Life is good when you’re pulling in $7,000 a week, especially if you’re a writer. That is, unless you’ve got a $6,000 a week smack habit. Amazingly, Hollywood screenwriter Jerry Stahl managed to crank out episodes for ALF, TWIN PEAKS, MOONLIGHTING and THIRTYSOMETHING by day, and achieve new lows in chemical self-sabotage throughout L.A.’s most dangerous neighborhoods by night. The …resulting memoir, PERMANENT MIDNIGHT, was hailed as “an extraordinary accomplishment” by Hubert Selby, Jr. and earned Stahl the title of “America’s hipster bard” by James Ellroy. And both these writers know a little about the underbelly of the American Dream, having penned REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, respectively. An instant classic of junkie fiction, Permanent Midnight found a ready director in first-timer David Veloz, whose previous credit included co-writing NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Stahl’s wicked, self-lacerating humor is portrayed surprisingly well in a critically-lauded performance by Ben Stiller (not that the reviews helped the box office – the film disappeared without a trace). Co-starring Owen Wilson, Maria Bello, Janeane Garofalo, and Elizabeth Hurley, Feral Cinema invites you to give this overlooked tale of addiction and redemption another chance, preceded by the Francis Ford Coppola-produced stop-motion short A JUNKY’S CHRISTMAS, featuring and based on the novel by William S. Burroughs. doors @ 8pm, show 8:30pm
artwork by Caitlin Leach
In honor of the Feral-est of them all, Alex Cox’s “Straight to Hell”& Julien Temple’s “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten”will be shown along withDJ Gomi, Joegiveawaysandcoffee/sexual tension.
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten
On the eve of the Clash’s 1983 American tour and during a period of increasing internecine skirmishes among the band members, frontman and principal lyricist Joe Strummer went missing. As revealed in Temple’s thoroughly exhilarating, horns-and-halos documentary, Strummer was urged to “disappear” by manager Bernie Rhodes, who believed that the media attention generated by the MIA punk rocker would constitute an ace marketing move. When Strummer asked where he ought to go, Rhodes told him to hoof it off to Austin, Texas, where Strummer’s old pal Joe Ely lived. Strummer: “So I took the next train to Paris. I thought it’d be a good joke.” It still is, and the subterfuge was made even more da-da-Dada by the fact that the wayward rocker ran the Paris Marathon and grew a beard in the interim. (Full disclosure: I saw the Clash on Wednesday, May 18, 1983, at the Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium, and, yes, of course, it changed my life.) Such cunning stuntery was entwined in the genetic material of (né) John Graham Mellor’s remarkable life virtually from birth. Not only did this India-born son of a left-leaning British civil servant and a doting “Scottish heather” grow up to front “the only band that matters”; he also, with the fragmenting Clash in tow, worked the stage at Steve Wozniak’s proto-Lollapalooza, the U.S. Festival, alongside equally outsized égoïste provocateurs Van Halen and U2 (no mean feat, that). But by the time ’83’s chart-topping single “Rock the Casbah” arrived on these shores, the Clash was a band in name only. Strummer’s idealistic conundrum – did he get fame or did fame get him? – has a familiar VH1-ish ring to it. But what makes all the young punks ink his crooked-nosed, jug-eared, recognizably rockabillian mug on their scrawny limbs is, in part, what came after the Clash. And it’s here that The Future Is Unwritten adroitly fills in the post-’77 blanks, tracing Strummer’s post-punk wilderness years: his acting and soundtrack work with Alex Cox, his stint in the Pogues, the ceaseless ease with which he created musical and lyrical agitprop, and the foundation of his final band, the incomparable Mescaleros. Director Temple (who previously helmed the far less affecting Sex Pistols doc The Filth and the Fury) has crafted one of the most compelling documentary portraits of a musician yet made. Like an early Clash number, it’s by turns lovely and ugly, loud as bombs and quiet as a revolution’s first-thrown stone; it acknowledges the legend while uncovering the truth. In the telling, Temple uses everything he can get his hands on, from newly minted animation sequences and long-forgotten audio interviews to Martin Scorsese (both then and now). He seamlessly edits together a series of campfire reminiscences from friends and family with impossibly rare, wonderfully raw footage of the musician himself. Here is Strummer the frolicsome 10-year-old, Strummer the hippy squatter, Strummer the sneering punk, and, most important of all, Strummer the whole human being, humbled but never hobbled, bloodied but unbowed. He was, and remains, a Sandinistan hombre sin fronteras by way of the UK and your dodgy old turntable, inspiring guerilla guitar dreams in unwritten futures forever. Punk fucking rock, man
SALSA Y CORDITE:
The Legend of Joe Strummer and Straight to Hell
“Punk died the day The Clash signed with CBS,” wrote Mark Perry, editor of the legendary seminal punk zine Sniffin’ Glue and guitarist for the equally legendary outfit Sniffin’ Glue. Here at Feral Cinema, we love it when somebody’s that fucking wrong. (And, we suspect, so is Mr. Perry.) Not only did punk not die on January 25, 1977 — the exact date of their £100,000 signage — it continued to metastasize right alongside The Clash, who would go on to become one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll (punk or otherwise) bands of all time. Who else would’ve had the sheer shining billiard balls and “fuck you”-hubris to follow up their impressive debut with a double album (London Calling) and then a *triple-album* (*Sandinista!*) at a time when disco and A Flock of Hairdos ruled the godforsaken FM dial? Certainly not UK anarcho-punk collectivists CRASS, who gave a dissy, anti-shoutout to The Clash on their screechy single “Punk is Dead”: “CBS promote The Clash/But it ain’t for revolution, it’s just for cash.”
Punk didn’t even die when Clash founder and creative driving force Joe Strummer did. Felled at the relatively youthful age of 50 by a heart attack in December of 2002, Strummer spent the years following the Clash’s 1986 break-up in an inspiringly DIY, whirlwind of a life. He toured incessantly with (and without) his backing band The Mescaleros, becoming both a mentor and multi-generational touchstone for “all the young punks” worldwide. He tried his hand at acting, appearing in Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy, Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, and, briefly, in Alex Cox’s Walker.
Cinematically speaking, however, Joe Strummer’s finest accomplishment was his role as Simms in Cox’s unjustly overlooked and unfairly maligned scattershot 1987 masterpiece, Straight to Hell. Ostensibly about a riotously dysfunctional quartet of bank robbers on the lam (including Strummer, Courtney Love, Dick Rude, and Cy Richardson of Repo Man), Straight to Hell was in reality a hastily-penned script that served as a spur-of-the-moment filmic placeholder between Cox’s Sid & Nancy(1986) and 1991’s Highway Patrolman. Hasty or not, the cobbled-together, meandering storyline — bank robbers stumble afoul into a ghost town run by manic coffee addicts, with everything in the service of the greatest spaghetti western parody/homage ever made — is just insane enough to transcend its own limitations (little budget, lotta alcohol, and The Pogues running amuck) and reach heights of pure cinematic genius that few if any of Cox’s more famous films ever achieved.
Simply put, Straight to Hell is one of the greatest, funniest, and downright strange films you’ll ever see. It’s as though the God of Coffee and Punk Rock Comedic Improvisation came down and told Cox and company, “Go to Almeria, Spain, where Sergio Leone shot A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and go nuts. Thus I command thee in the name of kickass cinema. Hey, wait, here’s a triple espresso and The Pogues. Now get to it!” Or, you know, something like that.
So punk’s not dead, and neither is Joe Strummer, and the bitter black tang of burnt coffee and steel-toed Airwair Doc Martens will be the last thing anyone who says otherwise is gonna taste. Join Feral Cinema and our sponsors in celebrating the cinematic life and times of Joe Strummer, “the only man who matters. — Marc Savlov
‘07 Funniest Person in Austin Winner BRYAN GUTMANN and ‘10 Winner LUCASMOLANDES, along with AMBERBIXBY and hosted by BENJAMINJOHNSON, followed by a screening of Bob Fosse’s LENNY.
Bob “Chicago” Fosse might seem like an unlikely director to helm a biopic on comedy’s patron saint, but considering Lenny Bruce’s jazz-inspired delivery, the resulting 5 Academy Award nominations aren’t so surprising. As critic Albert Goldman described him, “Lenny worshipped the gods of Spontaneity, Candor and Free Association. He fancied himself an oral jazzman. His ideal was to walk out there like Charlie Parker, take that mike in his hand like a horn and blow, blow, blow everything that came into his head just as it came into his head with nothing censored, nothing translated, nothing mediated, until he was pure mind, pure head sending out brainwaves like radio waves into the heads of every man and woman seated in that vast hall. Sending, sending, sending, he would finally reach a point of clairvoyance where he was no longer a performer but rather a medium transmitting messages that just came to him from out there – from recall, fantasy, prophecy. A point at which, like the practitioners of automatic writing, his tongue would outrun his mind and he would be saying things he didn’t plan to say, things that surprised, delighted him, cracked him up – as if he were a spectator at his own performance.”
Made in 1974 (eight years after Bruce’s death, when his routines were finally safe for the big screen), LENNY chronicles the rise of a burlesque club comic to social satirist to heroin casualty (or death by “an overdose of police,” as one journalist observed), and its success is due in no small part to a sharp screenplay by Julian Barry adapted from his own play, and a young Dustin Hoffman’s gritty portrayal of a comic who truly suffered for his art, and has been cited as an influence by Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Bill Hicks among many others. Not since Oscar Wilde had a man been virtually hounded to death by the authorities for refusing to bend to their idea of acceptable art, Bruce’s countless arrests in the 60s for his uncensored club routines leading up to an obscenity conviction that was upheld even after testimonials by the likes of Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer and Woody Allen, only to be overturned following his death. Here’s a man who once impersonated a priest and solicited $8,000 in door-to-door donations in order to get his stripper girlfriend off the stage, and avoided jail time because he donated a portion of the proceeds to a leper colony. If that doesn’t provide an insight into the complex mind of this compassionate yet uncompromising performer, and inspire you to examine a man who turned his life into a work of art that reflected society’s own contradictions and hypocrisies, you’re missing out on the beauty of the human comedy.
This month’s original poster by Lisa Bussett, who’s paintings will be featured at the USAA gallery. Come toast to stand up’s most infamous martyr in the kind of place he got his start, while also supporting a selection of the best local comedy Austin has to offer.
FEATURING THE ABSOLUTE BEST OF FRINGE, CULT & OUTSIDER FILM, THE THIRD THURSDAY OF EVERY MONTH!!
THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2010, 8 p.m. – $5
WHO IS KK DOWNEY? (Darren Curtis/Pat Keily, 2008)
Kidnapper Films‘ Who Is KK Downey?, which screened twice at the 2008 Austin Film Festival, is the the most insanely spot-on satire of indie hipsters, gadfly novelists, alt-weekly music critics, and that reliably evil bitch goddess Fame since forever. It is the comedy shit and that is no lie, unlike J.T. Leroy, who was a total fabrication and still managed to sell about a gazillion books and scam the unscamable Asia Argento. Loosely based on the Leroy business (not to mention James Frey’s Million Little Pieces kerfluffle), KK Downey plays out like some deranged Kids in the Hall skit if the Kids in the Hall were actually the Kids at the Beauty Bar doing clandestine rails in the bathroom stall. But, you know, in a good way. Writers Darren Curtis, Pat Kiely, and Matt Silver play a failed rocker, a failed writer, and a failed altweekly music critic with a Bona Drag/Kill Uncle-era Morrissey coif, respectively, and all three inhabit their roles with such a degree of manic, leering, unhinged schadenfreude that hyperbolic praise is rendered moot. You’ve got to see it to believe it and when you do, you won’t believe what you saw, but trust me, oh yes they did. – Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle
(This) short film from the December/January issue of The Believer, “Tortured By Joy” is 11 minutes of pure enjoyment. Directed by Henry Griffin and described as “redefining ’straight-edge hardcore,” the 11-minutes come mostly in still photos with a flat voiceover. It’s smart, it’s hilarious, and it’s about punk, so how can you go wrong? Much like the editor in The Believer, I don’t really feel like I can talk about this one without giving away things I’d want to see. Just trust me and take a chance on this one. – Justin Cober-Lake, Alternate Tuning
WHERE: United States Art Authority, 2906 Fruth Street (Right next to Spider House), Austin TX
All Feral Cinema screenings will be shown at the United States Art Authority (a part of the Spider House/I Luv Video compound on 2908 Fruth Street) & will be projected on the large screen using our state-of-the-art projector & exemplary new sound system. Doors will open at 8 p.m. so you can get your drink on & the actual films will be shown at 8:30 p.m., with an intermission for giveaways, more drinking, bathroom breaks & some expert-only trivia contests. Feral Cinema screenings cost $5.
These are going to be very cool events & hopefully they’ll become an integral part of Austin’s amazing film CULTure.
Prizes! Giveaways! Snotty Movie Trivia! Cheap Drinks!
“Peyote was legal in those days. They thought it was an ornamental shrub.”
Ah, the hippie heydays of yore, when the music was better, the love was free, the streets were paved with acid, and cops handed out morning glories instead of citations. It was a different time, you understand. Seems like back then Timothy Leary was the dean, Willie Nelson the mayor, and Abbie Hoffman the chief of police.
For those Austinites too young to be flower children, the next best thing is local filmmaker Scott Conn’s new documentary Dirt Road to Psychedelia: Austin, Texas During the 1960s. With a wealth of vintage Super-8 footage, musician interviews, early recordings, recently-unearthed photos, and stories of revelry and rebellion told by those who lived it, it’s enough to bring a tear to your pot-smoking granddad’s crimson eye.
Ten years in the making, the research paid off. Conn has sussed out a number of players and artifacts of the period in this city’s heritage when the flames of cultural revolution were fanned by the political undesirables and fringe elements of society unafraid to experiment with new approaches, states of consciousness and technological innovation, and musical evolution was forged in the hotbeds of honky-tonk dive bars and smoke-stained juke joints. Places like Threadgill’s and, more famously, The Vulcan Gas Company, which opened its doors on Congress Ave. in the summer of 1970. Run by a loose collective of artists as a virtual commune for nonconformists and kindred spirits, it hosted some of the best troubadours of the day, be they folk, blues, or that new bastard offspring of the latter, rock ‘n’ roll. Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, The Fugs, The Velvet Underground, and Muddy Waters all passed across its legendary stage, not to mention Austin’s own seminal psych-rock pioneers, The 13th Floor Elevators. The film muses in depth on their widely influential sound, which through singer/songwriter Roky Erickson’s electric guitar and Tommy Hall’s electric jug helped define the psychedelic movement.
Aside from introducing a younger generation to the aural pleasures to be derived from local bands like Shiva’s Headband, the Conqueroo, and the Hub City Movers, Dirt Road also explores, through the anecdotes of the scene’s surviving minstrels and hangers-on, the rise to prominence of Janice Joplin, who lived and gigged regularly in Austin. At the time, rock ‘n’ roll had yet to be recognized as the midwife of radical change that it would soon embody a couple years later, and was instead considered a rival form to be looked down upon as vapid and pandering by many of the folkies, who identified the Beats as their spiritual precursors and aspired to similar intellectual and artistic heights. Joplin’s progression to mainstream crossover success, therefore, helped provide a bridge between the acoustic and electric sets, and hearing first hand accounts of her origins is fascinating to any student of music history.
The psychedelic aesthetic that was born in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests of the 60s is also nicely examined. We learn about the print process and inspirations behind those kaleidoscopic posters and handbills proliferated by the Vulcan and sister sources in San Francisco, which will forever be associated in people’s minds with the era (and are now highly coveted by collectors). The film even features a mini-tutorial on the art of live liquid light manipulation that results in all those phantasmagoric rear projections of pulsing alien hearts and polymorphous pseudopods which were once ubiquitous but have fallen into neglect as of late, and instantly conjure up sublime go-go’s gyrating to a jangly Fender Strat being tortured through a vacuum tube amp with ripped cones. Get a pair of clock faces, just add food coloring and baby oil, and then “Pretend it’s a girl you’re dancing with, and you got her by the hips,” and you too will be mesmerizing psych audiences with fantastic imagery to make ‘em feel they’ve just downed a cap or twelve of distilled psilocybin.
Aside from the visual components, the film’s talking heads provide interesting commentary and reflections. The inevitable air of nostalgia that threads through their accounts for their time and place as they wax philosophic about the factors that contributed to their generation’s zeitgeist is tempered by a palpable and prevailing feeling of melancholy in light of the current state of world affairs. After all, the 60s were a time of action coupled with a let’s-all-join-hands-and-levitate-the-Pentagon naiveté where anything was possible through Love, and where has it landed us? At one point, a woman laments the fact that she sees absolutely no trace in contemporary society that the 60s ever took place at all. So what happened? In the delicate assessment of one sagely veteran in the film, “We got our fucking asses handed to us.”
It could be argued that the 60s counterculture failed to achieve many of their goals, but at least in their haze of cannabis smoke and mescaline vision quests, when they were seeing Aztec temples and transcending the temporal sphere, Austin’s musical forerunners weren’t too blazed to remember to hit the “record” button, and for that, we can be ever grateful that, at the very least, the music has survived. For its microcosmic visual counterpart, that same gratitude can now be extended to Mr. Scott Conn.
The most revealing thing about this indie sleeper is that it’s produced by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Devil’s Backbone), and he must have recognized the grim, archetypal fairytale at the heart of this plot-challenged film. And he was right. Though the plot is the burned-out wreckage of a hundred less arty films, there’s style to spare here & a few scenes that will take your fucking breath away. Kim Basinger, an actress I’ve NEVER liked, plays Della, the abused suburban wife of this year’s villain du jour, a greedy drunken stock broker/banker/thief (a neither here-nor-there Craig Sheffer). He comes home, drinks himself into a bloody stupor & threatens violence — though the film oddly stops short of his domestic brutality, in favor of his general economic ickiness — while Della appeases, appeases & then goes out to buy wrapping paper at the local mall. Because it’s Christmas & she’s protectorate mother in excelsis. There’s an amazing scene at the beginning of the film, after Sheffer punches the requisite hole in the living room wall because Basinger can’t keep the house clean, where she goes up to her children’s room & all is paradise. The children don’t even seem troubled when she’s around. Della has, miraculously, protected them from almost everything. They’re still excited by Christmas after nearly bearing witness to their mother’s demise.
At the mall, Della runs afoul of a bizarrely multi-ethnic group of tweener hoods. Seriously, there’s a black kid, an Asian kid, a Latino & Lukas Haas, their leader, who’s becoming so creepy as an adult that he should be zapped into the past to star in late-60s biker films. The rest of the movie is standard procedure. The twisted turks spend the rest of the movie hunting her down while she defends herself with whatever she can grab out of the bright red toolbox she manages to carry away from her wrecked SUV.
And that’s not much of a film. It’s not much of anything. What sets this film apart is its amazing fairytale quality. The opening tracking shot through the dull, winter-wet suburban cul-de-sac where Della lives is the finest opening of a horror film since the Torrence family’s drive to the Overlook Hotel. It almost hurts how much the festooned Christmas lights can’t illuminate the darkness on the edge of the city, where the McMansions meet the primeval forest. Visually, the film never lets up from there. The mall in which Della buys her wrapping paper feels completely off, claustrophobic & empty all at once. It’s a creepy effect in a movie full of visual oddities. If you latch onto the plot, you’ll never get to this film’s soul.
Once Della witnesses Haas & his Rainbow Coalition gun down a mall security guard, While She Was Out gets about as allegorically nutty as a Nicholas Roeg or Neil Jordan film, but it doesn’t throw its style at you as a substitute for lack of internal narrative logic. Instead the movie makes you come to it. If you don’t, you’d be excused, because there are scenes of groaning incongruity along the way & the Brothers Grimm elements do start to grate after a while, but when this movie truly fires up its gingerbread house oven, which it does quite a bit, you’re amazed at the crap you’ll put up with — the bright red toolbox, the dark forest of the subconscious at the edge of the encroaching suburbs, the absolute madness of Haas & Basinger’s bonding, etc.
The four basic settings are so detailed & full of sinister nostalgia, without ever once resorting to special effects, that it’s hard not to feel drawn into each of them. We begin down the rain-slicked streets, Christmas lights straining to reflect on the pavement, proceed to the desolate but completely packed mall, stall where the ghost-ship skeletons of faux Tudor crapholes-to-be cast a thousand seasick waxing & waning shadows & then we’re into the woods, where Della finds her maternal wild side and, as an implausible but strangely inevitable boon, her sexual prowess.
This is Guilllermo Del Toro territory through & through & he’s found an able compatriot in Montford, a first-time director with an absolutely original visual sensibility. While She Was Out is not about the actors & no matter what you hear, this won’t make you love Basinger if you’re not already a fan, but it’s an inventive, sometimes gruesome, suburban fairly tale, and it would make a fascinating double feature with Matthew Bright’s superior Freeway or Neil Jordan’s inferior Company of Wolves.
The Children (Dir. Tom Shankland, 2008)
Any true horror fan knows a real live creepy cherub is way scarier than some computer-generated spook & also that nothing in cinema is creepier than a European toddler, the British bad seed being damn-near a delicacy. You can have your Japanese zashiki-warashi. You can have your evil Patty McCormacks, Macaulay Culkins & Isabelle Fuhrmans. Pound for pound, the English & Continental tykes are the ne plus ultra of sinister nestlings. The alien telepaths from Village & Children of the Damned, those Diane Arbus twins from The Shining, the fed-up kids of Almanzora in Narciso Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? (1976), Harvey Stevens as the devil’s own in Richard Donner’s The Omen, the little hedonists pitted against Deborah Kerr’s impregnable corsets in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) & the lethal, pint-sized projections of Samantha Eggars’ unconscious mind in Cronenberg’s The Brood (Canadian, but what’s the difference, really?) — these children seem pulled directly from isolated private school detention rooms in the north of England, their rosy cheeks, forced manners & flyaway hair belying the evil brewing inside them. It’s probably America’s fear of exquisite manners that makes these children chilling to us. We assume any child who quietly reads a book in a straight-back chair & refers to its parents as “Mother” & “Father,” must have something to hide. If anyone’s going to manipulate our children into becoming homicidal drones, it’s going to be us, goddammit.
Tom Shankland’s The Children is a remarkable addition to this horror sub-genre, an excruciatingly tense, beautifully-scaled & psychologically potent tale of innocence run — quite unexpectedly — amok. The film’s set-up is as English as it gets, a Harold Pinter play gone violently berserk. Two sisters, Elaine & Chloe, are united for Christmas at Chloe & her husband’s isolated Tudor mansion. Well, it’s not a mansion exactly, but the house serves to starkly underline the economic divide between the two siblings. While it’s obvious the sisters are close, cracks are beginning to show in their relationship. Elaine (Eva Birthistle) has obviously made some rotten decisions in her life & has been uprooted enough to be terminally nervous, in high contrast to Chloe’s (The L Word’s Rachel Shelley) controlled, measured life. The two communicate with the weird mix of eye-rolling, passive aggression & eternal patience that is the special province of sisters and, while it’s obvious they have a blood rapport, they are prone to whispering not-so-nice things under their breath. Most of these not-so-nice things involve Elaine’s new boyfriend, Jonah, who comes to the relationship with two children of his own & Chloe’s husband, Robbie, who all too obviously hounds after Elaine’s teenage goth daughter Casey. All kinds of ambitious notions about child rearing are bandied about as if the tots are prize calves or giant radishes destined for the state fair. They’re to be taught Chinese, home-schooled, weaned from this, that or the other…after all, at this age, they’re open to anything.
But what the children are most “open” to is an ugly little parasite we see brewing only in a quick intercut of anonymous germs squiggling in viral bliss on a microscope slide. The moment Jonah’s kids arrive at the manor, the young boy begins to wretch violently & behave in a disoriented manner. As the children sip from each other’s cups of juice & cough in each other’s faces, we can almost feel this germ, or parasite, or whatever, spreading. Shankland is a top-notch director & the film is so visually astute & subtle that it’s hard to peg the exact moment you start feeling the mounting dread & exactly which visual cues are instigating the suspense. There’s a scene mid-way through the film where one child begins to cry & the bawling becomes contagious. We’ve all experienced this before, but soon the pitch of this tantrum rises into a cacophony of sound & editing that makes us question the validity of what we consider “normal” in children. There are so many moments in The Children that echo this, moments where these kids are apparently doing something very kid-like, but something is heightened, rendered sinister & it’s to Shankland’s credit that we, like the parents, can’t get a handle on it until it’s too late. And when it’s too late, it’s far too late. Jonah’s older daughter begins to see the changes first, though we only know this by the distressed look on her face as she sees the others make almost militaristic formations on the snowy plain in front of the manor house. As a witty accent to the idea of the children becoming somehow “militarized,” they are bivouacked in a bright yellow tent in the snow & this becomes their de facto war room as the action intensifies.
The film is full of witty touches, but it’s the kind of wit horror films used to have in the late 60s/early 70s, when social criticism & sly satire was an integral — but subtextual – part of the whole ritual. These days, Tarantino-esque quips & cartoon pratfalls on slicks of blood pass for humor & drain the films of any real resonance. Shankland returns the mirroring element to horror, reminding us that what’s scary is not how far-removed the monster or ghost or psychopath is from our daily life, but how very ordinary the supernatural intrusion can seem, right up until the moment it tears a bloody chunk out of your cranium. Of course, once the children are fully in the grip of this mysterious virus, it’s blood on snow for a significant portion of the film & cinematographer Nanu Segal gives the whole bloodbath a chapped, raw palette, with splashes of yellow & pink keeping the killing fields from looking like one big raspberry snowcone.
Seemingly possessing some sort of hive mind telepathy, the sick kids go through the unsuspecting, liberal adults with shocking dexterity. But it’s the violent effectiveness you’d expect from children reduced to animal instinct, facing off against parents who simply will not believe their little pride & joys are out to viciously murder them. When the adults finally decide to fight back (and there’s not much of a response force left by then), your eyes will be glued open for the duration of the movie. There’s still nothing more shocking than watching adults forced to brutally retaliate against rogue children, whether they’re possessed by alien forces or simply bad eggs. Just before death, there’s a moment when they return to being little angels & there’s nothing more terrifying than that. Very Highly Recommended.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Dir. Sacha Gervasi, 2008)
By now most viewers of rock cinema know that this documentary is a real-life Spinal Tap, documenting the middling rise & long, sad career coma of Canadian metal doofs, Anvil. Just when Anvil’s about to call bullshit on this Sisyphean, 30-year project, they receive just enough hope or encouragement to delude themselves for another few years. By film’s end, when Anvil play before a giddy packed auditorium (at 11:30 in the morning) at some Japanese metalfest, it’s hard to know whether to hug those screaming metal kids or slap each & every one of them upside the head.
In the early 80s two nice Jewish boys from Ontario, Robb Reiner (Yes, I know, the director of Spinal Tap with an extra ‘b’) & Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow met when Lips heard thunderous drums & a record by Cactus blasting from Reiner’s bedroom window. They fall in love — there’s simply nothing else to call their relationship — and start a band. In 1984, three albums (Hard’n'Heavy, Metal on Metal, Forged in Fire) later, Anvil was headlining the gigantic Super Rock Festival in Japan, with Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, etc. Reiner was pioneering the now-ubiquitous double-bass drum technique & Lips took the stage in a bondage harness, playing his Flying V with a large dildo, to the delight of pre-pubescent boys on several continents. Eight albums later — including more masterstrokes of alliteration like Pound for Pound, Strength of Steel, Worth the Weight, Plenty of Power, etc. — Lips & Reiner are back in Ontario, barely making ends meet at a variety of menial jobs & playing shows at local beer holes where toothless Canucks drink beer through their noses & bang their heads to their hairy heroes.
While Anvil! The Story of Anvil is front-loaded with testimony from the likes of Slash, Lars & Lemmy (if you need to know their last names, you should just stop reading now), all praising the originality of the band & shaking their heads over the unfairness of the fickle music industry (“Everybody ripped ‘em off & then just left ‘em for dead,” Says Slash), it would take a hessian more discerning than I to tell the difference between the thudding, idea-free riffery of Anvil & the failures-in-waiting that litter the open-stage nights of desperate bars throughout the middle west. Portrayed as Missing Links between something I strain to care about & something I don’t care about at all, Anvil may well be armor gods, but I couldn’t get Chuck Klosterman on the phone to ask. Lyrics like “Little peaches play/rubbing their beavs” & songs like “Thumb Hang” (Lips’ learned discourse on the Spanish Inquisition will make you wish you’d dropped out of school when you were 17 too) & “Toe Jam” (I’m not even sure it’s an intentional pun), don’t do much to keep the Spinal Tap comparisons at bay. That said, Lips’ centered optimism & gratitude concerning the contingencies of rock is truly inspiring for a guy who’s had his dreams urinated on as many times as he has.
The entire mid-section of the documentary is devoted to an overseas tour booked by a fangirl Euro-Gorgon named Tiziana. The ambitions & lucrative promises of this outing would cause any reasonable people to make a few inquiries of their own, but Anvil whole-heartedly believes 1500 Euros per gig in 30 cities is just what they deserve. They put all their trust in the obviously naive & incompetent Tiziana and — city by city — the tour becomes a study in bad faith, bad directions & bad vibes. Having made little to no upward progress on the tour (though Anvil’s bass player does marry Tiziana for her efforts), the boys return to the snowy north and, of course, decide it’s time to put out their 13th album, prosaically titled This is 13.
For most bands a tour this apocalyptic would lead to a complete overhaul of expectations & reassessment of priorities. And maybe, after a two-decade run of tepid luck, a band might be forgiven for not wanting to tempt the Hammer of the Gods by recording a THIRTEENTH record. But that’s not Anvil’s style. For them, disaster is another word for, well, something that isn’t disaster. Mustering monies for the new opus really pumps up the pathos in the film & provides perhaps its best scenes, those in which Lips is forced to do sunglasses tele-sales (“the kind Keanu Reaves wears”) and — to his credit really — can’t sell a single pair. In the meantime, Reiner — an Edward Hopper fan — shows off his painting of a turd floating in a toilet bowl. You can’t make this shit up & the scenes out-Spinal Tap Spinal Tap.
Director Gervasi doesn’t miss an opportunity to visually or thematically reference the mockumentary classic. Hell, there’s even a scene at Stonehenge thrown in, mostly for giggles. In fact, the entire directorial style is pretty manipulative here, but if it weren’t, the film would just be sad, instead of that kind of sad that forms a lump in your throat which, quite surprisingly, emerges as a cheer. Gervasi creates a dramatic beginning, middle & end to a story which, in reality, shrugs along rather passively. Wouldn’t most people rather see Grandpa’s measure of the fish that got away, his arms outstretched as far as they will go, than see the actual fish he caught or know whether it even existed at all?
It’s Alive (Josef Rusnak, 2008)
It’s always a pleasant surprise when the remake of a cult classic doesn’t make you want to hole up in a dark room watching old creaky VHS tapes for the rest of your natural days & it doesn’t happen very goddamn often. The last time I recall warming, even a little, to the “re-imagining” of a revered touchstone was Douglas Buck’s daunting stab at Brian De Palma’s Sisters in 2006. Buck didn’t hyperventilate stylistically to compensate for not having De Palma’s unique gifts & he didn’t try to make Sisters “relevant” to a new generation of ghouls by littering the set with severed state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs & the soundtrack with Type O Negative or Marilyn Manson. It was a very mature retooling, with just enough formal aplomb to point fondly to the original without mindlessly aping it & enough new wrinkles to keep De Palma acolytes from being bored.
The same goes for Josef Rusnak’s It’s Alive, a confidently-mounted pass at Larry Cohen’s 1974 trash classic about a mother who strives valiantly to protect her monster baby from the vile people who think monster babies don’t have the same rights as any other child. Apparently “No child left behind” meant nothing in the mid-70s. The original, starring Guy Stockwell, Michael Ansara & Hawaii 5-0 regular Sharon Farrell was an over-the-top cautionary tale of bad parenting, bad chemicals & bad genes. Like most benchmark horror films, It’s Alive confronted the salient concerns of its time — pollution, rogue youth, reproductive rights, flipper babies, etc. The original script title was even Baby Killer, a bleakly witty reference to the name allegedly shouted at returning Vietnam vets in the days following the My Lai Massacre.
As with the films of his fellow exploitation maestro Jack Hill, it was often hard to tell when director/writer Cohen (Hell Up in Harlem, God Told Me To, Q: The Winged Serpent) was being intentionally funny & when he simply fell victim to no-budget shoddiness. Because of this uneasy mixture of comedy, wild gore & pointed satire, however, Cohen is now considered a pioneer of sorts & the off-kilter tonal shifts he all but perfected in his best movies are now commonplace in fringe cinema.
Strangely, most of the taboos Cohen feverishly trounced upon in the original It’s Alive would still shock a good share of the population today. While gore is old hat now for most movie-goers, there’s still something pretty unsettling about gruesomely perverting the entire mother/child relationship. Thankfully, though, the escalation of gore is not what gives this remake its considerable impact. Not that blood & limbs don’t fly once feeding time rolls around for our monster baby. They do & Rusnak handles the violence rather, um, elegantly. There’s an icy even-handedness to the carnage & the vibrant, nearly hot pink, color of the blood has an industrial quality, as if the gore scenes were shot through a vellum filter. This approach to violence is in direct opposition to the ragged, kitchen blender mayhem of the original.
The performances are considerably cooled off as well & having actors with some mid-range at their disposal instead of slumming soap opera actors who veer wildly between histrionics & catatonia, makes Rusnak more able to expertly smudge the lines between satire & serious horror. Bijou Phillips (Choke, What We Do Is Secret), as the child’s slowly unraveling mother, never overdoes it. We understand her motives instinctually, the same way she somehow comprehends the needs of her indiscriminately carnivorous infant. Raphael Coleman (Nanny McPhee), as the kid’s deeply suspicious young wheel chair-bound uncle, steals some memorable scenes as well. Most of the other actors have a B-movie sturdiness that will encourage you to rewind scenes when they mutter something particularly outrageous in their off-hand monotones.
One would think that making Cohen’s original premise more cerebral might ruin the effect, but, on the contrary, it makes the viewer even more disoriented, less sure whether to laugh or wince in horror. The story still retains its absurdity of course: One minute there are grown, strapping men & women standing or sitting in close proximity to a gurgling infant, then the music becomes ominous, there’s some animalistic shrieking & after some quick, confusing edits the entire room or car interior is painted in blood & giblets. The logistics of this don’t need to be explained. That would take all the fun out of it.
Appropriately, it’s becoming a great month for horror on DVD, what with the release of The Children, The Killing Room, Trick ‘r Treat & Shortcut. Here’s another tightly-wound, fierce little gem to add to the list.
La Jetee/Sans Soleil (Dir. Chris Marker, 1962/1983)
Told in a series of still photographs that, through dissolves, the pace of editing & artful sound design, achieve a kind of meta-motion, La Jetee is one of French filmmaker Marker’s few forays into narrative film. Mostly known as an experimental documentary director (although Terry Gilliam’s “remake” of La Jetee, 12 Monkeys, has given it a popular boost in the Marker oeuvre), Marker’s film seems to be science fiction, but most of the images are from post-war France, or somehow bring to mind concentration camps, occupation, and resistance. It’s a love story not unlike the one in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, with odd time travel elements, and a melancholy, pervasive sense of doom throughout. The Criterion set also includes Sans Soleil, a meditation on the failures & successes of a particularly French brand of radical politics (notably May ’68, the general strike that brought about the downfall of the De Gaulle government), and a film more indicative of the full body of the filmmaker’s work. A female narrator reads from the letters of globe-trotting cameraman Sandor Krasna while Marker shows us images of such exotic locales as Japan, Iceland & Africa. The sections on Japan appear strikingly prescient for 1983, all but predicting the rise of digital culture. While all of these elements may sound wildly disparate, the whole is transfixing & quite effective. Highly recommended.
The Nightcomers (Dir. Michael Winner, 1972)
A kind of prequel to Henry James’ haunting Turn of the Screw, this unnecessary & quite daft muddle trades murk for atmosphere, fetishism for sensuality, and mush-mouthed anachronisms for the subtle gothic underpinnings of the original. Brando, as the brutish Quint, climbs trees, explodes frogs, and speaks in the kind of Irish brogue mustered by pub-crawling Minnesotans on St. Patrick’s Day. One must remember this is the phase of Brando’s demented career that also spawned his calico bonnet-wearing bounty hunter in Arthur Penn’s Missouri Breaks, the completely enigmatic blond kidnapper in Night of the Following Day, the bearded cosmic guru who lives in the back of a semi-truck in Candy, and the cotton-jowled Mafia don in Coppola’s The Godfather (a performance no less crazed for being universally lauded). There’s some nudity, but it’s mostly Brando, who taunts matronly Thora Hird with the threat of his nakedness. It’s hard to remember what her response is, but ours is a resounding, “Yuck, God almighty, no. Really. Please, no.” The two child actors, lonely over-educated delinquents with ghosts for friends, must be first-rate to make their performances work (see Jack Clayton’s marvelous 1961 adaptation, The Innocents), but these two moppets, Verna Harvey & Christopher Ellis are militant non-actors, which is to say, they cannot, for the bloody lives of them, act at all. If you’re a fan of watching Brando go slowly insane, which I am, there’s much to snigger over while watching TheNightcomers. If you’re after anything, and I do mean ANYTHING else, keep moving…
Panic in Needle Park (Dir. Jerry Schatzberg, 1971)
Upper West Side junkies on the go, Kitty Winn & Al Pacino, find grim solace in horse and one another. Winn, emotionally wounded after an illegal abortion demanded by her unfaithful boyfriend Raul Julia, meets up with crafty hood Pacino & they fall in love, sort of. Written by Joan Didion & John Gregory Dunne, Panic in Needle Park is a haunting study of need & emotional depravation, but it doesn’t go down easy. The narrative is an unrelenting downward spiral & some of the shots of NYC’s “Needle Park” have a documentary candor that will surely make you flinch once or twice. While it’s no secret that Pacino is an actor’s actor, it’s Winn (Exorcist, Exorcist II: The Heretic, Peeper) who steals the show here.
While The Teacher is a slightly above-average high school wish-fulfillment sexploitation film made somewhat watchable by the presence of a voyeuristic psycho played by the great Anthony James (…tick…tick…tick, Vanishing Point, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven), the real find in this Grindhouse Double Feature is Pick-Up. Two girls — one a happy-go-lucky freak shamelessly letting her freak flag fly, the other a very strange occultist who spends most of the film having acid-soaked visions based on her Tarot readings & surreal memories of being molested by her priest as a child – hitch a ride with a pretty likable hippie (who looks a lot like a blond Gram Parsons, wearing a weird kind of Nudie Union Suit) named Chuck. Chuck is driving a large, pretty awesome mobile home across Florida for a crusty, cigar-chomping salesman who keeps yelling at him over a wall-mounted telephone behind the driver’s seat. When a hurricane strikes, the mobile home is stuck in the swamp & Chuck & the happy hippie girl frolic naked in the bayou for what seems like hours. Meanwhile the dark, brooding Manson girl is visited by straw-hat wearing senatorial candidate who wants to tell her whatever she wants to hear, a mystical black goddess in a flowing cape, and the creepiest clown EVER committed to celluloid. She writhes naked on a big white altar in the middle of the swamp, has visions of playing a church organ & spouts cryptic nonsense in voice-over. When it’s her turn to bed Chuck, they do it on the altar while the other girl is raped & killed by the toothless rednecks not chosen for John Boorman’s Deliverance. The music is a crazed mix of synthesizer skree, wild guitar psychedelia & pretty spooky freak folk. A dated curio for sure, but WHAT a curio. Highly recommended.
Trog (Dir. Freddie Francis, 1970)
Aging anthropologist (!?!) Joan Crawford, armed with her “hypo-gun,” engages in a battle of the wills with a prehistoric troglodyte (A “trog,” for those of us in the know), while wearing a series of quite comely multi-colored lab smocks. Now, Joan Crawford knows a little something about battles of the will. She faced off against Coca-Cola, Louis B. Mayer, Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? & even an axe-wielding version of herself in Strait Jacket! So, why not a shambling Neanderthal? Until you’ve Joan play Annie Sullivan to Trog’s hairy Helen Keller, you just haven’t lived. Rush down to ILV & rent this immediately or my respect for you will diminish greatly. I see you there, standing at the New Release shelves, wondering if you’ll ever get to see Stephen Frears’ The Queen, Almodovar’s Volver, or that Reno 911 movie, but I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts Trog is in, just sulking there amidst the Just In section, eagerly awaiting your hungry eyes!
Vigilante (Dir. William Lustig, 1983)
Lustig produced more exploitation films than anyone other than Roger Corman & David F. Friedman & directed The Violation of Claudia (1977) & the Maniac Cop series. Here he helms a Death Wish-style revenge flick that benefits greatly from the combined exploitation chops of Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Medium Cool), Fred Williamson (M*A*S*H, Three the Hard Way, Hell Up in Harlem), Joe Spinell (Rancho Deluxe, Taxi Driver, Winter Kills), and Woody Strode (The Gatling Gun, Kingdom of the Spiders, Che!). Forster’s wife & child are killed by a very strangely dressed gang of street thugs (like those weird, pretty harmless bubblegum motorcycle gangs Jackie Chan always fights, only deadly serious) in one of the most brutal onscreen child murders since Assault on Precinct 13. The whole movie revels in over-the-top violence but also takes thoughtful, unexpected plot turns into grey areas of vigilantism, and contains some pretty smart scenes for this genre. Recommended for the cast & some great moral curveballs.
Who Can Kill a Child? (Dir. Narciso Ibanez Serrador, 1976)
A great, nearly forgotten, entry into the Creepy Brood of Killer Children genre (The Brood, Devil Times Five, Village of the Damned, etc.), Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? is a methodically-paced stunner shot on an island off the coast of Spain. In it, a reasonably happy married couple, expecting their first child, vacation to an island the husband visited years before. There’s nothing at all remarkable about this couple except that they’re about to have a baby. The island seems to be deserted, but soon it becomes apparent that the children have murdered off most of the adults after realizing that looking darling will often keep them from being mowed down like the evil urchins they really are. Opportunistic bastards! The scene in which the husband is finally forced to shoot a child is as shocking & yet beautifully-filmed as any in the history of cinema. Very little motivation is given for the children’s behavior, unless you count the first ten minutes of the film, in which we are deluged with documentary footage of children abused in Nazi concentration camps, Biafra & Vietnam. A very spooky, stylistically unique horror film. Highly recommended.
Anders began her filmmaking career as a Production Assistant on Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, and has since helmed such deeply personal, ambling, iconoclastic films as Border Radio (mandatory viewing for LA punk aficionados), Gas Food Lodging (mandatory viewing for anyone interested in the roots of independent cinema), Mi Vida Loca (mandatory viewing, period) & Grace of My Heart (ditto). She is a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s coveted “genius grant”, has won & been nominated for numerous Independent Spirit Awards, founded & programs films for the Don’t Knock the Rock Film & Music Festival, is Professor of Film & Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara & has directed several episodes of HBO’s Sex and the City & Showtime’s The L Word.
As befits her Kentucky upbringing, Anders is also a brilliant, accessible conversationalist & vivid storyteller…
FIVE NOT SO EASY PIECES:
1. A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)
I have seen this movie at least several hundred times and I expect to see it freshly each time for the rest of my life. It thrills me to no end, and if I don’t scream outloud each time I see it, I am screaming inside over each glorious close-up of Paul McCartney and the collective positive pop culture energy that was Beatlemania. It is a supremely perfect movie, it never rings false, true to itself in every single frame and it never once drags or feels the least implausible– even though– it is. It gives a little taste of what a drag fame would be, and yet it quickly veers away from getting too droll and miserable about it. I will no doubt watch this film within days of the moment I leave this mortal coil.
2. Alice In The Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)
A beautiful postcard of the early 70s…and you will never be able to hear this Ozu inspired Can score anywhere else except by watching Wenders glorious movie.
3. Harold And Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
To view it as just a geriatric cougar and young Bud Cort is to miss the true gift of this movie — which is a lesson in connections between people, yes, but also connections to the earth, music, humor, life. It is the most affirming film ever made. And if you were on a desert island, you would need this! I certainly would.
4. A Stolen Life (Curtis Bernhardt, 1946)
This film lives inside my cells, it informed my ideas about romantic love from age 5 when I first saw it. Bette Davis in this movie as twins Kate and Pat is both of the women I found wrestling inside of myself when I was younger. And now that they are both at peace somewhere within me, I love the film more each time I see it.
5. Two Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971)
If I ever got lonely on a desert island, and needed company — let it be Dennis Wilson and James Taylor in this movie: they wouldn’t talk much, would understand isolation, and would be very easy on my eyes!
Rough and Ragged Sixth:
6. The Man From Laramie (Anthony Mann, 1955)
I think if I were surrounded by water, I would really miss the rocky treacherous New Mexico landscape of Anthony Mann’s westerns. This movie would be my perfect fix.
Whip-smart Max Dropout, named, I presume, after his great grandfather Phineas Dropout, has, for years, been the first line of defense against squares & frat boys at Austin’s beloved garage rock headquarters, Beerland. His finely-honed bullshit detector is somewhat mitigated by the glint of joviality in his eyes & once you’ve shown yourself to be someone who can be trusted after six to ten tall boys & three or four shots of Jim Beam, you’ll always be family as far as he’s concerned…
This is a strange list, because I actually have films on here that do not appear in my top ten of all-time. If I were stuck on a desert island, I think I’d have to select films that have survived repeated viewings without much wear on their entertainment value. Several of these films continue to reward me by giving up new details I hadn’t noticed from previous viewings. Here are my top five in no particular order:
A Face In The Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)
More of a murky gray than pitch black, my impressions of these characters has changed drastically as I’ve gotten older. With age, our perception of integrity, morality, and sexuality definitely matures, and this is one of those films that will continually yield fresh insight into human nature with each subsequent viewing. This film is steeped in punk rock ethos despite predating the movement. A very dark comedy featuring some of the finest performances I’ve ever seen on screen, while the photography manages to feel somewhat contemporary. There are a lot of odd shot selections that seem to spite the fact that it’s a black and white film.
Death Wish 3 (Michael Winner, 1985)
Bronson always manages to play a protagonist who’s a convincing badass despite yielding numerous unintentionally hilarious moments. This, of course, is the granddaddy of them all. Michael Winner manages to multiply the comic book factor evolves over the course the first sequel, and overdose the thing with a violence so over the top that it verges on stooge-ish at times. This film is ALWAYS a blast of fun to the face.
Lady In White (Frank LaLoggia, 1988)
A Rockwellian supernatural thriller, this is a beautiful and eerie film with a level of atmosphere than very few films ever manage to evoke. Despite a few unfortunate spots in the score, this is nearly flawless. Great cast, great script, unabashedly nostalgic, and stands up to repeat viewings.
The Seven Faces of Doctor Lao (George Pal, 1964)
Tony Randall turns in an amazing performance, as he manages to play seven roles throughout this story of a traveling carnival that enters a town on the verge of gentrification. Essentially, this is a tale about the death of the American spirit of independence, and it perhaps even moreso relevant today than it was during its initial release. Quite possibly the best film George Pal ever made; it is at the very least his most intellectual.
The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski, 1967)
Sardonic hate mail to his critics who had labeled him a horror director, Polanski still manages to pay homage to the British horror genre with this delightful comedy. Roman himself demonstrates his worth as a physical comedian with a knockout performance as Alfred. As morbid as it may sound, Sharon Tate’s scenes in this film would wind up as the inevitable jerkoff material on the island
Smith’s highly personal, cerebral, politically astute approach to video games has turned him into a bit of a guru in both the gaming & computer media community at large & he’s won numerous awards for his work on such acclaimed, immersive role-playing games as Wing Commander, Deus Ex, Ultima & System Shock. Smith has also lectured extensively around the world on emergent media & the role of computer & video games in modern culture…
Question: Why are we so obsessed with deserted islands? Answer:
Because no one wants to be alone.
If I could take 5 movies with me (and none of them could be porn), I’d
choose the following:
1) Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)
I love this movie because it evokes some of the same
multilinear feelings that I experience when playing a well-crafted
video game. In a game, you often stop and save your progress at a
specific point in the timeline. Then you can race forward, trying
various tactics and exploring new areas. And if you die or if the
exploration cost you too much in terms of resources, you can back up
to the point in timeline where you saved then proceed again. Often,
after backing up, you move forward optimally. (A side effect of the
unique way players experience their own narrative in games.) As a
result, when you get to the end of the game, you’ve got this long
linear experience, right? Your memories of what happened from
beginning to end. Except that what’s missing are all the moments when
you advanced, then died and backed up to the point at which you saved
your progress. Those are like moments that happened, but didn’t
happen. At the end of the game, your memories cannot be untangled; you
remembered the things that happened in the actual playthrough timeline
and things that happened in the discarded, aborted side timelines. Run
Lola Run left me feeling the same way. And I have an intense and
inexplicable love for German women like Franka Potente.
2) Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
I love the nihilistic ethos of this film. And I
love the music. Brando here is one of the great villains. I like the
original version btw. The Redux version is too long and contains some
side threads that I found largely irrelevant.
3) The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
There’s something about small, dying towns
that I love. If I ever survive an apocalypse, I will probably choose
to live in a small town rather than an urban center. Growing up, my
great grandparents had a farm in Moulton, Texas, and it was already
dying back then in the 1970s, so I’ve got an innate longing for the
spirit of such places. So much happens in this movie, and the scenes
and dialogue imply a lot more…years and generations of lives lived
with partial success and the accompanying regrets.
4) Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
It’s probably a cliché for someone of my generation
and tastes to choose this movie, but it’s so undeniably great, such an
obvious labor of love and vision, that I’ve got to include it. Roy
Batty has some of the best lines ever delivered. There’s some lesson
in here about a director or screenwriting elevating an actor. Half the
movie’s appeal is the vision style and graphic design, but really all
the elements serve the whole in a way that’s rarely accomplished. As a
16 year old boy, I wanted a Pris replicant of my very own. I’m
actually torn on which version I’d take; I know what I’m supposed to
say, but I feel there are strengths to both the original and the
director’s cut. From the director’s cut, the darker, more ambiguous
ending is a complete win for me. From the original, the monologue adds
a lot of depth to Deckard’s character. Sure, we all loved the
director’s cut *after* gaining familiarity with the original, but I
have to ask: Would the more stripped down version have been as
powerful without the context provided by the original, heavier-handed
version? I hate it that Ridley Scott feels like he’s answered the
question definitively about whether Deckard was a replicant,
because—first—the director’s intentions are far less important to me
than the audience interpretation, and—second—because the ambiguity and
doubt that the character felt about the possibility of false memories,
of not being *real* were more powerful than a definitive answer either
5) Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
I’ll admit that I don’t normally like movies made
before the 1970s. People like Scorsese, Cimino and Coppola brought so
much grittiness and depth to film that it’s hard for me to go
backward. Casablanca is one of the exceptions. I love fiction that
focuses on a specific point in time, when a mixture of events and
pressures up the ante for all the standard elements of human life. The
love story still chokes me up.
I love Kubrick, and The Shining might have made the list except that
if I had to watch it over and over on an island, the nights would be
unpleasantly unnerving and I’d probably end up hanging myself from a
coconut tree with a rope woven from my hair. And—for the mood,
cinematography and sex—I might have included Eyes Wide Shut if, you
know, anyone actually got properly laid in the movie.