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

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The repertory writer becomes the repertory writee. Or something.

Hello, all of you in the Philadelphia area. Forgive the relative formality of the following missive. I'm reprinting this from a mass e-mail I've been sending around.

On Saturday, Sept. 23 at 2pm, I'm going to be showing Age of Consent (1969), Michael Powell's final feature-length film. If you know me at all, you've probably heard me blabber at great length about Powell, who's best known for his nearly two-decade-long collaboration with Emeric Pressburger from the '30s to the '50s. (Some of these lavish and eccentric films include The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcisuss, The Red Shoes, and The Tales of Hoffmann.) This one, made almost a decade after the serial killer pic Peeping Tom unfairly ruined his career, is a lot more grounded than the aforementioned, but still plenty rich and strange. James Mason, who co-produced with Powell, plays a painter working through feelings of obsolescence via Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the oft-clotheless antics of a young Helen Mirren. (And yes, that movie where Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth is due in a couple weeks. Sheesh.) The insane Jack MacGowran (The Fearless Vampire Killers, How I Won the War) pops up for a stretch as his nefarious, speed-talking agent, as do many picturesque ocean shots.

The film will be projected from a DVD that's...well, not great. Consent, however, has never been released on video (at least stateside) and enjoys a life of quiet obscurity, seen only by hungry Powell completionists and horny teenagers. However crappy (but presentable) the conditions, this is a rare chance to see this unjustly-ignored minor classic.

If that's not incentive enough for you to mutter away part of an afternoon, then you'll get to see me -- whose first public screening since college this is -- fight through my fear of public speaking as I introduce this fool thing. I may even bust out my James Mason impersonation voice.

And besides, it’s free.

This showing will be part of the Goodbye to the Cinema, once known as the sticky-floored Cinemagic. Rich Wexlers lording over the whole thing, and many a fine repertory film programmer is involved, including Joe Gervasi, Andrew Repasky McElhinney, Michael Dennis and Dan Buskirk. Complete line-up here.

And now for the pertinent info:

(1969, Michael Powell)
Sat., Sept. 23, 2pm.
The Cinema, 3925 Walnut St.

Michael Powell filmography right here.

Thanks, and do venture out. And tell your friends!

(Also, hat tip to Marisa for yapping about this over at Philly Metroblog.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Un film de Almodóvar

In this week's PW, I flap my gums re: Sony Pictures Classics' "Viva Pedro," an eight-film retro for the crazed Spaniard with the ever-tall hair. (It was weird seeing him pop up, avec moustache, in 1986's Matador.) Also, Rep. Readers will notice that there's a mention of me introducing and presenting Michael Powell's Age of Consent as part of a film curator suare at the to-be-demolished Cinemagic. Yep, that's right. It will be ten kinds of wicked, and anyone within driveable radius of Philthy-delphia should come out. My paper did a mention of it here...yet was remiss in mentioning me (or fellow PW-ian Dan Buskirk, who will be showing the 1975 William Fraker-lensed drive-in/car-culture classic, Aloha, Bobby and Rose). Hmm...

P.S. If you turn your eyes to the right and go down a click or two, you'll see I've finally and totally overhauled my phallanx of links. It ain't pretty right now -- I wanted dots before each link and was amazed when the proper HTML did not produce them -- but I'll get around to it. Here at K. Bingos, we're all about the aesthetics. But you already knew that.

Just FYI: Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day

No. Really.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Was a Teenage (and Young Adult) Theater-Hopper!

It's not much of an admission, granted, but that didn't stop me from banging out a longish recollection of my younger days for the PW's Fall Guide. Elsewhere, I muse on Kirby Dick's cathartic but disappointing MPAA-salvo This Film is Not Yet Rated (below the Sean Burns lead) and chat at great length about Orson Welles, Richard Lester and Todd Rohal, director of the Sundance fave The Guatemalan Handshake, in Rep.

Also, recent visitors to his site might like to know that I might have overestimated Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia. Nearly, seven hours later, it's sitting surprisingly well with me, though [THE RASA SPOILER ALERT IS ON] I may need another couple viewings to see if the way its doesn't come together is satisfyingly unsatisfying or unsatisfyingly unsatisfying. That's Ed, where's the set pieces? And I'd really like to know exactly what critic got all hot and bothered by the Scarlett-Josh table prelude-to-a-bonk scene? I mean jesus.

Monday, September 11, 2006

(Belated) Appreciation: Raising Cain

"And the thing that's really fascinating about Raising Cain is you see a guy -- and I, and I, and I told this to him and he agreed with me. I don't know, I thought Raising Cain was a blast. I had a total blast out of watching it. But part of the fun about the movie -- which I don't, you know, if the studio liked it that much -- was the fact that it almost, the whole thing works to annoy the viewer because it, like -- you've got a man who's like, 'look, I created, more or less, in these last 20 years, this type of film. All right, and, and I do it better than anybody, but you know what? I'm bored with doing it now. All right, so the only way I can make it interesting for me, is to completely dissect it and not pay you off.'"
-- Quentin Tarantino (all [sic], natch) on Charlie Rose, 10/14/94

"Why couldn't we have an intercom to hear her, rather than a TV?"
-- Lolita Davidovich, in Raising Cain re: her and John Lithgow's daughter

Popped out between a high-profile disaster (Bonfire of the Vanities) and an underappreciated gem (Carlito’s Way), Raising Cain (1992) is arguably Brian De Palma's most elaborate private joke, designed to alienate 90% of the audience rather than the usual 60%. (Like most of the world, I initially hated it.) As has been well documented elsewhere, the script (by De Palma) falls somewhere between incoherent and irrelevant, with multiple John Lithgows lording over multiple corpses, an adulterous wife (Lolita Davidovich) and his attempt to abscond with his own daughter. (You can find a valiant attempt to sensically untangle the plot here.)

The thing is, it’s not, as per the usual De Palma charge, simply a handful of great set pieces he cares about strung together by material he in no way cares about. If anything, the filler has been wholly eradicated, leaving us with not only great set pieces, but manifest odd diversions and, of course, a plot that makes that much less sense. This is all by design, though to call it campiness -- as per John Lithgow phalanx of all-too-game turns -- is only scraping the barrel. No mere fanboy fodder this -- Cain seems designed to separate the -heads from everyone else, not only deliberately irritating the audience, but going out of its way to do it.

Perhaps most infamously is the way that, after a fairly straightforward set-up, he drops us into a time warp, where, for about ten minutes, Davidovich continually wakes up and gets murdered. Simply a dream vs. reality mindfuck? Not so -- looking back after what follows it, each of its threads convey some important plot information, from her history with ex-lover Steven Bauer (via a hospital scene that contains one of his best uses of reflection) to their romp in the dreamy forest. (Though that last one’s not verified as a fact till later on.) It’s obvious that De Palma had written a very dry, boring stretch of flat plot, cut it up into ribbons and threw them in the air, assembling them in much the fashion George Martin did the middle section of the Beatles’ “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Maybe that explains Davidovich’s gratuitous expository narration. (The section also contains the pantheon moment where he repeatedly cuts between Davidovich getting a stone sword in the heart with her waking up in mortal fear, highlighting the split second of waking consciousness during which we’re convinced our nightmare is really happening.)

But like I said, Cain is all De Palma, no filler. So there’s more where that came from. De Palma constantly introduces something but doesn’t explain anything about it, staring with the opening zoom-out from a monitor showing Lithgow lovingly sleeping with his a little girl. Who’s Lithgow sleeping with? Who’s watching? (It later turns out it’s his version of a baby monitor for his daughter, and it runs 24/7 in he and Davidovich’s bedroom.) He denies us the thrills of the murder scenes: all homicides take place off-screen, and what ones we see are either fantasies or cut before we see the murderee actually die. (Another pantheon moment: De Palma cuts from a close-up of Lithgow’s blade en route to the deed to an overhead shot of the bloody body in a car trunk.) Along with the expected Hitchcock and Argento nods, there’s even a Dressed to Kill homage. (He’s homaging himself! After already doing it in...Dressed to Kill!)

There’s also a devastating parody of his signature traveling shot. Frances Sternhagen (who’s given a black wig for the sole purpose of having it stolen) is led by dics Gregg Henry and Tom Bower down an escalator, into a lobby and then up an elevator, all while she dispenses expository dialogue. To make matters funnier: she repeatedly walks off in the wrong direction, and Henry and Bower have to grab her and point her in the direction the camera’s supposed to be going -- directors on a masterful shot that requires another take.

And needless to say, the part where Lithgow suddenly finds himself telling his younger self (i.e., a boy actor with a sped-up Lithgow voice) to fuck off is rather indescribably amazing.

Unlike other De Palma wank-offs (Greetings and Hi, Mom!; Body Double; Femme Fatale), there’s no unifying statement(s), nor any attempt at some. I suppose you could argue that the film works in a reaction to charges of over-masculinity in films like The Untouchables. Early on, Lithgow is unflatteringly dubbed “the perfect husband” (Bauer, of course, is the ideal male), while his other personalities (his “brother” and father) take turns remarking on his sissiness. By the end, Lithgow has not rebelled against this charge but embraced it, turning himself into a woman. But to say that that dominates the film is to ignore the film’s delirious ode to the director’s peerless craft.

[This reevaluation has been performed in breathless anticipation of The Black Dahlia, coming to theaters near you Friday and to me tomorrow (i.e., Tuesday) morning. Whatever my thoughts on Dahlia turn out to be, go see it anyway, as De Palma needs all the money he can get to make more. Also, this reevaluation has been so silver-lined that I now wonder if I shouldn’t re-tackle the many other De Palmas I’ve hated or just not terribly liked through the years: Scarface, Wise Guys, Casualties of War, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Snake Eyes, and Mission to Mars. I think so.]

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Newsflash: The Black Dahlia is going to fucking rule

md'a was unimpressed. Todd McCarthy went and called it "overripe". The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt claims a steady decline over the film's second hour. James Ellroy likes, but no one seems overly giddy, though at least none seem to be outraged.

Keep your wits, fellow De Palma heads. This movie is going to fucking rule.

In all likelihood, I will be seeing this masterpiece du cinema on Tuesday. If it turns out it is, in fact, not a masterpiece du cinema, I will do my best to interpret it in such a way that it seems like it is. Frankly, this doesn't seem too difficult. De Palma films are typically hard to read at first, and can, to the untrained mind, come off stupid and embarrassing. Like Cronenberg, it takes some work to see what he's doing. But once you get it, he infects your mind and makes it hard to read his films any other way. Have I mentioned how high Femme Fatale leapt in quality after a second viewing, around the time I started "getting" De Palma? If I don't immediately think this movie fucking rules, I will see it until I feel that way. I'm not putitng a time-frame on "is" in the "This movie is going to fucking rule" sentence. Fucking-ruling movies can take all the time they went to sit with the viewer, as long as the viewer eventually realizes that they do, in fact, fucking rule.

My only reservation is that this particular story/adaptation may be too perfect for him. For most, Dahlia's web of voyeurism, chic lesbianism, gruesome murders and gruesomer sex would prove difficult, but De Palma could do it in his sleep. Let's hope he didn't. And he didn't. Because this movie is going to fucking rule.

In the meantime, sate yourself with Slant's immensely awesome film-by-film De Palma revistation, with much analsysis from expert/primo fanboy Eric Henderson. And at the expense of turning this here site into all-out You Tube-reliant, here's the genius trailer for a film which, I'm not sure if you've heard, is going to fucking rule.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Let's get into trouble, baby

Trolling around for something to throw up during my weekly bout of shameless self-promotion (coming forthwith), I happened upon -- and, lucky for you, was unable to resist -- Bruce Conner's 1978 video for Devo's "Mongoloid." (The older version, not the one on Q. Are We Not Men? A. We Are Devo!) Skip Thurston and Mark if you're impatient:

I remember launching into a tedious, humorless defense of Devo when an old roommate asserted that they were a novelty act. I still feel kind of bad about my tone (yeah, I'm sure he rushed out and listened to their records afterwards), but not about the message. You don't have to go far from "Whip It" to discover the singular genius of Devo, who at their best sound like an only slightly more mainstream version of The Residents; any track on Freedom of Choice should do. (As should the aforementioned Are We Not Men? and the nigh impenetrable Duty For the Future.) If it's not awesome enough that the band recorded a cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" that entirely skips the famous riff, if you're not impressed that they were once almost Johnny Rotten's post-Sex Pistols backing band, if it's not intellectually peculiar enough that their name and theme bear strong similarities to Oscar Kiss Maerth's pseudoscientific The Beginning Was the End, which posited that the rise of man is due to an evolutionary accident caused by a species of sex-crazed, cannibalistic apes -- then at least you can concede that they're worth more than novelty status for getting Bruce Conner, without solicitation, to make a short film around one of their songs.

The clip is pure Conner. The one below isn't. This is one of the better parts of the intermittently genius Tapeheads. (Groupie to passing metal band: "Teach me to read!") Here's the Swedish synth pop band Cube Squared. (I.e., what I always hoped the sequel to Cube had been called. Cube 2: Hypercube? Come on.). The vocals, with lyrics rewritten for another tongue, are Devo; the bods are not. Do not zip past Don Cornelius.

Now for the nitty-gritty! Two features this week: one about "The Valerie Project," a film-music screening featuring members of Espers, Fern Knight and Grass performing over the 1970 Czech New Wave coming-of-age classic Valerie and Her Week of Wonders; another featuring Ryan Fleck and Shareeka Epps talking about Half Nelson (the review's at the bottom -- also, based mostly on this picture, Fleck looks like a far, far skinnier me; weird). Also, a review (third down) of Neil LaBute's The Wicker Man. Also, Rep.