Mateo [2014)

Here is a perfect film.

After awhile, you wonder whether such will ever appear again.

To call Mattew (Mateo) Stoneman a white “mariachi” singer is somewhat misleading.

But that’s the gist of it.

The premise.

Of this documentary.

No, this isn’t the Columbian drama Mateo from about the same year.

This is Mateo, the priceless documentary directed by Aaron Naar.

Why perfect?

Why priceless?

Because it is true.

I can attest.

To the life of the musician.

Somewhere…I must have been dreaming…while watching.

But the life of a musician is really not even worth two dollars.

I know.

I know the life of a rubbish-filled room.

Sleeping on some pillows.

Or a mattress on the floor.

Bedbug man comes to spray.

Doesn’t know where to start.

I know the life of playing crap gigs.

All for the big payoff.

To leave a legacy.

I know.

Mr. Stoneman (Mateo) references Scorsese.

That’s rich.  And right.

Talking to the filmmaker.

Do we ever see him?

The man with the movie camera?

I don’t know.

But he more-or-less makes himself invisible in this pungent story.

We get Los Angeles.

Where I should be.

But I chose another path.

And yet, Mateo chose the right one.

For him.

Follow the music.

Not the money.

Follow your heart.

Play and write and sing until your heart gives out.

Until the apple juice and Subway sandwiches finally kill you.

Bukowski described it as dog food.

The life of a writer.

Or musician.

Alpo.

Post office.

But what Mateo does is scrimp and save.

Because he’s addicted to recording.

Or rather, he’s making his masterpiece.

A $350,000 album.

Self-funded.

No record label.

Fuck ’em.

This guy, Mateo, has cojones.

A white man in a brown man’s genre.

But he’s all love.

Love for the music.

And the kicker is Cuba.

Yes, dear friends…

Much of our action happens in Havana.

Over and over and over again…Mateo travels to Cuba.

To record.

It’s real.

Quantegy GP9 tape.

2″

I may be useless to most of the world, but I get this.

Reel after reel after reel.

And so it is mambo.

But so soft and subtle.

Like the bossa nova of 60s Brazil.

But Mateo succeeds in his aspiration.

And so his voice is feathery-light…like Billie Holiday on Lady in Satin.

Because Mateo Stoneman had to pay his dues.

Prison.

A thief.

Almost like François Villon.

Stealing to make music.

To afford to record.

I’ve been there.

Pawned all my best shit.

To make a record.

Nobody heard.

Or cared about.

But finally for me it came down to family.

And we get some of that too.

Matthew (Mateo) Stoneman.

From New Hampshire.

We wonder about Ernest Stoneman.

Virginia.

And we get Ernest Hemingway.

20 years in Cuba.

“Who was he?,” asks the novia.

Dead guy.

Shot himself.

Up in Ketchum.

Next to where Ezra Pound, his champion, was from.

Hailey.

These are the savant details which Stoneman, Mateo can rattle off concerning music.

And I can do the same.

But I had to diversify.

So from cornering the market in shit, I spread my tentacles into manure.

A bit too pithy a metaphor.

But just so you know.

The life of a musician.

One minute up.

Touring Japan.  Or Sweden.

Signing autographs.

Wads of money in your pocket.

Next minute down.

Catching hell from the two-bit valets.

Having to pull out the LA Times.

Look.

This is me, motherfucker.

…it ain’t easy.

Sticking to your guns.

Your dreams.

Through extreme poverty.

Duress.

But Mateo shows you what it takes.

Dream big.

You might be autistic.

You might have crippling anxiety.

You might have existential episodes…depression…woozy disorientation.

“What the fuck am I doing?!?”

So do the best of them/us.

And so if I am counted “in that number”…of saints…like Mateo…then I am happy that I have lived my life bravely and to the last drop of blood and courage.

Ars gratia artis.

But for real!

-PD

El Dorado [1966)

Funny thing about Westerns…

Sometimes you seen ’em, but you done FORGET you seen ’em.

And this one is that type of affair.

Except that it’s a masterpiece.

This here film takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate the craftsmanship at work.

Because back in those heady nouvelle vague days, it seems that the Cahiers crowd were known as the Hitchcocko-Hawksians.

I may be borrowing a term from Richard Brody’s book on Godard.

But he may have been borrowing it from elsewheres.

I don’t rightly know.

But El Dorado is certainly the spitting image of another film…by the same auteur.

Yes, Rio Bravo was the first incarnation.

1959.

It’s the one that gets all the praise.

But if my eyes and heart don’t deceive me, Robert Mitchum is a better actor than Dean Martin.

[as much as I love Dino]

And James Caan bests Ricky Nelson as well.

But it’s hard to replace Walter Brennan.

Damn near impossible.

That said, Arthur Hunnicutt is pretty darn fabulous in El Dorado.

But let’s get back to those Hitchcocko-Hawksians.

The first part is probably pretty self-explanatory.

These Cahiers du cinéma film critics revered Alfred Hitchcock.

Above all else.

Hell!

Before Truffaut did his book of interviews with Hitch (1967), Chabrol had written a monograph on the master (1957).

To be more exact, Chabrol cowrote the book with Rohmer.

Might as well say Rivette (“Rivette!”) just to round out les cinq.

Like the Mighty Handful (Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin), and one short of les six (Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc, and Tailleferre), the Cahiers crew were the Hitchcocko-Hawksians.

But what of that second seme?

Indeed, it was Howard Hawks.

The director of our film.

And an auteur which Jean-Luc Godard has gone on about at length…in a profusion of praise.

But why are we even talking about these Westerns?

What do El Dorado and Rio Bravo have in common besides diagesis and director?

Ah yes:  John Wayne!

In El Dorado, our villain is Ed Asner.

Quite rich when considering that he was one of the very few to be a true hero in America after 9/11.

That’s right.

Ed Asner was on the front lines of getting the truth.

And we never got the truth.

Not from any official source.

But that’s ok.

Because we have gathered the general gist of the situation.

And so Ed Asner’s most important performance was what he did in real life.

To try and honor those 3000 souls who perished and were draped in a lie.

But we’re in Texas.

And Texas is a lonesome land.

Inhospitable.

And we aim here to mainly talk about the examples of the silver screen.

In Technicolor.

“details…deliberately left out” says Wikipedia…

Ah yes…something David Ray Griffin spotted with his razor-sharp mind.

“Omissions and distortions”, he called it.

That is the beauty of film.

It gets deep.

It burrows.

And it fuses to what we have experienced as visceral verities.

Charlene Holt was actually from Texas.

And she is every bit the female lead here.

Charming.  Strong.  Sexy.

I won’t go comparing her to Angie Dickinson, but let’s just say that Ms. Holt fit the bill.

To a T.

T for Texas.

And Ms. Holt passed on (God rest her soul) in Tennessee.

We get horses and streams.

Rifles and pistols.

And a lot of earthy talk.

As you can tell.

Gets under your skin.

Your tongue.

Burrows.

Say, was you ever bit by a dead bee?

[Oops, wrong funnyman.  And Hemingway.]

Pound born in Idaho.  And Papa H died there.

Because the pain was too much.

Gut shot.

You can’t turn your back in these parts.

Gotta waddle out backwards.

On yer horse.

In high heels.

And keep your peripheral sharp.

Cardsharp, not shark.

Tiburon country.

Anyone missing Angie Dickinson likely ogled Michele Carey for the better part of El Dorado.

Though the appearances were brief.

John Wayne turns the other cheek.

Smears blood on the cowhide.

Get outta here.

Tough guy gets back on his horse.

Always guns in the river.

But you gotta retrieve it.

Dr. Fix (Paul Fix) isn’t up to the procedure.

Doesn’t wanna bungle a good man.

Tells him take care uh that whens you get tuh proper chirurgien.

Christopher George looks spitting Willem Dafoe.

Ping!

But the real story is Diamond Joe.

Or so.

It seems under the bridge.

Natchez.  Matches.

Jarmusch maybe…

Always.

Revenge.

Gotta git your own justice.

Around these skillet lickers.

Like the freaks from Octopussy, knife to a gunfight.

Had to saw off a holstered piece at the Swede.

Following me?

If the top is a high hat, Mississippi’s is low.

I think Tom Petty adopted one.

Mine never fit quite right.

From crown to gun butt…soft wobble with every bump.

But enough phrenology.

Only love can break your heart.  Neil Young said that.

And I know all too well.

Stuck behind an 18-wheeler from Dallas.

And the rains set in.

And Górecki just makes you cry even more.

Feels like an addiction.

And sometimes you substitute one addiction for another.

Because you got an empty place there in your ribcage.

Friendship rides in least expected.

Crusty.

Professional killer don’t have no friends.

A liability.

Can’t get too connected.

Go soft./

Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.  Bob Dylan said that.

And I think maybe he meant Robert Johnson.

When the poison of whisky ain’t enough.  I said that.

Not enough holes in the world get a rise outta me at Royal Albert.

But I’m not too worried about it.

Just modulating grammar.

Because El Dorado is filled with sine qua non dialogue.

Seeming hapex legomenon with every breath.

Latin/Greek shift.

Cipher.

A lot of soap.

Running joke.

The others’ll come to me.

Maybe.

High low, do-si-do.

My uncle died with a stack of VHS Westerns on his TV set.

That smoking’ll kill you.

Two uncles.

But only one owned a square dance barn.

So that no matter how Cahiers I get, I’ll always be from Texas.

City boy.

Country heart.

Not even aware how much of a rube I really am.

It’s a concoction you gotta pinch the nose to force down.

A medicine resembling asphalt.

Alcohol, 4 days

No punctuation.

I’m just lucky to never have done more’n cowboy tobacco.

But Texas is lonesome.

Unless you’re riding with John Bell Hood.

In which case you’re shitting yourself with fear.

Itch on the back of your neck.

But learn to play a good bugle.

Close quarters combat.

Urban warfare.

In the Wild West.

Two walk forward, two reverse.

To slap a RICO charge on a greasy bastard.

Like the goddamned Great Gate of Kiev.

And back to the five.

A gamelan of adobe marksmanship.

Distraction.

Diversion.

Deputy was just the courage.  Pin on “I do”.

We think Pecos.

Information travels.

And to have a leg up.

[no pun]

Old wounds and creaky bones.

Been knocked down too many times.

Fallen off my horse.

[shift]

We don’t negotiate with terrorists.

But do we terrorize negotiators?

Turns out the whole thing was about water.

When it’s dry.

And you gotta wake up.

And you didn’t just win the Super Bowl.

Why you can’t take a giant leap in chess.

Giant steps.

Because your plan sucks.

Just showing up is pretty damned brave.

Every day.

Fight.

[And I didn’t even get to Edith Head and Nelson Riddle]

-PD

Cochochi [2009)

Long ago.

When I went to Spain.

I was amazed to find.

Not everyone speaks Spanish.

Primarily.

In Catalunya, with Barcelona, they speak Catalan.

In the Basque Country, with Bilbao, they speak the fascinating Euskara (or Basque language).

And in Galicia, where clothing giant Inditex (Zara) is located, they speak Galego (or Galician).

[Even Google Translate recognizes Galician now.]

And that’s all in Spain!

But how was I to know this?

Being a boy from Texas.

Well, I did my research…

Let me tell you:  it’s not easy finding a Basque language guide here.

Even in a diverse city such as Austin!

But now I am in San Antonio.

And here we have another Mexican film.

But it’s not in Spanish.

Yes, Mexico is linguistically rich too.

This film is in Tarahumara.

Yes.

That’s a language.

Spoken by about 85,000 people.

AND…it’s one of 63 “national languages” of Mexico!!

Other sources count 69 languages in the country (including Spanish).

Tarahumara is one of four languages in Mexico which fall under the Taracahita branch of Uto-Aztecan languages.

And when you watch this wonderful film (currently available on Netflix in the U.S.), you will see the distinctive, beautiful faces of the child actors who carry on this “Aztec” heritage.

But don’t be confused.

The Uto-Aztecan languages stretch as far north as Idaho (Uto, as in Ute language, as in Utah).

And as far south as El Salvador.

But suffice it to say.

Even Mexicans might be hard-pressed to understand the dialogue of Cochochi.

Thank God for subtitles!

Our film is directed by Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán.

And they do a fantastic job.

The film is sparse.

Quiet.

The child actors evoke the magic of Víctor Erice’s masterpiece El espíritu de la colmena.

And while Cochochi seems to emanate from another planet (kind of like that “Martian” language Basque…[or, for that matter, Welsh]), there are faint glimmers of cinematic quotation here and there.

Perhaps a sudden splash of color…some sunflowers…in an otherwise bleak, earth-tone color palette…à la Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry.

Or even the delicacy of time passing…perhaps what Deleuze meant by the “time-image” all those years ago…but what I instinctively associate with Ingmar Bergman–that eerie silence which characterizes nature in its most remote regions.

The Rarámuri people depicted in this film (our Tarahumara speakers) live (in this case) in the state of Chihuahua.

Northwestern Mexico.

[The Rarámuri people are also found in the states of Durango and Sonora]

Our actors have the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains as their backdrop.

Places like Copper Canyon.

But this is no Bogart film.

Each and every movement and bit of dialogue which our directors elicit from their players is an act of loving capture.

Priceless moments which convey a multitude of new thoughts to those unfamiliar with the Rarámuri people.

Our main actors play themselves in the movie.

Yes, in much the way you would expect Robert Flaherty to make a film.

But keep in mind that the French title of Blue is the Warmest Color is La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2.

As in Adèle Exarchopoulos.

As in, the actress (Exarchopoulos) was playing a character which bore her name:  Adèle.

[at least her first name]

But the stars of our film are two young actors who don’t even have Spanish Wikipedia pages.

Luis Antonio Lerma Torres plays Tony (short for Antonio).

His full name is utilized for that of his character.

Tony is great in this film.

But the real star is Evaristo Corpus Lerma Torres.

Evaristo gives a performance which is unforgettable.

Quiet.  Understated.  Real.

But don’t be fooled…

These two film brothers (real life as well?) need each other.

Their personalities play off one another.

To call this a road film would be slightly inaccurate.

There aren’t really roads here.

At least with paving.

And while there are a couple of rusty pickup trucks which transport members of various communities around…creeping along the dirt roads (gratis, of course)…the real drama involves a horse.

Indeed, there are horses about.

Donkeys.

Sheep.

But this one horse is very important.

Because Tony and Evaristo have “borrowed” it…from their grandfather.

This is really a transcendent story of mercy and love…of patience…and of the brilliance of nature.

Animals are smart.

And miracles can be in the wise words of grandfathers…

Forgiveness.

And wonder.

-PD

Twin Peaks “Dispute Between Brothers” [1990)

Waldorf salad makes the scene seem real.

And candied yams with the little marshmallows.

Green butt skunk?

Watching the watchers.

All the way back to James Jesus Angleton.

Journalist?!?

Boise, Idaho.

Was wondering how they would ever get away with it.

In such a precise, legalistic atmosphere.

Once upon a time.

Acting independently was brave.

Because there is no structure.

Blind from all sides.

Such past hurt.

Bravery is a little effort.

Each their own measure.

Awful sport coats.  Like weathermen.  Meteorologists.

Not much.

A bad game of chess.

We had such a respect for Major Briggs.

Don Davis.  PhD.

In theater.  And really military.

Such that we should address semantic infiltration.

But we shall leave that for another day.

Extreme energy usurped by occupying presence.

Global thermonuclear war.

I’ve done the best I can.

Reason and logic (?) cannot operate in an environment of

constant trickery.

 

-PD

Ted Bundy [2002)

I have long noticed the phenomenon of people being obsessed with serial killers.

In my experience, those who obsess over these troubled murderers are (perhaps surprisingly) women.

And so I am bucking that trend and delving into the serial killer biopic genre with 2002’s Ted Bundy.

I must say up front, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this film.

Everything about it was more-or-less half-assed.

I did, however, make it through the entire thing.

And there’s something to be said for that.

What I am interested in is a question which Godard has applied to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.  More or less.

Did the film under consideration do justice to the memory of the slain by way of depiction?

A key point should be, “Did this film faithfully evoke the horror of its subject?”

I would have to answer with a resounding “No!”.

Michael Reilly Burke (as Bundy) doesn’t even get the charm right.

Yes, remember ladies:  serial killers can be quite charming.

We might think of serial killers as “shady looking”.

So a real (successful) serial killer might attempt to appear blameless.

Nice clothes, nice hair, a clean shave…

Burke gets close to this charm.  But it’s too subtle.

Boti Bliss (as Bundy’s girlfriend) is probably the best thing about this film.

It’s hard to have scenario and mise-en-scène work together to dramatically show the psychological break which must have happened when Bundy was about 27 years old.

What is most problematic is that Ted Bundy isn’t really a horror movie.  It’s a drama.  Perhaps in order to reach a wider audience, the blood was toned down.

There’s even a camp aspect to this film which really undercuts its aspiration for greatness.

Literally, the film delves into a sort of dark humor.  It is an odd, out-of-place element every time it pops up.

Ted Bundy is a low-budget film.  Ted Bundy the personage was of such complex psychic energy that he (and his victims) deserved a more dedicated production.

I would therefore have to describe Matthew Bright’s directorial effort as uninspired.

At least they could have gotten the color of Bundy’s VW Beetle right.

The call center was brilliant (yes, Ted Bundy was an operator for a suicide hotline), but even more artful (if one is looking for such cinematic threads) is that he worked for a government agency in the state of Washington while said agency was looking for girls that (unbeknownst to them) HE had kidnapped.

In an interesting twist of fate, Bundy appears to have murdered a girl with the last name of Manson (although her remains were never recovered).  Donna Gail Manson was a 19-year-old student at The Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington.  She left her dorm to attend a jazz concert on campus and was never seen again.

Bundy was an extremely-failed law school student.  This was very troubling for him.

Bundy worked his way from Washington and Oregon down through Idaho, Utah, and Colorado.

Ted Bundy is not clear in delineating that Bundy was stringing along two women (in relationships) at once [all while killing and raping other young women].

The scenario or metteur en scène failed to exploit this subplot.  It was, rather, inserted hesitatingly as a sort of afterthought.

The film misses another crucial detail.  While Bundy was in Utah, he was baptized as a Mormon.  [The church later excommunicated him.]

I must credit the filmmakers for getting the “rape kit” right (in comparison to a photo of Bundy’s own such collection of items).

But I must protest again.  Bundy was a photographer.  Sure, they were Polaroids…of people he’d killed.  But how does that detail escape a creation in a field bound up with the ontology of the image for so long?

The failure, then, was that our director could not imagine himself as Ted Bundy.  In all other areas of life (perhaps besides criminology), that would be a blessing.  But as a filmmaker framing history, it’s a curse.

Plaster of Paris.  Monmartre.  Bundy’s fake casts.

Arm in a sling.  Crutches.

“All warfare is based on deception.”

 

-PD

 

 

Napoleon Dynamite [2004)

If this film makes you cry, then you have problems.  Welcome to my world.  Hopefully this will be the best thing I have ever written.

There are a couple of times.  Laugh out loud.  But those parts which pass by like strange quirks.  The space in between laughs.  That is the pathos of marginalia.

People.  Marginalized.  What the hell am I talking about?

There’s awkward and aw-kward.  It is the latter with which we are concerned.  A whole new level of pariah.

But also mundane.  And not to be forgotten…endearingly strange.

Preston, Idaho.  It’s real.  Really exists.

Napoleon and his brother Kip.  Lots of weird mustaches here.  But Napoleon is just the geeky gawky gangly guy growing up.

As Kip shows, some of us never grow up.  And Uncle Rico…whoa mama.  All regrets and what-ifs.

Grandmother was at the dunes and broke her coccyx.  Tailbone.

Riding the four-wheeler.

Grandma’s got a boyfriend.  Or a girlfriend.  Or something.

This is one time when some Wikipedia contributor has actually done a loving portrait of a film.

Perusing.

Rico is our campervan Beethoven.  A real jerk.  But not without his humorous (humerus?) moments.  Funny bone.

Fortunately LaFawnduh’s cousin is apparently Jamiroquai (they being a band and not a person).

Whoa…aw-kward.  Writing.

Jon Heder approaches the greatness of Peter Sellers in this film.  Heder is our lead…our anti-Bond (James).  Not cool.  Never was cool.  Painfully existing.

Tina Majorino brings an indispensable side ponytail grace to this story.  Such a beautiful girl.  A real person.  This film succeeds by employing a sort of Robert Bresson technique.  It also is the laughing equivalent of the Romanian New Wave.  To wit, Jared Hess made one of the most important American movies of recent decades.  Kudos to Fox Searchlight Pictures for giving this the distribution it deserved.  We know they later picked up Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Nice job Fox Searchlight!

And why do we cry?  Part of it is Efren Ramirez as Pedro.  Down here in San Antonio.  People living for their Spurs.  I know.  Me too.  Small victories seem so big.  El Presidente.  He builds her a cake.  The vacuous Summer.  No!!!  (little hearts beneath the exclamation points)

It’s hot.  Pedro doesn’t have air conditioning.  Napoleon’s top-loading VCR comes in handy after he scores a sweet Kid ‘n’ Play video at the thrift store.  Kip backs over the Tupperware in a failed Ginsu demonstration.  “Dang it!”

Pedro from Juarez.  In Idaho.  That’s like a Martian in Indiana or Iowa.  It’s real.  We all end up someplace.  For some reason.  And the cousins with the sweet low-rider.  The cousins with the hookups.  A short segment about banding together.  People with odds stacked against them helping other people with odds stacked against them.

A very humble project.

And someday Napoleon’s ligers will hang in the MoMA…and his portrait of Trisha (with the deftly-shaded upper lip) will fetch $100 million at Sotheby’s.

And LaFawnduh from Detroit.  Definitely AOL-era.  No cellphones in this movie.  Deb (Majorino) has to go to a payphone to tactfully reprimand Napoleon.  But it was all Rico’s fault.  Uncle Rico.  Hell, Napoleon even got a job moving chickens…for $1 an hour.  And they had big talons!  Just drink the raw eggs and mingle with the farmers.  The old people have good stories.  About Shoshone arrowheads in the creek bed.  White-bread sandwiches.  I don’t understand a word I just said.

It’s that I don’t have any skills.  Nunchuk skills.  Computer hacking skills.  Cage fighting skills.  Rex kwon do skills.

Oops.  Yeah, I dress like Peter Pan.  Forever the butt of a joke.

Napoleon runs like Forrest Gump…with Trisha’s corsage.  But it’s lonelier.  It’s stranger.  Like Peter Sellers doing Camus.  Chaplin and Sartre.  Les Temps modernes.

So when the antihero finally succeeds it elicits an honest firestorm of support.  Lots of people with nothing to live for. A little saint for the hallway.  A prayer has been answered.  They already tore down my high school.  Same name, different building.  I pass it everyday.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Some might say.  I know there’s a place for me somewhere.

It’s not all about tetherball.  It’s the determination.  A solitary game.  A clueless dork.  Thanks be to god.  THis movie.

-PD