Heavy [1995)

Holidays are hard for many people.

Perhaps we think of who we’ve lost.

But also there’s the pressure of the days themselves.

Christmas.  New Year’s Eve.

Even times like the 4th of July.

I didn’t set out to write a heartrending post, but I don’t always know what it is I’m about to watch.

In general, Heavy is not a sad film.

It’s a masterpiece of minimalism.

Every shot…every movement in this movie is lovingly made.

James Mangold created a world which corresponds to the understated expressions of silent films as much as it does to the desperation of everyday life.

I’m sure some people have very happy lives.

But what Mr. Mangold has given us is a look at extreme awkwardness.

Loneliness.

Do you ever feel awkward buying something?

I do.

Every time.

It’s the interaction with people.

It comes and it goes.

But for our protagonist Victor, it mostly comes and stays.

I can’t recall an actor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) getting so much depth out of so few words.

No film I’ve ever seen handles shyness quite like this one.

Victor is a cook at his mom’s little tavern.

It’s the kind of place you’d find in Woodstock.

Kingston.  Poughkeepsie.  West Saugerties.

Though the setting is never named, these are what came to my imagination.

Those places that inspired Mercury Rev to create their masterpiece Deserter’s Songs and, before them, The Band.

But whatever this fictional town, it is positively not cool.

It is in the middle of nowhere.

And so a feeling of desolation pervades this picture.

Victor cares for his mother (played brilliantly by the late Shelley Winters).

They live together…just the two of them.

There’s a little dog.

It’s a quiet life.

Sure, it’s sad.

But it’s life.

Life goes on.

Every day.

Open the tavern.

Pay the delivery man.

Cook the pizzas.

Clean up the broken beer mugs.

It just so happens that the place has a waitress/bartender.

And the actress playing this role indeed had experience.

Max’s Kansas City.

That’s right, Debbie Harry.

Debbie plays Delores.

She’s just as feisty as you’d expect.

She doesn’t put up with any shit.

And so the world goes on.

Day after day.

Status quo.

But one day, a ray of light enters lonely Victor’s world.

Liv Tyler.

You can imagine.

Liv was 18 when this film was made.

Which brings us back to Woodstock proper.

Liv Tyler was born Liv Rundgren.

As in Todd.

It’s a complicated story, but this future actress/model knew Todd Rundgren (producer of The Band’s Stage Fright which was recorded at the Woodstock Playhouse in 1970) as father until well into her life.

Todd, of course, was also a resident of the area.  This was back in the days of Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records.

Which brings us to another fascinating little town:  Bearsville, New York.

But Liv was obviously the daughter of Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith).

Liv didn’t find this out till age eight.

Back to our movie…

Into lonely Victor’s life walks a new waitress whose real life genes were those of lippy Steven Tyler and Playboy Playmate Bebe Buell.

That’s no ordinary gene pool.

But this is no ordinary romantic comedy.

In fact, it’s not a romantic comedy.

It’s not funny.

It’s deep.

[He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother]

Because Victor is a portly fellow.

And this bothers him.

It’s something he tries to ignore, but living at home with mom…and being fat…and being shy…

It’s enough to give a guy a complex.

And this is not a rich family.

No psychiatrists here.

Just get up and go to work every day.

Cook breakfast for mom.

Feed the dog.

Go to the little grocery store.

Get some eggs and orange juice.

So I wasn’t sure what I was getting with this movie.

But I’m so glad I watched it.

I wouldn’t really call it an uplifting story, but that’s not the point.

It is cinéma vérité in the truest sense.

And the world needs these kinds of films.

There are no explosions.

Maybe there’s not even a happy ending.

I will leave that for you to discover.

But there are certainly very few cliches.

And so this picture spoke to me in a very deep way.

To reach out to anyone on the Internet who might be reading this.

This is a film about problems.

Not crippling problems which require literal crutches, but crippling all the same.

Pink Floyd summed it up as well as anyone when they sang about “quiet desperation”.

It may be “the English way”, but it’s not a uniquely British phenomenon.

I hate to talk about the “human condition”…because I fear I will sound like one of the putzes who pens the elevator pitches which adorn every film on Netflix [who writes those things?!?], but James Mangold did something very significant with this film.

Even the music is subtly artful.

We can thank Thurston Moore for that.

And so little harmonics and behind-the-bridge pings give depth to Victor’s struggles.

It’s quietness.

Standing by the staircase.

Staring up.

Is mom coming down?

Will the dog come eat his food?

There are heroes in this world.

And sometimes they are right under our noses.

Victor is one of those.

 

-PD

Dahmer [2002)

I almost didn’t make it through this one.

Several times.

Not exactly light viewing for me.

Some people…obsessed with gore.

I’ve never been that way.

But there is something fascinating about serial killers.

Not in an adolescent worship rebellion way.

Stories about serial killers are like car crashes.

Sometimes we can’t look away.

Perhaps we feel compelled to go into that deep place within ourselves.

We want to know the horror of truth.

We want to be able to handle the truth.

The truth is sometimes disgusting.

Panic-inducing.

If you live in a war zone, you are used to blood.

If you are a soldier who’s fought in a war, you’ve seen the worst kind of dying.

Dahmer is a different sort of death.

It is a feast for psychologists.

We want to learn how these things happen so that we can prevent them.

I’m no psychologist.

Far from it.

I’m just a student of life.

And so in order to really appreciate wild sunflowers growing by the railroad tracks, we must face Dahmer.

Let me just say that this film puts Ted Bundy to shame.

First because of director David Jacobson.

It is a masterful film.  An artful film.  Everything that Schindler’s List is not.

In stories like this…there is nothing more important to remember (as an auteur) than the banality of evil.

But Dahmer introduces a star:  Jeremy Renner.

But you know who really deserves some credit?

Those people that auteur theorists often forget about.

Production designer (Eric Larson).

Art director (Kelley Wright).

Costume designer (Dana Hart).

These functional elements are essential here.

You think The Nice Guys has a cool look to it?

It ain’t shit compared to Dahmer.

And Ryan Gosling (that fucking guy annoys me…Ryan Reynolds with a mustache)…

Funny thing is, The Nice Guys looks like a good film.

But it’s vanilla…beige…compared to the cinema under discussion.

I’m not going to be wanting to see Dahmer again anytime soon, but it’s an essential film.

If you want to understand his crimes.

Bruce Davison is excellent as Dahmer’s father.

Artel Kayaru is really good!

Don’t discount the horror medium.

The “greatest creator of forms of the 20th century” (to quote Godard) kicked it off in earnest with Psycho.

Darkness is inextricably wound up in the light of cinema.

 

-PD