Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Try acting a little younger, Kyra."

So, I finally watched The Woodsman, inspired by my little rant about Kevin Bacon earlier this morning, but also by a stirring conversation with a fellow neighbor. It's a decent film, made better by Bacon's rather compelling performance. Though, here, the importance lies more in the age that has stained the mug we know from the sunnier glory days of movies like Footloose. Age has weathered the rambunctiousness down to a web of sadness and weariness that stretches over his countenance. Like Bill Murray in last year's Broken Flowers, age has a great deal to do with the potency of his performance (and The Woodsman is a character piece, first and foremost), but it is not everything here. At times surprising, at times cliché, the film presents a (mostly) compelling cast of recognizables in delectibly mundane roles, Benjamin Bratt (go figure) certainly being the worst of the bunch. If there is any moment out of character with the rest of the film, it is when Bratt loses his cool on Bacon's Walter, grabbing him by the collar and cursing at his "disease." The rest is a moody, rather well considered piece of cinema(yet I'll cherish the day when a film like this comes along without "gritty," being its primary descriptive term). A majority of the film rests in the most minute details - and it is these moments that are perhaps the most overlooked in the film's actor-focused praise - for instance, Kyra Sedgewick lighting a half smoked cigarette. This is a moment so undeniably true to her character, yet so easily overlooked, you realize this is a director who truly cares for her craft. That said, I probably won't remember much about The Woodsman next year(unlike the similarly themed masterpiece, Clean Shaven, a film I will never forget), but the film's subtle considerations of light and its muted undercurrent of bird imagery, though somewhat trite, allows the film a little breathing room to be about just what it should, the small quiet moments, trapped alone in the house, when our worst fears come, not like CGI Boogeymen from the closet, but in the shape of small, nagging urges. It is those desires that hold the greatest potential for self destruction. Not meteors falling from the sky, as Hollywood would have you believe.

Pipe Dreams in Blue Jeans

Yet another meander to the New Bev brought me to a film I cannot believe I have not seen. Last night, it was a double feature: Joan Crawford in Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar and Marlene Dietrich in Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious, also known as Chuck-a-Luck (and for just reason). Good god! The friend with whom I always attend the New Bev screenings leaned over to me at one point during Johnny Guitar and said, "I don't know how we're going to get through the whole thing." You see, the writing in Johnny Guitar is so sensationally campy that we found ourselves laughing hysterically about every other minute. Yet, this is not the sort of camp that comes with poorly aged films. No, Johnny Guitar's camp is very self-evident. I mean, for god's sake, we've got Joan Crawford in drag as a Cowboy for half the film. When she's not donning the garb of the opposite sex, she's wearing a virginal white gown (which, of course, at one point catches on fire). Crawford, in pants, I might add, delivers lines like "Down there I sell whiskey and cards. All you can buy up these stairs is a bullet in the head. Now which do you want?" In an emotional moment with Johnny Guitar, who arrives at the ranch to seemingly just play guitar, yet all too soon reveals a more intricate past with Crawford's Vienna, the two share the exchange,

Johnny: How many men have you forgotten? Vienna: As many women as you've remembered.

Yet the strangest turn of Johnny Guitar lies in Crawford's role as the "good guy." (And I do mean "guy.") My friend at a later point turned to me and asked "Do you think there's going to be a happy ending?" "No, she'll have to die because she's wearing pants," I said. And this is a true trope of Hollywood cinema. Typically, the figure who breaks narrative convention must suffer the consequences. Yet Johnny Guitar never takes this stance. Crawford is, bizarrely enough, the hero(ine?) from beginning to end. Of course, you want her to live, but you could never fathom that she would. She rides with the tough guys. She's Joan Crawford for Christ's sake! She cannot be pure! And though Vienna is not pure, the narrative lets her off the hook.

Sadly, Rancho Notorious abides by these conventions all too well. Though not thoroughly typical, narratively speaking, Dietrich's Altar Keane is a saloon singer (a real stretch for Dietrich) whose legend outweighs her person. In love with a fugitive, she opens a horse ranch where fugitives seek refuge. Vern, our protagonist, finds his way there in hopes of finding the man who raped and killed his fiance. While there, he falls for Keane, who sees in him what a good life might have been. So fittingly, she must pay for her actions.

Though the film does feature Dietrich in drag quite prominently, it cannot fully divorce itself from the infamously feminized Dietrich which I discuss at some length here. This is not, however, Dietrich working with Von Sternberg, who used her best as a piece of costumery onto which he might project his wanted self-image. Lang's Dietrich comes off a little flat, and without Von Sternberg's fantastic use of visual stylization, we merely have the unbelievable Dietrich, swooning over the love of a man. The real highlight to the film is the remarkably hokey score penned by Ken Darby which punctuates various scenes of the film, explaining it is a story of "Violence! Murder! and Revenge!"

I know you want me to say the new DVD pick of the week is Walk The Line, which was released this morning, but that just wouldn't be like me, and since I don't think Reese has done much good since Freeway it shall certainly not take this position here. I have not seen the film, though I probably will once my Movie Rental punch card has been filled (therefore I will not have to pay for it). Come to think of it, it's been even longer since Juaqin has done anything good, but ahhhh... remember To Die For?

No, today's recommendation is a reserved one, stemming more from my desire to fantastically violate Kevin Bacon than from the merit of the actual film. The film in question is Atom Egoyan's most recent offering Where The Truth Lies. It's not great, but it's very pretty and Kevin Bacon is very creepy in that sexy Willem Dafoe sort of way. And he's naked a lot. But, if you're like me, and all you want to do is look at Kevin Bacon fucking, need I remind you of a little cinematic gem called Wild Things?

Joyeux Noel finally finds its theatrical release in the United States. But I mean really, couldn't they just sit on this one until vraiment noel? This film was ALL OVER France when I was there last November. It is supposed to be quite a good little film. Maybe after this Friday, you may find a review of it here.

And because of my double feature last night, the already on DVD pick of the week is none other than Johnny Guitar which Amazon is listing as Out Of Print. Hopefully your local videostore stocked it before this travesty occurred. It might be your only chance to see Joan Crawford in drag... wait, what am I saying? She's always in some sort of drag.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Lite Watch(ing)

In screenwriting, there are times when a writer (presumably young, but not exclusively) has created such a consistent fictive world that his/her eyes shine with excitement and wonder. The wonder contained in this sparkle is the possibility of this infinite world and its potential for screen adaptation. A screenplay is, however, finite, and this excited writer must also have the gumption and skill to hone this world down to a discernible 120 page script, 360 if we're talking a trilogy (which we've been talking a lot, lately). But that first screenplay must be so consistent, so taut, so refined that it leaves the viewer rapt for the sequel with a great understanding - not only of this fictive world - but of those narratives which are to come. This is something that the first Matrix film achieved, and quite well, I might add. Yet dramatic tension is something that the following two films lacked, and though this critic did not see them, it is my understanding that the movies became too comfortable with their fan following. The Lord Of The Rings movies worked in this regard. They were consistent worlds and well written scripts.

In adapting Sergei Lukyanenko's novel, Nochnoi Dozor(Night Watch), screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Timur Bekmambetov (who also took the director's seat) leave some very key elements on the wayside in their cinematic interpretation of the novel. One leaves Night Watch rather confused as to what just happened. The story is told in a rather straightforward fashion: After a truce between Darkness and Light, the former helms a Day Watch and the latter a Night Watch to ensure neither meddles with the human race. On a routine mission, Anton, one of the night watch (i.e. a good guy), discovers the son he had attempted to abort(supernaturally, of course) some 12 years ago. He also discovers a woman who harbors a vortex which spells Armageddon. He must save his son from a vampire with a taste for revenge and undo the curse that has opened the vortex within the unsuspecting woman - with Moscow plunged into a blackout, no less. But what of this alternate dimension called "The Gloom?" Regarding this, and various other plot flourishes, as a viewer, we are left completely in the dark.

The film was a tremendous success in Russia and has been picked up by Fox Searchlight Pictures with the intent of a grand theatrical distribution. In order to aide the videogaming culture's acceptance of the film, the studio experimented with new methods of subtitling. "Come to me" bleeds red and then evaporates on screen. During conversations, the respective dialogue appears beside its speaker. This approach, which could very easily have been obvious or overtly catering (though, at times, it is both of these) was a rather refreshing reconsideration of a pesky little necessity. The main fault of the film, again, lay in its inconsistencies. And I'm talking screenplay, here. For instance, Anton experiences premonitions. This is how he knows he is an "Other." We never experience any of these said premonitions until(perhaps) the last ten minutes of the film. To introduce these visions so late in the game disrupts the narrative flow of the film, leaving what is spoken somewhat divorced from what is shown. This is one example in many.

The film's visual style is rather nice, though not as original or as gleefully fun as something like last year's Transporter 2. Likewise, the action choreography leaves a little to be desired. When a character lifts a truck going full speed with one hand and flips it, on course in front of him, you want it to be just a little more thrilling than it is in actuality. The most effective element of the film is its recognition of a vast history of national folklore which defines Russian culture. As you sit there, watching powerplants explode because of some unattended sausages and Jeunet et Caro like chain of events sequences transpire under a murder of crows, you realize that something like The Matrix could not touch the weight of the film because of its lack of cultural lineage. As a young nation, America lacks the history of lore and storytelling that makes the best moments of Night Watch a most thrilling viewing. If you are in the mood for a decadent Sci - Fest that will keep you coming back for the next couple of years, by all means. If films like The Matrix or Underworld get you hot under the collar, than this one's for you. Everyone else, I think you can wait to on demand it.

And lastly, I would like to have a moment of silence for Don Knotts who died on the 24th of Lung Cancer.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Exotics

There's a smile in The Scarlet Empress that Marlene Dietrich gives that betrays her entire role as a feminine (feminzed?) icon. It is one that had to be slighted, allowed in the most fragmented of doses because it was in fact the true intent of her raison d'etre. Forget the woman on the run/down trodden nightclub singer routine. Dietrich's role was that of the fly trap. She was the castration anxiety for a generation of a Freudian public. In this aforementioned scene, Dietrich, here playing Catherine the Great, though this incidental information could be seen as truly coincidental, Dietrich has killed the Czar (her husband) of Russia and taken his place on the throne. Her face shimmers, radiates, blinds with a bloodthirsty, insane power. Her teeth, clenched so tightly, bared. Her eyes calculatingly fixed. Jack Smith described Von Sternberg's as "the neurotic gothic deviated sex-colored world and it was a turning inside out of himself and magnificent."

Von Sternberg's is, as Smith realized, a visual world. It is a world of smoke plumes and veils, of burning candles and ringing bells. Smith called Von Sternberg a transvestite who projected himself onto Dietrich "in a world of delirious unreal adventures. Thrilled by his/her own movement - by superb task in light, costumery, textures, movement, subject and camera, subject/camera/revealing faces..." Smith recognizes Von Sterberg's plot as trite, laughable, trivial because it was. "I don't think Von Sternberg knew that words were in his way, but he felt it - neglected them, let them be corny and ridiculous, let them run to travesty - and he invested his images with all the care he rightfully denied the words." Today, on a lazy Sunday, I watched Shanghai Express and these words could ring more true.

If there is anything mediocre about a Von Sternberg film it is the fact that he did not allow himself abandon. We do not believe it when the Dietrich whom we have seen previously arrest an entire crowd with a sideways glance and a fetching yet still somewhat morbid outfit swoon over the love of a man. Why should we? No, this Dietrich will always be the Dietrich Victorious - at the throne of the Czar of Russia, earning her place with blood. This is not the sensitive woman that masquerades before us. Shanghai Express is a delight, and one of Von Sternberg's better narratives, yet this is not of import. The stellar moments of the film are those visual flares that Von Sternberg was allowed: superimpositions, the garments (at one moment I cried out when Shanghai Lily -Dietrich, of course- seems to lose her luggage. "The Clothes!" I shouted, after all, in this world, these are the important things), the scene in which a plume of smoke abstract Dietrich's face and we must wait for the moment when the smoke has cleared so that we may see her unmasked. And we are still waiting for that moment to come.

He's Got Control

So, actor Sam Riley has been cast by Anton Corbijn as Ian Curtis in the forthcoming biopic Control. The grapevine has Samantha Mortan cast as Deborah Curtis. Riley is in the Leeds band, 10,000 Things. This (fortunately) dispels the notions that Jude Law was to play Curtis - this rumor is an old one, and most unlikely at best. Thank god we don't have to laugh our way through that one. Now, this could almost be a respectable production, thought, admittedly, I know very little of these 10,000 Things. But hey, this is a film site, NOT a music one. Now we can pour all of our suffering into watching Nicole Kidman do her best (which is inevitably the worst) Diane Arbus in Fur.

Why, God, why?

Friday, February 24, 2006

We've Only Just Begun

Okay, so the site that is paying me to write for them, www.film.flukiest.com, is up and running. I will be posting on both sites for a while, feeling things out. I think I might be my normal vicious self here and be a little more lenient over there. I'm not too sure. Regardless, keep your eyes open at both sites. Both will be changing. Oh, and go rent, The Beat My Heart Skipped. Wellspring has finally cleared up their "oops we sent every rental store in the country screener DVDs" debacle. And you get to see him avec clothes, sadly.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Oh yes, I did...

Well, I finally did the unthinkable. I watched Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys and, you know what, it wasn't half bad in a $1.99 sort of way. The first thing that must be said is this: forget the toys. As seems to be the case with modern horror (though I find it a stretch to call this one horror unless it appears on your CV), like in porn, the bit that everyone is watching for is saved for the end of the movie. This of course would be when the Puppet Master puppets face off against the Demonic Toys. So being, like in Freddy Vs. Jason or the remake discussed in my previous post, the film is character development and unfolding plot(god! Not that word again!) points, which could be tedious considering you're watching Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys. Hilariously though, this is what pulls the film above movies like When A Stranger Calls. The latter looked cheap, yet the budget was still an alarming 15 million. Puppet Master's measly 2 million delivered a more authentic variety of cheapness that When A Stranger Calls aspired to, yet forked over just too much dough to achieve.

The only reason to see Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys, really, is the cast, who, so desperate for a paycheck, delivers the insanely implausible dialogue as if it was the word of god. Starring Corey Feldman as a puppetmaker with a daughter who looks to be about ten years his junior, and costaring Vanessa Angel, an Abel Ferrara starlet who has had so much collagen injected into her lips that they resemble hemorrhoids (they literally fold in on themselves!), as a jealous puppet maker, the delivery is not too be missed. This is some of the best overacting that I have seen in a while. The word camp never seemed to have been uttered on set, as our actors flail about like Elizabeth Berkeley in Showgirls (yes, that fabulously). I won't write any more, as people will probably not even get this far in the review considering the subject matter, but if you want to know what alcoholism and a dozen and a half fuck ups in your career might result in, pick up this DVD as a cautionary tale.

Monday, February 20, 2006

When a Stranger Hits Redial

Horror movies have seen better days. Now, I realize, going to the theaters in the early months of the year is an extraordinary gamble. I mean, what do we have to choose from right now? Pink Panther? Curious George? Big Mama's House 2? Of course, with the genre trend booming, we have our pick of countless brainless horror sequels and remakes, which sadly make it to the top-ten box office place; sometimes even the top three. When A Stranger Calls is one such remake. Starring Camilla Belle, who looks like the love child of Selma Blair and Britney Spears - with a name to match - the film focuses on the first twenty minutes of the original (which is really all that anyone remembers, anyway). Now, any horrorite might think, goodie, extending the chase, fight, cat and mouse for the entire movie could be fun. Yeah, right. No matter how many times I am reminded, I seem to always forget that the horror industry is a very Catholic industry. We must endure the most trivial plot and character development for the five minutes of promised delivery of killer, stalk, slash, blind goreness which was all but eradicated as I noticed the PG-13 rating as the ticket tearer tore my ticket.

And sure enough, all that When A Stranger Calls delivers are cats running through the dark, birds flying around loudly (like the "rats" in The Exorcist), phones ringing at the most silent moment. When the frightening iconic moment occurs, ("We've traced the calls, they're coming from inside the house!") it's been so parodied and expanded upon, we realize, we're so beyond that as viewers. Or so I'd like to hope. People in the US are eating up When a Stranger Calls. I know I say this a lot, but this film was one of the most boring, obvious psuedo-porno's I've ever seen. (*Note that I said "one of") It's full of popsicle sucking and wet t-shirts, girls walking through the windy dark trail, and though the music swells, you know nothing will be waiting for her at the end of the trail but a black cat or ice cubes clunking in the freezer. Eventually, you realize that, until the last five minutes, nothing is going to happen, save birdies and kitties going bump in the night. Even when the killer comes, it is a PG-13 movie. Nothing worthy of note happens. A very brief chase sequence is thwarted by the POLICE! Not even a dramatic end meets our killer, which allows for a direct DePalma rip-off to close the film. This is the kind of film that they were making fun of in the nineties, yet the short attention span of the general public has ensured another generation of that exact same stuff pornographied, and all we can do is sit back and (not?) watch as the studios recycle the films that we're already dated to begin with.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Films of Bruce LaBruce

With a fabricated Warholian moniker, Bruce LaBruce made a name for himself (literally and metaphorically) in the late eighties in the LA D.I.Y. punk scene. As an influential 'Ziner and Super8 filmmaker, LaBruce gathered a healthy following of people who, like him, were fed up with the flaccid politics of bourgeois homo culture. Seeking to bridge the gap between punk and queer-core, LaBruce's art/porn films present queer culture with a slap-in-the-face style critique of its own hypocritical tendencies.

LaBruce's first feature film, No Skin Off My Ass is the story of a hairdresser who falls in love with a skinhead. Made with the generous assistance of Dennis Cooper, the film was shot on extremely grainy black and white film which impressionistically contrasts the blase violent chic of the film. LaBruce's portrays the shallow skinhead fetishist who takes in a skinhead off the street. The outcome is obvious, but that's sort of the point, and the aesthetic potency of the film, combined with slice-of-life quality of the acting which resembles the unreleased works of Araki in their flippant seriousness all combine to an odd amalgam of realism.

Super 8 1/2 is LaBruce's snarky reaction to the acclaim of No Skin. As I have not too long ago discussed, LaBruce presents us, in parodic neo-realist fashion, with porn actors and has been porn directors. It is a send up to success, "appropriation" (or ripping off to the layman), art and fags. LaBruce is a bitchy fag who wants more than anything to be Andy Warhol. The aphorisms are top rate with lines like "I feel so joy division." The film also features cameos from a creepy but kinda sexy Richard Kern (donning a strap-on, no less) and the diva Vaginal Cream Davis. It is, fittingly, a film about the trappings of celebrity or how deluded someone can become when superstar, at one point or another, accompanies their name, and how that title is everything to those who have never earned it. Whole scenes of the film are ripped straight out of more classical 60's and 70's Hollywood narratives, but, in the context which LaBruce presents them they become vital and renewed.

Alongside Madonna's justify-my-lover Tony Ward, LaBruce's pseudo-doco Hustler White about a faggy filmmaker who wants to document hustler life on the Sunset strip. The film parrodies the absurdity of typical Hollywood narrative and the neutered queer films who have modeled themselves after the hetero Hollywood structure. It is LaBruce's most bleak film, featuring a frightening performance by queer performance artist Ron Athey who channels his inner Leigh Bowery. This, more than No Skin off My Ass, is a similar world to the writings of Dennis Cooper. The world depicted here is one of lonliness and cruelty. It is a world apethized by AIDS. Desire is manifest in Ward who is actually idealized in an odd narrative way. It is a delightfully shocking film. Don't miss the amputee stump fucking scene! It's one of those things that make you cover your mouth and squeal, "No he di'nt!"

Skin Flick is, sadly, a bit of a disappointment. For funding purposes, LaBruce started a relationship with a German Porn company. They fund the film and LaBruce yields two cuts: a hardcore porn film and a Film film. This is a film ruled more by the former, rather than the latter and re-explores the familiar territory of No Skin off my Ass but sadly, explore is not the correct term here as nothing is really added to the original social critique established in the first film. In fact, a lot of complexity is lost on LaBruce who seems more interested in making a legit porno than a Film film. Because of the anti-nostalgic quality of video (the medium on which these films are shot) it comes off (at least the Film film cut of it) as an edited porno, rather than an interesting film, proper. But this approach would work wonders in the film that followed.

The Raspberry Reich is awesome. With a renewed vitality and finer production qualities, LaBruce unleashes perhaps his best film to date. Part political propaganda, part political satire, part music video, part porno, The Raspberry Reich is a hilarious portrait of political nostalgia. I plan on writing about it more thoroughly in the not-too-distant future, so I won't go on and on here. Instead I will post pictures to motivate you to see it, and remember, "The Revolution is My Boyfriend!"

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Muffin of the Month for February 2006!!!

Oh yes, Jason Statham certainly deserves the first title as "Muffin of the Month!" If you are unaware of the lineage or derivation of the "Muffin of the Month," click here. Having not seen some of his earlier incarnations in films like, Snatch, Ghosts of Mars, The Italian Job or Cellular, I was quite pleasantly surprised when I went to see Transporter 2 on a whim and was treated to the refreshingly polite and sensitive Frank Martin. Statham can play it cool yet maintains a humanity and empathy that is rare in Action films. Even rarer still is his sophistication. This is a man of good tastes who plays by the rules but is still, to quote LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, "built like a brick shit-house." Doing most of his own stunts, Statham's agile physical prowess seems more suited for a dancer than a mega-action hero. His performance alone was worthy of my (admittedly surprising) claim that Transporter 2 was the third best film this year. The gleeful explosions and magnificently absurd stunts were just the icing on the cake. Let's hope that Statham doesn't get all Arny on us with the success that he is greatly gaining as an action star. He is on the cover of Men's Health this month, dripping poolwater off of his ripped chest. Here's hoping it doesn't go all to his head, because that's not the main reason we like him in the first place!

"Sweetness, I was not only joking"

So, I realize that I've been promoting a lot of hard to come by material lately. Shit, mentioning anything that you can't get on DVD from Netflix has come to be interpreted as being demanding of an audience. Well, I don't buy that pacifism. There used to be a time when people had to watch the printed pages like a hawk for the one screening the film that they had waited years to see. Now you can "on Demand" it. But you can't "on demand" everything, and sometimes those works that slip through the cracks are the most rewarding. So, no, you cannot netflix the movie I am about to write about. Sweet Movie has never even been released on DVD and was distributed through Facets not-too long ago. The director, Dusan Makavejev, has always been on fringes of cinematic culture. He has attempted, with little success, to enter the mainstream, but his works on the fringes (god that's a phrase to make anyone cringe) remind you of the fantastic possibility that film presented before it was taken over completely by commercial aspirations.

Sweet Movie is the story of two women's quests, but Merchant Ivory this is not. The first woman is a certain Miss Canada, winner of the chastity belt Miss Monde competition which is really just a covert operation to find the most beautiful virgin for an obscene Oil tycoon who is SO rich, he literally has a golden penis. She spurns him and is sent packing by a strapping black man in a suitcase that goes all the way to Paris. In Paris, our now mute and demented heroine meets El Macho, a Spanish Superstar who seduces her. The two make love under his pink cloak in the Eiffel Tower and become genitally inseparable. Once removed (in a bustling kitchen, no less) she is tossed away with the compost and found by a Therapie-Komune, whose ringmaster is (as the credits state, yet he is shown only briefly) Vienna Aktionist, Otto Muehl (who you can read about on my January 17th post). "Therapy," in this particular commune concerns spitting partly chewed food out at one another, adults breast-feeding, shitting and pissing on themselves, and retarded singalongs that are truly narrativizations of the works of the Vienna Aktionists (at one point, we happen upon what could just as well be the middle of Muehl's Schiess-Kerl(Shit Ass): the colonists smear shit over the mid-section of one performer as he gleefully wets himself) and was certainly influential to Lars Von Trier's Dogme 95 film, The Idiots. Eventually, the girl recovers, (rubbing her face on an uncircumcised penis helps) and is included in a chocolate commercial (pictured above) in which she rubs and writhes in a ocean of dark chocolate, which may or may not have occurred before this whole debacle.

The second story concerns Anna Planeta/Captain Anna, a ?political activist? who helms a ship with a mast shaped like Karl Marx (who, coincidentally, the film takes great joy in confusing with Lenin). She sails the Seine, singing songs of the proletariat, attracting the attention of a Sailor from the Battleship Potemkin. He joins her crew (of two), fucks her ("like a proletariat"), witnesses the killing of a group small children (whom she seduces with both candy and her cunt, grinding her crotch in their youthful faces) and is eventually killed in a huge vat of sugar. She speaks in Russian, he in French, yet of course they understand one another perfectly. Interspersed with the story is archive footage of Holocaust grave excavations that add a severe level of seriousness to this otherwise absurd film. This element of seriousness is maintained by the film's frequent political referencing, as well, which to (I must sadly admit) a viewer not too well versed in political history can become alienating, as do a poor understanding of French and non-understanding of Russian. I believe that this is perhaps the film's intent. You cannot help but become swamped in the sea of references. The film is a difficult one to discern particularly for this reason, or, more succinctly, its intentions are difficult to understand. The aesthetic is not, and the visual prowess of the film (on which now-celebrated French director Claire Denis worked - and it SHOWS) allows for the reveling that the narrative does not, because, on an extremely visceral plane, the movie works quite well - the vats of sugar, the pools of blood, the pissing golden penises...

Sweet Movie could never be made today, which is really (and sadly) quite easy to say about a great many films. Yet even for its time, the film owed more to the works of the Avant Garde than it did to narrative cinema. Seeing as how he takes his films to a far more humorous and inconsequential realm, it is a pity that John Waters is given credit for a lot of elements he gleans from his many influences(some of whom I have already discussed on this site). Makavejev is certainly one of those such influences. Look at Sweet Movie and tell me that you don't see a far more graphic and perverse world than that presented in a Waters film. You can also see a great deal of Sweet Movie in The Raspberry Reich. Both are intensely critical of yet enamored with political histrionics. And LaBruce, like Makavejev sees political and sexual liberation as inseparable. A great deal of the Anna Planeta/Captain Ann character can be seen in Reich's Gudrun. She is completely given to her political cause (whatever that may in fact be in Anna Planeta's case). It is a challenge that is well worth the effort. I saw Sweet Movie about two years ago and had not forgotten one frame of it upon my second viewing. And that is about the best compliment I can imagine.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I would like to clarify that I do not really find Heath Ledger all that attractive. I have posted nake pictures on this site primarily because I figure, if we knew one another, Heath would not want me to do so.

It's like Sharon Tate said in Valley of the Dolls "You know how bitchy fags can be."

I guess I am being very faggy today. Must be the Bruce LaBruce. Speaking of, I think I will give a little Bruce histrionic in the next couple days, like the ken russell one below, because people need to see his movies. They are really great, praticularly The Raspberry Reich which, you may have been wondering, is where my profile image comes from. It has great aphorisms like, "Heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses," "The Revolution is my boyfriend," "Madonna is counter-revolutionary," and "Put your marxism where your mouth it."

And since it seems to be gay day, I would like to introduce a new element to this site. I am not sure if I'll really keep this one up, but, here goes. I was driving to the grocery store today and passed Yum Yum Doughnuts. They have a new add compaign (actually, I don't know how "new" it is, but since it's new to me, I'll call it such). So, also in the next few days, I will post a "Muffin Of The Month!" where I appreciate a particularly sexy man who has done something for cinema (living or dead, based primarily on his looks - gee, can you tell I'm LA based?) Now you have this to look forward to.

P.S. Yum Yum Doughnuts website is hilarious!

"I Feel So Joy Division"

So I made a bad assumption. I rented two "New Queer Cinema" movies from roughly the same time period ('92, '94) thinking, 'oh, I'll just write about them together.' Bruce would be so pissed.

In the visual work that I (sometimes) make, meta is a very integral quality: a knowledge of film history, and obsessive eye for minute cultural details, associations that may or may not come across in the work that I can see and thus figure everyone else in the world (or at least everyone with a brain) would see. Of course, this is seldom the case, and yet, this is the assumption that Rock Hudson's Home Movies rides on. The film is dry in the way that only the early works of the "New Queer Cinema" can be. It is a nostalgically analytic approach that is best epitomized in movies like Swoon and Finished (which actually came rather late in the chronology). Home Movies is a decent if not slightly longwinded regard of the homosexual subtexts in the films of Rock Hudson. Seeing things that aren't entirely always there, the film becomes desperately focused, but ultimately delivers a cohesive little musing on infatuation if nothing else. It's a genre that existed for a moment when it was most greatly needed, a read reiterated by its distribution by the disgracefully inept Water Bearer Films, which, if ever there was a Distribution company worthy of closure, it is this one. Water Bearer's transfers are absolutely horrific. Sadly holding the rights to most of Pasolini's films in the US, Water Bearer distributes pricey little discs which look like they've been transferred by drunk monkeys. Pasolini's Porcile is the worst of the lot, containing leader between reels and even accidentally swapping reel 6 & 7 towards the end of the film, presenting the film out of sequence. Rock Hudson's Home Movies is tranferred from video, but the sound shows Water Bearer's token neglect. It is an interactive film in the sense that you must constantly adjust sound levels every two minutes merely to discern the dialogue and at no point do we loose the aggravating tape hiss that DVD was to do away with. This imposes its unprecious approach (and here, a little preciousness is a good thing) to the film itself, suggesting it unworthy of a good (even decent!) transfer. As this may not be the case, it is a film which might disappear entirely after the HD DVD wave, or whatever the next format of distribution that takes off will be.

Nowhere near as forgettable, and yet without US DVD distribution (thanks a lot Strand Releasing!), Bruce LaBruce's Super 8 1/2 is a hilarious send up to stardom, worship and this era of trendy homos that was the "New Queer Cinema." The films stars Bruce LaBruce as Bruce LaBruce, faded art/porn auteur/actor. Googie, a fellow art/porn filmmaker who is as rising as Bruce is falling, decides to exploit Bruce for her capital gain, making a "Bruceploitation" flick about the life of a faded star. Of course, the film is by LaBruce, who pouts, saunters and imitates Warhol at his every step (even covering the walls of his loft apartment with Tin Foil, like the first Warhol Factory). A poster for Warhol's Blue Movie hangs just above the bed that LaBruce seldom rises from, and when he does it is to maudlinly reflect upon his better cock-sucking days. This film has a greater, again meta, energy than some of the early unreleased films of Gregg Araki, touting similar aphorisms. At one low point, LaBruce complains, "Why do I have to be such an Existentialist? Everyone says I am one except for my ex-Producer who says I'm a bourgeois Existentialist." A little later, he claims he stole a line, not as the critics claim, be cause he is deconstructing cinema or contemporizing historical moments, but "because I'm busy." The film, of course, takes this laziness in a very tongue in cheek manner. Entire sequences are stolen from other films, highlighted by the hilarious titles of LaBruce's porno films: I am Curious (Gay) and Pay Him as He Lays (after the Didion adaptation, Play It As It Lays)

Super 8 1/2 is a more complex creature than it presents itself as. Just like LaBruce's LaBruce, it is itself intentionally self-effacing in vital and hilarious ways. The film is a series of mock-neorealist sequences which echoes LaBruce's prior smash No Skin Off My Ass, but throws in a selfconscious and scathing critique not only that film, in fact, LaBruce's ouvre, but also those theorists (like myself) and critics that celebrated his works and made him the (not-quite) indie superstar that he had by this point become. As is usual with LaBruce's films, the film is peppered by extended pornographic sequences, perhaps most frequent here than in the rest of LaBruce's ouvre.

LaBruce's films have always been explicitly of their time. His latest (and perhaps best) The Raspberry Reich is already showing its 2004-ness, but not in a bad way. Like the Warhol Time Capsules, LaBruce's films epitomize that very moment in the subculture it presents. This allows the films to now accumulate further refinement in their debt to nostalgic. Super 8 1/2 is a very thoroughly crafted slice of early nineties D.I.Y. Homo/Punk culture. It is a time when fame and notoriety was far more easily achieved, and deserved. Without the specificity (and micropscoping sub-worlds) of the internet, people were more prone to make, and do it they did. Of course, glamorizing this time is not what I intend to do here, nor is it the intent of the film. In some ways LaBruce does this just as any early nineties queer film does. It is a scary time, but perhaps because everything was out there, on the plate. There was a more healthy approach to the subject matter. Unlike today, where everything is unsaid by hunky shallow pretty things who like to have lots of sex, yet never reflect upon the consequences, because now, film is about fantasy, where the "New Queer Cinema" was about therapy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!

The Horror film's function to culture at large is predominantly misunderstood. For what we see when we look at a horror film are the manifest fears of a society of people. Horror films, perhaps more than any other genre, are an anthropological tool to aid in the discernment of a time, place and public psyche. In certain Critical Studies departments (I know it went on at CalArts) general history classes use the horror film as a means by which to gain a better understanding of the era which they desire to evoke. Last night, I sat down with a decent Bordeaux (not great) and watched The Exorcist - the Version I Had seen (if you've been living under a rock for the past 10 years, Friedkin, or at least Warner Brothers, in an attempt to make an easy buck, distributed an extended, entirely-too-much-just-thrown-in version of the film which is being touted as The Version You've Never Seen, as though this makes it inherently better because you've never seen it. This is not, however, the case. It is a far weaker film, even with the spider walk sequence.)

So, one may wonder, what does The Exorcist have to say about the psyche of the early Seventies? Quite a lot, actually. Remember, the film, released in 1973, arrived at the end of the war in Vietnam, but with soldiers still overseas. Nixon was president, but also was met with the scandal of the Watergate hearings. Jesus Christ Superstar is released. Suffice to say, it was a conservative time. And what could this graphically shocking movie possibly be doing at such a time? The film is actually a rather regressive one, if you look at its politics. In sad keeping with most traditional horror films, the greatest horrors of course lie in femininity, particularly pertaining to adolescent sexuality, for, what is it (metaphorically) for a (male) demon to enter the body of an innocent 12 year old girl, if not none-too-subtle symbolic rape. The language that shocked cinema goers the world over was a cautionary tale to youths. Fowl language, it can be seen here, is the work of the devil. Premature sexuality is the work of the devil. And the devil can inhabit only those most week, young girls. The young girl at hand also just so happens to be the child of a strong willed, powerfully independent woman (the magnificent Ellen Burstyn), who, the film takes great pains to reitterate, does not believe in god. She is aprogressive woman and is thus punished for her blindness to the divinity that is god. The film follows in the lineage of such the-religious-world-as-we-know-it-is-crumbling-before-our-very-eyes movies like Rosemary's Baby, Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man (which, ironically and sadly, is being remade with Burstyn starring as Lady Sumerisle, for the paycheck, one would presume).

Entertainment Weakly (intentional typo, dears) called The Exorcist the scarriest film of all time, and for good reason. It certainly scared movie goers into church, and this shifty intent is one thing that struck me as rather icky, for lack of a better word, when watching the film. Even through the Bordeaux, I could smell a Catholic church rubbing their hands together in glib delight. In one key scene, a statue of the virgin Mary is desecrated. I remember watching the film when I was much younger with a friend and to her, this scene was the most terrifying. What's more, it was a scene which she had to shield her eyes from. And this was usually tough little cookie. I suppose this is the true horror of The Exorcist. It is something I cannot touch, given my lifelong atheistness. Still, the absolute hysteria invoked by the little girl (sorry, but you'll be hearing a lot about hysteria in the weeks that come), is a manipulative device that, though I don't usually yield to manipulation, is frighteningly affective. It is one kind of manipulation that doesn't completely bother me. Since horror films are the fear equivalent to Lifetime's emotional porn, and we all know just how much I love my Lifetime, I say, go right ahead, but viewer, proceed with caution.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Out this week: In Theaters, on DVD, on my TV...2/14

Golden Girls: Season 4 DVD set comes out tomorrow, so OF COURSE it is the pick of the week. Gotta love the girls. And, may I add, I was watchin' the girls in my formative years, BEFORE all of the WeHo Homos were watching them in ironic retrospect.

The new DVD pick of the week for films is Benji the Hunted because, I mean really, what can live up to GG? Here is a comment someone left on the Benji site: "My cat loves this film by - Yahtzee (Sat Dec 24 2005 05:29:55 ) Seriously, shes sitting on the armchair with her paws crossed and her eyes are fixated on the tv. I've never seen her do anything like that before." Seriously.

I'd recommend Saw II, but I'm almost certain Benji the Hunted will be better. Would you really expect me to recommend Proof? Sorry. No can do. Though I wouldn't mind watching Gwenneth Paltrow in this scenario pictured right.

In theaters this weekend, we may find the Russian, everything but the kitchen sink style horror film, Nightwatch. It could giddy fun or entirely too many effects and not enough of anything else (my assumption leans to the latter, but maybe we shall find otherwise). In any case, I'll keep you posted...

Get it, posted.

Okay. That's enough.


I just thought I'd post another naked picture of Heath Ledger. That is all.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Because of a little lovin'

Just a thought. Are people celebrating Phillip Seymore Hoffman's performance because he's a homosexual whom we do not have to watch having sex, as we do with Heath Ledger's Ennis? I mean, I'm not insinuating that Ledger is a better actor than Hoffman, this is certainly not the case, but it is very convenient for the academy and those other award people to pick Hoffman over Ledger because, like Swank or Therron, he is the "ugly" homosexual. It is a shame that he is invalid for the award because he is sexualized. Not that it comes as any surprise that a little... would fuck up his oscar prospects. Watch Gyllenhaal win because of the fate his character meets at the end of the film.

On Jack Smith's Normal Love

Jack Smith has never received his dues. He is world famous in the thimble sized world of experimental film. His films will never see official distribution, and we are at a great loss for it. Without Smith, there would have never been John Waters, who gleaned (and I use this term quite politely, where another might be better suited) a great deal of what he would more commercially use as Camp from the films of Jack Smith. But then gleaning (or perhaps stealing, to use a more precise word) was not an alien approach to Smith. His films are collages of cinematic ephemera, stitched together with extremely loose narratives. An extremely impressionable youth, Smith would take those experiences that formed his adolescence and turn them back in on themselves in the landscape of his own screened conscious. And this is why they work. To use the example of The Scarlet Empress, in the film, Smith recognizes the story - which in Empress' case is the tale of Catherine the Great - yet sees its true purpose as the aesthetic revelry that Von Sternberg lavishes over his muse, Marlene Dietrich. The film isn't as much about Catherine the Great as it is about the lace curtain that surrounds her bed or the candles, melting over the exorbitantly macabre sculptures. In Smith's mind, it is a film about Dietrich (or he argued a cross-dressing Von Sternberg enacted by Dietrich) wrapped in furs and covered in jewels. So, in order to make an honest film, Smith places the central focus upon the fabric that rests between the actors and the camera, on the backdrop that places his creatures in their imaginary world. An even greater influence to Smith than the Von Sternberg/Dietrich Collaborations was the cult film figure Maria Montez. Montez was a C movie actress whose films like Cobra Woman and Arabian Nights cast her as a fiery minority goddess. Hers were the nickel and dime shows in the second rate cinemas of the forties. Her acting capabilities were non-existent, but within this, Smith recognized a camp capability of the actor to transcend her faults with a certain decorum and a drag-like self-composure. (It is also quite essential to note that Susan Sontag wrote Note On Camp the same year that Smith made his most notorious film, Flaming Creatures. A film that Sontag would publish an essay in defense of after its censorship by the US government, it is certainly with Smith (if not this film, than his role as performer and personality) in mind that Notes on Camp was written.)

Tonight I watched, for the first time, a horribly degraded copy of Jack Smith's feature length follow-up to Flaming Creatures, Normal Love. Smith is truly a master of his craft. If Flaming Creatures was a claustrophobic world of decadence and rebirth, in Normal Love Smith's creatures (here even more iconic than in the preceding film) lay siege on the garden of Eden, overturning it to, yet again, revel in the fantastic opulence of the body and, sadly, yet again, they are punished. The genius of Normal Love lies in the films' "normalcy." In Smith's world, only those things that are not faked are fraud, and cannot therefore be trusted. The women are women whether or not they are men, and when a real breast is exposed, rather than clarify the gender of the performer, one begins to distrust it for its authenticity. Smith drops the artificial noses employed in Creatures for a far greater degree of falseness. Mario Montez plays the mermaid, whose fin the viewer all too quickly takes for granted, and when, during a muddy embrace with the werewolf, her wig is accidentally removed from her head, the hair beneath becomes the lie we desire to be covered over with the truth, the platinum wig. A real pregnant belly swells to the point of obscenity, whereas the pink drag of the Pink Fairie/Cake Girl ring more sincere or "normal." When the Uncle gets a pie in the face and his fangs fall out, the narrative(chase) is paused for the real moment which finds him uncovering his face, replacing his fangs. The watermelon feast is the campy and decadent equivalent to the feast of horror in Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Here, of course, the flesh is the pink juicy casualness of the watermelon.

The first half of the film relies on the aforementioned focus on objects in space. The Girl swings on a swing set, pushed by the watermelon man. Her scarf fills the frame. After a while, they nestle on the ground and light sparklers. These sparklers, in effect, add more to the flow of the film than any narrative, mainly because of their opulent depiction and the absolute importance bestowed to them in the main structural trajectory of the film. The white finned mermaid floats in her milk bath, bejewelled in dozens of strands of pearls, wearing a white skull cap. White on white like Flaming Creatures, yet in a larger context (something innately promised by a feature length film of any variety), she holds a more meta form, presenting herself as something far greater than the many of her parts. Hers is perhaps the story which we are experiencing - a read reiterated by the cows that roam our Eden). This is Smith's most upper-cased C Cinematic moment of delivery. The bath glistens and shines. We have previously seen the mermaid paying homage to the shrine of Maria Montez. Now, Mario Montez, who, again, portrays the mermaid floats in a pool, though even she is threatened by the spider that looms threateningly above the bath.

This is a bizarre world of Mummies and Werewolves, of Cake ladies and Mermaids, but this idea of normalizing the abnormal is eventually what makes it work, and it does quite well. Smith maps a world whose oddities are far more traditional than anything we know as traditional. This is what made him such an essential contribution to the world of experimental cinema. Warhol, who apparently makes a cameo in Normal Love would never have made the same movies without him, and Warhol's films (though mainly because of his other media contributions) are the post-modern holy grail of experimental film. You will also see bits of Kenneth Anger (the white bat of Normal Love) and as I have previously mentioned, a lot of Waters. Now, if only this same honor would be given to Smith. See clips of Normal Love by clicking on the first option here. You can purchase the mediocre copy of the film that I have on dvd here