Wednesday, February 17, 2021

the cat-turd on the cupcake

So late October 1993 I'm visiting a friend. Said friend is busy the weekdays I'm with him so I'm alone in his place. Waking up on my own damn schedule, I've time to myself. On two of those days, I figure, well I know he's a right-wing bogeyman but I've never actually seen his show directly so, in the interest of engaging alternative viewpoints to one's own, I spend the noon hour, on two consecutive days, watching The Rush Limbaugh Show.

I remember this was the time Al Gore was running around pushing hard for NAFTA, engaging the wiry H. Ross Perot in debate over the issue. To my surprise, Limbaugh credited Gore with winning that argument and laughed Perot off as an unhinged lunatic. So I thought well, alright what else does he have. My memories of specifics are hazy (by all means, if your recall of what you watched in October '93 is more crystalline than mine, please sound off), but I sure as shit remember how I felt at the end of both episodes: that for about the first two-thirds the man spouted rational, sometimes dull, occasionally-relatable common sense, but by the end of the episode he'd say at least one thing so heinous, at best illogical at worst out-and-out hateful, that just cast aspersions over even the agreeable shit.

You're at a buffet party, and you're walking along a dessert table upon which is placed a grid of totally passable, maybe even tasty-looking, cupcakes. You think yeah I'll give one of these a try but upon reaching the end of the table the cupcake you're about to grab has a cat-turd, placed oh-so-artfully, in the center of its icing. You draw your hand back, thinking, well, I'll grab another one but the cupcakes across the entire table (which are, at a glance, about 90% cat-turd free) now all seem suspect.

Anyone I spoke to about Limbaugh's show (aside from those who embraced all of it) noticed a similar ratio: yeah, anyone can be down with about 75% of it but that other 25% is just unconscionable. That 25% would be cherry-picked and soundbitten over the ensuing decades held up both as upright and correct straight-talk by rightists and lamentable dialectical evil by the left. (I'm positive the DNC raised thousands, if not millions, from those outraged by Limbaugh's excesses, and thus amplified his outrages among their consituents - it's why I'm convinced the Boeberts and MTGreenes of the Trump Republicans will never be ousted from their seats, as their hateful blathering provides too much easy copy for fundraising emails.)

And in fairly short order the inherent cruelty of that 25% became a political party's entire platform. More and more of the party faithful, confronted with that spread, went straight to the cat-turd cupcakes out of preference and chowed down. (Many, many more, who were initially more comfortable in the rational, common sense-fuelled 75% would eventually shrug and dive into those tainted cupcakes, out of loyalty or weird expediency. And they could no longer argue from a place of rationality without their opponents smelling the cat-shit on their breath.)

He should have been held at arm's length; instead he was amplified and held aloft. Discourse was coarsened and eroded, and his hatred and pettiness, his sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc. etc. etc, is now the standard of one of America's leading political parties. May he descend quickly, and may all who blindly parrot and echo his utter contempt follow in short order.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

top two, 2020

It's too, too late for a list, and I'm not even qualified to make one, really; for most of the last year my movies have come through the same screen as my news, my work, my socializing, etc. etc. etc. and a certain amount of weariness has set in as I feel an exhaustion that is, at this point, universal. It is a small thing, indeed, to not have been able to dive into cinema as usual, and a smaller problem, still, in the face of so many others. But it's a facet of what's been lost this year, a calamitous toll that even a modest retrospective like this must acknowledge.

So what I haven't seen outnumbers what I have: FIRST COW, the SMALL AXE series, SOUL, POSSESSOR, MANK (though I've little interest in that one, oddly), and many of the other heralded masterpieces of the year have gone by. In these times of nonstop anxiety and no-small-problems, the pain of not having had the experiences necessary to make any kind of guess as to the state of current cinema just calls attention to the larger issues plaguing all of us. Year-end list-making, in the face of that, seems a trivial indulgence, at best. I can't and won't list my ten favorites of what I saw and call that an educated guess as to what went down on our screens this year.

But two movies mattered deeply to me:

Made in 2018 in the run-up to the ascension of Bolsonaro, the queer Brazilian western BACURAU perfectly captured the mood of this fractious year; its arrival on American screens about a month into lockdown was just the rallying cry many of us needed. The story of a small Brazilian village beset by imperialist forces bent on its eradication struck a blow for the representation of those Bolsonaro would suppress. But its political urgency was matched with a knowing savvy for the thrills of genre cinema; without wanting to be too specific, it was the rare movie that captured the spirit of the work of John Carpenter beyond a shallow name-check. Between the passion of its politics and the effective staging of its suspenseful moments BACURAU emerges as one of the finest, and most galvanizing, action movies of recent memory.

If Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles captured something universal about 2020, then Gaspar Noe (of all fucking people) cast a spell to create brighter things for 2021. Noe's eight-minute SUMMER OF '21 promotes a forthcoming fashion line from the house of Yves Saint Laurent, so naturally is a feast for the eyes. But fashion houses are, perhaps unsurprisingly, generous in the leeway they give artists to present their work (indeed, a friend reminded me that Moschino observed social distancing by showcasing a 2020 fashion line through an astonishing puppet show). And even as YSL seem to have reined in Noe's more antisocial impulses the powerful cinematic sensibility he's honed over the years - his fluid camera, his breathtaking use of split-screen, his intrinsic grasp of the power of music (here a knowingly-deployed remix by SebastiAn of the Summer/Moroder smash "I Feel Love") - is used to powerful effect here (as is a silent but theatrically-present grande dame performance by Charlotte Rampling). With its fashion mansion in the middle of a dark and Gothic forest the movie feels as occult as SUSPIRIA, and one doubts that its COVID-resonant imagery is accidental (it begins with a heroine alone in a disheveled tower, then fleeing from an unseen menace - we can all surely relate). The models take their places in an audience, distant from one another but present together in their moment, and the image feels like a hopeful telegram from an immediate future. 

May we all remain safe, and eventually re-congregate to share such moments. See you in the dark, eventually.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

quarante et un minutes pour le 3 decembre

fast track associations
appear on parade
appear on parade

Going on nine months under shelter-in-place, finding occasion today to celebrate 90 years of a filmmaker who has changed how we view cinema, how we view the world, how we view the world through cinema, how we view cinema through the world.

Stuck in semi-isolation from the world, noting firmly that it is NOT in accord with my desires, my mind jumps haphazardly from one thing to another. The isolation feels huge to me, but I have no illusions that my own perceptions are the world. My problems are tiny compared to the hundreds of thousands in my country alone who have died, and the families left mourning in their wake, and those who have recovered forever physically changed. Even as a new administration waits in the wings, their imminent arrival heralded by optimism and delight that finally there will be functional adults in charge, my anger remains at the administration that for the sake of raw power has allowed so many to be ground beneath the greed and stupidity of a homicidal septuagenerian toddler they allowed to take charge.

"And now there's Nazis again," laments a new favorite artist in a routine captured last year, through the same screen through which I take in news, entertainment, socializing. How sadly timely, then, the first episode of Histoire(s) Du Cinema, which posits (among many, many other things) that the explosion of World War II in 1941 was reality's revenge on cinema. How random and ugly the hate raging so strongly in the world that such forces are given such free reign to diminish our progress, to shit so wetly on our world, to undermine our imaginations, to deny the reality of the epidemic taking so many lives and livelihoods.

Forgetting about extermination is part of extermination itself.

The venues of pulp escapism are no help. Comic books are mired in their own capitalistic crisis of imagination - les Grand Deux, Marvel and DC, are both accepting their current lot as IP farms for big studios, the comics serving as placeholders, keeping their characters on ventilators to support their most important iterations on screen.

The King in Black, le Roi en Noir, began His invasion of comics yesterday, the first issue in the main book of a crossover that takes in damn near all of the heroes in the Marvel universe. A lifelong fan of comics, I want to be fired up by this thing, and I look at previews in vain for anything that will stimulate my imagination. All I see in the first nine pages are the beats of the same story - a massive threat from outer space approaching earth, the world's heroes gathering to counter it, the first waves of defense crumbling in the face of the oncoming threat.

I'm tantalized enough by the basic premise - that the main character among the heroes is steadily reformed villain/anti-hero Venom, a conflicted human given superpowers through his union with an alien symbiote that covers his face and body in a shiny black alien skin. The main villain, the titular King, is Knull, the alien monarch of such symbiotes.

On paper it's a richly evocative, sci-fi goth horror action epic, a grand war waged dans les ombres, and I look across sample pages for anything to hook me deeper in. I honestly can't tell from what I read if Gerry Duggan is a good writer or not (much as Matt Fraction's voice was completely drowned in the similarly far-reaching FEAR ITSELF crossover in recent memory). The script hits the same beats as universe-wide crossovers before it - the forces of INVASION! seem to have made a stop into Hot Topic before attacking Earth this time 'round, but there's nothing in what I see to suggest that anything is different in this current story that will once again change the face of the Marvel Universe forever. (Parenthetically, I note that Al Ewing's sterling IMMORTAL HULK book has a single-issue crossover with KING IN BLACK - it's a beautifully written, self-contained episode, but it would have worked with any other villain in the place of the symbiotes.)

plus ça change, 

plus c'est la même 


And I feel my age as I recall my past (nostalgia = our pain), remembering the moment in 1983 when a comic changed me, when Ororo flew down from the sky to rejoin her teammates and shocked them, me, le monde, with her appearance. Her long white mane shaved to a mohawk, clad in punk/BDSM leather. A woman with superpowers in ink, showing this regular human boy in flesh and blood what and who it was.

As little as twenty years ago a writer now retired in disgrace dared to take Pekar's maxim that you could tell any story in words and pictures to the internet, and for a while a berserk imagination ran riot in comics as this man and those he inspired breathed life into the medium. More specifically, into the work of the Big Two.

But a dear friend reminds me that mainstream comics are now in a "shut up and play the hits" headspace, and I fully understand the market forces that are forcing that condition. And recognize all too well the fingerprints of faceless committee that turn that all-is-possible medium into so much

I can not shake the feeling that we're in a time when we need wild creativity to take us outside ourselves, and sketch out new possibilities. These necessities are intangible, and thus completely foreign to the MBAs in charge of what we see. I'm hoping the administration revving up to take center stage next month (no matter how grossly the current diva continues to make its curtain calls insisting that The Show Must Go On) will take to heart the necessity of these intangibles, that it realizes that a better future is not just a childish daydream of its youngest constituents.

I yearn not for a past in which wilder flourishes were possible. I yearn for a present where such flourishes occur with regularity, exploding from flatscreens and magazines, eating away at the fabric of our dull reality to form doorways into better worlds. Where they blow fresh air in our faces, allowing us, even masked, to truly breathe.

And so I'm watching Godard, and much of it flies right past me, but I savor the incredible poetic ideas that detonate cleanly in my head, delighting that this man remains alive and active and even now is finding ways to bend the medium. I've read that he's working on two different projects right now, and can't wait to see them.

It amazes me how radical even his simple, direct gestures are. I muse how powerfully it would hit if, five minutes into Avengers Endgame, the audience were confronted with white text on a black background, no sound

Could anything dropkick the audience into the story faster? It's such a basic idea that it's amazing no one does it. It would be the first thing the suits would cut from the movie.

Contempt remains, a dense and powerful story of The Dream Factory and those caught within it. A thrilling portrait of a brilliant artist pissing away the tall Hollywood dollars, and not a terrible place to start, if you're looking.

Bon anniversaire, sensei. Et merci.

Sunday, September 13, 2020


Based on the disturbing case of Werner Kniesek, a man who committed multiple murders in a brief period of release from confinement, this movie captures the scheming of an anomic young man fresh out of prison. We are privy to his thoughts, his plans, his history, and his vision for his crimes as he goes from one potential victim to another, eventually winding up in an isolated-enough house where he terrorizes and systematically murders three members of a family. He leaves the scene of his crime, and heads into the world to wreak his larger vision upon the world.

I felt great after seeing this.
Though banned for its graphic violence, and long a hidden gem sought only by the most savvy and brave cult filmographers, this bleak and brutal film speaks way past the Video Nasty audience. It is tense, disgusting, scrupulously honest, and morally sound. It is also subtle but unflinching in capturing the vast gulf between a would-be murderer's narcissistic delusions and his abjectly pathetic reality. Erwin Leder is marvelous as the nameless antagonist, so far gone in his psychosis that he is at times too comically incompetent to realize the grandness of his psychotic visions, the cool and calculating sadism of his ongoing internal monologue constantly undercut by his external struggles with the dead weight of his victims, his hapless premature ejaculations, his complete and utter inability to even pass for normal at a glance. 

The movie is stylish but not showy. It is marvelously shot by Zbigniew Rybczyński (fresh off an Oscar win for his experimental short TANGO), who gives us maybe four looks in the movie that aren't vertigo-inducing crane shots or invasive close-ups. Tangerine Dream's Klaus Schulze underscores the thing with a menacingly percolating score. Gaspar Noe cited it as a strong influence (and one suspects Lars von Trier took notes, as well), but it's refreshing how devoid of post-modern irony the thing is. 

After binging horror franchises from Friday the 13th to Hannibal it was downright refreshing to watch a movie that flinched from neither the consequences of its psycho's crimes nor the confused dimensions of his humanity. Without finger-wagging or side-eying us it renders its verdict directly: this deranged asshole has a special plan for this world, and is to be kept away far away from everybody. Let us hope voters in November are as lucid.

Friday, September 11, 2020


0. I'm not necessarily a fan of the slasher genre, though I've seen an adequate horror-lover's share of them. With many, many hours to fill under COVID, and the franchise almost entirely available on the streaming platforms I'd just started watching regularly, I figured what the hell, I'll watch the Friday the 13th movies. This would be a chance to finally see the first two movies in the series (as well as some others I'd only seen in parts on television). I don't presume to make A Definitive Statement On The Series And Its Relationship To The Larger Culture (Or Even To Horror Cinema). I've watched the movies, done some (though not all) reading of background*, and recorded my impressions. My rankings of the series and other data bits are at the end; I've loved none of them but appreciate some more than others.

* = Stacie Ponder has written up all of the films over on her still-indispensable blog Final Girl - I'm grateful to her particularly for calling my attention to the often-berserk logos the movies threw at us. Such off-the-wall gestures are often where a low-budget movie's spirit truly lies, and more than anything it's those gestures that kept me engaged with the series even as one dead teenager began to resemble all the others.

1. the First

At the start there doesn't seem to be a whole lot to take from this seeing it for the first time 40 years on - you know who the killer will be revealed to be, and you know who's going to jump out of the lake in the epilogue, so finally seeing it is really just a chance to finally say you saw it, to check it off a list. So you recalibrate a bit, and try to be open - I know the basic story (which can be summarized very, very easily), so I look to the margins as openly as I can to see what else is there.

There's some (not a whole lot, but some) sensitive work by the cast, one or two memorable character turns, and a richly atmospheric setting. It all happens in less than 24 hours, during which clouds gather and then a rainstorm rages and subsides (and I like how the storm registers as an event in the movie, building an open quiet that the tension builds in nicely). Henry Manfredini's famous score feels sketchy, a few synthesizer and vocal noises put together as horror miniatures, but it works. Watching it forty years on it's odd how the gore effects, which were so scandalous in 1980, are barely lingered on. The violence isn't thrown in our faces long enough to really disturb us, though perhaps forty years later this series' true legacy is how it has desensitized us to this kind of violence. (Ballard's prophecy that we'd be ruled by elected psychopaths has come true.)

It does wear its influence of Bava's BAY OF BLOOD on its sleeve, mainly in the quiet and emptiness that surrounds its murder sequences. There are some unsettlingly fleet touches as well (the quick dart of a hand behind a curtain is the bit I remember most keenly). Movies hold one's interest with a lot less; franchises, though, you'd hope would be built on a base less flimsy.

2. the Best

The first film was trying something new but wasn't sure what; it built from the influence of a quietly atmospheric Bava film, but some of the spaces in the movie feel accidental. This one has a model to build on - we've done this before, let's expand on what worked - and is stronger. Better realized and delineated characters (including a few you actually come to care about), wild stylistic flourishes (Jason's reveal is sublime - Terry screaming and unleashing her shit right into the camera is bravura),

more elaborate kill scenes (including a great bit where a chair breaks under Jason's weight - we don't see onscreen psychos get tripped up by accidents enough). Even Manfredini's score is better resourced, his electronics boosted by some confidently-laid string arrangements that don't rip off Herrmann's PSYCHO themes. Bloody summer fun, if you can overlook the wild gaps in logic. I imagine Amy Steel's performance will remain one of the series' best leads. (EDIT: Indeed it did.)

3. Comin' At Ya

The creative team take a couple of steps back here - in part 2 they knew they were making a genre movie but at least let its characters breathe and had strong connection between the set pieces. Here all the attention has been paid to the 3-D pop-outs with no care or detail put into anything else - Steve Miner made a more-than-coherent movie with 2 but seems handcuffed by the demands of the 3-D (and, no doubt, a studio that suddenly realized this franchise was a money-maker), and for all the eye-popping effects (right there on the title card!) the result is dramatically inert. Can't believe it took TWO people to write this, the most dull and rote script in the series (so far). Richard Brooks' Jason moves around like somebody's sprightly grandpa. The final barn fight gives it some oomph (with a lovely interior Louma crane shot that's more thrilling than any of the in-your-face effects).

4. the "Final" Chapter

A lot of the fans seem to love this one, and I believe I see why. Offbeat actors like Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman are brought in and given bits to do; I'm not as taken with Glover's dancing as some, but it's a solid step toward the flourishes that I value in genre programmers. The characters across the board have a spark that was missing in part 3 (the Jarvises are particularly likeable - the film would have benefited from a few more minutes with them), Jason's bulkier and more formidable, the killings become even more elaborate (Tina's slo-mo defenestration in the rain is GORGEOUS). Director Joseph Zito seems to have given this one a bit more zip, though it appears that's because everyone in the cast was totally unified in absolutely despising him.


If we assume that these movies are all in continuity with one another, oddities quickly emerge: we see Mrs. Voorhees driven mad enough by her son's drowning to terrorize Camp Crystal Lake for two decades. And yet her son survived and was close enough to witness her murder and thus get fired up to embark on his own rampages (and how the hell did he get to Alice's apartment and back?). The sprawling geography of 2-4 (which take place over about four consecutive days) suggests that the environs surrounding Crystal Lake are fairly vast, which may explain how Mrs. Voorhees never saw the makeshift shack her son built within walking distance of the camp. I'm not surprised the video game took it all in - the designers must have had a field day with such evocative and expansive territory to map out.

5. A New Beginning

And here I part with the slasher orthodoxy - this widely-reviled entry has (as I make these notes) given me the most entertainment so far. It doesn't have jokes but it's nonetheless very funny: the smash-cut from Joey's axe murder to the POLICE SQUAD! shot of the arriving siren makes me laugh just thinking about it. Part 3 had actors struggling with a nothing script and as a result had no energy; this one has actors full-tilt embracing a nothing script and is a lot more fun. It keeps looking for something else to cram into the formula; what character bits can we explore, what skills did an actor say they had on their resume that we can have them do on camera. The characters feel...not real, exactly (the bickering greasers are straight out of a Sha Na Na skit - you can either shut down and hate the movie or roll with it and giggle, like I did) but it's fun to spend time with them (Violet's robot-dancing to Pseudo Echo's "His Eyes" is a particular highlight; Reggie, Demon, and Anita in the van is another).

6. He Is Risen

A whole mess of strong performances in this one: Thom Mathews is rootably determined as by-now-the-series-protagonist Tommy Jarvis, and Jennifer Cooke is more than likeable enough to sell her bewildering turn as his besotted co-hero; David Kagen plays a fine meat-and-potatoes arc as her lawman dad. Well-embodied by enthusiastically jobbing CJ Graham, Jason's supernatural rebirth starts its own continuity (which is smart), and the thing is surprisingly light-footed and pleasant-spirited. Tonally consistent (and Imma credit Tom McLoughlin, the series' first ever "written and directed by" credit) and downright silly at times (with Manfredini actually creating POLICE ACADEMY-style comedy score for the paintball sequence), but much of the comedy comes from actual jokes. In an odd first we actually see the camp counselors counseling campers at the renamed Camp Forest Green (hilariously, McLoughlin lingers on the shot below longer than a who-we-are-and-what-we-do Powerpoint presentation).

7. The New Blood

There's the series' best story here: the story of a girl beset by abilities she doesn't understand and a guilt she'll never shake, of the shadowy lake that seeded her talents and still holds her close, of the energies that still manifest around her upon her return to the lake, of the unspeakable evil she accidentally frees from the depths of the lake, of the doctor who says he's trying to help her but seems to be guiding her via his own agenda, of her escalating fear as she tries desperately to embrace the human comforts around her, her anguish at losing everything, her terror turning to anger as she finally becomes who she is, becomes strong enough to contain and destroy the horror she unleashed, of her finally seeing the love that was always there, in the lake, of her leaving her past behind, her old world burned down as she confidently steps forward toward the new.

Paramount was given all these elements (assembled by the wildly ambitious producer Barbara Sachs), as well as a stunt team leader who took so seriously the iconography of the villain he was asked to play that he set a record for being on fire. Poised to deliver something next-level, Paramount instead asked for the same idiot teenagers, more of the same gratuitous nudity, the same shallow formula. Few involved saw it as anything more than a job, and a job is what we got.

Tina Shepard deserved better.

8. Takes A Boat Ride, And Then Manhattan

The lower budgets of the earlier efforts made for sleazy viewing, but also allowed for genuine strangeness and off-kilter moments. The good news in 8 is the production values are higher: the characters are an improvement on the previous and feel lived-in and semi-motivated, and this one has some of the series' best camera work. But the interesting ideas don't breathe and get glossed over, the spontaneity has been choked out of the series (even the endearing daftness of the title logos is gone - this thing has a generic Manhattan-in-the-80s title sequence that could have played before any movie set in Manhattan in the 80s), and it lingers on the suffering of its characters past the point of entertainment. It is firmly and unmistakably the product of capitalists at this point, which might be the scariest thing about it.

9. aw, hell.

It took Jason longer to get to Hell than it did for him to get to Manhattan. Paramount just threw their hands up and gave the franchise to New Line, and New Line resumed the ongoing battle to turn this thing into something. This one plays like the second part of a movie for which the first part doesn't exist - suddenly Jason's a worm that jumps from body to body and there are various agents after him. It's crazily mixed and gets a coupla points for some engaging character bits and inspired lunacy (a diner gets attacked and the entire counter staff take arms up in defense) but it gives us way too much to just take on faith, and there's nothing on screen to really give a shit about. Even Manfredini's just randomly stabbing at his new digital keyboard at this point, which mirrors the scattershot, throw-it-all-at-it approach of the movie as a whole. A movie this insane should be more fun.


Couldn't find this one, and at this point in the series-thru I was getting punchy and contrary so damned if I was gonna buy it. My memories of this thing are good, with Kane Hodder as implacable as ever in both classic and future mode; Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder effectively swapping their ANDROMEDA roles; David Cronenberg in a fine turn, during the movie's prologue, as an asshole scientist. I recall this being breezier than the others, more consistent and sure of itself - it feels like director Jim Isaac was given a solid script and a decent effects budget and left to it. (And how dismaying it was to find, while reading up on this movie, that Isaac died in 2012 - I wasn't the world's biggest PIG HUNT fan, but I would have been curious enough to watch another film from him.)

11. vs. Freddy...

Some of the luster has worn off, yet it's still my favorite movie in the Friday the 13th franchise. With director Ronny Yu (veteran of a mess of wuxia films and BRIDE OF CHUCKY) helming the thing the deck's stacked in its favor. The characters are richer (and even mourn the deaths taking place around them), and Jason becomes a semi-realized character rather than a cinematic device that exists solely to eviscerate teenagers (Yu's decision to recast Ken Kirzinger in the role since he had more soulful eyes than Kane Hodder pays off). The story leans hard into fantasy (and harder into a Universal horror influence than even McLoughlin did in part 6) and is better for it, with a nice balance between the milieux of the title characters (artfully color-coded). Freddy's quips make him unpleasant and gross as opposed to evil; Kelly Rowland's sassing of Freddy is an unmotivated low point that nearly derails the thing. TIMELY BONUS: the treatment of Freddy's rampage as a public health crisis. And the climactic battle delivers.

12. 09

Jared Padalecki and Danielle Panabaker lead a cast who could have done a lot more than they were asked to; their sympathetic work, some solid camerawork, and a tight contraction of years of continuity are undone by ugly sadism, under-baked supporting roles, derivations from other movies, and just too much bullshit (I can buy that Jason built a shack in the woods; I can buy the crawlspace underneath; I can buy neither the vast network of tunnels nor the rusty school bus within them). I'm really glad to have finished a damn-near-full series view-through.

13. TL;DR

I rank'em FvsJ; 2, 6, 5, X, 1, 4, 7, 9, 8, '09, 3-D. Favorite kills: the rain defenestration in 4; the face-thru-metal in 6; the liquid nitrogen in X.

Saturday, July 4, 2020


It ain't no fucking metaphor. Especially now.

And it wasn't the craziest idea back in 1970, either - Michelangelo Antonioni wasn't the first foreign filmmaker courted by Hollywood (Jacques Demy covered similar near-Hollywood geography just a year prior, after all). We'll hook him up with some solid American writers and he'll do for 60s counterculture USA what he did for Swingin' London, right?


The thing was a nearly-legendary failure. Mainstream critics were alienated by Antonioni's usual poetry, and the hippies MGM were hoping to flock to the thing stayed away. Some argued that the nuances of American politics at the time were outside Antonioni's grasp, an assertion supported by his weary, paper-thin lead characters and attention to landscape.

But it grabbed me the first time I saw it, and it's deepened for me ever since. My sense is that Antonioni was absolutely true to what he saw during his American sojourn, because it's the America I see: the political left arguing about minutiae, blockaded by the police while the forces of capitalism work quietly and insidiously in the background. (And there seem to be some strong moments of connection with co-writer Sam Shepard, an ideal match for the project - the lonely cowboy at the bar and the swirling of car lot banners are particularly Shepardian moments that Antonioni realizes beautifully.) The whole thing is enough to make an earnest revolutionary wanna snag a plane and just fuck off somewhere.

And when what we love is taken from us, when only a bland, dull life awaits us, with our land paved over, our rich history packaged sold and forgotten, when the walls of the box truly manifest and start suffocating us, the only reasonable and effective revolution is one of absolute and utter destruction.

I've argued before that I see Michelangelo Antonioni as a fantasist, that where others see metaphors for the pain of contemporary living I see a science fiction imagination running artfully riot. And so I see the grand finale of this movie not as a metaphor for Daria's emerging revolutionary consciousness but as her direct willing of the destruction of everything. (The Carrie Ending, I call it.) But within this fantasistic take I understand that it's Antonioni's realistic assessment of what he observed during his time here. As Kiyoshi Kurosawa would decades later, he internalized and fully understood what he was seeing here, and simply looked ahead and found an apocalypse as the inevitable, even necessary, conclusion.

And so I'm thinking of Zabriskie Point today. On this holiday from which I've been disconnected in recent years and especially so today, as the world around me erodes under the weight of an uncontained epidemic, with the loss of home and community very real threats for me and so many I know, the government's dithering incompetence now firmly hand-in-hand with deliberate malevolence. On this day in which BLACK LIVES MATTER is painted on countless streets but Breonna Taylor's murderers (Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove) remain free. I can't buy into the celebration of the spirit of America while I can see so clearly how that spirit has been corrupted and subverted and twisted to fuck over, dehumanize, and kill so many of its own citizens.

On this July Fourth, these are the only fireworks I really want to see.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Imported: The List

A link-crazy post, to keep the House tidy. Your proprietor is on Letterboxd, and will link to my reviews of the films below there.

Top Ten Movies seen for the first time during lockdown, on

(all movies US unless specified)

The City Girl (Coolidge, 84)
American Hot Wax (Mutrux, 78)
Citizens Band (aka HANDLE WITH CARE) (Demme, 77)
The Black Marble (Becker, 80)
Face to Face (Sollima, Spain, 67)
Who Can Kill A Child? (Serrador, Spain, 76)
What the Peeper Saw (Bianchi/Kelley, UK, 72)
Night of the Juggler (Butler, 80)
Midnite Spares (Masters, Australia, 83)
Crazy Mama (Demme, 75)