tom moody

Archive for the ‘films’ Category

Drive, book and film

Drive, the movie, featured disturbing gore, Albert Brooks as a notable villain, and too-long stretches of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan making cow eyes at each other. It's pretty good but if you backtrack to director Nicolas Winding Refn's "Pusher Trilogy" you can see how the director deliberately, possibly subversively, "went Hollywood." If you want to experience Drive without the sentimental goop, I recommend the Pusher films and also James Sallis' source novel, also titled Drive. (And the book's sequel, Driven.)

Keith Rawson has a good rundown on the Drive book/film differences. Sallis is a writerly writer in the Cormac McCarthy mold who is also a fan of Richard Stark. The Driver character resembles Parker with backstory -- mostly melancholy. Driver is far less zombie-like in the books than Gosling plays him.

One lingering question about Drive, the book, and please email if you have any thoughts. A character is introduced late in the story named "Eric Guzman." There is an earlier character named Standard Guzman (Standard Gabriel in the movie -- Mulligan's creepy husband played by Oscar Isaac.) Who the hell is Eric Guzman supposed to be? Is this Standard back from the dead? A fake name used by mobsters trying to track down Driver? Both? Neither? Very little is said between Driver and another character, "Doc," to explain who "Eric" was and what happened to him. Did Driver "take him out"? The barely-explained reappearance of the Guzman name (and there is a third Guzman mentioned -- Eric's brother Noel, who Doc supposedly fixed up medically) in a novel with a Pulp Fiction-style scrambled chronology throws off the rhythm of the scrambling so the result, for this reader, was confusion as to when events were taking place. Again, would appreciate others' thoughts.

- tom moody

August 3rd, 2016 at 9:40 am

Posted in books, films

The GIF

THEgif

you know, The GIF, with cate blanchett and keanu reeves
they make GIFs but then are faced with a terrible choice
there were hidden frames in that GIF
russian hackers were involved
played by katie holmes and greg kinnear

- tom moody

July 29th, 2016 at 7:08 am

Posted in films

Hard to Be a God -- book and film

Good English translations of books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are starting to become available; I recommend their science-fiction-cum-medieval-swashbuckler Hard to Be a God. Star Trek fans will immediately recognize this as a "prime directive" story ("We must not interfere in this primitive society, however dysfunctional") but Hard to Be a God was published in the Soviet Union in '64, two years before Trek's five year mission. Moreover, the observers walking around on this feudal planet, wearing mini-cams disguised as jewelry, are Communist utopians, not Federation would-be-colonialists. The observers see themselves as historians, nothing more. Plotwise, let's just say this particular planet's habit of torturing and killing its intellectuals sorely tests our protagonist's restraint. The antagonist, Don Reba, was originally named Rebia, an anagram for a certain Stalinist henchman; the Strugatskys changed it because it was a little too obvious.
Iain M. Banks wrote a similar tale 35 years later, Inversions, with two competing notions of how to go native. Also recommended.
Not necessarily recommended is the 2013 film version of Hard to Be a God, directed by Aleksei German (who died that year). The film mixes Tarkovskian aesthetics with Ubu Roi-ish perversity in a depiction of a completely degraded anti-culture. It's stylistically fascinating but incoherent; the science fiction aspects are subtle to the point of non-existence. For example, the characters are constantly mugging for the camera disguised as a jewel on the protagonist's forehead (which is never explained), yet he is in half the shots, being filmed by we-know-not-what. The book mentions helicopters whisking our agents around the planet; these are not seen in the movie, which is all horses and mud puddles -- like an extended version of the "Bring Out Your Dead" sequence in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

- tom moody

July 22nd, 2016 at 8:59 am

Posted in books, films

Let the Right One In -- metafiction reconsidered

Wrote the following post in 2012 after seeing the film version of John Ajvide Lindqvist's book Let the Right One In. After reading the book I'm not so sure of this. More after the blockquote. [Spoilers]

Let the Right One In [the film] is a perfect loop that spins out more even metafiction than the main story contains.
Several mysteries of the clumsy Father, surrogate Father, or captor seen in the first half are explained in the second.
The Father, we learn, is the boy at the end of the next cycle of serving as keeper/guardian for the ageless vampire girl.
What strikes us initially as the Father's slow-witted ineptitude is in fact burn-out and grief after a lifetime of murdering for her and covering up her crimes. He still loves her, because she once seduced him just as convincingly and decisively as she does the Boy in this film. Yet he longs for death, wants to get caught, and disfigures himself horribly when he sees he is about to be replaced, inevitably, by a younger guardian.
All of this will happen to the Boy, as it happened to unknown other boys before. We are seeing the beginning and the end of his life.
One critic complained about the violence of the revenge in the swimming pool at the end -- was it just a cheap thrill for the audience? Perhaps, but the pleasure is hollowed-out by the scenes of the Boy weeping afterwards. Also the extremity of the event further explains the Boy's willingness to give the girl decades of servitude -- he owes her big time. Prior to this we saw him vacillating over her murders, even losing his taste for his serial killer clipping collection. After this incident, he's hooked for life.
I pondered the gender-bending of the vampire Girl. It explains how/why she offers "guy advice" to the Boy about defending himself from bullies. She asks the Boy to "be me" but also wants to be him.
We see hints of how the power dynamic of this very alike couple will play out over years of the Boy's servitude. The girl bosses the Father around and occasionally offers him a stroke on the cheek. The Boy, feeling his oats after shellacking his first bully, plays games with the girl's weakness of not being able to enter a room uninvited. She must give him a bloody demonstration of where such games will lead.
Most the reviews I skimmed talked about the coming of age/romance aspects of the story but not its exposition of the roots of a lifetime co-dependent relationship.

Reading Lindqvist's novel, source of the film, several years later, lowers the above interpretation a few notches. [More spoilers] In the book, the "father" is an alcoholic with a jones for boys, picked up by the vampire late in the alcoholic's life, and the vampire is in fact a boy, missing genitalia since his transformation to bloodsucker instigated by a sadistic vampire aristocrat in centuries past. (The purpose and mechanics of the de-sexing are a bit murky in the book.) Although Lindqvist wrote the script for the film version, the decision was made to downplay the sexual elements. Those changes certainly still leave open the interpretation above -- that in the film, the Father was once a Boy to the vampire, and the story hinges on the acquisition of a new Boy. Nevertheless, this spin was not in the author's mind. I still like my "loop of doom" version but it may have to be reclassified as fan fiction.]

Update: A.V. Club critic Scott Tobias had a take similar to mine:

And then the coda -- which finds Oskar on a train during the daytime, tapping Morse code to Eli, who’s curled up in a box by his side -- feels remarkably bittersweet. Their destinies are now entwined, and they aren’t alone any more, but for how long? Someday, Oskar will also be a middle-aged man, trudging out in the snow with a funnel and a jug, collecting sustenance for his beloved.

- tom moody

June 18th, 2016 at 9:58 am

Posted in books, films

quick cultural roundup

Books

Jeff VanderMeer, "Southern Reach" trilogy. VanderMeer wrote an intro to a Thomas Ligotti book where he discussed "working through Lovecraft," implying that big boy writers like Ligotti and VanderMeer had done that. VanderMeer's "Southern Reach" books, especially the first two, grab the reader but these are no "Colour Out of Space" because they substitute indecisiveness for ambiguous atmosphere. Is VanderMeer's version of Tarkovsky's "The Zone" evil, or not? With Lovecraft you know what you are dealing with even if the particulars aren't clear. Pardon the cynicism, but you don't get a three book contract with Farrar Straus and Giroux if you believe what lies below is darkness.

John Ajvide Lindqvist, F. Paul Wilson. As an antidote to VanderMeer's "highbrowing" of horror tropes, check out these two authors. Lindqvist wrote Let the Right One In and became that rare writer allowed to script his own property for the film version. The book is good, as is his Handling the Undead. F. Paul Wilson wrote The Keep and dislikes Michael Mann's movie version (one might disagree). Wilson has two series going, "pure" horror stories and a rollicking run of horror-adventure stories featuring the character Repairman Jack. In 2012, the two sets of books came together in an apocalyptic finale titled Nightworld. Both arcs are recommended -- FPW injects Lovecraftian ambiguity by having humanity's "Ally" be as indifferent to our fates as the beasties boiling up out of pits in the earth.

Movies

Monte Hellman films. Hellman lensed The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind back-to-back in the Utah desert, in his Corman days (mid-1960s). Jack Nicholson acts in both and wrote the Whirlwind script. Both are masterful films, though Shooting is marred by a confused ending (Wikipedia and Danny Peary's Cult Movies disagree on what happened at the end). This is the bleakest, most beautiful country you will see, populated by hard people doing hard tasks for no apparent reason. Two Lane Blacktop's themes of alienation were well in place in these "lost" films. Even earlier in his Corman period, Hellman handled second-unit chores for Creature from the Haunted Sea, a wild and crazy time capsule starring Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne as a ridiculous secret agent. Hellman's contributions include a gorgeously-shot sequence where the gun moll sings a "lounge"-type song on the deck of a yacht, with the sea heaving dreamily all around her, and incongruously slips the movie's title into the lyrics.

- tom moody

June 8th, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Posted in books, films

lucy-as-performance

1462472409425-dumpfm-tommoody-modern_furniture Lucy-gif

 

On the left, random photo-detail-crop of Cally Spooner performance work at the NewMu (hat tip helvetica12); on the right, a clip from Luc Besson's Lucy, depicting Scarlett Johansson telekinetically flinging a mobster into a wall. Caught on the fly, Spooner's work resembles standard Trisha Brown-style gesture art but there's so much more. As the press release tells us, this is "a group of dancers who respond to conflicting choreographic instructions: to stay intimately bound together while remaining fiercely separate." Moreover, "trained by rugby players and a movie director, [their work follows] the logic of a 'stand-up scrum' -- a daily meeting often used in collaborative, responsive practices such as software development." Darn, that's a lot for one work of art.

Scarlett Johansson may or may not have had a rugby coach, but she is definitely guided by a movie director. Cally Spooner perhaps didn't need the theoretical overkill to institutionally legitimize her dancers' movements. In our current critically relaxed state where Laura Poitras and Tim Burton are shown in museums as "artists" it's only fitting to consider Johansson's genetically enhanced superhuman Lucy as form of po-Mo body practitioner. Semioticians may have already noted that the name Lucy is a trans twist on Luc, etc etc.

- tom moody

May 31st, 2016 at 10:33 am

furious milk

Was discussing the not-very-well-explained subplot of "mother's milk" in Mad Max: Fury Road with a family member recently.
Yes, what was that all about?
A quick surf around the non-Facebook internet yielded some info:

This site explains the role of breast milk in the film's future barter economy. I guess we could say the movie shows us all this rather than tells it (hey, there's action we have to do here).

A geek wonders if there was a deleted scene explaining the mother's milk.

Another writer develops an elaborate web of ecofeminist theory based on the film's few hints of botched exposition. What the heck -- go for it.

So there you have it.

- tom moody

March 6th, 2016 at 6:57 am

Posted in films

d-oh ex machina

It wouldn't be surprising if the movie Ex Machina were funded by an industrial consortium seeking to "normalize" replacement of human labor. The movie's propaganda message is: AIs are coming, they'll look so good we'll want to sleep with them, and they'll outsmart us in the short run. Whoa, Nelly! Put down that Koolaid.™
The Uncanny Valley is still an obstacle to robot sex toys. Anything short of perfectly human (too-plastic skin, unusual joint movement, glassy eyes) looks freaky to the non-fetish majority. Ex Machina uses CGI sleight of hand to convince us the male characters are reacting to "hot" (skinny) fashion models. If that failed the film would fall apart in the first half hour.
There's no point in critiquing the movie's other implausibilities. It's film noir, meaning we watch helplessly as the patsy makes one blunder after another in a clockwork mechanism of predestined doom. Elements of the Stepford Wives, Terminator 3, etc.
So we look for other agendas this movie's cranking. Hollywood lifestyle (swanky modern home in picturesque wilderness); adolescent libido (disposable, elfin hotties that keep pushing those male gaze buttons); Silicon Valley as the new Rockefellers (bad guy invents a search engine called "Bluebook" -- note Bluebeard reference -- that 90% of the world uses); sadism as entertainment (women are chopped up but hey they're just robots). Watching it, you are subtly re-programmed to value the things it purports to be critiquing.

- tom moody

July 13th, 2015 at 10:30 am

the pit wants what it wants

Recommended indie horror film: Jug Face, 2013, which deviates from the usual maniac-torturing-people-in-a-cabin formula to explore themes of rural patriarchy, fatalism, and the meaning of community bonds. Elements of Shirley Jackson's lottery, Lovecraft's color out of space, and Dickey's deliverance can be found here but it's an original work.
Wisdom in this unnamed Appalachian enclave is dispensed by The Pit, an actual, literal hole in the ground, which can either heal or kill you. As explained by the moonshine-seller who is the town's unofficial mayor (played by Larry Fessenden), "The Pit wants what it wants." It has been healing the villagers since the days of "the pox" and they take its dictates seriously. Formally it communicates its wishes to a local potter who makes a ceramic "jug face" likeness of a person in the community who will be bloodily sacrificed. Villagers submit reluctantly but willingly. Lest we think the mayor and the potter are cooking all this up themselves, we see several examples where protocols aren't followed and The Pit takes matters into its own hands, or tentacles (this is left to our imagination) -- it butchers several people to communicate its displeasure. The film centers on the efforts of a determined young woman to flee The Pit and its servitors, after receiving some mixed signals about whether she's supposed to be breeding or dying to sustain the community.
Reviews of the film have mostly discussed the lead actress (who is excellent) and the mood of tension in this backwoods pressure cooker. Most interesting, though, is The Pit as a metaphor of the yawning hole of chaos that this town, and by logical extension, the rest of the world relies on as an organizing structure. Why did we invade Iraq when agents provocateurs funded by another country launched a domestic attack? The Pit wanted it. Why did Obama promise to close Guantanamo and then renege? Ask The Pit. Who decided, in the thick of congressional discussion of a bad trade bill, to focus the attention of the country on a popular sports figure's gender change? A capital idea from The Pit. Etcetera. Reptilians have been adduced as an explanation for all the incomprehensible evil things that happen but they've got nothing on The Pit.

- tom moody

June 9th, 2015 at 7:16 am

Posted in films

Germaine Greer's Town Hall speech (annotated) and the subsequent court case over rights

GG_500

The 1971 Town Hall panel where Germaine Greer gave the speech below was a stunt organized by Norman Mailer to capitalize on his bad-boy reputation with the nascent women's movement. He published "The Prisoner of Sex" in Harpers and the conceit of the panel was that he would duke it out verbally with four female antagonists. Kind of a polygamist version of the later Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King tennis match.

Despite the hokey premise, the "Town Hall" panelists took the subject matter seriously, and Greer's presence, voice, and arguments are electrifying (she is a great public speaker to this day). One inclined in 1971 to view the women's movement as strident might actually have been persuaded by the non-gendered tack of her rhetoric, which questioned the capitalist idea of winning, mocked Freud's view of the artist as a striving neurotic, and championed a self-effacing, collective art (a critique as relevant as ever in an era of rampant selfies taken for someone else's profit). Yet the noble hope of transcending Darwinism and ego had almost no correlation to real life, as we'll see below in a discussion of a court case over the rights to the panel's content.

Here is the speech again, with interruptions for commentary:

I'm afraid I'm going to talk in a very different way possibly than you expected. I do not represent any organization in this country and I dare say the most powerful representation I can make is of myself as a writer, for better or worse. I'm also a feminist and for me the significance of this moment is that I'm having to confront one of the most powerful figures in my own imagination, the being I think most privileged in male elitist society -- namely the masculine artist, the pinnacle of the masculine elite.
Bred as I have been and educated as I have been, most of my life has been most powerfully influenced by the culture for which he stands, so that I'm caught in a basic conflict between inculcated cultural values and my own deep conception of an injustice. Many professional literati ask me in triumphant tones, as you may have noticed, what happens to Mozart's sister?
However they ask me that question, it can have caused them as much anguish as it has caused me because I do not know the answer and I must find the answer. But every attempt I make to find that answer leads me to believe that perhaps what we accept as a creative artist in our society is more a killer than a creator, aiming his ego ahead of lesser talents, drawing the focus of all eyes to his achievements, being read now and by millions and paid in millions. One must ask oneself the question in our society, can any painting be worth the total yearly income of a thousand families?
And if we must answer that it is -- and the auction reports tell us so -- then I think we are forced to consider the possibility that the art on which we nourish ourselves is sapping our vitality and breaking our hearts.
But the problem is very deeply seated, as you can see. I'm agitated in this situation because of the concept I have of the importance of the artist, because of my own instinctive respect for him. Is it possible that the way of the masculine artist in our society is strewn with the husks of people worn out and dried out by his ego? Is it possible that all those that have fallen away -- all those competing egos -- were insufficiently masculine to stay the course?

In her essay "My Mailer Problem," published in Esquire shortly after the Town Hall panel, Greer brings this high-flown eloquence down to earth as a series of digs at Mailer. "More killer than creator" alludes to Mailer's "notion of the artist as a great general" (and possibly his pocket knife stabbing of his second wife, although Greer doesn't say it). "Read by millions" Greer translates after the fact as "How does that grab you, Superhack?" "Husks of people worn out" refers to Mailer's fourth wife Beverley, an actress.

I turn for some information to Freud, treating Freud's description of the artist as an ad hoc description of the artist's psyche in our society and not as in any way a metaphysical or eternal pronouncement about what art might mean. And what Freud said, of course, has irritated many artists who've had the misfortune to see it: "He longs to attain to honor, power, riches, fame and the love of women, but he lacks the means of achieving these gratifications." As an eccentric little girl who thought it might be worthwhile after all to be a poet, coming across these words for the first time was a severe check. The blandness of Freud's assumption that the artist was a man sent me back into myself to consider whether or not the proposition was reversible. Could a female artist be driven by the desire for riches, fame and the love of men?
And all too soon it was very clear that the female artist's own achievements will disqualify her for the love of men, that no woman yet has been loved for her poetry. And we love men for their achievements all the time, what can this be? Can this be a natural order that wastes so much power, that frets a little girl's heart to pieces? I had no answers, except that I knew the argument was irreversible. And so I turned later to the function of women vis-à-vis art as we know it, and I found that it fell into two parts, that we were either low sloppy creatures or menials or we were goddesses. Or worst of all we were meant to be both, which meant that we broke our hearts trying to keep our aprons clean.

The goddesses/low sloppy creatures dichotomy is from Mailer's The Prisoner of Sex essay.

Sylvia Plath's greatest poetry was sometimes conceived while she was baking bread, she was such a perfectionist -- and ultimately such a fool. The trouble is of course that the role of the goddess -- the role of the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe -- exists in the fantasies of male artists and no woman can ever draw it to her heart for comfort. But the role of menial unfortunately is real and that she knows because she tastes it every day. So the barbaric yawp of utter adoration for the power and the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe is uttered at the expense of the particular living woman every time.
And because we can be neither one nor the other with any peace of mind, because we are unfortunately improper goddesses and unwilling menials, there is a battle waged between us. And after all in the description of this battle maybe I find the justification of my idea that the achievement of the male artistic ego is at my expense for I find that the battle is dearer to him than the peace would ever be. "The eternal battle with women both sharpens our resistance, develops our strength, enlarges the scope of our cultural achievements." So is the scope, after all, worth it? Again the same question, just as if we were talking of the income of a thousand families for a whole year.

Regarding the "eternal battle..." Greer said she read it aloud in her "quoting voice." Did Mailer actually say this? (Haven't found the quote yet.)

You see, I strongly suspect that when this revolution takes place, art will no longer be distinguished by its rarity, or its expense, or its inaccessibility, or the extraordinary way in which it is marketed, it will be the prerogative of all of us and we will do it as those artists did whom Freud understood not at all, the artists who made the Cathedral of Chartres or the mosaics of Byzantine, the artists who had no ego and no name.

As Greer was sitting down Mailer had a quick comeback to this last paragraph: "The sentiments were exquisite. But the means you offer, and in fact that Women's Liberation offers, to go from here to that point where we will be artists all, belongs to a species of social instrumentality that I call 'diaper Marxism.." In Esquire Greer replied "As an old anarchist I take that as a compliment. The infancy of Marxism is profoundly more relevant than anything since betrayed."

The Aftermath of the Panel

After the Town Hall event Greer and Mailer went to court over the rights to the panel's content. Greer is rather vague and arch about it in her Esquire article but here's what we can glean: The event took place under the banner of Theatre of Ideas, which had produced similar evenings of intellectual debate. Transcripts and other documentation were normally published by McGraw Hill. Mailer (or his agents) orchestrated the panel and convinced Theatre to give him the book rights (via New American Library) as well as film; Mailer hired D.A. Pennebaker to shoot it. Mailer planned a media campaign to promote the project, including an appearance on the David Susskind show with Greer.

Greer, meanwhile, had a BBC film crew shooting the event in connection with a "tour of America" she was doing to promote her career as a writer. Panelist Diana Trilling noted in her post-panel memoir (almost everyone involved published one of these) that prior to going onstage, Greer and Mailer posed together for the BBC holding up a copy of The Female Eunuch.

Mailer finessed the issue of monetary compensation for the panel's women participants, as Greer tells it, possibly through a one-time payment to Theatre of Ideas to be shared out among the panelists. Panelist Jill Johnston, in her post panel memoir, says she was never paid. The matter "passed into the hands of" McGraw-Hill's attorneys (Greer says they were representing her interests) and Mailer's projects were delayed. At the end of the Esquire article Greer says the film consisted of reels that "no one has any right to use."

Sometime after the Esquire piece, a settlement of the dispute over rights must have occurred. According to IMDb, filmmaker Chris Hegedus initiated Town Bloody Hall, the film, in the mid'70s, using Pennebaker's footage. The film's IMDb entry doesn't mention the suit and states that "the rushes were consigned to the filmmaker's vaults as unusable after their initial viewing." Town Bloody Hall was eventually released, in 1979. It's intriguing to consider how this bit of intellectual history would be viewed if Mailer had retained the final cut.

(For links to sources please see the previous post. In the 2013 Town Bloody Hall re-enactment event discussed there, moderator Stephanie Frank describes the Greer-Mailer legal wrangling as a "lawsuit" and we've been referring to it as a "court case." Further research would need to be done to see if an actual record exists in the New York courts; possibly the dispute never advanced beyond the stage of lawyers issuing demands.)

- tom moody

April 21st, 2015 at 7:13 am

Posted in books, films