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

Futureworld [1976)

My first foray into science fiction.

And is this a hell of a film!

A sort of forgotten masterpiece.

Part schlock, part genius.

Stellar entertainment.

This is really a quality picture…reminiscent of another 70s gem:  Phantom of the Paradise.

There’s just something really mysterious and compelling about Futureworld.

Sex with robots!

Jim Antonio is the Clark Griswold equivalent of Clifton James in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun.

And so this is essential viewing for fans of the recent Ex Machina.

Sadly, director Richard T. Heffron is no longer with us.

And, yes, this is a sequel to the Michael Crichton film Westworld, but Futureworld stands alone.

Peter Fonda is the Ur- Jarvis Cocker.  And really some fine acting from Peter.

Blythe Danner is outstanding.

Stuart Margolin is very strong.

We get journalism, robots, cloning…the works.

Think Hillary Clinton has a robot/clone double?

This film appeared on Hulu at a particularly suspicious time as regards that canard.

But see the film and you might not think it’s so crazy after all.

Doubles of world leaders.

That’s the master plan.

It’s not giving much away to tell you that.

That is, after all, the elevator pitch for the film itself.

And it is compelling.

Retina scanners, biometrics, psychic driving, Antonin Artaud…

This was both advanced and historical for 1976.

Ahead and behind.

Which is to say, completely plausible.

The only hilariously bad moments (ok, there’s quite a few) are the guns which seemingly came from the set of the first Star Wars film.  Said guns completely destroy suspended disbelief (more than any actual target).

The Westworld tragedy supposedly claimed the lives of about 50 guests.

Pretty close to the fake Pulse nightclub shooting (49).

That being the exact number of the Maidan snipers’ massacre in Kiev (49).

And with Pulse we are there in theme park central.

Disney.

Alligator.

Same week.

Orlando.

Robots are all around us today.

The drones that kill innocent people in Pakistan.

And the driverless cars rolled out by Uber this past week in Pittsburgh.

[I better watch what I say or Emil Michael will sic his opposition research wet dreams on me.]

So yes…we probably have Northrop Grumman to thank for 9/11 (Global Hawk).

All around us.  Automation.  Lovely.

Watch Futureworld and you will see the technocratic extension of Operation Mockingbird.

Mimic.  Opinion leaders.  Memetics.

The gene and the meme.  Dawkins was right on it.

In the same year.  1976.

Sure, this film is not very precise in some regards.

Are they all robots?

Clones?

Hybrids?

It’s not very clear.

I highly recommend this film for connoisseurs of Baudrillard.

This whole film is an orgy of simulation.

[Though, with a PG rating, not a simulation of an orgy.]

Interesting note…a significant portion of this film was shot “at NASA” in Houston.

 

-PD

The Ring [1927)

In the movies.  What happens?  Life is lived for us.  We live vicariously.  And so, does this art/entertainment mirror life?  Yes and no.  It is a continuum.

With Alfred Hitchcock we know to expect the unexpected.  His career was built on bold stories and breakthrough storytelling.  Yet, this is a silent film.  1927.  Early Hitchcock.

This was not the mature filmmaker who would subvert expectations to thrill audiences by sneaking up on them.  This is a much more traditional film.

Indeed, it is (believe it or not) a sports film.  The sport?  Boxing.  Hence the title.  But Hitchcock was ever the astute bringer of details so we might well expect that the title will have, at the least, a double meaning.

What is truly Hitchcockean is the psychological thriller aspect of this film.  This is mostly embodied in the character of “One Round” Jack Sanders (Carl Brisson).

The plot then is driven by motives of redemption, revenge (of a sort), and vindication.  It would make sense that a sporting story should have as its ostensible goal a victory for the hero.

It should be noted that, despite the relatively mundane silent film trappings, this is actually an incredibly odd story.  The elevator pitch would go something like this…boxer’s wife obsessed with another boxer.  Yes, obsessed.  Like, pictures on the piano…staring dreamily at glossy portraits.  A very weird premise.  You’ll have to see the film to know just how Lillian Hall-Davis becomes enthralled with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter).  It should also be noted that Hitchcock (or some clueless front-office dork) managed to credit Lillian Hall-Davis as playing the character of (wait for it) Lillian Hall-Davis.

It is a weird birth-of-film aspect.  In fact, the copy of the film I have is off center to the left…such that the character names at the beginning of the film (not what we are used to nowadays with end credits) are cut off by the encroaching margin of a misaligned aspect ratio.  But the point is that when Ms. Hall-Davis makes her entrance in the film, there is an intertitle (and it was this to which I referred) which explicitly says “The Girl” and lower “Lillian Hall-Davis.”  It is as if Brecht (or Artaud) somehow got a hold of the film and decided to engage in a bit of narrative fuckery.

As for Ian Hunter (who actually has a full character name:  Bob Corby), we must remember the date (1927) and do our best to put Mott the Hoople out of our heads.  Likewise, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention the immense talents of Gordon Harker (who plays Jack’s trainer).

While this film seems hundred of years removed from North by Northwest (for example), it is another integral glimpse into the mind of perhaps the greatest director of them all.

-PD