Archive for the ‘Michael Pitt’ Category

While appreciating every aspect of film-making, when it comes to deciding what to watch, I’m just about totally actor-oriented. Definition of a favorite: I’ll go out of my way to get hold of movies they’re in; and watch just about anything, if they’re in it.

Steve Buscemi
Richard Dreyfuss
Ralph Fiennes
Andy Garcia
Bob Hoskins
Harvey Keitel
Michael Pitt
Mickey Rourke
James Spader
James Woods

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It’s set in France in the 1800s, when Japan was, to Europeans, a closed and forbidden society. Michael Pitt is Herve’ Joncour, who goes on a business trip to Japan to get silkworm eggs, leaving wife Helene behind.

It’s a long, grueling trip that takes months, and at the end he meets a beguiling woman, known only as “the girl,” who just happens to belong to the local warlord. She comes on to him in a very genteel way. During the tea ceremony, she takes his cup and turns it around so her lips will touch the side so recently touched by his lips, and drinks from it.

On a second trip to Japan, he finds “the girl” bathing in the hot springs with her owner, and leaves his glove on her pile of clothing as a token. Another expatriate tells Herve’ that the object of his desire is rumored not to be Japanese, a bit of information that doesn’t seem to have a darn thing to do with the plot, such as it is.

I may be the only viewer of this movie who realizes it, but Herve’ does not make it with “the girl”. The Oriental beauty with whom he is obsessed is the one in the blue kimono. In a wordless little ceremony, she presents to him a different woman, the one in the yellow kimono. Why? Maybe her master told her to do it, to slake the foreigner’s lust and get his mind off the main concubine. Or maybe it’s her own idea. The price she would pay for seducing Herve’ would be too high – like probably her life – but she wants to give him some satisfaction, so he can close his eyes and pretend it’s her, or something. “The girl” gives him the woman in yellow to play with, then sits around in another room looking profoundly unhappy about it. I don’t know what transpired in the novel the movie was based on, but on film, Herve’ and “the girl” don’t make a carnal connection.

The sex is very lovely and romantic, oh yeah, and if I wanted to fantasize about how they do it in Japan, better this than In the Realm of the Senses with all the strangling. Of course, Japan is probably just like anywhere else – some do it one way, and others do it other ways.

Herve’ goes home again, and although he and his wife Helene want to have a child, we are shown a sexual transaction that is utilitarian on his part, and irritating to her. Word comes of chaos in Japan, and Herve’s business partner wants him to go somewhere else instead, like maybe China, for the next shipment of silkworm eggs. But Herve’ is a man with a mission. Another long and difficult journey back to Japan, and he finds the village in smoking ruins. “This time it really was the end of the world.”

He brings back eggs but they die, and everyone in town is going broke, so he hires them to build the formal garden his wife Helene has always dreamed of. Then he gets a long letter, ostensibly from Japan. Helene dies. He goes to see the brothel keeper, a Japanese woman who usually does his translation for him, and it turns out to be a lyrical love letter. But – it was the madam who wrote the letter, taking dictation from none other than Helene. Who is now dead, so Herve’ must suffer remorse over disregarding her great love. This really rings false. In that time and that society, how would a classy lady like Helene, a teacher with a rich husband, even be acquainted with the proprietor of a whorehouse? Wouldn’t happen.

Then we’ve got gorgeous shots of Helene lolling about in the ocean – just like Ted and Venus and a hundred other movies. Fooey.

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According to everyone, and I see no reason to doubt it, the musician portrayed here by Michael Pitt is a Kurt Cobain figure. That’s as in, Christ figure, or father figure. Heavy stuff. And yet there are such people, and we call them icons. Which is a strange word choice, because an icon is only a picture, whereas some icons are, well, real. But which was Kurt Cobain?

My problem with this film is, there’s too much of the disintegration process, of which shorter and more varied hints would have been quite as expressive. And not enough of why he was so, you know, iconic.

Last Days starts with Blake wandering through the woods, swimming, spending the night out by a campfire, and muttering to himself. A lot. If you didn’t have previous knowledge of the subject, you’d think he was one of the last schizophrenics they held back before emptying the institution. Eventually, he goes back to the big, dilapidated house where the band members are staying.

Pretty early on, two Mormon missionaries come to the house, and one of the musicians listens to their rap. It’s about a pure being, that must be sacrificed. (I doubt if this will spoil it for anybody: Blake kills himself at the end.) I guess we’re supposed to have this resonate in our minds when watching him go through his craziness. Which is all well and good, but I say, convince me. I want to see why Blake qualifies as sacrificial virgin (figuratively speaking, of course) material. What was so great about the guy?

The only real hint we get about Blake’s specialness is a song he plays when by himself, which is apparently a Michael Pitt composition. He told an interviewer that the scene was shot at least half a dozen times, and for each take he extemporized a different song. The director chose the one that we hear. There is also another Michael Pitt song on the soundtrack, where all the instruments are played by him. Pitt also said he initially had doubts about using his own material, because it might seem callously self-promotional.

Ricky Jay, in one of his incomparable cameo appearances, tells a long story about a Chinese magician. I think the point is, some people can catch a bullet in their teeth, but others can’t, and we’re supposed to remember that, and make the metaphorical connection, and deduce that Blake tried to catch a bullet in his teeth and couldn’t.

Blake is on the phone with someone who tries to get him to commit to the planned tour, because everybody’s been working hard to put it together. Blake never says a word, just listens and then hangs up. Whenever he feels threatened, he puts on layer after layer of clothes and runs away from the house. He mutters to himself indoors a lot, too, and never says a coherent word throughout. He’s always passing out in a heap somewhere. In black lingerie – is this La Femme Nikita? – he slinks around the place pointing a gun at the sleeping band members and their mates.

This may show an incriminating lack of empathy, but, basically, Blake stirs up my impatience with people who are not entitled to so much despair. There would be a temptation to shake him and say, “What’s you fuckin’ problem, man?” The only thing more annoying than someone who has everything and brags about it, is someone who has everything and cultivates angst. If you’re already a gloomy type, stay away from downer drugs. I don’t think there’s any depiction of heroin use in the film, which is kind of a classy touch, if I’m remembering it right and didn’t miss any scenes. But of course Cobain was a well-known junkie.

Poor Blake just can’t cope with ordinary human needs. The Courtney Love figure shows up and very gently talks to him, and wants him to come with her, right now – presumably to a rehab clinic. She asks him if he told his daughter he’s just a rock and roll cliché. Still, I bet Courtney was never even that reasonable.

Here’s one of the things bugging Blake. Like the Midnight Cowboy theme song says, “Everybody’s talking at me.” One guy needs help with a song he’s writing. Another needs money to go settle a legal matter, and they want a heater, because the house is freezing. Granted, everyone has a different breaking point when it comes to feeling beleaguered and overwhelmed by demands. Still, this guy can’t seem to handle anything at all. What’s the point of being rich and famous, if all you’re going to eat is the worst kind of junk cereal, and a mac and cheese mix that you don’t even bother to prepare correctly?

All in all, it’s another proof that nature can’t heal. Supposedly, if people have beautiful places to live and plenty of access to fresh air and green, growing things, they will attain mental health and conduct themselves beautifully. Hah. The picturesque country estate, the gorgeous nature all over the place, they don’t help this guy a bit. He’s just wacko.

Directed by Gus Van Sant

RELATED: on the despair topic: Jeremy’s Prophecy

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