a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

bored. bored bored bored bored.

I'm sitting here, impatiently awaiting an interviewee to call me back (maybe -- the receptionist seemed needlessly confused). To kill some time (and to bulk up my blog's girth), I figured: why not, like, update? While I still haven't seen anything new, I've been a sporadic video watching fool. What better to way to while away the year's most useless month than to live in the past, especially when you have little but moths in your wallet?

Firstly, there's The Naked Spur (1953), arguably the best-known of Anthony Mann's westerns, including the five done with James Stewart at the forefront. If the others -- Winchester '73, The Man From Laramie, et al. -- are remotely similar, then those catching the Mann series in Manhattan are having a ball. The idea is baldly theatrical: throw five characters together and watch them feud, get the upper-hand, and generally manipulate eachother. Stewart's ostensibly the lead, playing a farmer-turned-bounty hunter who's quite incapable of catching alleged-murderer Robert Ryan in for a hefty reward. But the film's mostly an ensemble piece, with Stewart and Ryan vying for screentime with Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell, and a jean-sporting Janet Leigh. Ryan's techinically the worst of the bunch, planting seeds of doubt and conspiracy among the rest. But Stewart's not far behind him -- he takes the desperation of his It's a Wonderful Life turn to a bald, primal level. Despite keeping things entirely outdoors (excepting an interlude inside a cave), Mann's work is subtly claustrophobic -- a chamber piece with constantly shifting loyalties.

More likeable-but-non- characters are on display in Showgirls (1995), which I have to say I like. Not even in a campy way: I like this movie - genuinely, sincerely, not tragically, but without much hesitation, either. Nine years removed from its origins, it's a lot easier to see Paul Verhoeven's intentions: the gimmick appears to be to take a tried-and-true melodrama -- a little All About Eve here, a little A Star is Born there -- and marry it to a retro view of Vegas. Apparently pre-family friendly, the place is an unapologetic cesspool of strip bars, glamorous nudie dance shows, and slimy execs, all done up in gharish neon and tacky miniature faux-landmarks. The nudity is, of course, non-stop, and quickly deadening: ten minutes, unapparelled bosums are as regular a fixture as, I dunno, floors and walls. You could dedicate a year's worth of essays to the craven, kneejerk way critics and audiences responded more to the prurient aspects of the film than to the actual content. But, as noted in Charles Taylor's characteristically half-smart, half-kinda-arrogant rant, it's also one of the few (maybe only) melodramas where the bad girls are never forced to repent the delirious wickedness of their ways. It's true: you can enjoy it for its campiness or seriously. Or almost -- there's no way not to crack up when a self-described "prick" utters "I'm erect. Why aren't you erect?"

I'd like nothing more than for Danny Deckchair (2004) to just go away. The warning signs are multitude: a wacky Australian comedy; a wacky (and quirky!) true tall tale about a guy who successfully flew after tying balloons to his lawn/deck chair; oft-brilliant Welshman Rhys Ifans forced to sound Australian; did I mention the wacky Australian comedy thing? But it can't even fulfill those noxious promises. Instead, it's an aggressively warmhearted, slight semi-yarn, not even broad enough to be annoying. As you watch it, you feel it shooting directly through your brain and out your ass. At least I remember Love Serenade...

On the other side of the continuum, The Boy With Green Hair (1948) slowly sneaks up on you. A fable of sorts, this early Joseph Losey effort tells another tall tale: a war orphan (Dean Stockwell, in his child-thesp years) wakes one morning to find his hair has turned a punkish color. Is it a metaphor? Sure -- but apparently for many things. Often times, it's branded an anti-war film, most likely due to a couple soapbox rants. But what about its takes on society, racism, fatherhood, even elementary school hang-ups? It's possible to read whatever you like into it (and a friend posited that, since Stockwell tells the story after his head's been shaved, he might be a cancer victim who's invented a fabrication). Then again, you could always groove on its uneasy fusion of gritty realities and fable-like insanity.

Lastly, Deathdream (1972) is a find: one of those horror movies, like Martin, where the shocks and thrills are all at the service of a potent social satire. Vietnam is the focus of this Bob Clark production, with the Monkey's Paw schematic being twisted around so it's now about a deceased soldier who's parents wish him back to life. It works, naturally, but he's still dead -- or undead: zombie-like, smugly non-responsive, and, oh yes, a murderer. The movie itself practically works by rote, but Clark's a sly one: he subtly throws in an Oedpial complex, seen entirely from the mother's point-of-view. In the end [SPOILER, natch], there's a very unnerving moment when poor deluded mom denounces her husband and daughter so that she can hang on to her literally decaying boy.

Also The always-reliable Ryan Wu has a thoughtful reaction to the SwiftBoatLiar (as it's now apparently called) deluge, as well as a kitten kaboodle of links to other takes. Once again, it's safe to say Bush II is the most transparent liar to ever take up office, even if his fibbing has taken on a tacit quality.


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