تاکسی‎‎ [2015)

[JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI (2015)]

This must be “Axis of Evil” week here at paulydeathwish.com 🙂

As I have stated recently to a friend.

George W. Bush was the worst President the United States has ever seen.

And Barack Obama was probably the second-worst.

So what does that make me?

Democrat?

Republican?

Libertarian?

Let’s get to that question (if you even care to know) by a circuitous route, shall we?

First, we must again praise the people of Iran.

It was long ago that I saw my first Iranian film.

Taste of Cherry.

طعم گيلاس…‎‎

[Ta’m-e gīlās…]

It was such a profound experience.

There I was.

In a movie theater in Austin.

And I couldn’t have given a shit about cinema.

But I was there.

For some reason.

God only knows why.

And I saw a movie which in many ways changed my life.

[but it took many years to sink in]

Even so, I came to regard the name of its director (Abbas Kiarostami) with a sort of awe.

Yet, I doubted.

[as we all well should]

And so I said to the cinema gods, “Let Kiarostami perform his miracle again…if he be so brilliant!”

And he did.

I was supposed to be watching Life, and Nothing More…

But I made a mistake.

Because my French is so bad.

[you know, Kiarostami died in Paris last year (may God rest his soul)]

I needed 1991, but I chose 1990.

And it was another miracle.

Close-Up.

I don’t know.

Is it…

کلوزآپ ?

Or…

نمای نزدیک ?

[“Klūzāp”?  Or “nemā-ye nazdīk”?]

Because the unfailing Google Translate (now the second-most popular “tr” search after “Trump” [as “translate”]) tells me that both terms mean “close-up”.

But who can translate Trump?

[ahhh…]

Perhaps only an Iranian?

Well, we would be in good hands if director Jafar Panahi was that man.

Why?

Because Mr. Panahi has made a film which is of the same rarefied air as the two Kiarostami films which I have referenced.

The work is called Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, and it is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

No, it’s not a really trite game show.

No, it’s not some premise for an uncreative pornographer.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi ( تاکسی) pushes the limits of barebones filmmaking in much the same way that the Palestinian masterpiece 5 Broken Cameras did.

[yes, I know the latter film was an Israeli coproduction…with an Israeli co-director…‎‎but the film was very much Palestinian in its inmost heart]

What our director Mr. Panahi adds to the method (budget cinematography) is an uncertainty of reality.

Frankly, I have never seen a film quite like Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.

Is it a documentary?  Is it staged?

One thing’s for sure.

If it’s staged, the injured man and his wailing wife deserve Oscars “toot sweet”!

Truly, it is panic-inducing…

Which is not true of this film in general.

No, dear eggshell friends (if you’re out there)…don’t be afraid.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi will only take you on a “wondrous boat ride” (so to speak) for a brief, more-or-less manageable period of time.

The rest of the film is fascinating…engrossing…painfully and gloriously perplexing.

Yes, Mr. Panahi borrows Kiarostami’s favorite device:  filming from a moving vehicle.

But so what?!?

Panahi was an assistant director to Kiarostami.

And Abbas certainly wasn’t the first to film out of a car window.

But let’s examine for a moment…

Yes, the special part of this method is that the camera is turned INWARDS.

And so we feel we are seeing Homayoun Ershadi vacillate between life and death…all over again.

Or we feel we are seeing the calm, gracious mannerisms of Mohsen Makhmalbaf transposed from motorcycle to taxicab.

But what we are seeing most of all is a director stepping in front of the camera.

Like Truffaut.

And Chaplin before him.

Godard has done it to excellent effect as well.

And Jafar Panahi is like an empty reed of meditation as he navigates an unending stream of chaos which enters his faux-taxi.

But the most poignant moments are when Hana Saeidi reminds us of the childish joy of being an auto passenger…and when the lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh addresses us…we, the watchers of cinema.

Who will watch those watching the watchers?

It’s like Juvenal in a hall of mirrors.

But Ms. Sotoudeh breaks the fourth wall and takes us to a very special place.

Prison.

And so, again, frankly:  we don’t know how Jafar Panahi’s Taxi was ever made.

Isn’t Iran one of the most intolerant countries on Earth?

Just what is going on here??

All of this Shostakovich-ean rebellion is really breathtaking when under the microscope of close viewing.

But Jafar Panahi remains stone-faced.

Like Buster Keaton.

Yet, this is largely no comedy.

This is a big “fuck you” to the government of Iran.

And yet, it is the most subtle “fuck you” ever committed to film.

Only a genius can do such things.

DSCH

etc.

Yes, dear friends.  Mr. Panahi has been banned from making films.

And yet he made one.

And then another.

And then this one.

So we salute you, Mr. Panahi.

We appreciate such in America.

To illustrate:

<–fuck you, fuck you–>, and most of all…fuck you ^

That is freedom.

It is ugly.

Messy.

But it works.

And so as a Donald Trump supporter (yes, me), I say, “bring it on, you whiny, sub-literate protesters!”

Maybe they’re right.

But it’s their right.

To protest.

And so we mix and knead.

And we need the yeast of dissent to ever grow again.

Let’s bake some goddamned bread, people!

-PD

Taxi “Come as You Aren’t” [1978)

We tend to think the small things don’t matter.

A 30 minute TV show.

25 minus commercials.

[22 by the 1990s…a few more ads jabbed in and substance sucked out]

A television show.

But it does matter.

I’ve neglected my journey through the world of Taxi for far too long.

And coming back to it I was greeted by a delightful episode dominated by the ravishing Marilu Henner.

Again we find Judd Hirsch’s character Alex as a sort of amateur psychologist for his friends at the taxi company.

Hirsch is the one everyone comes to for advice.

Not having watched the show for awhile, I could have sworn he had a mustache.

I mean, come on…it was 1978.

The whole vibe of Alex (Hirsch) is “guy with mustache”…not in a 21st-century hipster way, but in a Bread way…soft rock…working man.

[alas, no stache]

But back to Marilu Henner.  She really owns this episode.

Andy Kaufman has a few priceless lines, but Henner is the center of attention.

As with other Taxi episodes, Hirsch is the moral compass (more or less).

It’s a very unpretentious brand of ethics.

It’s from a time when America was younger.

Each episode ends with an “Aww…” moment.

But don’t get me wrong.

The situations are believable.

It’s not realism, but it’s generally plausible.

The point of the show, however, is to make people feel good.

To make people feel better.

Is it entertainment?

Sure.

But it’s also, in its own way, a brand of homespun philosophy.

Every show is a little slice of optimism amidst the cruel world.

 

-PD

Taxi “Bobby’s Acting Career” [1978)

The trademark of these early Taxi episodes is tragicomedy.

We get a laugh, but something makes us think.

It should come as no surprise that artists are naturally inclined to tell their own stories.

Put another way, artists are quite comfortable describing the artist life.

And that is essentially what we have here.

Bobby (Jeff Conaway) is approaching a self-imposed impasse.

Hollywood or bust!  [Or in this case, Broadway or bust.]

Three years.

Reminds me of David Bowie’s haunting “Five Years” (the lead track from the Ziggy Stardust album).

That’s all we’ve got.

For Bobby, it’s three years.

Well, I have to say that it’s one of those plotlines that really got to me.

I can really relate.

I never set quite a quantified limit for myself, but by a similar mechanism I have found myself in my current situation.

Bobby wants to be an actor.  I wanted to be a musician.

I spent about 10 years getting to the professional level.

After four years, my dreams came crashing down around me (to quote Danny DeVito’s line from this episode).

Yeah, so I started anew.  Business school.  Wow, what a change!

But there’s something else about this episode.

Bobby’s last day.

He’s waiting for a call.  He gets turned down.

He auditions for a commercial.  He gets turned down.

Till the very end, Bobby is out hustling to beat the deadline.

And in the end he is surrounded by his friends.

The phone has to ring before midnight.

He needs that validation.  That outside validation.  That unequivocal measure of progress.  Being paid to do what he loves.

And so the group sits around the phone.  Each imploring it to “Ring!  Ring!” (while Latka chimes in with an urgent “Blop!  Blop!”).

Andy Kaufman doesn’t get much of a chance to shine here, but that’s alright:  this was Jeff Conaway’s episode.

Mr. Conaway is no longer with us.  But you know what?  He made it!  He was on Taxi.  Here I am all these years later watching this show with rapt attention.

But back to that artist’s life.

To quote Tom Petty, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

Yeah.  It reminds me of one of the greatest books I ever read:  Waiting Period by Hubert Selby, Jr.

If you were reading yesterday, you know that I made a decision to seek help for my depression.

But there were no appointments available today.

Fortunately I go tomorrow.

Funny how that is a cause of anxiety.

I’m scared.

Well, anyway…

I hope to be back with you all soon.

Keep your dreams!  Dream baby dream!

 

-PD

Taxi “Blind Date” [1978)

Thanks to Hulu and CBS (and probably some overly-precious writer somewhere) I wasn’t able to see episode two of Taxi, so I had to skip to episode three.

This one really is a curveball from the pilot.  The overriding theme here is obesity.

Judd Hirsh is wonderful as always, but this episode really benefits from the acting talents of Suzanne Kent.  Kent plays the role of Alex’s (Hirsch) blind date.

Hirsch and Kent really have a magic in this episode which is touching.

On a lighter note, Andy Kaufman really starts to take off in this episode (as in blast off).

We start by hearing Andy sing a song in his mysterious Eurasian language.

Later, Latka (Kaufman) shows off some of the singularly offensive gestures of his mystery culture in an argument with Danny DeVito.

What is great about Taxi is that the scriptwriting is matched by formidable acting talents (particularly Kaufman and Hirsch).  It’s no wonder that America fell in love with this show.  This is entertainment firing on all cylinders.

 

-PD

Taxi “Like Father, Like Daughter” [1978)

For those of us who, like me, can’t get enough of Andy Kaufman there is (mercifully) Taxi.

In my readings about Andy it came to my attention that Kaufman didn’t particularly like being on the show.

I can see where he was coming from (I think).  The show must have felt awfully restrictive for such a vast personality like him.

But this is where America at large got to know Andy Kaufman.  Taxi.  And so we shall start (or continue) here.

Andy’s appearances on Saturday Night Live (from its very inception) were inspiring performances which predated his new steady gig as Latka Gravas on Taxi by about three years.

But let’s let everyone get into the act here.

Judd Hirsch:  What a presence!  This guy…  You just immediately like him.  He’s unassuming.  He has a kind face–kind mannerisms.  And so he is, somewhat like Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld, the focal point of the show.  Kaufman might be the star for weirdos like me, but Hirsch was no doubt the star for the masses.  What an impressive acting job in this the pilot episode!

Danny DeVito:  Still going strong…the little man in the cage was a classic in his day.  What vigor!  What vitriol!  Yeah, it gave the nation (America) a little taste of New York City life.  Five-feet-tall in platform shoes and he doesn’t take attitude from anyone.  What a scrapper!  What an actor!!

Marilu Henner:  She doesn’t get a chance to do very much acting in the pilot, but I must say:  what a beauty!!!  I had forgotten.  It had never crossed my mind.  In retrospect, she is a revelation.  Kudos to casting for finding such a star!!!  [It should be pointed out that her character is named Elaine (a name picked up later for Seinfeld‘s main female role).]

Tony Danza:  Hey!  Ho!!!  But seriously, really a great role for Danza.  The stereotype would be lifted by the television show Friends later on for their character Joey (played by Matt LeBlanc).  Watch Taxi for the original article.

Jeff Conaway:  The late Mr. Conaway was perfect as Bobby Wheeler.  His “magical” phone call to Sir Laurence Olivier is priceless!!  Conaway helps set the era with his open-chested polyester (?) shirt.  He almost looks like Peter Frampton in this opening episode.

Those were the major players in this pilot episode.  AND we can’t forget the stunning Talia Balsam (who plays Alex’s daughter).

But the real focus is Latka.  For me.  That’s the real focus.

Latka doesn’t have a lot of lines, but he has at least one classic bit:  his effort to flirt with Marilu Henner.

Latka’s pickup line is simply, “Bed?”

Not bad from a guy learning English out of a Berlitz travel guide.

And so our dear little hero Mr. Gravas struggles with some phrases about chambermaids and such.  Fortunately Alex (Judd Hirsch) is helping him with English.  Useful phrases like, “Hold on a minute while I use the can.”  [Or something like that.]

And so we must thank the creators of Taxi for getting Kaufman on the show.  Thank you to James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis, and Ed. Weinberger.  Thank you gentlemen for seeing the talent in Andy Kaufman and giving him a chance to have a lasting body of work.

Or as Andy would say, “Tank you veddy much.”

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 4 [1975)

Ah, the great Nordic beauty Candice Bergen.

The first female host in SNL history (four episodes in).

This is quite a good episode.

But we start off with the first wholehearted attempt at Gerald Ford klutz (clumsy) humor with Chevy Chase.

Yes, before there was the fumbling, bumbling, broken banjo known as George W. Bush, there was Gerald Ford.

The humor had been leaning this way since the start of the season.

And finally Chevy got to do a proper piece (the start to the show, no less).

We also get the Landshark skit in this era of Spielberg-induced panic.

We must remember that Jaws had come out that summer (a few months prior to this show).

But the overwhelming star of this episode was undoubtedly Andy Kaufman (again).

It is the Foreign Man character (which was parlayed into his Taxi success as Latka).

Andy is a revelation here.  Yes, you need to be a little sick in the head to do comedy like Andy Kaufman.

The whole point, I think, was in how much he could get away with.

It was the game.

How far could he push it.

And so Foreign Man almost starts crying.  It is a miracle moment in television.

All great practical jokers (foremost among them Orson Welles) had this ability to suspend disbelief, but Kaufman was doing it live…out on a limb.

An excursion on a wobbly rail (to quote Cecil Taylor).

And so Candice  was right when she introduced Andy as a genius.

Goddamn…

What could follow that?!?

Well, sadly Esther Phillips starts off with a fast number.

Esther was the musical guest.

A fine singing voice, but the most annoying, lingering vibrato I’ve ever heard…like a WWI fighter plane…a machine-gun at the end of every phrase.

She was, no doubt, imitating the Billie Holiday of Lady in Satin (that last, great album of drugged-out soul).

But the problem is that the Billie Holiday vibrato doesn’t work on fast songs.

Yet, Esther uses it anyway.

And so Esther’s first number comes off as a head-tilting performance art oddity equal to Andy Kaufman (only I don’t think she knew it).

But all sins are forgiven later when Esther does a ballad.

Ahh…that’s the right repertoire.

Albert Brooks regresses to the mean with his film in this episode (a mashup of possible bullpen shows for NBC…including the awful-in-all-ways Black Vet).

All in all, this is a fine show.  Aykroyd is great.  Belushi is great.

In fact, the most touching scene is a talk between Gilda Radner and Candice Bergen about femininity/feminism.

Gilda Radner was such a beautiful person…such soul!

What a show!!!

 

-PD

 

 

Night on Earth [1991)

I’ve run out of witticisms.

Snappy beginnings.

Which is a shame.  Because I really want you to know about this film.

If you don’t already.

This is called quantum writing.

It is the sentence fragment equivalent of liberal ellipses.

So tired.

The cities.

Los Angeles.

It is the first episode.  Vignettes.

Seemed like a throwaway scene years ago.

Now.  So prescient.  Then.

So pertinent.  Germane.

She’s not really interested in becoming a movie star.

People selling kidneys to get a real casting agent and she’s not interested…

Beautiful.

New York.

Lost in the world.

Pulling immigrants with the magnetism of illustrious decades.

East Germany.  Dresden.  Near Czechoslovakia.  1991.

My neighborhood.  When I can pause for a moment and appreciate the diversity.

America.  Amer-ica.

Paris.

Francophone magnet.

Another scene which ages well.

When I saw this I hadn’t been to France.

Hadn’t been to New York or L.A.

And you appreciate more.  When you’ve been.

The loving portrayal.  The in-between shots.

Maybe it’s the garbage can at Pink’s Hot Dogs.

A green trash bag.  Liner.  Someone sweeping up.

We’re blind to so many details.

And so Jim Jarmusch went and put ’em in a film.

They’re there.

The details.

Tom Waits soundtracking like Charles Ives with an accordion.

Why?

Why is it sad?

It should be funny.  And sad.

It depends.

It depends on your life.

If you’ve ever had a brush with the entertainment industry, then that first scene might get you.

Might punch you right in the gut.

Not interested.

And the point is that as one girl throws it all away (from a perspective) a bloke on the east coast is just trying to get a cab.

Look.

I’ve got money.

It’s winter.

And home is Brooklyn.

It’s painful cold.

And as one family is dysfunctional in its uniquely Tolstoyvian way, another has no family at all.

None.

None left.

It was too cold to shave today.

Save the money.

Money is not important to me.  I’m a clown.  I just need the money.  But it’s not important to me.

And there’s your artist.

A mechanic works the art of grease.

A clown suffers in the tumult.

Please.  Come in.  Welcome to my taxi.  It is very important to me.

Long night.  On Earth.

You hear about Africa every year.  Annually.  On average.

A famine.  A plague.  An outstanding war.  Out standing in the rain.

We never know just how it feels to live in Nigeria.

It is furthest from our thoughts.

And then we are reminded.  That Africa exists.

The continent.  Does not exert itself.

Comes down to capital.  LLC.  Land labor capital.

To LKM.  labor Kapital material.

A lot has changed since Adam Smith.

Land disappeared.

And what makes the U.S. unique compared to Hong Kong or Tokyo?  Land.

Room to sprawl.  Endlessly.

But I digress.  As a matter of course.

In the course of one speck of matter (Earth) running rings around the Sun.

Our sun.  Not up yet.

The hour of the wolf.

Brings us to Rome.  Ingmar not Ingrid.

It is comic blast #2.

We survived the sadness with laughter.  In New York.

And now we book a room at the Hotel Genius.  [Hotel Imbecile was full-up.]

Thank God for Charlie Parker!

I confess.

I was looking forward to this humor for days.  I knew the ending.

But I didn’t know my own age.  In the mirror of cinema.

But, dear friends, all good things must end (and bad things must start).

“They say the darkest hour/Is right before the dawn.”

That’s the hour of the wolf.

And instead of Max von Sydow we get Matti Pellonpää.

With his Grinderman mustache.

Walrus.  Circles the statue.  In front of parliament?

Helsinki.  Like a sinkhole.  Cold.  Hell sinky.

It is the end of the earth.  And I only have my memories of being drunk in Kiruna.  Sweden.  Never made it further east.

And for a moment he just sits behind the wheel and stares off into space.

After it’s all over.  As if he can see the ice-trails of orbits.

We travel the spaceways.

Every humble step of our lives.

From bakery to grain field.

But mostly streets.

Taxis.  The poetry of snaking asphalt.

Sing the songs of the pavement.

Every passenger a sad story.

Every driver a priest.

-PD