Dumb and Dumber [1994)

Here is a truly great movie.

I walked out of the theater the first time I encountered this film.

In 1994.

I only made it about 10 minutes.

It was godawful.

But then years later I found the key to unlock this masterpiece.

Aw-kward.

-ness.

The way Lloyd Christmas’s front tooth is chipped.

His ludicrous bowl cut.

And Harry’s mess of blonde, frizzy locks.

Jim Carrey is excellent in this film.

I may not agree with his hysterical (not funny) politics these days (and I don’t), but there’s no denying his talent as Lloyd Christmas.

He was born for this role.

But what makes this really a masterpiece is that Jeff Daniels is equally good as his sidekick.

Daniels is a hell of an actor.

A very accomplished thespian.

Carey is more the Jerry Lewis type, but that’s neither here nor there.

But let’s give credit where credit is due.

The Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby) wrote an excellent vehicle for these two actors.

And Peter did a magnificent job as director of this picture.

But let’s not leave out Lauren Holly.

Her performance here is indispensable.

Mike Starr is also great as the mobster on the tail of Lloyd and Harry.

So while this might seem like a throwaway, disposable flick, it is, in reality, a well-thought-out, genius piece of cinema…if one can merely manage to get inside its eccentricity.

 

-PD

The grey suit in NXNW [1959/2017)

Maybe.

After many long years.

I finally got a decent suit.

But the pinnacle is still Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Perhaps more important than Dorothy’s slippers.

The grey suit.

Gray?  Grey.

Because Archibald Leach (Grant’s real name) was from Bristol.

Now.

The debate rages on.

Was it Norton & Sons (Savile Row) or Quintino (Beverly Hills)?

And this is a very important matter.

Basis in fact.

Innocent lives are at stake here.

Vanity Fair (at least they employed Tosches for a time) contends it was a British suit.

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/03/behindthescenes200803

But The Independent counters that it was an American (Beverly Hills) tailor.

My first thought is always The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (novel 1955, film 1956).

1959.

Something in the air.

Advertising.

Madison.

Shopping.

5th.

Whatever you do, don’t buy a property at 666 5th Avenue.

Mr. Kushner made that mistake.

Can you change an address?

Can we inch the building over a bit?

666 1/2?

But finally, that eternal quote of Mike Ruppert:

“The CIA is Wall Street.  Wall Street is the CIA.”

What could all this mean?

What could ANY of this mean?

It’s well-known.

But the real danger is Finnegans Wake.

Is it unpredictability?

The real danger is changing stripes.

Spots.

Markings.

Camouflage.

A mask.

My daily trousers are sweatpants.

And then we must bring in Erik Satie.

As dangerous (harmless) a man as ever lived.

The “Velvet Gentleman”.

Seven gray velvet suits.  All identical.  One for each day of the week.

A revolution in simplicity.

But there are many, many hours of piano music to wade through.

Through which.

It’s not just the Gymnopédies.

Or even the Gnossiennes.

SS.

It’s a veritable Voynich manuscript of eccentricity.

Quixotic.

Mercurial.

Bizarre!

But with Magritte we got the grey bowler.

And Max Ernst:  “The hat makes the man.”

But did he say it in English?

Not bloody likely!

And so rail-thin Cary Grant, almost certainly homosexual, looks stunning…dapper…a paragon of class in North by Northwest.

And it is a rare time where I (and many other men) say:  “Wow…I want that business suit!”

Because I didn’t grow up rich.

And it took me till age 40 to get a passable sack.

Brooks Brothers was expensive.

Still is.

I’m low-rent.

High-brow.

A conundrum.

I don’t want to sell oil.

I’m a city boy.

They won’t take me on the farm.

So what am I?

Do I ride around on a horse?

Do I spit tobacco into a cuspidor?

[not anymore]

We must go away.  To come back.  And see for the first time.

What was Jia Zhangke talking about?

Or from?

The I Ching?

Or some Zen text?

Advertising.

Memetics.

Messaging.

COMMUNICATIONS

We are drawn to the suit.

The breezy ease with which Cary Grant negotiates New York sidewalk traffic.

Every remark quick.

Never at a loss for words.

And the characters all pay attention.

From Martin Landau to Eva Marie Saint:  menswear.

Three buttons.

[a detail I missed…too late]

Buttons on cuffs.

Cufflinks.

Two-piece.

The most remarkable aspect, though, might be the “grey suit with grey tie” effect.

I mean, “what the fuck”?!?

It is slightly “off”.

Not the color-matching.

That’s fine.

But the concept.

Or this hypothetical exchange:

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Gray.”

“Gray?”

“Yeah, I don’t know…I just like gray.”

“What about it do you like?”

“I don’t know…it’s sorta mysterious?”

“Ok…but, I mean, it seems sorta drab, don’t you think?”

“Well, I’m not in the market for a gray bikini…”

Ah!

There’s the gender.

Men.

Do men fancy grey?

Is it one of the colors they’ve been “given”?

And women.

Do they really fancy pink?

I suppose some diabolical seamstress has plotted the complementary colors of all the world’s hetero couples.

Grey and pink.

Pink and green.

Orange and blue.

Red and green.

Purple and yellow.

Ad absurdum.

All I can say is this.

I feel spectacular in my new gray suit.

I’m a little closer to Daniel Craig, though mostly in the Cary Grant body type.

Or, put differently, I’m an extremely-poor-man’s Daniel Craig 🙂

I, too, would look scrawny next to James Bond.

Which segues nicely into the 007 franchise.

Suits…again.

Whether in Jamaica or parts unknown.

The sartorial fastidiousness would play a major role in framing Bond as “not just another guy”.

Taste.

An eye for detail.

Quality.

And personality, though understated.

The grey suit.

It the biggest weapon in my fashion arsenal (as of today).

And thus we turn towards commerce.

Another run, perhaps, of job searching.

Selling myself.

But at a certain point you just gotta say, “Fuck it!”

I’m a cool person.

I ain’t out to hurt nobody.

I read books.

Big fucking books.

About math and shit like that.

I’m a nerd to the nth power.

I know that.

And I’m fine with that.

Because I see the value in that.

So now I may have to bludgeon the HR receptors with a whole new level of qualifications.

Can I do it?

Can I be a lawyer?

Can I be a PhD?

[notably, perhaps, in advertising]

And beyond.

Because life has led me to this impasse.

We worry about bread on the table.

And some milk to stay healthy.

Heat in the winter.

Cooling in the summer.

Most of all…in all this mess of writing…I am thankful.

Thankful for a chance.  A chance to do the right things.

And thankful for family.  Thankful for time.

Thankful for intuition.

And thankful for failure.

Have your cake.  Or eat it.

Thank you, my friends…for your support.

I am happy today.  Hard day, as always.

And I pray the good happenings for each of you…in your lives…

-PD

Frank [2014)

My dear friends, it is so good to be alive 🙂

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast 🙂

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read Finnegans Wake till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about 🙂

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50.  I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what Frank is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film 🙂

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed, Frank is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety 🙂

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no, Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right:  Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in Frank when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara:  Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the papier-mâché head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in Misunderstood (2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time:  Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in Frank revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that Soronprfbs bassist François Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes, Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD

Week-end [1967)

You will not learn much on Wikipedia.  In this case.  It is a common problem.  The length of an entry indicates its importance to the English-speaking world.  You will not get a true sense of what this film is about.  To the English-speaking world, this film is apparently insignificant.

And so we turn to images.  Language has betrayed us.  Our mother tongue.

There we immediately find a better representation.  The Hermès handbag.

Yet still the film remains elusive.

Some might say barbaric.  Others, a film about nothing.

They are both right…and wrong.

It is Mozart who proves them wrong.  I will not give you a Köchel number.  We can’t be experts about everything.

This is not academic writing.  I take my leisure seriously.

Taken out of context, it is the rage of a spurned Hitchcock.

It is the red stub of Blandine Jeanson (c’est-à-dire Emily Brontë).

Perhaps it is the groovy sounds of Jean-Claude Vannier?

As Paul Gégauff plays (?), the man with the shovel shuffles away.  He is our stable element…briefly.

You see the trouble.

Is it barbarism to cradle the contrasting beauty?  Is it nothing to show that everything is something?

Not easy being cheesy…

This is why it is better not to attempt…to explain.

It has been done.  What’s the point?

Each tenured prophet will find his/her own signs.

The important thing is to give the immediate impression.  Do not go for a snack.  Attack the film, but not to analyze.  Attack your own feelings and emotions…and wrest them from oblivion to perhaps live a life of their own.  This is what we do.

From the first words, we cannot start like the rest.

The great folly would be to make Godard into God.  The greater folly to ignore the breathtaking precedence.

In art as war, pity the one to go first…running from the secure positions.

And so we embrace the greatest uncertainty.

The varieties of human experience people…have not visited my corner for census.

Nor Jean-Luc’s…here.  We can celebrate the hulking awkwardness of a master who is perfectly describing chaos.

It is not sloppy.  It is calculated.  But it is a non-terminating number.  An infinite precision.

Balance on one finger and eat banana cream pie.

Perfectly upside-down.

It is not clean and crisp.  Not easily digestible.

We look longingly for personality, but none is found…

And then a film like Week-end…all personality.  Character.  Eccentricity.  Color.  Vigor.

Buried in the footnotes of civilization is a question about civilization itself.

This.

It explains why we never succeeded in life.  Had we done so, it would have been a fluke.

We were not meant to succeed.  Search your heart and then regard the world…

There is an intrinsic disharmony.

Language is a popularity contest…gang-raped by technology.

Thus the survival of mankind depends on code:  poetry.

Poetry does not discard words.  Poetry constantly expands…like entropy.

No one predicted the end.  Google will fail.

When we stop mirroring our mirror.  It is too boring to relate.

Salvation is buried deep.  Takes some digging.

We have forgotten how to be properly disgusted.

-PD