Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hostess Updates

More snow and still we trudge on. Last Tuesday, my friend Christopher, aka Lonely Christopher whose collection of short stories, "The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse" has just been published on Dennis Cooper's imprint on Akashic books, had a reading at St. Mark's books with none other than Genesis P Orridge. Despite feeling well under the weather, I attended on a "warmish" day with my artist friend, Jake Davidson. Chris came in late and confusedly b-lined to my familiar face. "I don't know where to go?" "Don't worry," I hugged, "Just walk back there and tell them you're Lonely!" Christopher gave a heady reading, not from his book but from a play accounted by pre-Stonewall homos. Very semiotic based stuff. Then Genesis gave a "reading" from her "The Psychic Bible," which basically meant we were serenaded by Genesis' off-the-cuff accounts of communal living, creative insights and incitations. As is usual, she was fabulous and inspiring. I still want to join a commune! Though, I kind of did before Gen, ever since I saw that final scene of Rosa Von Praunheim's Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt (that's It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives to all of us non-German sprechters). So, cute agit gay-boy communes, my email is I'm so there.

Then the snow turned to rain and Wednesday rolled around. That's right, it was the inaugural screening the monthly experimental series I am organizing, Dirty Looks! Given the weather and a swarm of last minute text message regrets, I was certain that the outcome looked bleak, but out folks came and in droves. Leading the discussion after the Films of Curtis Harrington, Bruce Benderson showed up, and many friends did pop in: playwright Brian Bauman and his beau, Christo Allegra, curators Joseph Whitt, Adam Baran and Herbert Mendoza, artist Mark Golamco, Robin Newman and his writer BF Max Steele came with Daniel Sander, journalist Suleman Anaya and the fabulous Julie VS. As a curator it's particularly rewarding to see an array of strangers in the audience - that the program you've assembled brings people out of the woodwork. And out they came. We ran out of chairs at Participant Inc. so director Lia Gangitano, Earl Dax and I had to stand for the program! Apologies to those in attendance for the frosty interior. A common complaint from the crowd of the otherwise fabulous Participant (as Lia too well knows) was its lack of heating. A real downer in January. But the films screened and everyone seemed very keen. Even the exhibition, a video installation by artist Glen Fogel, went with the Dynasty screening to the t. All in all, a great evening.

On Thursday, I had to return the films to Filmmaker's Co-op where I found MM Serra and her staff outfitting Video Barbie with a transexual beard which they'll premier at the Underground Superstars' closing party at the Gene Frankel theater tonight. "She needs a dick!" MM started. I named her Video Barney in lieu of her Video Bert. They agreed. Somewhere in there, I found the time to turn in my recommendation text about Johnny Guitar for the upcoming issue of Little Joe, out April 5th. Later, D and I skedaddled over to BAM for the premier of the new Gregg Araki film - as you no doubt have seen from the prior post. Kaboom was great. Gregg was in attendance - actually he held up the screening since he was coming straight form JFK! Robin and Max were there so D and I saddled up next to them and ate some free popcorn ("Courtesy of Chase" - well, I'm already a fan of Chase, thanks, for recently depositing $125 into my new checking account!). We ran into Marc Arthur who was bummed to have missed Dirty Looks. But then we had to run over to Louis V E.S.P., to meet up with my performance partner Hayley Blatte, where we did a screen test for Friday night's taping of the pilot episode of E.S.P. TV. I created a character based around a joke - see, they needed a host for this public access video show they were doing and that D was participating in and I quipped off-handedly, "Well, I'd do it, but only if I can be cable access sex-Queen, Robin Byrd!" To which the ever-savvy director, Scott Kiernan, said "Done!" So I invented this character - Mary Boom! - a mix of Robin, Mary Boone (obv) with a little bit of Ann Liv Young's Sherry thrown in there for snarky criticality.

Apparently I was so good at that some asshole at the taping "complimented":
"You're so good, you're out of your element but it seems like you mastered it!"
"Excuse me?"
"Well you know, it really seems like you get the art world," he talked down to Mary - like every fag in a wig is some total twit. Attending to these (primarily hetero) experimental performance pieces, this fucker couldn't get that Mary could be a critical performance, too, a sex-worker allegory for the art world. Sternface thought that I was some tranny wreck hired for hilarity.
"Listen fucker," I told him from the bathroom line, "I am a curator!" He stammered.

Of course, Mary Boom! did not ebb art world sophistication - but that was entirely the point. The whole taping was a hot mess in the fabulous way that early public access broadcasts typically are (minor tech foibles, aside). Mary was the medium specific glue that bricolaged the diverse performances and/or videos by KUNSOLE, Elbis Rever, Dana Bell, Victoria Keddie, Sam Mickens, Colby Bird, Kate Gilmore, Jennifer Sullivan and Andrew Steinmetz, Katrina Lamb, Erica Magrey, Sophia Peer, Brian Zegeer, Derek Larson, Ganjatronics, Jonathan Phelps, Andre Prkowski and Rachel Mason. Like this VIP art fair, which seems to be suffering even more technical glitches than our humble outfit, Mary opened her stable to give the Manhattan Neighborhood (!) Network a taste of what was hot, and with her resident artist, Coco (Hayley) we interviewed my roster in much the same way Byrd would, flirting with the Ganjatronics boys and dishing about enemas with Elbis Rever. Of course, the whole thing dissolved into one big dance party at the end, with even the live studio audience joining us on "stage" for Mary's theme song: "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back To My Room)" by Paul Lekakis.

In the dressing room


Dana Bell and Kitten Miller



After that busy week, tonight - my ass is staying in. I gotta get some rest, but believe you me, I'll be seeing you tomorrow at the Chris Kraus' book launch at the Swiss Institute. I'm a total slut for all things Chris Kraus and she's ever so nice to reference my book Fever Pitch in artschool grad crits and Australian catalogue essays. Why don't you just go buy her new book, "Where Art Belongs" now!

(Photo from an LA Lit Reading)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Back in the High life, again.

I was sitting at BAM last night for the New York premier of Gregg Araki's new film Kaboom realizing that I was never quite the age bracket that Araki's most coveted films depict. Happening upon The Doom Generation in my way-early teens, I was drawn like a moth to the flame by a post-it on the vhs rental box that read: You must be 18 years or older to rent this! I knew the store crew, who had already rented Pink Flamingos to me out of their porn section, so I didn't and watched it at my rather impressionable age (12 or 13?). Nowhere, too, came out when I was in junior high, the mess that predates all of Araki's characters' college-year crises. More a hormonal soup than an identity blitzkrieg. Then he dropped out of that mission for a while with the threesome movie that coincided with his surprising affair with star, Kathleen Robertson and, after the failure of his unaired MTV pilot, This Is How The World Ends, nothing materialized until 2004's Mysterious Skin. My prime teen years faced a dearth of new teen traumas from the harbringer of the Teen Apocalypse Trilogy. Where was Gregg when I needed him?

Watching Kaboom last night made me realize there's no teenage neo-realism, here. My teen cultural moment was never documented by Araki, but then, I don't think any really is. Even though Kaboom sports Lady Gaga references, his new teen dream is more like his depiction of Los Angeles: a moribund place of technicolor limitlessness and impending doom. Araki's teens are a total fantasy state, serving up the best of the best (sex) and the worst or the worst (death).

Kaboom is being heralded as a return to his roots, it's a teenage Twin Peaks sex fantasy that takes a lot from the format that Araki found his greatest success in - straight-to-video 90s releases. Movies with loose ended plots, sexy children, familiar scenarios and neon VHS box covers. Smith, an *ahem* 19-year-old film studies major, hops from boy bed to girl bed and in between somewhere witnesses a horrible murder by animal-masked men. Unable to recall specific details of the night before (he'd inadvertently consumed a laced star-shaped cookie), Smith searches for the red haired girl who was knifed and evades the dangerous figures who lurk behind every open door. Oh, he has loads of sex too. With Kaboom, Araki reminds of his reputation as an adept cinephile. It's a terrifically fun watch and completely aware of all of its generic referents and stolen formulae. It's also a terribly beautiful film, awash in the rich candy hues for which Araki is well know. Now, though, as Dennis Lim suggested in his recent NY Times article, "Young and the Restless Never Get Old", the warmer tones reflect a more optimistic sensibility, in contrast to the acidic pop tones of his nihilistic yesteryear. Of course, underneath The Doom Generation and Nowhere beat a loving and endearing pulse, clued in to more than the sardonic dismissiveness critics frequently mistook his cinema for. It's been luscious pinks and blues since Mysterious Skin and that suits the filmmaker.

He's always been a closet romantic. James Duvall's Dark yearns for love in Nowhere with a kind of fundamental innocence that can't help but infect the overstimulated spectator. Here, there are similar moments. Araki was making movies before the commercial onslaught of coming-out films of the late nineties and it was particularly heartwarming to see teen gay affections rendered on VHS. My heart warmed to find that Kaboom still finds room for this kind of glee. A cutie named Oliver that Smith spied at a party shoots him a flirtatious email video message and the smitten smirk that crawls across the recipient's face is totally believable. It captures the ecstatic potential of youthful flirtations, a kind of fairytale longing that is less existential than Araki's former incarnations. And on the upside he no longer feels the need to make the lover explode into a giant bug nor does he shear him of his manhood. They oggle one another and grin across the interweb, locked into this sexual current that seems to pulse through the air of Araki's campus life.

Kaboom is definitely independent and it showcases this frugality in its slim cast. But while endless cameos were his way around budgetary restraints of yore, it's nice that Araki trusts in the good dozen actors cast in lead roles. Kaboom came out of Araki's attempt to pen an MTV series. A pilot was shot for This Is How The World Ends, but it was way to reiterative of Nowhere, replaying jokes, scenarios and characters from that far more successful venture. So, like David Lynch with Mulholland Drive, Araki got a check from the French (bless 'em!) to turn this serial into Kaboom. That probably explains the presence of Catherine Breillat veteran Roxanne Mesquida, who plays a crazy lesbian girlfriend with occult powers. It also explains the abandon with which Araki hurls into comic book situations. He explained in a q&A after the screening that, since the French were footing the bill, he didn't conform the narrative to a appealing American product, but top-loaded the text with everything that he would want to see in a movie. There's loads of CGI on display here and wild plot turns display an assured what-the-fuckness that is really awesome (prepare yourself for an exhilliratingly wooden and high-octane exchange between James Duvall, who plays a stoner RA, and the quirky lesbian best friend, Stella [Haley Bennett] in the final minutes of the film - a scene so ecstatic in its b-movie timing that I audibly convulsed with pleasure, startling cinemagoers in my adjacent seats).

There's kind of a bad ending, but there's ultimately nowhere for the movie to really go. It's a retread, a reinvention, an explosion of Araki's past that's both dazzling and meta. Not that you need to know his prior work to enjoy it. This is what Araki's done best all along. Hopefully some ignorant tween will find this on thepiratebay (or some more egalitarian screening site) and revel in the contours of its sugary angst over stolen midnight viewings. Hopefully this blast of jouissance and outsider freedom will clue them into the alternative lifestyle options that Araki's cinema has always championed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Masquerades and Hysteria" at [2nd Floor Projects]

In commemoration of Burlesque's Golden Globe...

You’ve seen Burlesque already. Maybe you haven’t walked down the street and saddled up to the ticket booth, announcing your guilty intent to the judgmental ticket salesperson. But you’ve seen it. Burlesque comes from a long lineage of movie/musicals like Chicago, Moulin Rouge, Chorus Line, Fame and, yes, Showgirls. Some were successful, others… not so much. Yet on what basis? Every sour review of Burlesque (and there were many) ridiculed its unoriginal storyline, its paint-by-numbers screenplay, its recycling of familiar forms. Manohla Dargis hilariously called the film “a savvy combination of a Disney tween program and a Lifetime weepie.” But on what canon is one really supposed to judge a film like Burlesque, anyway?

Once upon a time, dear critics, there was a long stretch of Hollywood studio system that churned out more-or-less the same genre films every year. The same character actors filled the scenes and once stars got stuck on a thematic track, they were probably there for the run of their contract. This filled viewers with a sense of expectation, nostalgia and security. In a year that, to these critical eyes, has not yielded much by way of originality, I ask you, dear critics, “why you gotta hate on a perfectly adequate movie like Burlesque?” It functions on its own kind of economy, much like 2008’s Mamma Mia!. That movie was ravaged by critics but went on to become the most fruitful film in England, EVER. Burlesque also divides critical and audience camps. Receiving 34% from accrued reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, that same film garnered an A- approval from viewers on CinemaScore the week of its release. What’s really at issue here is the fulfillment of pleasure, so let’s get down to brass tacks.

Burlesque sports a narrative so banal that it’s beside the point to even go into it here. Blond girl in Iowa… aspirations… Los Angeles… Cher. And it moves along quite like that, aware, and in everyone’s best interest. We know the story and it’s not what we’re here for. It’s the motions! The film replays the opening to crowd-pleaser, Chicago, finding a blond shyly gazing into the limelight. The scene also proves that it is, in fact, more pleasurable to see Cher on stage than that Catherine Zeta Jones. Cher will later sing the (GOLDEN GLOBE WINNING) Diane Warren song “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” á la Jennifer Hudson’s “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” Veronica Mars actress Kristin Bell lipsyncs like Moulin Rouge’s rehash of the showgirl showstopper “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” It's all familiar. You get the idea.

This is the much-publicized first acting effort from Christina Aguilera, who does just fine in her few dramatic moments. She’s game as hell and a cipher to the T, all baby-faced and blond. Cher and Bell are entrusted with most of the histrionics, graciously leaving Christina to belt out five remaining musical numbers from her (to quote the film) “mutant lungs.”

Many critics blasted what they felt was the film’s patchwork format, how these scenes, bolstered between so many aural eruptions, felt like mere vignettes. They’re neglecting a musical mode currently more relevant than the traditional musical. The night before I attended my screening of Burlesque, I, by fortunate happenstance, watched Kylie Minogue’s Showgirl: The Homecoming Tour dvd. Now, in arena spectaculars such as Kylie’s, favored hits are strung together with sensational sets and a light-handed nod at narrative sequencing. Each thematic episode lays siege on the most conventional storylines and recognizable touchstones of contemporary culture. These mammoth events, now the norm for pop divas the world over, are well-oiled machines, purely professional arrangements to inspire fits of ecstasy throughout a sea of international attendees.

Burlesque, which is directed by the man who brought the Pussycat Dolls to our small screen for the reality show Search for the Next Doll, seems more akin these such Vegas-style vehicles than more traditional narrative efforts like Cabaret, Sweet Charity, or Moulin Rouge, even. So driven to please in the most perfunctory fashion, Burlesque is something of a fascinating symbiosis between these forms. Its drama is mild, never reaching beyond what’s required to bring us to the next showstopper. So being, it never achieves the kind of narrative prowess that makes fabulous messes in films like Striptease and Showgirls. But that’s because the film is too pop, or amenable to cause that brand of surprise. Its story doesn’t thrill, but brings a satiated grin of delight to the lips.

This expansive approach towards the musical is not that far from Mamma Mia!, the play-then-film that was begotten from a handful of ABBA songs. The production leaned on its recognizable score and famous, non-singer cast, haphazardly assembling dizzying production numbers with a shimmering gaudiness that befits Greece in June. Mamma Mia! made all of that British money from hen parties; ladies who love the songs of ABBA assembled to sing along to their favorite tunes; karaoke mammas who find Pierce Brosnan’s lack of singing talent a humanizing trait, as though he were taking part in their shenanigans.

I saw Burlesque in New York’s Chelsea, which turned out to be something akin to seeing Mamma Mia! in London’s West End, surrounded by screaming and swooning gay men in lieu of crooning hens. It’s immersive. Like Mamma Mia!, Burlesque is an event film. Released on Thanksgiving, it’s tailor-made for the kind of escapist diversions that characterize holiday entertainment. It’s flashy, fulfilling and utterly predictable.

I’m the target audience this time around, it seems. Though, I’m not sure if that’s intentional. I’m sure the studio would prefer the film as a post-turkey family destination. And yet it sports a similar sensibility to other recent mainstream offerings aimed at women and helmed by openly gay men. Just like this year’s Sex and the City 2, Burlesque doesn’t feel so much like a film for or about women as it does a kind of ecstatic gay role play; or, what Lindy West hilariously calls it, in her Stranger assault on the former film, “essentially a home video of gay men playing with giant Barbie dolls.”

Burlesque parades an aesthetic that’s at once hyperbolically glitzy, like a Cher Farewell Tour, but also somehow low-budget, like West’s “home video” or Dargis’ “Lifetime weepie.” The scenes are sweet and go down easy due to their complete conventionality and the men sparkle like confections. Fortunately, Antin has set to work a crew of very competent actors in his gingerbread parlour (joining Cher, Aguilera, and Bell are Stanley Tucci, reprising his Prada role, Peter Gallagher, Eric Dane and Alan Cumming, doing his best Justin Bond imitation) and its nice to see them carry on in the well-worn grooves of the showgirl tradition.

‘Cause, let’s face it, since the apex of this universe is a danceteria on the Hollywood strip, the ambitions of the film are nothing short of modest. Burlesque doesn’t invent a wholly different genre of musical. It evinces the evolution of the genre in the wake of chart-topping Beyoncé concert DVDs and retread musicals like Moulin Rouge, Mamma Mia! and Hairspray. It pastiches elements from every point in showgirl history, finessing a new blend of same-old, and achieving its goals in the most satisfying manner. It’s in this capacity that Antin’s film resembles more modest musicals from the old studio system, where ticket-buyers would pay to see their favorite stars in parts reminiscent of prior pictures (Cher) or popular singers making their film debut (Xtina). It also plays out like VH1 storytellers. Set on a sparkling, but humble stage, Cher and co. deliver the goods this holiday season by reflecting on past triumphs and redecorating them with a polite flourish of glitz and glamour. You may not be able to turn back time, but sometimes it’s awfully sweet to retread it.

Ryan Robles is at it again!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Another 48 hours

CULTURE CULTURE CULTURE! In the thick of winter and all of these goddamn snow storms that Mother Nature's hurling our way, these last couple days were like a storming of the fort. Children were out on the street in droves and every event was booming! Thursday night I attended Light Asylum's premier for their first-ever video, "Dark Allies," directed by Grant Worth. Shannon Funchess, the group's masculine lead, repeated over the hordes filling that weird back bar at NP Contemporary Art Center how the video was shot for free by the Worth, a video artist. They were handing out EPs in black envelopes and raver day-glo crosses to those who came, all of which were long gone by the time my late ass made it there. Light Asylum's music is nice, dancey and well structured, though I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say "Dark Allies" is catchy. After two listens, it sort of misses the lyrical hook that could drive the tune home. I happened upon a director friend of mine Larin Sullivan and we discussed the video, which you could only barely make out over the heads of the throngs. Too much rainbow, we decided, though it's way stocked with attitude. It also takes some cues from Grace Jones' recent "Love You To Life" video; Funchess is constantly compared to Jones, a fact that's based almost exclusively on aesthetics (or, per Larin's observation, racism), since her delivery (while singing, in particular) is quite different from Jones'. Maybe Skin, the lead singer of 90s Brit sensation Skunk Anansie, is a better comparison, since, to these ears, there's a lyrical reference to their "She's my Heroine."

Up front in the gallery space, Robert Smith hosted "The Death of Brother, My Lover." It wasn't really an end, as such, as much as an intermission. Mother Flawless Sabrina was in attendance to work her magic, reading from a new book-in-progress. After the reading, I shuffled over to Bushwick and attended the first Kitty, a Queer Weekly at the Wreck Room since my friend Zan aka La Rubia was DJing the thing. They had cheap plastic rings for the take and indulge I did. And how can you resist this flyer?

Then yesterday, QuORUM inaugurated their "week and a half of FREE workshops, skillshares, screenings, performances and parties to be held in queer homes around the city" with a Pop-Up Museum of Queer History. It was a wonderful project, held in a Bushwick loft (Starr, if that means anything to you). See, I had to go on the front end of the night which opened at 5pm. There was a wonderful little screening room, showcasing essential gay cinema from Un Chant D'Amour, to Barbara Hammer and beyond. This is in a loft bedroom, mind you, projected on a sheet (by MIX NYC executive director Stephen Kirk Jusick). It was intimate and kind of wonderful, sitting on a bed with perfect strangers and watching these films projected. Outside there was a gingerbread house replica of Stonewall, a vigil dedicated to the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence and a monitor playing pre-AIDS queer documents. As is the case with many such home-spun events, some works were quite craft-y, but an overall academic sensibility in texts orchestrated by Hugh Ryan and Buzz Slutzky gave the event real poignancy. I look forward to checking out more QuORUM events.

I dipped over to the opening of Ridykeulous' READYKEULOUS The Hurtful Healer: The Correspondance Issue at Invisible/Exports which was just absolutely PACKED! But then why wouldn't it be, with an exhibit showcasing works by Ali Liebegott, Allyson Mitchell, Bernadette Mayer, Carolee Schneeman, Catherine Lord, Chuck Nanney, Daniel Feinberg & Rhyne Piggot, David Wojnarowicz, Dr. Weeks, Eileen Myles, Gary Gissler, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Glen Fogel, Harmony Hammond, I.U.D. (Lizzi Bougatsos & Sadie Laska), Jack Smith, Jibz Cameron aka Dynasty Handbag, K8 Hardy, Kara Walker, Kathe Burkhart, Kathleen Hanna, Kathy Acker/Dennis Cooper, Laura Parnes, Leidy Churchman, Louise Fishman, Mike Albo, Nao Bustamente, Nicola Tyson, Simon Fujiwara, Tobi Vail, William Powhida, Zackary Drucker, Zoe Leonard …and other special selection from the patriARCHIVES?! Swarming with every amazing art world power lez imaginable (Eileen Myles, Saddie Benning, Dynasty Handbag, to name but a few), a dressed down Genesis P. Orridge rocked a most memorable beenie which read "FUCK CANCER". It took me 20 minutes to move from one end of the tiny Lower East Side gallery to the back where they were serving up refreshments. I partook but had to split to make it to my next event. On the way out I was fortunate enough to pass by Pam Tietze and Annie Rossi. Least to say, I was not able to see much of the work, though, like a bloodhound, I happened upon a wonderfully wordy letter from Jack Smith to Jonas Mekas. Another handwritten Smith artifact lingered above, a Lotusland fragment. Must return to see this fantastic looking collection of queer ephemera.

Instead, I made my way to Brian Christopher Bauman's play ATTA BOY. I have known Bauman (and his work) for some time. ATTA BOY culls texts from various sources: Noam Chomsky, youtube posts, blogs from the Concerned Women For America and Family Research Council, Bauman's own expansive and perverse brain. The action centers around a middle-aged Pakistani man and a not-quite legal twink who meet in a seedy motel to extract sexual fantasies from social traumas. 9/11, Columbine, homophobic attacks are the sources for this erotic psychodrama. The young Jason Zeren gives a remarkable performance as Matthew. Bauman's found an archetypal twinky body and an adept performer who can incant the vicissitudes of adolescent anguish. For the amount of times this boy strips down to his cherry-red wrestling suit (and ultimately one shy moment of blue jock-strap), the desirous body is the powerplay in these love games, and Matthew is allowed the upper hand written for him through this livid performance. There's lots of wonderfully shocking moments and surprisingly effective uses of choreography, if it does take the play a moment to gain in momentum, it does so with a vengeance. ATTA BOY runs for one more night at The Wild Project. GO SEE IT!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

(Irreconcilable) thoughts on Charlie St. Cloud

What is Charlie St. Cloud? As a vehicle for the tween porn face of Zac Efron, it seems rather ill suited. Or rather, it functions, but only to the effect that it offers ample opportunity to peer at that bizarrely perfect mug for an hour and a half. The narrative is built around a 5 year passage of time, which accounts for the age that is (already?) beginning to creep up on that modern marvel. But the assumed schmaltz that might overwhelm the studio flick never quite arrives, trading instead for some head-scratching premonitions and turgid naturalism. Which is not to say that the whole thing doesn't still look like a Thomas Kincaid painting.

Charlie St. Cloud tells the story of a high school sailing champ (Efron), who receives a Stanford scholarship only to defer and waste away 5 years of precious surf-time tending the grounds of the local cemetery. See, he was behind the wheel when a drunk driver took the life of his younger brother but a sworn oath brings said bro back to play catch with our hero, every day one hour before sunset. Charlie almost died too in that car crash but he was miraculously brought back from the dead by a divine ambulance driver named Florian (Ray Liotta). And there's a girl too, but she and Charlie's divine powers of perception come in later.

Charlie St. Cloud was adapted from the best-seller called The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud which explains why certain things feel a tad rushed. I'll freely admit to watching this film twice. Two days in a row. I had to make sense of it. The first time, as first impressions of this article might evince, I saw nothing but the face of Zac Efron and those perfect blue whorls that he calls eyes (I'm convinced there's post-production involved, there). On the second sitting I was even more flumoxed by a narrative that was not melodramatic but paranormal - with many of those generic trappings in tow. Of course, we must remind ourselves that Efron doesn't have his hand in the Twilight pot, but this bid at an approximation feels too Hallmark for that reader/viewership. Charlie's death and resurrection make him prescient and he can converse with the dead, see. Play ball even, as he does with Sam for 5 years of his life, EVERY DAY. Putting in an utterly unmemorable performance as a girl who (on second viewing) is clipped into every shot of film before she is introduced (but is somehow still never familiar), Amanda Crew plays Charlie's spiritual savior, a girl with gumption who aims to sail around the world. They share a beautiful day at the cemetery (which, I'm sorry, but for Efron is both implausible and creepy) and she pushes him to pursue bigger and better things. He courts her, eventually making love. Until he realizes >SPOILER ALERT< she's actually lost at sea.

None of this takes on the level of paranormal head-scratching that found fleeting moments of bewildering satisfaction in The Lovely Bones nor is it really set up for a kind of ta-da reveal a la (of course) The Sixth Sense. It feels like a severely edited miniseries that's not enough Hallmark Channel, not kooky enough to be science fiction and not balls out enough to just be religious. It never mounts to the tacky kind of sensationalism such a loopy plot would cater to. It never really amounts to much more than... Oh, Zac Efron's face! But it's weirdly aging. Putting him next to a deliriously overblown Liotta doesn't help matters at all, particularly once the "Five Years Later" has its way with the narrative and whisks Charlie's mother, Kim Basinger, back to Malibu... er... Portland (she later phones in). I have a feeling I'll watch it again. Maybe alongside the Keanu Reeves / Sandra Bullock reunion vehicle, The Lake House. Could this be a new genre of cinema? But that implausible tale of time travel is frenzied by its utter inability to make sense of out its set-up. While Charlie St. Cloud is never quite as frantic or jazzy as all of this, you still have that archetype of a face, that mug of perfection that resembles not a boy who has died and been given a second chance. But one that's been plucked, straight out the box.

As an addendum, I would like to note that before seeing this film and even exiting my repeated sittings, I have no crushy affiliation towards Mr. Efron. Such is the power of cinema.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Dirty Looks NYC!

I'm pleased to announce a roaming monthly series that I will be organizing - Dirty Looks, a platform for queer experimental film and video will begin Wednesday, January 26th at 8 p.m. Hosted by Participant Inc. the first screening will bring together three disparate works by the avant-garde filmmaker Curtis Harrington, whose varied career saw him collaborate with Kenneth Anger in the 1940s and direct episodes of "Charlie's Angels" and "Dynasty" later on in his career. The program will contain the following works:

'Fragment of Seeking' (1946) 16mm
'On the Edge' (1949) 16mm
"Dynasty" Episode 4.7 'Tracy' (1983) DVD

Please go to the website for Dirty Looks to find out more or Like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with all of the dirty developments.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Fairy Tails

Why, dear god, do I find Willem Dafoe so darling? I may never know. In celebration of Anthology Film Archives' fabulous series Abel Ferrara in the 21st Century, I thought I would put down my two cents on his recent (undervalued) Go Go Tales. Ferrara has sadly been on something of a losing streak lately, with two large feature films with noteworthy cast members (Juliette Binoche, Forest Whitaker, Asia Argento, Marion Cotillard, Dafoe, Matthew Modine, and, sure, Heather Graham) going totally unnoticed by American distribution companies. Well now the dust is unsettled from these wonderfully peculiar films and Go Go Tales (2007) is receiving the presidential treatment over Mary (2005) in the series. On this single evening in Ray Ruby (Dafoe)'s Paradise Lounge, a bordello for high-minded strippers and dancers, all is not right and the flagging earnings present a crippling hurdle for Ruby to overcome. So he turns to the lottery.

Ferrara is the master of masculine hysteria. There's a creeping sleazy dread coursing through the veins of the strip club goons who run the proceedings (a crew which includes the implacable Bob Hoskins). Ruby's anxious gambling streaks help none to settle the tone. But as the final descriptive word of its title suggests, Go Go is more fairy tale than some of the seedier ruminations of Ferrara's past (which most famously include Bad Lieutenant, King of New York and the sublime The Addiction). Cause Ruby wins the fucking lottery, of course (18 million), but loses the ticket. The rest of the film is a frenetic free-for-all, as Ruby dives between his role as demur MC, scouring the club for the missing lotto ticket, avoiding his irate and unpaid strippers, and braving the ravings of his landlord, a delicious Sylvia Myles, kvetching as only she knows how.

Almost all the ink that's been spilt on Go Go Tales is over Argento's infamous smooch with her pooch. The scene, in truth, is here and gone. History if you bat an eye. And really, how scandalous is a tongue kiss from a rottweiler, these days? It's Dafoe's charisma and campy brand of unselfconsciousness that wins out in the end. His final monologue is equal parts wacky and heartfelt. As J. Hoberman attests in his Village Voice review, "no amount of writhing pulchritude or gutter language can conceal this movie’s essential innocence." Basically, Go Go Tales is batshit crazy in the way that one has come to expect from a film by Ferrara, but it's also a wide-eyed, loving movie, with an erratic little war torn heart.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Failings and Feminisms

Brain bursting. I recently read Eileen Myles new book Inferno (which you can't buy at amazon, dears, you have to go to O/R books website - which is either an amazing or really limiting way of distributing, of course we hope for the former). In it, Myles maps out a most productive period of writing in which she spent time at a denizen's country house. There she would rise at 8:30 and heavily caffeinate. Around 9 she would read until she felt full, which she admits to typically achieve in under an hour. Then for a run, two laps around the land. Then an hour of... not meditation per se but a time to clear thoughts and attempt to think at nothing (though, after the run, Myles admits much of her thoughts centered around breakfast). Then the breakfast she was holding out for. Then, and only then, would she sit down to write. If this schedule was interrupted in any way she would not feel confident in the afternoon's writing and the day, while not wasted, became somewhat more dubious.

I've been trying to do this type of routine lately. Of course, given my hatred of all things athletic, I nix the workout portion and I've been too voracious to allow for just 1 hour of morning reading. Basically, I am failing in such formulaic attempts at a morning routine since I get to bound up in step 2, reading. I'm trying to cut out internet as much as possible, so I sit in bed for 2 sometimes 3 hours a morning reading. Today I turned back to my first love: psychoanalytic film theory and now my head hurts, swimming in a sea of castration anxiety and feminine as masquerade. I'd never actually read Mary Ann Doane's "Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator" (which is an embarrassing admission with a masters in Cinema Cultures - though I've read her book The Desire to Desire a couple times) so I did a bit of that this morning before sitting down to work on a catalogue essay for Margaret Tedesco's upcoming show at [2nd Floor Projects] of ephemeral work by Marco Vassi and the Daughters of Houdini. Doane served a good counterpoint. The Daughters of Houdini are great since they use the zine format to send up phallocentric pathology. Wonderfully crude drawings accompany texts like "Jesus, I'm glad I don't have health insurance So's I'm not tempted to support the medic patriarchs!" while one comic traces the hysterical letting loose of their lesbian wombs. They fly off into the sunset, only to be scrutinized and netted by ornithologists! More on the daughters soon...
(Eileen photo by Claude Peck)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Impressively Tidy Grit

True Grit is winning big in the holiday box office. I suppose that's right just. It's a magnificently conventional little action movie whose humble make-up is the best thing going for it. It seems strange to me these days when movies like True Grit garner year-end placement and Oscar buzz. Grit's perfectly economic nature reminded me of all the yay-sayers that surrounded David Chronenberg's last picture, Eastern Promises, which, like True Grit now, was nearly flawless in its resemblance of a 1940s B-movie.

There's nothing unnecessary in True Grit; each shooting, hanging and precautionary ritual lend to the formulaic unfolding of a beautifully generic western narrative. The cast is selected for their legible faces (drunk and gruff Jeff Bridges; mean Josh Brolin; paunce-y Matt Damon) and they perform their perfunctory star roles well, before the hungry eyes of the excitable newcomer, miss Hailee Steinfeld. As many critics have observed, Grit lifts its fantastic childlike wonderment more from Night of the Hunter than the original John Wayne vehicle. The closing, star-filled nighttime race is almost directly transferred from Laughton's Manichean masterpiece (in a feat of nice-timing, that film was recently given the prestige treatment of a Criterion release) while the haunting dirge that Mitchum's menacing preacher sings over and over tramples onto the Cohen brothers' soundtrack by way of lush Hollywood orchestration. This youthful quality complicates the movie's M.O. in some delightfully surprising ways - since Steinfeld's Mattie Ross is fourteen, her bloodthirst is not as quelled by anger or the explicit finitudes of murder (which is to say, Mattie's vengeance feels more robust). She lusts for retribution with wide-eyes, as opposed to the standard carnal tunnel vision.

It's beautiful, thrilling and none-too nihilistic, which is to say, the Cohens kept the hands on their holsters for much of the movie - and thankfully. Oh there's some requisite snark thrown mostly by Bridge's Rooster, but the Cohens' have taken an amiable step to produce a taut little flick that's not some fatuous Oscar-flavored allegory, but a rather straight-faced adventure, a well-cleaved tale that's more Goonies than Unforgiven.