Lost River [2014)

There’s something very weird going on in Hollywood.

And it has been going on for a long time.

You can look for yourself in Kenneth Anger’s books.

Strange stories about Clara Bow.

The first “It” girl.

From the film of the same name.

And how she kept her skin so soft (ostensibly).

But the range of weirdness in Hollywood seems to move along a continuum.

There are levels.

Not unlike Freemasonry.

Or Scientology.

The hedonism of Henry Miller would be a very low level.

But what we are dealing with here, in this film, is an allusion to a higher level.

Really, the highest level.

There really isn’t a more mot juste for this phenomenon than Satanism.

And, perhaps, even that word does not fully describe what is at issue.

If one was hard-pressed to boil it down–to refine it further, perhaps “evil” would be the essential element.

Recently, the internet collective known only as QAnon “dropped” a crumb of information regarding an establishment in Los Angeles known as the Cannibal Club.

You can find all Q drops here.

The drop in question is #3917 from April 8th of this month.

Here is the website to which Q linked.

It indeed follows the train of thought I delineated above.

You will see the Henry Miller quote (an author I deeply admire).

But then you will see a perversion far beyond (to my knowledge) anything Henry Miller ever wrote about.

What you see on the Cannibal Club website appears to be a restaurant which serves human flesh.

However, with a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that this particular institution (as it is presented) is likely fake.

Why?

The names of the principals all come back empty.  None of them have a digital footprint that I can find.  Sophie Lafitte.  Elspeth Blake.  Hero Conners.  Raven Chan.

The photo of Cannibal Club’s proprietress, Elspeth Blake, was first cached as a stock photo in 2012.

The photo of Raven Chan also was first cached (before it was used on the Cannibal Club website) as a stock photo.  Both photos appear to have originated on the website istockphoto.com .  They are generic pictures.

The Cannibal Club website went live with content in 2009.  Neither the menu, nor the “events” have changed.

My conclusion was that this was a joke made by demented, artsy liberals in order to seed panic in America’s conservative population.

That was my hypothesis:  it is almost certainly a sick joke.

But here’s the rub…

Things like this very well may exist.

Indeed, they probably do.

And thereby we come to the film Lost River.

It came out a mere two years before Trump was elected.

Before Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sex crimes and sent to prison (where, last I heard, he had coronavirus).

Before jet-setter Jeffrey Epstein “hung himself” in a Manhattan jail cell.

You know, Epstein…the guy who flew Bill Clinton and Kevin Spacey to Africa.

All this was before Kevin Spacey had numerous sex crime charges brought against him.

And two of his accusers recently dropped dead (over the past year) bringing both cases to a halt.

Lost River.

I appreciate the style.

Very heavy on the David Lynch (with a modicum of Harmony Korine thrown in).

The focus on “place” is very similar to the technique David Lynch and Mark Frost used to ground the town of Twin Peaks in the TV series of the same name.

Evil.

In the woods.

Underwater.

Underground.

And in secret clubs.

Director Ryan Gosling did a pretty good job with this film.

We will forgive him for lifting the ambiance of that Orbison scene from Mulholland Dr. to repurpose it in his Lost River blood-and-guts cabaret.

Because the reason I watched this film at all was for Christina Hendricks.

She has the potential to join a modern pantheon which, at this time, includes only Thora Birch and Kat Dennings.

Though we are never told this in the film, it is set in Detroit.

And that makes sense.

Deserted neighborhoods with crumbling houses.

But it could be anywhere in America if China’s economic warfare (COVID-19) is not soon countered.

Matt Smith does a good job as Bully:  the embodiment of serial-killer animalism.

The thug.

The gangster.

The cartel head.

Extreme cruelty.

Sadistic.

Gosling did a great job location scouting for the zoo scene.

The abandoned zoo.

Very much like the film Hanna and its scenes in the abandoned Spreepark of East Berlin.

Ben Mendelsohn is a fucker.

Such a prick.

But smart.

He’s not an animal like Bully, though he has rage inside him.

He is more of a predator.

And he is much more powerful.

His character, Dave, is a banker.

And Dave tells us, during the course of the film, that he sets up a little “club” in each of the towns he goes to.

Seems Dave gets moved around a lot.

Comes in.

Fires people.

Gets the books on a firmer footing.

And moves on to the next town where he can oblige the poor and demented with a bit of blood lust with his clubs.

Lots of blood.

Lots of lust.

Dave overlaps nicely onto the persona of Harvey Weinstein.

Christina Hendricks is immediately propositioned by the bank manager.

Dave is a thoroughly-unscrupulous scumbag.

Hendricks just wants to hang on to her home…dilapidated though it may be.

Saoirse Ronan does a nice job in a relatively-minor role here.

She glitters occasionally…as she plays her Casio on her bed with sparkly finger polish.

Whispering out a little song.

Or as she tucks in her pet rat for the night.

But it is not the ginger Ronan we are used to.

Her hair is black.

To fit with the landscape.

And to let Hendricks (also a redhead) stand out as the star.

Saoirse is the “girl next door”…literally.

In the tradition of American Beauty.

By this method we can trace Gosling’s influences.

The overarching one is David Lynch.

This film is creepy.

Plenty creepy.

Much of the creepiness comes from the casting.

It really is an amalgam of Lynch’s freaks with Harmony Korine’s amateurs.

There is the grief of the mute grandmother.

Caught in a loop of family films.

Mourning her late-husband who died tragically.

It is sad.

It happens.

The inability to talk for some time after a shock.

Extreme PTSD.

The family films are sad.

Watching how they used to be.

The way they were.

And the grandmother still a widow…with a fishnet veil for mourning.

There is some rubbish in this movie.

Kind of how the second season of Twin Peaks went off the rails.

Eva Mendes is good here.

And scary.

In the basement is something very Ex Machina (also 2014).

And even more so John Cale’s Vintage Violence.

Shells.

Mortal coils.

Simulation.

Apparently, customers can come down and “murder” real people in these shells.

The shells are of a hard, clear plastic.

And formfitting.

The shells supposedly prevent any real bodily harm.

But we never really see them in action.

Iain De Caestecker is pretty good here.

There is a realness in the urgency of his running.

Gosling’s editing crystalizes this.

Running for love.

Panic.

Running to save.

To set off running.

Unprepared for how long the journey really is.

Something special here.

Good vs. evil.

To give.

Charity.

To be selfish.

To ignore the needs of others.

To follow the voice of God.

To follow the instruction of the Holy Spirit.

To be humble before God.

To fear God.

To feel evil all around.

When it comes, and when it goes.

But the most quizzical scene is when Christina Hendricks cuts her own face off (in simulation, of course) in exactly the way we have heard about in the infamous, rumored Frazzledrip video.

In 2014.

Two years before such a thing came to light.

What a strange coincidence.

Let us synthesize more.

Could there be clubs (in L.A., for instance) where children have their faces cut off (for real) in front of an audience of sickos?

Further question, how does Hollywood (in L.A.) have the “imagination” to write these sorts of scenes?

Sure, there’s the old French film Eyes Without a Face.

But that was cosmetic.

It wasn’t for the thrill of spectators.

It was a medical procedure gone wrong.

Gory as it was, it was to SAVE the face of his daughter that the misguided doctor went on a hunt for faces.

Here, the faces are potlatched (apparently).

Or eaten.

But again, this is just a “cabaret”, we are told.

We see behind the scenes.

“Fake blood”.

So where is the truth in these “jokes”?

What kinds of personalities find humor in this?

John Podesta famously jokes about cannibalism in Time magazine and elsewhere.

He jokes about the cannibalistic Donner party.

He had cannibal art hanging on his office wall (a loan from his art-collector-brother Tony Podesta).

Strange fixation, that.

Very creepy.

Verging on Silence of the Lambs.

Ed Gein.

Dahmer.

Really vile stuff.

This is an interesting movie.

Gosling has talent as a director.

He should make more films.

This was his debut.

He has directed nothing sense.

My only quibble is this:  Christina Hendricks was so misused here.

Saoirse Ronan was almost equally misused.

Gosling needs to watch more Godard.

More Hitchcock.

You don’t cast Grace Kelly only to have her wear the same sweater for the whole film.

But it’s also Hendricks’ fault.

She has talent.

But she must embrace who she is.

She is not a good enough actor to be a puritan.

 

-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

Twin Peaks “Lonely Souls” [1990)

Holy shit.

New shoes.

New shoes.

That this ever made it on TV.

Good lord.

Goddamned genius!

The Pepsi/Coke challenge.

It was indeed David Lynch who directed this episode.

The scariest moment in American TV history.

Eclipsed.

Because the owls are not what they seem.

Truly possession.

It…would be a lot easier not to give a shit.

And so this isn’t a paranoid statement.

THe owls.  Everyman.  Conspiring for truth.

Histoire(s).

That the French gave the world film criticism.

But Hollywood provided Hitchcock with just the right concoction.

An unknown drug.

In my corner, I am meaningless.

So that we must know the giant.

Maybe the evil of the Bilderberg Hotel.

Carel Struycken.

But really the eveil of which we all know we are capable.

How’s that?

It is the family of man.

We learn from every source.

The genius of James Joyce.  Blind prematurely.  Scribbling.

What Beethoven called it.  The “late” quartets.

Not his own program.

Scratching.  Fiddling.  John Carson.

Looks like a “D” this time.

And should we be surprised?

It is the cosmology of drama.

No creators dared.

Till David Lynch and Mark Frost.

But Lynch proves who the real killer is.

Power center.

Category killer.

Television which shames cinema.

Never been scared reading a film review?

Think TV is pap?

I did too.  Never.

It means much more that I don’t give you the words easily.

What would be the healthy thing?

Harmony.  Community.

But we live in perpetual hell.

And so Baudelaire takes his place among urban poets.

Muck of milkshake.

If…we know the secret to illusion.

Then we are not as scared.

But the real thing is positively chilling.

Effect.

Several messes.

Remember Finnegan serialized.

Histoire(s) televised.

I am but a lonesome hobo.

Luke the drifter.

But we want our entertainment to contain everything.

And Hitchcock achieved it first.  And best.

Set limitless parameters.

So that Lynch could step in.

Nature morte.

Exquisite corpse.

The song doesn’t exist.

 

-PD

The Kid [1921)

Sometimes we don’t want to see the same thing again.

I, for example, rewatch movies before writing about them.

I want the impression fresh in my mind.

There’s always something to be said for detached distance from subject matter, but I prefer to experience the film anew if possible.

I had seen Chaplin’s The Kid long ago.  It had impressed me, but something made me a bit wary about rewatching it.

I love Chaplin, but I guess I just wasn’t in the mood.

Today has been a weird day (or “sad and lonesome day” as the Bob Dylan tune in my head has been repeating).

But I went for it.  What the heck!

And I’m glad I did.

I hope I will be able to say the same tomorrow (or sometime this week) regarding another subject.

I am always quite candid here.

I feel it’s my responsibility.  If you study the history of the novel (not that this is a novel) you will notice that writers in the West gradually started to realize the responsibility they had.  I feel that everywhere.  That’s why Facebook is too much for me.  With Facebook I am a howling wreck.  I feel the need to shout from the rooftops anything which might help my fellow humans.  Of course my judgment is not perfect.

But back to my prior allusion.  I made a decision tonight to go see my doctor about changing or adjusting my medications.

Yes, you who might snicker “this guy is crazy” are not totally off the mark.

I have suffered from anxiety my whole life.  Once I recognized it for what it was, my life improved dramatically.  Getting help was a life-changer.

I never had much depression.  Very rarely.  But the last year or so has been different.  For the first time my depression is outpacing my anxiety.

To be sure, I still have significant anxiety issues from time to time, but my depression has been like a blanket of stifling weight.  I feel like a bee drowning in honey.

And so we shall see.  Am I afraid?  Of course.  I’m afraid of change.  Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.  But I’m afraid it is broke.  Me.  I’m kinda broken.

And so I am saying this because I want other people to get help too if they are feeling the same way.  I know that help can be cost-prohibitive, but taking that first little step is a big deal.

We change.  The medicines we take have to change with us.

It’s scary.  But I am lucky.  Many people around the world have much more serious things to worry about.  They don’t even have a doctor.

And so I hope my visit to the doctor will turn out as well as this reviewing of The Kid.  It is a touching story.  Chaplin is great as always, but Jackie Coogan kind of steals the show.  He’s “the kid”.

This is a cute story which is fit for the whole family.  It just might be the best way to introduce kids to silent films.  The version in the Criterion Collection has a musical score (which makes a big difference).  The score is, of course, written by the multitalented Chaplin.  It was part of the 1971 rerelease of this film.

Thank you to my readers for bearing with me.  I hope I will be more cheerful in the future.  Best wishes to everybody!

 

-PD

Suburban Gothic [2014)

Dear devoted fans [chuckles heard offstage],

I am still alive.  Battling a serious case of MBA.  And, as such, I was duped into watching what turned out to be one of the finest films I have seen in awhile.

But how did I stumble across this little gem in the first place?  For that I must thank the inimitable Kat Dennings.  [More about her as we go on.]

Let us first, however, start with Matthew Gray Gubler.  As someone who watches very little TV, I was unaware of this rising star in the acting world.  Gubler plays Raymond:  a newly-minted MBA who can’t even lock down an entry-level job.  His character grew on me…from, at first, an American Apparel model come to life…to a lovable outcast with impeccable comic timing.

Circling back, I was curious how Gubler’s 21st-century archetype (the unemployable MBA) would fare in this comedy.  As I found out, Suburban Gothic is actually a film of great depth masquerading as a campy horror send-up.

It’s really remarkable, but this film actually does speak for me in some strange way.  Perhaps it was because I was listening to The Dead Milkmen this morning. [Watch the film and you’ll understand why.]

Yes, Raymond’s town is a “depressing shithole” to borrow Enid Coleslaw’s pithy diction from Zwigoff’s Ghost World.  And the ghosts here are real–literal.  But what most impresses me about Richard Bates Jr. (who needs a Wikipedia page) as a director is that he manages to evoke the crappiest reaches of America…from the bombed-out city center of Albany, New York to the harrowing motel highwayside of Roanoke, Virginia…from the strip malls of San Antonio to…well, you get the picture.

It’s one of those films…like Ghost World.  It’s Anywhere, U.S.A.  [Well, almost anywhere.]  It’s the fake vomit-inducing magic of Orlando.  It’s the sprawl of Los Angeles.  It’s that suicidal ennui which Arcade Fire so deftly encapsulated on their album The Suburbs.

Pariahs of the American south will especially appreciate the wonderful redneck evocation of Raymond’s high-school-football-coaching father (played magnificently by Ray Wise).  Yeah…

This film hits a lot of themes.  People change.  Fat kids get thin.  Sensitive souls can’t shake the wimp label.  Some places are especially difficult for creative types to endure.

And so if your life consists of frequenting your local Starbucks on the edge of a super-freeway (I certainly don’t know anyone like that…wait?  Nope, no one like that around here.  This very minute.  Right here.), then you just might find Kat Dennings to be especially on-point as the salty crowbar-toting Becca.  This film is more about Gubler’s character, but Dennings is indispensable to this moral play.

And what’s the moral?  The moral is this:  no matter how much you know about demand and supply curves (supply and demand to us lowly folk) there is always a more important line to shift outwards.  It’s more micro than microeconomics.  It is, in a word, empathy.  Respect for the dead.  Paranormal.  And, most of all, conscience.  It is that latter word which sticks in my head…falling from the lips of Godard (forever in my mind) in his whispered Swiss French.

Conscience.

Sure, this film makes Poltergeist look like Citizen Kane, but one senses from the opening credits that such is largely intentional.  No big budget here, and yet…this film is frightening and laugh-out-loud.  And like a good Simpsons episode, it is more touching than anything Hallmark rolls out of their platitude factory.

John Waters makes quite a fine cameo, but the lion’s share of credit goes to Gubler and Dennings and their auteur-in-the-making Richard Bates Jr.  Really a worthwhile flick!  Thank you.

-PD