Limelight [1952)

I didn’t know movies could be this good.

Where have they been keeping this all of our lives?

Us.

When I was young I stumbled into The Gold Rush.  25/52.

And I lived at the end of a flower in City Lights.

So I knew.

But I forgot.

That Charlie Chaplin was the most vivid outcast—the great romantic on rollerskates.

And the miracle?

Claire Bloom lives.

No Sylvia Plath ending.

And Charles Chaplin lives.

As much as Baudelaire’s vieux saltimbanque.

It was her first film.  Bloom.

Age 21.

And now she is 84 years young.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////

No one told me films could be miracles.

It’s kinda like Thora Birch.

Buster Keaton.

People thought she stopped working.

But it wasn’t true.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////

No greater love have I seen for an art.

Like Pierre-Auguste kissing the canvas…and then painting.

You can’t simply say Renoir in film and let it linger…

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

The first chord.  In Moscow perhaps.  And all 122 pages fall onto the keyboard.

A thunderous vibration like Chaliapin.

Фёдор Ива́нович Шаля́пин

Boris Godunov.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

A drinking problem.

Stage fright.

Torn and frayed.

At the edges.

In the wings.

Wings.

Ah yes…I haven’t heard that name in a long time.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

The piano was unprepared.

A cage of equal temperament.

And so we removed the great nest

of cosmic dissonance.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Don’t get me wrong.

I love a good cluster chord.

An honest, flawed note.

Take your dissonance like a man…someone said…maybe Henry Cowell.

On second thought, ’twas Ives.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

I’ve spent my life in a drum.

Like Keith Moon.

A human projectile.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

88 ways to look at a blackbird.

I’ve never seen one person leave it all on the stage quite like that.

A lifetime’s work.  Painted.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

The film was in black and white?

I didn’t happen to notice.

Because behind my eyes the colours were bursting.

U.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

And so like those little speckles in the concrete which the moon caught.

As I dreamt of being a composer.

And I too dove headfirst into the void like Yves Klein.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

And for us it was no sleight of hand.

There was no airbrushed net.

And I landed hard.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Gandhi is smiling and that’s all that matters.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

between yell and Yale

bell strut feet dill old pod loot.  Look!

88 ways to be a composer and an itch ain’t one (bite me!)

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Film is completely unimportant when writing about film.

Take Hubert’s Flea Circus on 42nd St.

I would never have known were it not for Nick Tosches.

And my favorite book:

Where Dead Voices Gather.

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Yeah, but it’s like Picasso’s musicians.

You think I’ve really cracked up.  Craquelure.

“Any fish bite if you got good bait.”

They tell us in economics there’s only one Mona Lisa.

Because the painter is dead.

Only one…

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Because he’s not alive to paint another.

Another Mona Lisa.

Unlimited supply.  EMI.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

You’re driving at something.

I just know it.

Because the film was too long.  And too good.

Not possible, Likert.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Many aw-kward moments of perfection.

Where Chaplin hit too close to home.

Was it Dave Davies?

“Death of a Clown”

Yes, precisely.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

It can’t be described conventionally.

You can’t just go to the Grand Canyon and say, “Vast.”

Was ist das?

Ja!

That is what I’m trying to say.

-PD

The Enforcer [1976)

Damn.  It takes a lot to laugh.  It takes a train to cry.  Bob Dylan said that.

I just said damn.

This film was released the year I was born.  Yeah, I’m an old son of a bitch.

Figure of speech (you understand)…

It’s hard to talk about this film without talking about Tyne Daly.  How beautiful she looked in this film!  What great acting!

But let’s start at the beginning…

Jocelyn Jones.  Any fish bite if you got good bait.  Henry “Ragtime” Thomas said that.

Numb nuts.  Jocelyn said that.

I know the type.  Bait.  Numb nuts.

Think Lana Turner.  That first appearance she makes in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Or Sue Lyon in Lolita.  Kubrick.  The hard stuff.

Those little heart-shaped sunglasses.  Her eyes replaced by your mind.

It’s not “Pleasant Valley Sunday”…rather, Mill Valley.

No Monkees.  Just a bunch of bloodthirsty punks after some money.  A rag-tag group of Vietnam vets and ideological dupes.

Director James Fargo goes for the kill early on.  The tight shot of those blue-grey eyes.  A little awkward.  But DeVeren Bookwalter more or less delivers.  Not quite as terrifying as Andy Robinson in the original Dirty Harry…ok, actually a straight rip of that character minus the fascinating Zodiac Killer angle.  But Fargo turns in a pretty convincing film.  No small feat.  While the James Bond franchise was busy dicking around with numerous directors, the Dirty Harry series showed them how to strike an emotional blow with an economy of means.

Of course we get another shite superior…Captain McKay…played pretty well by Bradford Dillman.  Not as convincing as Hal Holbrook in Magnum Force, but hey…  And again, a straight rip of the Lt. Briggs character.

All of this would seem to indicate that this is a watery domestic facsimile with a lack of imagination.  Not quite.  This is a damn good film.

Tyne Daly really provides the foil to Eastwood that was needed to make this picture transcend.

Fargo’s silhouette version of Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971) is frankly brilliant.

Albert Popwell makes powerful use of his limited screen time.  Swahili for freedom:  uhuru.

It brings us to a Hitchcock moment and reminds us of the ultimate case of the wrong man:  Osama bin Laden.  As Ralph Nader described George W. Bush:  a corporation disguised as a human being.  Osama.  THE Company.

Not even the head of the snake.  Not even the tip of the iceberg.  More like a figurehead asset.  A fall guy.  A bogus bogeyman.

And so the real terrorists run free.  Suits and ties.  Top Secret security clearances.

It’s as hollow a feeling as that famous “mission accomplished” pronouncement.  On the USS Abraham Lincoln no less.  Yeah…it’s time to open up some crusty old prisons for the real terrorists.  Places that’ll make Guantanamo Bay look like a goddamned Sandals resort.

-PD

Ghost World [2001)

“I have to admit…things are really looking up for me since my life turned to shit.”  If only.  The consolation?  This is a perfect film.  There’s no use in denying that any longer.

Back in the watershed year of 2001, this film hit me like a bolt out of the blue.  Just how I ended up in that movie theater in Austin, Texas I’m not entirely sure.  The important thing is that this film stood my world on its head.  There was a new tilt to the cosmos after seeing Thora Birch personify everything I was looking for in a girl…everything which I couldn’t articulate.

Brice Parain puts it so simply in Vivre sa vie:  thought cannot be separated from language.  And if we say “goodbye” to language?  That still involves a word.  Perhaps we can simply gesture?

“Waving goodbye…I’m not saying hello.”  Just three years earlier an album had put my world on edge.  I was studying music composition as an undergrad when a rock and roll record called into question everything for which I was striving.  That record was Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev.  As I slipped the virgin vinyl onto the turntable in my vacated music lit classroom, I was astounded to hear a noise rock band coming back through the speakers as an autumnal, symphonic opus.  Opus 40…

And so three years later at that little arthouse cinema in north Austin I clamored into an open seat with a couple of friends…  Friends…  It seems so long ago since I had friends.  Some statements are infinitely sad, but others are like old faded pictures.  I don’t really recognize myself anymore.  I’m too young to be old, but…

Ghost World.  It is the world I live in.  Terry Zwigoff made a perfect film.  He learned the nuances from R. Crumb…and then applied the secrets to Daniel Clowes.  The secret is in the power lines…the sprawl…the daydream nation which American Beauty tried to capture but failed in comparison to Ghost World.  If the Palme d’Or was fair, Terry Zwigoff would have one sitting on his mantle.  So would Jean-Luc Godard.  So would Thora Birch.

It’s kinda like the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Where’s Joyce?  Where’s Pynchon?

Enid Coleslaw.  There’s no I in end.  End.  I…is someone else.  So says Nana Kleinfrankenheim.  Thora Birch.  Anna Karina.  The Louise Brooks wig.  Brigitte Bardot.  Initials B.B.  Bertolt Brecht.  B.B. King.  Devil got my woman…

“…since my life turned to shit.”  I’d rather be the devil.  Me and the devil.  Nick Tosches.  Emmett Miller.  Henry “Ragtime” Thomas.

Skip James.  Gossamer-perfect.  Thora stands in a daze…perhaps after a long day of shooting.  We get The Buzzcocks, but then we get D-A-D-F-A-D…that deep, hollow sound from 1931.  Like the high, lonesome Hank Williams.  Somebody’s in a world of hurt.  “Nothin’ but thee devil/change my baby’s mind.”

She is the girl we can’t have.  And you can’t have me either, world.  Not for free.  Few artists got this.  Alex Chilton got it.  Affonso Beato captured its fleeting presence at twilight in his cinematography.  A bus.  Bus stop.  Joshua Logan.  No, Thora Birch.  Yes.  That route was cancelled in 1956.  Cancelled in 1962.  Mensan I.Q.  Cancelled in 1967.  And still, Thora boards the bus and does the impossible in a magic realism which takes her back over the Mississippi at Baton Rouge…back to Appleton, WI…back to Los Angeles.  The nighttime bores the daylights out of me.  We’re in exile with the Radio Shack and the Allstate and the Chevron and the Shell…  R.I.P. Brad Renfro.

-PD