Alex Ross Perry’s film is clearly inspired by several key films of Robert Altman, Roman Polanski and even Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
But make no mistake: This film is absolutely true and unique unto itself.
Alex Ross Perry’s film is well articulated and masterfully done it never veers. It holds the audience from beginning to end.
It is as if the writer/director has created the perfect cinematic symphony with an orchestra full of exceptional players: Keegan DeWitt’s musical score, Sean Price Williams’ cinematography, Robert Greene / Peter Levins’ tight editing and three actors in key supporting roles (Kentucker Audley, Patrick Fugit, Kate Lyn Sheil and Keith Poulson) — all pull together to form an ideal “stage” for the Perry’s two key leading ladies.
Katherine Waterston’s portrayal is a mix of “ice” and “fire.” She moves about the film fully formed like twisted idea from a Modigliani painting merged with a 1970’s Holly Hobby Doll.
But the heart, soul and ultimate power emanates from Elisabeth Moss. The camera seldom moves away from her and you don’t want it to — she is captivating and brilliant.
Alex Ross Perry has created a real bit of magic with “Queen of Earth.” Despite a low budget and an idea that seems ripe for parody — he has created a stunning film is as interesting as it is disturbing. Long after the film ends, the true horror of what has been played out takes on a deeper and more sinister element.
Don’t miss it…
Matty Stanfield, 8.27.15
Recently I saw Belinda Sallin’s documentary, Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World. An art gallery curator spoke regarding the therapeutic healing aspects of Giger’s work. He commented that many artists deal with the darker aspects of human experience and survival by diving deep into the damage of human suffering to find the “voice” and “inspiration” for art but then re-emerge to take a break from all of the darkness. The curator then stated a fundamental in understanding the late H.R. Giger, H.R. Giger dove down deep and stayed there. Whatever childhood or personal traumas this man endured — he opted to find a way to be comfortable in the darkness and pain. This is one of the reasons his art speaks to so many people on such a profound level.
I saw this film out of curiosity of the way Sallin and her Cinematographer, Eric Stitzel, had reportedly approached the artist and his home. It was a rewarding cinematic experience. It also gave me pause to look at the often disturbing sexualized themes of Giger’s art.
What had often struck me as phantasmagorical exploration into BDSM / KINK erotica, was actually offering a great deal more to his ardent followers. H.R. Giger’s dark work served not only as his personal art therapy, but offered the same release to viewers. So much so that an entire subculture of artistic and marginalized people have taken these works to form detailed maps tattooed all over their bodies.
Art speaks to us. Sometimes it is there to only allow an escape. Other times it is a form of magical pleasure. This is especially true of Film Art and Music. The Sound of Music has held generations of people within its sway. The same is certainly even more true of Star Wars or the television series, Star Trek.
As for music, a song can bring us back to the happiest moments of our lives and the saddest. There are more than a few generations of people who think of songs as Anthems. A sort of collective “call to arms” on the fields of sport or in pursuit of summer fun. This of course is the power of art. No matter how “lofty” or “petty” the concerns of the artists, the work that results impacts in various and powerful ways.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with D.I.D. (Dissociative Identity Disorder). The diagnosis was horrifying to me. It would take me about two and a half years before I could fully “own” this disorder.
However, as shocking as this diagnosis was, it did make sense. I had been “losing time” for almost a year. I would be sitting some place and then find myself in another with no clue as to how or why.
Most scary was finding myself in places that I did not know. I did not yet have a smart phone to help me determine where I was. I was convinced I had a brain tumor.
After visits to numerous specialists to clear me of any physiological issues, it came down to psychologists and psychiatrists.
After 18 months and four psychiatric professionals who consulted with each other, it was determined that I was “lucky.” After several years of repeated and nightmarish childhood sexual assault, my mind had developed a way of surviving it.
The subconscious took over and created tiny spaces in which to place the seeming “unsurvivable” emotions and pain. As I entered adulthood these fragments within my brain remained somehow active.
What were once my mind’s coping strategies morphed into oddly functional capacities. One of the reasons I had so much trouble in accepting the diagnosis of D.I.D. was that I had no problem remembering what had happened to me. In fact, I remembered everything with almost detailed precision.
After intense therapy I began to realize that there were entire blocks of time over the course of my life from the age of 9 to 38 of which I had no memory.
Having been an exhaustive journaler from way back, I spent a couple of months sorting through them.
Pages had been ripped out or “detracted” by self-imposed scribbles to prevent me from reading what I had been up to.
Suddenly it all begin to make sense.
Aside from the fact that I had to quit and walk away from a highly successful professional life and face life in the “fun world of Disability” I had to come to understand the odd way in which my mind helped me to succeed where many would have failed.
The sad fact of D.I.D. is that sooner or later the coping strategies backfire. Instead of assisting the individual, they start to turn against the goals of the owner.
For women this tends to happen sooner in life. For men, it appears the strange functioning powers hold off giving-out later in life. So it was as I entered my 40’s that I could no longer succeed in the line of work or any level of employment that required active thought and responsibility. This may change in the future, but for now I am told that I need to “re-adjust” my life goals. For now, I need to think about a life without a traditional career.
I could go on and on — and, in fact, I have written a great deal about this struggle. The point of this blog entry is to discuss how Film and Music Art have helped me all of my life.
Much like H.R. Giger and has fans, darkness in art is often a forgiving and cathartic place for me to seek refuge. Unlike Giger and many of his fans, it is not a place in which I can stay for too long. I have to “escape” all of it. But I cannot stay away for too long. There is a healing to be found in both the world of darker art and certain levels of escape art.
As a child I was utterly consumed with fascination regarding the music and film world. Rather than attempt to “restate” myself regarding these Artists and their work I will simply mention them and include some images. You can draw your own conclusions. Maybe a few of you will even relate or connect to a different (I hope!) but similar way.
I was four years old when my parents decided to take me to see a “re-issue” of Bambi. The cinema was sold out. So they opted for us to see What’s Up Doc?
I was too young to find the movie funny or interesting. However, I recall something very vivid about the experience of seeing Peter Bogdanovich’s classic film: This different looking lady was laying on top of a grand piano. She started to sing, “You must remember this…”
and my four year old ears and eyes were forever changed. Something in this lady’s voice grabbed hold of me and never let go.
After the movie I demanded to know who this lady was.
I believe it was my father who told me she was a singer.
I demanded that we cross the busy street to K-Mart so I could get the What’s Up Doc? record. There was no such thing. But I think my demand was puzzling enough for my parents to follow it. I selected my first record album based on the fact that the cover was of a child who seemed close to my own age.
I would go on to play this album so much that I swear you could hold it up and see through the vinyl. I listened to Barbra Streisand constantly. Over the years her voice became my equal to chicken soup.
I was 8 when I discovered The Who and Ken Russell’s Tommy. Both the 1969 album and the 1975 movie.
The connection to this film and The Who album seem almost painfully obvious with hindsight.
It would not be long before I found a powerful level of escape from weed and downers. (Valium was my particular favorite) But music and most especially Film Art formed into a core of my being. While most of my friends were obsessed with Welcome Back Kotter and Happy Days, I was consumed with Ken Russell’s rock opera film and Streisand’s rock-pop remake.
As I am unable to legally work, I have found creative entry ways into helping re-discover work and artists that matter to me. Aside from filing my time, it has led to some unexpected connections and a sometimes exciting background “roles” in helping to get films restored and re-issued.
Sometimes my assistance leads to nowhere. Other times it helps.
I’m not an artist.
I’m not paid.
But my voice is now heard in surprising new ways.
D.I.D does not get in my way the way it used to. Right now the main challenges are defeating phobias and odd thought processing.
And, no. My life is nothing near nor has it ever been remotely like the depictions of the disorder seen on television or movies. I don’t change clothes and personas.
Actually, it is so nuanced that few ever noticed.
There was a period of about 4 years where it would sometimes be clear to others that something wasn’t quite “right” but for the most part it has never been easily spotted.
And I’m very relieved to say that I have not “lost time” in over 3 years now.
The challenges now seem to creep up in phobias, self-doubt and often inabilities related to concentration. Sometimes letters re-arrange as I write or read.
That is when it is time to stop and just lose myself — in Art.
Art that seems to speak to struggles, fears, reality, surrealism and ideas
that seem to have the ability into which I can escape.
…And, to heal the broken.
Matty Stanfield, 8.25.2015
“One way or another I’m gonna see ya I’m gonna meetcha meetcha meetcha meetcha
One day, maybe next week I’m gonna meetcha, I’ll meetcha And if the lights are all out
I’ll follow your bus downtown see who’s hanging out. One way or another…”
In October of 1978 many things were changing in my life. I was soon to be 12 years old, I had an awesome new baby brother, my parents were approaching the edge of divorce, and the summer before he arrived I was making friends with a whole new breed of people. Looking back it is a miracle that I survived without ever getting into any heavy trouble. But I suspect most of us look back at 11-14 as a time when things in our lives started to take dramatic shift.
I have always love movies and music. In 1978 a new kind of music was catching my ears and eyes thanks to “FM College Radio, The Rolling Stone, Smash Hits, Circus, Creem and The Midnight Special. It was called “Punk” and it was very quickly morphing into a sort of hybrid called “New Wave” or “No Wave.”
It was around this time I first saw and heard Kate Bush. Her voice and image would stop me in my tracks. If you go to YouTube and seek out Kate Bush’s 1978 Wuthering Heights vid-clip, you will see an impossibly low-fi and over-the-top almost cheezy sort of soft-focus mess. But in 1978, if you were lucky enough to see this clip it was amazing. No one, to my knowledge, had ever heard or seen anything quite like this. The first thing that caught your attention was her voice. Almost ear-splittingly shrill — Kate Bush’s voice could soar so far into the atmosphere and then pummel back down with a low tonal quality that was at once beautiful, discordant and disturbing. The music itself was melodic and catchy. Then the visual.
We did not yet know Kate Bush. She would quickly become known as “reclusive,” eccentric,” “mysterious” and not an artist particularly interested in jetting her way around the globe promoting her work. When we heard she would be on MTV, it turned out to be an odd sort of vid-clip. What Kate Bush was doing would soon become a major part of our culture. This was the very early MTV kind of thing that would evolve it’s way toward oblivion.
But seeing Kate Bush in this initial video was an odd experience. You saw a thin and clearly beautiful girl. She never seemed to blink. She was constantly moving. At times graceful and at other times almost threateningly pounding the ground. In some clips she would be outside in a red flowing sort of long dress, but most times she would be in a long flowing white dress. Either time she would begin jumping, twirling, spinning and summersaulting into soft-focus blurred visual-echo-effect. At time she would twirl about that all you could really see was a blurry white mass.
It was altogether different and strange. It was not Rock. It was not Punk. It was not New Wave. For her first three albums Kate Bush simply did not fit in. For lack of any other label, she was assigned “Prog-Rock.” But she was a game-changer. But, although she shook me ’round. It would be a couple of more years before I would actually enter a Sam Goody and request a copy of her albums be ordered for me.
It was also around this time that I began to pay closer attention to the this band called The Patti Smith Group. Of course, KISS was already in my subconscious and my mind was constantly in battle over Disco vs. Rock. This debate was a heavy topic on my “new” friends‘ conversations. The movie, Grease, was immediately deemed “uncool.”
The Bee Gees were “soul-less hacks” and Rod Stewart has “sold out.”
I hid my Captain & Tennille, Andy Gibb, Saturday Night Fever and Donna Summer records. I did not mention them. Everyone knew I loved Barbra Streisand. This was accepted. In some way my defense of Streisand earned me points. I didn’t care what anyone thought. I was possessed. And it was considered very cool that I was the only one of the “clan” who had seen The Exorcist, A Star Is Born, Saturday Night Fever and Carrie in the cinema. I was asked to discuss all three movies in depth. The idea being that if I explained what I saw, then they too could claim to have seen them.
Being 11 going on 12, it was not always easy to find or secure the records of these new voices. The same was true for some of these cool people who were a few years older than me. I had known them for years. This were the kids who chased me and other friends around the local park and elementary school yard. Now they were in Jr. High and a couple had siblings in high school. These connections were not solid, but they offered adventure and access to the sonic treasures I needed. I was considered cool because I already had a Blondie album, Plastic Letters, and Radio Ethiopia by The Patti Smith Group. I can’t even recall how I landed these albums. I also had a growing collection of both Creem and Circus magazines that I had wrangled both my Grandmother and strange father into buying for me.
Yeah, man. I was a cool 11 year-old. Though, I had The Patti Smith Group album since I was 9.
One night something came on The Midnight Special, Wolfman Jack’s voice introduced what would turn out to be a video of Blondie. The impossibly cool group of people seemed trapped in some sort of empty dance studio with a big disco ball being passes about. This was totally cool and yet disturbing. Of course this was the very early days of the music vid-clip that would soon take over my generations’ lives. The disturbing element was that Debbie Harry and friends were lip-synching to a disco song! Debbie Harry’s once-heavily sprayed hair was now sloppy-cut shorter. She still seemed sullen and teasingly bored as she “sang” that what had been a gas was really nothing but a Heart of Glass.
I shall not lie. I loved it. But I was hesitant to openly admit it. The next day, a Sunday I believe. Me and my actual friend, and the only other person under 13 were huddled with the others. Scoring cigarettes, beer or weed and the topic of Blondie’s Heart of Glass were the main conversation points. One kid spouted out an angry opinion that Blondie, like Rod Stewart, had sold out and only KISS and The Stones were truly cool. When a couple of others mentioned Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, they were “shhhh’d.”
But then the coolest of us all (and the eldest) stood up, pushed out her ever growing boobs harnessed in by a way cool and far too-tight Who baseball jersey and stated, “Heart of Glass is a reaction against the stupidity of Disco. It is New Wave. It is even cooler than anything KISS will ever do!”
Now, I and my friend were only allowed into this circle because we were willing to run errands and stuff. We were allowed cigarettes and some weed but that was all. We were seldom allowed to speak. We were just lucky to be there. Everything grew very quiet. This girl, I shall call her “X” had just made an assertion that threatened the cool of KISS! Everyone sat slack-jawed at the 15 year old girl scowled at the the 14 year old boy who the self-imposed leader of this lame little gang. Even the leader didn’t know how to respond to X.
For those of you too young to remember or too old that you might have forgot:
KISS was starting to lose some cred. They were on the same record label as The Village People. And while we knew it was coming — nothing could prepare us for the serious “lame” of their infamous TV Movie, KISS Meet the Phantom of the Park. It was with this television special that KISS would seriously loose it’s cool for quite a while and became more popular with little kids. KISS was about to fully “sell out.”
At any rate, there was a growing vibe against the cool of KISS, yet it was not fully articulated. Although we were eagerly awaiting the TV Movie and the solo albums that we knew were headed our way.
I remember taking a deep breath. I was the first one to speak after X made the shocking statement.
“X is right. I mean, Circus and Creem are calling Blondie the coolest. Creem even called their new song ‘No Wave.'”– this was particularly bold of me because I didn’t understand the difference between New Wave or No Wave — and, to be honest, Heart of Glass sure sounded like standard Disco to me. I had already sort of worked my way up the ladder of this group of older kids. Largely because I had a big mouth and refused to show fear or intimidation. I, alone, had stood up for Fleetwood Mac’s TUSK and boldly stated that no one should ever speak against Led Zeppelin. And, I still stand by those opinions. However this debate would continue for a few weeks.
Then at the beginning of fall of 1978 a major event took place:
The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, The Kiss Solo Projects and Blondie’s Parallel Lines albums all came out at about the same time! And none of us had them!
The Columbia House ads had not yet posted these three albums to their loop of “Get 11 albums for a Dollar!” campaign.
This was a marketing gambit that all of us, and probably you, took full advantage of with fake names hoping your parents would not beat you to the mail. Columbia House would attempt to chase us down well into the 1990’s to no avail. Odd marketing strategy that escapes reason even all these years later. How many record collections were started thanks to Columbia House? Anyway, The Stones & KISS & Blondie were not yet articulated as a part of the Columbia House Marketing Concept.
A few days later, my same-aged pal — I will call him “J” — and fellow member of this mis-formed clique, was at Albertsons with his mom he made a magical discovery! Now our Albertsons was obsessed with stamping out all competition. They even opened up a “Record Department” for a shot while. J grabbed me and we went straight over to let everyone know what J had discovered.
Albertsons was selling The Stones’ Some Girls, 2 of the 4 Kiss Solo albums and Blondie’s Parallel Lines for $5.99 each!!!
Now at this time my brother had just been born. My house was in a constant state of confusion. So it was easy to slip out and do things I wanted to do. X arranged to get a ride in her older brother’s car. It was decided that she and I would go and purchase the records. X held the money, but I already had a $5 bill and almost $2.80 in change. I was determined to get a copy of Parallel Lines.
X’s brother was a jerk. X declared him lame. True enough, he was playing the Mary MacGregor 8-Track as we drove to Albertsons. As she crooned about being torn between two lovers I innocently told X’s brother than my mother had this tape. X started laughing and slipped her hand back for me to give her “five.”
Like only a little sister can, she leaned forward to her brother and teased, “Wow, you are sooooo cool! Matty’s mom likes this too!”
X’s brother exhaled, ripped the tape out and replaced it with a Leo Sayer 8-Track. This reaction made both X and me laugh.
We rushed into the side entrance of Albertsons past the huge magazine and book racks and went straight to the shiny new Record Department. I grabbed my copy of Parallel Lines as X grabbed several copies of each album. I rushed to the cashier stand. The lady rang me up. I paid her. She then took out a box-cutter and sliced the shrink wrap open and placed a huge blue “Albertsons” sticker on my valued treasure! I was outraged!
“No! I don’t want that sticker!”
“Sorry, Kid-O. Store policy.”
X stood up for me, “Hey, he paid for that and you’re ruining the record!”
“Hon, it’s just a sticker. That way we know it was paid for.”
X stood her ground. “He doesn’t want that record now. He wants a different copy without your lame sticker. He is paying. We are going to leave right after you ring me up.”
“Look, Miss Smarty-Pants, any record anybody buys here is going to get a sticker on it! Now you stop giving me lip, Missy!”
X signaled for me to take my “damaged” album. She handed her slew to the bitch behind the counter.
“My oh my! This is a lot of records!”
The demented shrew proceeded to slash the shrink wrap and place the blue sticker on each copy. She even tore the Stones’ specially designed album cover’s cut-outs. But she didn’t pay attention to X’s protests.
As we walked back outside toward her brother and his suspicious music tastes, X turned to me. She took my cope of Parallel Lines and ordered:
“Go back in there, pick up a new copy of the Blondie record and pick up a new copy of the Gene Simmons record. We’ll be waiting outside the side door. That bitch is not gonna mess up our albums!”
I told her no. That I didn’t want to get into trouble for stealing. Clearly, X wasn’t going to do this. She was going to make me do it for her.
“You are not stealing. You are taking what is ours! She won’t notice you. You’re a kid. You look innocent. Just do it”
And then she hit me where I lived.
“If you don’t do it, I will make sure that you and J are miserable until I graduate from high school! No shit! I mean it!”
This served as a sort of Tipping Point toward the pending teenage rebellion.
I was terrified. But as I walked into the store, passed the magazine and book racks my fears turned into a sort of dared energy. I was walking fast, but with purpose. I suddenly saw the sweet looking Albertsons lady at the counter as My Enemy. This is probably the biggest trick to shoplifting: I didn’t hesitate or act like I was trying to hide anything.
I simply walked up, pulled both of these albums out of their respective cubbies, turned and walked out of the store. X, her brother and his car were waiting just outside the side entrance. I got in and handed her the Gene Simmons album. I held my Blondie album close to my chest. I was not caught and my cool prestige was knocked up several notches.
I would soon start working for a donut shop and would lose touch with everyone of X’s team. I’d also lose contact forever with J.
And, about 12 years later I would present my baby brother with the the few albums I did not sell to pay for my voyage out of Texas to Boston. It was January of 1991 when I sat down with my brother and explained the importance of The Beatles, John Lennon, Fleetwood Mac and Blondie. I was worried he might face the wrath of our mother if I left him with any Patti Smith, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or Who albums. I sold those. Although, I might have given him a Stones, Doors and maybe even one Pink Floyd album. I can’t remember.
Anyway, I think the records I gave him pushed him toward the Greater Cool. At least, it felt like it. I hope they did. And I hope he never had to steal. That one time in the early fall of 1978 was the last time I stole. Well, sort of. Leave me alone!
Tastes being subjective, Film Theorist and Film Preservationists are and will always need to continually “re-assesing” the value and merit of the art form.
Perhaps the most challenging sort of movie to asses are those cinematic oddities that simply refuse to go away. Cult Films are an essential part of the cultures that produced them. Some are worthy of their “cult” status and others require massive abuse of drugs to share in the “joy.”
However, just because something is “exploitive” or “tacky” does not immediately excuse if from being re-visted, restored and re-distributed. Very often it boils down to the fact that a movie is “exploitive” and “tacky” that ends up making it relevant. A movie might create a permanent stain on our cultural fabric. Sometimes it is better to cover the stain with a Ron Howard movie and hope no one ever notices it again. Other times we need to frame that “stain” and celebrate it.
I love all kinds of film. But I have a soft spot for misfits and movies so painfully “bad” they work themselves around to being “exceptionally fun” — such is the case of Berry Gordy’s horrifyingly funny 1975 cinematic error, Mahogany, in which poor Ms. Diana Ross must climb the depraved ladder of fashion to achieve superstar success.
We cringe as she is forced into awkward situations with Anthony Hopkins. Playing a celebrated fashion photographer, Hopkins is once again cast as a psycho in jeans so tight they actually might have been sewn onto him. Equally uncomfortable is the fact that Diana Ross saw this movie as chance to show off her personal “fashion design” brilliance.
Yes, she designs her own clothing. And it hurts. But Mahogany goes about everything just a bit too hard and too much to make it worthy of trying to save. It will always offer fun to some, but not enough to warrant a restoration. Don’t flame me if you disagree. I’m just stating an opinion.
Richard Elfman’s one directorial effort is insane, offensive, profane and an incredibly bad movie. Yet, The Forbidden Zone, is so strange and brimming over the top with creativity, ideas, talent and sheer force of will — It will never go away!
And it shouldn’t. In addition, TFZ is a musical staring Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell and Danny Elfman! Danny is Richard’s little brother. The Forbidden Zone demanded a revisit! It was restored and re-distributed. It is just as bad as Mahogany, but what it offers is so unique, entertaining and odd that it’s horrible glory can’t be ignored or forgotten. In it’s own way, The Forbidden Zone is a brilliant off-kilter work of art.
I thought I’d briefly mention some movies that have recently been revisited/restored and a couple that I feel deserve to have a re-visit or reconsideration.
Warner Brothers often makes odd choices regarding what films within their massive achieve are deemed to be of value for restoration and redistribution. They continue to release Ken Russell’s controversial The Devils. They also refuse to allow Irvin Kershner’s Up The Sandbox to be properly re-stored and issued to HD/Blu-ray quality and format. Yet, they are more than eager to restore the Bette Davis & Robert Montgomery contractual obligation of 1948, June Bride. They have also allowed the forgettable Herbert Ross George Burns and Walter Matthau vehicle, The Sunshine Boys, to be restored.
It took Warner Brothers decades to decide to offer a “clean-up” but not fully restored DVD/VOD of Roger Vadim’s infamous exploration film, Pretty Maids all in a Row. This nasty little 1971 movie features an unforgettable cast of actors — almost all of whom appear to be a little uncomfortable for the duration of the movie. The idea in 1970 was to allow Roger Vadim free-reign to create a satirical and perverse sex comedy to bring in the big bucks and to revitalize Rock Hudson and Angie Dickinsons’ respective careers.
Interestingly, it would go on to inspire a major network to create a classic iconic TV series for Telly Savalas called Kojack. Yes, kids. We have this amazingly twisted and so-bad-it’s-good Cult Film to blame (or thank) for the 1970’s Kojack. The film didn’t do much for anyone else. If anything it killed a few potential careers as casually as it kills cheerleaders. Joy Bangs, anyone? With a name and body like that she was expected to go far, but this would be one of her last bids of fame.
But rest easy, plans are lurking to fully restore and redistribute this cinematic oddity to HD/Blu-ray. But keep your fingers crossed just to be safe. But within the next 6 to 8 months!
Check out Todd Gaines review of this film on LetterBoxd. He sums this film up better than I ever could:
Warner Brothers has also finally surrendered and agreed to “restore” Tony Scott’s infamous, iconic, controversial and much admired cult classic of Vampiric-Cool, The Hunger. Sadly, WB has taken it upon themselves to do this. The Blu-Ray will be released next Tuesday, 8.18.15! The transfer looks good and the sound is improved from the DVD release. It could have been better, but it is still worthy improvement.
Very loosely based on Whitley Strieber’s novel, Tony Scott was far more interested in style and the hopelessly cool cast he managed to assemble in this very entertaining Art-Horror Film. It often seems like we are seeing only the coolest of the early 1980’s NYC Art Scene hiding around the corners as Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie pursue their blood-lust. One of their first victims is Eternal Hipster, Ann Magnuson. Not to mention the fact that movie opens with Peter Murphy and the legendary British Goth Rock band, Bauhaus – crooning their seminal hit, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”
It is an artfully and darkly shot bit of early 1980’s stylistic chic. It is also one of the most erotic vampire films you will ever see. Man, woman, gay, straight, trans or any existence between — you’re bound to find Catherine Deneuve’s seduction and love-making to Susan Sarandon hot. …hot as well as kind of funny and still a bit surprising.
Tony Scott loses his way with the story. As the film sleeks casually and oh-so-cool toward it’s end, you realize that it may not make any logical sense whereas in the novel the ending was truly disturbing and unforgettable. With this awesome movie, the ending is not so important as how neat it all looks! Seriously. This graphic film of obsession, lust, fear of aging and AIDS metaphor is amazing.
The Hunger even manages to be creepy. Oh, and be sure to play this film really loud. Crank that sound up!
We have Olive Films to thank for rescuing Robert Altman’s deeply odd / disturbing 1969 psycho-sexual thriller, That Cold Day in the Park, back from the land of the forgotten. While Olive Films restoration abilities are severely limited, they do a decent job. It is a far cry better than allowing this classic film from rotting somewhere at Paramount.
Initially, this Canadian movie was brought back to life by Bruce LaBruce’s 1991 super-lo-fi film, “No Skin Off My Ass.” LaBruce’s framed that entire film off a distorted VHS copy of Altman’s movie. Altman’s 1969 film was dismissed and quickly faded into obscurity. Thanks to LaBruce’s underground film and Altman fans this film has returned from its imposed exile. It would take two decades but Olive Films brought the original film back to life!
Sandy Dennis plays her character like only Sandy Dennis can. She is a wealthy but lonely virgin spinster. She lives a seemingly mundane life among older people. It is never clearly articulated, but thanks to Dennis’ performance we receive several clues that something is wrong with “Miss. Frances Austen.” Actually, we are almost certain something is very much wrong.
When she notices an apparently homeless, mute and handsome man sitting alone on a park bench in the park, Miss. Frances Austen breaks convention and insists the “helpless” boy come to her swank home to warm up and have some food. She sends her cook and butler away. Why does she even have a cook and a butler in such a small but nice condo? It is never clear.
This film was mis-judged by film critics at the time of its release. It is an appropriate bookend to Altman’s interest in the psycho-sexual thriller. A few laters, Altman would pursue this genre again in “Images” — a film which received more acclaim than I think it deserved. Here, in “TCDITP” Altman more precisely and effortlessly slips into a woman’s damaged psyche. Much of the credit is deserved to Sandy Dennis. The film is short and fast-paced. Yet it is filled with fairly uncomfortable and realistic scenes between Dennis and Michael Burns as the handsome young man. As Miss. Frances Austen begins to open-up to the mute mostly nude young man who is unable to speak either with/to her — things start to take an oddly warped vibe. Clearly, Miss. Frances Austen (and her name bears repeating) is a virgin and dealing with a whole lot more than sexual repression.
The “twist” does not come as a “surprise” or even a device in a very smart move by Robert Altman. We know what is coming. This handsome mute boy is “playing” Miss. Frances Austen. He is using her for his own twisted fun and grift. The actually unexpected “twist” comes shortly after the “expected” one. After this twist is delivered, the viewer is likely to chuckle and feel reasonably entertained by this strange little movie. The thing is — Robert Altman and Sandy Dennis had just pulled-off a great cinematic trick:
The final turn of the movie isn’t going to leave your mind. What seems comical gradually takes on the sinister and disturbing.
A long neglected bit of cinematic magic has been saved by Olive Films. Do not miss it. Unlike the above mentioned films, this one is truly outstanding. There are really no jokes, camp or “bad” moments. Altman’s That Cold Day in the Park is near perfect.
Like Olive Films, Shout Factory has also done an amazing job of saving, restoring and re-distributing forgotten cinematic history. Unlike Olive Films, Shout Factory has a been more of a budget and access to more fully restore film. While far from being able to achieve what The Criterion Collection can, Shout Factory does great work. Perhaps their most important gift to Film Restoration is it’s recent release of Werner Herzog: The Collection. The set features 15 of the brilliant director’s best work. Thus far, Shout Factory has released 3 of those individually.
Their collection continue to grow. Thus far the films that they have restored and distributed that meant the most to me have been Cat People, Audition and The Herzog Collection. That doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed other re-discoveries. Perhaps my most personal favorite film that Shout Factory rescued would be Lewis John Carlino’s much neglected and forgotten pretty mess of a movie, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea.
Yukio Mishima’s exceptionally interesting, disturbing and thematic novel lost almost all of what makes it so brilliant when Lewis John Carlino adapted it for the screen in the mid-1970’s. It would be wrong to state that this film starring Sarah Miles and Kris Kristofferson is good. But it would be equally unfair to say that it holds no interest or merit. Carlino’s film is just strange enough to make it all interesting. Carlino’s interest in bringing Mishima’s book to the screen is limited to the perverse eroticism and sociopathic tendencies of the stepson. And, get ready. This is one of those “WTF” 1970’s Cinematic Moments.
Filmed in a “Vasoline Gauzed Haze” a loney and sex-starved widow/mother sits in isolation. She is unaware that her seemingly sweet son has drilled a peephole into her bedroom so that he can watch her. The son watches her masturbate as well as cry. Now, one would assume that the son is “getting-off” on this. But that is not necessarily the case. It is never clear.
When a tired and weary sailor meets “Mummy,” Sarah Miles falls immediately in love as does Kristofferson. At the time of the film’s release much to do was made over some infamous sex scenes between the two actors. Though, most of those scenes failed to make it into the movie, but went straight to Playboy Magazine for marketing.
But what a campaign it was! Interestingly, the eroticism remains running between Miles and Kristofferson, but their on-screen eroticism is not as bold as the following snaps from the movie that went to the cutting room floor to avoid an “X-Rating” — they served to promote the movie even today.
“Mummy’s” sweet son is troubled by the Sailor’s decision to abandon his life at sea to live with he and his mother. His level of cruelty as “the leader” of his band of fellow “enfant terrible” begins to even make his followers a bit nervous.
The Sailor catches the sun watching him make love to his wife and the boy’s mother. Well, things just take a very twisted turn after this.
The movie is a cinematic error. It doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work so well that it offers a sort of interesting appeal that almost slips into “camp” but instead loops itself into a decidedly sick and twisted cult movie. The sad thing about this film is that Yukio Mishima’s novel would make for an amazing film if the filmmaker were talented enough to translate/adapt it for the screen. The book is so dark and the themes so complex, it is doubtful any will attempt it.
As silly as the movie is, be warned that the depictions of animal cruelty and sexuality are fairly realistic/graphic. The actors do a fairly decent job. For most of us, however, the movie will neither shock or disturb us as much as it causes pause.
How in the world did this movie ever get made?!?!?
If we didn’t need further proof that 1970’s decade was truly odd era, Carlino’s adaptation of the acclaimed novel actually fit right into the cinematic syntax of it’s day.
I am currently working “covertly” and “off the grid” to help find another flawed but interestingly potent b-grade mishap from the World of Grind House Cinema.
I first saw this strange drive-in / grind house movie in 2005. I had been asked to view it as a potential for a film festival. I loved it, but for all the wrong reasons. The festival passed and last night I discovered that my “screening” DVD had died. Bummer. This movie is awesome and strange. The date of 1977 is incorrect. This film was actually shot in The Bay Area in the very early 70’s. It has been released under a number of times with different names. The original title was “The Seducers Deadly Game.” It found it’s way on double bills in NYC and LA between 1974 and 1975.
Eventually thanks to Sondre Locke’s fame as Clint Eastwood’s leading lady, it was released again in 1977 as Death Game. This is the name that stuck and it’s 1977 release was wide at drive-in’s across the nation. There are also several versions floating around out there. One is an edited 91 minutes in length. The other is the one I owned which runs at about 105 minutes.
You realize that this might be a strange movie as it begins with a title card warning that everything shows is completely true. But then the screen fills with some children’s artwork of family that feels a little “off” from the get-go. And a purposely annoying little sing-a-along song accompanies the credits.
The film stars Seymour Cassel as a father/husband/business man who has the house for the long weekend. All to himself, he decides to have a bit of fun. He lets it to “post-hippie-love-children” sex vixens played by the infamous Sondre Locke and Colleen Camp. Rule #1: if it is 1971/1972 and two hippie chicks knock at your door after sunset, don’t let them in.
Sadly, nobody taught Mr. Cassell Rule #1 for the early 1970’s.
“Sorry to bother you, really. But we’re lost!”
It is important to point out that this screen caps are deeply lacking in value because the current copies available all suck. Amazon sells one, but it is shorter in length and fairly poor quality.
They seduce poor Seymour Cassel in hazy 3-way and then the sick/twisted games begin. Turns out our hot hippie vixens have more in common with Charles Manson than Rod McKuen. They also each have a bone to pick with men. And for better or worse Seymour Cassel comes to represent “Daddy” to both of them. Though, clearly adult women both claim to be minors and that he has raped them.
They quickly began calling him “Daddy.” They are out for sex, blood and major home invasion wreckage. They also decide to put “Daddy” on trial for all the horrible things men have done to not only them, but for all of woman kind. Their mock trail is as comically bad as it is rather disturbing. And much like The Sailor, Seymour’s cat attracts some very unwanted attention from these two crazy sisters with a grudge.
This sick movie is just wrong, but infectious. If you’re like me you will be hooked to the screen until you come to the movie’s equally odd thud of an ending.
This movie was shot in 13 days with very limited audio-recording capabilities. The entire film had to be re-dubbed. The great Jack Fisk served as set designer and his wife, Sissy Spacek, is said to have had a hand in the costuming. She apparently declined to be in the movie. Seymour Cassel hated making this movie so much that he refused to show up and dub his lines. His lines are actually spoken by a member of the crew. The dubbing impact is annoying at first but it starts to take on a sort of Surrealistic vibe as the movie progresses. It is sort of like being dropped into a total nightmare.
The thing about “Death Game” / “The Seducers” is that it is impossible not to watch. It just keeps “one-up’ing” itself scene after scene. The movie is completely insane. If you get the opportunity, see it. Be warned, as silly as it all is — this is not a movie for all tastes. Heaps of inappropriate nudity, cruelty and violence. But seriously, this movie is so bad it becomes brilliant! I’d put it one notch above Roger Vadim’s also odd but big-budget “Pretty Maids all in A Row.” ...this is a major compliment.
I had the pleasure of asking Mr. Cassel if he would be willing to attend a screening and a have a “Q&A” with the midnight audience for a 2004 film festival. He was nice, but he quickly turned the offer down.
From my brief conversation with the great film actor, I gathered that Fisk/Spacek were involved in the production to raise some funds for a David Lynch project. Cassel could not remember, but I’ve always wondered if this was “Eraserhead‘ — much of which was actually shot in Fisk/Spaceks’ garage.
At any rate he also told me that he had been informed he would receive a script, but when he showed up the plan had been changed. The entire film was to be improvised by both Sondre Locke and Colleen Camp! Improvising all of their lines under the guidance of the director, Mr. Cassel was to improvise toward their lead only. When it became clear that “sound” was not a logical expectation of this “off the grid” movie project, Mr. Cassel lost his patience. And who can blame him?
Clearly there was no love lost between this great actor and his two leading ladies and the film’s director. Mr. Cassel preferred to talk about Jack Fisk, Sissy Spacek and David Lynch. Though, he couldn’t remember if Lynch was ever present at the messy shot in which an entire home was essentially destroyed. However I did push him a bit.
He was genuinely shocked to discover that the screening was expected to sell out and that this little film has a following as well as having served as the subject of more than a few Doctoral Theses.
The last thing he said to me was, “I don’t know, Kid. Go figure. Shocks the shit out of me.” And then he just laughed.
The truth is we never really know how a work of art — no matter it’s intention or motivation — will age.
But Film Art is far too important for us individually as well as a culturally.
We should never dismiss anything too quickly.
Like Mr. Cassel, it may shock us, but we never really know — for 20 years at least.
Matty Stanfield, 8.13.2015
In the final act of William Friedkin’s 1973 iconic film, The Exorcist, the film’s struggling priest and his wiser elder discuss the nature of evil, how to address it and how to understand it’s logic:
“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don’t listen to him. Remember that – do not listen.”
“Why her? Why this girl?”
“I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.”
The Exorcist first arrived to cinemas in December of 1973. This film’s reception and the reactions it caused are of historical note. Financed and distributed by Warner Brothers the movie caused fear, panic attacks, a couple of heart attacks, repulsion, anger and accusations of “blasphemy.” While The Exorcist is essentially a Supernatural Horror Film, William Friedkin’s epic film was approached with a level of realism and artistry that could not be refuted. It was a highly artistically-valid film. As for being an exploitive use of a child actor and blasphemy, well The Vatican gave this film the seal of approval. It was even blessed for “realistically depicting demonic evil.” Cue priests, nuns, ministers and most God-fearing people line up and see it.
If one is able to take pause and look at Friedkin’s film independent of it’s source novel and The Vatican, this movie also offers an interesting spin on the state of American Culture at the beginning of the 1970’s.
It can easily be summed up as metaphor for the feeling that parents had lost control of their children amid the emergence of “Anti-Establishment Movement” to “Sexual Revolution” to “Drug Culture” to the ever-increasing power of Rock rebellion.
Both the novel and film also indirectly address the tragic side of becoming a priest. The film conveys that Jason Miller’s Priest is something more to his best priest buddy. While his friend seems to be able to repress his sexual desires, it appears to be bit more of a strain for Miller’s “Father Karras” a repressed and guilt-ridden former boxer who has escaped into the Priesthood as much to do good as to escape his all-too moral desires. Interestingly, the self-proclaimed Atheist mother find it easier to accept that her daughter might be possessed by The Devil than this conflicted priest. This film is also examining the impact of repression and the reasons men decide to become priests. Granted, it is in a somewhat passive way, but it is there.
No matter how you want to interpret or view The Exorcist – the power of this infamous film is beyond denial. I remember sitting in sold-out huge Boston cineplex auditorium in 2000 to see the “Restored” and the “Version I Had Never Seen.” I was actually curious to see how a modern day audience would react to this early 1970’s film. I think I was expecting that we would all find the movie darkly comic. I was wrong. This was the normal “cineplex” audience. You know, the one that freely converses, talks back to the screen and generally rude masses. True to form, as the commercials and previews screened children were screaming, teenagers were tossing candy at each other and all sorts of mayhem that will ruin a movie viewing experience for me. But as soon as The Exorcist started, the entire tone of the packed auditorium changed.
By the film’s midpoint you could have heard a pin drop. Almost 30 years later, this movie was freaking us out. And it still shocks.
Which brings us to one of those long pondered questions which forever escaped logic. How did WB’s The Exorcist secure an
“R-Rating” by the MPPA in 1973? How did it reclaim that same rating 30 years later? Other far less sadistic or graphic films had been slapped with an “X-rating” and by 2000 we had seen the arrival of the dreaded “NC-17” label. Why would the MPAA give an art film like “Henry & June” an “NC-17” and “The Exorcist” an “R-Rating?”
Granted, neither or films for children, but if I were a parent and asked to pick which of these two films were “less appropriate” for a child under 17 years of age — I would select The Exorcist. I think most would.
Or maybe not? I’m not a parent. Maybe I have it wrong.
To put The Exorcist‘s “R-Rating” in perspective, in the same year the MPAA rated The Exorcist as “R” it slapped the dreaded “X-Rating” to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. In comparison this rating makes no sense. Luckily, Nicolas Roeg’s film had Paramount behind it’s distribution. Somehow the MPAA rethought it and relented an “R-Rating” for Roeg’s experimental film. But only two years earlier the MPAA assigned Ken Russell’s The Devils with an “X-Rating.” And, this was after WB required Ken Russell to cut out a significant amount of footage. Warner Brothers held on to two copies of Ken Russell’s original theatrical cut. While Russell’s The Devils is a provocation, it never goes anywhere near the level of having a 14 year-old girl defile herself with a crucifix.
Interestingly much has been made about William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist novel having been based on an actual and true incident involving a teenage boy in the 1950’s. However, when one actually looks into the “true story” much more of what actually happened is unclear. In most ways, this “true incident” appears to be largely lost within the shadows of marketing and urban legend. As grim and horrifying as The Exorcist is, both the 1973 and the 2000 versions offer the audience “hope.” This is a hope grounded in faith and the power of good over evil. There is nothing at all wrong with that. But it does seem a flimsy excuse to let it pass with an “R-Rating” when Friedkin’s more recent independent movie, Killer Joe, was given an “NC-17.”
In Kirby Dick’s 2006 documentary, This Film Is Not Rated, hidden cameras and a number of covert activities were utilized to break in to the odd world of Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system. The documentary revealed several things, but only one was surprising: Every screening held by the individuals who are “chosen” to serve as raters is blessed by both a Christian Minister and a Catholic Priest. While neither is supposed to lecture or push any decision of the raters, they are free to include whatever they wish in their blessings.
And here is the answer to the mysterious reasoning behind The Exorcist rating. It is Vatican approved.
It may contain graphic and obscene scenes of blasphemy, but it has a Catholic Intent. The priests fix it all! Or at least it seems to be thought.
The intent of Killer Joe is to satire the impact of greed on marginalized lower-class family dysfunction.
As for Ken Russell’s The Devils? The intent is aimed as satirizing both politics and religion. It depicts both fundamental aspects of most human life as opportunities for corruption, greed, ambition and power.
Oh, and unlike The Exorcist — The Devils is actually based on “historic fact.” I only put that in quotation marks because I am referring to 17th Century French history. However, the sources and descriptions of the events that Russell fictionalizes in The Devils tie much closer to what he shows us than anything of truth connected to The Exorcist. This means The Devils depicts a very scary moment in both French and Catholic history in which greed and power not only “suggested” nuns to blaspheme,
a primary Cardinal and his priests most likely “required” their nuns to comply or face torture — nothing is too much to a rebellious priest and assist the Catholic Church forge closer to a demented French King. Ken Russell didn’t even feel it necessary to change any of the actual names of the individuals who have already been forged into history.
This might explain Warner Brothers refusal to relinquish Ken Russell’s infamous and acclaimed 1971 art film, The Devils. Restoration of this film is of growing concern to Film Historians and Film Art Preservationists. Film only lasts so long and only WB knows where and how their 2 copies of The Devils are being stored. WB is not known to always apply a great deal of logic to their catalog. And they have an essential collection of cinematic work.
Going into it’s 45th year, this film may soon be lost forever unless WB takes care of it or releases it to a company who will. As you read this you might feel the need to roll your eyes or dismiss it, but this is worse than censorship: it comes at the risk of losing a valuable piece of cinematic history.
While I’m not sure one could state that Ken Russell’s The Devils is a better film than Friedkin’s The Exorcist. William Friedkin made the better film. The Exorcist is a cinematic masterpiece. No questions asked.
Ken Russell’s cinematic work is challenging. An eccentric British filmmaker, he shares more in common with the films of Michael Powell or even more like those of Andrzej Zulawski. Russell’s films tend to have a manic pace and no restraint. They are often bombastic, loud, crass and dangerous to know. “Women in Love” and “Tommy” are probably his two most accessible films. But his work is often magical and intellectual. In the case of The Devils, it is angry. No question that Russell was a cinematic genius. But as is the case with many genius artists, he often had a hard time restraining himself from excess and obsession.
That being stated and noting that The Exorcist is the better film. I do think a case could be argued that The Devils is an equally important film. It is also worth noting that The Exorcist has been such an influential and cultural juggernaut of world-wide scope, multiple copies in all formats exist in a number of places. The future preservation of The Exorcist is secured.
However, as time and investigations move further along — it is becoming clear that there might only be two remaining prints of The Devils as it was originally to be released in 1971. For quite a while there was thought to be a secured copy held by Ken Russell’s daughter. It would appear that this is not the case. One other possibility for a print of the full film turned up as invalid. It would appear that Warner Brothers is the only one who has a pristine print of the original film.
Despite pleas from The British Film Institute, The Great Britain Historical Society, The Ken Russell’s Estate, The BBC, The Criterion Collection and a power-laden Official Petition — Warner Brothers simply refuses to relinquish the film to anyone for any reason. It was viewed as a major victory for BFI when WB finally agreed to supply them with with limited licensing rights and a copy to “restore” and transfer limited to British Region Code DVD/Blu-Ray (no cinema screenings allowed) It didn’t matter. At last an organization would be able to properly restore and save the film. It was a bit of shock for the distinguished BFI to discover that Warner would not “loan” or “share” an actual print of the film. Instead BFI received a Digi-Beta tape of the American X Certificate version. The American “X-Rated” version was even more cut up than the UK version. This Digi-Beta tape greatly limited the ability to “restore” quality and it was not the original theatrical release of the movie.
BFI did their best. The quality is better than the briefly and highly censored VHS tape WB released in the mid 1980’s. Some scenes are fuzzy, some aren’t, some have audio issues that could only be minimally-addressed. Worst of all, the most crucial scenes of Russell’s work are still missing.
South Korea also secured a limited licensing from WB, but this was also made from a similar Digi-Beta tape that was an “R-rated” cut of the film that had never been seen. This version actually doesn’t completely make sense so much has been cut. There is one bootleg copy floating around, but the quality is so bad it is almost impossible to watch — and very often is impossible to hear.
Warner Brothers has never actually officially addressed the reasoning behind their refusal to allow access to The Devils. Because they have stated that Ken Russell’s original cut of the film is within their possession and protection, many thought that the executives were holding off to “cash in” once the film’s notorious and infamous director had died. However, we lost Mr. Russell in late 2011 at the age of 84. Warner Brothers continues to refuse requests, petitions and any individual writer seeking information. The reasons for not letting the film out run deeper than any possible profit or historical cinema preservation merits.
It is particularly interesting in an age where any controversy is viewed “a selling factor” if it can make a buck. WB is a huge corporation. The bottomline and increasing profit is a main concern. So why keep The Devils hidden away? No one connected to the film’s controversy is left who would care.
The only living artist who could object would be Vanessa Redgrave. She, like many who worked for Ken Russell, remained a close friend until the end of his life. She has also expressed pride in having been a part of the film and considers it one of her best bits of work. Her role was originally intended for the equally esteemed Glenda Jackson. Jackson, also a life-long friend of Ken Russell and family, had discussed the fact that she turned down Redgrave’s infamous role because, at that time, she was tired of playing Russell’s sexually neurotic and hysterical muse. She made that statement both in truth and jest. Years later she would film her final role in Russell’s experimental and demented film Salome’s Last Dance. At the time Jackson noted that she had some regrets at having not played Sister Jeanne.
Acclaimed cinematographer, David Watkin, served as Cinematographer. He remained proud of this early film for offering him some freedom in establishing his own style while adhering to Russell’s vision. Prior to The Devils, Watkin was best known for having filmed 2 iconic movies: The Knack… and How to Get It and The Beatles’ Help.
His style was really already formed, but he felt the freedom Russell allowed offered him great benefit. He died in 2008.
Another interesting aspect of The Devils is that it features the early work of the iconic Derek Jarman. Jarman’s imprint on The Devils is unforgettable. Serving as the film’s production designer, The Devils features some truly amazing sets. Jarman would go on to be an important and experimental voice in Film and the art of Queer Film.
Jarman’s style was always unique, but it is clear that Russell’s aesthetic impacted his own vision.
Aside from the Film Theory aspect, The Devils is of note because it is a fictional account of something that is of historical note for both France and The Catholic Church. This is probably a page of history that both the country and The Vatican would rather forget. Interestingly, this might be the main reason WB is not letting the film go.
Aldous Huxley plunged deep within the history of what happened in 17th Century Loudun with the publication of his historical novel, Devils of Loudun. It was a controversial read then and it still is, but there is nothing in it than can be refuted. The few times Huxley actually is forced to put forward an explanation for things unexplained he offers several ideas to explain. And all are sound.
Huxley crafted a historical narrative to address the controversial, mysterious and sordid historical fact that involved Cardinal Richelieu, a rebellious priest by the name of Father Urban Grandier, An Ursuline Convent of nuns and their Mother Superior, Sister Jeanne of the Angels. It is know that Father Grandier disagreed with both the King and The Catholic Church at the time. It seems fairly obvious that he seemed to disagree with idea of celibacy and was corrupt in that he engaged in sexual trysts with women of his flock. It is also of note that Father Grandier was reported to be handsome, charismatic and flirtatious. For unknown reasons, he declined Sister Jeanne’s request to act as “Spiritual Advisor” for for both she and her nuns. Cardinal Richelieu already viewed Father Grandier as a threat to the church and The Church’s desire to become closely aligned with The King. King Louis XIII, the infamous monarch of the House of Bourbon is a figure of legendary in and of himself. And both of these powerful men needed the other for a while due to political and power circumstances.
In what could be compared to the Salem Witch Trails only far more perverse and blasphemous in nature, Huxley put forward a number of reasons that France, The Catholic Church and the People of Loudun thought Father Grandier had made a pact with Satan that allowed the pristine Ursuline nuns to be fully possessed by demonic forces. It is of historical record to the level of debauchery that these “possessions” led the “blessed” nuns and their “heavenly” Mother Superior to act out public acts of sexually perverse behaviors including orgies and evil sexual blasphemy with religious symbols and Christ Icons.
Under both the blessing of the Cardinal and the approval of King Louis XIII, a series of public exorcisms were performed that involved more than just sprinkling of Holy Water. The nuns went further into “fits of hysteria” and their Mother Superior named Father Grandier as the evil responsible for their demonic actions. The public watched the acts of debauchery and exorcisms in what reads like some sick and twisted form of entertainment. The exorcisms went further into public acts of sexual torture. And then, it all stopped. The nuns and their Superior were free of their demons and redeemed in the “Eyes of God.”
Grandier was questioned and tortured by the exorcist, the priests and their followers to extract a confession of having formed a pact with The Devil and conspiring to corrupt all of France and the Catholic Church. He never confessed or gave in to the torture. Ultimately, he was burned at the stake.
This, according to history, was the only way both The King and The Cardinal could be sure that Loudun were rid of the Satanic Grip. The public execution was treated as entertainment. Everyone in the town celebrated and the nuns were also granted approval to witness the horrid death.
Huxley theorized a number of ideas. One of the most controversial being that most women who became nuns at this time had been deemed “unmanageable” and desperate for shelter. Though not completely clear, it would appear that The Mother Superior suffered some major physical birth defect. Her holiness was viewed to be a result of her plight. It is historically stated that Father Grandier enjoyed antagonizing Sister Jeanne of the Angels.
Huxley writes that the levels of sexual repressions, lack of serious faith, The Mother Superior’s disdain for the priest, the fact that many of the men in Loudun viewed Grandier as a trouble-maker with both The King and The Cardinal — and ultimately the political possibilities between a power-hungry Cardinal and a possible insane and perverse King led to one of the ugliest moments in French and Catholic history.
Huxley goes into great detail about the many realistic and human possibilities that factored into this incident. He leans toward the political, hypocracy and a shared temporary delirium or hysteria for the nuns. He also suggests that it many not have been so psychological. It might have boiled down to the nuns having to do as instructed by their Cardinal. Anyway one looks at it, it is not a pretty picture of religion or politics.
Filmed at the very end of the 1960’s, the political and liberal Ken Russell saw this story and the play it had inspired to be an ideal topic to explore as metaphor. Russell’s The Devils is excessive in every way possible. While often beautifully staged and crafted — the film pulses with a hysterical pace. The acting is intentionally “theatrical” and most certainly presented to shock. The political ideologies spell forth throughout. Russell does not spare Oliver Reed’s Father Grandier as solidly ethical character. He is impossible to like, but it is equally impossible that this character deserves what he is given. Especially since he is given it for entirely the wrong reasons.
Vanessa Redgrave fares best in the film. In fact she is fantastic in the role. She is able to match the operatic pacing of the film with a carefully eccentric and darkly comical read on her character. It is an impossibly brilliant performance. Russell presents both she and her nuns as women who have “devoted” their lives to God because society has no other use for them. The only character who appears to actually feel a true calling to the devoted life of a nun is quickly dismissed by Redgrave’s Sister Jeanne of the Angels. She is too pretty to waster her time locked up in the convent. And what a convent it is. While Redgrave’s character runs a strict order, she simply turns the other way as her nuns grab at vague attempts as sexual gratification.
When the nuns become a pawn of The Church and The State, it is as if they’ve been not only granted “permission” to explore their repressed desires, the threat of torture looms if they don’t take those “desires” to blasphemous limits. This is the portion of the film that remains controversial almost 45 years later. The scenes are disgusting. They are not erotic. They are upsetting. What’s more — these scenes which have been labeled The Rape of Christ — can be found from time to time on YouTube. BFI has access to an inferior copy from whereabouts unknown. They were shown on British television documentary about the film in the late 80’s. Compared to much of what we see now on cable, they are really barely eligible for an R rating much less an X or NC-17.
The scenes that are the most disturbing are in the R-rated cut. Sister Jeannes’ “exorcism” is actually rape and sexual torture. 40 some odd years later, these scenes are still hard to watch. Yet these scenes get an “R-Rating” when an “NC-17” would be more appropriate. Another controversial segment which would probably secure a “PG-13” rating today is actually one of the more blasphemous scenes in the movie. Sister Jeannes convulsive sexual fantasies of Father Granier as Christ are not graphic, but oddly disturbing. Filmed beautifully and erotically, Oliver Reed emerges as Christ descended from the Cruxifiction walking upon water to Sister Jeanne. As she kisses his bloodied feet and sweeps her hair over them. She begins to move up his body as if about to engage in felatio when the wind blows her vaguely nun-like wrapping off — her hump back is revealed and she screams in horror as everyone begins to mock and degrade her.
The Devils may not have been crafted with the precise and deftly serious style as The Exorcist, but Ken Russell’s film is concerned with far more serious cultural issues than Evil vs. Good. In The Devils, Ken Russell is presenting ideas that still seem to shake people to their core. It is a satirical political commentary that works incredibly well. Fever-pitched and unapologetic it is an essential film.
And when one stands back from both of these films, The Exorcist is actually the more perverse and controversial film. Welcome to the schisms of Film Theory, History, Politics and Religion.
I have written about both Ken Russell, his work and this film in particular a number of times. I’ve also done some “covert investigation” in separating fact from fiction regarding Warner Brothers and possible prints of the original cut. If anyone is persistent, it a fan of film. There are a great number of Film Preservationists, Film Historians, devoted Ken Russell fans and Cinematic Curiosity Seekers who are still pushing to gain access to this film. Unless Warner Brothers is lying to us and they lost both of those prints, there is always a chance that Ken Russell’s The Devils might one day gets its moment in on the screen.
Matty Stanfield, 8.10.2015
As the bass, drums and orchestra kick in and we can hear Cher start to sing:
“Well I’m hell on wheels, I’m a roller mama. I can slide down places that you never knew. Try me on for size at the roll-a-rama.
If you tie my laces then I’ll follow you. Follow you! Follow you!!!
See something I like, gonna go for it
See something I want, I’m gonna go after it
See something I like, gonna go for it
See something I want… Let’s roll! Hell on wheels!! Let’s roll! Come on roll with me!
I roll at a quarter till three yeah
Let’s rock! Hell on wheels! Let’s roll!
Come on rock with me! I’ll make you feel so free! Yeah! Look out!!! “(voice echo effect)
Thus begins the infamous 1979 Roller Disco Movie which promises us “love on wheels!”
The 1970’s were a strange time. Gone were the revolutionary / political activism of the 1960’s. As our nation crossed over the years of 1969 to 1971, the idea of peace and love were starting to fade. By the time American Culture slipped in the haze of the 1970’s, people were more concerned with giving The World a Coke than offering peace and love. Chairs began to fully form into vinyl sacks filled with “bean-like” substances. Colors that should never have gone together were thought to match. Suspenders were no longer a utility, they were a multi-colored/glittered fashion statement. Men in Southern California and NYC began “perming” their hair. Blow-dyers were not something limited to the hairdresser, by 1974 this item was anticipated to be in every woman’s home. By 1978 every human being was expected to own a blow-dryer. Wings were no longer just for angels — they were for your hair. Your very dry/brittle hair. Drug use for mind-expansion quickly became a tool for fun and escape. Sexuality was no longer an aspect of “free love.” Sexuality was almost required of anyone over 16 as a political state of independence.
The concept of The Sexual Revolution took a sharp left turn toward The Hedonistic. Love and sex became two very different things. The people who came of age in the mid-1970’s had rocks to love. This would be the era when gay men finally took a stand. Many of these men were especially trapped within the confusion of 70’s sexuality. Sex was not just for enjoyment is was an assertion of a human right — And, it was for all the world to see. Despite all the tackiness and odd ideas — Bataka Bats, anyone? Earth Shoes? Male half-shirts? Mini-shorts with tube socks? Bell-Bottom jeans? Special chain guards for bell-bottom pant wearing hipsters? The Brady Bunch? Battle of the Network Stars? Jeff & Pink Lady? The Bay City Rollers? Herpes?
Sadly it would take us till about 1982 to fully realize how lame it all was. Not that we aren’t “nostalgic” for some of it, but I’m not sure any of us would be interested in having an elementary school Guidance Counselor make us hit her puppet with the Bataka Bat she kept in the corner of her tiny space. And while it is fun to watch Jeff & Pink Lady or Battle of the Network Stars on YouTube for a couple of minutes, would any of us really want to spend an entire weekend binging on them?
If there were ever a sign that the 1970’s were a profoundly horrible era for all of us it was the advent of a Euro-idea that transformed into what we call “Disco.” In fact, everything started to go firmly downhill after Disco thumped its way into our hearts and collective culture. As the fun offered by the multi-colored flashing floors of the discotheque started to become a bit tired, the situation took a very fast slip into an odd sensation that would sweep not only the US but Canada as well!
At the time it must have made sense. But it would appear that with a simple blink of the eye, Roller Rinks which had been content for us all to skate along with Billy Swan crooning “I Can Help” or Grand Funk Railroad’s reworking of “The Locomotion” suddenly magically became Disco Roller-A-Ramas. I remember being a child at a friend’s innocent Roller Rink Birthday Party when “Disco Duck” and “I Feel Love” began to throb throughout the huge space. The lights dimmed and glitter balls began to twirl. Multi-colors spraying out in all directions. Suddenly, KISS was no longer rockin’ our world. No. It was that quick. Rick Dees, Donna Summer and The Bee Gees has replaced Grand Funk, The Bay City Rollers, Peter Frampton, Heart, Fleetwood Mac and Dear Sweet God — Billy Swan!!! It only took our little heads a couple of minutes to find our rhythm regain appropriate sway. Our wheels took to this new level of pulse once they began to roll across the throbbing wooden floor.
Soon we were rollin’ and disco’ing our way around the circular run that was our Roller Rink. We were not simply roller skating. No way, Baby. We were Disco Roll-A-Rama Skating. We were 7 and 8 years old hip disco rollers! And, for about 3 weeks it seemed cool.
Now. Before we engage in any discussion of Disco and the sad tilt down the ramp of Disco Roller Skating which would call Hollywood to take up any slack that might be left in our degenerate swag — we must discuss the American Anomaly we all call Cher.
Yes, you know who she is. And you are lying if you do not own some music or a movie featuring her unique skill and talent.
Hey! You! Yeah, you! Super Cool Rock Dudes! No! Even you can’t escape the bitter truth!
Think about it. That was Cher on the cover of the now iconic Rod Stewart LP cover. And, take a deep breath, Cher rocked it down hard with Gregg Allman and his brothers. And if you’ve still not fallen prey to the truth: Cher was also gettin’ down with Gene Simons of KISS. If for some reason you refuse to admit any claim to Cher, check with the person nearest to you.
One of the two you have listened, watched and paid for Cher and her follies. They even gave her an Oscar!
One could debate if Cher really understood how “jacked” into the fleeting “cool” moments of our collective culture at just the right times. Back in the day, Cher’s motives do not seem as calculated as her fellow celebrities and artists. But none can deny that some sort of Divine Benevolence has always guided Cher to the epicenter of cool.
When she cut her own “bangs” and put on an ugly-ill-fitting sort of vest and sang “The Beat Goes On” with her Svengali-like husband, how could she have known it was jet her to a level of fame beyond understanding? Even later in the late 1960’s and very early 70’s as the Sonny & Cher records screeched to a stop, she would follow Sonny to Las Vegas. They made a great deal of money in the “unhip” Vegas. Their style and Cher’s sarcasm turned Vegas toward a new kind of cool. Not far behind them would be the likes of Tony Orlando & Dawn, Diana Ross and Streisand. True, they would make more money — but it is doubtful that they would have made the trek to that Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin saturated world first. Does anyone really think that an early 70’s Streisand went to Vegas because Liberace asked her? No. She and the others flocked there because Cher went there first. It was around this time that Cher would follow Sonny to the land of TV. They were a hit for a quick year or two. She stumbled into Warren Beatty who she decided to sleep with because she had nothing better to do. As Sonny & Cher began to fade and tabloids reported of a tryst with Beatty and her divorce. Cher happened to meet a
then major Power-Broker who had yet to achieve household fame, David Geffen. Sure Beatty just wanted to score and Geffen was about as Gay as Gay gets, but Cher didn’t realize either of these things. No, she simply liked Geffen and he found true fame with her at his side. She also found her way into Studio 54. At the time, many hipsters of the day doubted Cher had what it took to party among the NYC Elites of Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger and Sylvester. But come on. We are talking about Cher. Her entry into the doors of Studio 54 was at the exact moment it became mainstream noticed. And while we cannot directly link Cher to the drug addictions of Liza Minnelli, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gary Valentine, but many suspect that The Cher Factor is at least partially to blame.
Cher liked Disco music. She deemed it fun and cool. Yet, she would not run to the recording studio to record it. No. She was too busy with Gregg Allman, his brothers, Gene Simons, KISS and toying with idea of staring in some Anti-Vietnam movie called Coming Home and even a remake of A Star Is Born. These would have been logical, sound and smart marketable choices. But Cher was busy. No, not with a TV Show or in a recording studio. She was busy figuring out Aerobics. This was long before Barbra Streisand, Goldie Hawn and Jane Fonda even put a toe in the gym. Yes, true fact.
And while Ms. Fonda marketed Aerobics & Fitness to the masses and made millions. It was because her two pals, Barbra Streisand and Goldie Hawn were discussing politics over odd bodily contortions. But Streisand and Hawn only showed up to the Aerobic Studio because Cher was bending her body in positions that remain a thing of un-photographed legend. Tragically, these career opportunities were just for fun for Cher. She didn’t make any real money from these things.
When Cher finally turned away from the sound of Rock and California-Country-Rock toward the Disco she had been playing within, she was a bit late in recording it as her sound. It would be in the mid-point of 1979 before Cher would find her way into Bob Esty’s Disco Studio. She scored a hit single with Take Me Home plus Barry Levine captured her in Bob Mackie designed “Cher Disco Armor!” on an album cover. That album didn’t sell badly, but it didn’t sell great. But her one single sold.
Cher was the Secret Pioneer, but she was no marketing/selling match compared to Barbra Streisand’s The Main Event single or far less compared to the infamous and iconic Power-Diva-Duel that would become the Streisand/Summers’ massive hit, No More Tears (Enough is Enough.) We have no real way of knowing if Cher was bothered. I mean Donna Summer was sitting on an old-fashioned Radio and Barbra was soaked Wet and looking more than a little bit confused. Just as audiences had rushed to see Jane Fonda in Coming Home and Streisand in A Star Is Born, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt secured the concept of country-pop-rock and translated them into big hits. And of course, it would be Jane Fonda who would whisk past Cher as well as Streisand/Hawn to Aerobic Glory.
I must apologize. I have just taken us into the 1980’s. OK. Let’s kick it back a couple of years. Cher has already decided she should endeavor to make a Disco record, but it would have to wait a few months.
Well, Cher was far too busy having fun. True, her second marriage wrecked in under several weeks, a new baby arrived, an eager young daughter and a frustrated Gene Simons simply refused to join her. But she left one issue and three individuals with the Nanny(s) and took off to Brooklyn.
Why would Cher skip over to Brooklyn and out Studio 54? And you must remember: just Studio 54 was really only heating up with the Ride of The White Horse. And things between Debbie Harry and Truman Capote/Andy Warhol were forming into Art as Jessica Lange wedged her way between Mikhail Baryshnikov’s coke spoon and an increasingly frantic yet dazzling Liza were catching the public’s interest.
You see, in early 1977, one had to go to Brooklyn to Disco Roller Skate in true style. Cher rolled out a whole new type of fashion into her excursion into The World of The Roll-A-Rama Disco! Skates had to match the outfits and the outfits had to be sexy, fun and provocative! Bob Mackie was her real friend and was more than happy to assist. She owned that rink in all her see-through glitter costumed glory!
The only reason her agent and Bob Esty was able to drag Cher out of that rink was because she had heard — in what one can safely assume was presented in the form of a plea to her — Cher finally admitted that she was Disco Roller Skating Fanatic. Bob Esty worked like a speed-freak with Michele Aller to compose a song called, Hell on Wheels. It only took the mention that they written what they considered a true Disco Roller Skating Anthem to get Cher and her family back to LA to record that song. She also ended up recording enough songs to fill two albums which were largely fueled by the Disco Sound.
One problem: This was now 1979 and the Anti-Disco Movement was building momentum. Cher barely had time to squeak out one hit. This now leads us away from Cher directly to an atrocity that her Factor helped to fuel in The Land of Hollywood. However, in all fairness to Cher — she probably knew nothing of the impact of her actions and Disco Anthem.
Hollywood had no problem with grabbing onto Disco Culture, but the subculture of Disco Roller Skating would allude their radar. The executives should have been paying better attention to The Cher Factor. But to be fair, none of us did. The Cher Factor is usually so far-ahead of the Cultural Curve that it is only obvious with the gift of hindsight.
Irwin Yablans had been an instinctive film producer. He was inspired by Cher’s sheer Disco Roller Skating Boobies images and got wind that she was about to record a Disco album! Irwin Yablans, in some ways is like Cher. He didn’t really need to put on the skates. The bump, grind and jiggle of Cher’s meshed boobs was all he needed for cinematic inspiration.
Remember, the world of film would not have John Carpenter’s Halloween had Yablans not suggested the idea of a babysitter serial killer slasher movie to the young director. So when Yablans suggested the idea of a Disco Roller Disco movie to screenwriter, Barry Schneider, he quickly wrote what became Roller Boogie. There seems to have been a brief period when the Yablans’ project was stalled. Apparently, Schneider wanted the male lead to be a struggling song-writer and the lead actress to be the solid Disco-Rollin’ Mama. For whatever reason, this idea didn’t suit Irwin.
He was also not particularly easy in appealing to “the R-Rated Adult Audience” demographic. Kids. Irwin wanted to pull in and do it for the kids. And to do that the leading man would need to be an instant winner and cool.
When they were ready to, um, roll, Linda Blair was their first and only choice for the Leading lady.
Linda Blair had instant name recognition, she was hot but not too hot and she could be had on the “cheap.” This had nothing to do with her talent or her fame. This was because she had recently laid claim to negative “infamy.” Yep. Poor Linda had strayed from the world of Demons and Rick Springfield and had found her way into the world of real rock, via Lynyrd Skynyrd and cocaine. I’m not quite clear on how that band came into play, but it did. There are a number of photographs from 1975 to 1977 that feature Linda with Ronnie Van Zant. Anyway, poor Linda had gotten into some trouble. But she was no Lindsey Lohan! She got it together pretty darn quick.
For Irwin Yablans and his limited budget there was only one choice for his Leading Man. True he did initially agree to Linda Blair’s request that he cast her then boyfriend. But by the times the cameras were ready to roll, she had kicked him to the curb. So there was only one choice. On paper, it would make sense to cast Jim Bray in the leading male role because he was a big deal within the Roller Skating World an “artistic roller skating champion,” but in reality it was probably a poor choice. It still puzzles me why they didn’t pull Jimmy Van Patten from out of the supporting cast and into the lead. Jim Bray was able to skate, but he wasn’t particularly great-looking and was — well — kind of scrawny with no real charisma. Jimmy Van Patten is clearly dying to jump to the head of the class, he was well built, better looking and just cooler.
The other issue with Bray in the male lead is that he just seems “small” next to Linda Blair.
It is here that I find it essential to contradict something to which people always refer: Linda Blair was not fat. She was not the slim, in-shape beauty she is today — but, seriously, Linda Blair was not fat. She was seriously hot. Even in The Age of Disco, most straight dudes would have gone for Linda over any 3 of the Charlie’s Angels.
Why? Because she was naturally hot and nothing seems “high-maintenance” about her. She is accessibly hot. However, when Mark L. Lester has stand her next to a 95lbs guy like Jim Bray — it looks “off.” This is why there are so many shots of both by themselves or shots together are carefully framed so that Bray’s skinny physique is not interacting with Blair in obvious ways.
But then again, Jim Bray is one of the odd-fitting pieces that help to make the Cinematic-Taint we all love called Roller Boogie. Had the equally hot Jimmy Van Patten played opposite Linda Blair, Mark L. Lester and Yablans probably would not have felt it important to cut “the not quite R-rated sex” scene. This was not cut because it would have gained an R-rating — it was cut because I think we can all admit it would have been “uncomfortable” to think about Linda doing the deed with Jim Bray. Poor Jimmy Van Patten. It would be his younger brother, Vincent Van Patten, who would get his day in the sun with Linda Blair in the R-rated Hell Night. Wait. Maybe we should feel more sorry for Vincent.
Back to focus:
Production of Roller Boogie went fast. It had to. Just as they went into production — Columbia Studios was financing a bigger budgeted Roller Disco Movie staring Scott Baio, Marcia Brady, Ruth Buzzi, Playboy’s Dorothy Stratten, the screen debut of Patrick Swayze and the sought-after prize that was Flip Wilson. This movie was called Skatetown, U.S.A. As it turned out, this turned out not to be a problem.
Columbia and Rastar did beat Yablans to the screen by 2 months, but Skatetown, U.S.A. was DOA upon arrival to the cinemas. There was also a great deal of pressure to get the production filmed before Poor Linda had to be in front of a judge in Florida to face the music for her post-Exorcist II: The Hertic-Lynyrd Skynyrd-Cocaine Adventure of 1977. Production completed just in time for Linda to catch her plane and Jim Bray to visit Studio 54! Roller Boogie might have not arrived until December of 1979, 2 months after Skatetown, U.S.A., and more than several months after the Historic Disco Demolition Night — but Linda Blair and Jim Bray in Roller Boogie were a hit. Skatetown, U.S.A. was a major flop and only sounds good-bad fun. It is actually just very bad.
And while Disco Demolition Night did have some significant impact, Disco Culture was not quite done yet. Disco would not fully die until early 1981. Just in time for the ULTIMATE big-budget Disco Roller Skating Movie, Xanadu, to arrive. Xanadu’s soundtrack sold well, but the movie tanked.
Here is my challenge: The Notorious & Much-Beloved Roller Boogie was recently restored and re-issued to Blu-Ray by Olive Films. I was asked to review it. But you know I think I can sum up Roller Boogie fairly fast. Almost as fast as The Disco Roll-A-Rama Fad.
Linda Blair is a classically trained flutist who doesn’t really appear to know how to play the flute. Her mastery of the flute reminds one of another oblong thing. Linda Blair gently massages her flute while teasingly gently blowing upon it’s head. Get your mind out of the gutter! The head of the flute! Linda’s flute-ing appears to be “sync’d” in. Anyway, her mom is the Step Mom from My Three Sons. And she is stressed-out! Linda’s Daddy is really rich. He gives Linda everything she wants except her freedom to really get her roll on! She has two friends: One is female. I can never recall her friend’s name. I call her Big Tits. Her other friend is a an early version of geek+Yuppy.
Linda contemplates the weary challenges of being rich, forced manipulation of a flute and best friend, Big Tits, who claims to be her age but is probably lying. Linda is pretty sure Big Tits is pushing 30. So it is time to change clothes and do what she needs to do!
Linda gets fed up and drives her sleek and way-cool car that has a telephone in it! She goes where all wealthy Beverly Hills girls go to rebel and be cool – Venice Beach!
Here she happens to notice a Totally Hot Stud, Jim Bray!, who we have already had the benefit of seeing — but as he rolls up, Linda is unable to escape his boy-ish charm. He lives in a seedy hotel! (only we the viewers seem to be aware that Jim Bray is most likely a rent boy who skates to peddle his ass, but this may not really be true) — Anyway, Linda works her permed-giggly charm on Jim. She had him at her brief confusion determining if he is her leading man and not some gay hooker who rolled up on the set.
One thing leads to another and Jim teaches Linda how to Disco Roller Skate. He really had to — she already had all of the wardrobe and the skates. She just needed the skill. In truth, I think Linda was just using the Disco Skate Lessons as a ploy. She wants him. She clearly knows how to dance. The real “training” seems to be in this frail hustler’s ability to “lead” and “lift” anything above 30lbs.
But he masters it. Linda’s friends and family do not accept her interest in pursing this Cher-like lifestyle. She has to go to Juilliard and sign with some classy classical music label to play the flute! Jim’s friends, who are all a way lot better-looking — especially the Van Patten boy, all like Linda and Big Tits!
But they worry that she is going to crush his heart. Also he’s not bringing in his share of the sex bread. He is spending way too much time skating around with Linda. And she’s not paying! Jammers is Jim’s Disco Roll-A-Rama of choice. Cue Audience: “Of course it is!” But Jammers is about to go down due to some shady deal to build senior housing. Senior Citizen’s don’t need housing on Venice Beach! Not when the kids need Jammers! Comic mayhem ensues! It all comes to a head and a happy conclusion at the Big Jammer’s Roller Boogie Competition!
Linda & Jim want to win! And all of Jim’s pals and Big Tits cheer them on. They win! And Jammers beats the evil attempt to take away their Disco Roller Fun!
In the end, Jim and Linda take a sunset walk. Yes. A walk. Not a disco roll. They love each other, but they need to take care of few personal issues first. Linda has to achieve Flute control and fame in NYC. And, Jim explains to her that he is going to take his Disco Roller Skating skill to the US Olympics!
They kiss. Linda drives away. I searched the disc for that Easter Egg feature that would at last allow me to see Linda discuss all of this with Big Tits. I could not find it! But I am fairly sure I know how Barry Schneider wrote it.
Final Scene: Airport Gate
Linda leans on Big Tits.
Linda: I’m going to miss you sooooo much, but I’m going to miss my Jim more!
BT: Just fly him out to NYC. No major.
Linda: Oh, no! I couldn’t do that to him. He’s on his way to disco skate for the US Olympics!
BT: Like, Oh my God! Linda? Disco Skating is not an Olympic Sport. I mean, like, it’s barely a “thing.” As if!
Linda: Oh, no! I need to let him know! He took the Roller Boogie prize money to get to the Olympics!”
BT: Look. Jim is a man-hooker. Ok? He took that Roller Boogie prize money to buy some new mini-shorts.
Linda: Oh, no! Don’t be so silly! You are such a goof, Big Tits!
BT: Look, Kiddo — you just focus on mastering the flute and the real men will be crawling to you!
Linda: K! Byyyyeeee!
Cue formerly failed Cher disco single.
The way I see it, if you haven’t already seen the incredibly bad-good fun that is Roller Boogie. You need to. Go on line, but the Blu-Ray or the new DVD from Olive Films. It’s cheap! You will not regret it. I think one of the main reasons Roller Boogie remains so much fun to watch and re-watch is that it is the extreme opposite of movies like Saturday Night Fever and also far better than lame movies like Skatetown, U.S.A. There is nothing “realistic” about it.
It embraces only the fun and innocent side of things. There is plenty of room to project and talk back to the screen if you feel the need. The comedy and subplots are so very bad — they become fun. By the way, a sequel was planned, it was to be titled Acapulco Roller Boogie. Tragically, this film never came to be.
And there is The Cher Factor going down. The producers were able to use Hell On Wheels for the movie’s theme song. It was included on the mildly well selling soundtrack album.
However, Hell On Wheels was not recorded for the movie. This is mistake many make. This was a track off her second Disco-oriented album called Prisoner. It had been released as a single as shown far above in this post. But Roller Boogie gave the song a “re-visit” and it became a minor success. A very early Cher music video for Hell On Wheels started to gain some air-play. Even with a broken arm, Cher skillfully Disco Skated with the aid of holding onto moving cars! The vid-clip was not made for Roller Boggie. If you look close, you can still find it on YouTube. Wait. Now that I think about it. Cher’s disco vid-clip might ever very well inspired Olivia Newton-John to use video to promote her Physical album. Well, that’s The Cher Factor.
It is not clear if Cher is even aware of this movie. No one knows and no one is going to ask her. Don’t go there. Just a friendly warning.
But were it not for Roller Boogie, Cher’s Hell On Wheels would have been lost forever. …sort of like that “punk” rock album she made which was actually more like pop attempting to be New Wave. Black Rose, anyone? It doesn’t matter. Something made her curious about this thing that used to be called Broadway. She sort of fell into a role for a Robert Altman play that became a movie. Then she “hung” out with Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep and on her way to Vegas, she took a brief stop and made a movie called Silkwood. She would have to put off her plans for Vegas for a while. She ended up making a lot of movies that made a lot of money. She had sex with Tom Cruise but rolled her eyes at the idea of Scientology and hooked-up with this cool dude who made bagels in NYC. She won an Oscar on her way to a party Madonna was giving. She recorded some really big-selling albums in the late 80’s. She called David Letterman on his shit. Then she got bored.
Flights to Vegas were booked. So she went back to LA. She directed an acclaimed Pro-Choice HBO movie. This dude talked her into recording a pop album that used this odd microphone that changes the human voice. He was gay and kind of cute so she listened. The music reminded her of Disco and all that fun she had on skates. Several publicists explained this was not “disco” music. This was “club” or “dance” music — like Madonna only without the sex. For Cher, this was a good thing because, well, you know She was tired.
She was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She dealt and kicked it’s ass. While the cause of this illness is still debated, I suspect we will eventually learn it is caused by being too fucking cool and independent. She did several — no, wait. I’m not sure. She did a lot of Farewell Concert Tours. She wrote a book. She did a lot more Farewell Tours. She supported her daughter when she realized that she was a he. Cher had always been generous with a buck, but made her philanthropy well known once she saw the shit with which her son had to deal.
She turned down leads in everything from Thelma & Louise to War of The Roses to a cinematic re-make of the musical Gypsy. Streisand was to direct Gypsy. Probably can’t blame Cher for turning that one down. But it does seem strange that she turned down the other two. Interestingly, as far as I am aware she has only one professional regret: An infomercial for a pal’s hair product. Yet, even this one Cher’s regretted mistake: Her infomercial is the thing of legend.
Cher is still tired.
Cher is not bored.
She is “creeping” about the Internet. So you better watch your ass! I’m not kidding. She will take you down. Don’t be giving Cher shit.
Cher stopped taking shit after they took her Disco Roller Skates away. Never underestimate The Cher Factor. Seriously, you will regret it.
Somehow Cher is always correct. And Roller Boogie remains a very fun watch!
Matty Stanfield, 8.8.15
In a Q&A held in 2011 at SXSW, Rick Alverson speaks to the inspirations that led him to become a filmmaker, he recalls his childhood interest in Steven Spielberg’s films. He finds his then fascination with Indiana Jones as both disturbing and horrifying in the power of a movie and it’s impact on his childhood identity. Alverson then recalls when he first saw Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker at The Film Forum when he was a young adult.
It would be this film and it’s maker that would ultimately inspire him. Rick Alverson states that he discovered a whole new way of approaching cinema that intrigued him.. “‘Active Cinema‘ has potential for the audience to be a part of the experience as opposed to that of recipient or passive role of viewer…” It was within Tarkovsky’s 1979’s film which is most noted for rejection of traditionally rapid editing and storytelling for a purposefully slowed pace and re-examination in how cinema speaks to “reality.”
Indeed, when viewing Stalker the audience’s understanding of reality is limited to the slow and high contrast of brown sort of monochrome colors and rules. It is only when the film’s characters are forced into The Zone of the story where the banal and monotony restrictions of brown tones are left behind and normal rules of reality are no longer applied.It would later be in his highly controversial, debated, hated and deeply admired 2012 film, The Comedy, that he would most fully explore his opposing interests which grate against the accepted grain of American Cinema. Or as Alverson as accused typical American Film as carrying a “numbing” effect, impact and ramification. It would be difficult to not stand back and agree with his viewpoint. Most American film work is mediocre, predictable and a reflection of a culture that is at once rage-filled and complacent in following and falling into what often feels like a sort of void of tedium predictability.
When Rick Alverson’s The Comedy first came out it created reactions ranging from high praise to condemnation. At the time, I was quite perplexed by AO Scott’s dismissive review. I found a great deal of “interesting perspective” on not only the main character but also the limited views I was offered of his pals. And regarding Scott’s review, there is no “critical distance” to be found in Alverson’s film. That is largely the point. The film presents white male entitlement and human cruelty without offering any evaluation or background. With an amazing cast of realistic and effective actors, all we really need to know is passively communicated in the sad eyes and pointless actions.
We might not like “Swanson” or any of his friends. Actually, I hated them. But viewers would need to be as equally emotionally-stunted, damaged and as casually cruel as these characters to not see the tragic darkness displayed. There is nothing “funny” about The Comedy. It is an effectively disaffected and provocative character study of disconnection, anger, and sadness that appears to be rendering Swanson and his “friends” into a state of sociopathic cruelty. To add to the audiences’ conflicting feelings is the style in which Alverson delivers his film.
Rick Alverson is a brilliantly skilled Cinematographer. Nearly every shot feels planned and subsequently artistic in composition. The “style” of The Comedy works in opposition to the ugliness of the characters’ interactions and actions. At times his cinematography offers a counter-meaning to what we “assume” is actually taking place. The opening scene is unexpected as it appears to depict some sort of erotic wrestling or messy sexually hedonistic gay orgy. As the style lets up and the frame adjusts, what appeared to be sexual in nature is just several drunk/stoned male friends “showing off” for the females who seem as uncomfortable as amused. It is a “party” gone somehow wrong. Yet no one on screen seems to realize this. Later, three of these friends gather inside a Catholic church. It is unclear why. Are they there to mock the ideas of religion and faith? Or is there some need for the comfort provided by those ideas? Either way, these men are left only with the ability to form a child-like game of moving themselves across, around and over the pews.
I don’t like labels. They are too easy and lazy and tend to reduce the idea of “categorization” into a form of negative judgements toward specific groups of people. And applications “labels” can often restrict understanding of what life and art offer. I’m not sure that it was Alverson’s intent to make a sweeping cultural commentary. And, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that The Comedy is horrifyingly realistic.
I know some of these men and the women who always seem to be attracted to them. I’m willing to be that most of us under the age of 50 do know these characters in one way or another. When Swanson takes a job as a “dishwasher” for an upscale restaurant, it is not out of need for money but a result of boredom. When he attempts to humiliate and rant at a stunningly beautiful waitress, she responds in kind.Their interactions are tinged with cruelty aimed at the other.
This becomes flirtation which leads to one of the most awkward and disturbing “date” on Swanson’s small houseboat. Kate Lyn Sheil plays the waitress, and like all the female roles in this film, she is nameless. Sheil is an expert actor. When her character slips into what appears to be an epileptic seizure, Swanson just watches her partially nude character convulse. He shows no sign of concern and attempts to do nothing to protect her head or tongue. He simply watches in passive interest. As he brings her back to the docks from his anchored home. He shows no clear sign of any emotional or logical register. The unnamed woman simply walks away.
Alverson’s film offers no opinion or goal. He doesn’t need to. We have become a part of the comedy. It is disturbing, sad, tragic and more than a few different commentaries on male-entitlement, rape culture, human cruelty and the way we all seem to play into it. Like the waitress we are not sure how to interpret this world. We simply interact with it as best we can. There is no joke. This idea of “comedy” does not fit. A viewer does not always need to “like” or “empathize” with a character to find value in what is presented.
Profound, unsettling and unforgettable, The Comedy is a masterful film from all perspectives.
How could a Film Critic as intelligent and “tuned-in” as A.O. Scott is not discover this within the movie? Perhaps it is just too grim. The joke or comedy is on us. It is a bold and subversive idea. One that most likely was just too perverse and real for many to “digest.” Over 3 years later, cinephiles still discuss and debate this film. I suspect The Comedy will always cause mixed feelings and reactions. This seems to be a part of Alverson’s intention. It worked.
At the time of The Comedy‘s release Rick Alverson stated that the audience doesn’t want to believe. In fact, as he points out the audience almost refused to accept “the legitimacy of the thing that disturbs them. If there is even a small moment when you believe in the thing as an actuality and not as a film, if some actuality creeps in and not something that you’re accustomed to seeing on film because it is too real — it is disturbing. That’s why John Cassavetes’ films are so disturbing. I mean, Woman Under the Influence is like a fucking horror movie to me. That is why I love it. Because there are moments when ti is so uncontrolled it becomes real and he had the depthness to actually keep that in the fucking thing as opposed to throwing it on the cutting room floor.”
If we look back Rick Alverson’s 2010 feature-length directorial debut, The Builder, which emerged from a collaboration with the film’s lead actor Colm O’Leary — we can see many pieces of Alverson’s vision taking form. An immigrant construction worker pursues building his perception of the ideal American house. His pursuit quickly grows to the point of obsession. Alverson provides almost no context in which we can place this builder, his desire, his obsessive focus and bewilderment when the “structure” fails to take form. It seems as if the builder takes a nose dive into isolation, financial ruin and depression.
Colm O’Leary has an interesting presence, but Alverson’s film refuses to give viewers enough information about the character to actually understand what is happening. We know that The Builder is an immigrant, we know that he has a professional reputation of sorts, we see him proceed with his goal of building this home and we begin to sense that his “idea” of the resulting construction is something far deeper than it first appears. He breaks off contact with his girlfriend, he scams some money from his mother and then turns to a friend’s generosity as more than a simple “layover” — it almost seems like our builder is hiding.
The inner-turmoil and intensifying depression within his head is never fully articulated. We are given very limited “clues” to understand his actions or his lethargy. Artfully filmed in under 90 minutes, The Builder is not without value. When I first say it I walked away unsatisfied. It was too vague for me. I could find no way of validating a film that for some reason did fascinate me. This might have been the point. But it struck me as film without any form of “solid structure” about a “Builder” and his dream.
However, Alverson has said the reason he so loves The Builder is “because I could lose myself in the thing I could react to viscerally to the environment that made more sense to me than in my brain. The director’s responsibility is to look naively, not callously. The director’s responsibility should be to listen and to look and to look at things naively.”
There is an interesting cinematic logic here. When looking back at The Builder, our main character isn’t just reacting to what is happening to him, but maybe even more importantly — this lost man is reacting to the encroaching challenges of his environment. And this environment is far more open that to the limitation of the land on which he is trying to build. The Builder’s environment takes it all into account. Even still, nothing can change the fact that this beautifully-shot film is challenging.
Less than a year later another collaboration with Colm O’Leary would led to New Jerusalem.
Alverson’s film offers a study of two very different men trying to form a friendship for two very different reasons. The film is intimate, intense and disturbing. It is also oddly, but effectively ambiguous. Both are employed at a tire station. Their work is labor intensive, but oppressively mundane. Colm O’Leary plays an immigrant new to the US via a stint in US Army in Afghanistan. He is clearly being pulled deep into depression. It is not entirely clear if this related to PTSD, the challenges of adjusting to life in a new land, loneliness or combination of them all. Will Oldham plays a Born Again Christian who is determined to connect with Sean and convince him that the key to life and resolving depression is faith in Jesus Christ. Or is it? Oldham’s character’s intentions for connection with Sean seem suspect.
As a forced bond begins to form, it comes with intensity as the two begin to feel conflicted regarding the intimacy of this friendship. This is an uncomfortable exploration at male bonding. While Alverson is focused on these two specific characters, it raises challenging and largely repressed ideas regarding the needs of male bonding. Ultimately, the viewer is never clear on why these two characters put up with each other. Aversion is not interested in resolving this tension and conflict. This is an interesting choice. On some levels, Alverson’s stubborn refusal to offer further insight is smart. But it also presents a challenge for the viewer.
The audience is left with a film that manages to convey sadness, loneliness and isolation, but fails to offer any sort of emotional or narrative pay off. The viewer walks away with a great deal to think about it. The problem is that I’m not sure I was given enough information to actually feel like my thoughts are grounded to anything more than the way I perceived the limited information I was given. Both Oldham as “Ike” and O’Leary as “Sean” are exceptional in their respective roles. And Alverson’s cinematography is particularly effective. But the viewer is likely to be as confused as the two characters. It is a risky proposition as a from of cinematic satisfaction or enjoyment. Sometimes that risk pays off.
This was my viewpoint of New Jerusalem when I had first seen it, but Alverson has discussed the film at some length. His idea was not to study “male-bonding” — the idea derived from a symbiotic relationship in which both men need the other. During a SXSW Q&A held in 2011, Alverson is asked if Ike loses his faith. Aversion’s clearly states that Ike needed a receptacle for his faith so that these doubted views might reflect back to him. And Sean as receptacle refuses to provide that reflection back.
Alverson goes on to explain that both male characters reach a conclusion that “they do not want the other person to become true reflections of themselves. The believer needs the disbeliever and the disbeliever needs the believer.” Here we are given a unique perspective on how people bond. What might at first appear a need to help or teach is actually a misunderstanding of actual need. Ike would only be disappointed if Sean agreed with him. This on-going struggle is a part of the reason they both reach for the other. They are both lost and need the other to validate their own separate but equally conflicted identities.
Which brings us to Rick Alverson’s latest and most full realized film, Entertainment. Magnolia Film is distributing and it will be released soon.
The film also marks the first time Alverson has surrendered the duties of Cinematographer to another artist. The film’s look is starkly different than his first three movies. Lorenzo Hagerman has applied a sometimes neon-like, deserted and mirror-reflected world which is clearly Alverson’s vision, but also recalls a new influence for the filmmaker. There is something very Stanley Kubrick about Entertainment. It is difficult for me to articulate, but both in look and tone I sense some Kubrickism going down. It works to good impact in Alverson’s new and strange and experimental cinematic vision. The link to Kubrick is most-likely very lose as there is no way to not realize we are watching a Rick Alverson film as it unspools. It has a most definite Surrealism running through it. This is reality, but it is skewed by loneliness, isolation and the fragmentary trajectory of the comedian’s tour of the road.
Gregg Turkington is a failing and aging comic. He is in the midst of a tour that seems to be trapped in the California desert. Run-down venues, tacky Negative-Americana tourist attractions and the eccentricities of this world are aimed full force at “The Comedian.” He pushes forward in what is most likely an unattainable successful chance at a career in Hollywood. He tries in vain to regain a connection to his daughter. His point of view, reasonings and his jokes continue to come against the clash of audiences, family and friends. Each encounter and experiences seems to escalate his Existential Crisis as well as formed into further Surrealism that threaten to pull him loose from the grip of reality into delusion.
The only comfort he can find is to more and more take on his exaggerated onstage persona. Constantly struggling for center stage, acceptance, success and connection he is pulled further and further down a sort of rabbit hole. Entertainment was formed by a collaboration between Alverson and Tarkington (AKA Neil Hamburger.) This is an interesting, but unsurprising collaboration. Rick Alverson has always seemed to have a connection to the underground comic movement. And as Gregg Tarkington’s work is largely tied up in on-stage persona comic-art-pieces the resulting film makes sense. The stand-up ideas come directly from Tarkington, but all else appears to be coming from Alverson. This is an enchantingly twisted, surreal, odd and encaging sort of horror-comedy. All of it seems largely rooted in the role of performer, identity, isolation and above all else human loneliness.
In an interview conducted earlier this year for Beyond Cinema, both Alverson and Tarkington were asked, “What was the seed of this movie?”
Alverson didn’t seem to need to even think about it: “A mutual disdain for certain things and curiosity as well as like-minded interest with trouble-making.”
However, Rick Alverson goes on to explain that with Entertainment, was largely a way for him to take “cinematic tropes” or cliches one all too-often sees reflected in film. Not only does he not like them, he feels this type of cinema minimizes what art should be intended to maximize. In other words, Alverson is seeking to subvert the ideas of recurring, rhetorical devices, motifs and other cinematic cliches in Entertainment. As he pointed out to Beyond Cinema, using a depiction “of a desert as a place of spiritual transformation or renewal is ridiculous and problematic. I hate metaphors.” He adds with a spark of energy, “I use them in this movie like building blocks in contending with all these ideas of representation,” Rick Alverson seeks to upset our cliched ideas.”
The Mojave Desert, a doppelgänger, a recurring use of mirrors, reflections, self-reflections all point to loneliness and the horrific idea of losing your identity within a made up character. It is a dark and cynical viewpoint. Ultimately our Comedian views his audience as his enemies who seem to have played a major role in his formation of his persona. But we are not as easily deceived as The Comedian. This persona is an invocation of his own addiction, depression and self-loathing. Assistance from a chemo-therapist who presents a world that only leads him to an even darker view of the world. Cinematographer, Lorenzo Hagerman, utilizes different lenses of color to further throw everything off balance.
The Comedian‘s opening act or performer seems to taunt him with his youth and seems to be hellbent on stealing the show from his headliner. As the movie along we meet The Comedian‘s obsession with Mexican Soap Operas, an awkward reunion with his cousin, played with a comically-confused-state-of-consciouness by John C. Reilly, or getting a tour of a celebrity home, an uncomfortable situation with a stranger played by Michael Cera and to the film’s most disturbing and deeply odd scene which takes place in a roadside public bathroom.
Best not to discuss this scene until the film arrives in cinemas. Let’s just say it takes us to level of the grotesque one will not easily forget.
Rick Alverson dismantles our “Cinematic Tropes” with ease as The Comedian‘s world begins at a panic of about a 4 till we reach the truly nightmarish level of panic screeching off the charts. In the end, the only possibility is an escape into a damaged mind’s imagination. Entertainment is unforgettable. It should not be missed. The thing to keep in mind, once you let this movie “in” you’re not likely to shake it off very easily.
As John C. Reilly’s seemingly “drug-challenged” character awkwardly observes The Comedian, “Yer tryin’ to tell jokes and make people happy. That’s what’s important.” Within a few minutes screen time John C. Reilly’s character pushes The Comedian, “Where are ya at? Where is this leadin’ you? Where’s the growth potential?” But The Comedian’s cousin is really only partially there.
In my head our protagonist is roaming the heat and cold of the desert trying to figure out “Why?” and “What’s so funny?” This time around, I’ve a feeling that Alverson’s vision is going to be a better fit into the minds of audiences. At least I hope so. I’m not the only one waiting to see where Rick Alverson will take us next.
Rick Alverson’s Entertainment will be officially released on November 13th in limited release to cinemas and iTunes. Don’t miss it.
Matty Stanfield, 8.7.2015
“Adversity’s sweet milk: philosophy.”
Abel Ferrara’s attempt at the vampire genre is blended with a surprisingly effective mix of visceral horror and philosophical meditation of humanity. Ferrara did not write the script for this film. It was written by Nicholas St. John, but it is easy to see what attracted him to the screenplay. Abel Ferrara’s approach to filmmaking as always been tied to his provocateur. If ever someone else’s words would lend them toward his cinematic motivation, it would be in St. John’s controversial re-visit to one of cinema’s most tired genres: The Vampire Movie.
The topic of vampires is metaphor and allegory from any vantage point. Ferrara was at the top of his game and obviously inspired when his 1995 film, The Addiction, slipped into Art Cinemas across the world. He had some major assistance in bringing the film to life. Ken Kelsch’s black and white cinematography is ideally-suited to what Ferrara is exploring. And the movie offers Lili Taylor, Annabella Sciorra, Christopher Walken and a pre-Sopranos/Nurse Jackie, Edie Falco with ample opportunities to display their individual skills.
Lili Taylor plays a profoundly dedicated and serious NYU Philosophy Major. She seems almost lost in her world of study save for one friend with whom she continually challenges her own ideas. She may have some connections to this person and her professors, but she is a loner. Even more than that, she is an intellectual alone in her complicated theories and thoughts.
She makes what appears to be a tragic mistake of running into Annabella Sciorra’s “Casanova” one night on a dark Manhattan street. This strange woman seems to emanate an erotic allure for Kathleen. When Casanova advices Kathleen to “order” her to go away, Kathleen, while clearly frightened, is far too intrigued is follow this beautiful Femme Fatale’s advice. Casanova attacks her. This attack is executed with a sort of clumsy, messy and animalistic attack of a feral vampire.
But this is only temporary. Casanova may not be quite as deep as the other characters in this morbidly fascinating film, but she is not stupid. She offers Kathleen advice, but this is one victim who is far too pre-occupied with the application of philosophy and her own personal theoretical ideas to actually accept guidance freely.
Thus Abel Ferrara pulls us into his odd, unsettling and controversial Vampire Movie. Kathleen begins to turn into what we can only determine is a vampire.
Repulsive acts of horror begin and culminate to an orchestrated “event” in which academics and fellow students gather together to celebrate a graduation quickly turns into an orgiastic vampire’s delight. It isn’t so much that the violence is particularly any more graphic than what one would expect, but via the careful manipulation of post-production sound and editing — it all takes on a disturbing turn toward gore.
But we have a great deal to sort though as we follow Kathleen toward her academic graduation and her ultimate transformation into The Un-human Vampire she seems destined to become.
As Kathleen and her one pal, Jean, approach the end of their academic careers — they are immersed in studying devastating acts of human cruelty and atrocity. Naturally, this sort of study leads them into a dense study of The Holocaust.
Kathleen is already slipping toward the edge of subversive theory when she attempts to encage Jean in a disturbing viewpoint of Hitler, his Nazis, Germany and the many who fell victim to his insane manipulation of an ailing culture and economy into a personification of genocide and hate.
Kathleen pushes a discussion of War Criminals into the form of debate.
“It was the whole country. They were all guilty. How can you single out one man?”
Jean, played by Edie Falco, tries to apply logic and reason to her friend, “Well, you can’t jail a whole country, you know. They needed a scapegoat. He was the unlucky one who got caught.”
“No, I don’t think luck had anything to do with it. I mean, how did he get over there? Who put the gun in his hand? They say that he was guilty of killing women and babies. How many bombs were dropped that did the exact same thing? How many homes were destroyed? And who’s in, who’s in jail for that?”
Jean shakes off Kathleen’s ideology with a shrug of frustration and indifference.
As Kathleen’s wounds from her attack begin to “re-shape” and transform her from human — She does not seem to view Jean as a walking blood sack. Instead, she continues to rationalize the unrationable. Is she attempting to gain insight into her physiological destiny or is she trying to hold on to her one truly human contact?
It isn’t clear, but Jean is clearly not interested in this insanely cruel level of engagement. While worried for her friend’s health, she is equally concerned about her use of ideology.
This is not your traditional “horror film” by any standard. And it is certainly not your typical vampire genre movie. In Able Ferrara’s film the vampiric attacks are animalistic, cold and methodical. There are very few “boo” moments. Actually, there really are none of those to be found.
The film’s true concern is the ways in which Kathleen (and maybe Ferrara) apply philosophy, history and intellectualism upon her own victims. These ideas are grounded in a skewed sort of logic that offers Ferrara’s provocative movie an “out.” One could state that Ferrara is offering his own screwed-up ideologies or defend the film’s subversive rationale as a manifestation of Kathleen’s insanely animal-like urge for blood and torture. But as the film leads us to it’s almost depraved operatic crescendo of vampire sadism, it would be difficult to accept any of these off-skewed pseudo-intellectual theories as serious. However, it is difficult to forgive even the articulation of these “self-intended victims” theoretical ramblings. They are so artfully presented that it is worrying.
Wether or not Ferrara’s vampires are immortal is never fully discussed. But we know that they are essentially “dead” as they began to prey upon victims. It is actually more of moral and ethical degradation to vampirism than a traditional “rebirth” to immortality. For these vampires blood is less a desire or requirement than it is an addiction. Could these monsters stop preying on human blood if they tried? Or is the “fix” more desirable than rehabilitation. This question is addressed when Christopher Walken’s character enters Kathleen’s world.
“You know how long I’ve been fasting? Forty years. The last time I shot up, I had a dozen and a half in one night. They fall like flies before the hunger, don’t they? You can never get enough, can you? But you learn to control it. You learn, like the Tibetans, to survive on a little.”
Peina offers an alternative to Kathleen. She does not have to be a cruel animal. She can be saved from the evil of nothing to the possibility of creating an existence which offers more than depending upon the blood of “innocents.” Pena has turned his back on blood lust and cruelty. He abstains and claims that he is almost once again human. He attempts to persuade Kathleen to let him help her overcome her addiction.
It is a wasted effort.
Before Kathleen abandons all possibility of what she views as Peina’s denial of true identity, purpose and superiority, he offers her words of warning. “The entire world’s a graveyard, and we, the birds of prey picking at the bones. That’s all we are. We’re the ones who let the dying know the hour has come.” She is merely curious about this viewpoint than concerned with applying it. To the “recovering” vampire, Kathleen and all the others are nothing. They are evil and pointless. To Peina this is the same as being nothing of importance. But to Kathleen this is just “assimilation” to a lower order.
As she “de-evolves” to a blood-addict vampire, she begins to see the cruelty of human history as a tool to explain away her own guilt. Like the other vampires we see and meet, Kathleen begins to blame her victims rather herself. She seems to reject that idea that there was any supernatural aura or erotic allure projected by Casanova. She actualizes herself and her attacker as her destiny. Also due to the way in which Ferrara films it, it may not have been a spell or aura at all. It very well might have been Kathleen’s latent homosexual desire that prevented her from ordering her vampire to leave.
In one key scene Kathleen watches one of her victims, an Anthropology Major, accessing the damage Kathleen has inflicted. The young woman is in torment, pain and fear, she searches for words. “Look what you’ve done to me! How could you do this? Doesn’t this affect you at all?”
In a brilliant turn of acting, Lili Taylor’s Kathleen re-asses her vile attack along with her victim. With a cold, icey and superior tone she tells the soon to be dead victim, “No. It was your decision. Your friend Feuerbach wrote that all men counting stars are equivalent in every way to God. My indifference is not the concern here. It’s your astonishment that needs studying.”
And as Kathleen fully succumbs to her new found identity of a Vampire, she is a last able to apply her perverse theories regarding human cruelty to a logical conclusion: The “Victims” are no more than stupid beings too dim-witted to fight back or simply order their “Victimizers” away. Kathleen has found an excuse for her bad behavior. Her unforgiving acts of atrocities are “essential” and she is now free to fall into a full-on self-deception of her addiction.
Our astutely deluded vampire will admit that her addiction might be considered “evil” by some. But she theorizes a forgiving ideology for drug of choice, blood. “The propensity for this ‘evil’ lies in our weakness before it. Kierkegaard was right – there is an awful precipice before us. But he was wrong about the leap – there’s a difference between jumping and being pushed. You reach a point where you are forced to face your own needs, and the fact that you can’t terminate the situation settles on you with full force.”
A junkie with a theory for her practice, Kathleen is confident in her pursuit of victims and their blood. She presents a newly re-freshed, sexy and confident young woman. Her ghoulish and deathly-appearance is gone. She only pauses for a few seconds to look at her once true friend, Jean. She is willing to accept compliments and credit “make-up” and “healing” for her new and improved look.
Once again to Lili Taylor’s credit, she doesn’t need dialog to inform us that it is not “make-up” or “medicine” that have given her a sensual and beautiful glow. It is the blood of her pitiful victims. Just before Kathleen and her fellow vampires turn a human celebration into an act of unbridled carnage and horror, she teasingly informs her “friends” and “esteemed professors” that she would like to share a bit of what she has learned.
A blood-soaked orgy of Biblical proportions sets fourth. It is a relief that Ken Kelsch has shot the film in black and white.
At the end of the day, Able Ferrara’s The Addiction forms a disturbing nihilistic viewpoint of human history and defeating the cravings of addictions. This viewpoint is clearly an act of provocation. Ferrara is far too smart to not understand the implications and deeply problematic ideas that spring forth from this perverse ideology.
I would not want to know a person who isn’t offended by aspects of this film, but I would be equally bored by an individual who would casually dismiss the film itself.
This is a masterfully crafted and intended provocation. The intent is not clear, but the viewer is left to think about what has been shown. It is The Addiction‘s intentional vibe that haunts and worries long after the film has ended.
The closing line of this incredibly disturbing film is:
“To face what we are in the end, we stand before the light and our true nature is revealed. Self-revelation is annihilation of self.”
One part Vampire Movie, one part Intellectualism and two parts examinations of how addictions form and alter us, The Addiction refuses to slink away into the dark corner of cinema. It demands your attention and requires your thoughts.
Matty Stanfield, 8.2.2015
Over the past two days I’ve had to “re-vist” two films from my childhood. In addition, I’m also in the process of working through the challenges of PTSD. Up until 2008, I was a highly-functioning and successful person. But as of 2009 I’ve been required to go on Disability. Just as I think things are getting better it seems I get knocked 50 paces back. It is a tiring process and one I’m unlikely to “beat” well enough to ever be able to return to a professional job.
Luckily for me, I’ve had even more free time to devote to my pleasure of Film Art. There is no money to be found and no real pressures. Just interesting interactions and an ability to voice my thoughts. It has also led me back to “blogging.” I had pretty much decided that I was done with blogging, but I’ve returned to it for a number of reasons. One of which is to “re-assemble” my own identity and empowerment.
I’m not sure if it is because many of my posts have been requested or if it is due to the request that I get myself on Twitter, but more people are stopping by my sight right now than even back in the early 2000’s. My last post seemed to distress more than a few people. The distress is related to my childhood. Just for the record, I’m OK. I’m not great, but I’m working on it. I enjoy encaging with people who logically disagree with me. I do not encage with people who appear to be angry at my opinion(s). But after several caring people reached out to me via e-mail, I’ve decided to “alter” my childhood a bit. I also do not want to cause my family any more sadness than my father caused. With this stated, when you now read my account of something from my childhood, it is true. But for those of you who know me, you’re likely to think I’m trying to “soften” my life. I’m not. I just don’t want to cause worry or concern.
This brings me to the two movies I have been asked to re-visit, summarize and provide my opinion(s) regarding possible Film Festival interests, the worthiness of pursuing licensing challenges, restoration and re-distribution to current HD/Blu-Ray formats.
I really only fully understand a few things in life:
Corporate Operations, Office Management, Human Resource Management, Hiring, Terminations, Salary Assessments and Movies. I know a lot about movies. And surprisingly, I’ve developed some rewarding friendships and connections related to the world of film.
Prior to PTSD / DID challenges, the money I earned was from within the realm of Corporate America. Film Festivals and Film Theory were hobbies. Making money in the world of film is challenging and far too “cut throat” for me. I’m happy doing what I can here and there in my own ways. And I do these things for free.
The two films I “re-visited” are Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Both of these films are most certainly reflections of their eras. They are dated, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Truth be told, it is often a major positive for Cinematic Reconsideration. After I finished watching both films, it struck me how deeply both are connected to the concept and idea of “identity.” Which is something I spend a good deal working through in therapy.
I have never viewed myself as a “intimidating” or “threatening” person. Considering that I’m just under 5’10” and weigh somewhere between 155 to 165 pounds, I’ve always felt like I was the opposite of “intimidating” or “threatening.” From the time I entered college through to my last well-paid position within the corporate sphere, I was always surprised to discover that my fellow-students, my staff, colleagues and superiors found me to be intimidating. But they always did. I would try to “refine” my “approach” but this opinion never seemed to really fade.
It was never that I was disliked or viewed as unfair, but I seemed to instill some feeling that there were certain expectations and professional boundaries that could not be failed or crossed when it came to interacting with me. When I first returned to San Francisco in 2005, I landed a solid job at a law firm as Operations/HR Manager. It was the most difficult and unpleasant position and firm within which I found myself.
Eventually it boiled down a merger of two different small offices into one space that I had to put my foot down firmly to ensure that the transition to a new and integrated space was handled fairly and logically. This resulted in individual and group meetings with every lawyer at the firm. It sucked, but the transition was completed without any incident. Partners were adjusting to smaller offices and staff to the fun world of cubical spaces. I was quite pleased.
Then I was called into meet with the Partner to whom I officially directly reported. It was an odd meeting. He thanked me for getting everyone to agree and moved successfully. Then he passively observed that my “intimidating manner” served me well in “negotiating” and “persuading” stubborn“old men” to adapt to change. I quit the next day.
Fast forward ten years to this morning as I began to watch An Unmarried Woman. The movie was just starting when I realized I needed to take my dog for a walk. I “paused” the inferior DVD and took my crazy little dog for a walk. Or, rather, she walked me. I was just keeping up with the mass of white fur that forms my tiny dog when she finally stopped to smell a bush on the side of the street.
I stood there lost in my own thoughts of when I had first seen An Unmarried Woman. I was thinking about how inappropriate it was that I had been taken to a cinema to see that film when it first came out. I was just barely 12 years old. Then I began to calculate that year with my date of birth to be sure I wasn’t incorrect — when a very quiet but very big jogger-dude ran past me at an alarmingly close range.
My response was not “planned.” It was truly an “auto-instinctive” reaction. Just before this “creeper” jogger wisk’d by me, my right hand was on the leash close to my dog. My left hand was hanging free. Maybe a second before I was fully aware that a person was running directly at my back with only a couple of inches between us — my left arm shot out in a fist and my voice ordered out a warning:
“Mother F#*@! BACK OFF!” My arm and fist smashed into his chest. I didn’t mean it! He stumbled back.
And this huge buffed-out man said, “Dude! I want no trouble! Ok?” He had his hands up in the air as if I was holding a gun on him or something.
I immediately started apologizing, “I’m so sorry! I just didn’t know you were there and so close! I just automatically went into self-defense mode. I am so very sorry.”
“Yeah. Ok. I’m just going to keep jogging. Ok? I didn’t mean to run by so close. Ok? I’m not looking for any trouble, man.”
“No, it’s OK. It was my fault. Seriously, I’m sorry. I was just standing here. Are you OK?” He didn’t answer – he just ran off away at a very fast pace. So I scared him. Me. A man twice my size and far younger had been frightened of me. Holding a leash to tiny shih tzu.
What does it take for us to gain a true understanding of who we are and how we appear to others? Why do we even care what others think?
“How the hell am I gonna get it home?”
“Take a taxi.”
These are the closing lines of Paul Mazursky’s most accomplished film. I saw movie upon it’s initial release when I was a kid. My parents were in process of divorcing at that time. I was aware that a lot of women were looking toward this movie for guidance and comfort. I suspect that is why we were there. There was nothing in the film that seemed relatable to my reality. Thee people were rich. They lived in a cool, big city. They were really cool clothes. At it’s time, this film that was far too mature for me to fully understand. It was an interesting opportunity to view a film I had not seen for close to 36 years.
First and foremost, An Unmarried Woman provided an ideal role for the late Jill Clayburgh. She was beautiful, but not imposingly like that of a movie star. She looked “real” and she was brilliant at playing “real.” Even when offered the chance to “show-off” her considerable skills, she seems to have always opted for nuance and subtlety than many actors of her age. She was charmingly goofy but not in that unique Diane Keaton kind of way.
Clayburgh’s “Erica” isn’t comical. She is simply real.
As she scrambles to pull her life together she realizes that her entire identity has been formed by her marriage, her husband and their daughter. She has lost a clear idea of who she is without those three important people serving as her main concern. It is an interesting journey to self-realization for this late 1970’s character. It is particularly interesting to me that this character and the film which contains her was written by a man.
This journey is amplified by the cultural and political self-absorption of the late 1970’s. This does not damage the film’s realism, it actually adds greater import looking back at it from the 21st Century perspective. Paul Mazursky’s film serves as a truly fascinating full-on glimpse into the sexual and political confusion of the 1970’s.
Several emotionally encaging sessions with Erica’s therapist manage to be simultaneously honest and comical. This “comedy” is not intentional. It is funny because the viewpoints and the way the therapist communicates them seemed mired in some sort of post-hippie liberal turned Feminist.
It is difficult to tell if the therapist is truly vested in Erica as a person who must pull it together or as a “victim” who must be “un-victimized.” It feels as if the therapist has no interest in considering that Erica must also find a way to remain an effective mother as she works toward her independence. Though not clearly articulated, the therapists seems to only view Erica as a pitifully example of a Baby-Boomer who has “settled” and “compromised” her life for the needs of others. Pushing Erica to be a full-fledged empowered and sexually-free independent woman appears to be her only therapeutic concern.
Erica’s therapist’s concern is only slightly more grounded than those of her friends. All of whom have either suffered through or are about to plunge into divorce. They are sympathetic and empathetic, but their advice is limited to selecting a movie star as a role model, drug use and lots of gratifying sex. This advice is given in front of Erica’s daughter. A daughter who is as lost and as angry as her mother.
There is sense of rushed need for Erica to explore her sexuality and dreams without any sense of responsibility as a mother or the cold fact that she needs to find a profitable way to function in the world. The focus is on her damaged “identity” relating to the freedom of sex and political empowerment. This concept of the film is very well articulated. It is fascinating that this film was once viewed as an expression Feminist Empowerment has aged into a cultural commentary regarding the confusion that the 1970’s Sexual Revolution and The Me Generation. The logic we see being tossed at Erica is about as valid as a Pet Rock.
To Mazursky’s credit, wether or not he was aware of it, he holds back. He keeps the focus just far enough to prevent the movie from falling into dated philosophical flaws, but close enough to capture the simply complex challenges of Erica’s situation. We can see she is struggling to assert her sexuality and pursue an independent life. She is also trying to figure out why her daughter seems to be so rebellious within the context of her own pending adulthood. Erica may not be able to gain understanding or articulate the real problems facing her and her daughter. But this is a point that remains valid to human psychology.
This is pre-AIDS 1970’s and the pre-Disneyfication of Manhattan. This is a culture ripe with easy/casual sex and a city on the verge of collapse. Danger feels like it lurking around every corner. Erica forces her way through this mess without ever sacrificing her dignity. In a conclusion that Goldie Hawn’s Private Benjamin would later cause her character to find her own independence and empowerment — Erica is offered not only a “safe” solution but one that will prevent her from having to face life “alone.” Alan Bates’ performance is brilliant as it is erotic. In the end, Erica opts to literally walk away the easy solution. She turns her back on the notion of clinging to a successful man and plunges into the madness of her surroundings. She still is a bit clueless. Confused about how to get home wrangling a huge painting, the freshly-dumped Alan Bates has to tell her to take a cab.
In the end, this film’s failings are actually amazing strengths. The 1970’s created more problems than it resolved. But is was an era that encourage the marginalized to stand back and “re-think” societal and cultural rules. It created an awareness based in the “selfish” while pointing toward emotional intelligence that would pave the way for many to be better and more fulfilled people. As the credits roll, it feels like Eric is one of the emotionally intelligent on her way. There would be major casualties, but the life promised by the 1950’s was a false ideal. The 1970’s was a gut-punch into reality.
An Unmarried Woman is a deeply profound Feminist examination during one of our culture’s most confused eras. This is a Cinematic Masterpiece. Fingers-crossed that this film finds it way to a decent restoration and back into our collective consciousness.
When you watch a Paul Mazursky movie it can only go one of two ways: bad or very good. There seemed to be no “in-between” for him. Considering that Paul Mazursky made Down and Out in Beverly Hills in the mid-1980’s it has aged very well.
I hadn’t seen it since it came out. It is interesting to note that Down and Out in Beverly Hills is a re-adaptation of a French play that Jean Renoir had already turned into a film in the early 1930’s. This speaks a great deal about the times of the productions as well as the films themselves.
Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midlers’ marriage is very much on the rocks. Both are miserable. They have achieved financial success but has come at a price. Life offers no real challenges. They have neglected the needs of their children. The wife has fallen into the meaningless life of wealth. Her husband is busy screwing their immigrant maid. It would appear that Dave and Barbara truly hate each other.
Enter Nick Nolte as the homeless and damaged vagabond who decides to attempt to suicide in their swimming pool. They save him more out of fear of being judged than any moral or ethical drive. Initially they are disgusted by not only him, but his sad predicament. Wealth has not helped this family with “kindness” or “empathy.”
But for various reasons the family feels a misplaced sense of duty in trying to help him.
And so begins Mazursky’s comical satire. Bette Midler was already stuck in her “eat the scenery” phase of her film career that has never really gone away. However, Mazursky utilizes this to great effect. Later in the film when required, Midler breaks away from her comic-diva persona. The sudden shift and slip of her mask allows a painful glimpse a middle-aged woman who is all too aware of the challenges life is presenting for her children, husband and herself. It is a brief but surprisingly powerful moment. Dreyfuss, an always solid actor, transforms himself from the conflicted mid-life cliche he has become to an aging man forced to take a realistic look at not only “his” success but the reality of the life he and his wife have co-created. Both Barbara and Dave appear to have gained a stronger sense of “self” and “purpose.” Yet somehow they both seem somehow even more lost.
Their children become sort of sexual pawns, but through it they come out with hope. We sense that these two young people might have been changed for the better. Or maybe not. As Nolte’s character appears more than happy to return to his life as a damaged homeless drifter. As he shares food with Dave and Barbaras’ dog he discovers that this decadent family is laughing at him. Suddenly we realize that we truly have no idea about him. We have always known his stories are untrue. Nick Nolte’s Jerry seems mentally damaged. Or is he? Like a dog with his tail between his legs, he returns to the comfort of the delusion of a family. The character who appears to have gained some oddly skewed sense of “awareness” is more lost than the family he has charmed, robbed and seduced. It is ultimately he who has been charmed, robbed and seduced. Nothing has changed. If anything, it has taken a sharper and more compromised turn. And here we have a tragic metaphor of 1980’s American Culture.
Though it would be a more challenging case to defend Down and Out in Beverly Hills as a Cinematic Masterpiece, but it is an important film that should not be forgotten. It is most certainly not the twee little comedy Disney’s marketing campaign advertised.
Paul Mazursky was an interesting artist. He worked on both sides of the camera to varying levels of success. When one stands back from his small body of work, he was very much an artist of his day.
But he clearly had a very pure view of himself, his world and reality.
These films deserve our attention.
Matty Stanfield, 7.31.2015