the way crazy is no great stretch, nor is it quite clear the extent to which her incestuous dad is a result of Trixie (the virus), or was there before. Eventually she's too crazy to know to hide when the military comes; she wants to know the names of the military unit surrounding her like she's a dangerous maniac even though all she's doing is offering them flowers and singing--she won't heed their warnings but really if you didn't know the backstory she'd seem sane--just another flower child protester with no concern for her own life as she marches towards the bayonets with a flower in her hand, only love, and life, and today, which is all there is, far out.

Like some Innsmouth elder royal Neptune princess
That air elemental aura (she'd make a great Ariel in Shakespeare's Tempest), Lowry is both uncanny and inviting, innocent and corrupting, the babysitter from the 70s my little brother and i prayed for as my mom made her round of early evening phone calls. We only got her around 1/3 of the time but when we did our stomachs sank with queasy dread. Whether she'd be in the mood to play her dangerous Go Ask Alice-style games with us (rather than staying on the phone all night or hanging out on the porch with some sketchy boyfriend) was another story. But if Jupiter aligned with Mars and she was ready to focus her loving laser beam attention upon us, then it was like some magic new dimension was opened in the Kuersten house, like she alone had a key to a secret door in the hallway wall that led to where all the cool stuff was.

Lowry has that same vibe, an open book of forbidden but benign ambivalence that puts her past our reach even while making her as accessible as all outdoors; she can dive merrily into the depths of depravity and horror and escape unscathed, like Daniel in the lion's den. As long as we don't try to pull her out of it, no harm will come to either of us. If we step in, we'll get scathed.

She's so much, man, so much like my old babysitter, who I wonder about today, if she's still alive. She was too pretty and too damaged, without a house or a home, the kind of freedom we all envy until we see that bloom begin to fade and wither, then we turn up our collars and rush home, half-ashamed and dehydrated, unable to swallow, terrified of water. (fire is cold, knives are like fire, and water is like a hard razor wire cat o'nine tails).

Shivers - during the transformation from sexually available but professional nurse to uninhibited maenad orgiast.
Toots, my darling, I was only eight years-old and didn't understand but I still hated the implied ascension to older man leering implied in the your acceptance of a quasi-derogatory nickname (I was always trying to come up with a different one) clearly given by a much older man, like a pissed off patron of a table she's waiting on at a roadside diner. Toots, I hated having to say that name to address you, my froggy voice stringy anchored by sublime pre-genital rapture. I still recoil from that same 'ewa' vowel sound in words, like "food" - couldn't even watch Blue Velvet because Frank calls  Isabella "Tits." Took me years, man. Years...

Mom stopped volunteering at that runaway shelter when we moved to NJ in 1980, a fitting analogy. I was 13, so bye-bye cool wild flower power kiss you on the mouth babysitters and hello slasher craze sober virgin final girls making sure we did all our homework and went to bed on time and then we lay  awake, and terrified anyway. The early 80s: devil worship wasn't 'fun' anymore, but the province of icky child molesters at day care centers (big difference between the special love I had for T---s). By then the slasher craze had even us once louche grade school swingers afraid even to go upstairs alone unless mom was already up there. Only WW2 saved me from that fear.

Was it some kind of EC/DC House of Secrets/Tales from the Crypt, post-code/pre-code comic book comeuppance? It didn't matter which side of the censorship barrier, what was once shag carpet and wood panelling vivid, once Seth snake cult decadent was now just postage stamp size color pictures in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and John Buscemi Conan the Barbarian reprints. And that was how I wanted it. Whether the one led to the other, in grand macabre twist payback paperback style I don't know. But if both sides want a thing, at least on some level, and if no one else is involved or hurt, can it still be evil?


It might depend who you ask, but frankly I'd trust Baudelaire as a babysitter over Cardinal Richelieu any day, for he who writes his evil needn't express it. Either way, whether we felt it was evil or not, the fall-out was the same. We may wonder what happened in that Tenderloin peep both to poor Dee Wallace that caused her to repress the werewolf memory of it all. Did that Fiona Apple "Criminal" MTV video cause me to revert back to savagery in the early 90s? Maybe, but by then I was an adult, strung out on a melancholy from never being able to get that delirious first MDMA peak high moment back again.

We'll never remember if those days were really that deranged, but there's magic and power in the wicked but sweet, terrifying but absolving smile of Lowry. Whether succumbing to the mad slavering ecstasy-overdose insane group orgy hysteria of Shivers or giggling in progressive waves of insanity in The Crazies or playing with an electric carving knife in I Drink Your Blood, this strange wondrous actress evokes that 70s post-Manson 'girl next door' anxiety with a flair unrivaled. Some girls are just never far enough away from the fire to know they're burning. Bless them for that, and even as following them drowns you in cop bullets, hitting you like scorpion knife flicker stinging flames of razor wire cat o'nine tails water, how can you keep from singing? Tra-la-la-la....tra-la-la-la....tra-la-la-la....tra-la-la-la....tra-la-la-la....tra-la-la-la....tra-la-la-la....

FURTHER LOWRY READINGS:
"That's how you play 'Get the Guests'" SCORE!
SHIVERS! (capsule review)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jills of Jack Hill (Part 1): BLOOD BATH, MONDO KEYHOLE, PIT STOP, SPIDER BABY






It's hard to say if Jack Hill 'gets' women. The grandfather of Pam Grier WIP (Women in Prison) films, he's never shied from lurid sex-sensationalism, but at the same time never belittled, demonized, or fully objectified women and almost always balances retribution, vengeance, and character growth/catharsis heavily over egregious insult. Sex is positive, empowering, and drug addiction's highs and lows vividly rendered, and art uber alles. So whether he's a feminist or counterrevolutionary chauvanist, he's one of the all-time great drive-in auteurs, and this has been the golden retrospective summer of the Hill: so many of his films were released on Blu-ray this spring-summer, we now the entirety of the Jack Hill oeuvre cleaned up in--mostly--HD sparkle, and fit to marvel at. And there's great Hill-Drenner commentary tracks galore. In case you don't know, Elijah Drenner makes a great interviewer with a palpable Hill appreciation that doesn't muddy over into pompousness, like Peter Bogdanovich's tracks for a lot of Hawks Blu-rays. I know Bogdanovich loves Hawks, and knew Hawks, but explaining 'little jokes' in them as if some pithy New Yorker cartoon to a bored 12 year-old, sucking the wind out of them in the process. Drenner conveys his love for the films without that kind of deflation, so that clicking over to them during the film it's like your kicking back watching it with them, rather than enduring a lecture at the end of a hard day in a classroom with overhead lighting.

The new best friend of the Hillian, Arrow has returned the full beauty of black and white film to Hill's late 60s opuses depicting man and cute girls engaged in industrious activity: PIT-STOP (racing), SPIDER BABY (carving), and BLOOD BATH (painting) and in bleached color but with vivid reds and greens, SWINGING CHEERLEADERS (pouting). The DVD company Scorpion put out SORCERESS from 1982, Hill's last film, and if you're Hawksian then you're also Carpenterian and thus Hilliard too, because if you add Carpenter and Hill together you get Hawks, more or less, and if ever a man was holding a bull by a tail, you're it.

Well, I'm too frazzled with excitement to clarify  so I'm gonna just lay it all out in the grand style of the canon forefathers, chronologically. And then when the smoke clears and the flying tiger bat god of SORCERESS disappears back from whence he came in the sky, we will know....

BLOOD BATH
(1966) - ***

It's not perhaps a coincidence that this approximation of a "movie" comes out on Arrow the same summer as their long-awaited remastered BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964). Mario Bava's seminal color-drenched protean giallo quasi-masterpiece, BABL "speaks to" the idea of art's pinnacle being the killing of a beautiful woman sacrifice - or sex and violence so commingled as to be inseparable. Strutting along the line between lurid exploitation and self-aware qua-feminist art, riffing on the art of the great beatnik sculptor of Corman's 1959 epic BUCKET OF BLOOD and prefiguring Argento's groundbreaking BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE in 1968, this has William Campbell (the first STAR TREK's go-to fop) as a crazed artist, a reincarnation of a descendent who was burned at the stake at the testimony of his insane (and insanely hot) model, who danced and laughed insanely as he burned alive, along with all his insane masterpieces. In the best scenes he tries to paint various local babes and sees this old laughing nutcase sneering at him from inside the canvas' black background; he doesn't paint beyond that but kills her violently, douses her in wax (which he keeps bubbling below his pad, so he can just lower them down and raise them up like candle dipping. And poses them here and there (mostly they lie around and try to look motionless). Meanwhile his "Dead Red Nude" series (painted before or after) sell to the local elderly down in Venice CA at the beatnik coffee house frequented by a trio of beach bum types, their eyes agog at every new abstraction. 

More so even than BUCKET it's the deconstructing/deflowering of art as misogyny even with these dudes that rings best in the Hill tradition: "you're a little naive when it comes to men," a fellow dancer friend puts it to Sordi's virginal girlfriend (Lori Saunders). There are several very strong women here and that's what registers over and above the murders. Marissa Mathes all but devours little William Campbell at his studio (he gets the better of her only via drugged wine), Sandra Knight pursues Campbell on the vampire theory, and the demoness laughing in the painting taunts him, all the while he's seen as a weak, deranged lunatic, driven to kill by his amok demon shadow anima. 

This all obliquely connects to the openness to the moody old world European footage provided by Corman's insistence on using footage from Operation Titian/Portrait in Terror all over the film: tower chimes and long cobblestone shadows are deftly spliced in. So as beautiful Yugoslavian women are killed by a burly blonde vampire in stylish artsy tableaux, we also get the nonlethal version back in Venice, as Corman/Hill beatnik regulars Sid Haig, Karl Schanzer, Fred Thompson and Jonathan Haze ponder each other's abuse of their girlfriend models. Haig smears paint all over his girls' face and rubs it around on a piece of paper, and Marissa Mathes has to endure Max shooting her portrait in the face, with his 'quantum painting' gun. When she pours a bunch of wine on his head though, all he and his friends can do is marvel at its effect on the paper in front of him - sisters be takin' back the power. Say what you want about their misogyny, it's unconscious and they really do love art. I've been that crazy - all zonked out, manic, and beholding every random splatter as if its bold newness is polishing the knobs of your soul.  And when push comes to shove these three are the only ones the girls can depend on for help against the vampires/killers. There's no cops in the film and when girls in the burly blonde vampires' sights (i.e. Sandra Knight) try and beseech locals for help they're all too drunk and dismissive to step in, her running up against a party of revelers who just to try to dance with her and then the vampire recalls a similar scene in Lewton's Seventh Victim. I've had very few disturbing nightmares from childhood appear in movies, but this is one of them that really casts a mood, conjuring deep dreads associated with being a kid trying to convince adults around you someone is really hurting you or chasing you and them so locked up in their idiotic unconscious blase doltishness that they can't or won't recognize you're in real danger. The only time they snap out of it is when she tries to jump off, all but throwing her into the arms of her killer, than blithely skipping off to the doltish fates. 

For the longest time this weird dysfunctional variation on time-worn Corman themes was confusedly mixed up with its original Eastern European cut, Operation Titian, the English version --partially mulled over by Coppola--but to no one's satisfaction, as Portrait in Terror, and then used again by Hill (and changed around with added footage by Rothman later for TV as Track of the Vampire). All in all with the Arrow Blood Bath four movie set we can unpack it all, and note a fine example of how Coppola may be a genius but when he worked for Corman all he knew how to do was spend money and leave a mess for Jack Hill to clean up because this movie may not make a lot of sense, but it rocks so hard, bro, like the other filmed-on-Venice, CA beatnik horror dream poems of the black and white era, Dementia (1955 ) and Night Tide (1961). Using the local carousels, strange buildings and cavernous boardwalk under zones with rolling tides like the sands of time, and the infinite with seaweed-wreathed mermaids washing up dead in the nets and then appearing in a basement jazz club, playing out the drag of the current on the bongos, or whatever.

 DVD Review: A+

MONDO KEYHOLE
(1966) - **1/2

If this was the first 60s skin flick 'roughie' you saw, you might think it was a pretty reputable and artsy genre, certainly Hill doesn't phone it in. A job he took for producer John Lamb, it's in low budget black and white but it still looks groovy. Even if it is about a skeevy rapist pornographer (played with no small amount of gusto by Nick Moriarty), it's never brutal or traumatizing. Under Hill's elegant style we're never quite sure if these girls (he meets them via personal ads or through the shoots he photographs for his various filthy magazines) are real or just the equivalent of a Penthouse Forum "true story". Either way, rather than being all Dragon Tattoo of Thrones it takes on the surreal impact of a post-sync sound dream art film (ala, say, Dementia or Carnival of Souls) to help us distance it more into some kind of perverse erotic fiction rather than a brutalizing Videodrome "sharpening up." Eventually our pornographer gets what's coming to him more or less, and his elegant wife (the very sexy and alluring Adele Rein) up to this point so hopelessly bored and sex-deprived she winds up shooting heroin and making love to herself in the mirror (a very groovy scene) winds up finding a big gross orgy fit for any erotic wanderer (way less oppressive than the sterile dearth of imagination on hand in Eyes Wide Shut), even if she arrives with guy dressed as Dracula and rocking perhaps the most terrible Transylvanian accent in the history of time immoral. In his commentary Hill lets us know the actor's a helluva fella but seriously, it's almost as nauseating as the human salad bar or drunken shaving cream pool party. Even so, ever on the look-out for that beatnik artistic arrest (see Blood Bath, babe) Hill gets the night's reflection on the shaving cream coated surface of the pool after all the revelers have straggled off to bed and the ripples stop, and well, its texture reflects the lights like some kind of murky 3-D ant's eye view of a flat ice cream soda idling in a midnight bus boy bin. In short, it's dream poetry.

It's not in anamorphic but don't let that dissuade you, darling. Between the photography and the gorgeous Reine you're bound to find something you like, and if it gets boring you can listen to the lively commentary between Elijah Drenner and the man himself, Jack Hill, who explains Lamb's penchant for ripping off pornography mail order customers, as in his sex LPs (based on footage in the movie, it's clear Lamb's behind the mysterious Tortura album that used to be a tripping "favorite" in my old hippie house). A great presence on a lot of Hill commentaries, Drenner's adoirt at keeping the focus on the action onscreen and the pair have a fine rapport (as opposed to the kind of commentaries where they get off on long tangents and whole reels fly by with no connection). We learn Lamb shot the excellent underwater stuff with a camera he specifically designed as he was cuckoo for scuba, and big game hunting! What a man, a John Huston crossed with David F. Friedman and better than at least one.

The lovely Vicky Wren (Reine) in their ultra hip 60s LA pad (dig the Brady Bunch style stone wall)
Psychotronica DVD review: B (non-anamorphic great Hill/Drenner commentary)


SPIDER BABY
(1964, released 1968) ****

Apparently this was filmed originally in 1964 but held up 'til '68 and subject to a rash of title changes, man, supposedly shot for $65,000. over 12 days, I mean shit, I'd pay that out of my own pocket just to have this film in existence, I love it so goddamn much, and I know I'm not alone. I bought it on Blu-ray from Arrow and it was worth it even if I already had three or four different versions, from a fuzzy VHS duped it back in 1989, up through the regular VHS in '93 or something and the first DVD in whenever which wasn't so hot, and then the Hill approved DVD that looked terrific in whenever and now the Blu-ray and each time it gets frickin' better looking and more and more a classic of the macabre to put all horror macabre comedies to shame, to rival with the best horror comedies of all time, maybe the best. I only hope one day we'll see such a lovely restoration upgrade on other as of yet only semi-upgraded rarities in the zone like Old Dark House (1932) and The Ghoul (1933). What else? (See my piece on it back in the day, with Blu-ray update yonder, though I ain't never yet been able to write about it to my full satisfaction. I'm always like that about films I love so much I can't distinguish them from me anymore. (full review)

Arrow DVD review: A+


PIT-STOP
(1969) ***1/2

The second best movie about racing after Two-Lane Blacktop, this has sporadically slurring Brian Donlevy as a shadowy race promoter who sees something special in surly drifter Rick (Richard Davalos), to the point he even bails him out after Rick wipes out into a store window during a street race. Donlevy gets him a job at a junkyard where Rick can build something fit to get smashed up in Donlevy's 'figure-8' race track, a combo real race and demolition derby as the track crosses itself in the middle, necessitating traffic driving right through each other and many times not making it all the way without a smashup. Damn cool idea, especially if you find NASCAR incredibly boring.

Like Hill's Spider Baby (which was filmed in 1964 but didn't get released til 1968) the year before, this came out at a time when black and white was dying at the drive-in (unless --like Night of the Living Dead, it offered something shocking and new enough that the b&w worked for it, the way found footage worked for Paranormal Activity) and its a shame too because now on this geee-yorgeous "director approved" remastered HD Blu-ray from Arrow, the full measure of what 35mm black and white film can do is revealed, putting it up there with Repulsion as far as capturing a late night surrealism that seems to shimmer holotropically. The dark of real night (for the most part) is beautiful, dark and deep (if you have a good HD TV or projector, especially).

As for the story, if you don't even like figure-8 eight racing there's a generic but effective bluesy rock score over montages of lovely little junkyard shots as tires are hauled in around and hoods and parts and bonding, the sort that any artsy filmmaker, edgy photographer, or Antonioni if people connected; the snotty Rick's character actually grows as he moves from combative and surly to the other drivers to being nice and joshing around, which is an an unusual character change within a montage sequence, a ballsy but effective strategy to consecrate a more fluid persona within both Sid Haig's wild man racer rival, Sid Haig's girl (Beverly Washburn, his sister in SPIDER BABY), who goes on a date with Rick, so Haig beats the shit out of him and trashes his car - he's a maniac! But when Rick doesn't rat him out to the cops our Haig realizes he's misjudged our boy and apologizes. Little does he know Rick is keenly aware of the proper temperature for revenge. Meanwhile another rival racer's mechanic girlfriend is played by the future Ellen Burstyn (above). Billed as Ellen McRae, she's a wow here with a dry low key persona that suits Hill's equilibrium to a Valvoline-splattered tee, you can tell she's going to go onto big things (The Exorcist was five years away). Their romantic clinches amongst the Imperial Sand Dunes are a master class in how to use day-for-night without it looking ridiculous.


I'd go so far as it to say it's more Hawksian than Hawks' own RED LINE 7000... fuck yeah I'd say that. And it may be Haig's finest hour. Mind you it never claims to be better than it is. But for fans of the Hill, it's manna.

Arrow Blu-Ray - A+ - Another great Hill-Drenner commentary, gorgeous restoration, da woiks
--
TO BE CONTINUED

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Fay Wray is the Devil: THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD


Aug. 5 - Fay Wray day on TCM, a great day to be a man, standing in front of a TV, looking at the most gorgeous of all legs, struggling to escape a giant Kong paw, and knowing, in your heart of hearts, the ache the ape endures. And today tons of her best stuff is screening. Don't miss RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD, at 11:45 AM, that's 20 minutes from now!

She was married to the great chronicler of the "hurrah for the next who dies" parachute-less pilots of WW1, John Monk Saunders. She's old enough that even I met her, at a late 90s live accompaniment screening of LAZY LIGHTING (1927). And tomorrow is her birthday and TCM is dotty about August birthdays; and so here we are. It's all gonna fit together in about five minutes... and you too will never be "the same" again. So be the same now and get it out of your system.

Parallel track of reasoning #1: consider the climactic unmasking of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) by Toto (Dorothy's dog) and imagine Toto didn't come to Oz, so no one pulled the curtain, which is what put the Wizard on the spot and got him to give out the free shit. What would have happened if Toto wasn't there to cut through the shit? Those four--brave and true as they were--never would have dared pull the curtain or even noticed it, on their own.

Think about it because it's relevant, man, and answer the damned question: Would that old man have ever come out from behind there, of his own accord, switched off his smoke and mirrors, and given Dorothy and her gimme-gimme hooligans their testimonials, medals and diplomas? Would he go all the way back to Squaresville, Kansas in a very dodgy looking balloon instead of being the all powerful Wizard forever behind his curtain, gettin' all the ladies and ruling the roost, as it were? Would their next challenge be to sign up the witch's monkeys into the Oz home guard, and making war against the Munchkins in order to enslave them as poppy harvesters? To hook the munchkins, and make them toil to make heroin from them for sale through the connections of the junky Lollipop Guild, down into Kansas and using the profits to expand the Emerald City and crush all resistance? Naturally, one has to consider that ordering a flying monkey attack squad to arrange a 'cycling accident' for Ms. Gulch, and dye her eyes to match her gown, y'all, red being her color.

Now second parallel track tangent (shortly to dovetail into Wray's birthday, don't worry): In Altman's SECRET HONOR (1984) we are presented with another man behind the curtain, old Dick Nixon--in one long monologue from an oval office surrounded by cameras and tapes and booze. Played by Phillip Baker Hall, we're presented with a Nixon confessing that he couldn't keep the facade, the green face, for the nation, and so let it turn around and bite him, pulling back his own curtain on Watergate so he could get out from under the shady power players of the Bohemian Grove. We find out that HE was Deep Throat, HE was the Toto, that is the "secret honor" of the title.

We hated Nixon for it--at the time--as we hate curtain pullers like Snowden--because he was not cute like Toto, and the one who peels back the curtain and compels us to realize the truth--that there is no easy fixes--is as reviled as one's Monday alarm clock. The truth is that there is never a single consensual reality graspable in any sense, good or bad. Diplomas and medals and testimonials fade and wind up in file cabinets or yard sales. Their value is purely subjective. They have little resale worth. You cannot use them as payment for your next angry fix.

Now that the poppies aren't free anymore, you're gonna need to steal.

Screening today is a movie that I thinks sums up the entirety of this truth of the problems of that curtain over cosmic existence, called THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD from 1934. It was just restored by the Library of Congress, or something. I forget, they introduced it on TCM and it's very special, not particularly great but memorable as far as its underlying spiritual message - the god behind the curtain.

Miriam Hopkins is the rich one and she's single--she seems a little coded closet dyke-ish in today's more gaydar-attuned definition, preferring to play pool and wear pants and carouse rather than faint at the first sight of blood, etc. Nonetheless, being so rich, she wants to be free of all the mooching hangers-on and gigolo gold-digger contingents, to find a real love, one she knows isn't based on smooth-talking fortune hunters, so she switches places with her poor secretary Fay Wray, who's already engaged to the twit who plays Alfy in the Bulldog Drummond movies.

So at a NYC party Miriam meets handsome engineer Joel McRae, who thinks she's only the secretary to the richest girl in the world; but is Miriam happy with that, is she able let it go and tell him everything and say, Joel, you passed my test with flying colors let me buy you a nice vicuna coat? No, she all but cajoles and forces him onto Fay Wray, reminding him that he previously joked with her that girl's wealth wouldn't bother him as a husband, twisting his every word at first half-kidding around cuz they bond like pals since the pressure's off, but gradually forcing him into it, and Wray too, while Alfy looks on, aghast, for truly he can't compete with Joel McCrea. Who can?

Hopkins' savvy grandfather, or whatever, counsels her: hey give the guy a break; the test is too strenuous, pull the curtain for god's sake. Clearly McRae prefers scruffy Hopkins even as only a secretary but he's going along with it as a gag until he falls for Wray because Wray is super lovely and Hopkins is a little busted here -- which is to her credit; she's not afraid to let her chin double up a bit and everything hang out, to get ugly-drunk and pass out and all that. Meanwhile she's pushing old Joel more and more on Fay until they get engaged.

It's stagey and then over -- what is the god element? Of course Hopkins is God, Wray is the Devil. It's not enough for omnipotent hot rich crazy noble God to have our love, he wants to force us into the choice of Him, in filthy rags and no teeth, or decadent luxury and everything we could wish for all wrapped up in Wray's sensuous evening gown-sheathed legs. Who could resist the latter? Only a chump, but that chump's the one goin' to hell.

Watching, we get angry at God/Miriam for being so mutton-headed--as do her lawyers. The test is too great, they and we cry! The devil displays all the wealth and beauty while God is a street urchin, a mallet, a pox, a buddy, a bro, a plain jane. At 'The End' (or our death), the curtains are pulled back, credits roll, and the devil and God join hands and bow. It turns out the urchin, the sick and suffering alcoholic in and out of the rooms, the wonky ugly duckling, is the rich beauty with all the wealth in the kingdom of heaven. The devil's sensuous evening gown is revealed as moth-eaten and fraying --the body underneath turning to old age and dust; roaches climb out of her eye sockets. If you picked the Wray route, you know you done picked wrong, brother, and it's too late to change; eternity is a looooong time.

It can be hard to stick with this film at time since Hopkins is so intentionally dislikable, but so is God at times, at least in the Old Testament. At any rate, it's to their credit that the American Museum of the Moving Image or whomever restored this valuable artifact, not just for its brave dyke-coding of Hopkins' character, but for the subtextual spiritual message. Next time you're wondering "if God exists why is there so much suffering and war and evil in the world?" think of this movie and you have your answer - God is an insecure closeted neurotic who wants to be sure you'd love her even if he destroyed everything you hold dear, like a jealous wife smashing your bowling trophies, destroying every illusion you cling to in order to avoid her; if the only time your not an atheist is in a foxhole, she'll make sure the wars keep coming. If you want to pull the curtain and see her working all the smoke and shelling, all you have to do is stick out your tongue for the lysergic sacrament, wait 20 minutes for it to kick in, and then run like hell, cuz that bitch is CRAZY.

THE END.

Richest Girl in the World screens at 11:45 AM on TCM - August 4, 2016
See also: BLACK MOON (1933) at 1:30
Mystery of the Wax Museum at 5:15
King Kong at 10 PM
Most Dangerous Game at 3:15 AM

Friday, July 29, 2016

Repetition Convulsions: GIANT CLAW, DEADLY MANTIS, TOUCH OF EVIL, THE HATEFUL EIGHT




As I was last night preparing to edit this I was flipping from TCM--THE LAST DETAIL with dimwit sailor Randy Quaid having premature issues with undead prostitute Carol Kane--to EPIX with a paunchy cowboy hatted Quaid in THE WRAITH (1986) noting "let's clean up this mess and get the hell out of here!" That kind of random coincidental irony is one of the reasons I flip indiscriminately in the first place so I had to share. But I always land eventually, here or there, and in the summer, my most reviled season, I stick to easy watching classics I've seen a zillion times, where the highest levels of government are represented by two old character actors dressed like generals walking alongside a barren conference table in front of a big chart--or, if budget allows, a photo of the Washington Monument that's supposed to be a window--trying to find a way to defeat the latest atomic monster.... for some dark reason, for this alcoholic, they are relaxation and air conditioning personified.

Take character actor Morris Ankrum, in an officer's uniform: put him in a scene like that and let the magic flow. Give him another higher up, head of the Navy or something, and get them bickering back and forth, as a scientist and his girlfriend or research assistant, each trying and failing and re-trying to whip a purse out of sow's ear scene, going from exploding "why don't you do something!?" to paternal reassurances, "we in the military know what we're doing, son, but you need to keep reminding us," and back around again, like a whirlwind - condescending disbelief-exasperation-apology-paternal consolation-American jingoism-squawking failure-condescending disbelief, around and around again in eccentric circles of blame-outrage-apology-pep talk seldom seen outside Eugene O'Neill plays.


Nothing is more reassuring to my fevered brain than THE GIANT CLAW which has this pair, to fold themselves in with the stock footage of planes and radar stations, and exposition about all that's going going on outside the door on all levels of government and military procedure throughout the world. No matter what atomic spitball they care to throw, in the end it's Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, and the two old generals piloting the "B-22" which is so obviously a model you can see some kid's glue thumbprints, and the finished gloss gone slightly dull from over handling, the final decals peeling on the side or turning yellow, as if Katzman borrowed it from his son along with a turkey marionette given a comically menacing head with googly eyes that's the monster. You can't make this shit up.


Of course it helps to have grown up with it being constantly on the air, but glad am I to be able to return to it, when needed, like days you come back from the doctor after waiting for the results of your first chest X-ray after 33 years of smoking. You need to see a monster you can sneer at and safely destroy with some atomic spitballs, something maybe you loved to laugh at as a child, when it was always on local TV alongside gems like Plan Nine From Outer Space, the Creeping Terror, and Invasion of the Saucer Men. If you follow this blog you know summer is not the time my Swedish blood is alive with artsy insight (that's fall) but feebly clinging to icicle familiarity in cinema like a snowman pining puddleward, missing every departed drop. Not that I'd ever drink water.

To enjoy a film endlessly over and over, through the years it must have--as Hawks famously said--a few good scenes and no bad ones. And every year I find new bad ones in some old favorites and new good ones in others. The Big Sleep for example never falters, the plot just becomes clearer until you know who killed whom better even than Herr Chandler himself, but then there's To Have and Have Not (1944), which has all sorts of inconsistencies that become apparent around the 20th viewing: First off there's the money issues: For a guy supposedly as sharp as old Bogart's Harry Morgan, to let a shifty American tourist run up an $825 tab on his boat, no deposit, seems pretty stupid. It's enough where I'm stressed out so that I need to lower my angsty blood pressure --how can such a cool customer like Harry be so dumb? If I can't trust Bogie to take care of himself (and others) how can I sink into my Hawksian male bonding contentment? He's probably not helping his finances by "carrying" rum-damaged Eddie (Walter Brennan), the requisite Faulkner idiot manchild whose dead bee rants and sickly sweat glaze bespeak a terrible smell of alcohol seeping through unwashed pores that must hang fetid over the boat, drawing massive flies, when the ocean wind isn't blowing, which it never seems to. I can chalk the moronic behavior of the Free French up to sly Warner Bros. satire on the Maginot Line and the French army's infamously inept high command (carried over from WWI, as seen Paths of Glory), the way half a dozen of conspicuous, shifty-eyed resistance fighters "inconspicuously" trundle upstairs in a busy hotel to beseech Bogart to help them, crowding into his room like there's no one else but him with a boat in all of Martinique - or that the Victor Lazlo is eager to surrender at the first sign of trouble (getting shot as a result) and this is the guy they want to use to "get a guy off of Devil's Island."  

If not for the great dialogue and every second Bacall is onscreen (the most assured, startling debut in all of cinema, and any other form, since the dawn of time), would TO HAVE even be remembered today as anything other than another Casablanca retread? What if Ann Sheridan or someone played Bacall's part, the way she almost did Ilsa Lund in Casablanca? One shudders at the sorry state cinema would be in today. 

Lucky for me then that the first time I saw THAHN was back before the internet could chew it up for me. As far as I was concerned it was just another of my then-hero Hawks' films, and so I got to soak up Bacall and her match 'fresh' and the result I was knocked out, kicking the air and howling like that wolf in "Bacall to Arms."

But there are films I can't remember seeing at all for the first time, because they were there at the very beginning. For example, there was never a time when I hadn't seen The Giant Claw. I was laughing at that bird since before I could crawl. I was born into it, materializing into being just as its imagery would materialize onto local TV or the bird would materialize out of space or an alternate dimension or out of the dumpster behind some deranged, evicted puppeteer's workshop. To enjoy the film without that inherited lack of good judgment you would need to have a special yen to see Mara Corday in a redeye passenger (propellor-driven) plane delivering an uncalled-for and condescending rant against jet pilot Jeff Morrow, with whom she was just canoodling, for showing her his giant space bird orbiting patten spiral drawing. If you ask why Corday is shouting and picking a fight with him when her own non-intergalactic bird theories don't add up at all, then you're probably not ready for this level of high concept science. Sherlock Holmes said that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however implausible, is the truth. Corday would shout into your ear that Holmes is a fictional character and therefore his theories are worthless. Women are idiots when they're supposed to be skeptics, especially animus-dominated women 'scientists' in these kinds of films, and Katzman should know.

I object to the use of the phrase "kinds of films" your honor, impugning the character of women in more impressive entries like Them! wherein the woman in the same role is an astute and open-minded biologist. One can no sooner lump the Claw in with Them! as compare a frosty Bergman to a Long Beach train station. And in this case Corday is right, because the truth is ridiculous, for not only is the thing that's been attacking so many aircraft and buildings a space bird but its invisibility to radar is to due its an anti-matter shield, and we can see the strings. This plus an early scene of Jeff buzzing the American Air Force Arctic Radar Station in one of his jets maybe explains her and the military's preliminary incredulity. Test pilot Morrow's an example of the wolf crier, endangering the whole tribe because his valuable wolf intel is, thanks to his cred-destroying pranks, ignored.

Make him a sergeant and give him the booze (THEM)
Owlin Howlin playfully singing and throwing a sheet over his head, presuming --as anyone would--that the giant ants outside his window are just delirium tremens (above), has the right attitude towards these things. You can always believe the reports of a man who doubts his own eyes over the man who presumes himself above hallucinations. Yet I love The Giant Claw and only like Them! I love all scenes on sleepy red eye 40s-50s passenger planes, for they are early examples of a giant slumber party in the sky, succinctly delineating the appeal such films hold for me, a fusion of nostalgia and late night repetition that would be lost on anyone who's never slept all night in a cross country bus or train and woken up in some middle-aged black lady's lap, the usual distance between you dissolved as you both snore away; she having felt her way through Amtrak dark at a five AM and in the empty aisle seat, a few minutes later and she's your mom. Cuddled up together in perfect trust of the all night coach, when you wake you smile but by the time you leave you don't even say goodbye, and never said hello, or learned her name, but she was your mom and you were five, for a few hours that neither of you remember. Is there any more succinct illustration of the way societal norms are structured? There's a reason why writers say they do their best work at five AM. And watching films at four or five in the morning offers the same dreamy poetic freedom from 9-5 adult reality whether you're a writer, a child getting up early on a Saturday to watch cartoons, or someone still up after a big party of event, and it's too early for the kids' cartoons and too late for 'normal' programming, and some weird giant space bird movie (this before the crushing inescapability of infomercials). Whether you're the kid getting up to it or the rager coming down to it, The Giant Claw abides.

Stock footage to cool the blood in sweltering summer (DEADLY MANTIS) 
That said, the VHS dupe I made of TGC in the early 80s only started about halfway through (right as the big bird munches on a parachuting pilot) and now on DVD, in full, it's much too clear for such dearth of detail, forcing the poverty of the sets and mismatched emulsion damage of the stock footage to the fore and demanding I re-evaluate my hitherto unswerving loyalty. Considering about 1/4 of the film consists of military stock footage, with shots of running panicked populace seemingly lifted out of the Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and It Came from Beneath the Sea ("bigger" Katzman productions), I realize it was better when uniformly streaked and blurred, occasionally disrupted by color bursts of "Crazy Eddie" TV commercials or "Creature Double Feature" tags, and only half as long. Now I'm forced to reckon with the widescreen poverty of the film, every wire and thumbprint on the model planes meant to indicate real aircraft are visible. The effect is not as cozy as this film used to make me feel. I prefer not to see the sheen of hungover sweat underwriting the faces of participants in what should be cold climates. Luckily some things have carried over. I still have my admiration for Morrow's ease with termite lines and moments--like where he's barely in bed after that flight before the brass is once again summoning him, he needs to argue in favor of his sleeping--a tireder actor there's never been. Morrow 'gets' it.

Now of course there are 'literally' millions of films that are better than The Giant Claw, and dozens of them even telling more or less the same story, from the Arctic de-thawing / hatching on down that ole map from the North Pole.  But those other tellings have Harryhausen or Willis O'Brien animation and/or Jack Arnold direction and/or decent budgets, relative to poor Claw, which is less Tarantula (Arnold direction, creepy plot, eerie use of desert, no stock footage) and more along The Deadly Mantis axis (public domain stock of radar installation footage, Nanook outtakes) to tap into this B-movie obsession of the late 50s with the North Pole and Canadian air defensive radar shields: "the Pine Tree" and "Dew line" -- tapping into some conception of 'the Cold War' coming from "up there" as Russia would go over the pole down past Canada to nuke us, so Canada functions as a kind of go-between and the cold North calls us like a magnet (1).

The Deadly Mantis, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the six-armed giant octopus in It from Beneath the Sea, and our friend the Giant Space bird all start off way up there, and The Thing, the best and smartest/smallest, stayed up there; the rest maraud their way downwards, killing eskimos, pilots, trawler crews, and Canadian lumberjacks as they go. The scientist always has a hot assistant, who--depending on the crap level of the writer--either sneers at the monster theory, promotes it, uses her hotness to suss truths out of harassed survivors or falls for the military guy assigned to the case. The best work on perfecting the formula that stops the creature/s, while the worst sneer and make sandwiches. Deadly Mantis has her doing more than her part to help but being belittled as she goes by dopey feints towards Fordian sentiment, like the stuttering radar men asking her to d-d-dance before the inevitable shot of the monster leering through the window trying to get at her. (Claw's Mara Corday is spared this indignity, having already endured it in 1955's Tarantula).


Perhaps it's worth looking again at The Deadly Mantis (1957) but-- unlike The Giant Claw (the "wrong" kind of memorable) is the most anonymous film in the world, siphoning the gas tanks of every genre that came before, suturing together such a framework of stock footage and stock tropes it could be about any of the radioactively-awoken giant monsters and star anyone (its cast criminally void of any notable charisma or lack of) making it ideal to fall asleep to or come down from a K-hole. You could watching 100 times in a row and remember nothing about it whatsoever. The Giant Claw with its big googly eyes and dopey vulture hair tufts its the best menace since they just decided to use a nondescript giant block as the monster (Kronos). While Mantis is also the most obliquely para-sexist of the lot ("we're taking you home young lady," notes the military guy after she's singlehandedly coordinated the requisite 'map of weird 'accident' by which to chronicle the trajectory). In its disregarding of all that (Morrow would be the last person to stop Corday from doing anything), Claw earns its wings, no matter how goofy the effects.

Naturally a few years back when Sarah Palin mentioned she could see Russia from her house I understood at last why all these films were set up there, and at the same time I had to add her to the list of Northern threats ever-ready to rain down montages of panicked citizenry, radio speakers, mobilizing infantry, maps with dotted lines running across various parallels between the US and the North Pole, cornflake snow hurled in through open portals as people exit and enter the impoverished radar offices; "Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) able to contact any part of the globe in three minutes;" Eskimos pointing at the sky (Nanook strikes!) in Mantis, where its forelegs get caught up in the fisherman's kayak drying racks (we see a lot of the film from the prospective of the mantis himself, which is the best touch).

And in the case of le Claw, there's a great catch-all representation of a French lumberjack loner named Pierre (Louis Merrill), who--with his faithful dog-- finds Corday and Morrow in the wilderness after they alone survive another attack. Naturalmente, he has name of Pierre and gives Morrow and Corday his homemade applejack while recounting the tale of the a giant predatory bird many have seen in the parts and all died when they did. And before they were attacked the shadow of its giant turkey wings passed over the house. Fascinatingly, Morrow--who's encountered this giant bird about 20 times already and still everyone doubts him--shouts "you only saw an eagle, Pierre!" Never could the space bird and the old flying witch of local superstition be the one and the same thing. Never!

But again Morrow saves the reel, singlehandedly etching some warmth out of the proceedings by guzzling a second glass of the Pierre's homebrewed jack and ending every sentence with the name, Pierre. "This is great stuff, Pierre" or "that's a superstition, Pierre!" Pierre becomes almost a kind of mascot, the constant use of his first name serving to keep him separate from the college educated Corday and Morrow. Eventually, though they all agree the thing only chases you if you run, Pierre runs, thinking he can perhaps outrace a bird the size of a small apartment building? It's the kind of moronic lack of logic that a kid would not notice. It all fits, to make CLAW the classic -- you see... kids in the 70s don't need special effects -  our fertile minds filled in all the blanks.

But now I wonder what happened to the dog.

"my gun is gone!"
Jack Arnold's TARANTULA (1955) by contrast is good enough that the missteps irk, and the blank spots nowhere near blank enough, except between Agar's eyes. There's three eaten cattle, mysteriously drained of all meat and the only clue is a huge puddle of strange milky liquid. "Quit worryin' about that white stuff and find out who killed my cattle!" exclaims the rancher but the country doctor (John Agar) and the sheriff (Arnold regular Nestor Pavia) are too dimwitted to either calm him, take a sample of the venom, or anything else.  It takes a whole second massacre to get it going. It has to happen twice before Agar even smells it. "Print this as a straight accident," he notes to his reporter friend.  Anyone who notes the sudden flourishing of acromegalia (a disease well known to classic horror fans for its most famous victim adorns our most esteemed award, the "Rondo") amongst handlers radioactive growth serums and doesn't see a connection is not the right person to trust as far as a barometer of public opinion. Eventually Agar wises up, "we gotta keep our minds open and our mouths shut."

But TARANTULA stays off my summer list in general because it's set in the desert, too hot, and I like military stock footage, and hate to see any animal in a cage, even gerbils, man. When I'm in my isolation chambers, my feet in tissue boxes and my nails long and yellowed, gibbering to myself and pressing rewind over and over though tapes are long gone, anything that reminds me too much of my own wounded bull querencia, middlemen and union minutiae bickerers crawling all over the once great Last American Alcoholic Playboy Auteur. For the concretization of my frontier's sad closing, I need a hero bigger than any giant hair arachnid... I need Hank Quinlan.




My no summer-set sagas in summer isn't a hard fast rule of course, For example I've seen Touch of Evil a hundred times whatever the season. Another repeater, Psycho, which came out two years later and seems almost a remake, alike as two sister craft - on some level. What unites it is the damned cool of Janet Leigh.

"That Mirador is mighty hard to find, branching off the main highway like it does," notes a cop giving Leigh directions. Leigh driving off to a motel... off the main highway, all alone... did Hitchcock see this and feel cheated that the Grandy boys (and girls) didn't cut her up in the shower instead of lugging her back to the Mexican side of the border?

Any similarity between Heston, a skull, or John Gavin (in PSYCHO)
 is strictly clairvoyant
The main as in 'THE' murder that centers PSYCHO actually is the third act of TOUCH OF EVIL, the murder of Uncle Joe Grande by Quinlan, above a drugged unconscious Leigh's sleeping head. The PSYCHO murder was out of the blue, terrifyingly final, with an unseen killer. In TOUCH the killer is well known to us and we only begin to realize the extent of his drunk machinations when he starts closing drapes and so forth in the room while Uncle Joe is still alive, calling up Pete and having Grande hold the phone at gunpoint, to relay to the vice boys the dope on Leigh; in other words she's a victim here of a drugging / frame-up but the framer is then killed as Quinlan frames the framer, and as what's coming dawns on him, Grandy slowly seems to shrink, finding corners and Expressionist shadows as if trying get as far as the room will allow, but still mesmerized and trapped like a mouse in a terrarium with a hungry king snake.

But at its core, Welles shows his flaw, the same one that trips of his number one disciple, Peter Bogdanovich, insecurity masking itself as contempt for the he-man type, as in being forced to cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop with "practically cabinet status in the Mexican government" and making him a boob through and through, sexually panicked, trying desperately to avoid sleeping with new wife Janet Leigh while at the same time using her as an excuse for not focusing fully on his job, and/or trashing Rancho Grande like an amok bull instead of being alert to her yelling for him out the hotel window; of blaming everyone else for his sexual dysfunction and taking sincerity at face value. "Captain," he says of a shaking suspect about to get the third degree, "he swears on his mother's life," even though it turns out he did it. "I'm no cop now I'm a husband!" he shouts while trashing the bar. Yeah, Orson sly infers, but you're a terrible husband, and a lousy cop. You don't get to yell at Dennis Weaver for someone stealing your gun if you're dumb enough to leave it with your wife in a hotel room where she's too scared to frickin' use it and open fire on the Mexican gang bangers. "Who the hell does Quinlan think he is? Pinning a murder rap on my wife," he says but at least Quinlan keeps her entertained. Heston on the other hand constantly leaves her behind in the interest of protecting her (he can barely get her an ice cream) and if he's such a high-standing cabinet member why doesn't he find a nicer town for a honeymoon? Behavior this incompetent we wouldn't see again until Mel Gibson leaving his wife and kids to go protect them in the first MAD MAX.








It's junior varsity symbolism but it's fascinating the way Heston's Vargass appears, like a photo, in a corner of a mirror next to rows of faded toreador cigar cards, no doubt left like calling cards by Dietrich's old toreador 'visitors.' Quinlan lurching to his feet with one massive bull taxidermy above his head, ridiculously large, the barbs still hanging in him and ready for his final dangerous charge, like the ants crawling all over the scorpion at the start of THE WILD BUNCH. The spectacle of the bland literalization of 'the law' up against its unbearably odious other; bureaucracy vs. the monster."Vargas is one of those starry eyed idealists," notes Quinlan. "They're the one's making trouble in the world." Hank's famous intuition was right; the kid really did plant that bomb.

But Vargas, since he's so mercilessly rounded by Welles' black humor subtext, doesn't bother me. I can watch TOE any old time. Certain things on the other hand can keep a film out of my rotation of summer stock staples. My Hawks' repertoire doesn't include MONKEY BUSINESS, for example, purely because of Cary Grant's buzz-cut and Ginger Rogers' annoying overdoing it as a born-again teenage virgin. Mainly though it's the buzzcut. It hurts the back of my neck just to see it. What kind of guy associates a military grade crew cut with being young and feckless? So, I have to pass.


But hey - Tarantino films for the most part always hold up to repeat viewings, though DJANGO is so harsh it's hard to relax with. On the other hand, I've already seen HATEFUL EIGHT six times. It's perfect for hot summers since it occurs during a blizzard. There are things that don't work for me, like the high voiced fey narrator (Quentin himself, successfully masking a lot of his vocal tics) who ducks in the second part like Magnolia; and the anachronistic White Stripes song (though one anachronistic song is okay in the post-Butch Cassidy tradition, I'd say that job's filled well by the penultimate chapter's killer's hunting the last survivor of the massacre to David Hesse's "Now You're All Alone") it's usually during a flashback or happier time montage, not so early in a film --it feel unearned. 


But shit like the Mexican's "Silent Night" on off-key but effective rendition (his soft "goddamn it" after flubbing a note, or again, gamely counterpointing Samuel Jackson and Bruce Dern's antithetical veering from 'shared a battlefield' post-war bonding ("most of my ponies"), to bitter ("I did better than my damn good brothers") to Jackson's harsh sadistic tale of killing his son meant for goading him into drawing first: "It was coooolllld the day I killed your boy"



Morricone's score is almost a Tarantino homage to himself - with a theme mixing the tick tock watch chime motif from For a few Dollars More with the relentless low registered horn cacophony crescendos of a giallo and the loping bassoon notes of one of his action films; or earlier the thud-thud bass players. Each actor's speaking style seems intimately cared for. There are deft Hawks references and Anthony Mann, and above all the kind of careful diagramming of hostages and killers that makes good movies, like Rio Bravo, as far as logical structure ("We can't shoot you down in the street because you're holding our friend hostage in the jail"). In Fistful of Dollars (1966) there's that bit wherein the mean bastard whose been in a family war with the other decides to blow up their house and kill everyone - it's like why the hell didn't the other do that; it's one of those dumb games that show the disinterest Leone has with the logistics underneath the west. Why it is the way it is and why duels were even invented, in the hands of someone with western savvy the motivation is clear: lots of witnesses so you can't shoot an unarmed man, or someone not trying to shoot you first (so it's self defense). For example Rio Bravo and Red River are endlessly rewatchable, in part because Hawks knows the kind of prodding by which two gunfighters "paw at each other and see what they're up against." And he knows the way you need the guy you want to kill to be reaching for his gun before you can legally shoot him, hence the gunfighter code, and he doesn't get all "killing is wrong" Kramer revisionist. Leone doesn't really seem to understand either philosophy: the law and self defense and witnesses never enter into it and killing is never condemned except by labels like "The Bad" flashing onscreen. They're all doing it that way because that's the way it's done in movies, and Morricone's electric guitar makes any other gesture seem half-assed. But with Hawks everything is based on hostages, lines of fire, and having guys who are "real good" shots, who don't get all mushy over killing sex or seven guys in a five second gun battle, and telling the Chinaman he's got more fifty-dollar gold pieces coming his way, and if you have the boss in your gunsights it doesn't matter how many of them there are because he'll be the first person shot. We always know the rules in Hawks, so things always make sense, its the kind of logic that's so enticing it makes us loyal, wins us with ballsy courage, like Arthur getting his enemy to knight him mid-battle in EXCALIBUR, knowing with so many witnesses no other possible recourse is open to his former foe than future loyalty.





But cop violence and stand your ground etc has been making it real clear why you always need to wait for the owlhoot to draw first, as its self defense that way, if he's black. That's what trips up John Ford, racism. He examines his trip cord in some films, not others. What makes HATEFUL EIGHT so much more a repeater film is it undoes mot just the injustices of MANDINGO, which DJANGO partly healed, but it's actually in the process the most hopeful film about the future of the country since TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL. And in the process it's also the most sharp-eyed about the reality of violence, and the thin blue line of law, as a shot about a Bas Reeves-style bounty hunter (a murdering cavalry officer who joined the war to "kill white folks") and a future sheriff ex-"Ni--er killer of Baton Rogue" - ex Confederate officer who end up allied against the Jody Domingray Gang.



This is the kind of salvo towards peace through an understanding of the importance of violent men that makes it so tragic the cops boycotted this film because of their uptight union where to question the behavior of even a few bad apples is to condemn all fruit, therefore to eat a single orange we must endure spoiled and corrupted, wormy apples --and it ain't Texan. Texan is to arrange picnics and volleyball games between cops and their neighborhoods, or to make and deliver cookies to precincts on holidays, or whatever.

Bottom line, DJANGO doesn't make the summer rotation, it is too harsh - all that whipping and mauling and howls of abuse. What makes EIGHT work for endless reviewings is that no one has dominion over nobody and shot on 70mm film it's probably the most gorgeous looking film in some time, the dark shadows glowing a whole spectrum of deep yellows and purples of the sort I hadn't seen since the Criterion clean-up of the RED DESERT smog. I could spend eternity looking at those fields of Wyoming snow, the carriage thundering along to Morricone's ominous twang and sing-song metronome, the bright yellow lining of Samuel Jackson's cavalry jacket. the way little details are visible clear across the room- the offhand way Kurt Russell assures Daisy he'll stop her cold with a bullet if she tries to escape and then casually wipes some stew from her chin with his napkin, or pours her a slug at the bar. The whole idea of being holed up in this cozy joint during a raging blizzard is a fine inverse mirror to the art of holing up in the AC with your stack of movies during a heat wave. And mostly, I love that Quentin sets up the victims of the Domingray gang massacre in such vivid detail, and makes most of them black without anyone calling attention to it, a kind of color-blind casting that works well because we've already heard much about them, and never pictured them black, only dead--and racist (Minnie hates Mexicans), or the cold dispassionate way the gang are all shown first sweet talking their victims, getting them up on ladders, buying candy, speaking French, etc, then shooting them point blank, and looking down at their still twitching bodies and scared eyes without a word, only clinical killer abstraction. So that in the next chapter, when most are dead or dying, we're totally happy - and the unseen massacring of Major Warren and Sheriff Chris Mannix is forgiven as stakes of war. After all that was then, and this is the Now, and none of that happened at Minnie's Haberdashery, nor that field of snow painted in Bruce Dern's fragile mind.

Ya mind seein' pictures yet?
Nor ours. All are equal going onto Minnie's, and if Major Warren steals the show and Jackson floats in the blood to the top, that's not unusual in a Quentin film - Jackson's the De Niro to his Scorsese, he swims in QT's rich language like a golden pool. In DJANGO he had but a few vicious scenes. Here it's almost a payback. It's about eight hateful characters but Jackson is the one who takes command, that Goggins' Confederate falls under his sway against a common foe makes them a kind of nice mirror to another future black cop/bounty hunter and white crook/sheriff against a lawless horde film, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. See them on a double feature and hey, you'll never spend a better four hours indoors, in the AC, and the shadow of the Hawks, in the dead of night, cuddled next to whomever crawls into your row. Of course you may find there's not many places to go afterwards, Carpenter, Hawks, that new show STRANGER THINGS on Netflix, and then.... where?

Damn it, you know where, Pierre. That giant space bird egg ain't gonna lay itself! That would answer too many damn questions, Pierre. We still have... a long way... to go...  but hand... in motherfuggin' hand... we'll get 1982 back from the Shadowlands...

your loving conqueror, Ro-Man


NOTES:
1. Sometimes in deep meeditation I can feel my aura beinng pulled toward the north pole, and I have a theory it acts as a kind of soul energy release transmitter, beaming our unused psychic wave energy offgrid to power you know what.
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