Lovelace [2013)

“I know it when I see it”

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.

Obscene.

Pornography.

What is pornography?

As of two years ago, the sixth most visited site by American internet users was Pornhub.

https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-users-access-porn-more-than-twitter-wikipedia-and-netflix-2018-9

Two of the other top 15 sites for American internet users:  XNXX and XVideos.

The latter two sites are both owned by WGCZ Holding.

Pornhub is owned by MindGeek.

WGCZ Holding’s “country of origin” (?) is France, yet their headquarters is in Prague.

MindGeek’s “country of origin” [I suppose this means “where the company started”] is Canada, but its headquarters is in the country of Cyprus.

In our current coronavirus pandemic, it is not hard to find information about the world-wide INCREASE in pornographic viewing.

So it seems only fitting that we come to this wonderful film.

It is a beautiful film.

As beautiful as Amanda Seyfried.

But also a sad film.

Reminiscent at times of Requiem for a Dream.

There are moments, in both of these films, when their respective sadnesses could be viewed as “loss of the soul”.

In Requiem for a Dream, heroin steals souls.

In Lovelace, the porn industry threatens to steal Linda Lovelace’s soul.

But what we get in the movie Lovelace is something more specific.

Spousal abuse.

Domestic violence.

Human trafficking.

Sex slavery.

Spousal sexual abuse.

It’s not very titillating stuff.

It turns the stomach.

It’s like watching Ike and Tina as a fly on the wall.

I’ve seen Deep Throat.

I think it’s an excellent film.

But there is a dark underbelly.

Linda, it appears, was coerced (to put it mildly) into making the picture.

Lovelace (Seyfried) states near the end of our film that she was only in the porn industry for 17 days.

Yet she is probably the most famous porn star ever.

And not without good reason.

Whether it is accurate or not, Chuck Traynor (Linda’s husband) is portrayed as a scumbag.

A creep.

A really bad dude.

There is agenda setting in Lovelace.

We are SUPPOSED to see Traynor as bad.

Which makes me suspicious.

The subtlety of Dostoyevsky is nowhere to be found.

Linda good.  Chuck bad.

Perhaps that is the whole story, but it would be an unlikely black and white moment in a world of gray.

But let’s enter the world of color for a moment.

Amanda Seyfried is so beautiful in this film.

And it is beautifully shot by cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards.

Interestingly, we have two directors on record as having helmed Lovelace:

Rob Epstein and

Jeffrey Friedman.

Which brings us to a familiar story.

Jeffrey Epstein.

If we go further, we realize that Hugh Hefner is played in Lovelace by James Franco.

There’s something going on here.

I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Chloë Sevigny plays a brief role in Lovelace.

Sevigny performs actual oral sex on actor/director Vincent Gallo in his film The Brown Bunny.

What are we seeing here?

How long has this been going on?

It’s clear by this wonderful movie, Lovelace, that Deep Throat brought pornography into the mainstream.

But since then, it has still hidden…and peeked around corners.

It is everywhere.

It is pervasive.

Perhaps it has lost some of its taboo.

But it is still widely regulated.

And ACTUAL hardcore PORNOGRAPHY is still rarely seen in Hollywood films.

So what do we have here?

We have Amanda Seyfried looking beautiful.

We have actors reminiscing on older actors.

We have a major industry paying homage to a minor industry which is itself becoming a major industry (especially during the coronavirus pandemic).

But I’m here to talk cinema.

Lovelace is cinema.

It skirts in and out of being a masterpiece.

Some scenes are timeless.

Others are a little clumsy.

I would say it is well worth a view.

What is particularly interesting is the role that parental judgement plays in Lovelace and Requiem for a Dream.

In Requiem…, the parental element is more of a reference.

But both movies evoke sadness.

Parents want the best for their children.

Most parents probably don’t want their children to grow up to be heroin addicts or porn actors.

There is genuine heartbreak in both of these films.

Kudos to Robert Patrick for playing Linda’s father.

He verges on a caricature of Chris Cooper in American Beauty.

But Patrick is better.  Warmer.  More human.

Wes Bentley is here in Lovelace.

As he was in American Beauty.

Then there was Kevin Spacey…in American Beauty.

And flying around with Jeffrey Epstein.

And Thora Birch was in American Beauty.

And her mom was in Deep Throat.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

It is a very weird spiral.

An almost-invisible web.

What does it mean?

If Trump wins the next election, we have a chance of finding out.

We are ready to unleash hell.

 

-PD

Good Morning, Vietnam [1987)

Things are sad here.

This is a war.

Pieczenik has outlined it as both biological warfare and psychological warfare.

Morale.

How to keep morale high?

Maybe you love someone.

Or maybe you’re just attracted to them.

But as you see them leave in a hurry, you wonder whether it might be the last time.

Are we winning?

Are we gonna make it back home?

Everything is shot to shit.

Destroyed.

The DJ is lonely.

Daft.

But quite possibly a genius.

And so you can see how Robin Williams might have committed suicide.

The Great Pretender.

Tears of a Clown.

Death of a Clown.

Drugs have taken hold.

Not the gentle breasts of the opium den, but the annihilation of heroin.

Even the General smokes.

Because you don’t know how many days you have left.

One minute you’re fine.

The next you get blown up by the Vietcong.

Or the virus gets in your lungs.

In times of great distress (to paraphrase), comedians are needed.

“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

Willy Wonka said that.

As he grabbed Veruca Salt’s impudent mouth.

Cash is getting low.

Grapes of Wrath.

But we hang on.

With our radios.

And our MacBooks.

To have a zany DJ.

A “maniac”!

Yes.

On a boring street.

In a tense environment.

Theater of war.

Conflict.

Bittersweet.

Perhaps with more knowledge comes more sadness.

But the heart needs to heal.

The psychic energy has been vomited up.

The emetic was psychological.

Autobiographical.

And now I feel wasted.

Limp.

Fatigued.

But hopeful.

I will press on.

I am 43 years old.

There are good things about me.

I recognize what society sees as my shortcomings.

But I am on ice.

And yet it is temporary.

I was never cut out for the military.

And neither was Adrian Cronauer.

But there are many subgroups in the military.

Many ingenious ways by which to put creative individuals to work.

If the totality of war is fully understood.

Outcast.

Freak.

Break the rules.

Skirt the rules.

Play.

Emphasis on play.

Whimsy.

Quixotic.

Cronauer is a bit like Alex Jones.

Which makes sense.

When one sees the admiration Steve Pieczenik has for Alex Jones.

Not just anyone can get in front of a mic and do that.

We get a bit of Stripes here (rehashed).

Do the right thing.

Make true friends.

Long-lasting connections.

Be a good person.

Watch how your life achieves harmony.

Censorship.

Gimme Some Truth.

The pointless pursuit of the unattainable.

Sadness in human history.

In a foreign land.

Where no shops are open.

Where there are no places to congregate.

Our job is important.

We fall into a niche which is not easily defined.

The creators.

Of content.

And happiness.

The most electric scenes here directed by Barry Levinson are those of Robin Williams at work.

Spinning records.

Dancing.

You can feel the energy.

He plays off the reactions of his crew.

And the camera captures the frenzy with a shaking electricity.

Back in the real world, we must decide whether to go on being DJs and clowns.

Many dead ends.

And a broken heart.

A heavy heart.

But God says, “I got you, dawg.”

And we take this as gospel truth.

 

-PD

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971)

Now we come to a crucial crossroads.

30,665 deaths so far in the United States from COVID-19.

Over a month ago, on or about March 12th, my girlfriend broke up with me.

But she didn’t do it in any sort of clearcut way.

I committed a transgression.

I wrote a very unflattering song about her.

Musically speaking, it was a very good song.

And so, out of blind pride, I posted it on my SoundCloud page.

It was written out of frustration.

I did not feel that I could discuss anything of substance with my girlfriend.

But I must qualify that statement.

I was unable to give her criticism…at all…ever.

No matter how tactfully I phrased it, she was not open to critique.

And she was always this way.

I will let the psychiatrists in the room now give their opinions as to the reason why.

[             ]

Thank you, good sirs.

You see, my girlfriend used to be my fiancée.

And before that she was my girlfriend.

My beginning is my end.

Understand that I waited 41 years to propose to a girl.

And propose I did.

And she accepted.

It was a joyful day.

I wore my best (only) suit.

I brought flowers (as I did every time I saw her).

We were happy.

I thought that giving her the reassurance of engagement would improve her attitude.

While I was never allowed to give her criticism (without a resulting emotional explosion from her), she was allowed to give me criticism.

And she did.

From the moment I met her.

Her very first words to me when we first met in person were a CORRECTION of my faux pas.

I didn’t stand when she entered the room and approached my table.

I admit that I was in error.

But I was enraptured by her beauty.

And that was the first of many, MANY criticisms I would receive from her over the ensuing four months until our engagement.

Perhaps my optimism was misguided.

After a brief “honeymoon period”, the criticisms came back.

But I must give some “back story” to fill in her character profile.

She had lost a child mid-pregnancy just two years prior.

And less than one year before meeting me, she had lost her husband in a tragic traffic collision.

I was very compassionate to the special needs of this truly unique child of God.

My fiancée.

I wanted to help.

I overlooked many of her character flaws…attributing them to her PTSD and depression.

But every anniversary was like an eruption.

The date when her child died.

The date when her child was supposed to have been born.

The date when her husband died.

Her and her late-husband’s wedding anniversary.

Amidst all this struggle, she wanted to have another child.

Her one child had been lost.

Before ever really entering the world.

I obliged.

I loved her.

I was scared.

“What kind of father material am I?,” I thought.

But I pressed on.

I always acquiesced to her demands.

We did things HER WAY.

ALWAYS.

And it was stressful.

“Let’s go to a fertility clinic.”

Yadayadayada.

All while I am working to make ends meet.

“I will soon be too old to have children.”

A frantic pace.

Interspersed with bouts of her extreme depression.

Lovely stuff, I assure you.

It drove me back to tobacco.

And it drove me nuts.

Everything snapped for me.

One day I woke up and realized I couldn’t go to work.

I was done.

And so for 9 months, I had to be reborn.

I had to detox.

To her credit, she stuck by me (more or less).

And then tragedy struck again.

Her mother died.

I frantically tried to get my old job back (though I was not quite fully healed).

And I did.

I wanted to help her save her apartment which she loved.

But she got sick.

And sicker.

And sicker.

I kept the job.

But the apartment was lost.

And now she lives with her dad.

Just as I live with my parents (a situation she gave me grief about many times).

“Many who are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

Jesus spoke of karma.

And I’m sure I have a lifetime of wrecked karma ready to crash down on ME at any moment.

But sometimes the irony is too dripping.

There was the hospitalization.

Six days she was there.

I came every night (five nights).

After working until midnight sometimes.

But it was not enough.

She wasn’t satisfied.

After the hospital, she got worse (in many ways).

Finally, I was asked by her family not to contact her anymore.

Not to cause her “grief”.

And like that, our engagement vanished into thin air.

For 17 days I lived in a darkness.

And so did she.

She was very sick.

I heard nothing from her.

And then she slipped back into my life.

Slowly.

But it was so confusing.

She didn’t want to be engaged anymore (she said).

She wanted to take a (big) step backwards.

I wasn’t too happy about this, but I accepted.

And so we made it several months.

A nice Valentine’s Day.

But something was worse than before.

There was absolutely no reciprocation.

If I complimented her (which I did often), she would not compliment me.

If I did something nice for her (which I often did), it was very soon forgotten (and certainly not answered with a loving action from her).

I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t.

She was still too sick, she said.

And so things dragged on thusly.

And then I wrote that song which changed my life.

That song of frustration.

I am not proud of it.

Though it be musically a good composition, it caused her sadness.

When she happened to find it.

You see, I would write songs for this girl of mine.

I recorded 183 songs for her over the course of two years.

Some covers.

Some original instrumentals.

Some original songs.

Many of these gifts barely got a word of thanks in return.

Same for the thousands of dollars of flowers I bought for her over the same time period.

There’s even one song that she appears to have never bothered even listening to.

And it’s a good one.

After six months, it shows that it has zero listens.

Well, no one is perfect.

There were probably (almost certainly) other songs she never heard.

It just wasn’t what she needed at the time.

I can attest.

She was very, very sick.

183 songs.

Some she never got around to listening to.

In my frustration, I sang to the world.

I wrote…and put it in a bottle.

Like putting a leaf in a flowing stream.

To get rid of that care.

But of course, she found that particular leaf.

She interrogated me about it.

“No,” I said (trying to be tactful), “it’s not about you.”

But my conscience got to me.

And so the next day I came clean.

Yes, the song is about you.

I apologized sincerely.

I made no excuses whatsoever.

I didn’t plead my case.

She didn’t ask (never has) how I came to a place of such frustration.

But that was the last I heard from her.

For 10 days.

The first 10 days of this coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

I went through it alone.

I sent texts.

I sent emails.

All went unanswered for 10 days.

And when we came out, she was less than my girlfriend.

I told her I loved her…and got no response.

That was five weeks ago.

And so we have been winding things down.

We still talk.

But she is incapable of discussing our former relationship.

It stresses her out to much.

And she never even bothered breaking up with me.

So we are “just friends” now.

And I have tried to be there for her during this coronavirus crisis.

Which brings us to Willy Wonka.

This was one of the most formative movies of my life.

Perhaps THE most formative.

In elementary school, when the teachers were too lazy to teach, they’d put this film on.

And I would sit enraptured.

No matter how many times they showed it.

And they showed it to us MANY times.

It must have been one of the few VHS tapes which was approved for them to screen.

So what does this all mean?

Coronavirus, a wrecked romantic relationship, Willy Wonka…

Here is a partial answer:

a film reviewer should be cognizant of what is going on in their life and how that affects their “reading” of a certain film.

I rewatched this film tonight (for the umpteenth time) and saw stuff I had never seen before.

New details noticed.

But I was watching it with the sadness of romantic loss.

And with the stress of total societal isolation.

I have worked on the front lines of the service industry all throughout this crisis.

Precisely for the mental health BENEFIT it gave me.

Exercise.

Ersatz social interaction (with coworkers and customers).

But now, my store has been hit with a close encounter.

And so our hours have been shaved.

No more midnight.

Midnight shifted to 10 p.m.

And now, abruptly, 10 p.m has shifted to 2 p.m.

Can you imagine a coffee shop closing at 2 p.m.?

Well, that’s us right now.

And I am fairly certain I have delayed sleep phase disorder.

My “availability” starts at 4 p.m. each day.

So I have AT LEAST the next eight days off.

And I have had the past two off as well.

But five of my coworkers are home self-isolating…because they had potential second-hand exposure to COVID-19.

I miss them.  I’m making them music playlists.  I’m buying them groceries.  I’m sending them texts and emojis.

What a horrible situation to be in.

I myself was homebound today because of my asthma.

And that is our world.

Every sniffle.

Every sneeze.

Every sore throat.

As the mold floats on the breeze.

And the oaks bloom.

As particle pollution undulates.

Along with ozone.

Is it ‘rona?

If I need to take a Tylenol, is it ‘rona?

If I were to get coronavirus, it would be very bad indeed.

I live with my two elderly parents.

I have asthma.

I have high blood pressure.

And I have a whole bevy of mental problems.

But I chose to work.

I ran towards the sound of gunfire.

Whether it was stupid or brave, that is for others to decide.

And so now, here I sit with this masterpiece:

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Mel Stuart may be an auteur whose time is yet to come.

But the secret weapon is Walter Scharf.

Did he write the music?

No.

But he orchestrated it.

And such gossamer orchestration it is!

We start poor.

Shaggy dog.

Charlie Bucket.

A peasant’s name if there ever was one.

Crazy man plants the seeds of conspiracy.

About the factory.

*Charlie lives with his parents (as most young boys do).

But he also lives with all four of his grandparents.

And his father is deceased.

Willy Wonka is certainly a film about espionage.

Economic espionage.

Business espionage.

With overtones of state espionage.

International espionage.

Remnants of war.  England.  Germany.

Wonka’s factory is like Area 51.

But this film is unique in that it delineates a search.

A search by a man.

Or an organization.

Or agency.

Or entity.

A search for that one special person.

[decades before The Matrix]

God tested Abraham.

“…kill me a son/Abe said, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on!’/

God said, ‘No.’/Abe said, ‘What?’/God said, ‘You can do what you want Abe, but…uh/

next time you see me comin’ you better run.’/Abe said, ‘Where you want this killin’ done?’/  God said, ‘Out on Highway 61.'”

God, of course, STOPPED Abraham from killing his son.

But only AFTER Abraham had committed fully…knife in hand…to slit his son’s throat.

Great reading, that.

The Bible.

And this is a very biblical tale, Willy Wonka.

The eccentric Jesus.

God the Father…in the Heavens…with his Inventing Room.

The chocolate factory is heaven.

And only those who become like a child can enter…and stay.

Only those who are born again (made pure like a child) can inherit this chocolate factory.

God wants to pass on his greatest creation.

Heaven.

And God tests us.

But there is grace.

Charlie and Grandpa Joe mess up.

They drink the fizzy lifting drink.

They hang suspended like Icarus and Daedalus.

Their wings don’t melt.

They have the opposite problem.

They are on a collision course with the edge of ether.

Until they learn how to burp.

Stephen Dedalus…

Cicada 3301.

GCHQ recruiting.

Puzzles.

QAnon.

NSA.

Kryptos.

Who can solve the final part?

Right there at Langley.

Some might say I was engaged to Veruca Salt.

Wonka running counterespionage.

Counterintelligence.

Slugworth in Switzerland.

For Your Eyes Only.

Octagonal.

And hope.

Get out of bed.

Go back to work.

Warning strictly against “frippery”.

Again with Roger Moore in A View to a Kill.

Sideways fan.

Spoiled brat.

Always got what she wanted.

Cautionary tale of poor parenting.

God is merciful.

All is dream.

But God cannot be mocked.

His word is eternal.

Jesus was the Word made flesh.

Superseding the Ten Commandments.

There is freedom in Christ, but we are not to go on sinning.

We will mess up.

But it is by grace that we are saved.

So that no man may boast.

It is not by good works.

But the heart must be contrite.

And, above all, pure.

Made pure by the Holy Spirit.

When one invites God into ones life.

A little bit of divinity in each of us.

And quite a bit of divinity in this film.

By this logic, Satan (created by God) may be a Slugworth to be unmasked in the end times.

Lucifer…with that scar on his face.

The mark of Cain.

The murderer.

Finally, this is Gene Wilder’s best work.

He channels something here which is otherworldly.

Wilder became immortal with this film.

And he lives on.

As long as there is goodness in this world, we have a chance.

I want to thank my friend, the great writer Chris Lindsay, for encouraging me to write onwards during these dark times.

Thank you, Chris.

 

-PD

Djam [2017)

What a deeply-moving film.

I would like to talk about Tony Gatlif, the director.

You might know him from Latcho Drom.

Or from the Asia Argento film Transylvania.

Let me assure you of one thing.

Djam (known as Journey from Greece in English) is MUCH BETTER than Transylvania.

Which brings me to the crux.

The star, Daphné Patakia (truly a star!), is MUCH MORE TALENTED AND BEAUTIFUL than Asia Argento.

Mark my words.

This young lady is amazing!!!

Which is not to denigrate Asia Argento.

She’s a very good looking lady.

Her film Incompresa (which she directed) is amazing.

But Daphné Patakia is in another league altogether.

Simon Abkarian does a wonderful job here.

Maryne Cayon is indispensable.

But Daphné Patakia sends this film into orbit!

How can I describe it?

Rebetika.  Rebetiko.

Like “the blues”.

Daphné’s eyes.

Very much like:

djam1

Do you remember?

1984?

National Geographic?

Which brings us back to Greek-French.

Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Another fantastic actress.

Yes, Djam approaches the artistry of La Vie d’Adèle–Chapitres 1 & 2, but Djam is more special somehow to me.

Sure, there’s some nudity, but not much.

And we feel that this film might go the lesbian route, but instead it goes Lesbos.

It’s hard for me to overstate how important Daphné Patakia is to this film…and to film in general.

Very few actresses have done what she’s done.

It is, in truth, BEYOND our favorites in Hollywood:

-Thora Birch

-Saoirse Ronan

-Kat Dennings

Because it is done from left field.

And most related to these brilliant actresses:

-Anamaria Marinca

-Dorotheea Petre

and

-Julianne Côté

And less-so to:

-Adèle Exarchopoulos

-Pauline Étienne

One might even make a comparison to Moran Rosenblatt.

But I think the comparisons to Marinca and Petre are most apt.

Patakia is plumbing some serious depths in Djam.

And doing it with the joie de vivre of Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie.

One senses even a bit of Audrey Hepburn here.

That Funny Face bohemian dance routine.

But mixed with Anna Karina’s famous jukebox strut:

djam2.gif

New era.

Film clips.

Keep up.

Text can be extracted (if there’s anything worthwhile).

But images moving make it flow.

People want everything all at once.

But sadness can be healed.

When we care for the crazy.

God does not ignore our efforts.

And the world knows and recognizes mental illness.

Reach out a hand and console.

An essential film.

 

-PD

The Errand Boy [1961)

Yesterday I lost a good friend.

On the job.

Yes, that’s right:  she died at work.

And though she may not have known that she was my friend, she was.

She was a wonderful, sweet lady.

She had lived a long life.

And yet, she was taken from us too soon.

She was loved by many.

I do not know exactly what happened to her.

Only that one minute she had trouble catching her breath (from what I’m told) and the next she was being wheeled out dead…as we continued to work.

Dead.

High volume.

Busy workplace.

Sweatshop.

More or less.

Me, sweating by the ovens.

Slave to time.

Tempo.

Rush rush rush.

And there, a compatriot is being rolled away on a stretcher.

No white sheet.

Just an obvious lack of consciousness.

Perhaps she has been sedated?

And then the rumors trickled down.

“They couldn’t find a pulse.”

“Now it looks like they DID find a pulse.”

At the hospital…

But I have little doubt that she was already dead when I saw her for the last time.

That dear, sweet, old lady.

When I finally learned of her fate, I broke down.

I couldn’t help it.

Most of the shift I suspected the worst.

It was hard to be chipper.

Hard to interact with holiday customers in a rush.

But the finality of the news was like a left hook.

I cried.

Openly.

Cried as I clocked out.

Cried in my car for a good 20 minutes.

Cried on the way home.

Cried as I entered my house.

All in a day’s work.

Which brings us to our film.

The Errand Boy.

One of at least three Jerry Lewis films which outlines the rigors of working.

All these of which share “boy” in the title.

The Bellboy, The Geisha Boy, and The Errand Boy.

Lewis plays another immortal character:  Morty S. Tashman.

The S is important, mind you.

Morty starts out doing the kind of work which typified Norman Phiffier’s existence in Who’s Minding the Store?.

Lewis again essentially plays a stooge–a patsy…a retard.

The Errand Boy certainly has its moments, but I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece on the order of The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, or The Ladies Man.

Nor is it really of that next tier including The Patsy, Who’s Minding the Store?, and The Disorderly Orderly.

Indeed, The Errand Boy is really like a more mature (in terms of artistic development) version of The Bellboy.

It is certainly worth seeing.

And if it isn’t painfully apparent, the substance which greases the wheels of this comedy is work.

Another day, another opportunity.

R.I.P. my friend.

 

-PD

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

🙂

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of naïveté ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet 🙂

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sertão.

But Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first:  he’s a film director.

And second:  he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story…  Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man.  He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves.  And it was this Indian film shown in China.  And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang…  His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger.  No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!”  Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on Dereliction of Duty 🙂

-PD

Sunset Boulevard [1950)

This is the story of O.J. Simpson.

This is the story of Phil Spector.

Too much foreshadowing?

Scramble.  Scramble.

Scramble the meaning.

This is Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon come to life.

Fifteen years before anger published.

In France they have Angers.

And every George is a multiple.

Georges.

But what passion!

Yes, dear friends…

Sunset Boulevard is one of the strangest films ever made.

If you want to know from whence Mulholland Drive came, start here.

SUNSET BLVD.

Mulholland Dr.

If you’re really daft (and I am), you’ll think you’re watching that guy who played The Professor on Gilligan’s Island in one of the best films you’ve ever seen.

But there’s a big fucking difference between Russell Johnson and William Holden.

Or is there?

Just let the wind blow through the bellows of the pipe organ for a moment.

And imagine yourself in a dream so dark it could be a nightmare.

But it’s merely spooky.

The great art.

Has mystery.

What was director Billy Wilder groping for?

Never mind, for a second, the bursting cast.

Every extra a novel in themselves.

Just the story of Sunset Boulevard is enough to make a thinking person stagger into the intersection on the Rue Campagne-Première.

But there are so many intersections…

Mon ami.

It starts bad.

Like a second-rate Raymond Chandler ripoff.

But it compels you to stay with it.

A little underwater photography.

Novel.

The adjective.

So much hinges on Paramount Pictures.

The gate.

The arch.

And how criticism can thwart a career.

The straw that broke the needle in the camel’s eye.

It’s like something out of Breathless or Dr. No.

The precipitous turn.

Kicking up dust.

Before the boulevard was broken dreams and crack vials.

Syringes.

Just ordinary fascism.

Triumph over violins.

And we trace the line.

A shoulder.

A chin.

A palazzo.  A collection of post-Impressionists.

Because we want to know.

For nothing could be more mysterious.

Lost a husband to the Spanish flu.

Lost two more, too.

But one lives as a ghost.

And his monocle groove is strangely vacant.

Erich von Stroheim.

Unreal.

Whether in a Jean Renoir picture or here.

Whether behind the camera or acting in his own film.

In two places at once.

Like Schrodinger’s cat.

But nobody remembers Schrodinger’s chimpanzee.

And a little coffin.

And the steps Stroheim has to take to stand in a hole.

This is the story of Michael Jackson.

This is the story of Emmett Miller.

Not gone, but forgotten.

And it is the true way entertainment worked.

When mass media was born.

At a million miles an hour.

1900.

Or 1898.

Churning out pictures.

From the dream factory.

And wax cylinders.

And who cares about these young girls…we can always find more.

But Buster Keaton sits in for Miller.

Because there is nothing more sad than a sad clown.

The waxworks…

The rogues gallery.

It could have been Elektra.

But it had to be Richard Strauss.

1909.  1911.

Great silence on one coast.

And great noise on the other.

Direct from Europe.

This is the story of Thora Birch.

The greatest star who ever was.

And I am just a humble servant.

Max.

There will be Max.

Always a sadness over beauty.

When beauty is counted in but one way.

One dimension.

3-D clustered, but without 4 time.

But you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

And actors are all full of nothing.

Must empty out.

Each time.

To fully fill.

May the best shell win!

So that she stalks the shit outta him.

Like some Transylvanian octopus.

And Igor schleps his stuff in the middle of the night.

Like some dream from Dreyer’s Vampyr.

What the fuck?!?

Poor William Holden is living in the decline of the West.

The sagging tennis court.

The bowling alley in the basement we never see.

Because it would be like the Biltmore on hard times.

Truly grotesque.

Decay.  And decadence.

Taken separately.  Different connotations.

A piece of rotting fruit in the trash.

And champagne supernovas of drunken, naked excess.

But they are one and the same.

When rooted word-wise to rot.

Gloria Swanson is the hysterical car-wreck-of-an-actress here.

You can’t look away.

Bride of Frankenstein.  Hell, Frankenstein himself.  Sex changed.  Sexless.

More hideous internally than externally.

And more nuts than the peanut gallery of an old picture house.

But no locks.

Perhaps a lock of hair…

But no gas.

No blades.

No.

It’s quite a spooky thing to be trapped in such luxury.

Such trappings.

Camelhair.  Vicuña.

What the hell!

She’s paying, right???

Tails.

For godsake, man…Valentino danced the tango here!

But now the tarantula hums.

Manipulative receives new meaning.

An actress.  A star!  And that Roaring Twenties, gilded, cocksure, brassy optimism.

Unfazed by decades of disuse.

“She’s doin’ the ballet on/both of her wrists”

Goddamn…

If Echo & the Bunnymen were around in 1950…

William Holden has been sucked in.

To a vortex.

And it ain’t no fun.

No funny business.  No funnymen.

Plenty of echoes.

Of his past life.

Mingled with her omnipresent portraiture fecundating the stale mansion.

“He could die happily ever after”

Bob Dylan knew about the pillars.

And the pillory of fame.

And so C. B. DeMille was a natural choice.

To depict the heartbreak.

Of a washed up life.

Hate to break it to you, kid…

But the diva is in denial.

Yes, the bitch is back.

Take Elton and a whole gaggle of crocodiles…and the Isotta Fraschini with the leopard seats.

Several leopards died for your ass(es).

How’s the weather up there?

And so she rides a white swan because she’s born to boogie.

With the swagger of Bolan.

Norma Desmond.

Monomaniacal about beheading the past.

On a platter.

American montage shows the unwieldy devices–to make young again.

Strobo-oscillo-sonic skin tauteners.

Franju had a less frightening story sans yeux.

Face without eyes.

Ah! […]

But the eyes have it all!!!

The fire of once-great dominance.

Champagne.  Caviar.

The eeriness of Sunset Boulevard is that Gloria Swanson WAS once a great star (sort of).

And even more so, Erich von Stroheim WAS (REALLY FUCKING WAS) a great director!

And so Billy Wilder managed to tell their stories.

Only the names were changed to protect the guilty.

Devotion till the end.

Love for cinema.

Love for a woman.

A woman is a drum.

Where’s Duke Ellington when you need him???

Jealousy.

Jalousie.

Film noir.

Horizontal shafts of light.

But shadows all the more prominent.

This is our Rembrandt.

Our chiaroscuro.

How insensitive…

Norma with bitter, vindictive precision.

And then the curtain is pulled back on the waterworks.

And the fucking Pompidou explodes in hideous reds of dysfunction.

Yes.

Come and see where I live.

In a lonely place…

Maybe it’s better you don’t know me.

But he really wants to say, “Will you marry me?”

On this night.

What sadness.

We think such overwrought misery only exists in the movies.

But the intersections of real life sometimes make such tragedy possibly.

And we shouldn’t wish such on our worst enemies.

She can’t stand the shock.

But cinema is the ultimate beauty.

So fragile at the end…

We give thanks to see such a picture.

To see Stroheim one more time.

“Alright, boys…  Let’s rev up those cameras!”

To see the silent era stagger down the stairs one more time.

Like a wrought-iron flower.

With a green patina.

Nickelodeons penny on the dollar.

Kicked to the curb.

Save for Langlois.

She just needed one more shot at youth.

It was too much, too soon.

One last shot in the arm of that excitement!

That camaraderie of Hollywood.

Before it became a drag.

Her youth.

Memory is scary as hell.

-PD

חתונה מנייר [2015)

[WEDDING DOLL (2015)]

This may be the most important film I’ve ever reviewed.

And it also may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

Cinema challenges us to drop our prejudices.

And so, this is the first Israeli film in Hebrew I’ve ever written about.

We must give each side their chance.

And we must stop seeing each other as “sides”.

To the best of my pathetic ability, I am going to attempt to describe a work of cinematic art that I have no right to enjoy.

Wedding Doll is a film which may change your opinions of Israelis.

I must keep my mind very focused to do it justice.

Because our aim is art.

My aim.

Our aim is beauty.

And my main aim is love.

We learn from our peers and our forebears what is right and cool.

We take on archetypes.

We try them on like hats.

Or like dresses.

And we feel comfortable in these metaphorical garments.

Because someone has blazed the path before us.

But the great humans take a step on their own.

If I take faltering steps, then I give the glory to God who has guided me even in such meager efforts.

Let me tell you about this film which celebrates harmony in our tearstained world.

First of all is due all credit to the director:  Nitzan Gilady.

His direction is on par with the great Kiarostami.

But it is equally on par with the great Ingmar Bergman.

It is that good!

Our story takes place in the Negev Desert.

And it behooves us out of an abundance of humanity to place the Negev in a new perspective.

This film does just that.

We see the Makhtesh Ramon.

A crater caused by water erosion.

Unique to Israel and Egypt.

And Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh meaning “mortar grinder” in Hebrew…as in mortar and pestle) is the perfect analogy for this film.

In a mortar, things are ground up and crushed by the pestle.

Useful, lifesaving things like medicine.

But for the characters in our film, their circumstances are crushing them.

And like in life, some substances will be healing…and some poison.

Perhaps God is the great pharmacist.

I believe that to be so.

But let it be known:  there is not a single mention of God in this film.

And that is fine.

Because God speaks through his creation.

Let me please tell you about the wonderful actors who make this film sheer magic.

Above all is the astounding, stupendous, beautiful genius Moran Rosenblatt.

Her character, Hagit, is 24.

She is obsessed with getting married.

But she is also “special”.

It is a sad story.

She was apparently the victim of a head or neck injury at a young age.

At the hands of childhood bullies (it is intimated).

So she is developmentally disabled.

I hope I have worded it the right way.

Because no person deserves more deference than this character.

Rosenblatt makes her come alive as the most joyous, glowing human being imaginable.

But sadness is all around.

Hagit has unreasonable expectations of life.

Considering her situation.

Especially regarding employment.

And I can certainly understand.

She has a dream.

Her wedding dolls made out of toilet paper are miniature works of art, but she longs to be a fashion designer and work in a bridal shop.

As is the case with every human, we often cannot see our own limitations.

We push.  We dream.

And sometimes we are crushed by the cold reality of a world which doesn’t understand.

But one guy understands.

And he is Hagit’s coworker at a factory.

With just two employees.

A toilet paper factory in Israel.

What could have been maudlin in the hands of a lesser director is transformed into pure poetry by Nitzan Gilady.

But he needed the genius of Moran Rosenblatt.

And she needed help.

Roy Assaf is wonderful as Omri.

Omri watches out for Hagit the best he can.

He has good intentions.

Perhaps he is not perfect, but he brings Hagit so much happiness.

And yet his best efforts are unsustainable.

Only God can perform miracles.

Fortunately for Hagit, she has a mother who would go to the ends of the Earth for her.

Assi Levy plays her mother, Sara.

This is a lady who cleans rooms at a local hotel.

A very small town.

In the desert.

And a lady who sits by the washing machines and hot dryers perhaps in the basement of the same hotel.

Washing bedsheets and blankets and towels.

Sara devotes her whole life to her disabled daughter.

[the father is not around]

Hagit is simply not able to be on her own.

As much as Hagit wants that, the world is too cruel.

And Sara knows this.

She is protective of her little flower Hagit because her daughter is so kindhearted that she makes an easy target for unsavory individuals.

I will not tell you the plot twists.

I’ve probably said too much (to paraphrase Michael Stipe).

But this film is a masterpiece.

It is currently available on Netflix in the U.S. as Wedding Doll.

I have done my best to preserve the Hebrew title at the top.

If it is not visible, I apologize for the website template limitations.

My words cannot adequately do justice to the brilliance of this film.

And thus I will just leave you with its title.

חתונה מנייר

-PD

Forrest Gump [1994)

We watch films to learn.

To learn about ourselves.

And this one brings me back to a very special time in my life.

With the people I cherish most.

My parents.

Today, I graduated with my MBA degree.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Because I had no business knowledge when I started.

But here I am.

I worked and worked…and I made the best grades that any student could make.

For two years.

And now it is a blessing to relax and enjoy a film like this.

Near the end of my degree, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

I had to have my appendix removed three weeks before the end.

And when I left the hospital, I worked and worked…even harder than before…because I was behind.

It was difficult just to get out of bed.

But I stuck it out.

I wanted to do the best.

Once you get used to giving it your all, it’s hard to settle for mediocrity.

But I tell you…

It was a lot of stress.

I went into the hospital just two days after our election.

I was in the hospital for two days.

And that election was stressful.

But now we come to a time when simplicity should rule.

We can think of Forrest Gump on that bus bench in Savannah, Georgia.

Imagine those hot summers.

Remember the times we passed through there.

Both literally and mentally.

This film almost starts off too simple.

It disarms us with its sparse trappings.

And though I can’t really get behind Alan Silvestri’s little “feather” melody, the feather is an effective motif which sublimely sums up the story as a whole.

Forrest starts awkward.

He’s always awkward.

The Internet seems to be in consensus (not always a good sign) that Andy Warhol had an 86 IQ.

Forrest Gump has a 75 IQ in our film.

But he’s a wonderful person.

As Howard Gardner has written, there are “multiple intelligences”.

But God sends Forrest a gift…on that first day on the school bus:  Jenny.

We find out what love and encouragement can do.

It can bring out the hidden potential in all of us.

But God sends Forrest another gift…on the army bus:  Bubba.

And so Forrest has someone to lean on in Vietnam.

And Bubba has a friend too.

They get each other through hell on earth.

It’s funny how Forrest endears himself to even the most bitter people…like Lieutenant Dan, who has lost both of his legs below the knees as a result of injuries sustained in battle.

Forrest just keeps on being himself.

Because he knows he literally can’t be any other person.

Most striking are all the adventures Forrest has.

Things that just wouldn’t have made sense–wouldn’t have sounded possible, if they’d been written down beforehand.

And that rings very true for me.

I’ve held many positions.

Been in many situations.

And to look back on it all is to fathom a collection of events which are truly surreal (especially when taken collectively).

Perhaps we all live on the bayou for some period of time.

But there’s something about this movie which compels me to thank God for His blessings upon me.

Many times (but especially, recently) when I thought I couldn’t keep going, I would pray.

And I would receive comfort knowing that God was listening.

I am thankful for my life.

So thankful for the blessings I have!

To be here with my parents.

But Forrest Gump is about more than all this.

It’s also about love.  And loneliness.

We see true love.  Dedication.

And we see the sadness which comes when we are left alone to think of our love far from us.

Highs and lows.

It may be a saccharine movie, but it’s accurate in that life keeps giving us surprises.

Each of us could fill a book with all we’ve seen and felt and heard.

Each of our stories is worthy of a movie.

So I must thank director Robert Zemeckis for having the guts to be simple.

And I have so many things to thank Tom Hanks for (above and beyond his wonderful performance in this movie).

But this film, for me, hinges on Robin Wright’s role.  And she does not disappoint.

Love is everywhere in the movies.

But not always around when we need it most.

And yet, we know that Forrest would give us good advice on the matter.

To just keep going.

See what the next day brings.

Be positive.

And do the best you can.

-PD

The Addams Family [1991)

Hello, dear friends 🙂

I was in the hospital last weekend for an appendectomy.

And I am trying to make the final push for my master’s degree.

Seventeen more days.

But the big story, nationally, internationally, is that Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidency.

I made no secrets about my desire for him to achieve this goal.

Which brings us to The Addams Family.

Released during the latter half of the George H.W. Bush administration.

Not quite an “80s comedy”, but close.

And a premonition of sorts for that crime family that would rule the majority of the 1990s:  the Clinton family.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld turns in a fairly decent picture here.

It’s no masterpiece, but it’s certainly watchable.

But at the center of this tale is Uncle Fester.

Christopher Lloyd’s depiction of Fester (pre-shave…Gordon Craven) is a spitting image of the Tony Podesta to whom we were introduced by way of WikiLeaks.

The less-hirsute Fester (still craven) could well be brother John Podesta.

But Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman could also well be the Gomez Addams of this story.

Ms. Clinton, then, would be the diabolical (though far less camera-friendly) Morticia Addams.

Dan Hedaya does an excellent job as the Addams’ lawyer.

There’s plenty to pass for “spirit cooking” in this family film.

Indeed, The Addams Family is a bit racy for young minds (in my opinion).

The “family” operates on fairly simple principles:  good is bad.  And bad is good.

Happiness is sadness.

A bit like Tim Buckley’s album Happy Sad (1969).

The Addams family abides by a code of vengeance against all who betray them.

Vince Foster.

Christina Ricci is cute as she is chilling in this early performance as daughter Wednesday Addams.

The most charming aspect of this film may well be Thing:  the disembodied hand/family pet.

We learn a few things.

You can’t successfully torture a masochist (Morticia).

Which begs the question…who is the real ghoul behind Hillary?

The most prominent of the “deep state” (not deep enough) is George Soros.

And so even stars like Hillary have craven masters.

Puerto Rican actor Raúl Juliá is excellent as Gomez.

Carel Struycken (Twin Peaks) is very strong as Lurch.

This film would have been better with more Cousin Itt and less MC Hammer.

Unfortunately, Cousin Itt was staged in a particularly Jar Jar Binks sort of way.

Most importantly, there will be no Bill Clinton sequel anytime soon.

 

-PD