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

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 Düül 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 naïveté.  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

Monsieur Verdoux [1947)

Being unwanted is a powerful feeling.

A life devoted to a profession, and then (poof!)…

But aging is a powerful experience even when separated from an event of displacement.

Let me clarify:

Aging can make one vulnerable.

We are only all too aware that we aren’t as handsome or as beautiful as we once were.

We are made aware of this decline by way of “the spectacle” (to borrow an idea from Guy Debord).

Sure, we can read it in the glances of everyone we meet, but we must realize that those eyes have glanced upon the ideal.  Those eyes are connected to minds.  Those minds have been imprinted like microchips.

With what?  “The tyranny of good looks…” to quote the brilliant Marilyn Yalom.

The quote comes from her excellent volume How the French Invented Love (2012).  Yes, this nonfiction tome is only too relevant to the subject at hand:  Charlie Chaplin’s bizarre Monsieur Verdoux.

This one won’t have you laughing yourself into the aisle.  Not till the back nine (at the earliest).

Charles Chaplin was a rebel.  When it worked, the world loved him.  When it didn’t?  Ah-la-la…  No one can be completely spared the wrath of the public.

A quick glance at the ever-reliable Wikipedia [cough cough] tells us that Monsieur Verdoux fared better in Europe than in America.

Quickly perusing the section marked “Reception” we might come to the conclusion that audiences in the United States did not “get” this film.

So then did we merely have a cultural barrier (and its opposite) in operation as far as world reception?

I think not.  I think that Europe’s humor was forever changed by the World Wars.  Coming just two years after the second ended, this film was a litmus test.  What could be found funny in this cruel new world?

The entire world had lost its innocence.

And so the comedian was forced to make do with the sordid rubble.

It is not spoiling much to tell you that in this film Chaplin plays a serial killer.  The idea apparently originated with Orson Welles, but the treatment was no doubt a full Chaplin adaption.

Yes, it is shocking.  A bit.  Nowadays.  But then?!?  It must have been much more scandalous.

This was the first time Chaplin took to the screen in a feature film without relying to any extent upon the Little Tramp character.  It was a brave departure!

What I find most fascinating about this film is that the fictional Verdoux, like the real-life Hitler, was a vegetarian and animal lover.

Ah!  However…Verdoux was based on a real killer:  Henri Désiré Landru.

They share the same first name (and a rhyming last):

Henri Verdoux?

Henri Landru.

They also share a profession:  used furniture merchant.

It is not clear to me (without further research) whether the vegetarian/animal lover aspects were inventions of Chaplin or not.

I’m guessing they were.

In any case, they are effective reminders about the intricacy of human personalities.

Schindler’s List comes down to us as a hack film because it lacks life.  That is the message I get from reading Godard’s critique of Spielberg.  What is more, Godard seems to lament (mourn) the lack of video footage shot within German concentration camps during WWII.

Some have construed this as holocaust denial.

I don’t think that is the point.

However, Godard’s presentation of his argument brings with it a certain amount of skepticism.  Put simply, his question seems to be (in my own words), “How could the Germans be so technologically advanced (particularly in film and motion picture equipment) yet fail to shoot any footage within the camps?”

What comes down to us today is footage of said camps’ “liberations”…  Indeed, Hollywood directors were tasked with making propaganda of the hideous findings (George Stevens comes to mind) [not that they needed much help there].

And so why have I made this detour?  Simply to illustrate that the human brain is smarter than Hollywood assumes it is.

Spielberg is not a great director.  He’s merely a rich director.

Chaplin was a great director.  Monsieur Verdoux was largely a failure in the United States.

To come back to Guy Debord (and I paraphrase heavily in translation from the French), “Reality has been turned on its head…”

The spectacle reigns supreme.  Who cares if it’s true?  Even better than the real thing.  That is the message of Debord’s La Société du spectacle (published in 1967).  And that message is relevant to Monsieur Verdoux.

Perhaps it was the Letterists (of which Debord was a member)…perhaps it was the Situationists (of which Debord was the guiding light)…one of these groups boycotted Chaplin when he arrived in France.

Ah, I have found it.  Indeed.  1952.  It was the Letterists.  Their screed pamphlet called Chaplin a “con artist of sentiments”.  [translation by Len Bracken]

Indeed, that is just the role Chaplin took up five years previous in our film Monsieur Verdoux.  It is also part of the argument which Godard has made against Spielberg.

As much as I love Debord (one of my three favorite writers), I have to disagree with his early (pre-Situationist) position against Chaplin.  Godard would likely disagree with Debord and the Letterists on this matter as well (judging from the abundance of Chaplin films referenced in his magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinema).  But I must agree with Godard regarding Spielberg.  It does no honor to the memory of Holocaust victims nor survivors to give the sad event the “Hollywood touch”.

Godard has (along with most of humanity) been called anti-Semitic.  I don’t believe that to be the case regarding the most important director to have lived.  A single glance is not enough to absorb what Jean-Luc is saying in any of his films (not to mention writings or interviews).

Ah, but now I am far off-track.  I have left Verdoux in the dust.

But that is alright.

Perhaps the measure of a film’s greatness is how much it makes us think?

 

-PD