Blondie’s New York [2014)

Man…

So much I could say about this one.

But it’s one of the few times where I can say, “I worked with that person.”

Clem Burke.

Probably wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire.

Now.

Because I’m a Trump supporter.

But he was the best drummer I was ever in the same room with.

And drumming was the longest “career” I ever had.

I’ve played drums since I was a kid.

All of them.

The set.

“Traps” ūüôā

Orchestral snare drum.

Marimba.

The whole 4-mallet thing.

Jazz vibraphone.

But when I worked with Clem, I was a bass player.

That day.

That year.

For awhile.

It was the bass that took me to England.

To Scotland.

And to Spain.

And it was the bass that first took me to Los Angeles.

But this is about Blondie.

The band.

And what a band!

Based on my own experiences just mentioned, I can attest to the extremely high musicianship of Clem Burke.

And watching this relatively-short documentary (an hour) convinces me of just how special each of the band members were/are.

But perhaps my favorite part is seeing Mike Chapman work.

The record producer.

What a talent!

It was my dream to be a record producer.

Didn’t really work out ūüôā

Tough business.

Maybe you fuck up.

Or maybe no one helps you.

Or maybe you get one chance.  And only one chance.

But that’s ok.

Because life goes on.

Marilyn Monroe aged.

Lou Reed sang about it on the Velvets’ “New Age”.

And Godard wrote about it.

The aging of Marilyn Monroe must have been a traumatic phenomenon for the first generation of movie goers.

The first generation with that color reality.

And with the television buttress.

And Marilyn…

Even Elton John, a homosexual man, was in love with Marilyn…in a sort of way.

“Candle in the Wind”

Which brings us to Debbie Harry.

The former cocktail waitress from Max’s Kansas City.

Chickpeas and lobster.

Park Avenue South.

And brings us to the album Parallel Lines.

This documentary is almost strictly about that album.

About Blondie’s breakthrough into the mainstream.

Yeah, they were punk…

Had the street cred.

But they transcended.

Mostly due to musicianship.

A bit like the Talking Heads.

The other bands were hopelessly arty.

Of this scene.

My favorite, Suicide.

[R.I.P. Alan Vega]

I met Alan once.

Changed my life.

But Suicide never really had a hit.

[Nooo…you don’t say?!?]

Yeah.

The name.

Whoa mama!

But that was punk.

And my whole mission is a bit of a punk mission.

Pauly Deathwish.

Uh huh.

Not a name I came up with.

But given to me.

I remember that day.

And the personages.

But my mission is also a bit like the mission of Greil Marcus.

And Lipstick Traces.

Now I’d just prefer to read Debord.

Or read Len Bracken on the Situationists.

But Greil tries (valiantly!) to pull it all together.

And I’m a bit like that kind of wanker.

Just hoping to SOUND like I know it all.

And someday have Harvard written on my spine.

But we’ve hardly discussed Blondie.

Or this excellent little film.

Which is currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S.

Again Kino Lorber’s marketing team (?) seems to be absent behind this release.

There’s no Wikipedia page.

And the iMDB page lists the title of this made-for-TV-affair as¬†Blondie’s New York and the Making of Parallel Lines.

Ok, so it’s not¬†Citizen Kane.

But it’s well worth watching!

Directed by Alan Ravenscroft.

He does a fine job here.

It really is a magical story.

Punk.

New York City.

CBGB-OMFUG.

The Fugs! ūüôā

New York, a magical place.

Hell, even mayor Ed Koch is in this.

And he’s much easier to stomach than Bill Clinton.

I don’t care…liberal, conservative…whatever.

Just don’t be a dick!

And if you’re a dick, have the schtick down!!

Like Trump.

He has the schtick down.

He’s learned to lie.

In his many years.

“The babies, the beautiful babies…the innocent babies”…

There were no babies, my friends.

There was no chemical attack.

That footage was in the can for some time.

But it’s a white lie in the world of geopolitics.

It’s like telling your kids that Santa Claus delivered the presents.

There’s no way to explain, “I’ve gotta bomb Syria to make an impression on China. ¬†And the bombing has to happen almost simultaneously with dinner…at Mar-a-Lago.”

And McMaster must be lying too.

That’s ok.

Just don’t make a habit of it.

Because then you’re CIA.

And that’s a dark road.

To get wrapped up in lies.

But the white lies are synthetic terror where nobody dies.

Even the Russian/Syrian body count.

Likely false.

Especially the “four kids” detail.

Pithy.

Icy.

The Democrats are really (I mean it, unfortunately) exceptionally dumb.

They only sense the general outline of the conspiracy.

Russia’s faux indignation.

But they don’t understand that their infantile foreign policy made such machinations necessary.

Blondie ūüôā

And Quintilian.

See the documentary.

Forget about North Korea for a moment.

By all means, don’t watch inferior propaganda.

The Propaganda Game?

Great film.

Songs from the North?

Cinematic equivalent of toilet paper.

The Cinémathèque Française knew the value of propaganda films.

Henri Langlois.

Back when they were educating “the five” (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, and Rohmer).

And Godard understood the importance of “good”, well-crafted, persuasive propaganda.

As Jacques Ellul wrote in 1962, “Ineffective propaganda is no propaganda.”

In other words, it has no business calling itself propaganda.

It’s less-than-worthless.

But kick back with some Machiavelli.

And The Art of the Deal.

And remember the unholy marriage of art and commerce that is and was Blondie.

-PD

Bound by Flesh [2012)

I never know.

What I’m getting into.

These movies.

In the hopper.

And then spit out by a sort of roulette.

That I forget.

Anything I might have known.

And mostly I don’t want to know.

I just want to “pull the trigger” on these films.

Give it a try.

Try to watch it.

And boy did I find a doozy.  A masterpiece.  A truly special film.

Bound by Flesh is a documentary currently streaming in the U.S. on Netflix.

It was directed by Leslie Zemeckis.

Wife of Robert Zemeckis.

Now.

There are a couple of things which slayed me concerning this film.

First, is San Antonio.

My town.

The boring shithole in which I live.

A place so lifeless, so meaningless…that one must comb through the relics hoping for some shard of redemption.

Yes, Robert Johnson recorded here.

But he also recorded in Dallas.

And that was it.

So we have that half distinction.

And Pola Negri lived here.

We are very honored by that.

And Wings was made here.  The first film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

But none of these things helps me to get up in the morning (or the middle of the day).

The 15-or-so years I lived in Austin, I had the legend of Sterling Morrison to give me hope.

Guitarist with The Velvet Underground.

Doctorate in medieval literature from UT-Austin.

And the Hole In The Wall was my sort of Mecca…because Sterling had played there.

But San Antonio has been an unmagical destination of return.

These past five (?) years.

But I say with utmost honesty…with absolute sincerity.

The story of Daisy and Violet Hilton has helped me.

These Siamese twins.

So beautiful!

I mean, really: ¬†the two most beautiful girls you’ve ever seen.

And so The Smashing Pumpkins start to make sense.

That time at the Sunken Gardens Theater.

When I was but 17.

And they were touring Siamese Dream.

And my ballet classmate magically pirouetted out on stage.

“How the hell did you get up there?,” we asked her on Monday morning.

It was all magical.

The venue.

The Sunken Gardens.

But now it makes sense.

Siamese Dream.

Daisy and Violet (hereafter to be reversed) lived in San Antonio.

Their (by all accounts) evil manager Myer Myers (what a fucked up name!) built a huge mansion on Vance Jackson (that’s a street here) with the money he skimmed (or ladled) from his cash cows.

The freaks.

Violet and Daisy.

One of the best films I’ve seen in the past years is¬†Violet & Daisy.

With my favorite working actress (Saoirse Ronan) and the very-fine Alexis Bledel.

So we shall go with that.

Violet and Daisy.

Indeed, all throughout this documentary, a prominent curator from the Witte Museum (our old, yet newly-renovated…reopening repository here in San Antonio) gives her articulate insights into the life of Violet and Daisy.

[that curator, incidentally, is the excellent Amy Fulkerson]

Ok…so the twins lived in San Antonio.

Great.

But what else?

Well, it was their route.

Talk about circuitous.

Born in Brighton, England.

Home of Nick Cave.

Hell, home of Jonny Aitken (hi Jonny!) last time I checked.

Interestingly, the twins next big locale change was to Australia.

Which is to say, their life was like Nick Cave in reverse.

And Cave would certainly gravitate to this sort of story.

Dark.

Freak shows.

Carnival midway.

Vaudeville.

[and the death of minstrelsy…{think Emmett Miller}]

Burlesque.

[and the death of vaudeville]

Drive-ins.

Hell…Violet and Daisy were in¬†Freaks¬†by Tod Browning!

Yeah, the guy who directed Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.

But as with many show business stories, this one turns sad.

And yet…as Ms. Fulkerson makes clear, the Hilton twins never gave up.

They had an indomitable spirit.

It may be cheesy to reference, but it reminds me of one of U2’s finest songs (off the very-fine¬†War¬†album).

“Two Hearts Beat As One”

Sure…Violet and Daisy didn’t stay in San Antonio.

They eventually moved on to New York.

And finally to Charlotte and environs.

But their story is so damned inspiring!

And to think that they graced my town ūüôā

That they had their trial in 1931 (?) down at the red brick courthouse.

That Myer Myers got what was coming to him.

Which brings us to a parallel point.

To something I haven’t covered in a LONG time.

Pizzagate.

Or Pedogate.

Most of all, the John Podesta scandal which WikiLeaks unearthed.

First, I’d like to salute all the people who turned out in D.C. on the 25th to advocate for missing children.

We’re talking kidnapped, trafficked, raped, killed children.

And there is a very disturbing “video” of which I was just made aware today thanks to the ever-vigilant reporter David Seaman.

Said video is more sound than image, but it is purported to be a recording of John Podesta beating a child at Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. at a Heaving Breathing show.

Heavy Breathing is one of the bizarre bands (including Sex Stains) which played at this “family” venue run by James Alefantis.

Simply put: ¬†John Podesta’s cryptographically verifiable emails on WikiLeaks seem to point to him being AT BEST a pedophile, and at worst a violent child molester possibly involved in Satanic ritual sacrifice of children.

I’m not making this shit up.

Go read the emails for yourself.

Do some research.

It is the freakiest shit on the planet.

Look at it too long, and you want to vomit (while beating the crap out of Podesta).

That’s level one.

The emails.

Level two is/are the tentacles.

It involves Hillary.

Why was Hillary seemingly covering for Laura Silsby in Haiti?

In other words, why was the Secretary of State (Clinton) interceding for an American woman who had been convicted of child trafficking in Haiti?

You can read the story.

Likewise, certain of these Clinton emails are on WikiLeaks.

There are the “after ‘wheels-up'” statements.

But then we get to James Alefantis.

This motherfucker…

No, actually…if he was fucking mothers that would be somewhat socially acceptable.

Be it appears that his establishment IS INDEED integral to unraveling the pedogate ring.

To sum up, it appears that American “elites” (both Democrat and Republican) have a certain predilection for little boys and girls.

Some of the elites are also heavily immersed in occult practices.

Hillary is one of these.

Larry Nichols confirmed that Bill Clinton told him specifically of Hillary’s monthly jaunts to California to participate in a witches’ coven.

As I’ve mentioned before, Hillary would not have been playing second fiddle at such events.

And if that seems farfetched, we can point to the Bohemian Club (aka Bohemian Grove) [also in California] and their yearly opening ceremony called “the Cremation of Care”…at which they perform a “mock” sacrifice of an infant in the shadows of a giant (40 ft-tall?) statue of Moloch.

This is the meeting that has drawn (and continues to draw) the likes of Kissinger, Ted Turner, Reagan, Nixon…and so many more “elites”.

But let’s back up one level.

James Alefantis is a “bad (or sick)” person.

Ok, I couldn’t help it.

More accurately, he’s a sick, sick person.

His Instagram was archived.

And, as David Seaman correctly points out, it fetishizes the sale and abuse of children.

[this is where Violet and Daisy come back in…because they had no one truly looking out for them]

But let’s move laterally for a moment.

The sickest of the bunch might just be Tony Podesta, John’s brother.

This guy’s art collection is like a pedophile’s dream.

But also a Satanist’s dream.

The art that Tony Podesta (and his former wife Heather) collected (and presumably still collect) is some sick fucking shit!

So when you start to tie all this stuff together, John Podesta’s coded (not encrypted) messages made public by WikiLeaks start to take on a very ominous tone indeed.

But the video I alluded to can be found with a simple Google search of “John Podesta Skippy video”.

Yes, even the woeful Huffington Post (I refuse to italicize that crap publication) wrote about John Podesta’s bizarre alter ego years ago: ¬†Skippy.

As stated, to my eyes, the video shows very little.

But the sound is of the utmost importance.

Unfortunately, with my highly-trained ear (I advanced a year in ear training classes in one day of university) I am not hearing what other researchers are hearing.

HOWEVER, it seems that someone is fucking with John Podesta.

And I can’t help thinking that is, in general, a good thing.

In other words, someone has “the goods” on Podesta.

The video, incidentally, ostensibly has a child (a horrifying sound…like Lou Reed’s¬†Berlin¬†to the nth degree) begging “John” and (not-quite-alternately) “Skippy” to stop the beating.

I will say this.

I do believe it to be a genuine article.

But in my honesty, I do not hear the words “John” nor “Skippy” at any point.

Yet, I believe it is John Podesta beating a child.

And I believe the general outline of pizzagate/pedogate to be true.

And so, dear friends, we owe it to children to remain vigilant.

Sexual abuse ruins lives.

It is very likely that Podesta (and his brother) himself (themselves) was (were) abused.

It doesn’t excuse their actions.

But it goes a certain distance in explaining them.

However, the occult (which has a direct tie-in to Marina Abramovic…again, verified in WikiLeaks emails) aspect is really hard to fathom.

It’s so bad that I don’t want to fathom it.

But we can’t ignore it.

We can’t be afraid.

We can’t just roll over and die.

I’d rather be wrong about Podesta than for a single child to suffer rape or torture or death at the hands of sadistic monsters.

So there you have it.

That’s how a Pauly Deathwish review goes.

Buy the ticket.  Take the ride.

As Hunter S. Thompson said.

I will tell you when a film sucks.

And I will tell you when a film is great.

And I will also tell you when something in the world is fucked up.

The nightly news and the morning paper won’t say “fucked up”.

And, somehow, that explains why they are truth-neutered.

But I ain’t got nothin’ to lose.

My life sucks.

And my life is beautiful.

But I’m down here at the bottom.

On the killing floor, as Howlin’ Wolf sang.

The abattoir blues, as Nick Cave sang.

I ain’t so deluded as to think that lying will get me a better life.

I’m sick of lies.

I’m too old to care.

Go ahead, kill me.

It doesn’t matter.

I’ve got no career for you to ruin.

And I understand the high bar for libel of public figures.

So go ahead, John Podesta:  keep comparing us to Sandy Hook truthers.

Yes, by the way, Sandy Hook was fake.

But you’re not weaseling out of this one.

You’re caught.

So let that Raskolnikov guilt sink in.

A thousand times worse than death.

You are a sick, sick person.

I hope I’m wrong.

But I don’t fucking think so.

-PD

Filmistaan [2013)

I consider it an auspicious sign that my survey of Indian cinema begins in earnest with the masterpiece Filmistaan.

Do not mistake this piece of cinema for a half-baked idea.

Do not even attempt to lower it by calling it a comedy.

And not least, do not think only of India.

I wanted to come up with a catchy pigeonhole.

Indian Subcontinent.

The Subcontinent.

But I have too much respect for the great traditions of Bollywood (and Lollywood) to do such a thing.

And so this is very much an Indian film.

India.

And it is very much a comedy.

So funny!

But it is touching in a way to which few films can ever aspire.

Filmistaan, like Roberto Benigni’s magnum opus¬†La vita √® bella,¬†takes on a very serious subject with the best weapon of all: ¬†humor.

But instead of the Holocaust, we get the Partition.

And yet, Filmistaan is not some laborious period piece.

[leave that to the artless Spielbergs]

No, our film addresses the tension between India and Pakistan in the most deft, feather-light manner imaginable.

And for this we have to thank a new auteur on the world stage:  Nitin Kakkar.

I say “new” because Mr. Kakkar has not been graced with the honor of his own Wikipedia page in English yet.

Well, he is wholly deserving of that honor (based on Filmistaan alone).

But Mr. Kakkar had to have magical actors to pull this off.

Luckily for him, he did!

Sharib Hashmi is undoubtedly the star of this picture.

His performance as Sunny goes from the highest highs of emotion to the lowest lows.

It is truly remarkable.

Mr. Hashmi is about one month older than me.

40 years old.

Perhaps that’s why I identified with his youthful optimism and passionate devotion to cinema.

But to understand our film, we must first locate Rajasthan on a map.

It is the biggest state in India.

It is northwest.

And it borders Pakistan.

To understand Rajasthan, we must comprehend the Thar Desert.

Most of the Thar Desert is in Rajasthan, but it extends somewhat into Pakistan.

These are all important details in understanding our film.

Rajasthan is arid.

Like the American Southwest, it’s a good place to get lost…or kidnapped.

But friends are to be found in the most unlikely places.

And the friendship of shared interest, such as two cinema devotees, knows no borders.

For Mr. Hashmi, the brilliance of his performance depends on the artful support he receives from fellow-actor Inaamulhaq.

But let’s examine the divide between India and Pakistan for a moment.

It is a fact that a man from Peshawar (if he speaks Urdu) can communicate with a man from Delhi (if he speaks Hindi).

Peshawar, of course, is in Pakistan.

Indeed, it’s so far into Pakistan that it’s almost in Afghanistan.

Delhi, of course, is in India.

It is in the north-central part of the country.

It is, further, not essential that the two talkers hypothesized above be men.

The salient detail is that Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language (in their spoken forms).

This is vital to understanding Filmistaan.

But continuing, the two languages could not look more different once they are written down.

[Which is to say, the two hypothesized men might be at loggerheads were they forced to communicate with pen and paper]

Urdu looks similar to its written forebear Farsi (the language of Iran) [which is itself a descendent of Arabic script].

To put it quite simply, a neophyte like myself would probably have a difficult time telling the difference between Urdu, Persian (Farsi), and Arabic.

Hindi is in the wholly different Devanagari script.

You will not confuse written Urdu and Hindi.

It’s at least as obvious as Picasso to Pollock (if not Warhol to Rembrandt).

But enough analogies.

Why should you watch Filmistaan?

Well, for one…it’s currently on Netflix.

Yes, ever since I have joined the streaming service, I have ventured to be a more “worthwhile” film critic by giving you relatively-spoiler-free reviews of current titles to be found on the U.S. version of the site.

But that’s only the beginning.

Yes, there are wonderful performances from Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt (as well as a plethora of fine supporting actors).

But the real reason is that Filmistaan expresses the sublime.

The context is terrorism.

The context is border tension.

Indeed, on the Indian Subcontinent, the context is two nuclear states.

Pakistan and India.

But the context goes back.

To Jinnah and Nehru.

And the threads bind.

Cricket.  Cinema.  Music.

There is an excellent example in Filmistaan which illustrates the situation.

Dilip Kumar.

Now 94 years old.

Like my hypothetical man from earlier, born in Peshawar.

Then a part of “Pre-Independence India”.

Now a part of Pakistan.

Bordering Afghanistan.

In Filmistaan, Inaamulhaq knows him as Sir Yusuf.

Sunny knows him as Dilip.

Dilip Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in 1922.

Sir Yusuf.

Dilip Kumar.

Same person.

It’s like the World Wars.

fenêtre in French

das Fenster in German

window.

/\

fenêtre /\ Fenster

But when you look through a window (or a border), everything can look backwards.

You’re so close, in reality.

But you’re reading the word as if in a mirror.

Nitin Kakkar directed a masterpiece with Filmistaan because he put his heart and soul into evoking peace.

There are no winners in a nuclear war.

And peace is a rare commodity on the world stage.

Geopolitics…

But we must reach out that hand.

And shake it.

I congratulate Nitin Kakkar and Sharib Hashmi for their dedication.

It is evident.

Though I speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, I was able to watch.

And understand.

I needed the subtitles.

But sublime emotions may be mutually intelligible across cultures.

What a film!

-PD

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956)

Netflix seems to be down tonight.

I tried several times.  Several movies.  Several fixes.

And so it is only fitting that history should trump the ephemeral stages of technological development.

Yes, time for a good old VHS tape.

And not a film about which I’ve previously written.

While I have surveyed many of the early Hitchcock films, I never wrote about the original version of this film.

1934.

To my knowledge, this is the only film of Alfred Hitchcock’s early career which he chose to remake.

Just on this fact alone, it would seem that the story was either very dear to the¬†auteur or that he couldn’t resist something about the plot.

Granted, the two films are considerably different.

Even on a surface level, the 1934 version was (of course) in black and white.

But this was a VistaVision, Technicolor production.

1956.

22 years later.

For better or worse, I was familiar first with the earlier version.

It is a film I should revisit.

But it was not what I would call a “home run”.

The one aspect of the original which one might miss in the remake is the presence of Peter Lorre.

But we must move on to the future.  The present.

1956.

Jimmy Stewart plays the leading male role.  A doctor from Indianapolis.

Doris Day plays his wife.

The action is set for a good bit in Morocco.

Specifically, Marrakesh.

Indeed, the beginning of the film is a sort of travelogue.

In other words, its a good excuse to show off the exotic locale in North Africa.

Camels. ¬†Veils. ¬†[that one’s important] ¬†The social tradition of eating with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand. ¬†While leaving the left hand in the lap.

All very edifying and exciting.

But Doris Day is suspicious from the start.

If we knew nothing of Hitchcock, we’d say her paranoia was unfounded.

But, in fact, it’s Jimmy Stewart’s ease which is the fateful misstep early on.

And so this movie is about suspicion.

Who can we trust?

In this age of anxiety (thank you W.H. Auden), everyone and everything is suspect.

The only true bliss is ignorance.

[and perhaps my only wisdom is that of paraphrase]

One thing which escaped me the first time I saw this version of¬†The Man Who Knew Too Much¬†(in the theater…lucky me) was a funny detail about Brenda de Banzie.

Yes, dear readers (and fans of Peter Sellers), Ms. de Banzie would later appear as the annoying, flamboyant Angela Dunning in The Pink Panther (1963).

Indeed, her role as the terror of Cortina (d’Ampezzo) was her second-to-last film.

But here she is a much more mysterious character.

I will leave it at that.

We get some interesting things in this film.

“Arabs” in disguise.

Which is to say, certain personages of the spook variety in brown makeup (and native garb).

One need not look very far back in history to find a poignant parallel.

Consider, for instance, the “Basra prison incident” of 2005.

I’m guessing that T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) would provide another example, though I am no expert on this matter.

As are almost all Hitchcock films, this one is a tense affair.

Doris Day, in particular, does a surprising job of portraying the personal terror of her character.

Perhaps most notable about this film is the musical component.

As an accomplished percussionist in my own right, I heartily appreciate Hitchcock’s attention to the intricacies of an orchestral percussion section.

Indeed, the film begins with a close-up of this little-featured “choir” (in addition to the three trumpets and three trombones at the bottom of the frame).

What is most remarkable is Hitchcock’s use of the musical score (in various permutations) to tell this unique story.

Funniest is the shot of the cymbalist’s sheet music.

It is nearly a complete¬†tacit…save for one fateful crash.

I fondly remember (with some measure of anxiety) a time when I manned the cymbals for the overture of Verdi’s¬†La forza del¬†destino.

It was a similar affair.

Interminable waiting.

And if you miss your one crash?  Even in rehearsal?

Well, you are screwed!

The judging stares of oboists are enough to melt a man…

But the musical score appears elsewhere.

In the private box.

Perhaps a page-turner for an assassin.

Most vividly, Hitchcock makes the score come alive in a fascinating series of extreme close-ups.

It is like a very erudite version of “follow the bouncing ball”.

So yes…some of our action happens at the Royal Albert Hall.

In an interesting twist of fate, usual Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann garners copious screen time as the conductor…OF ANOTHER COMPOSER’S WORK!

Were it Beethoven, I’d understand.

But the piece is Storm Clouds Cantata by Arthur Benjamin (who?) and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis (not to be confused with [Percy] Wyndham Lewis).

And yet it is a moving piece.

The London Symphony Orchestra sounds lovely (really magical!) in their on-screen segments.

But the real¬†Leitmotiv¬†of our film is “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”.

Speaking of magic…it is always a gossamer thing to hear Doris Day sing this song in¬†The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I remember a time when I didn’t know this song at all.

Being in a studio with Corinne Bailey Rae and hearing a playback of her wonderful band own this song.

And my discovery of Sly and the Family Stone’s inimitable version (sung by Rose Stone).

But few movie music moments equal Doris Day in her Marrakesh hotel room singing “Que Sera, Sera…” with little¬†desafinado Christopher Olson.

The only ones which come close are Rita Hayworth (actually Jo Ann Greer?) singing the Rodgers and Hart masterpiece “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” the next year (1957) in¬†Pal Joey¬†and Ms. Hayworth “singing” (actually Anita Kert Ellis) “Put the Blame on Mame” in¬†Gilda¬†(1946).

An interesting note about this version of¬†The Man¬†Who Knew Too Much…

It seems to be a sort of forgotten classic, wedged as it is between the first of my Hitchcock “holy trinity” (Rear Window,¬†1954) and the other two perfect films (Vertigo,¬†1958, and¬†North by Northwest,¬†1959).

Actually, this was a period of experimentation for Hitchcock.

Our film most precisely follows the odd comedy (!) The Trouble with Harry (1955) and precedes the black and white hand-wringer The Wrong Man (released later in 1956).

But The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) should not be forgotten!

It is such a beautifully-shot film!

Robert Burks’ cinematography is divine.

And George Tomasini’s editing is artfully deft.

Like To Catch a Thief (which is actually on Netflix in the U.S. [last time I checked]), The Man Who Knew Too Much is a film which perhaps needs multiple viewings to be truly appreciated.

-PD

Incompresa [2014)

This is the longest movie I’ve ever watched.

Not really.

But at one hour and 46 minutes, that’s not a good thing.

To feel like it’s taking forever.

Which is not to say this is a bad film.

It’s not.

It’s a very good film.

With a very disturbing ending.

Yes, I’m warning you.

Don’t (like me) get sucked in by all the cuteness and expect our still-mediocre filmmaker to give you a good ending.

But maybe I’m wrong…

Let’s investigate.

First, Asia Argento is a very talented filmmaker.

But she’s still mediocre.

There are two main problems with this film.

The editing (as in cut some of this superfluous shit out) and the ending.

My guess is that Argento could not bear to see any of her precious footage cut (to any significant degree).

So I am not complaining about the¬†d√©coupage¬†(editor Filippo Barbieri does a fantastic job…especially in the palimpsest intro), but rather the¬†montage¬†(in the French sense).

The ending is a cheap stunt.

David Bowie predicted such excess on¬†Ziggy Stardust…

I will leave it at that.

But suffice it to say that Asia Argento put her heart and soul into this film.

And much of it (most of it) is magical.

This was in spite of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s overwrought, tacky performance.

Charlotte is a wonderful musician.

One of the best alive.

I adore her music.

But she is a terrible actress.

Even so, Argento should have reined in Gainsbourg’s diva performance considerably.

Yet nothing can take away from the true magic contained in¬†Misunderstood¬†(this film’s title on Netflix).

Maybe it’s not Gainsbourg’s fault.

Maybe the role called for a soulless bitch.

But we’ve seen Charlotte in other dire films (like¬†Melancholia).

For all of Asia Argento’s imperfections as a filmmaker (and there are a few), she is like Orson Welles compared to the utter shite that Lars von Trier churns out.

Not to mince words, but “von” Trier has to be one of the worst filmmakers working today.

And so let’s get to why Argento marginally succeeds with this film.

The answer is so very simple:  Giulia Salerno.

Salerno must have been about 13 (or younger) when this film was shot [though she is ostensibly nine years old…in the context of the story].

Her acting, really, is a revelation.

The entire movie revolves around her.

She and her cat Dac.

It’s a sad story.

But Aria [Salerno] makes everything joyful.

Ah, the resilience of kids!

I was blessed with wonderful parents growing up.

Aria’s parents in this film are reprehensible in just about every way imaginable.

There is something of a Les Quatre Cents Coups to this tale.

Aria wanders back and forth.

With her little pet carrier (for the cat).

She has no stability.

Indeed, she ultimately has very little love at all.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you.

But here are the takeaways.

Asia Argento has the talent to become a world-class filmmaker.

This was an admirable and artful first effort.

It is a very special film.

Now it’s time for her to stop surrounding herself with ass kissers.

She’s not an auteur¬†yet.

[I don’t care who her father was!]

Giulia Salerno has the brigtest future imaginable as an actress.

She is now about 15 years old.

And she’s already put a performance like this under her belt.

I hope that Hollywood and the cinema of her home country Italy take notice of her incredible thespian gift.

And I will give Argento one more compliment:  she sure shocked the shit out of me with that ending.

And though it was trite and tasteless, it didn’t completely ruin what was a very fine film.

Indeed, the editor needed for the bulk of this film would have lopped it off forthwith (if they were at all worth their salt).

-PD

Kingpin [1996)

The concept of the “family” movie has changed since¬†The Sound of Music¬†in 1965.

Wikipedia, that grand arbiter of officiality, does not primarily recognize “family” as a genre.

They opt for “children’s film”.

Nonetheless, the Wiki article lists “family film” as an alternative name for this nebulous genre.

In 1965, The Beatles were still releasing albums like Rubber Soul.

1966 saw these same alchemists get a bit edgier with Revolver.

By 1967, the whole world was tripping balls to¬†Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s important to document this sea change in pop culture by way of the personages pictured on the cover of¬†Sgt. Pepper’s:

-Aleister Crowley

-Lenny Bruce

-William S. Burroughs

-Karl Marx

-and many others.

Just these four personalities alone made for a shocking collection on the cover of what was sonically a hippy-dippy platter.

But maketh thou no mistake:  The Beatles were self-consciously out to SHOCK!

1971.

By then, The Beatles were no more.

1968 had come and gone (violently). ¬†And The Beatles had reached their zenith (or nadir) of angst with songs like “Helter Skelter” (from “The White Album“).

There were no new Beatles albums in 1971.

Indeed, there was never again a “new” Beatles album

But 1971 gave us Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

And so, about four years late, Hollywood managed to weave the psychedelia of¬†Sgt. Pepper’s into a bona fide family classic.

It took a while longer before Hollywood had another idea with legs (other than just borrowing from the great minds in rock music).

Aliens!

It is worth noting that the three original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, and 1983) were interpolated in 1982 by a cute alien named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Sure, there were classic superheroes (like Superman in 1978), but the next real wave was another coup of futuristic thinking.

Time machines.

The Back to the Future franchise raked in whopping revenue of nearly a billion dollars at the box office over the release years of 1985, 1989, and 1990.

But still, no major taboos had been broken in this fragile genre.

There was no¬†auteur conversant in James Monaco’s theories on “exploding genres”.

Yet, two films from this same period stick out as family-proto (not proto-family).

1988: ¬†Who Framed Roger Rabbit? ¬†[ooh la la…stretching the genre like Jessica Rabbit stretched her red sequin gown]

-1989: ¬†National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation¬†[a real benchmark or signpost…perhaps not as racy a¬†National Lampoon’s Vacation, but still edgy enough to elicit laughter during “the decline of the West” (as Oswald Spengler put it)]

Which almost brings us to the unlikely masterpiece that is Kingpin.

Randy Quaid had been counted on by the National Lampoon franchise for his peerless role of Cousin Eddie.

By 1996, he would become a priceless asset for the makers of Kingpin.

It is hard to chart how we went from¬†The Sound of Music to¬†Kingpin…even with the help of the inestimable Beatles.

If we are to really reach our goal (an explanation), we must follow the followers–the children of The Beatles.

-1970: ¬†Syd Barrett was still bloody mad (and brilliant) on¬†The Madcap Laughs¬†[especially the song “No Good Trying”]

-The Mothers of Invention released albums titled Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh [pretty odd, edgy stuff]

-and international artists like Amon D√ľ√ľl II (from Germany) gave the world a whole new organic, electro-bombastic sound to attempt to decode

-1971: ¬†The Krautrock invasion continued with CAN’s¬†Tago Mago

-Tribal hippies Comus found the perfect sound with First Utterance

-1972:  Hawkwind released their cosmic, perpetual-motion masterpiece Doremi Fasol Latido

-1973:  Pink Floyd changed the cultural landscape with Dark Side of the Moon (perhaps presaging the space/aliens films which would preoccupy family film makers in the coming years)

-Brian Eno melted many minds with his masterpiece Here Come the Warm Jets (complete with the balding artist on the cover in drag)

But we missed something significant:

Led Zeppelin.

If the 1970s belonged to any one band, it was this one.

-their first two albums were released in 1969

-by the time of Led Zeppelin III (1970), they were competing against overt (though clownish) occultists like Black Sabbath [Jimmy Page of Zeppelin being a more covert, zealous admirer of Aleister Crowley]

Led Zeppelin IV was released in 1971

Houses of the Holy saw the light of day in 1973

Physical Graffiti dropped in 1975

But as Led Zeppelin began to peter out, another group picked up the slack and streamlined the music.  Their message was as tough as their humor was bawdy.

AC/DC slapped the world with High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), and other masterpieces which made for a loud world.

But music was just getting started in asserting its agenda for Hollywood.

Iggy Pop dropped two masterpieces in 1977.  One light and tough (Lust for Life), and the other a much darker affair (The Idiot).

But the real earthquake…the real force which rent the curtain in the temple was¬†Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.

From this album in 1977, nothing was ever the same again.

And so the film under consideration, Kingpin, was born from many decades of broken taboos.

Some would call this “progressive” (and then proceed to solicit a donation).

Oswald Spengler might rightly have called it The Decline of the West.

But in the case of Kingpin, I can only call it funny.

I can’t pass judgement on film since 1965.

As to whether it is fit for families to view together.

But I can pass judgement on this film insofar as its most important merit.

It’s damned funny!

I was Munsoned by Cinema Paradiso.  Long ago.

I thought I had a chance. ¬†But I was Amish. ¬†I just didn’t know it yet.

But let’s first start by talking about the dirtbags who frame this film.

#1 is Woody Harrelson (though he starts as just a protégé).

Woody has had an interesting life.

When I was growing up in San Antonio, one of our family shows to watch after the 10 p.m. news was Cheers.  This gave us great comfort.  Great laughs.  And Woody played the character Woody Boyd.  One of the bright spots of a great television cast.

But Woody Harrelson’s dad was a hitman (in real life). ¬†And he killed (in 1979) U.S. federal judge John H. Wood Jr. right here in my hometown: ¬†San Antonio.

It was a drug hit. ¬†Harrelson’s father hired for $250,000 to shoot and kill this judge outside of his home. ¬†The drug dealer who hired Harrelson got 30 years. ¬†Harrelson got life in jail.

Harrelson denied in court that he killed Judge Wood.  He claimed he just took credit for it so he could collect the money.

Well, all of this backstory fits quite nicely into the dirtbag saint Woody Harrelson plays in Kingpin.

#2 is Bill Murray. ¬†Bill is an old hand (no pun intended). ¬†Bill’s character teaches Woody a lot, but Bill’s a real bastard in this film. ¬†Of course, this is a comedy. ¬†So his ostentatious cruelty is worth a few snickers here and there.

At this point it is worth mentioning the twisted (gifted) minds which brought us this film: the Farrelly brothers.

Peter Farrelly (whose birthday is two day away) and his slightly-younger brother Bobby Farrelly.

You might know them from their work such as¬†Dumb and Dumber and the Jonathan-Richman-chalked¬†There’s Something About Mary.

[N.B.  Richman makes a great cameo in Kingpin.  We may not have Lou Reed anymore, but thank God for Jonathan!]

The action of our film shifts from Ocelot, Iowa (“Instead of a dentured ocelot on a leash…”) to hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[home of “Creepy” Joe Biden]

Randy Quaid (#MAGA) is fantastic as an Amish rube with a promising set of bowling skills.

Somewhere along the way, the opportunistic Harrelson becomes Quaid’s manager.

I got great joy out of seeing this.

Because there are few more difficult things than managing “personalities”.

I’ve done it.

Now I have an advanced degree in management.

And still, I know…it’s hard!

But back to family films.

This IS a family film.

But it is also an example of what the family film has become.

In general, this picture would not be suitable for young children to view.

That’s just my opinion.

But perhaps it’s a subgenre of family film.

It’s something which parents with high-school-aged kids MIGHT be able to enjoy with their children.

But I leave that discretion up to the parents.

Because the Farrelly brothers like to SHOCK!

It’s funny. ¬†They’re good at it. ¬†It has a point. ¬†But it might be too lewd for some families.

Speaking of which, it is a quite interesting device with which the Farrellys chose to frame their film:  the Amish.

It borders on surreal, but this bawdy comedy always has the temperate presence of the Amish throughout.

In a certain way, I think it does great honor to the Amish.

From an entertainment perspective, it’s genius.

But this is also a road movie.

And we know strange things happen on the road.

I was just so impressed by Woody Harrelson’s acting. ¬†It’s effortless. ¬†Flawless.

And I was equally impressed by Randy Quaid’s¬†na√Įvet√©. ¬†Truly an acting coup!

But the film gets REALLY interesting when Vanessa Angel hops on the bandwagon!!

Remember her from Spies Like Us, emerging from that snow-covered tent in her underwear?

Yeah, that’s her.

And it turns out that she’s a very good actress!

Ah, but thank God for condoms!!!

At the end, you will feel proud of your efforts.

To walk out the door everyday into a corrupt world.

We are all sinners.

But music saves us.

“Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston is a revelation.

And makes me wistfully recall my last days as a professional musician.

“I Want Candy” is such a tough beat! ¬†The Strangeloves!!!

“I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren is magical music at a magical moment in this film.

“Showdown” by Electric Light Orchestra is the perfect tune to pit Murray against Harrelson.

But the real eyeopener was hearing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman.

Such a magical song!

Great movie.  Great acting.  Comes from a place of reality.

-PD

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond: ¬†a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of¬†the children’s book¬†Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,¬†was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call¬†2005’s¬†Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel”¬†The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way: ¬†there’s a father Bucket. ¬†And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder. ¬†Like, lots weirder. ¬†Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards¬†wore on Between the Buttons? ¬†And the hair like Brian Jones. ¬†Prim. ¬†Proper. ¬†Rocker. ¬†Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity. ¬†Purple velvet. ¬†Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent. ¬†Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dal√≠.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here. ¬†“Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from D√ľsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names. ¬†[there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point. ¬†And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

My Breakfast with Blassie [1983)

Just when you’re ready to give up.

Maybe something miraculous will happen.

The only kind of humor which can defeat the world order.

You want disorder?

No, we want a new world order.

But not THE New World Order.

A different world order.

An absolutely genius film with Andy Kaufman.

And Freddie Blassie.

A magical moment with Lynne Margulies.

Kinda like Donald Trump having breakfast with…

I don’t know.

No.

There’s no way to really capture this dynamic.

Bob Zmuda delivers the knockout blow.

A humor unlike any other.

Just Andy.  And Blassie.

Two celebrities.

Kayfabe?

I don’t know.¬† It’s really hard to tell.

Which means art.

The only fakery worth pursuing.

Infinite possibilities.  Water flowing up a staircase.

Yeah scripted.

Ostensibly not.

And what elements were left open?

Because wrestlers are great actors.

But not necessarily the other way around.

When a miracle comes.

Goddam it.

 

-PD

Benny & Joon [1993)

I’ve had this feeling before.

It’s almost a great movie, but I’m not even sure it’s a good movie.

That is the mystery of cinema.

How easy it is to miss the mark.

Sure, there are performances within which are genuinely touching.

Mary Stuart Masterson on the bus is convincing.

It’s art.

But Johnny Depp’s a little blah here.

It’s not his best work.

The concept for this film was fantastic.

Somehow director Jeremiah Chechik didn’t or couldn’t get the performances out of his leading actors which would have made this a truly special film.

I watched the whole thing.

I’d always been curious.

It’s an almost.¬† A very touching story not quite brought to fruition.

It’s strange because Chechik had previously directed the masterpiece National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Maybe the shitter was full.

Depp needed to be weirder here.  Between Scissorhands and Hunter S. Thompson.  Somehow his performance just seemed a little bland.

It must have been difficult.

The trick was probably trying not to overpower Masterson’s performance.

In that respect, he does a nice job.  He shows restraint.

But it just doesn’t translate as a film.

The subplot between Benny (Aidan Quinn) and Ruthie (Julianne Moore) is frankly boring.

This film either needed to go into hyperrealist Harmony Korine mode or needed to be a whole hell of a lot more magical and creative in the Depp-centric trajectory I delineated previously.

Too late now.  Too.  Late.  Now.

Now we all have our own lives to live.

Our own films to make.

Learn the lessons.

Honor the mystery.

 

-PD

#6 Mr. Bean Rides Again [1992)

This one is darn near perfect.

And I needed it.

After an all-nighter devoted to a Power Point presentation, this got a hearty laugh from me throughout.

We really see Bean’s dark humour start coming to the fore here.

Likewise, we start to realize by now that Bean’s middle name must certainly be “Ingenuity”.

But his genius is a sort of Rube Goldberg variety.

For Bean, it’s all about the process…the journey.

It must be:  he seems to miss his destination an overwhelming majority of the time.

Whether he makes it to the beach or not is immaterial.

It’s that he starts off by packing six cans of Heinz Baked Beans.

No can opener.

Just the beans, thank you very much.

For those of us in America, this makes less sense without a bit of experience.

My one and only trip to Great Britain was an eye-opener.

The English eat beans for breakfast!

Not only that, but some sautéed mushrooms and maybe a boiled tomato.

Sausage and a rasher of bacon.

And eggs:  runny as Usain Bolt.

It all mixes together into a mélange of heartiness.

THAT is a true English breakfast!

A working-man’s meal.

Ahh, I miss those days.

So short and fleeting.

But with Mr. Bean, I am back in the magical mundane of English society.

The Royal Mail.

The politeness.

The grasp of my mother tongue.

Feeling rather “poorly”…

Yes, a glorious grasp on the language.

Of course, I could listen to the lads in Oasis talk all day long.

High and low.

And the Midlands.

God save the Queen!

We mean it, man ūüėČ

 

-PD