27 March 2010

The Bed You Sleep In.

The letter is superimposed over the image of Jean Weiss (Ellen McLaughlin). She reads the letter aloud to her husband Ray (Tom Blair).

The implied meaning of the superimposition echoes the character-defining importance of the letter. For Jean, as for us, the letter will shape a perception of Ray, one he is quick to deny.

But the letter initiates an unalterable and irreparable new reality so strong it supplants all prior convictions. The world twists into violent, fractured, painful dimensions for Jean. Again, Jost mirrors this visually.

Ray: And you say you love me. "For better, or for worse." But you throw it away because Tracy writes some crazy letter.
Jean: It's not crazy. It is not crazy. I don't know if it's true Ray, but it is not crazy. And she's my daughter, and I love her. And I thought you did too.

Jean is shocked and repulsed by the immensity of the accusation, but refuses to allow the gravity of her pain to be allayed by platitudes, excuses, moral deflections, or tangential circumstance. This lack of personal regard defines her character and the scope of her own love. Her choice to reciprocate the emotional nudity of the letter protects her from Ray's desperate and manipulative defenses.

And since Ray is unable to directly confront the emotions of the letter, and because Jean is, he exposes to her a side of himself ugly and repulsive enough to fill in further the shades of misery and destruction.

Jost, too, chooses to reveal his characters through unrelieved honesty.

What I really like about The Bed You Sleep In is it's not the typical "hidden view" of the sins of a small town. It's much more about the dual nature and violent divisions of a single person. This to me is more sinister, and suggests not that danger lurks in the corners of the picturesque, but that the seed of sin is everywhere, in everyone, and waits to be revealed.

21 March 2010

Gran Casino.

Buñuel's first directorial assignment in Mexico, and the closest film following L'Age d'Or, by release date, that I have been able to see, Gran Casino is a murder thriller set predominantly in a casino/hotel environment. An oil field is an intermittent backdrop, the politics of which serve as the narrative's catalyst, and there are also musical sequences. In a brief synopsis it sounds almost promising; the tragedy, in my opinion, is that Buñuel was simply a director-for-hire and the film plays out on the wheels of convention. It's all musical melodrama.

Truthfully, I wish I could've experienced the full depth of the musical melodrama, whatever it may be. Someone, Lions Gate or otherwise, pulled a real fuck you for the dvd release and only subtitled the dialogue. All musical sequences are without subtitles - so for me part of this film is missing. Some of the scenes are visually appealing and work purely visually, including the spotlight number and the flashlight dance routine, but especially during clear moments of expository driven music, or Mercedes simply singing by a piano, subtitles are essential.

And when I speak of the visual appeal of the music sequences, I'm referring also to a desire on my part to search out Buñuel in the film. I get a real kick considering what his directing of a music number would have been like. I approached the 63 year old film as a scavenger hunt, desiring to find the little objects of Buñuel's personality hidden within the film. This is one clear example:

Gerardo is in Mercedes's hotel room. Her brother Jose has been murdered by the rival oil baron. Behind the curtain awaits another murderer. Mercedes notices his feet sticking out beneath the curtains, and Gerardo approaches with a statue in hand. Gerardo strikes at the curtains, and Buñuel cuts to this shot:

The curtains superimposed over the image of a glass shattering.

There's then a scene of henchmen coming to collect Gerardo's dead body. They call up to the room from the street. Mercedes calls down that there is no body. They say something like "Oh, I guess it's better there's no dead body" (a pretty funny line), and they leave.

Gerardo and Mercedes then approach the curtains:

And Gerardo pulls the curtains open:

It's a closet, in reality there was no glass behind the curtains. Buñuel has thus used the shattering glass as a metaphor for the man's head being crushed. This visual concept is terribly arresting and creative. Its use opens my perspective on physical harm, breaking glass, and the filmic relation possible between the two. It's a total Buñuelian moment.

Other motifs in Gran Casino, visual and narrative, seldom reach this level of imagination. It is steeped in strokes of high-adventure and colossal-risk, which I don't mind (who minds oil derricks as scenery?), but the part of me that begins to accept these everyday action thriller elements is most challenged when a truly idiosyncratic and imaginative moment bursts out of the framework. And then I remember what cinema really is, what it's true potential is.

11 March 2010

Friday the 13th: The Series, Episode 3.3, "Crippled Inside"

Image borrowed from Vendredi Antiques, a website devoted to cataloging and discussing the episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series, a show I had little knowledge of until last night, but now today could totally understand why there is this website and probably other websites constructed as memorials. Again, the image is:

I don't know enough about myself to be able to explain why this stands out over all the other movies I've consumed since Police, Adjective. Last month, in the 28-day February, I saw 68 movies theatrically, and for some reason I've already ordered more movies from Amazon at this point in 2010 than I did in the whole year of 2009. So I've been plenty busy, seen a lot of great movies, and been enjoying movies at an insatiable rate, but it's Crippled Inside that brings me to the computer. I read this Mel Books quote recently, a variation on a popular definition of comedy, that said "A man cuts his finger, that's tragedy. He falls down a manhole, that's comedy." This episode, to me, is about a woman falling down a glorious manhole.

Now, the girl on the left is a quadriplegic. The wheelchair remote control attached to her chin is a fantastic indicator. She enters this physical state at the beginning of the episode: attempting to escape a gang of teenage rapists (one wielding a nasty no-bullshit switchblade) she runs into the road and is struck by a car.

Then this old man, on the right, offers her a wicker wheelchair, telling her that it cured his post-stroke paralysis and is definitely the wicker wheelchair for her. It doesn't have a classy chin control, but the girl, being either a great admirer of old men or of antique wicker, convinces her mom, who is opposed immediately to the wicker wheelchair (being a middle-aged suburban housewife I assumed she was a dabbler of spiritualism and read the wheelchair's negative aura, but this isn't stated, nor is it stated if the old man embarked on his own personal journey of vendetta, as the girl will, but both these assumptions strengthen the dark currents of this episode), and so the wheelchair is brought home.

Before I continue, the premise of Friday the 13th: The Series is (roughly - I'm not an expert, yet) that an uncle who sold cursed antique goods died and went to a hell described as an endless fall. The inheritors of the antique store, a pair of cousins, want to save the uncle and also feel a tremendous weight of personal guilt, so they begin to collect the cursed objects from the unwitting purchasers. The cursed antique in this episode is the wicker wheelchair.

When the girl sits on the wheelchair, she "astro-projects." My friend Dennis tells me that what she does is called astro-projection. Maybe one word? Astropojects. Astro projects. Regardless, the term is entering my permanent and conversational vocabulary. This is what happens: a ghostlike double of herself stands up from the wheelchair.

She kills the would-be rapists one by one. The killings restore her body. The first boy is so surprised to see her, walking around, that be backs into a cabinet in the chemistry classroom (he's there to steal a test - these guys are no fucking good) and acid falls over him. His body dissolves. Being the first, everyone assumes he "dissolved himself." Well, almost everyone, because the other would-be rapists enter the room just as the boy's face is disappearing, and they hear his last word: the girl's name!

The second boy throws himself off a building.

The third boy, thinking he's going to get some fuck action from the suddenly mobile girl, lays down on the ground with her. While seducing him she ties his arms so that he cannot move, pulls out her own switchblade, asks "How does it feel??" and drops an electric chandelier on him.

The fourth boy, the worst of the worst, the wielder of switchblade, first attempts to shank one of the central characters of the show, one of the cousins collecting the antiques. This is when the cousin has come for the wheelchair, and he finds the suspicious and rapist boy (driver of red convertibles) in the girl's bedroom. He, being nearly shanked, becomes royally pissed and makes the rapist boy promise to stay away. He runs out of the house, past the old man (window peeping?). The old man has been acting as a kind of spiritual mentor for the girl, and he convinces the cousin that the girl should have a little more killing fun, and the cousin agrees. The old man says, "This is the type of boy who will always come back".

So the final rapist boy does indeed soon return. The girl (who can now move her top-half and has feeling in her legs, owing to her successful killing spree) astro-projects and strangles the boy. Just then the cousin arrives, sees the boy, and wants to take the wheelchair back. Sure, I've killed enough, says the girl, who stands up, assuming her body fully restored. But wait, she can't walk....the boy isn't dead! He rises from the floor and lunges at the girl, knocking her down a flight of stairs. They fall together, both dying by the bottom. Fucking cursed antique wicker chair, noooooo!

The cousin returns the antique wicker wheelchair to the shop. The old man comes and asks for it, saying more people need its healing powers. The cousin disagrees and takes an axe to the chair. Only the cousin never realized: wicker is forever, and the chair will never be destroyed!

09 March 2010

Breaking In.

I wish John Sayles had written the character of Ernie Mullins (Burt Reynolds) as a homicidal geriatric, and the character of Mike Lafeve (Casey Siemaszko, whom I'm not very familiar with, but is actually the best part of the movie) as a crime-scene photographer. And they should have crossed paths, elected to go on a road trip, and then visited Coney Island.

I went searching for the Pauline Kael review of Breaking In my late 80's Kael review book, Hooked. It's not in there and I didn't search any further. What happened is I started reading Kael's review of Joe Dante's Innerspace, which luckily describes the exact same kind of film. Kael mentions that Dante goes out of his way to make Innerspace inoffensive. Do they still make films like that? I don't know, because essentially those films become films for kids, and I don't see as many kids films as I maybe (?) should.

I did watch Breaking In. I love Forsyth's Gregory's Girl and Local Hero, love them, and what's so charming and appealing about them is their ability to strip away the mechanics of their stories and expose the human innards. Essentially this is the execution of Breaking In, but the subjects of the film are a seasoned thief and a tire installer turned criminal protege. And that's film bullshit.

Film bullshit should be loud and obnoxious, overpowering, or not present at all. That's how honesty can be achieved. Film bullshit should be a pit bull. And in Breaking In, Forsyth and Sayles take the pit bull to the veterinarian, have its teeth and balls removed, and enter it into a dog show. The crime scenes are tedious, the friendship scenes are heavy-handed, and the characters' personalities are skin deep. It's not a film about criminals or people. Just some shit happens, you laugh three-to-six times, and then the credits roll. It's charming, but charming like sledding down a hill of melting snow, sighing at every patch of grass.