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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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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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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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Bernardo Bertolucci directed The Dreamers, in which Michael Pitt is Matthew, a young American in Paris during the student uprising of 1968. In his hotel room, Matthew demonstrates what a spontaneous guy he is by walking across the bed to get to the bathroom, where he pees in the sink, or at least that’s how it looks. Maybe this is the normal plumbing. Perhaps French urinals are actually elevated far from the floor, and I’m just an unsophisticated hick.

Matthew meets brother-and-sister twins who, like him, are ferocious cinephiles. Theo and Isabelle are both, it goes without saying, beautiful, as well as exquisitely bilingual. They habitually act out scenes from classic films, which are also intercut into this one. Some critics believe this is too artsy-fartsy, but I think it’s swell.

The twins invite Matthew home for dinner with their parents. Favorite scene: During the meal, the guest goes into quite a lovely and original acid-like rap about how things all fit together.

Theo despises his father for not supporting the student activists. But the father says, “Poets don’t sign petitions, they sign poems.” As soon as the parents leave the room, Isabelle turns off the overhead light, and lights candles. She teases Matthew with some Freudian nonsense, saying, “This” (measuring her brother’s nose) “is double the length of this” (measuring Matthew’s nose). Is it innocent silliness, or is she baiting him with a reference to the popular myth that the size of the nose reflects the size of the penis? She kisses Matthew lightly, and something tricky happens with the visual as he pulls her back for another kiss.

This apartment must be enormous. Theo leads Matthew through a maze of rooms and hallways, to a room where he’ll spend the night. Again, he pees in the sink. This time, there’s no doubt, because somebody’s toothbrush takes a hit.

The parents leave on vacation and Matthew stays on. The following weeks are filled with complicated head-trips and sensual exploration, as he falls in love with both of the twins. Theo and Isabelle are very kissy and huggy with each other, and go around the house undressed, and share their bathroom doings, and even sleep together naked. (This film has so many hot spots, there’s bound to be one that does it for you.) Speaking to Matthew of his sister, Theo says, “We’re Siamese twins, joined here,” as he taps his head.

They dare Matthew to duplicate the race through the Louvre from Godard’s Bande à Part. “This is a test,” Isabelle says. Matthew passes, and on the way home they reprise the chant from Freaks, “We accept him, one of us.” Intercut of course with footage from Todd Browning’s classic film.

For losing one of the film challenges, Isabelle orders her brother to masturbate over a picture of Marlene Dietrich, as she has secretly witnessed. “I want you to do it the way you did it when you thought no one was watching,” she says. To Matthew’s stunned astonishment, Theo falls to his knees and obeys his sister.

Theo acts the death scene from Scarface, which the others don’t guess, so as a penalty Isabelle and Matthew have to make love on the kitchen floor. Lots of naked Michael Pitt here, dick and all. Theo pretends nonchalance. He’s at the stove cooking eggs while they go at it. As it turns out, Isabelle was a virgin, and discovering the amazing amount of blood, Matthew smears it over her face and neck. She cries. Then they’re making it somewhere else, she’s calling him “My first love, my great love.”

They run out of food and Theo goes outside wearing only a green jacket with nothing on his bottom half. Apparently there’s a convenient market, just downstairs, for he roots around in some garbage cans. Students are painting slogans on the columns of venerable buildings. Theo and Matthew have an argument over Vietnam, and also over the ethics of filmmaking as voyeurism. One of them says, “Films are crimes and filmmakers are criminals” or something to that effect.

Most unbelievable scene: Communally bathing in a regulation-size tub, somehow they all manage to fall asleep. Of course their political activism has ceased; the three of them are just wrapped up in their exclusive world of weirdness. Matthew points this out to Theo, who displays a glowing statue of Mao in his room, and is supposed to be such a fierce dissenter. Theo’s friends also scold him, for withdrawing into the private domain.

When Matthew fails to answer a film quiz, the twins strip him down, demanding to shave his pubic hair as a penalty. He refuses. Beginning to suspect that the bond between the twins might be a bit sick, he asks Isabelle out on a date without Theo, and they apparently have a great time – at, of course, a movie. But when they get home, Isabelle hears the sounds of her brother in bed with another woman. She cries, attacks Matthew, and generally freaks out.

Later, Isabelle reverts to childhood and erects a makeshift tent, bringing the two men to sleep inside it, with her between them. While Matthew sleeps, she repeatedly begs assurance from her twin brother that their love will last forever.

The parents return to find the place a huge mess. They write another check, and creep away. Question: since the mom leaves the check in a place where, finding it, the young people will surely understand that their triple naked slumber has been observed, why do the parents bother to tiptoe around?

Isabelle wakes up first and knows what her parents saw. So she hooks up a hose to the gas line, and drags it back into the tent, intending, I suppose, to kill all three of them. Question: Why does a 3rd-story Parisian apartment just happen to have a 50-foot garden hose lying around in its kitchen?

Now there’s footage from some classic, where a woman rolls down a hill, wanting to go into the river and drown, but stops at the edge. In the black and white film, this unfortunate creature climbs back up the incline and tries again. A window shatters. Isabelle says, “The street came flying into the room,” which is a great line, but they’re hella far up in the building, for chrissake. The trio goes outside and joins the protesting throng that surges through the streets toward some strategic destination. Even though they are latecomers, they arrive just in time for Theo to pitch the first Molotov cocktail. Matthew begs Isabelle to hang back in relative safety, but she forsakes him and runs off into the violence, hand in hand with her twin.

The police charge, in a horrible cartoon-like endless wave which is really quite apocalyptic. The police and the rioters outside contrast with the self-absorbed little universe the three young people had inhabited. This looks very much like an homage to a scene near the end of In the Realm of the Senses, where rank after rank of marching soldiers emphasize the divide between the real world and the enclosed, obsessive world of the two lovers. The movie ends up with Edith Piaf on the sound track: “Je ne regrette rien” – “No, I regret nothing.”

What else is there to like about The Dreamers? Dylan’s “Queen Jane” is part of the sound track. Isabelle, wearing long black gloves and with a sheet wrapped around her hips, appears against a black background, looking like Venus de Milo – only much slimmer and more toned. She does have the most amazing breasts, and we get to see them plenty, throughout the film. Trivia: Jake Gyllenhaal was originally up for the part of Matthew, but didn’t care for all the nakedness the script called for, so we got Michael Pitt instead.

Related: the “filmmakers as voyeur theme” – see Harrison’s Flowers

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Under the credits, it’s a day in the life of a street kid – sleeping, eating, panhandling, running away with something he stole.

Michael Pitt is Toby, self-described as not as homeless, but “moving around right now.” Steve Buscemi is Les, self-described as a “licensed professional photojournalist,” or what most people would call a paparazzo. He accepts Toby as an unpaid gofer in return for a place to crash. Toby can not only fix things, but take notes and elbow rival paparazzi out of the way. He makes himself nearly indispensable.

The photographer and his assistant go to a wickedly satirical benefit for STD sufferers, where Toby meets a soap opera casting director, and things are set in motion for his apotheosis. They visit Les’s parents, who are archetypal “get a real job” old folks at home, only nastier than some. You see why Les became how he is. In fact, you see a lot of things. It’s funny, how much can be illuminated by “black humor.”

There are plenty of synopses of Delirious available online, including writer/director Tom DiCillo’s own. He’s an independent who has not only made other films of his own, but filled such noteworthy roles as cinematographer for Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise.

Delirious was shot in only 25 days and has won a bunch of awards, and some viewers find it funnier than others. Stephen Holden, for instance says,

…you leave the movie feeling as though you have gazed into a closed circle of hell where everybody feeds off everyone else until there is nothing left.

Toby gets famous overnight, acting the part of a homeless serial killer (who, presumably, only kills really scummy bad guys.) In one scene he dallies in a sylvan setting with a lovely young thing who says, “You’ve taught me so much about being homeless….” which is a priceless line.

The beating heart of this film is the relationship between the two men. They are mentor and protégé, master and novice, benefactor and charity-seeker, but they are also friends. The big irony is, when Toby first moves in, Les keeps wanting reassurance that his house guest isn’t gay. And he isn’t. But by the end, Les is feeling, thinking, and acting like a jealous lover. His elaborate, handcrafted revenge plot is pure hysterical over-wrought stagy queen – only he doesn’t know it.

In an interview conducted by Paulington James Christensen III, DiCillo said this about Les:

I just wanted to make this about a guy who is so isolated as a human being. He is so twisted, so crippled by what his life had done to him.

In an interview with Gary Goldstein, he said:

I love characters that have desperate qualities about them, but then other things that make them human…. I wanted people to see that Les was damaged–and that every one of us, in our own way, has some form of that damage.

Don’t miss the short scene after the end credits.


RECOMMENDED: great satirical videos about marketing, etc. – start at #2

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It’s a freakin’ masterpiece. The more I listen to the music and rerun parts of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in my mind, and put things together, the more I come to the conclusion that it really is a great movie and I’m right to adore it.

As Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell is phenomenal.

Michael Pitt plays Hedwig’s lost love and professional rival. When he was asked to audition for the movie, he hadn’t seen the stage production, so they took him. He was, in his words, “blown away,” and made sure to attend the few remaining performances. Which would be the reaction of any intelligent actor, given a chance to try out for Tommy Gnosis. Additionally, Pitt endured the actor’s hell of multiple auditions. Mitchell looked at him four or five times, he says, before offering him the role. Pitt told Movement magazine,

They let me in on something really incredible. It was a blessing. It’s a movie like…you don’t see. It’s something that’s completely new. It’s pure, it’s really pure.

In the movie version, and probably in the stage version, though I don’t know for sure, the song “The Origin of Love” is accompanied by a very cool animated film that portrays a creation myth said to be based on Plato’s Symposium.

In his novel, Wakefield, Andrei Codrescu expressed much the same thought:

God, you’ll remember, didn’t want any competition from his creation, so he split up Adam and Eve in order that the separated halves might compete with each other leaving Him the absolute boss.

I’m not a heavy linker, but I did take some time looking for the best versions of some parts of this movie, as excerpted by various YouTube patrons. The results:

Wig in a Box
“This is the best way that I’ve found
to be the best you’ve ever seen.”
An exceptionally inspirational song.

Midnight Radio
Play this 7 minutes for me when I’m dying, and I’ll either recover quick or go out extremely happy.

Wicked Little Town
Have I mentioned that I heart Michael Pitt?


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