Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Saturday, December 26, 2015

BEST OF 2015



What a year. Is this the one where time broke? Critics best of are divided and prejudiced by what they were able to see, for thanks to streaming sites literally zillions of new movies come out every second. Whether a movie is from 2014 because it was at Cannes but not released to you until 2015, or won't be released til 2016 and you can't write about yet or hasn't been released here at all so you can get all chummy and presumptive of your readers' indulgence like people still care you used to write for the Times Ah hell, I'm doing it too just by talking about how much I hate them.


1. IT FOLLOWS
Dir. David Thomas Mitchell

Scary without being cruel or callous, sweet without being corny, David Thomas Mitchell has made maybe the best horror film ever. It's hit me, myself, quite personally, reminding me not of the 80s slasher craze that traumatized me a young kid but my reaction to them; my buddy Alan and I searching closets with a butcher knife and fire poker. I'm watching it right now, for the tenth time, and swooning from its deliriously low key embrace. Those long takes, low angles, the brilliant tracking shots through abandoned Detroit cityscapes like its America's own haunted house; Mithchell's Kubrick-esque ability to bring out the uncanny in geometrical movement without Kubrick's coldness. Detractors cite its inconsistency but this is myth, baby, one of the most succinct and purely mythic and scariest films ever made, with the best scary cool analog synth score not made by John Carpenter. A dream-past reverie on that mortal moment when we realize we're now 'grown' and not 'growing' and so we begin running from death as it runs to meet us just as John Donne fast as a mental patient relentless countdown. Seeking immortality in the sexual drive, 'passing it on' through the generations (Life: the original STD), the horror of birth and fear of death commingled like atoms to form the core of what makes 80s slasher movie tropes our new Grimm's Fairy Tales archetypal lexicon; virginity is just death's cab without the meter running. Once we have sex, the driver hits the flag down and the enging clicks to life. From now on, we're running up a bill.


There's also Maika Monroe, touching and low-key as Jay, the prettiest girl in the neighborhood yet actually sweet to all the kids she's grown up with on the block-- the mere mortals--including her kid sister and her friends; how that sweetness will rally them all around her in a protective wall when needed, a kind of chivalrous loyalty we haven't seen since the Victorian age, or the way even the smallest, shyest of replies and questions seem to hurt and embarrass these kids, their voices reticent and low, making it seem like no matter what the hour they're always trying to not wake the seldom-seen parents (as opposed to the crazed lustful shouts of most youngsters in movies); how beautiful pink and blue lights and 70s suburban shadows make every shot a luminous poem alive with vaguely 30s two-strip color used on films like Mystery at the Wax Museum and Dr. X, ironic as this is on HD video, showing the extent which its qualities and debits can be employed rather than merely ignored or overcome; how there's not a single cliche within 30 miles --no pop songs, no filler, no snark or meanness, not even any yelling, or parental meddling--instead, every frame a poetic illustration of the birth-death cycle, how even if we're just the subject of someone's attraction the demons can use their form against us, that no desire is free, no matter how unexpressed. And that when in the thrall of the first whooshing noise from the electric biological clock, all else seems underwater.


2. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Dir Quentin Tarantino
Everyone here at my Phoenix, Arizona-dwelling NRA member brother's house got ammo, holsters, and/or gun cleaner in their stocking today (it's 12/25/15) but all I wanted was this film, for our Xmas day seeing DJANGO three years ago had rocketed me into a higher time zone. And a bullet-riddled 70mm roadshow advance limited release "road show" screening of H8TEFUL was playing right next door in Tempe. It's colder here than it is in my home of New York City right now so I dig that his 8th film is set in the mountains over on the border between Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming in white-out blizzard inside and around a cozily lit all-purpose bar/stagecoach rest stop with a thunderously sly Morricone score riding below it like two ponies of Col. Rutledge's brandy. The 70mm and the blizzard environment keeps the breathtaking vistas blurred the way they are in real life when darkness falls early through thick Battle of the Bulge (also shot on 70mm) clouds, and keeps the indoor fires so vivid and analog perfect they could warm your tootsies just by moving a few rows closer.

Tarantino's out to fuck with our conceptions of 'rooting for' heroes and booing villains, and to even throw our PC feminist ire under the bus so that I use the word 'tootsies' for toes even though it goes against my liberal arts mind control programming. Such is the QT genius that this old programming freezes up, so I can cheer seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh get her teeth knocked out for using the N-word. I hope her ferocity is recognized at Oscar time! Is this her Hans Landa? Other cast members include Channing Tatum in a slight but mesmerizing performance that would make him a star if he wasn't already; Samuel Jackson as a Bass Reeves-y bounty hunter with a yen for goading a Confederate general (Bruce Dern) into reaching for his gun first and--well surprise, soo-prize--Walton Goggins demonstrating the maniacal Tarantino oomph that separates the inconsistent character actor from bona fide badass. And Bruce Dern is amazing as the general; he sounds like he was listening to real confederate generals through some time traveling tape recorder. Other cast members maybe not so much: as the 'dispassionate' hangman, Tim Roth sounds like he's trying to be Christophe Waltz one minute, and Peter Sellers doing a Richard Attenborough impression the next; Michael Madsen in Sheriff Woody cowboy vest seems lost as an enigmatic drifter, but his voice is great; Mexican actor Demián Bichir sounds like he's doing a fake Mexican accent as "Bob" but it's funny, and maybe appropriate.

It's too bad but maybe fitting that the police union condemned the film before even seeing it, for the wagon-circling-est of reasons, for it shows among many great things, black and white, blue and grey, bleeding red and reading a dubious Lincoln letter while the camera slowly rises as if up a flagpole (instead of a taut noose), and why I support the John Milius brand of seemingly self-contradicting pro-gun liberalism more than the guilt-trip crypto-fascism of the Michael Moore. Quentin does too, it would seem, for here amply illuminates the way the difference between murder and justifiable homicide/self defense sometimes hangs by a thread, and the importance of making sure your opponent has a gun in hand or a price on his head before you blow him out of his boots, lest you find yourself hung right quick. Real evil exists in the world, and when you're out in the wilderness there's no 911, so the thin blue line has to be drawn on the spot, in the bloody snow, by a boot with the toe shot off. The liberal academics who brainwashed me forget that, or simply refuse to believe it. So God bless the dying Warren Beatty in the Leonard Cohen snow; and bless the dying Jason Robards as the railroad track is laid past his bleeding body. Sometimes men with six shooters waving warrants and presidential letters like flags are all that separate us from void of chaos, anarchy, and massive carnage. Blue belly butchers and red state rednecks work together in the Tarantino west in order to preserve not just some half-assed Fordian notion of the law and civilization but because they've already seen firsthand (and even caused) the hell that overtakes a land when it devolves to wartime lawlessness, and they know they (and the country) may not survive a second glimpse.

3. MAPS TO THE STARS
Dir. David Cronenberg
This lurid, slow-burn haunted Hollywood saga of pyromaniac schizophrenics, ghosts manifesting as younger than their daughters, and egomaniacal stars with even more egomaniacal life coaches, could only come from an indie auteur outside the system but fluid within it, i.e. a Canadian, i.e. Cronenberg. With his pathological aversion to whimsy, he ensures the ghosts are a logical manifestation for a land where actor are all youth-obsessed narcissists trained in the art of letting their imagination get the better of them. In the same year's Clouds of Sils Maria, Binoche is playing an aging Marlene Dietrich remaking The Blue Angel as a butch Emil Jannings heading back to class to sulk after her younger wife hooks up with the strongman but in Maps, the better option to growing old and irrelevant is finally presented: burn the whole fucking cabaret to the ground. (full review)

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Dir. George Miller

The weird gold patina of the action in the promos made it seem like much CGI about nothing, especially if you loved the Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) as an alienated kid, but didn't really like the first (with its then "American" dubbed soundtrack) or third (too grotesque). But Miller's fourth film takes the big truck chase climax of the The Road Warrior and stretches it two hours into the void and is full of sunbleached women, Nordic mutants and crazy vehicles. It left some critics shellshocked but most were like me, their socks blown off so far they drifted in astral winds. I have a feeling it's going to make a lot of alienated 15 year-old boys very happy for centuries to come. I know I am.

5. THE OVERNIGHT 
Dir. Patrick Brice

It's hard to make new friends as an adult these days--it takes effort. And that goes double for couples, which is why it's often up to their children. For my parents it was through the Jaycees they met all their swinging couples and my brother and it being the 70s, I remember staying up and greeting the sunrise with another family, all nine of us, where everyone loved everyone else, that was magical stuff. Where did that go? Have I become a night owl in love with staying up to sunrise because of those memories? Even the 70s had a hard time capturing that giddy high. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice skipped the kids part, and there's The Ice Storm skipped the love part, and there's Radley Metzger's Score! and its predecessor Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? skipped both, but The Overnight gets it oh-so right, launching it into a kind of in a weird class all its own. What works so well in this film is the spontaneity of it, the actors are all excellent, and the truths and acceptances fly fast and furious. I generally avoid anything with the name Duplass associated with it, for personal reasons that really have nothing to do with them themselves, but this film is so good --with great well nuanced performances by Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott in the 'normal' couple role, and Judith Godrèche and Jason Schwartzman as the more liberated couple, in a beautiful house with an array of fabulous artsy rooms, including as we learn, separate bedrooms. The whiskey gets poured, the clothes are shed, the bong is brought out, the kids lulled to sleep, and the chips begin to fall where they may. Whether or not you experienced any nights like this yourself, either as the child or the drugged out adult, you can't help but appreciate the way inhibitions are shed when truths come out rather than vice versa, and one doesn't merely fall back on old knee-jerk circle the wagons denial and evasion, then liberation of inhibitions lead to all sorts of confessions and bonding, the bullshit all cut through in great strides. Capturing the magic of that is like lightning in a bottle, which is why this film is so very much electric.


6. THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Dir Olivia Assayas


With its trio of strong female leads ranging along the All about Eve axis, playing versions of themselves and each other with interlapping age gaps accounted for with the same weird mix of back-stabbing and tough love with which younger executive assistants are shepherded by older employers into the abyss of self-awareness and ambition. While certainly great material for the actresses to layer up in, almost accidentally summing up and illustrating the artist's great instinct for self-sabotage, his fascination with watching his/her life/work burn up in the car fire of doomed love. This time it comes from the discussion between Maria (Juliette Binoche) and her assistant Val (Kristen Stewart) about Maria's character in the play within the film, Maria's Lars Von Trier/Fassbinder nihilistic interpretation vs. Val's interpretation of Maria's interpretation as an easy rationalization that excuses self-pity, creating a false image of youth based on one's own rose-tinted memories to shield the character's own stunted maturation, of embracing a different social role as one wave in the "seas of gray hair." Kristen Stewart steals the show as Val, handling her personal assistant duties with startling cool, knowing just how to rile or soothe or otherwise push Maria's buttons while juggling deals and cars and hotel rooms and interviews and meetings with photographers without ever seeming to break her cool detached stride or get mad at her incessantly ringing cell phone. Chloë Grace Moretz is the rising star playing the younger part in the play; Valentine takes Maria to see the latest superhero movie which Moretz stars in, and Maria's mocking laughter gradually comes between them.

7. INHERENT VICE
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Who knows what would have been the result if Welles made a 70s stoner detective film. Would it have been INHERENT VICE, or is there just no character titanic enough within the story to hold his interest? In the end, that may be the thing. There's no core or center to VICE, no 'hurrah' moment like the pool party in BOOGIE or the "I'm the antichrist" climax of BLOOD. Phoenix is a great actor, but he's a scrawny shell of a thing, a short wiry little weirdo whose hipster disaffect on talk shows is alienating and less clever than he thinks. We don't gravitate to him like we do to Warren William or Bogart in similar roles, or even Dick Powell or big Jeff Bridges (or his father, Lloyd Bridges, for that matter). As for VICE's detective narrative, it's more coherent than some, but trying to explain the plot to my underwhelmed GF, all I could do is relate the anecdote about Hawks calling Raymond Chandler from the BIG SLEEP set to ask who actually killed Owen Taylor and Chandler not knowing the answer either. It doesn't matter. I've seen BIG SLEEP a dozen times at least, and I'm almost ready to blame Joe Brody, but Joe's saying he just sapped him for the incriminating picture from the back of the head of Krishna, So don't even draw the connections, baby. Just soak in Eric Roberts' brilliant monologue that rips the guts out of capitalism with an LSD trowel and reveals nothing but jewelry-coated vultures beneath the black enamel topsoil, the breathing aurae of cinematographer Robert Elswit, spiderweb lines of light and shadow haloing around every actor; the great clothes and cars like some old album come to life, Phoenix a little monkey wiggling free of his angel dust entrapment cuffs and every drug you have ever done shivering to your DNA surfaces. You're home, if you're like me, in this murky mythic din of countercurrent flashbacks. Every time you smoked angel dust it was because some dirtbag laced his joint and didn't tell you til it was too late. You were only an infant but you well remember the morning when every TV channel showed only the streaky continuous feed of astronauts bouncing around the moon in molasses air, like they were underwater, the audio just transmitted astronaut chatter and space interference, hour after hour, the usual old science fiction movies of the morning pre-empted, their futuristic fiction now outmoded into ancient fact." (MO)



8.a. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE 
Dir. Anna Lily Amirpour

At last there's an Iranian vampire love story, told in resonant black and white and set in "Bad City," actually amidst the graveyards and oil derricks of Bakersfield, CA., "pumping up money" as Hank Quinlan would say, or "blood" as vampire Plainview would say. A place where rock anthems are still and forever relevant, it's forever the 80s, all while Madonna stares out from her poster and the days are marked by a junkie father's itchy paranoia. "The first western Iranian vampire movie" has a startling doppelganger effect in Sheila Vand's similarity to the film's writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour, as she's an amazing character, a specter of feminist vengeance for oppressed women in Iran's repressive milieu, wrapped in her black cape hijab like Dracula's, she preys mainly on male predators, waiting until they've shot up heroin or done some lines of coke before making her move, all the better to get high off the blood (though this is never spelled out). Gauging their response to her silent staring and seemingly everywhere at once, her playfulness as she stalks and mirrors carries itself a long way. Even with his blood rich in ecstasy, though, after a costume rave, our girl holds off indulging, instead engaging in a slow motion moment, beautifully set to a madly whirling disco ball and White Lies' "Death," a perfect song to bring them together as it builds slowly from just another click track into emotional sweep and grandeur all the more special for seeming to come so guileless and true, the Let the Right One Inverse of Sixteen Candles.


8.b. APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR
Dir. Desiree Akhavan

Here's a second great film written, directed and starring (1) a hot young second generation Iranian American woman (Desiree Akhavan) living just too much for the city. And If you've lived in NYC in your 20s and dated around with a lot of wild drinking, drugging, hipster girls in run-down apartments, shared your hopes and stash and yadda yadda, then you can tell when it's done right, by someone who knows what they're talking about. Frances Ha? No, I don't believe girls this vapid could survive five minutes. But Broad City? Yes, no doubt. Those girls are the shit. And then there's this great film, the way it constantly checks itself through blunt confessional conversation not to wreck itself backsliding into second generation Iranian-American immigrant, lesbian awakening, Lena Dunham slutty exhibitionism or Zooey-esque quirky girl cliche. All the cliche in fact I was dreading, including the white pride in opening up to a foreign culture at a foreign wedding, with colorful garb and dancing etc, or the stern old world parents that don't get their Americanized daughters bisexuality (the dad puts his foot down, mom says "I'll talk to him") or something? None of that. Here the dad is great, chill even with moving his daughter into filthy artsy flats full of strange roommates.  Mom can't quite acknowledge the coming out, as if she's literally deaf to it, but that's natural, at least there's no grandma praying over her via a goat on a spit or something like the Fat Greek Wedding (though it was original at the time); the dialogue and Park Slope vibe (I know, 'cuz I live there, bra) is spot on. Nor is the film hung up on sexual deviance and lurid over-the-toppness the way Girls is, though I like that show well enough, those are girls I would never hang out with in real life, while the girl played so stunningly here by Akhavan is so alive and believable I love her; she makes no attempt to become a type for another type to bounce off against, avoiding nearly every indie pitfall or pratfall through the kind of cut the crap honesty I hadn't seen since last year's sterling Obvious Child...




9. THE NIGHTMARE
Dir. Rodney Ascher 

(From Demon Sheets: Sleep Paralysis Theories): Scientists tend to forget the way our sensorially-decoded paradigm is limited to human perception of self and their myopia makes them paranoid, like fundamentalist Christians seeing heretics in the cobwebs of their attics. If a Christian has sleep paralysis, the being looming above him would be perceived as Satan; if he had being reading David Icke, the being would be a reptilian alien; a gnostic scholar would see an archon; a UFO scholar, a flock of greys come for an abduction. Doesn't mean they're not seeing something, or that it's just "the very painting of their fear." It means they're seeing things as they really are, fluid, void of permanence, subject to our sensory decoding and all its prejudicial whims.

10. FORCE MAJEURE
Dir. Ruben Östlund

In Majeure, an upscale Nordic family's Alpine ski vacation is interrupted after an avalanche blowback whiteout that rolls over the outdoor brunch patio causes the father to run away in panic, leaving wife and kids to fend for themselves. The white out clears, brunch resumes, the father returns like nothing's happened, but the mom's faith in him is destroyed; he only exacerbates her distrust when he tries to remember it differently, to deny and convince her of a different set of facts. Thanks to the long-held stationary camera, the white-out can no longer occur in memory as well as nature, not in this era, not when the elephant in the room has been identified and deflated, and no one can smoke, be mean to gay people, or trod carelessly over other people's feelings like the Great White Dad used to be able to do. Dad has no power, inside or out, and he gets slapped for flinching from his last slap. But fate is cruel evenly and the white outs never end.. and Östlund gives us such a wide magnificently framed canvas of events, such sublime use of the HD frame, that we feel like we could step through the screen door right into this hotel. We can smell the melting snow and rubber, the chlorine... it's intense, beautiful, and the best film about what vacation is really like on a fathers' nerves since ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW.

11. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Dir. Jermaine Clement, Taika Watita

Finally we have a mockumentary as good as This is Spinal Tap, a Funny or Die joint with the NZ crew behind the late great Flight of the Conchords, it's a richly photographed, laugh-packed, low-key vampire roommate comedy that I'll admit sounded pretty cashed, played and same-old-shit sort of thing on paper, but the details include: a basement dwelling Nosferatu roommate, the great Jermaine Clement as the deep voiced Vlad the Impaler type, a flatline human named Stu, a rival posse of werewolves, and the amount of blood and killing presented almost matter of factly (rather than the usual cop-outs and guilt-trips). All in all a well worth repeat-viewing future cult masterwork, as timeless as the centuries-old vampires themselves.

NOTES:
1. Amirpour didn't play the lead in her film, but did double for her in the skateboard scenes, so what does that tell you? 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Babes of Wrath: Dangerous Women of the New Depression vs. American Dogma



According to some wide mean streak in American pop criticism--stretching from bourgeois Academy voters all the way to  the soured douchebags of the comments sections--gorgeous sexy young girl artists and performers are meant to be just about anything but genuinely subversive. Never challenging to the status quo in any other way but via shrill feminist harangues and union cards. They can be gazed on but not gaze back, not threaten our place of omnipotent safety in the theater/living room. Medusas in Reverse, we presume our right to gaze upon their loveliness (or lack of) at our Mulveyan leisure, judging them for their garb, hair, posture, youthfulness; but if they look at us the same way, it turns us instantly to stone. It's the revenge of Lacan's petit a, when one's persona-accruing object of desire turns suddenly and stares back, or even worse, sends us a come hither stare. Suddenly they're no longer achingly far away but too close for comfort. We run shrieking to the channel changer like a window shade, embarrassed and angry. Later when they've closed those eyes to sleep we creep up from the dark and scribble mean things on their door. We're so mature.

If you don't know what I mean, here's an example: you're a regular straight dude gazing at some beautiful woman across a crowded room or street, not even thinking consciously, just spreading some proprietary gaze around like a radar, as a man does, especially in our constant state of televisual hypnosis, where we're conditioned to treat all pretty girls as if they're onscreen and can't gape back. So there's this one girl you see across the street and she's way hot, so you're gazing a little more wistfully, as if she was your favorite new actress. Then suddenly she sees you. She stares back at once, unflinching, smiling enigmatically, and starts to cross the street towards you, slowly but not shyly.

Before you can stop yourself, you blush and turn away, start walking in the other direction, like you got caught at something. A second later you reconsider. You're not a shy poseur, you should turn and meet her and who knows? Is she waiting there for you to nut up or shut up, gaze-wise?

Of course not. She's already gone. It's too late. She's talking to someone else, or was actually walking towards someone behind you. You realize her proprietary gaze is way more advanced than yours. For you she was pretty, for her, you were fresh meat. She knew she'd cow you, knew you were all gaze and no follow-through. Now though, you hate her. She popped your balloon with a pin eyelash.


Welcome to the New Depression. For the American critic, who is too high up the bourgeois ladder to look down without getting vertigo, this is where it ends. That hate constitutes sufficient ground for the poison pen to write and having writ, move on, and often that means on down to their parents' basement, as they been fired, their editors have had their budget slashed and can hire prettier younger critics at 1/4 their price... all these old dog critics can do is bark petulantly from the safety of their wordy leash columns. And their reviews get more and more blatantly misogynist the more and more power--imaginary or other--they're forced to secede to women 1/2 their age eager to work twice as hard for 1/4 the money. Most obvious of all though is something I see in academia all the time, a complete blindness to their own faults and foibles. Having years of clout, all access laminates, and Fed-Exed daily screeners have left them spoiled and egotistical, and if someone comes along and points out their writing betrays an insecure misogynist virgin at its core, they wig out like it's not just they have been insulted, but--as JJ Huensecker would say--all 20 million of their readers. And if the someone pointing it out is a hot bitch 1/3 their age who writes twice as well for 1/10 the price and just got the exact same all-access laminate and put on all the same PR screener mailing lists, it's just too much too bare for them and they lash out blindly and viciously. In the words of some pompous silver-bearded bourgeois behind me at Magno Screening Room circa 2003, "how dare that little blonde bimbo call me a misogynist?!"

Isn't this the reason so many women don't gaze back? The average male gaze becomes like a prison searchlight, or a buzzing hornet. The woman mustn't seem like it bothers her, that she even notices, lest that average male gaze turn hateful, fearful, threatened. This gives her power in its way, as she becomes more and more like an onscreen heroine, a babe on a jpeg, an abstract locus of petit a Lacanian desire. But it's got to be withering on the nerves, like not flinching while a hornet buzzes around your ears and eyes for minute after minute, year after year.

Kristen Stewart, looking
If you are man able to embrace that reciprocal sting of the woman's return gaze, without needing to sting in return (recognizing your flinching as a pre-conditioned response that's 'on you' not them) even savor it like a Joseph von Sternberg character, then you find you at least don't hate them/her. You can stay in awe, as a friend and admirer, and so to not lose her as a source of soothing beauty, inspiring cool, and seething wit. You can bask in her soothing charm and imperious aura as she commands the dream screen cabaret, not imagining oneself as her would-be wooer but as her life coach, cool friend, advisor in romantic affairs.

On the screen this translates more or less automatically, which is why for example I hate to see an actress I admire date a actor I don't in a movie. George Brent or Fred MacMurray, for example, have faces my fists clench up instinctually to punch. I want my girl to date someone played by Cary Grant or William Powell, someone of whom I certainly approve. They can return that gaze without blushing and looking away, and I can watch them as their unborn child might from some ENTER THE VOID perspective, their godlike figures looming on the screen. As viewers we inhabit a perspective beyond age and gender, beyond pleasure or pain except as it effects her. We are subject only to the presence/absence of the goddess, our gigantic mom idol, Nicole Kidman beaming overhead like a rectangular religious vision over the 'Exit' sign when you see Birth alone in the dark of the Orpheum.

First we need to erase from our brains certain rom-coms that try undo von Sternberg's masochistic gaze, that try to flatter the shot guy complex neediness of certain little pisher comics desperate to seem desirable to hot blonde shiksas.

Rot in Hell, "Harry"! 
THE DEFAMATION OF THE PLATONIC PAIR BOND: 
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1991)

In American rom-coms of today, love scenes are generally written and acted by people drawing on a collective cinematic memory that doesn't reach father back than 1991's When Harry met Sally, which smugly taught that men and women can't be best friends without eventually hooking up, that even if you're smaller than she is with a voice like a tin piano, you can pull some late inning guilt trip to get her into bed, craftily knock her up, and then live happily ever after, elf princess hand-in-hand with craven Gollum.

Sally's arrival into the mainstream lexicon ("I'll have what she's having") stunted the sexual development of American romantic comedy, trapped it in a nose-wrinkling cutesy fake orgasm tourist mentality ever since. There's only a handful of romantic comedies made in Hollywood in the last 20 years that get the complexity of French love stories by say Rohmer or even Clint Eastwood's early films like Breezy. And none have been able to really show falling in love happening right there onscreen; as Yogi Berra might say, they can't slow down fast enough. Maybe that's because the PC corrective shoes on our 70s swinger feet have left us hobbled so that we can't even retreat. There's no Mae West to lead us out from under the unending parade of televisual hot mess permafrost. Amy Schumer came close in Trainwreck but then copped out by learning cheerleader dances. Only recently, with women-penned young adult novels like Twilight and Hunger Games, are we presented with female protagonists too bona fide complex for insecure male screenwriters and directors to sabotage, and actresses too young and strong to be yet cowed by that old devil searchlight male gaze. They got gazes all their own, these dames, and god forbid they cast their beams back into the camera, the whole audience freezes up like a corrupted share drive.

Not since the days of Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish have women characters been so true to novels and plays, i.e. genuinely complex--even to the point of feigning weakness-- rather than our current movie idea of strong, where no heroine is allowed to go farther than her own surface and becoming empowered means a gun and a new hat, rather than ripping a hole in the glass ceiling and smoking the sky like crack. These Reverse Medusas don't get the same kind of open praise as the 'little sisters" (Jennifer Lawrence), or old school Hollywood knock outs (Scarlett Johansson)-- the ones who fit inside established persona categories, who talk the walk and wow the interviewers and generally play the game, the kind your parents want you to marry when you bring them home over Christmas (as opposed to locking up the liquor cabinet and shooting you baleful looks). I love both those actresses, I love most all actresses in fact. But I have a soft spot for the apple cart kickover artists, the hot mess crazy wreckers.

But to swap the genders, in which category do you think Brando or James Dean would have fallen in the early 50s?  Certainly they would scare the shit out of your parents, simultaneously generous and miserly, girly and manly, fey and churlish, mercurial, dangerous, alive, smelling terrible. These bad girls and reckless boys were all over the 70s, and the drive-in, but where are they now? We need them! Go to bed already "mom" and let the bad kids come over. And if some shit gets broken, stolen, or bloodied, so what? Crazy is so close to genius you have to just trust all the smashing is going somewhere relevant, even if it never does. Otherwise, we'll never make a movie any better than Forrest Gump. 





THE REDEMPTION OF THE PLATONIC PAIR BOND: MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING (1997):

You can still find mainstream badass women characters that average critics love but don't recognize for their genius, any more than they do Kristen Stewart (until she was lionized by the French this year). Julia Roberts is brilliant in My Best Friend's Wedding and people revere her in it, but the people who revere her tend not to be film theorists or critics, maybe for no other reason than they haven't seen it. I never would have seen it myself--from the title alone--except for Robin Wood's high praise in Sexual Politics in Narrative Cinema. From afar it looks like a typical rom-com except for one thing: Julia's two best friends are men, one an aesthete gay editor (Rupert Everett) miles away from the cliche, and the other a blank slate sports writer (Dilbert McDevitt) who has a sexual past with Julia which was transcended by friendship, which is more important. 

The moral of the film, that Wood picked up on is essay and I'm running with here, is that having a platonic love affair/best friend of the opposite gender one never hooks up with (either anymore or ever to begin with) is not only possible it's better than actual carnal love, at least for a certain kind of person, i.e. a true writer in the sense that sex and procreation are never as important to a writer as writing, or shouldn't be. Writers only engage in sex long enough to write about it later. In The Leopard, Burt Lancaster says "marriage is six months of fire and forty years of ashes," but the platonic soulmate best friendships are more like forty years of smoldering coal, continually giving enough heat to warm the entire room and allow for freer movement, but with a sweater on instead of naked on a bearskin rug.

DAMAGE

And so today, a new age. We have subversive outside-the-box genius women on screen and airwave who are unafraid to tap into their own personal hells, their bi-polar melancholia, drug addiction, abusive past, as colors for their performer paintbox. And above all they unveil the willingness to sit there, in make-up, furs and write large upon our screens such reverse Medusa gazing as Hollywood not seen since the era of screwball comedy. They are like a relatively young version of Gloria Swanson, continually shedding her Norma Desmond reptilian scaly hide on a monthly basis, rather than letting it accrue, get flaky and become the ascendent ego.

It's terrifying for a man to realize just how much damage his gaze inflicts; he doesn't even think he has a gaze at all until some girl gazes back and he feels so suddenly caught and threatened. For startled bourgeois critics, self-assured return gaze brazenness better have a British or French accent attached, or she better be over 40 and playing a villain. If she's one of ours, a young American, then she's just being uppity, trying to glorify those haughty hussy habits which mothers would willingly ween from the line. If these dangerous women try to find the poetry that is there in the abyss of the mirror, they become a threat.

The Europeans aren't as threatened, which is why their women are allowed to be so much more vibrant, intellectual and confident. They know that just because it's destructive and pointless doesn't mean it's not brave, beautiful and poetic. Sixty years ago the whole continent was smashed to shit, but look where they are now compared to us! Shit doesn't matter. Only occasionally are there critics in the American press and mommy blogs who can locate and analyze the dark chthonic core of feminine power and celebrate its destructive Kali currents rather than moping like some Fordian Irish scrubwoman.

You know you are, you Kali flame dancin' foxy fur-wearin' bitchez!

ANGELINA JOLIE, for example, once had the kind of crazy that scares the shit out of the status quo Oscar-giving bourgeois, but then she starred in Beyond Borders (2003) and became that character, i.e. a Red Cross Saint Theresa-type enamored of saving the third world's children. Now she just earns an eight figure check on the blockbusters to pay the orphanage bills but saves her real chutzpah for saintly suffering mother roles like Changeling.

That's okay, that's her trip. Who am I to judge her on what she says or does (Dan Hill, bro), now. But she used to be a bona fide badass, as you can see if you scroll up her red carpet moments at the 1999 Oscar ceremony (where she wen Best Supporting for Girl Interrupted) where she showed the kind of black widow resonance a genuinely dangerous actress could radiate, especially since her date was her equally sexy/creepy brother (above left).

Because such crazy sexy cool as hers in that picture is usually only celebrated in men (Jack Nicholson, De Niro, Day Lewis), the only way American actresses can show their fiery goddess of chthonic psychosexual power and still catch an Oscar is if said fire is contextualized and confined to the psych ward, or meets death at the end. Angelina Jolie could win an Oscar because her Lisa in Girl wound up even crazier and less likely to be released than when we first meet her. The bourgeois were 'safe' in applauding her, loving the caged lion but ready to run like hell if it ever got loose.

Well, it escaped, collectively, and the bourgeois critical consensus has been running ever since, still loping around behind the web's instant feedback loop like that old Italian guy chasing after Barbara Steele in 8 1/2. unaware they're on a goddamned hamster wheel, fighting every day for space in actual print publications like wildebeests at a shrinking watering hole. There's no more Pauline Kael to call them out as they pile into any old van marked 'Important' art cinema, only to find they have nowhere to come back to when the festival is over; they've been replaced on the mastheads by cute interns with six-digit Twitter followers who never even heard of Hitchcock.

French publications like Cahiers du Cinema, meanwhile, once our tastemakers pointing out what amongst our perceived B-movie dross was gold, are becoming more bourgeois, busy praising small third world proletariat struggle documentaries rather than Ants in your Plants of 2009. And so our White Elephants stampede towards Oscar gold, renting space on the dwindling art house screens for a week to be eligible, pushing the real art, the dangerous art, off in just the same way their editorial champions were pushed off their mastheads. Only a few Europeans like Von Trier, Assayas, Refn, and Noe seem to be still trying to unearth the weird undiscovered worms beneath unturned rocks of the Now, but they get very hung up on sex and violence, both to please executive producers and to get shocked write-ups. If the critics feel something, even if it's just shock and disturbed trauma, at least they felt.

Meanwhile, in America, we just don't get deluges of German Expressionists fleeing the Fatherland to Hollywood any more, bringing women like Marlene Dietrich and Garbo to school us in the return gaze, the sick pleasure in seeing a beautiful self-possessed women seen both herself seeing you and you seeing what she sees, and feeling the sting of rejection when she turns to look at someone else (hopefully not goddamned George Brent).

As Mick La Salle points out in his book Dangerous Women, there was nothing sexual in the love of a 1920s moviegoing male for Garbo. There every night, eyes looking up to the big screen, his love encompassed and then transcended even the giant mommy aspect (her silver screen projected face as large as mom's was when he was a suckling child); it tapped into primordial matriarchal pagan harvest goddess worship, and outwards into a kind trans-behavioral oceanic state of aesthetic arrest.

But today Laura Mulvey's theory of the sadistic gaze is treated more or less as gospel in academia, and so pre-empts and denies that relationship can exist. Though Mulvey is on record saying the meant her theory more as a conversation starter rather than the first and last word, mainstream theory has ignored her, using it as a new dogma. And now even the Femme Fatale is criticized as a male design, and the result has been a generation of crypto-feminists trying to slap the imagined masculine gaze from out of their eyes and face like a crazy person batting at invisible mosquitos.


LANA DEL REY: 60s AMERICA'S SWEETEST SUICIDE NOTE

Lana Del Rey's made a string of great sad sexy videos that seemed to prove the ghosts of early 60s Los Angeles suicides are the only thing of substance left in America, and then only because their last few memories were shot on Super 8 and 16mm home movie stock. But the negative feedback her schtick received, even from third wave feminist pundits, back in the early days, was quite alarming. It wasn't exactly new (she would fit right in any David Lynch or Don Draper nightmare) but she tapped a nerve. She was gorgeous yet strange, with those lips that hovered between seeming real and seeming collagen-ish; a dazzling body and great cascading beehive-ready hair and a never say no policy to drugs, alcohol and bad boys that sent our American Puritan minds racing. She was just doing whatever drugs the bad boys have, getting into cars with strangers, and engaging in all sorts of twisted scenes with hot black guys and middle-aged bikers, much to our masochistic Von Sternbergian fury. The privileged PC Communist infiltrator liberal arts faculty-brainwashed feminists found themselves angry over the most mundane inconsistencies in her origin story. She used to be named Lizzy Grant and have curly hair and sing bubblegum pop or something, like she was the only singer who ever changed names or personas.

Meanwhile, the Jungian mythos and psychomythological natural law-abiding Paglia feminists like myself were genuinely enthralled by Lana del Rey/Lizzy Grant's ability to zero in on and then embody the dark dream anima of the American culture dreamscape consciousness, as if she was a succubus from space who'd lived many lives and been soaking up America's broadcast radio, TV and dream transmissions as she flew closer and closer to our dreaming third eye, ready to whip that return gaze and Medusa us at a moment's notice should our sympathy but waver a nanosecond.

In short, if the naysayers had gone in for Jung or even modernism then they'd know their their indignant anger was the correct aesthetic response, the same one response solicited by the girl who stares back and causes us to blush instinctively, look away, and feel like a loser. The anger is correct it's the not realizing Von Sternberg / Bunuel masochism is the purist cinematic experience that's the problem, It takes self-awareness to be able to detach from one's shame long enough to realize its phantasm roots rather than just presuming you're right to hit back if you feel hit, regardless of you actually were. Those Del Rey videos sting our pride like a slap in the face. We can storm off and call our lawyers or use the pain, the humiliation as a kind of reset button, savor it the way we savor dream cinema, the type where not possessing or controlling the seen stimuli that so affects our emotions is a liberation through enslavement.


ROSE McGOWAN'S COUNTER-TERRORISM AESTHETIC: RM486

Trained as we Americans are by today's multiplex cinema to slough off actresses and characters into various boxes (sullen daughter, misguided vixen, All-American heimliches dumbmadchen, materialistic villain, traumatized victim / avenging angel, etc.) we feel bewildered when a woman, especially a young pretty woman kicks them over, not after a third act sulking montage but within the same bedroom conversation, navigating a push-me-pull you Sun Tzu-Rommel strategy. We're Americans, we're not comfortable with ambiguity and fluid personae in attractive young women. It makes us nervous. Would we want to sleep with them or not? It's a simple question! Yes or no? Our fantasy is being punctured by her bi-polar ambiguity.

Let's say you're an average SWM in the 90s but haven't had any luck with the ladies for almost a year. Then, you see "her," everyone in your posse thinks she's gorgeous, and you--not your more confident and successful buddies egging each other on--are the one who brings her home to your bachelor pad. You sit her down on the bed, and go to make some drinks in the kitchen, high on yourself, already mentally slapping five with your bros the next day at brunch. Then... as you bring in the drinks she remembers she has to quick call her friends so they don't worry where she is. Her mom cuts in on another line and she spends an hour shouting in Russian, so you go in the other room to watch TV. you come back into the room as soon as you hear he hang up, but within minutes of making out she's already asleep, totally passed out. You're a gentleman so that's that; you tuck her in and lock up your valuables, go in the other room and watch The Lost Weekend over and over as the sun comes up. That's when you need it most, in the morning. And bars are closed, why? Why, Nat?

Man, if your buddies could see you now.

But if you're bitter, if you feel you were owed some sex or something, that's on you, bud. Sorry your fantasy, or rather "the" fantasy--the one conjured and subliminally promised by Esquire, NBC, and cinema--didn't pan out just exactly as you fantasized, that you'll have nothing to boast of whatsoever. But again, if you can sublimate that bitterness into your art, then it's just a question of masochistic tolerance, and love of women in the abstract. That's when you can appreciate her ferocity and honesty rather than what your boys expect you to "get out" of her, what "base" you crossed.

But even we Von Sternberg masochists, we debauched libertines who worship the Medusa, feel slightly like we let Rose McGowan down when we see her looking like a gray alien or Argento Opera-lashed post-pagan in her badass music video, RM486. Bald, chalk-white, whispering Roy Batty's Blade Runner monologue like her full WB Network-encoded matrix is being spat out in digital ticker tape, she's a new model, a Nexus 9, fluid and beyond duality, the gender strait-jacket in chewed-up tatters at her feet. She's let the full brunt of our collective gaze rain on her, raze her, and let the old self dissolve like William Shatner's tears... in The Devil's Rain.

To paraphrase Lori Williams in Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, whatever she's training for, she's ready.



There was only one imdb user comment (last I checked) on her video's page, from a German guy named Thomas who notes:
"I must say I quite like her as an actress, saw all her 'Charmed'" episodes, but it's tough for me to appreciate these 4 minutes, maybe because I find her very attractive and in here, she goes for the exact opposite."
I don't mean any disrespect to Thomas--he at least is self-aware enough to imply he's biased because he find finds her attractive. But Thomas, that's it in a nutshell! Achieving your 'tough to appreciate' exact opposite is the goal of all modern art. Rose and her video artist director Jonas Åkerlund have taken your attraction to beauty and use it to fuck with you.

When a hot woman transforms herself not into an approximation of a Maxim airbrush but into a kind of abject Molloch style alien--as RM does here--she's reacting to the beauty and youth industrial complex that's kept her and her sisters in anxiety and paranoia to the point they torture their face with collagen and Botox late into the night until they emerge at dawn like Universal pre-code Jack Pierce abominations, teeth scarred from eating disorders, face a hideous duck-like grimace, they go from aging beauty to avian gorgon in a single night! RM's given you the real Self beneath the illusion and if an hour phone call in shouted Russian wasn't your expectation, relish that feeling of alienation and confusion, so few men even get to that level--it's like secret initiatory hazing, the first step to liberation from desire. It's the true "modern" aesthetic response, as important as the initial riots over Picasso's debut of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. (upper left)

Maybe there's something deeper than narcissism and fear at work behind this overpainting, self-sabotage, reverse beautification, a kind of counterespionage CIA mind trick, a throwing a Perseus mirror shield visor over your face, to reflect Medusa's Vogue-Revlon gaze, to freeze it with horror, paranoia, creeping dread as it beholds its own hideous reflection. Rose McGowan's lashing out against the Hollywood beauty grist mill is heroic, as the Brists would say: it's absolutely bonkers! As daft and admirable and crazy as they come: half Frances Farmer punching out cops, half Saint Francis marching the dye-stained child laborers out of his parent's textile mill into the blazing sunlight.

Sleeping with the enemy of my enemy on his enemy's command = a cinematic love story for the ages

HITCHCOCK'S LADY SPIES

I used to think that the casting of so many attractive young girls in high ranking CIA spots in movies like Zero Dark Thirty and TV shows like Homeland and Alias was just licentious license, but if you see an actual CIA documentary, like the one on HBO, recently you realize it's the truth--pretty young women are all over the upper ranks of the CIA. They are brilliant and brave and better at connecting the dots of seemingly unrelated events and movements into a serpentine whole than men.  Beauty and charisma are keys to success in any field that relies on winning people's loyalty, turning their allegiances around using nothing more than a warm smile and maybe waterboarding. Acting and spying are really more or less the same, drawing on the same skills. Beauty is as valuable to a spy as a photographic memory or crack shot marksmanship. Only an American would think that using beauty to excel in your job is somehow 'cheating.'

Hitchcock's movies point even darker: spies are not only actresses but whores, stealing uranium instead of 'earning' the long green, forced to sleep with the bad guy by the good guy she loves (there's no concrete difference between a CIA handler and an uptown pimp) for evidence, cash, the part, or the script. Even if it means losing the respect of Cary Grant, the show must go on. If she pretends she's in love with someone long enough that even she starts to believe it, well, isn't that the same as falling in love for real? It's the kind of thing that can drive a girl mad even while earning her Globes, Oscars, and jury prizes. Glittery ephemeral dreams leave just a blue key and an empty box where once was a Betty and Diana. Slimy spiders scatter through the bulletin board web, pinning every topless frame helpless out of context, then hating you for your image's power over them. You've become not just a spy, not just an actress, not just a whore, but a target, a bullseye at the center of the board, the spider that all strands lead to, your every trapped panicked thrashing movement part of the inexorable slow sexual strand red carpet roll up between fear, desire, and procreation. It's this exact madness censorship tries to stem, in vain.

When it gets out of hand, it's time to tell mother.

Notorious
Now the spy comparisons get too close for comfort, and the terrorism of celebrity begins, the slow poisoning by flash bulb and corrosive gossip. Wherever you go people stare or demand to be stand next to you for a selfie. The only sane response is to go mad. There's that old koan about the beautiful woman who wanted to become a Buddhist monk but the master wouldn't let her because she was too beautiful to not be distracting. Undaunted, she took a hot iron to the side of her face, and was admitted immediately. The moral: you shouldn't seek enlightenment unless you do so as one whose hair is on fire seeks a pool of water. And if you've never been on fire then what good are you, o uncooked roast, o churlish banal carcass that for wont of heat doth rot and bloat with banal surmise, while impaled on spit and turned on flame to sizzle doth a kingly feast make?

And then to choke them aye... that is art, and the core of honey trap assassination.

Hail Stewart!

A César for Kristen...

In European cinema, the performance of dangerous womanhood within feminist parameters is more alive and less bourgeois, less dour and militant. You can still smoke and dance in the cafe (I think?) prostitution is far less stigmatized (still?), and May-December romances accepted without Puritanical staring (for now). Women are assertive without being bitchy (and are still hot). Just compare the self-possession of Isabelle Huppert vs. say, Susan Sarandon, or Isabelle Adjani vs. Geena Davis as they look and act today. And this is not to say Davis and Sarandon are not great actresses, just that what they were fighting for as American women in Thelma and Louise is a birthright to Europeans. Luckily, bourgeois America's Puritanical sexism is eclipsed only by its trust in intellectual Europe's opinion. What fearless actress titans from the US need in order to not be maligned domestically is Europe's sanctification. Now that Kristen Stewart won a Cesar for Clouds of Sils Maria she can begin to earn the awed respect me and a scattered few always felt she was due. Maybe we missed something, reason our own critics. So they go back with less provincial-reactionary hostile unconsciously misogynist glasses over the Stewart oeuvre and decide yes, we did believe in her all along.

Another fact about Europe is sex itself, in which standards are far more relaxed. People want to have sex, they do. They don't wait for a Mr. or Mrs. Right they feel they're owed by years of televisual, cinematic, and magazine promises. But there's more to the cultural difference between USA and Europe than just that, for in losing the unrealistic ideals so critical to American conspicuous consumption, the Europeans become less hypnotized, less locked in a state of Lacanian 'pressure to enjoy,' a pressure which all but squelches actual enjoyment in the cradle. There's not a lot of TV commercials in Europe (relative to here, I mean), and what there are are generally more clever, existential and risque, less shrill and incessant.  As a result, maybe, European women aren't as broken down by the staggering sexism that comes from the constant consumerist barrage. I'm sure there are pockets of unconscious consumerism in the East, especially, where it carries anti-authoritarian currency, but socialist education and freedom from the hobbling albatross of an anti-intellectual 'moral majority' voting bloc have helped the West stay progressive. Partying with them when they come to visit us in NYC provides a huge relief from the stultifying cluelessness with which Americans party every day. Finally we can talk about Freud and Jung instead of just pretending to already know them and be 'over' them in favor of banal cognitive behavioralism (as seen in Von Trier's Antichrist).

If she was a guy, she'd be dubbed the new De Niro
I think if a pretty young actress is really leagues above her peers the critical mainstream (in America) is unwilling to take the leap, to climb up and risk being exposed by championing her, to be the first to applaud amongst the booing Moroccan mob when Marlene walks onstage for the first time, to cheer her for having the guts to call into question everything that's grown familiar.

If great acting isn't met halfway it can look like bad acting, just like avant garde music and random ambient noise are indistinguishable, and so great artists must march off to places where they 'get' greatness and can better be contextualized by critics as 'other.' Hendrix was dismissed in the US until he found acclaim in London; crazy-haired Nicholas Ray was just some idiosyncratic journeyman until Godard declared he 'was' cinema, forcing Americans terrified of being left behind on a trend, to re-evaluate soul-withering explorations of human darkness like In a Lonely Place and Bigger than Life. In other words we respect Europe and feel enough pride when they like some import or ex-pat of ours, that we're willing to go back and re-evaluate the work we previously marginalized. Oh now we get it. Now we get Kristen Stewart.

The French critics have mapped out a route through our cinema's past like a museum guide trying to unravel the opaque and meaningless tangle of a Pollack to an incredulous Indiana tourist. The last voice we had in the States with the clout and guts to champion the underdog, Pauline Kael, is gone. Without her, would we even have noticed Bonnie and Clyde or Taxi Driver? Maybe not. She would have loved Kristen Stewart and would have explained and contextualized her work in ways we didn't need the French to decipher.

She's dead though, and there's no one in her league, though we so it behooves our new Bonnies and Bickels to go once again back to Europe to seek the recognition they warrant. Here, alas, if you put a relatively hot young broad in a debate with a stodgy, sexist older man like Norman Mailer, and the broad is more than holding her own, calling him out on his bullshit, she's a dour buzzkill and he's a hero to the lumpen proletariat. In Europe the mixture of different languages keeps everyone guessing and leads to a kind of of eternal now unbound by the past or religious dogma, a now that floats constantly on the cutting edge of thinking and social connection, because language can't grow stale when no one understands each other.

In the States we expect the Ruby Tuesdays in White Plains to be the same as the one in Toledo rather than a unique snowflake. Appearances are measured up to, fit into, the excess cut away. So if we can't rely on the basic maxim that someone in a suit and tie, white, straight and over 60, is more intelligent and worldly than a cute under-30 blonde in a tight sweater, then we can rely on nothing, and are too terrified to pay attention. Our fingers tighten on our pitchforks and torches instinctively. Europeans would just be amused and intrigued--after all, to the young women in Paris white male writers over 60 are sex objects--but Americans froth at the mouth when their obtuse book-by-cover dictums are challenged by cool-headed pretty blonde undergrads. And it doesn't even matter who's right or wrong in a debate, it's that the prettier they are, the more hostile the (middle-aged bachelor) professor gets. He has tenure! Why is he shouting!? It's because she's too pretty, and young and would never in a million years go out with him and anyway, it's frowned upon by the academic senate... at least now, at least here, but if this was Paris '68, oooh chippie, thinks the prof.

And there she is, expecting an A without even so much as sleeping with him once; her intellect an affront to his sense of entitlement, a sense that our outdated counter-productive practice of tenure encourages. And then who has to deal with her? Me, as she comes to my office to complain about him.

I explain to these understandably aggrieved girls that higher learning doesn't always accompany or even encourage self-knowledge. The development of one's own unconscious madness, the source of all genius, is criminally neglected in academia. Higher learning often serves only to convince the teacher that his dull sanity trumps chaotic madness, and why? Because that glint can't be taught and therefore can't be measured so must in academia be devalued. All we need from the higher ed wizard to be a real museum-ready artist is a grant, an endowment, a write-up in Artforum. If we're not going for the grants and endowments then we're either mere 'entertainers' or outsiders; either we get a three picture deal or a prescription to Lithium, either way, the madness that creates genius stops through lack of oxygen. The diploma is awarded... the ship sinks... the guns go silent.

: COURTNEY LOVE, AMERICAN SMOKER

And either way all the reckless energy the hussy young girl genius pours into her career is suddenly sidestepped when she has a kid. That's the moment when I get mad and the drink-counting mothers relax. When a great insane hot mess skirting the lip of brilliance thinks she can put that all on hold to become a mom, eat healthy and quit her vices, and then come back and be the same badass, I know that, like Uncle Paulie when Henry starts peddling the garbage, I have to turn my back on them. They're acting selfish, denying their madness a voice, giving all their love to a newborn instead of me, her public. If, like Courtney Love, she can somehow stay rowdy, raise the child punk rock style, but without that Ann Dvorak in Three on a Match-type negligence, that's a frickin' rarity.

Hats off to Courtney Love, still rockin' and still terrifying the academy and still, as of this post, sober.

She may not still be the siren voice unconscious of L.A. but I listen to Celebrity Skin and remember the last time I was in L.A,, whipping too fast around curves up in the hills, wind pulling my hair like a crazy hottie sitting behind me in the car, trying to either strangle me or give me a massage as I cringed in the shotgun seat, the crazy gorgeous blonde driver--who I flew in to visit over spring break--didn't get off her cell phone once during the week I was there, even after the car almost flipped over zipping around those dangerous hills; and "Boys on the Radio" roared to life in the speakers right in the moment we almost "crashed and burned". Love's rock oomph carved a space for a soul inside L.A's bottomless surface, celebrating these same curves and the countless honored drunks and druggies they'd taken, honored the scuzzy bottom feeders photographing the wreckage that is Hollywood's rapture with self-immolation (we wouldn't see a better incarnation until Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars.)

Mark my words, one day, once she's safely dead, Love's letters and notebooks will be researched and archived ad nausea. Dabbing their pens in the theoretical equivalent of Dillinger's blood, the academia will hug themselves with the richness of her life's work, digging numerological cryptograms from her teenage speedfreak Boggle word lists, gin rummy scores, Paglian chthonic feminist poetry.

But only when she's dead and therefore immortalized (and unable to bite them) will they dare appreciate the thing that so scared them when it came roaring up on them alive at a party. "You're brave with a fish as long as it's a dead fish" the cook says in Night of the Iguana.  

But Love's not dead, yet. She'll piss on your luggage and hide the distributor cap and help the sky begin to blanche while you're still struggling for a hip disaffected response to her first question. She's the female Keith Richards, a survivor because she can play guitar and loves rock over drugs, music over sex, and even death, but what's the difference? She's Orpheus descending into the reptilian tunnels beneath downtown LA, armed with a blazing guitar torch. She rides her amp's electric currents high above the glitter, an overdose-surviving valkyrie swooping down onto LA rooftops to collect the beautiful and dying boys about to jump and see if they can fly, for her Valhalla bloody chamber record collection. Let the haters hate, and they do all over the web; to earn such vitriol, from so many losers, she must be doing something right.

Asia Argento (Scarlet Diva)





THE KEYHOLE MIRROR: ASIA ARGENTO

A very unique and raw analysis of what it means to be young, gifted and constantly mauled as an Italian film starlet while roaming through daytime press junkets and financing meetings, photo shoots and hotel room film pitches, and having it be no big deal to smoke while pregnant (and burn herself with the lit end on purpose), Aregento's SCARLET DIVA really unnerved some critics over here. If you read the average Amazon comment it's of the bent that 'Asia's like totally hot but I couldn't get turned on by it,' (i.e. that comment on McGowan's music video) like the film was mispromoted, its promos a tease promising softcore sex and delivering only self-mutilation and nervous K-hole breakdowns instead.


It's like dude that's the point!

That's the only way Europe can sneak art down middle America's throats, on the Trojan horse of sex. Art House cinema as we know it got big in the US in the late 1950s only by promising "European" and "Art" in the same sentence meant the kind of frank openness about sex and nudity our own puritanical censorship forbade. A single nude shot or dirty word could create lines around the block. But eventually they didn't need the promise of 'dirt' because the art had taken hold. Subtitles had a Pavlovian association with lack of censorship, which allowed for more imports, allowing art to take root. And with it, strong intelligent women. The amount of backbone in an actress like Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren or Keira Knightley in England, or Isabelle Huppert and Adjani, Beatrice Dalle, or Sophie Marceau in France, or Monica Vitti in Italy vs. that of, say, Sandra Bullock, Julianne Moore, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Winona Ryder, even Jodie Foster here is as different as that between a tiger and a house cat. Both are still cool, sleek, stylish, but which could more believably devour you?

I've got theories: I recently saw a Hammer film DVD extra where an old writer or someone was remembering the way Britain and American censorship of the 50s-60s was vastly different - the Americans would demand cuts to the sex, but the violence was allowed; the British would allow the sex but demand cuts to the violence! This ties perfectly into my theory, as exposited in Acidemic #6, that sex is to the French what guns are to Americans, and vice versa. And there's that old Dietrich quote "In Europe, sex is a fact. In America, it is an obsession." And there's no doubt it's much easier to get a gun in this country than to hook up at a party. And vice versa.

My final theory on this has to do, I think with World War Two. Having been bombed to death in the 40s made Europe less enthralled with destruction than we here in the US, and their more liberal views on sex may well be a result of that too; the result ensures that premarital sex plays quite a larger and more healthily complex sophisticated yet accessible and straightforward part there, and in its way, so does prostitution, which seems more than a few degrees less tawdry in, say, Paris or Amsterdam, than here. We see the these demoiselles crop up in French New Wave films, but less in a tawdry Taxi Driver manner (or Liam Neeson manner) and more in a just two casual 'people hooking up' sort of way. It's still no kind of a life for a lady, but for a lonely dude and a cash hungry Parisian of the same approximate age and class, what's the harm?

At least it's regulated to an extent and therefore less overrun by sleazy gangsters, presumably, again, at least in some films. And the gangsters there are French anyway, little guys who just get funnier the harder they try to be menacing. Meow, n'cest pas?





Then again, that impression, like all my others, comes from films not France itself, which I have never visited. What do I know about actual reality? I never watch it. From what I have seen, it's a real mess.

And it's my fault, probably, for never looking.




And of course, the four furies:
Pauline Kael
Camille Paglia
Kim Morgan
Molly Haskell
NOTES:
1. Hey STELLA: Do you imagine they would dare show such a complicated monster as Stanley Kowalski in today's draconian PC environment? He'd either have to be an irredeemable brute whose every gesture is amped up with ominous music cues and lewd looks (so there's no possible way we can like him)--the particulars of the rape spread out in ugly rutting and sadistic sexual violence and intensity (instead of just showing a shattered mirror)--or they'd cut it out altogether, block it out of the screenplay, and just turn him into a passive whiner who cockblocks buddy Karl Malden. And now, going back and watching Dean's three film roles, it's hard to understand sometimes what the fuss was about. He seems to mince a lot in Rebel -- stopping the action cold so he can play with little toys or befriend Sal Mineo as if he's a timid marsupial at the zoo he's trying to feed a peanut by hand. He doesn't make a lot of sense - he mumbles - one minute he's cool and playing chicken, and winning, and smoking and putting dirt on his hands, the next he's trying to rat the whole gang out to cops even though even his parents don't want him to (they're not squealers --they're actually cooler than he is). "Just once I want to do something right!" he says. So he wants to drag everyone else down with him so he can be noble. In New Grenada we say something too: "a kid who squeals on another kid is a dead kid." Wanting to call in the cops is almost as bad as not making a more coherent effort to hook up with Carroll Baker in GIANT.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Camille Paglia Defends Charlie's Angels! + Guide to First Three Seasons (Links)




Camille Paglia was writing about Taylor Swift's "obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine" of "exhibitionistic overkill that Lara Marie Schoenhals brilliantly parodied in her scathing viral video "Please Welcome to the Stage."
" A warmer model of female friendship was embodied in Aaron Spelling's blockbuster Charlie's Angels TV show, which was denounced by feminists as a "tits-and-ass" parade but was in fact an effervescent action-adventure showing smart, bold women working side by side in fruitful collaboration." (Full)
I may have sold my Angels scrapbook when I was thirteen, but I still go back to them now that they're on DVD, whenever the real world gets too much and even the intensity of modern thrillers feels toxic.  Come with me now... to the past, episode by episode, merrily, slowly... even happily, with these smart, bold, fruitful women.


"There's rarely if ever any overt sexual violence. No matter how compromised our heroines become, they're free of all molestation, allowing for humanistic compassion and adaptability; if they talk a bad guy into dropping his gun or coming down from a ledge, for example, they don't run over and pin him to the ground, they help him up, give him a nurturing smile, and walk him down the hill, his hands in theirs (with another Angel bringing up the rear, with the gun, just in case, but unobtrusive)."

"Every so often Charlie (or Aaron) rewards the girls by bringing them outside the dingy studios of LA. Most of the time they don't end up using any of the footage they shot there, and just having half the scenes on the usual wood paneled sets but this time the Hawaiian stuff is all over the joint. You got Don Ho. You got a luau; a sassy massage parlor receptionist; our first introduction to Kris Munroe, Jill's sister, in her first episode/s--looking adorably like she's going to her first day at my elementary school in a 'windbreaker' (then a new term); and there's a big yacht raid finale in which, among other things, she storms the engine room in a hot brown two piece bathing suit. We were agog and thoroughly convinced, shortness be damned. If you see only one episode/s, make it these two, with some coco de oro in the air. You will be transported."

"Purists say that, like some crooked boxer, Charlies Angels took a dive in the third. It definitely kind of peters off after occasional flashes of the old magic. The Angels had been around long enough now I guess they figured they could take it easy. EASY!? How else had they been taking it? Kate Jackson left afterward, replaced in a stunningly wrong move, by high end London model Shelly Hack, way too skinny and posh for the mellow LA vibe of the other two. By the end of season four she was gone, and in came the very cool and enchanting Tanya Roberts. Critics all say that if she came in on season four instead of Hack then it might still be running today. It was just too little too late."






"Kate's appeal is not sexual, it's deeper, it predates the orgasm, she is the figure of sisterly nurturing and hints of wickedness that comes between infancy and puberty. She and her friends on CHARLIE'S ANGELS never seemed to need, think about or otherwise want anything physical from anyone other than the occasional shoulder rub or make-out session (and if a guy got to make out with an angel, he usually wound up going to jail by the end of the show) and that's why we could all safely fall in love with them. Spelling's natural grasp of viewer psychology allowed us to fantasize ourselves into the show without the Oedipal frustrations of some new boyfriend, "Sorry Charlie, Sabrina's got a date with the Chad tonight" or some other toad-ish claim. "

"People love to pigeonhole and over the years the original Charlie's Angels has been maligned with accusations of it being mindless T&A, but if you watch these shows now, as an antidote to the super flashy crap of today, these angels are extraordinarily intelligent and skilled. Over their careers they pose as everything from professional ice skaters, race car drivers, circus folk (above), rich illegal baby adopters, poor bumpkins looking to buy bootleg motorcycle parts, and helicopter traffic ladies... of course they've also gone to the less athletic side, posing as masseuses, prostitutes, fashion models, strippers, belly-dancers, and Playboy-ish bunnies (cats instead), but through it all they're always sweet and kind to the nice guys. Figuring out which alleged playboys are all talk by coming onto them and watching them shrink away, they flirt with kindly old men and talk nice to troubled girls; they show you can be capable, badass, wear awesome flare slacks with turtlenecks, and still be warm."

(7/2/09)
"She was a genuinely mythic goddess, ruling in the final decade where goddesses still commanded archetypal mystique, before videotapes made the remoteness required for such ascendancy completely impossible, the 1970s. You might even say she was the 1970s."
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...