23 June 2009

John Waters Cont.

Timothy Wurtz, screenwriter of Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit, pitcher of Home Alone 3: Lost in the Ghetto, and the Tow Truck Cycle, and former screenwriting teacher at Saddleback, supposedly once invited a friend of mine out to dinner. I was told told by this friend that over dinner Mr. Wurtz proposed a soft-core pornography project, to be based in Orange County, tentatively involving said friend. Something along the lines of: You're young and hot and some young hot fuck action would show a truer side of Orange County than that (at the time) popular OC television show.

I'm not sure if that actually took place. It doesn't matter. The point is this: much more interesting than a sleazy proposal from an overaged Hollywood outsider (a guy I genuinely looked up to in several ways by the way, it just happens several negative attributes emphasize the peculiarity of this particular situation) is the premise of a script about a character like this screenwriter attempting to organize and develop the exact same project.

And maybe a film about John Waters attempting to make A Dirty Shame would have been more interesting than A Dirty Shame. I don't know. I miss the presence of believable characters, that entrance into darker territory I spoke of when discussing Female Trouble. A Dirty Shame is Waters idealizing his own ethos, and executing them within the true gloss and sheen of 35mm - this is almost explicitly stated in the supplementary materials. Is real filmmaking supposed to involve this kind of distancing? What happens when actors take over roles established by seemingly more authentic symbols of a narrative's form of virtue? In Waters' early films the actors attempted to act based on an imagined vision of films - and their overacting added to the sense of a film being created. Their form of acting supported their presence as characters, and this was part of the fun. It's tough to watch A Dirty Shame because EVERYONE is in on the joke now. The whole thing is a joke.

And it's funny and I like it. But does it shoot from the heart? I would say not as much. I would say definitely not as much. So good or bad it doesn't even matter, because it's not the kind of soul-revealing cinema I truly love. I realize that's probably a statement of youth and inexperience. I'm okay with that. Waters once was too.

22 June 2009

Female Trouble (or: I wouldn't suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls).

I want to begin with like superlative adjectives and profuse admiration in regards to Waters' film Female Trouble, and all the words that come to my mind are tied directly to my personal response of having seen the film. But I don't really know what purpose comments like that serve. You'd then know that I really liked the movie, but you wouldn't know anything about the movie. I'm compelled to include this as an opening, but I don't know why. Sometimes you gush. Sometimes I gush. Why not gush?

What am I gushing over? What takes place in Female Trouble? Roughly what happens is a scene is lit, the actors are placed, either dialogue is recited or music is played over a montage, and then something sexual, violent, outrageous, hilarious, unnerving, disgusting, imaginative, or arousing occurs. Usually all together, in harmony, without a discordant element. There's special effects sometimes, for example in one instance one actors fucks oneself and eats out one's own genitals. The actor self-impregnates in said scene, and this is kind of the launching point for the story, except maybe the pivotal moment was a scene earlier, in which the actor was not given the expected Christmas present of cha-cha heels. That is a crucial moment in Female Trouble as well.

Am I describing the film now? What would it be like to discuss Female Trouble? To me, describing the film would also be convincing you that Waters crafted an entirely effective, provocative, and enjoyable film. But then, I'm the kind of guy who, if on the other end, would be interested if told only "Acid disfiguration leads to a reversal of bandage-removal expectations." In Waters' films beauty and ugliness co-exist, as do high and low art, etc...these are things discussed frequently when Waters comes up I'm sure, but does the film community really talk about the emotional and narrative level of achievement he sometimes reaches?

I almost wish a stopper could be placed on certain genres at certain points. You know how one great film comes out and then there's a mess of derivative films that follow and try repeating the success of the great film, which itself was probably the final statement in a a long, century spanning filmic discussion, as in the great film probably had its own influences which it was quite similar to, and so it feels like for every one great movie there has to be fifty or so movies similar to that one? I get tired of that shit. And for example I wish they'd stop the production of crude comedies. If you can't top Waters - and how you are going to top Waters I don't know - stop it. Let the theaters play his movies all the time. That's fine, I'll go.

The complete honesty and transparency of Female Trouble is a large part of the appeal. There's a courage to it, in exposing your sickness, depravity, and humor in this way, without apology, concession, or reserve. In some films there's a dimension of hidden-access, for example the film will be about exposing the double-life of someone, or it will be about an untold secret, etc, and I like those films. A Waters film feels like a journey solely into that dark space, without anyone following, and it feels like you can observe and experience horrible and terrific things without trepidation or self-consciousness. It's why the cult of Waters makes total sense, because who the hell wouldn't be allowed into that cult? What would you have to do to be rejected from the kingdom of the outcasts?

What I'm saying is Waters' form of comedy hasn't gotten better, cruder, more inventive or more engaging since Female Trouble. Waters came and made his films and then Hollywood continued on exactly the same path and it seems like progress has slowly been made, for example I really enjoyed The Hangover, but it seems like that progress is leading back to Waters. They should open Pink Flamingos tomorrow, all the across the country, in all the multiplexes, and travel again through his whole career.

That's a pretty elaborate gush I know. What can I say, except that I am deeply moved by the attempts of a repulsive rotten toothed mother, who tries her best to convince her son that he is gay, but fails, and then when the son is fired from his job at the beauty parlor he leaves Baltimore for the great dream of Detroit and work in the auto industry. What can I say but that, what do I need to say?

"Dawn Davenport's stage performance is based upon an act performed by Divine at San Francisco's Palace Theatre. Divine would wheel a shopping cart full of mackerel on stage and hurl them into the audience while claiming responsibility for various high-profile crimes (IMDb)."

16 June 2009

A Sherman's March Pitch.

So then. . .I figure this will be the beginning of my screenplay. So that's the first - scene in my screenplay. Just me and Granny Smith - I have braids on, plaid shirt, the whole thing. ('You have to give me a compressed version because I'll never...') (She laughs). So that's how it starts out.

Then I turn into the best actress in the world. Probably with some huge love scene, comparable to Romeo and Juliet. Something that captivates the whole world - the heart of the world. Now by the fact that I'm such a famous actress I'm a multi-millionaire, and move to an island in the South Seas, with my lover who's going to be Tarzan to me. And we just play Jane and Tarzan.

And then about three years later we build a center - which will have seven or eight centers coming out from - we'll have another island with a center. And this will be the most intellectual island in the world, full of the top scientists, we'll cure cancer, et cetera.

And I come back, and I've found all these scientific things - possibly cured cancer myelf. Come back - -

Now wait a minute, while I'm on the island though, my Tarzan lover, whose name is Will, he has a fit because he no longer has me to himself, so he goes into a fit and burns down the island that's totally built on, you know, all the scientific research.

And at this point in the movie I want it to be total fantasy. Just, like, tropical, huge, huge plants. Huge animals. The music will be, just, unbelievable. Probably Stevie Wonder's type of music. 'The Secret Life of Plants.'

('How old are you at this point?')

(She sighs). At this point, pretty much ageless. Because I've been an astronaut. So I haven't really aged. And this is another thing that overwhelms people, is that I'm this person who's really never really aged.

And so we go to Venus. And - we start coming back and forth to Earth and we start teaching people flying lessons, 'cause the gravity's different, so, therefore we can build our muscles up like breaststroke (she demonstrates). And we come back and forth.

Well I get in a huge fight with Will in Venus and he takes a sword and cuts my head off and my head floats back to Malibu Mountain, in California. And I give this speech - and at this point I'm a female prophet - and I give this speech to the whole world who's lined up on fences, beaches, all along the mountaintops.

And all they see is my head floating. And it's just totally....gets to the whole world.

And my message is one of love.

15 June 2009

Tetro (+/-).

I conceived momentarily two unique reviews for Tetro: one absolutely positive and one absolutely negative. The problem, aside from time and discipline, was that it's not that simple. My personal response to the film was fractional but not equally divided, yes, and it's also not really negative in any complete way. The truth is that I am conscious of a former self who would wish to question Coppola on a number of decisions made in the second half of his new film Tetro. The old-me I speak of preferred films that did not veer inexplicably from an established course midway through. He also didn't think much about dramatic alterations and embellishments appearing in an otherwise decent, naturalistic narrative thread. Don't worry about that guy, because you see he's now had the chance to see many films in that vein, and he's fallen asleep during a number of them, and he's deeply loved many more (Moscow, Belgium was a terrific one this year). If Coppola wants to go for the KO in the second half of his film and completely depart from the atmosphere of Earth I'm very prepared to let him. I know from experience I'll remember it more, it'll be talked about more, I'll probably think about it more, and overall it was potentially the right decision. After all it was the decision he made and since he made the film independently it must have been the decision he wanted to make. Thank god Coppola can make the films he wants to make.

Tetro is a gorgeous film all the way through. The sequence in the convertible as the protagonists travel through the glacial freeway, with Gallo (Yes Gallo! Thank you!) executing the classic glasses-tilt while the glaciers reflect the sun's light, which in turn twinkles in his eyes, is a visually symbolic equivalent of my personal experience watching the film. Such beautiful moments glistened all the way through. I don't know how genuinely felt the narrative was, but I don't doubt the intimacy conveyed by the camera.

The thing that bugs me is the film's metamorphosis from Bennie's journey into Coppola's trip. I personally couldn't continue, at an emotional level, to the end. The characters became completely lost to me, and their experiences felt like isolated incidents of cinematic/operatic grandeur. Part of this I think is because of the suddenly distended timeline, and part of this I think is because of the change of locale. I blame myself for struggling through the latter transition. Both are causes of my emotional withdrawal, and perhaps both are conscious decisions on Coppola's part meant to incite exactly what I'm describing.

When Copolla evokes the bizarre, cinematic, and sweet from Buenos Aires, I know he's doing it as much through a love of Buenos Aires as a love of film. And the way he blends the two in Tetro, the way they meet and come together, is like the way my idea of a place I'm about to visit blends with the factual and living place upon my visit. Through Tetro I enter into a dual-layered Buenos Aires, as overjoyed and burdened as Bennie. I enter into Bennie's experience. It's why I love the beginning. It's what's exploratory and exciting about it, and it's also what's involving and transcendent. It reminds me of my own vacations as a youth, and it reminds me of watching films about places I dreamed of vacationing. This sentiment is mirrored in the film. The film will often mirror reality, mirror cinematic precedents, mirror an idealized/romanticized image, mirror itself, and mirror mirrors within itself. It fabricates backstories to emulate them five minutes later. It's subtle sometimes. It's not altogether analogous. It's sometimes blatant, and sometimes far-fetching. It's sometimes decent and sometimes contrived. I hate some of it and love some of it.

All these qualities, including the bad ones, and as I grow older kind of especially the bad ones, I look for in films. Just give it to me real, or if not real then just the only way you can, and if you can't make the film express your vision, just give it to me fucked up. It'll be cool with me.

11 June 2009

Jacky Wu and Fatal Contact.

Jacky Wu's face reminds me of Giulietta Masina's face, and when I watched Fatal Contact recently I thought of Masina's Gelsomina from La Strada. Gelsomina in a street fight, pitted against three.

That's badass, I know. I wish his face was capable of the range of expression her face was. Maybe it is. I'm not sure he's landed a role suited to make the comparison. His face is distinct enough to be memorable, but it's unconventional enough to place it somewhere outside the hero range. You know the hero range I speak of. It's fucked up social politics kind of stuff: at a certain point your face is different enough from an established preconception of masculine handsomeness (linked bizarrely with powerful sexuality) that you're landing roles on the opposite side of Donnie Yen (Kill Zone) and Shawn Yue (Invisible Target). It happens in America and it happens overseas. All sorts of negative things should be said about this practice in general, along with the audience's complicity, but I'll simply allude to the implications by referring to the symbolism in the slightly-different looking people often finding themselves cast as villains. That's right, we vilify them.

It's easy to compare martial art films to silent films, in both form and execution. It's also easy to observe shared facial attributes between martial artists and the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, etc, and I like to make that point as well and do often. I don't think Jacky Wu falls squarely into that category however. There's something unreadable and untraceable about this face, and I'm often surprised and delighted by the contortions and articulations it makes while fighting. Again, it's not the kind of dispassionate cool of a Donnie Yen, but I don't mind that. The furthest I've seen his acting be pushed is in Invisible Target, in which he plays a truly awesome villain.

Hell, maybe he is only a good bad guy. It feels like the director of Fatal Contact doesn't even know how to frame him in a sympathetic role. What should be a character-driven piece turns into an ensemble, Wu's emotions and intentions often being stated by those near him. He's not a very good actor in the movie, but the part he plays is basically of a martial arts manchild (Spoiler: Though not motivated by the revelation, it is kind of funny and ironic that in the dramatic scene in which Wu opens up to his girlfriend about his feelings for her and the impact she's had on his personal life, and mentions that she is the brains and he is the stupid one, the girl then immediately throws herself off a building - I'm just saying that's about where I was as an audience member at that moment - like fucking let Wu's character display some depth and range - which the film only allows him to do physically in the next moment).

It doesn't bother me that Fatal Contact's rags-to-riches script is bogged down by sentiment. It happens often with that type of story. It doesn't bother me that
there are supporting characters who have complete arcs. That's actually fucking great. Kong's (Wu's role) two components as a character don't even really bother me (though they're pretty simplistic): his love for the girl, and his reluctance at accepting the brutality of the fighting underground. What bothers me is that while typically these elements would play out as a good-hearted man discovering the corruptibility and immorality of the world he enters, Fatal Contact positions Wu slightly askew from this type of growth/revelation. He's absent from the decisions that propel his character. This plays out later as a plot device, but what a horrible fucking plot device that requires the protagonist to remain vacant and impotent.

An aside:

"Born in Beijing China in 1974, he was sent to train at Beijing Wushu Academy when he was 6 years old as both his Father and Grandfather were also Martial artists. In 1995 he was spotted by Yuen Woo-Ping who had come to the academy to look for a martial artist for the film Tai Chi 2 (aka Tai Chi Boxer). His dedication and skill won his a lot of respect across East Asia. Often contributing to the scripts and choreography of his work, his natural talent and his sense of humour are vividly expressed." (IMDb).

I wonder if martial art schools in China feel like bars and restaurants in Hollywood.

09 June 2009

Two Montages That Blow Me Away.

I'll try to begin to describe them.

One, from An American Werewolf in London:

The Muppet Show is on, the family is gathered around the television and the kitchen table. The doorbell rings. The father answers the door. Outside there is slight fog, and men with mutated/alien faces hold machine guns. They fire the guns at the father. He flies backward. People begin screaming from inside. A monstrous alien/mutant holds a knife to the throat of the screaming protagonist. The e.t.s/agents enter the house to the sound of screaming children. The mother, in the kitchen, is killed in front of the children (she flies backward), amid the screams and gunfire and shattering of personal affects. The television continues to broadcast The Muppet Show. A monster/solider kicks the television screen, shattering it. There is a fire in the fire place, and by the fireplace are torches. The invaders pick up the torches and light fire to the house, the helpless protagonist forced by knife-point to watch this play out. More of the house goes up in flames. The protagonist's throat is cut open; blood gushes from the wound.

Two, from Dead or Alive:

Two men kneel on driftwood, counting up to four. They reach four and a rock riff starts. The rock song will play through the entire montage. The title Dead or Alive comes on the screen and a woman, thrown off a building, screams. She falls to the ground and a plastic bag full of cocaine bursts open. The blood splatters onto the coke. A man picks up the cocaine bag and walks away with it. He passes someone and turns to look at the person. A man has a crazy french-kissing make-out session with a woman. He licks her face; it's kind of bizarre. The man with the cocaine bag puts on goggle-like glasses. A woman is on stage in a strip-club, dancing seductively. The man/woman kiss more and the woman dances more. There's scenes of Tokyo life: a traffic jam and a cop hitting someone. The stripper dances as a man enters the club. She licks her lips and unzips her leather top. A man cruises down the street on a motorcycle. The kissing man dances to music, the goggle/cocaine bag man walks. People clap in a restaurant as a man of esteem enters a restaurant. A gunman takes a hidden machine gun from beneath some food in a grocery store. A business man exits a luxury vehicle in a warehouse. The gunman throws a shotgun to another gunman. A stripper plays with her leather-covered-pussy as a business man watches, prodding the vagina with a cane. A huge line of coke is laid out on like a skateboard ramp, a credit card cutting the drug and straightening the line. The man in the restaurant eats noodles. The kissing man is now the dancing-alone-in-a-room-man. The stripper takes off her leather top. The noodle man eats, the stripper dances, and the business man prepares to take his line of coke. He snorts the coke while the noodle man eats. When the line of coke is finished he pushes over a bookcase and kneels, raising his hands above him. The stripper dances the dancing man dances. The motorcycle man drives on. A man is in a separate noodle restaurant; noodles are being made; the man is rubbing his forehead. The stripper dances. A business man sucks on a nipple and glares into the camera. The coked out business man is dragged away. A man (who passed the now-goggled-man on the street earlier) anally fucks another man in a dirty bathroom. Sighs and moans. The noodle man eats. The coked out business man is coked out in the back of the luxury vehicle. The vehicle pulls away. The gay sex continues in the bathroom (rape?). The noodle man eats. The motorcycle man pulls up to a curb. The goggle-wearing-man enters the bathroom in sticks a knife into the throat of the man-fucker. The being-fucked winces, the man-fucker faces the camera. Blood squirts out over the bathroom walls and the being-fucked. The noodle man eats. The being-fucked opens his mouth so the blood of the man-fucker sprays in his mouth. The dancing man dances. The stripper dances. The gunmen enter the restaurant of noodle-eater 1. There is a moment of tension. The gunmen pull out their guns and throw a grenade. A table is overturned; the guns fire. Glass shatters and smoke drifts away from guns. Things explode and are destroyed and people fall to the floor. The noodle-eater is shot and noodles fly out of his stomach onto the screen.


Just leave him alone in the hotel room, Michael Bennett, the slasher, in the grip of all his nerves and fears, and let him work out before the camera his marital hardships, a self-evaluation of professional competence, and an implicit litany of peripheral anxieties (How much is the bottle affecting him? How much do his friends understand and appreciate him?), and you have a movie I'd watch 85 minutes of.

What exactly goes on at the car dealership - the price gorging, the business politics, the orchestration of the slasher event - is interesting as a backdrop, but the substance of Slasher is in the tiny moments. I get really involved in a movie when I think I'm seeing something absolutely genuine and unmotivated and sort of unexplainable. I feel like a vital, intimate aspect of humanity is being communicated through the screen directly to me and I open up to the screen, allow it access to me as it gives of itself. Documentaries are almost always successful at delivering this feeling. Simply the lack of stages sets scripts and actors will accomplish the feeling. What I want though is for the film's role to take shape as the subject develops. You can tell when a documentary is trying to shape its footage and material based on the filmmaker's agenda, and you can tell when the subject doesn't fit into that conceptualized idea. It's horribly boring and painful to watch.

Landis's documentary is about the slasher, Michael Bennett, more than it is about the slashing event. You actually see very little of the pitching and dealing, and what you do see only fortifies the development of Bennett's personality the auxiliary scenes are building. There is also a strong sense of Memphis, and the people of Memphis. As strong as what you would get from a DGG film, and even achieved by similar means: the small activities and decisions of the people are framed just right as to suggest the larger meaning and social structure. It's kind of gloomy, it's kind of destitute, but it's really soulful, organic, and endearing. It's funny too, and a documentary that is funny and sincere can make the humor warm and cheerful.

This was a movie I had heard of back in Ohio. The manager of the theater I was working at had heard of the movie, was a fan of Landis, and had recommended the movie to me. Five years later I finally rented the movie. The next day Stephanie and I went to the theater to see Drag Me to Hell, and before that movie began a trailer played for Neal Brennan's The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. I would almost think Hollywood wasn't small enough for these two movies to coexist without direct influence (The Goods is apparently not based on Slasher, or at least no credit is given, even though a few similarities even in the trailer are startling, including the dj character, although maybe this is common in slashing events I don't really know), if not for time apparently being small enough so that this irony of sequence could occur.

08 June 2009


What's the risk? What's the reward? What's at stake? Ok.

What's the risk? Personal death. The father's death. The girl's death. The best-friend-ever-had/mentor-growing-up's death. Deep shame, embarrassment, disappointment, etc, especially in relation to finding out that one is not the fastest gunslinger in the west.

What's the reward? Affirmation from the community, as well the gunslinging sub-culture (VERY important). The prosperity and longevity of the townspeople. Pissing the brothers off (semi-VERY important).

What's at stake? Possible future corrupt wrong-doing from evil-doer. The sanctity of the town. Personal honor (VERY important, that's what I'm saying, personal honor is very important to Keoma).

A trend I notice among certain dramas, and maybe most of all certain genre films, is that sometimes a heightened or exaggerated sense of risk is used to bolster the dramatic value of the film. It may be the key to drama, in fact, and I think in scriptwriting they teach you to establish this right off. In a contemporary drama what's at risk is usually the protagonist's high school reputation or the solidarity of a family following a close death or the endurance of a friendship through and after a long road trip, etc.

In a genre film it'll almost always be personal freedom or existence. In a crime film it's either/or, in a horror film it's existence (or deterioration of existence, e.g. sanity), and in a western it's usually existence (though sometimes personal freedom). Genre films are high-stake adventures, and certainly Spaghetti Westerns are all-in. Why exactly Keoma risks so much over the course of his film I'm not sure, but that he does risk everything I'm certain of.

The woman, the film has a central female character, is a pregnant cast-out who has been accused of plague infection. There's no romance involved. Keoma knows of her existence because he is the father of her child (50/50) or because she lives in proximity to his father (also 50/50). He doesn't need a definite reason for saving her, anyway, and she ostensibly leads him into the town where the rest of the film will take place.

The film will slowly reveal internal and external motivations for Keoma initiating his immensely brave campaign against the injustices brought upon the town, and the reveals will come through a combination of flash-backs and character development. The flash-backs aren't so bad. A few of them have to do with the massacring of a certain Indian community. The incremental story structure, set amidst the chaos, destruction and general havoc Keoma wreaks and has wreaked upon him, keeps the film hard-edged and action oriented without sacrificing pacing. Sometimes a Western will feel compartmentalized with the bulk of the story at the beginning and all the action at the end. Not here.

What's cool in westerns is that everyone has a gun and most scenes have gun elements and all this savagery and lawlessness allows a deeper meaning to develop from the action scenes. That's why guys love 'em, because guys love guns and action and they love love equally.

Because of the way the film is set up it feels like Keoma's disposition compels him to shoot any asshole and/or moral offender. This makes the film exciting, but it doesn't allow Keoma to earn this privilege. His actions often come off as self-entitled and usually it's the bad guys who act in a sense of self-entitlement. Unless it's an anti-hero, right? Unless the good guy is as morally corrupted as the bad guy.

It's worth mentioning these two bits of information:

1. "The storyline of the film was mostly improvised same time the film was made. First version of the script was written by Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman), but director Enzo G. Castellari didn't like the story. Because of problems with schedule, they written script for next day every evening after filming of the day."

It's probably through an adherence to an overall structure that the film retains its cohesiveness despite the continual script changes, but how the film does this without feeling loose-ended is beyond me. Castellari is talented would be my explanation. It's not that there aren't loose-ends, it's just that the loose-ends feel more ambiguous and open-ended than incomplete or neglected.

2. What fits with where I was headed: Castellari lists Bergman, Peckinpah, Altman (McCabe & Mrs. Miller in particular), etc reputable and not at all genre-exclusive filmmakers among his influences for Keoma.

You hear that a lot in genre circles, sophisticated and high-minded films influencing genre films (Last House on the Left being a remake of The Virgin Spring comes immediately to mind), but you don't often find genre films that truly mesh the qualities and ideologies of the two.

Keoma sort of succeeds in doing that. I'm leaving out a lot here, a lot of absurdity and a lot of ridiculous Spaghetti Western peculiarities, but overall I really think Keoma is a strong western that makes real attempts at earning its stripes.

Drag Me to Hell.

Recent from Moderate Revolt:

If I studied linguistics I know it'd tell me that embedded in the construction of our words, phrases and general articulations, our verbal habits and idiosyncrasies, are portals into which our personalities can be peered. I've heard about this. It makes sense. An erudite linguist could uproot many of my personality traits through an examination of the sentence structure in this blog alone. S/he could tell me the meaning of my usages and the implications of my syntax. I think about this a lot: it goes beyond education because to a certain extent I have to write the way I do because I am the way I am.

I don't study linguistics, but I study film. And I know certain filmmakers pretty well. It was nice to see Sam Raimi again this year. He was all over his new film Drag Me to Hell, which is a terrific genre film, theater experience, and reentry into one of American cinema's most imaginative minds. His impact on filmic creativity through camera and narrative could be discussed separately, but I won't now, although I will really quickly remind the readers of the kinetic, impulsive, and bold style found in his Evil Dead films, and his Quick and the Dead and Darkman films. To an extent everything he directs bares his mark, but a director's mark is far different from a director's soul. Raimi is one of the lucky few (compared to the unlucky many) who found a way through his artistic medium to expose entirely his human soul, and that soul I haven't felt to the extent I felt it in Drag Me since the Quick and the Dead, which wasn't a very good movie. Drag Me is.

Drag Me to Hell comes to us from out of the depth of the idea Raimi lives by, and I was there at Century City to experience the mingling of laughter and shrieks, the unease of the audience, the unpredictability of the screen and the adventurousness of the narrative. There's ostensibly a moral center to the film, like any great genre film, but like any great genre film that moral center is only there to glue together the separate elements and to insulate the narrative. It should have nothing to do with didacticism or sentiment etc. It doesn't here, so forget it. I don't want to hear it. The nexus of Drag Me is Raimi; the film is comprised of ideas Raimi has formally presented, beginning with his Evil Dead series, subsequently in his other films, and certainly in the horror films he has produced over the last several years.

The horror films he has produced take flack in the film community for being PG-13, and no less than Clive Barker has come out and positioned this mass-audience approach as an insincere alternative to making 'adult' horror films (I don't really believe in an 'adult' or 'mature' horror film, really, because the best audience for a horror film will always always be a child, for reasons we can speak of later but are pretty obvious). I kind of thought Barker was right too, but then again I was one of the few unfortunates who had seen Boogeyman. We were wrong. Drag Me is PG-13, and it's the most exhilarating, unnerving, entertaining, and effective horror film I've seen in years. I know I'm right because I saw it in the theater, and I heard the laughs and I heard the screams. The audience, all adults, became one unit tethered to the screen and sharing the experience of one long moment of agonized enjoyment. Raimi reminds us with Drag Me that there's a craft (!) to the horror enterprise. His tools were character, narrative, and structure, not exclusively gore, immorality, camp, gimmick, or nudity, the components which alone are meant to describe the mature horror film. They're mostly all present though, too.

I know I'm not really talking about the film, but describing a horror film is exactly like describing a joke. In fact, comedies and horror films are almost inseparable by nature and critical panning (didn't one reviewer, quoted on IMDb, say something to the effect of "The film is good but Raimi could be doing better things"? And what the fuck does that mean? It seems to imply that Raimi could be doing better things than making good films, which I don't know if the critic wants Raimi to enlist in a different trade or what). Maybe you wouldn't like it, I don't know. I doubt you wouldn't.

What I want to say here is that Raimi made me feel, and he penetrated the numbness I hope to be penetrated when I enter the theater. What film can go beyond that and what other purpose can film have? I wish someone could explain to me that the way I fear is different from the way I suffer, or the way I enjoy, or love or laugh or whatever whatever. It seems that a chamber drama which exhibits all these emotions together will be well received, but a film that offers chamber horror won't be. Why not? Emotions exist freely and fluidly together. A certain mark of admiration is given to films that make us feel dramatically and deeply sympathetic, but not to films that make us feel frightened or giddy. Bullshit to that. And bullshit to the notion that this idea perpetuates because the latter are single-dimensional. Here are the dimensions: the dimension of Raimi as a filmmaker exposing his fear and laughter, the dimension of the film itself, and the dimension of the audience responding. You're a moron if you think those are three dimensions easy to control, I mean it (if you wish to dispute that you are a moron, or think I wouldn't call you a moron in person, you can leave your number in the comments section and I'll call you). (Just kidding we're all friends I'm just tying up here with a certain amount of hyperbole, anyway you probably all have my number!).

It's basically my goal to accomplish what Raimi accomplishes in Drag Me, which is the accomplishment of erasing one's presence from the narrative and establishing oneself as the narrative's receptacle. Most great fiction and non-fiction do this to an extent anyway, even the truly great autobiographical stuff which simply uses the narrative as a doppelgänger (copy and pasted for the dots above the a).

P.S. I know I'll never get around to writing about it, but I think an excellent paradigm for what I'm talking about could be found by modeling the "white-trash" (as I hear it called) Escape from NY against the white-collar (we'll call it for the purpose of contrast) CQ. I believe these two movies ride virtually the same train of thought, the key difference being that Roman Coppola allows himself a surrogate character who defuses and interprets the filmic peculiarities. I also believe this method might make CQ more believable and palpable, but not more natural, honest, or artistic. Coppola writes himself as an observant arbiter. That's fine. I like CQ. I love Escape from NY. I love it because Carpenter participates in his apocalypse. He doesn't write himself into the movie. He doesn't need to because if you know Carpenter, and you can know him by watching his movies, you'll know that Carpenter's personality is the vessel through which we are receiving his film. A great visual symbolism for this would be to imagine Coppola sitting next to a projector, spooling the machine. Imagine Carpenter then projecting the film through his eyes (an image not too dissimilar from a certain scene in his Cigarette Burns, oddly). America's general failure in perceiving this is testified by our overall refusal to call Carpenter anything above a genre filmmaker, while in France and England etc they call him what he is. An auteur.

Carpenter's The Thing plays midnight at the Nuart, coincidentally. Great fucking movie.


July 16 2008. From IMDb. I remember reviewing this movie because 0 or only 1 or 2 other people had previously reviewed the film on IMDb and I was in complete rapture after seeing the movie. You don't get the sense from what I wrote, but I remember and know I was! Original text left unaltered.

Titled: A shared journey.

While Milestones is ostensibly about the years following a historical movement, and the film does very much take place in the ashes of the 60s, it is a film of tragic specificity and genuine intimacy that reveals more to the viewer than political or social agenda. The film is remarkably successful because it tunnels through the superficial, and it achieves feelings of both documentary and fiction (it has to be both documentary and fiction, because there is a major moment towards the end of the film that could only have been partially staged), spreading out across human experience, examining stories of betrayal, redemption, bonding, sacrifice, disappointment, and hope. It has stories of beginnings and ends, family stories, stories between friends, lovers - I don't think there is any other film with such an amazing diversity of characters and situations with such meaningful focus on each character.

This large ensemble narrative, then, which possesses a narrative that is both indifferent and engaging, is special for having a structure emblematic of its major social intention. While a film may be about caring, it seems that this film is about caring and does care.

Describing the actual film would be a matter of detailing the myriad of characters' paths, and I won't do that for you because the mystery of the journey is part of the fun of the film, but I will say that some of the characters are: a three person hippie family unit searching for a place of true meaning out across the roads of America, a commune that feels similar to Moodysson's much later film Together, a father trying to find a relationship with his son he left behind years ago, an elderly woman who has worked her entire life, a pregnant woman, a man wanted for murder in a way similar to Days of Heaven, a blind potter, a gentle, sincere radical recently released from prison, and a musician trying to make living money. They come to mean so much more though, than that I can describe.


July 30 2007. From IMDb. Original text left unaltered. No comment.

Titled: I say yes.

There's something in the rhythm of Pitfall that I find absolutely compelling. I like movies that don't take the cowardly way out, that don't sacrifice the feeling for the plot. And when you deal with these subjects (death, man's place in the modern world, morality, liberty) it's easy to picture them as plot elements, thousands of years of storytelling has simplified and distorted these ideas and you begin to see what doesn't exist except as a concept in archetypal forms. You form an image of what actually isn't concrete. You begin to think you can identify loss because you know Miss Havisham, and you can place loss into that, and regret becomes Terry Malloy, and rage becomes Inspector Javert. This is what a great story does: it animates concepts. That's art, don't get me wrong, and it can be brilliant, I think it simplifies the world but I don't think it's in any way simple. A great story has the unbelievable capacity of infecting your own life narrative, of weaving its own themes into your everyday. But I think it exists separately and as its own abstraction.

For the ineffable, the unidentifiable, and the unobservable (what I experience the most in my life, usually experiencing epiphany as hindsight), a greater abstraction is necessary. I think that the modern world cannot be defined by the ways of the old, I agree with everyone who has said this (Kandinsky and Pollock spring to my mind). And with Pitfall, perhaps the rhythm was a confluence of emotion, I felt like the film worked as a whole, like it operated for the purpose of abstractly expressing the abstract, and so I felt it, I experienced Pitfall.

The multiple plot developments are suggestions. Any Lynch fan could identify this tactic immediately. You give the audience some of what they want, and then you continue on with what you want (plenty of other examples of this, but I feel Lynch's mechanics are most in the style of Pitfall). They keep you moving forward, they're interesting, and they enable great visual stimulation, but the truth of the film is outside these moments. You really get a sense of Pitfall when you watch it the second time, because then you ride the other current running through the film, the one occurring in the texture of the film. Reading the Criterion essays, it was the repeated mentioning of the collaborative process that formed Pitfall that appealed to me. And when I rewatched the film I saw better how fully realized Pitfall was, how every component worked to enhance the other. I noticed that if I didn't follow the 'plots' but followed the progression of feeling it became a different story. Fractured, incomplete, insincere, alien, yes, but progressive, and deliberate. By the end it hit me, the whole goddamn thing stirred me up and affected me.

That's my favorite kind of movie. I recommend.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday.

June 22, 2005. From IMDb. No comment. Original text left unaltered. (P.S. 31 out of 31 people found the following comment useful!):

Titled: Brings Its Own Popcorn.

If you do not have the time or money to travel back to 1953 to spend a French holiday, you might as well just watch M. Hulot's Holiday. Honestly holidays are stressful and barely ever as good as you want them to be anyway, while this movie was much more than I expected it to be.

The humor in the film is warm, never condescending or patronizing to the characters. There is always the sense of fun. The movie really sells itself to me by not making Mr. Hulot a buffoon alone in the crowd. Circumstance and happening reveals everyone to be capable of situational humor, the accidents of the movie are shared with a laugh.

It is an observational movie, and the majority of the humor is not forced, neither upon us nor upon the movie itself. It merely shows how people can get involved in each others' lives, how funny the average day can be. It is like attending a family reunion, really. The camera does not stick itself to Mr. Hulot, but goes anywhere for a laugh. If a small boy is doing something funny, the camera will be there to capture it all, and then leave the boy. This would make another film feel large, but because there is no story to the film, because there is no main character to feel especially attached to, it always feels personal, it always feel like you are seeing something nobody else is.

Perhaps the best part is that the film sticks with you for days afterward, and soon Mr. Hulot's Holiday shows its real genius, as you start noticing similar things happening around you.