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Archive for the ‘Directors’ Category

David Carradine and Barbara Hershey in Boxcar Bertha

David Carradine and Barbara Hershey in Boxcar Bertha

No disrespect to Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, whose filming stretched over many years as the boy grew up. But when some Slate people said it’s “completely unique” and “Nobody else would undertake this project,” I was like, “Just a minute, please.”

David Carradine wrote and directed a movie about Mata Hari, starring his daughter Calista Carradine. It was meant to follow from her teen years to age 41, when the famous spy was executed by a firing squad. The first installment was filmed in 1977, with a couple weeks more of shooting added every year or so, as money was available. Some scenes were shot in Europe and India. It was a monumental passion project, and David Carradine talked about it in his book Endless Highway.

Various journalists have said it was meant to span 30 years. Somebody else reported that it would cover Mata Hari’s life from 15 to 30, and would thus be a 15-year project. There seems to have been confusion. In a 1981 interview, D. Carradine mentioned that even though the subject had been dead for more than 60 years, new facts about her life were still being discovered. He said, “It may be three movies.”

Just before that he said, “The film will probably not exist at a single level or reality.” Which it makes sense to interpret as, it’s a mystery AND a biography AND a war story, or some similar trio of genres. But another writer took that literally and spoke as if the work would actually be three separate movies, and someone else called it a trilogy. And there’s a Carradine quotation about being almost done with the first film, with maybe one more scene to do.

Movie star crush

I fondly remember the TV series Kung Fu, and I’m sure David Carradine’s character Kwai Chang Caine had something to do with the formation of my preferences in men. Later on when the movie Boxcar Bertha came out, it was my favorite for a long time. The picture on this page is from a Playboy photo session commemorating the movie, extra hot because Carradine and Barbara Hershey were deep in love in real life.

What follows is from a 1979 chapter of my book Call Someplace Paradise:

On the way to work night shift, at the Lincoln Boulevard onramp to the Santa Monica Freeway, I saw a family group looking for a ride. They were headed for Hollywood but decided Westwood would do just as well. My front door on the passenger side is still crunched in so they piled in the back with a guitar case and backpack and various other paraphernalia. The man was Bill Sunshine, a filmmaker who documents births, mostly home births, for people who want to relive the moment on video. This is what people get now instead of bronzed baby shoes.

He introduced his wife as Calista Carradine, who plays Mata Hari in her father’s film, which they have been working on since she was a child. The concept is to have the same actress fill all the different age roles by the simple method of shooting the film as she grows up. I read about David Carradine’s ambitious project a couple weeks ago, and said so. Bill Sunshine talked some about the movie and, since I work at the hospital, a little about the advancing age and medical problems of John Carradine. The couple have been married for six weeks and are reduced to hitchhiking because of a drunk driving incident during their honeymoon. The boy, about 9, was introduced as Jason Sunshine. The guitar case contained picnic supplies. They’d spent the day at the beach.

A few months later I was at a screening that David Carradine attended. Though I had watched Kung Fu religiously, I figured half the world probably told him that. So I told him I’d picked up his daughter hitchhiking. In another of his books, The Kill Bill Diary, a page says…

…a promo reel for Mata Hari which I made to show at Cannes in 1980, made up of scenes from the first three years, ’77. ’78 and ’79, starring my daughter, from fourteen years old in India to her execution at the age of seventeen in a forest in Holland….

How did that get published? Mata Hari wasn’t executed at 17. WTF? Anyway, at the international film festival, D. Carradine was given a special award for writing the score of the fragmentary film. Over time, Mata Hari grew its own legend. A lot of people heard of it, few saw any of it. There were disturbing rumors and reports, a mild example being someone’s comment about watching D. Carradine directing a scene where his daughter and a male actor were naked and going at it.

The film was included in a couple of “greatest movies never made” webpages. One of them said the action spanned 20 years, and noted that it was supposed to have been released in the summer of 1998. The reviewer called it “an incredible concept that would have made a groundbreaking film that would have served as a fine legacy to Carradine.” It must have been money that stood in the way of completing and releasing the movie, because the filmmaker lived until 2009. According to IMBD, Mata Hari now seems to be one movie, scheduled for release in December of 2014.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Whenever the subject of horror movies is introduced, I stoutly maintain that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the ultimate horror movie. As in, you never need to see another one. I’m prepared to defend at length the proposition that it is an exceptional piece of work which transcends its genre. If I were still taking a film class at Santa Monica College, I could write a paper on it for sure.

I remember liking the sound effects and the music. I read somewhere that one of the victims screams for the last 30 minutes of the film, but I don’t remember that, and it’s the sort of thing I notice, because about 3 seconds of screaming is plenty enough for me. If indeed a woman screams for one-third of the film’s length, it is a testimony to its other elements that I didn’t register it.

I like what The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has in common with Picnic at Hanging Rock – the portentous brooding evil of a bright day. Heat waves shimmering over a green field – how do you make that look sinister?

Hitchhiker is a facially-birthmarked grave robber whose character was based on the actor’s real-life schizophrenic nephew. When Leatherface performs an atrocity one of the lost teenagers, the cannibal father grouses, “Look what your brother did to this door.” Touchingly, Leatherface dresses for dinner in a shirt and tie, and a mask made up with rouge and eyeliner.

The only surviving kid finally gets away, and the most memorable image, fittingly, is the last scene. In the tender pastel light of a dewy dawn, in the middle of a country road, Leatherface is having abandonment issues. Still wearing his white dress shirt and tie and suit jacket, he whirls about in a grotesque frenzied dance of lonely frustration, chain-sawing the empty air.

Leatherface

Once, I recommended The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to a pair of friends. They rented it, watched it, hated it, and have never trusted me since. A like-minded film critic said,

…sadistic in the extreme and unrelieved by any artistic value whatever.

In Gadfly magazine Daniel Kraus, who will be quoted again, wrote,

…it was banned in the U.K., Germany and Sweden for over twenty years. Britain’s chief film censor, James Ferman, damned it as “psychological terrorism” and Harper’s magazine spat that it was, “a vile piece of sick crap . . . Nothing but imbecile concoctions of cannibalism, voodoo, astrology, sundry hippie-esque cults, and unrelenting sadistic violence as extreme and hideous as a complete lack of imagination can possibly make it.”

Michael Bronski speaks of a new aesthetic which…

….probably traceable back to the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre – treats the graphic mutilation of human flesh as a satisfying end in itself.

Just a moment, Mr. Bronski. Okay, for Leatherface, mutilation is an end in itself. I give you that. He lives to wield the chainsaw. It is his passion.

But there is nothing graphic about it. The last time I watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it was with the express purpose of tabulating the visible violence, which seems to have been more implied than illustrated. Presumably there is dried blood on Leatherface’s apron, but I don’t think there is a drop of fresh blood. I think the only actual violence we see is, after the girl has been captured and put into a cloth bag, the cannibal father hits and pokes her with a stick.

But even here, the violence is, in the most technical sense, implicit. The odds that the girl is inside the bag approach certainty, but we still don’t see a direct assault on human flesh. It is a fine distinction but an important one, and one I think the director consciously drew.

Of course it could be that the violence is more explicit than I recall. If I’m all wrong about this, please speak up. Tell me in which scene a weapon, or a body part used as a weapon, actually strikes a blow that is shown landing, and I’ll watch the movie again and slap my own forehead in dumbfoundment.

Then again, Kraus says,

It’s the kind of movie where you swear you saw the rusty meat hook sink into the girl’s soft back, when it really wasn’t shown… Was it?

Wilson Bryan Key, author of Subliminal Seduction and Media Sexploitation, claimed that the film had those subliminal horror frames in it, which if true, could explain why some people are so appalled. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is said to have been made on a shoestring budget in seven weeks. It grossed $21 million in the first year, mostly at drive-in theaters. Then, next thing you know, it had made $30 million, and who knows how much by now?

In the summer of ’73 it was hot, hot, hot in Austin. Kraus says,

Under the lights, animal flesh and bone festered and burned, raising a sickly stench… Outside, a doctor applied nausea medicine to vomiting crew members.

As to story’s original inspiration, Kraus says,

The grisly case of Eddie Gein, who simultaneously desired and loathed women reminiscent of his mother, inspired the landmark 1960 film Psycho, as well as the shocker classic Silence of the Lambs. But in the fall of 1974, a film came out that — for sheer, relentless terror — devours them both.

And just in case you ever wanted a complete list of the nastiness promulgated by the real Ed Gein, the Gadfly article provides a full list. But in another publication, director Tobe Hooper told an interviewer,

Our family doctor told me that when he was a pre-med student, he once skinned a cadaver’s face and wore it as a mask to a Halloween party of med school guys. That’s where Leatherface came from; we weren’t consciously ‘doing’ Gein and had done no Gein research.

Vindication is Sweet –
Marks of Distinction Awarded to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (A Partial List)

It was chosen “Outstanding Film of the Year” at the 19th Annual London Film Festival, and shown there again when its 25th anniversary rolled around.

It was shown at the Cannes festival, where Rex Reed said it was the most horrifying motion picture he had ever seen, and was carried in Essential Media, the hippest catalog.

It was acquired (along with The Hills Have Eyes) by the New York MOMA for its study collection. The museum said, “We’re not willing to say yet these films are works of art. There is always a possibility that they will be accepted into our permanent collection but they haven’t been yet….” Then later on, it was accepted as part of the permanent collection.

A report from the 8th International Paris Festival of Science Fiction and Fantasy Films said,

Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre… touted last month by Dan O’Bannon as the state of the art in horror films before Alien, was awaited with the greatest anticipation of any entry. Record crowds, estimated at 5,000 or more, were turned away, causing the first riot outside. When the movie was shown, it turned out to be a heavily censored version, sorely disappointing the audience and almost provoking a second riot.

Ridley Scott, director of Alien, said,

I think there are certain types of underground movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre which are frightening beyond belief – really outrageous.

Joe Bob Briggs, author of Profoundly Disturbing: The Shocking Movies That Changed History, was asked by interviewer Sara Rimensnyder, “If you could show the moral nags one movie, what would it be? His answer:

Actually, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which 30 years after its release is still always used as an example of cultural decay and the depravity of mass entertainment. I’d have them tell me what about it revolts them so much. It’s a comedy!

Back when I lived in LA, a trip to the intellectually elevated Nuart Theater, where they kept a request log in the lobby, revealed that it was the most frequently requested film by Nuart patrons.

A review in Playboy said the movie was done with taste and conscience, and,

There are films that skate right up to the border where art ceases to be thrown off and exploitation begins, and those films are often the field’s most striking successes. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of those. I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country…

Daniel Kraus saw it as representing civilization versus the wilderness, “the rural getting revenge for the urbanite sins — business, familial and sexual.” Praising its brutal simplicity and “the sick grandeur of an age-old myth,” he cited “our barely concealed collective nightmare and hidden lust for a world of destruction and negativity.” He also said the film

…re-affirmed our ability to be repulsed and shocked, an ability we lost with the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, the atomic aftermath in Hiroshima, and the concentration camp atrocities of World War II… The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has entered the popular unconscious to such an extent that it effects even those who have not seen it.

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According to Amy Wallace in Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Carlos Castaneda and his inner circle were big movie fans. She tells about going with him in 1981 to see his friend Hector Bebenco’s award-winning film Pixote and says,

This heartbreaking story of an impoverished Brazilian boyhood, told in Portuguese (in which Carlos was fluent), moved him to the point of tears; it was so reminiscent, he said, of his past.

Some of the sorcerer’s favorite films were The Barefoot Contessa, Bladerunner, The Seventh Seal, and Tora, Tora, Tora. He also loved Grade-D martial arts movies and all war movies. During the illness approaching death, Wallace says Castaneda would only watch war movies. How spiritual is that?

His favorite singers were Javier Solis of Mexico and the Argentinian Boule de Neve.

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Bully

Well, I watched this thing because Michael Pitt is in it. But it’s a movie that really didn’t need to be made. Apparently the whole story is in a book by investigative reporter Jim Schutze. Why anybody thought it belonged on the screen, except as a vehicle for some crude camera angles featuring crotches and butts, is a puzzling question. It’s based on a real event, the murder of Bobby Kent by what came to be called the Broward County Seven, with an amount of verisimilitude that is debated by critics. (Actually, the most unbelievable thing about this film is that it won a couple of awards.)

Basically, it’s the story of two friends, Marty the surfer and Bobby the bully, who has kept Marty in sado-masochistic crypto-homosexual thrall, brutalizing and humiliating him, since they were kids. The director said in a print interview, “Bobby and Marty were such a couple of knuckleheads, they had all these things going on. They posed as a gay couple and they would go to a gay club and hustle gays.”

There’s no doubt that kids do this kind of stuff. I once knew a Vietnam vet, from a typical middle-class “good” family, who as a teenager used to hang out at the Alamo and charge grown men $100 for the privilege of sucking him off. One of his johns even bought him a motorbike. (My friend, of course, denied being anything other than a genuine heterosexual who just needed some walking-around money.) And it wasn’t only the boys who were up to no good. Another of the numerous articles about the film says that the real Ali and Heather, in their first year of high school, were hookers working for a pimp/cop.

A reviewer named Wesley says, “…the parents of these teens were completely non-responsive to all the warning signs of their children’s behavior. This murder could have been completely avoided if just one of them acted but most of them were completely blind to how bad things were getting with their children.” Bullshit. Spoken by a non-parent, for sure. These kids all have Eddie Haskell syndrome, showing saccharine mildness toward the grownups. Having been both a teenager and a parent, I know how easy it is for kids to keep their families clueless. The bully Bobby, especially, is a lamb around his father, who is so supportive he wants to buy his son a stereo equipment business. This kid has everything, and he’s an evil psychopath.

Some small attempt is made to explain how the kids in this crowd got so screwed up. Heather relates how her grandpa killed her grandma and locked himself in the bedroom for two days, drinking and performing necrophiliac acts. That messed up Heather’s mother, and thus, Heather and her brother. But by and large, what we see is kids with an enormous sense of entitlement and plenty of all the allegedly right stuff, including intact families with caring parents who try to do the right thing.

In the most violent scenes, rap music always plays on the sound track. But it would never occur to me to blame or illegalize the ugliest music in the world, just because these assholes love it. What really pisses me off is that these kids are shown constantly smoking pot and dropping acid, as if those are the causative factors that turn them into moral imbeciles. But the film doesn’t mention the steroids that the real Bobby and Marty are both said to have used, and which probably had a much greater effect on their warped personalities. It’s a true insult to the thousands and thousands of marijuana smokers who never did a violent deed in their lives, and to the seekers of spiritual enlightenment through entheogens. Taking LSD isn’t the problem; taking LSD to do stupid stuff like play Mortal Kombat is the problem. Therein lies the true drug abuse.

The trouble starts when Marty acquires a girlfriend, Lisa, who immediately gets pregnant and threatens to break the Marty/Bobby bond. Feeling ornery, Bobby hooks up with Lisa’s best friend Ali. They start off all sweet and nice, but he makes her watch gay porn and punches her, insisting that she say he’s the best she ever had. Lisa later remarks, “He’s too weird even for Ali, and she’s into everything.” Next thing we know, Lisa recruits a whole cabal into her plan to kill Bobby. Two of the kids have never even met him, but hey, whatever.

Michael Pitt shows up as Donny, who likes to have hot wax dripped onto his chest while in flagrante delicto. He also French-kisses a dog. Donny has one of the few comic lines. He’s been sitting around watching TV with clothespins attached to his nipples. When they others start talking about the planned murder he leaves the room saying, “You people need professional help.” Donny gets to vomit, too. In fact, just about everybody gets to vomit in this masterpiece. Marty gets to cry and drool copiously while confessing to Lisa his abject servitude to Bobby. Then she kisses him passionately. Let’s hear it for true love.

The stunningly attractive Kelli Garner, who plays Heather, has crooked teeth and I like it that she hasn’t gotten them fixed. There’s kind of an interesting bit where Marty suggests to his parents that they relocate, not telling them it’s because he badly needs to escape Bobby. But they aren’t interested in moving. Ironically, Bobby’s father thinks Marty is the bad influence on his precious son, and he threatens to move his family to a different neighborhood.

So anyway, the plan to kill Bobby gets underway, and one of the girls has another funny line: “The hit man needs a ride.” The hit man is a supposedly super-tough kid who they bring in as a consultant and backup. Haranguing the little group of deadly clowns, he tells them, “You gotta understand some shit,” and it sounds so bogus. Real, authentic swearers don’t emphasize the swear word itself, they just slip it into the sentence. A real, authentic swearer would say, “You gotta understand some shit.”

Lisa is a total flake, first the cheerleader and chief instigator of the murder, then she immediately falls apart, has olfactory hallucinations, thinking she smells blood; gets all hysterical; and goes around compulsively confessing. Although confessing isn’t the right word, since it’s not remorse she feels, but anxiety lest the body was not adequately hidden. What she’s trying to do is drag yet another girlfriend into it, asking her for a ride to the murder scene to check on things.

Reviewers vary widely in their opinions about how much “exploitation” is involved in Bully. The answer is: lots. For these kids, life is one big orgy. They’re always lying around, minimally clothed or naked, entwined with each other like a nest of rattlesnakes. Some viewers object because Lisa conducts a long telephone conversation, gratuitously topless. It’s hard to understand what the problem is, since her bosom is virtually nonexistent. The guy who plays her cousin has bigger tits, and nobody complains about him being topless in one scene.

For some reason, and I rarely do this, I checked out some of the extra stuff piled onto the DVD. I’d read somewhere that director Larry Clark is a former heroin addict who has done time for shooting someone, so figured I’d see what he had to say, in the attached interview. Forget it! Clark is one of those excruciatingly boring talkers who can’t enunciate two words in a row without interjecting “uh” in between. To hell with that.

Also, there’s a collection of the mug shots or prison photos of the real Broward County Seven. Ho-hum. But here it is, finally, the best thing on the whole disk, a little feature called “How the Actors Landed Their Roles.” Each one of them in turn explains deadpan and matter-of-factly that he or she got the part by sleeping with Larry. Now, that’s funny.

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bad-timing

Under the credits, a man and a woman wander through a museum in Vienna, comporting themselves like lovers. We get close-up views of luscious romantic Klimt paintings and then – a Schiele canvas, in which a man desperately holds onto a woman who looks very much like she wants to get away.

He is American research psychologist Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) and she’s an American too, Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell), who comes and goes across Austria’s border and has a husband over there in Czechoslovakia. Russell is beyond superb. While directing the movie, Nicholas Roeg fell in love with her, and you can sorta tell from the way the whole thing is a showcase to display her. She deserves it. (They got married, had a couple of kids, and divorced.) Her eyes seem to change color in different scenes – there’s one in particular where they are the palest icy blue, yet seem a minute later to be dark.

The first question you have to ask about Milena is, what does she live on? When she moves, she only takes along one small bag. Yet she has fabulous clothes and an apartment full of stuff. Is she a trust fund baby, or does she hold onto the Czech husband because he’s rich, or what? There’s no indication of her ever doing any kind of work. She can get away with being drunk, having irresponsible, impulsive adventures, and so forth. Her source of income isn’t relevant to the plot, but geez.

Along with his research and teaching, Alex Linden does occasional jobs for the US intelligence services. For instance, a spook hands him two files, and tells him to find out if either of the subjects “sniffs cocaine or plays with little girls or boys.” Linden, who should know better, is a poor security risk. He brings files home. He brings home a file on Milena’s husband, which includes her photo and biographical information.

We learn the story of Milena and Linden in flashbacks. In fact there’s probably more cutting back and forth in time than in any movie ever made. It’s pretty disorienting. So go ahead and watch it twice.

In the present, an ambulance takes the overdosed Milena to the hospital. Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) extracts the story from Linden. Milena had called him up and said “I’ll be dead in a minute, I wanted to say goodbye” and of course he went right over. It was no big deal, she’d overdosed before. Linden paints her as a wild woman who denies herself nothing, a woman to whom something dreadful was bound to happen sooner or later.

But the inspector sees a few discrepancies. Linden says he talked on the phone with Milena long after she would have already been comatose. And his car radio is tuned to a station that doesn’t start broadcasting until midnight. And so on. In other words, Netusil suspects exactly what happened. Far from rushing to Milena’s side and summoning help immediately, Linden waited to make sure she would die, and “ravished” her in the meantime.

We see how it went down. When Linden first arrived, Milena was still semi-coherent. Collapsed on the floor, with almost no motor skills left, she managed to get the telephone. Linden pulled the jack from the wall and replaced it later, after it was too late. Looking around the apartment, Netusil somehow intuits all of this. He even seems to have psychic visions that tell him what happened.

Linden puts Milena on her bed, saying “We don’t need anybody else. Just you and me.” While waiting for her to die, “It’s better this way, believe me, there was no other way.” After pacing around for a while, he cuts her clothes off and rapes her inert body, saying “I love you.”

At the beginning of their affair, Milena had pursued Alex, who hung back at first. We see them in happier times. He reads to her from the poetry of William Blake, the verse

What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire. *

A scene where Milena’s in bed with her husband implies that she isn’t getting sexual satisfaction from him, although that’s not the only reason she goes out in search of adventure. He’s 30 years older, for one thing. Once when Milena goes missing for a week, Linden calls her husband, who is bored, dismissive, and contemptuous of this weak American, who can’t muster the necessary intestinal fortitude to deal with such a woman. The husband tells Linden that a man has to love Milena even more than his own dignity. And, as Linden learns, more than he loves being told the truth. She persists in lying about her marital status, and Linden crosses over to Czechoslovakia and bothers some hostile bureaucrats to try and find out if she’s divorced or what.

Linden wants Milena to move in with him, he wants her to return to the States with him and marry him. We sit in on one of his lectures, where he speaks to the students about how we are all spies. He knows all about this, because he spies on Milena a lot, and suffers terribly from jealousy, while she relates to a lot of different men.

But that’s not all. She does heedless things, like burn his car’s upholstery with a cigarette. She can be an embarrassing drunk. In one horrendous scene she’s invited him over. Her place cleaned up as if by the world’s most dedicated housewife, and she’s wearing some kind of mock-sexy outfit and enough makeup to turn her from a flashy woman into a grotesque clown. She’s changed herself into what he seems to want her to be. He leaves, and from the balcony she hurls bottles into the street, yelling at him so the whole neighborhood is disturbed.

Soon their discourse is reduced to “What?” and “Why?” as brilliantly encapsulated in one scene. He wants to possess Milena, who can’t be possessed. “You don’t own me. I don’t own you,” she says. She enumerates some of her priorities – to get up when she wants to get up, and eat when she wants to eat, and not to be with people she doesn’t like. (These are core values I recognize, and I don’t think a person who holds them is necessarily a monster of selfishness.) They have a terrible argument on the stairs and she declares, “I just want to be allowed to give where I can – what I can – to who I can.” What she most likes to give, and there’s nothing wrong with this, either, are the Lineaments of Gratified Desire.

There’s a lot of cross-cutting to emphasize the twinship of sex and death. From Milena’s orgasm to her convulsions on the emergency room operating table. From the couple having sex, to the doctor spreading her legs and going in with a speculum to look for rape evidence. From Milena’s head hanging over the edge of the bed during sex, to the doctors doing the tracheotomy.

With unflagging persistence, the inspector interrogates Linden. He’s fully tuned in to the atmosphere of claustrophobic obsession and sexual pessimism reminiscent of certain Leonard Cohen lyrics. The intuitive genius detective is the role Harvey Keitel was born for, and this isn’t the first time he’s filled it, or the last. Anyway, he’s just about gotten Linden to confess when Milena’s husband appears at the door. More bad timing. She’s alive, and will recover.

I like how the art references in the film hang together. For instance, we see Milena reading The Sheltering Sky, and later we see her with Linden on vacation in Morocco, which apparently was their last happy time. This is where he made the mistake of talking about marriage, which left her completely unimpressed. As he waits for her to die, he plays a record of Moroccan music instantly recognizable as the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Which is ironic, because this is supposed to be healing music. Maybe that’s why Milena survives the drug-induced coma. You’d think the professor would be smart enough not to play the wrong kind of music to die by.

So Linden gets away with attempted murder, and loses Milena of course. There’s a flash-forward to a future scene, when they’re both back in their own country. She gets out of a cab, he gets into a cab. He had asked her to return to the States with him, as his wife. Instead, their only meeting is accidental and brief, and she looks at him with hatred.

*These lines, incidentally also figure in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, where the characters initials (like the author’s) are LGD (for Lineaments of Gratified Desire, of course.)

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history-of-teletimes

The History of the Tele Times is made from some of the 6,000 hours of film accumulated by wizard documentarian Claire Burch. The focus here is on B. N. Duncan, legendary underground artist of Berkeley, CA. We revisit the esteemed “Fred and Ned” comic strip that Duncan created with Wild Billy Wolf, and the zine they started, which later continued with Ace Backwords, a major under-appreciated genius of our era. (One of his songs is on the sound track.)

From 1978 to 1982, The Tele Times presented the ultimate in outsider art, in every sense of the word. Primitive artist Narayan, for instance. It’s said that life on the streets is many times more difficult for a woman than for a man. It is interesting to be introduced to such a woman, however briefly.

Duncan is seen constantly photographing the kaleidoscopic Berkeley ambiance and interviewing its dwellers. Burch recorded the historic meeting of Duncan and Backwords and the historic meeting of Duncan and uber-cartoonist R. Crumb. We hear excerpts from the lively feud between Crumb and a stripper, and meet his partner Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

The interview with Duncan is very ably conducted by Ace Backwords (who, if there were any justice, would have his own TV show. I’d call him an even hipper Dick Cavett.) They discuss Gypsy Catano, and the occupation of People’s Park, and a whole lot more besides. The conversation turns to the subject of vehicle dwellers or rubber tramps including Vincent Johnson, the founder of Rainbow Village.

Historically speaking, these are the people who later turn out to have genuinely made history, rather than the politicians and armies, as is generally supposed.

The back of the DVD case has a nice quote from Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer, venerable keepers of the psychedelic tradition. (A debate between Horowitz and Backwords would be an interesting event. The latter’s book, Acid Heroes, pretty much trashes the entire scene.)

Regent Press Media
6020-A Adeline
Oakland CA 94608

http://www.regentpress.net
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RELATED: A Trip Through Facets

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inserts1

Hollywood, the Thirties: a washed-up former movie director, referred to as the Boy Wonder (Richard Dreyfuss), is reduced to making pornographic short films in his about-to-be-condemned rented mansion. His stars are Harlene, a wisecracking flapper par excellence who supports herself by waitressing and her habit by actressing, and Rex, a stupid and egotistical no-talent whose sideline is grave-digging. In the midst of the day’s shooting, producer Big Mac arrives; since he is paying the bills he can’t be thrown off the set. With Mac is a woman he introduces as his “fiancée – maybe”, Miss Cathy Cake. Mac, as usual, has brought Harlene’s paycheck in the form of a packet of white powder. This time, she overdoses, and while Mac (Bob Hoskins) and Rex (Stephen Davies) are away disposing of the body, Cathy Cake undertakes to seduce the supposedly impotent (owing to the failure of his career, and his massive intake of alcohol) Boy Wonder.

inserts2

This intricately structured film, written and directed by John Byrum, is both an allegorical representation of the film industry and an extended metaphor in which each character is an archetype, portraying the various ways in which individuals relate to Art with a capital A.

Harlene (Veronica Cartwright) represents the artist of real but abused talent. Despite her junk habit she is a professional – out of her dress and ready to start work the minute she arrives; listening intently as the Boy Wonder explains the purpose of a shot; getting it on the first take – even Big Mac recognizes that she is a “good little worker.”

Harlene’s affair with the Boy Wonder is part of their shared past. Refusing to believe that he can’t or won’t resume it, she gently tries to arouse him, which he tolerates up to a point but finally, patience exhausted, dumps her from his lap onto the floor. Her expression at that moment is worth the price of admission.

She is also a clown. When the wind-up camera grinds to a halt, destroying an intense scene, she rips her slip open and makes a ridiculous face to distract the director from his exasperation at having to rewind. Of the two women Harlene is by far the more sympathetic character: loving, generous, supportive, naïve, spontaneous, a little dumb. Her honesty, her humor and openness, her already anachronistic flapper attire and giddy ways, are all endearing. Although worldly-wise on the surface, she is essentially an innocent with the fabled heart of gold.

Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), on the other hand, is dangerous and weird, a pasty-faced caricature of innocence, a bisque doll who plays the lady while casting sidelong glances at Rex’s crotch.

Cathy’s coy ways disguise her twisted motivations and insidious intent. Although she aspires to be an actress, she realizes her total lack of talent and creativity, admitting that her liaison with Big Mac is a stratagem designed to bring her the opportunities that her own efforts cannot. But this ambition to be in the movies can be furthered at the same time as her new goal: once she learns that the Boy Wonder is theoretically incapable of sexual relations, she sets out to get him into bed. She proposes to meet the challenge of reawakening his desire if he, in exchange, will put her in front of the camera and take on the much more daunting challenge of teaching her “to be great.” The longest sequence of the film consists of her amazing relentless campaign to this end.

Cathy has already demonstrated plenty of what may be termed psychic vampirism: she wanted to go watch Harlene shoot up; when the director was arguing with Big Mac she watched them as if a spectator at a tennis match. She breaks the Boy Wonder down by digging at his feelings for Harlene, his doubts about himself as a creative artist, his agoraphobia, and every other weak spot she can detect in him. Just when all this psychological probing gets to be too much, Cathy switches tactics and displays a dazzling array of manipulative and exploitive ploys. The ultimate irony of Cathy Cake is that she is indeed a superb and inspired actress – everywhere but in front of the camera.

Eventually Cathy succeeds in gaining the Boy Wonder’s confidence, and his body, along with causing a painful misunderstanding, and a lot of trouble for them both on Big Mac’s return. Even in the heat of passion she is true to her vampire nature – when the Boy Wonder wants to nuzzle and kiss, she pushes his head back in order to observe his face in the flushed and vulnerable erotic state. Her quintessential line, repeated several times throughout the film, is, “I want to see it all.” Her zombie-like appearance during the first scene was exactly right: she is an example of intelligence and curiosity with no ruling consciousness; out of control, like some monstrous child. Cathy’s outstanding trait is this half-voyeuristic, half-vampiristic need to feed on the pain of others. Archetypally, she is the Fan: this quality of being an emotion junkie is what going to the movies is all about.

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