Frank [2014)

My dear friends, it is so good to be alive ūüôā

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast ūüôā

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read¬†Finnegans Wake¬†till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about ūüôā

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50. ¬†I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured¬†Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank¬†is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork¬†generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what¬†Frank¬†is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album¬†The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film ūüôā

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed,¬†Frank¬†is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety ūüôā

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band¬†Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no,¬†Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right: ¬†Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in¬†Frank¬†when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album¬†Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara: ¬†Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the¬†papier-m√Ęch√© head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in¬†Misunderstood¬†(2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great¬†Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time: ¬†Mercury Rev’s¬†Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in¬†Frank¬†revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that¬†Soronprfbs bassist Fran√ßois Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes,¬†Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find¬†Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD

Heavy [1995)

Holidays are hard for many people.

Perhaps we think of who we’ve lost.

But also there’s the pressure of the days themselves.

Christmas. ¬†New Year’s Eve.

Even times like the 4th of July.

I didn’t set out to write a heartrending post, but I don’t always know what it is I’m about to watch.

In general, Heavy is not a sad film.

It’s a masterpiece of minimalism.

Every shot…every movement in this movie is lovingly made.

James Mangold created a world which corresponds to the understated expressions of silent films as much as it does to the desperation of everyday life.

I’m sure some people have very happy lives.

But what Mr. Mangold has given us is a look at extreme awkwardness.

Loneliness.

Do you ever feel awkward buying something?

I do.

Every time.

It’s the interaction with people.

It comes and it goes.

But for our protagonist Victor, it mostly comes and stays.

I can’t recall an actor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) getting so much depth out of so few words.

No film I’ve ever seen handles shyness quite like this one.

Victor is a cook at his mom’s little tavern.

It’s the kind of place you’d find in Woodstock.

Kingston.  Poughkeepsie.  West Saugerties.

Though the setting is never named, these are what came to my imagination.

Those places that inspired Mercury Rev to create their masterpiece¬†Deserter’s Songs and, before them, The Band.

But whatever this fictional town, it is positively not cool.

It is in the middle of nowhere.

And so a feeling of desolation pervades this picture.

Victor cares for his mother (played brilliantly by the late Shelley Winters).

They live together…just the two of them.

There’s a little dog.

It’s a quiet life.

Sure, it’s sad.

But it’s life.

Life goes on.

Every day.

Open the tavern.

Pay the delivery man.

Cook the pizzas.

Clean up the broken beer mugs.

It just so happens that the place has a waitress/bartender.

And the actress playing this role indeed had experience.

Max’s Kansas City.

That’s right, Debbie Harry.

Debbie plays Delores.

She’s just as feisty as you’d expect.

She doesn’t put up with any shit.

And so the world goes on.

Day after day.

Status quo.

But one day, a ray of light enters lonely Victor’s world.

Liv Tyler.

You can imagine.

Liv was 18 when this film was made.

Which brings us back to Woodstock proper.

Liv Tyler was born Liv Rundgren.

As in Todd.

It’s a complicated story, but this future actress/model knew Todd Rundgren (producer of The Band’s¬†Stage Fright which was recorded at the Woodstock Playhouse in 1970) as father until well into her life.

Todd, of course, was also a resident of the area. ¬†This was back in the days of Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records.

Which brings us to another fascinating little town:  Bearsville, New York.

But Liv was obviously the daughter of Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith).

Liv didn’t find this out till age eight.

Back to our movie…

Into lonely Victor’s life walks a new waitress whose real life genes were those of lippy Steven Tyler and Playboy¬†Playmate Bebe Buell.

That’s no ordinary gene pool.

But this is no ordinary romantic comedy.

In fact, it’s not a romantic comedy.

It’s not funny.

It’s deep.

[He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother]

Because Victor is a portly fellow.

And this bothers him.

It’s something he tries to ignore, but living at home with mom…and being fat…and being shy…

It’s enough to give a guy a complex.

And this is not a rich family.

No psychiatrists here.

Just get up and go to work every day.

Cook breakfast for mom.

Feed the dog.

Go to the little grocery store.

Get some eggs and orange juice.

So I wasn’t sure what I was getting with this movie.

But I’m so glad I watched it.

I wouldn’t really call it an uplifting story, but that’s not the point.

It is cinéma vérité in the truest sense.

And the world needs these kinds of films.

There are no explosions.

Maybe there’s not even a happy ending.

I will leave that for you to discover.

But there are certainly very few cliches.

And so this picture spoke to me in a very deep way.

To reach out to anyone on the Internet who might be reading this.

This is a film about problems.

Not crippling problems which require literal crutches, but crippling all the same.

Pink Floyd summed it up as well as anyone when they sang about “quiet desperation”.

It may be “the English way”, but it’s not a uniquely British phenomenon.

I hate to talk about the “human condition”…because I fear I will sound like one of the putzes who pens the elevator pitches which adorn every film on Netflix [who writes those things?!?], but James Mangold did something very significant with this film.

Even the music is subtly artful.

We can thank Thurston Moore for that.

And so little harmonics and behind-the-bridge pings give depth to Victor’s struggles.

It’s quietness.

Standing by the staircase.

Staring up.

Is mom coming down?

Will the dog come eat his food?

There are heroes in this world.

And sometimes they are right under our noses.

Victor is one of those.

 

-PD

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

Paisà [1946)

Something about the late night.

And a war movie.

Makes me tired of fighting.

The ongoing war.

Identify:  friend or foe?

The Italian partisans were fighting against their own fascist government.

They were fighting against the Nazis.

This will be a little late in coming, but an idea can have a soft opening.

Applied Memetics.

Memetic engineering.

We bombed Sicily.

Clear the beaches.

A daughter-in-law (it is implied) was killed by our bombs.

Boom boom.

And now she cannot even have her wake in peace.

She was an egg for a larger omelet.  That should be remembered both ways.

Disgusting.  And no other way around it.

Warfare in 1943.

Is it a road?

No, it’s lava.

So many misunderstandings in war.

I’m an American.

Me.

The author.

It is the country of my birth.

And I love my country.

The partisans were fighting the fascists.

The fascists were the outgoing government.

More clearly, I defend the pillars.

Free speech.

Push the limits.

USE your free speech.

Get the word out.

Be wrong.

Apologize.

Try to get it right.

Study science.

Drunk in Naples.

Thinking of DeFord Bailey.

Born same day as me.

Harmonica Frank.

Ain’t talkin’.¬† Just walkin’.

You gonna have to eat those boots if you lose them.

Which is a contradiction.

Maria Michi was such a bitch in Roma, città aperta.

You remember?

We she comes face to face with torture???

And so the OSS fought with the partisans.

Training in explosives.  And survival.  Every possible scenario.

Basics.  Navigation of small boats.

Because poetry is always dangerous.

You might analyze an entire Yankees season in two minutes, but I am large vast, I contain mul,ti,tudes,,,

Improved upon by the collective unconscious.

What?

Well, Maria Michi redeems herself here.

Still a whore.

But a heart of gold.

Straight from central casting (as Webster Tarpley might say).

I believe it was The Thrills.

Love in vain?

Two lights…diverged in a forest…AC/DC

I alternate between direct and oblique.

That was Rome.

Most notable for war is Florence.

The Rucellai gardens…ah.

I haven’t heard that name in a long time—

Wan excrement.

Nick Tosches.

We take up Machiavelli to study war.

Because there is something worth defending.

As faded as it is.

Over five-hundred years ago…they were already lamenting.

It’s nothing new.

What Sean Elliott correctly calls curmudgeon talk.

Will Harriet Medin taste youth one more time?

Because the great painter-warrior seems to be in danger.

Across the Arno.

Putting the Po in poverty.

Lou Reed became Transformer.

The Wolf.  Lupo.

Call me Winston.

That Rosser Reeves should have died in 1984.

Better living through chemistry.

Thank God for mental illness.

Tonight I’m gonna rock you tonight.

Second request.

Uffizi with crated antiquity.

A more high-dollar GoldenEye.

Impenetrable.

We always rebel against our kind.

Youth.

The imperfect circle of mimesis morphed.

And meme.

Daddy-O.

Like watercolors one bleedingintotheother.

Which we would have called word painting for J.S.  In a cantata.  Or oratorio.

Wasn’t a “years of lead” scale attack.¬† Uffizi.¬† 1993.

But we seem to trace the progression of honorable men (OSS) to bizarre hydra (CIA).

Short sword for thrusting.

To each, his own.

The British (like the Catholics) are portrayed as spoiled twats.

[The Catholics (director Rossellini being Italian) are portrayed lovingly as myopic outliers]

Shakespeare would have been appalled by Shakespeare in Love.

And right before the “Fine” a noyade.

Viz. know your history.

I am guilty as hell.

Of being an idiot.

But I have a lust for life beneath this quiet desperation.

 

-PD

ťĚíśė•śģčťÖ∑ÁČ©Ť™ě [1960)

[CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, (1960)]

Today was a bad day.

You would be shocked (dear readers) if I asserted the opposite.

No, there is no sugarcoating it.

But that’s ok. [Ah!]

Such anxiety.  Such fear.  Such trepidation.

Ah!¬† That wasn’t so bad.

But don’t breathe relief too soon.¬† [Sigh…]

We’re surrounded by morons.¬† Condescending illiterates.

A fistful of assholes.

Yes, that Japanese up there indeed does not read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Things fall apart.  Shit happens.  Sometimes, the shit hits the fan.

That is the story of Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth.

Seishun Zankoku Monogatari…that’s what it says.

Kinda like Ugetsu Mongatari (which I reviewed some time back).

ÁČ©Ť™ě

Epic.

And it is.  More or less.

The story of Mako and Kiyoshi.

No magical powers here.  This is like the Japanese version of À bout de souffle.

If we don’t understand French (and we don’t), then we really shouldn’t be fooling around with Japanese.

That is my 2 cents…me, and the royal we.

Inseparable.

Mako and Kiyoshi.

Will they survive this cruel world?

Perhaps they must be cruel themselves to survive it?

And perhaps only Kiyoshi (cool as Jean-Paul Belmondo) is cruel?

Mako is no Jean Seberg.

She might be a coquette, but she’s not une d√©gueulasse.

Our film followed on the heels of Godard’s Breathless by a mere four months.

And what about Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless”?

It preceded Godard’s film by two years (1958).

Any one else out of breath???

How about those Japanese protestors?

They weren’t keen on the Anpo treaty.

[Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan]

Yeah, a mere 15 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki…and Japan was a beaten nation.

Doubly beaten.

Because they joined hands with their brethren (us) who had so recently vaporized them.

And so no wonder people were protesting.

But we don’t see protests in movies.

Not real protests.  Not anymore.

In fact, Japan does not even exist for the U.S. anymore.

Japan is like a house cat.

Domesticated.

Japan protests nothing.

Their economy slides with ours.

They are between a rock and a hard place.

Seemingly forever.

It is a geopolitical fault-line.

In the film we see South Koreans protesting.

This ended long ago (for us brainwashed viewers in the West).

Only the Chinese protest.

Tiananmen Square.  1989.

And CNN had a bird’s-eye view of tank man.

A bit too perfect.

But yes:  every nation protests.

Except the well-behaved Japanese and South Koreans.

But what about these recent tremors?

Okinawa.

As recently as February of this year.

Just what is going on?

Anpo is that famously robust treaty…in effect longer than anything since the Peace of Westphalia (1648).

I am reminded of my most erudite friend’s knowing focus on the war which these treaties (a series in 1648) ended.

Thirty years.

It was a bad day for Mako.  Rape.

The valiant rapist.

What?

It is like Dostoyevsky.

Stick around and the plot thickens.

Buked and scorned by Yuki (the sister).

Youth…how cruel it is to be taken.

And then our lovers reenact The Kid with no windows (but plenty of stones).

But I’m most sad for Horio.

It’s the old man in me.

Finally the reification gets to be too much for Mako.

And a tear rolls down her cheek.  In her sleep.

Busy signal.¬† Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Twenty years.

A cement mixer.

Is she?¬† No.¬† It can’t end like that!

“This ain’t prostitution…IT’S EXTORTION! (tortion)! (torsion)!”

They call them the diamond dogs.

Oshima with a shadow play.

Kiyoshi holds Mako in the foreground.

Aki implores Yuki in the background.

[And for subtitlers everywhere, please think before you use the phrase “for old time’s sake” in a Japanese film.]

In her polka dot dress with the leeks peeking from the grocery sack.

Blammo!

The futility of youth.

The grimy uncertainty…the shifting sands.

The idealism made to lick the city sidewalk.

The valiant rapist saint.

INRI.

Ecce homo.

And Mako, fragile, with a bloody cheek.

 

-PD

#2 The Return of Mr. Bean [1990)

As we enter into the second chapter of Mr. Bean’s television life, it is worth noting a particularly prevalent-yet-understated theme of the show:¬† loneliness.

For instance, Mr. Bean takes himself out for a birthday dinner.¬† He writes a birthday card for himself which, a short time after signing it, he discovers with na√Įve surprise and is heartened that he remembered his own birthday.

Yes, Mr. Bean is the surreal loner.

But there is another theme here:  optimism.

Bean doesn’t seem bothered by shopping alone (as long as he has his shiny, new American Express card…and his potato…and his fish).

No, he revels in the wonder of life.

Everything is an adventure.

If Seinfeld is a show about nothing, then Mr. Bean is a show about less than nothing.

Atkinson is wielding a sort of comedic antimatter weapon.

And the effect is devastatingly funny.

It’s funnier if you’ve had steak tartare, but it’s still funny if you haven’t.

Also present is that English (as in England) preoccupation with courtesy and politeness…manners, if you will.

Bean wants to save a man from the ignominy of embarrassment.¬† The bloke has picked up the wrong charge card.¬† So Bean surreptitiously picks the man’s pocket just to put the right card back in.¬† But his hand becomes stuck at the end of the act.¬† And so Rowan Atkinson is dragged all the way to the toilet with this man.¬† Silently following.

It brings to mind the famous Pink Floyd lyric:¬† “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.”

I’ve many times thought that applies to me (as I am mostly of English descent…though a bit French…and Italian [Venetian]).

Few things in this world are more antiquated than the British monarchy and (not completely unrelated) “manners”.

I don’t have any particular fondness for Queen Elizabeth or any other royal (of any nation) who’s ever lived.¬† It’s a bunch of poppycock, if you ask me.

But manners are worth something.

Yes, I do respect the common man and the common woman…who remind us of a different time.¬† Common courtesy.¬† THAT is the true royalty of the planet.

 

-PD

Dr. Strangelove [1964)

…and you will know us by the title which follows the colon.¬† Yes, Dr. Strangelove is indeed a mouthful when its title is cited in full.¬† Some years ago I proffered that this film summed my personality up better than any other single motion picture.¬† Whether or not that remains true, I still hold it to be one of the two perfect or near-perfect films which Kubrick made (the other being Lolita).

I won’t labor over the plot details too much.¬† Indeed, some may not yet have seen this masterpiece.¬† I suppose it would behoove me as a critic “of the people” to not always give away the ending.¬† But when I last viewed this piece of cinema, some things struck me which had previously slipped unnoticed under my nose in the fray.¬† Perhaps I am most ashamed to admit that I never realized one of the principal characters was named Jack D. Ripper.¬† He is, indeed, the problem child of this movie.

Played by Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar, anyone?), Ripper sets in motion a string of events which define the drama over the course of 94 minutes.¬† Neither had I recognized the humor in his operating base:¬† Burpelson AFB.¬† Perhaps there’s not as much meaning in the place, but the character is indeed aptly monikered.

The film really gets going as we see Peter Sellers (the true star(s) of this film) for the first time in one of his three roles.  As Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, he is the proper Brit whose tact makes him unable to quite fix the snafu in progress (a rogue launch against the U.S.S.R.), but whose diplomacy nearly staves off a most dreadful outcome.

There is an interesting element of this film which is approached tongue-in-cheek, but which nevertheless perhaps deserves further investigation at length.¬† That element is fluorine…in the form of fluoride…as in fluoridated water.¬† It just so happens that our resident kook (who has singlehandedly endangered all of civilization by ordering his bomber wing to attack) is very much against water fluoridation.¬† The year, we must remember, is 1964.¬† Ripper explains to Mandrake that fluoridation began in the U.S. in 1946.¬† He takes this (along with his rabid anti-communism) to indicate that water fluoridation is a grand Soviet plot.

Indeed, water fluoridation in the U.S. is said to have begun in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1945.¬† By 1951, the U.S. Public Health Service had made water fluoridation public policy.¬† In 1960, it is estimated that 50 million Americans were the recipients of fluoridated water.¬† In 2006, the percentage of the U.S. population receiving fluoride in their water was at just over 60%.¬† Any thought outside this narrow swath of inquiry is said spuriously to be the conjecture of conspiracy theorists.¬† Funny how the villain of Dr. Strangelove is one such fellow–a real doozy at that…inept at expressing himself…always talking about “bodily fluids.”¬† Indeed, something strange is going on with this subplot.¬† I will leave it to the reader to investigate the merits of pro-fluoridation and anti-fluoridation.¬† I myself avoid fluoride at all costs.

Back to cinema (and Peter Sellers), we next encounter another funny name:¬† President (of the U.S.) Merkin Muffley.¬† Merkin, of course, is the name given to “public wigs.”¬† And the muff in Muffley, well…¬† Again, I urge the reader to let their imagination guide their inquiry.

It would be germane to introduce my own bit of conspiratorial evidence at this juncture.¬† There is, of course, the oration of Gen. Turgidson (George C. Scott) where he urges the President to (thank you Rahm Emmanuel) not let this tragedy go to waste.¬† Yes, it is that age-old stain on humanity which Webster Tarpley so eloquently sums up as “cynical.”¬† Gen. Turgidson (another apt name) asserts with bombastic cynicism a plan so heinous (while holding his megadeath statistics) that it could only be concocted by Hollywood, right?¬† Wrong.

Case in point:¬† Operation Northwoods.¬† With apparent thanks to author James Bamford (and those who have railed against the Kennedy assassination as being something far different than it was characterized), documents from 1962 show the very real psychosis of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (of which, no doubt, Gen. Turgidson would seem to be part…if not the head).¬† No, Kubrick was not simply out to discredit conspiracy theorists.¬† Perhaps the fluoridation subplot is a smokescreen, but Gen. Turgidson shows verily that he shares a certain simpatico with our rogue Gen. Ripper (who launched the insubordinate attack).¬† Oh…what would Kubrick make of our post-9/11 world had he lived to see it?¬† Indeed, the timing of Dr. Strangelove couldn’t have been better (or worse, depending on how one looks at it), considering that just two months before its release J.F.K. was murdered in Dallas.

Ah, but President Muffley’s voice of reason prevails (just as J.F.K.’s voice of reason categorically refused the Operation Northwoods plan which was agreed upon and signed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff…including their head, Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer).¬† I won’t deviate too far from the plan, but suffice it to intrigue the reader that Northwoods was a false-flag terror attack which would have used remote control planes, fake passengers (with “carefully prepared aliases”) and other such stratagems (including the death of American citizens) which certainly could have no bearing upon events in say, I don’t know, the past 15 years or so, could they?¬† Or course not.¬† How silly of me.

And while some ideas such as cobalt bombs seem preposterous today, in 1964 they must have seemed quite nerve-wracking indeed.¬† The Soviet doomsday device which figures in the movie is, of course, humorously inserted, but the technology was (at the very least) tested by the British in Australia in 1957.¬† Nevil Shute’s novel On The Beach (also 1957) leans heavily on this technology being quite real and not in the least silly.¬† Even the Eon series of Bond movies takes up the idea somewhat (in 1964, no less…same year as our film) in that Auric Goldfinger intends to use a device which incorporates cobalt to render the gold of Fort Knox uselessly radioactive for 58 years.¬† All experiments aside, the theory seems to indicate that radioactive cobalt would be a hazard for far longer than 58 years (as Dr. Strangelove himself points out in the odd segment just before the end of our film).¬† Indeed, 100 years is more like it (for all practical purposes).¬† Perhaps even 142 or so…

But I dare say the only name one needs remember in this piece of cinema is Col. “Bat” Guano.¬† The writers (including Terry Southern) were really having a larf by that point.¬† Our team aboard the one aircraft which didn’t get the recall “memo” head to what seems to be a made up locale in Soviet Russia:¬† Kodlosk.¬† By the end of this romp we are not only questioning the mental capacity of L.B.J. (newly sworn-in President when this came out), but also that of dear old George W. Bush.¬† One can’t help interpreting the role of Slim Pickens as symbolic of the cavalier disrespect for human life wrapped up in all of America’s nuclear ambitions.¬† And he just so happens to be a rural gent–a cowboy, if you will.¬† No matter that the real life Pickens was not only born in California, but died there (in Modesto, to be exact).

“Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?,” sing Pink Floyd in the song “Vera” from 1979’s The Wall.¬† Going on to reference the very song which ends Dr. Strangelove (“We’ll Meet Again”), it’s an appropriate way to broach how Kubrick’s masterpiece will go down in history.¬† I personally find only the ending to be a bit clumsy and, thus, the film as a whole (at least) near-perfect.

Sellers’ third role in the film is that of Dr. Strangelove himself.¬† An obvious remnant of Operation Paperclip, Strangelove is the former (?) Nazi who is wheelchair-bound (with a gimp arm to boot).¬† This really is Sellers at his surreal best, no doubt doing a good bit of visual improvising (as his bum arm seems to have a mind of its own–at one point choking the neck to which it is attached).

There is one (and only one) female character:¬† and she is a tightly-wound symbol of power.¬† Played by Tracy Reed in a bikini, she mainly figures into just one scene (that in which Gen. Turgidson is indisposed in the “powder room”).

Speaking of (and to) power, one would be remiss not to mention the RAND Corporation.¬† It has been ventured that Herman Kahn, John von Neumann and/or Henry Kissinger might have been templates for the character of Strangelove.¬† To that I would add Albert Wohlstetter.¬† All four were part of the aforementioned “think tank.”¬† Another possibility is Wernher von Braun.¬† Indeed, it is worth some study to learn how this former Nazi SS member became head of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Likewise, it is interesting how the International Institute for Strategic Studies played a role in the genesis of Dr. Strangelove.¬† It was, in fact, the director (Alastair Buchan) of this organization (ostensibly formed in 1958) who suggested to Kubrick the book upon which the film would be based.¬† That book was Red Alert by Peter George.¬† Silly me, all of these think tanks have me in a quandary.¬† I was quite sure Mr. Buchan was of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (a.k.a. Chatham House, formed 1920), but I see that I was mistaken.¬† I do, however, congratulate myself upon noticing that Kubrick’s chum Buchan was son of Hitchcock’s Buchan (author of The¬†Thirty-Nine Steps).¬† Interesting also that the aforementioned Herman Kahn was a consultant on Dr. Strangelove.

As was noted in my article concerning Dr. No (1962) [see “Bond” section], Ken Adam went from that Eon Production’s set designer to being Kubrick’s man concerned with the same on Dr. Strangelove.¬† Indeed, that iconic table in “the war room” is covered in green baize.¬† One need not look further than Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale for the previous symbolic nature of this fabric (consider M’s door, for instance).

Back to Herman Kahn…¬† He coined the term “megadeath.”¬† But it took Kubrick and¬†Peter Sellers¬†and God knows who else to concoct the only line ending with which I can feel assured (the feeling is mutual, I’m sure) a sense of finality:¬† “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

 

-PD