tom moody

Archive for the ‘films’ Category

tiny mix peaks

leland-pain-scale650

via

On the eve of the Twin Peaks reboot launch, Will Neibergall published a thoughtful essay at Tiny Mix Tapes about this particular TV-series-as-meme and how it's viewed by millennials (or at least the one writing the article): a failed show that resonates as a fictitious America even less palpable than it was to its original target audience. "One of the many reasons you love Twin Peaks," he writes, "is that its characters feel like people you know in real life, even though everything else in the show feels very unfamiliar. Twin Peaks makes you nostalgic for a time you don’t remember and a place that doesn’t exist."

From this reaction, Neibergall extrapolates how an even-further-removed generation will appreciate the show:

Maybe those viewer-subjects live in a huddled condition, in what philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls “ecological stress communes,” pressed inland and away from cultural centers now remembered and revered like ancestors, jostled about by resource scarcity, plagued by ridiculous fantasies of aliens and sea people punctuated by actual disaster, war, and collapse. Or maybe these troubles loom on their horizon. In the face of these real nightmares, do they dream of ending up in a place like Twin Peaks, of grappling with its fake demons? Maybe future Twin Peaks viewers see in it a refreshingly provincial vision of encompassing crisis. A town where a yellow light still means “slow down” resonates abstractly with them. They are absorbed by the dark forces stirred out of the brown-gray American forest, by the murder of the cocaine-addicted homecoming queen and secret prostitute. Maybe, naive to the reality of their own circumstances, they feel like Dale Cooper chasing after those elusive and idealized spirits.

Neibergall wonders whether the 2017 version will be any good:

[W]ill Twin Peaks really walk and breathe more freely, as if awoken to a new life, and find something like that original sense of purpose? Or will it lose its way again in the smoke and mirrors of a shoddily constructed model of the public?

Twin Peaks 2017 pressed on with the occult narratives that seemed scatterbrained in 1991, creating actual mythology out of a hairball of modern paranoiac concepts. The atom bomb and its proximity to Roswell. Causality loops controlled by mysterious "lodges" and entities that seem to work at cross-purposes. A red-curtained room with chevron-patterned floor that serves as atrium to those nether-spaces. Human suffering in the form of a creamed corn-like substance that vomits inexplicably out of character's mouths. A parade of unexplained urban "types" having late night conversations in Twin Peaks' impossibly large bar. Audrey Horne's afterlife in a hellish marital scenario. Musical acts that all seemed to have moved to LA to be "Lynchian." A cornucopia of aging and/or mothballed actors, still strutting their stuff.

These elements mesh somehow into a poignant whole that binds the loose ends of the original series and redeems it retroactively. Whether its characters still feel "like people you know in real life" takes back stage in the Lynch/Frost uber-saga, or counter-saga, of supernatural interventions in mixed-up, SNAFU'd America.

Whether any of it will be of value to future eco-stress communards can't be guessed. Judging from current fan involvement on the Twin Peaks Wiki and other sites, the show speaks to the here-and-now. Mythologies begin with cults, and it's not unimaginable that this one might blossom, so that when our descendants ponder when it all went wrong they will know -- when the Woodsmen appeared above the gas station, of course. "This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within." In Bob's name we pray.

It's "just a TV show," but also a kind of poetry of shared repressed nightmares. Including, but not limited to, Wally Brando.

wally650

- tom moody

November 24th, 2017 at 8:19 am

Posted in films, theory

i want all my garmonbozia (pain and sorrow)

Several trusted viewers recommended the new Twin Peaks. Yep (as in, they were right). Experience the radical "Episode 8" and necessarily anticlimactic "Episode 18."
Most bizarre moment: "Episode 7," when the Evolution of the Arm appears unexpectedly in the middle of a tense action scene and demands "Squeeze his hand off!"
You may have to look up garmonbozia -- fans will tell you about it.
Kudos to David Lynch for directing all 18 episodes. That is amazing.

- tom moody

November 7th, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Posted in films

anti-natalism (Ligotti vs HBO)

HBO's True Detective, Season 1, famously featured some dour anti-natalist philosophy spoken by detective Rustin Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey:

I'd consider myself a realist, alright? But in philosophical terms I'm what's called a pessimist... I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself - we are creatures that should not exist by natural law... We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, that accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody's nobody... I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction - one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.

McConaughey's portrayal of Cohle as a humorless, self-pitying character makes the above lines sound even more bleak than they read.

Several commentators picked up on the connections of this spiel to horror author Thomas Ligotti's book The Conspiracy against the Human Race (in fact, it could be said that HBO put Ligotti "on the map").

What's missing is the sly humor of Ligotti's writing, a kind of eye-twinkle as he dishes out an escalating series of unsayable propositions. For example, this excerpt from Conspiracy:

Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees -- a blunder of blind nature, according to [Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel] Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not what we are -- contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox.* To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating. What could be more judicious or more urgent, existentially speaking, than our self-administered oblivion? At the very least, we might give some regard to this theory of the blunder as a "thought-experiment." All civilizations become defunct. All species die out. There is even an expiration date on the universe itself. Human beings would certainly not be the first phenomenon to go belly up. But we could be the first to precipitate our own passing, abbreviating it before the bodies really started to stack up. Could we know to their most fine-grained details the lives of all who came before us, would we bless them for the care they took to keep the race blundering along? Could we exhume them alive, would we shake their bony, undead hands and promise to pass on the favor of living to future generations? Surely that is what they would want to hear, or at least that is what we want to think they would want to hear. And just as surely that is what we would want to hear from our descendents living in far posterity, strangers though they would be as they shook our bony, undead hands.

The darkly comic image of the bony undead handshake (twice repeated) makes the unsayable more hearable. True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto softens the message by giving laugh lines to Cohle's cop partner, Marty Hart, played by Woody Harrelson. As Cohle expounds his grim philosophy in the front seat of their police car, Hart answers with "Hmm, that sounds God-fucking-awful, Rust" (IMDb) and "Let's make the car a place of silent reflection from now on." (IMDb)

Another example: here's Cohle talking about his own experience of fatherhood. The daughter he speaks of was killed by a hit and run driver while she was still a toddler:

Think of the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence into this... meat, to force a life into this... thresher. That's...
So my daughter, she spared me the sin of being a father.

Bu-u-u-mmer. Again, this does no service to Ligotti, who has wit. Discussing the same undiscussable notion Cohle throws down, Ligotti notes, in Conspiracy:

Almost nobody declares that an ancestral curse contaminates us in utero and pollutes our existence. Doctors do not weep in the delivery room, or not often. They do not lower their heads and say, "The stopwatch has started."

As previously noted, The Conspiracy against the Human Race is a weirdly inspirational book. It is liberating to consider the idea that suffering, guilt, and egomaniac striving -- the "tragedy of human existence" -- began because at some stage in our evolution we acquired “a damning surplus of consciousness" and "life....overshot its target, blowing itself apart" (the latter phrases are Zapffe's). Unlike Cohle (and Pizzolatto), Ligotti readily acknowledges that his own theories may be a perverse symptom of this evolutionary mistake. By writing a book on anti-natalism, he is engaging in artistic sublimation, which is one of the means by which humans "smother consciousness" and its attendant paradoxes,* according to Zapffe. This sublimation may be useful to readers or it may just be another story we tell ourselves. From endnote 3 of Conspiracy:

Under the collective designation of “constructivists,” philosophers, sociologists, and other authorities working in a range of fields have variously deliberated on the fabricated nature of our lives. Examples: P. L. Berger and T. Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality, 1966; Paul Watzlawick, ed., Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know?, 1984; Ernst von Glasefeld, Radical Contructivism: A Way of Learning, 1996. For book-reading intellectuals, this idea is just one of many that fill their days. Its import, however, is not often shared with the masses. But sometimes it is. An instance in cinema where fabrication is hypothesized to be the cornerstone of our lives occurs at the end of Hero (1992), when the character referred to in the title, Bernard LePlant [played by Dustin Hoffman -TM], passes on some words of wisdom to his previously estranged son. “You remember where I said I was going to explain about life, buddy?” he says. “Well, the thing about life is, it gets weird. People are always talking to you about truth, everybody always knows what the truth is, like it was toilet paper or something and they got a supply in the closet. But what you learn as you get older is, there ain’t no truth. All there is, is bullshit. Pardon my vulgarity here. Layers of it. One layer of bullshit on top of another. And what you do in life, like when you get older, is -- you pick the layer of bullshit you prefer, and that’s your bullshit, so to speak. You got that?” Despite the cynicism of LePlant’s words, the object of his fatherly lesson is to create a bond between him and his son. (Hollywood is heavily invested in plotlines in which a broken family is “healed.”) This bond is reliant on the exposure of life as bullshit and is itself bullshit -- since one can have no basis for preferring one layer of bullshit over another without already being full of bullshit -- which makes LePlant’s case that “All there is, is bullshit” without his being aware of it, which is how bullshit works. This is not the message the moviegoer is meant to take away from the mass-audience philosophizing of Hero, but there it is anyway.

*The "paradox" (one of many) Ligotti refers to: "We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering -- slowly or quickly -- as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are -- hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones."

- tom moody

September 4th, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Posted in books, films

the burglar, 1955-7

photo via IMDb

Following up on a run of reading David Goodis novels, checked out his self-adapted film version of The Burglar (he wrote the screenplay, the director was Paul Wendkos). Made in '55, it sat on the shelf until '57, when the career of Jayne Mansfield took off with The Girl Can't Help It. She is physically miscast here but her acting is good. Dan Duryea plays Nat Harbin, a gloomy burglar who heads a small, dysfunctional crime family, consisting of himself, a fence, a heavy, and "Gladden," a girl he's looked after for years as a de facto sister. In an extended flashback (better in the book, too sketchy in the movie) we learn about Nat's past as a destitute orphan adopted and mentored by a professional thief named Gerald Gladden. Gerald dies during a botched robbery and tells Nat he must always look after his daughter, who is simply called Gladden. Nat wrestles throughout the story with his loyalty to a dead father-figure and the exploitation of Gladden as part of the burglary team (she cases potential locations).

Nat's angst is less compelling in the film than the book. We don't really get a feeling for the horrific grind of his youthful poverty before Gerald "rescued" him, as conveyed in Goodis' captivatingly anguished prose, nor do we really understand why Nat seems so conflicted about Gladden. We see Duryea resisting the advances of the ultra-sexy Mansfield, but in the film he looks twenty years older than she does. In the book the characters are close in age and Gladden isn't a bombshell, but a "thin" young woman who could be a sister, friend, or lover, if the two could only get their feelings straight and stop being haunted by Gerald's ghost. In both versions, Nat and Gladden separate and dally with other partners, leading to a dark conclusion.

- tom moody

July 9th, 2017 at 10:57 am

Posted in books, films

cuckoo's nest crit from the internet (before the Combine takes it away)

drawing by Ken Kesey from a 2002 edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Re-reading Kesey's classic after many years inspired a rush of pleasure and then a rush to the Internet for some other perspectives.

Let's start with the "villain," Nurse Ratched, who gets under the skin of the "good guy," Randle Patrick McMurphy, and also the skin of the reader. If you experience the novel as a teen you've encountered the Big Nurse archetype in schools but you have no idea how much she (or he) will persist as a feature of American life, in the workplace, politics, and social realms. Because Kesey made the character female the book will be seen as un-PC today but the author reminds us he also had a female nurse in the story who wasn't a didactic power-freak. From a NYT article, published the year he died:

...Mr. Kesey noted that his novel included another, more positive female character, "along with the big castrator of a nurse and the two prostitutes." "She was an Asian nurse who worked in the hospital's electroshock room.

"She is just as tough and snappy as anything," he said. "It is good to have one positive woman there."

Nowadays when most people think of One Flew Over it's the film version, which Kesey had issues with:

Mr. Kesey said he never saw the 1975 film version of his book, directed by Milos Forman and with Jack Nicholson as the lead, R. P. McMurphy. "It has been the smartest thing I never did," Mr. Kesey said, "because Jack Nicholson is great but he is not McMurphy -- he is too short." He added that Mr. Nicholson also seemed too shrewd for the character.

Nicholson may have been shrewd, but director Milos Forman significantly dumbed down the material. Ironically he was hired as an outsider (Czech art film director) but made the ultimate Hollywood good-vs-evil schlockfest, and became a Hollywood power as a result. His incomprehension of Kesey's complex story stands out in a 1975 Village Voice interview:

I asked [Forman] about his decision, implemented in the screenplay of Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, to treat the story objectively rather than through the eyes of the Indian, Kesey’s point-of-view character.

"I didn’t want that for my movie," he said. "I hate that voice-over, I hate that whole psychedelic ‘60s drug free-association thing, going with the camera through somebody’s head. That’s fine in the book, or on a stage, which is stylized. But in film the sky is real, the grass is real, the tree is real; the people had better be real too."

"You know, I’m glad I didn’t know the reputation of the book when I read it, so I didn’t have this artificial reverence for the ‘cult classic.’ And I think it’s much better that it was made now than in the ‘60s. After a certain time, all the distracting elements fall away, all the transitory psychedelic stuff. And we can follow what it is really about. My film is very simple."

You know, transitory psychedelic stuff such as the book's brilliant but unreliable narration, via Chief Broom, whom Forman relegated to a bit part. Perversely, Forman's take on the story is based on an uncritical acceptance of McMurphy vs Nurse as a clash of primal forces, which was a paranoid schizophrenic's view. Take the Chief out of the equation and you have a comic book story instead of a multi-layered, critical story. Even the CliffsNotes-type sites on the Net understand this better than Forman did. Bright Hub Education has a nuanced theory about the Chief:

Bromden’s suffocation of the catatonic McMurphy ends the novel, and is popularly understood as a mercy-killing of a man whose soul has been stripped away. Yet a much darker reading of the novel shows the patients discarding a symbol they no longer have use for. McMurphy was the epitome of rebellion and subversion against the systems of control set in place. The patients are content to ignore his flaws and stand behind him against the equally-abstracted Ratched. Yet when the battle is over, when those that could help themselves have done so, the defeated form of McMurphy is left behind. He destroys himself to redeem his friends, and they in turn destroy him because he was never seen as a person at all, but an outmoded symbol.

Literary criticism of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has attracted both its share of accolades and controversies for its depiction of a hospital ward as a place of domination and control, and a rambunctious patient who encourages acting out instead of conforming. What makes this story so critically interesting is that it is not simply a polemic against institutional forces. Rather, it is an ingenious portrayal of fantasy and how people [got] caught up in the grandiose and lost sight of humanity. We sympathize with Bromden, the fake deaf-mute for his understanding, but at the novel’s end, we are forced to question that he may truly be the most blind of all.

And here's CliffsNotes itself, to tutor the hapless Forman on his perch atop the Hollywood food chain:

Perhaps the most telling difference between the film and the novel is the ending. The novel contains an episode missing from the film wherein Chief observes a dog sniffing gopher holes from the hospital window. The dog is distracted by a flock of geese forming a cross against a full moon. The dog chases the geese toward a road where it is implied the dog will confront an automobile with the inevitably tragic result that machine will triumph over nature. Coincidentally, this is the same course the Chief follows when he escapes from the hospital, giving the novel's resolution a degree of uncertainty as to whether the Chief will succeed in the outside world or succumb to a worse fate in a world increasingly overrun by dehumanizing mechanization. The film's conclusion, however, depicts Chief running from the hospital toward what the viewer assumes is happiness and liberty.

AV Club (which ultimately thinks the movie has "aged better") notes the Chief's contribution to the narrative:

The novel lays out its case with borderline religious fervor. In Bromden’s eyes, McMurphy is practically superhuman, a giant of a man with a great booming voice and seemingly inexhaustible lust for life, an avatar for all that is individual and righteous and masculine (yeah, we’ll get to that) in the world. His battle against Ratched for the soul of the ward plays out like an epic showdown between two brilliant, near-mythic opponents. Even the glimpses we get of McMurphy tired or acting in self-interest have a Christ-like feel to them, a certain garden of Gethsemane vibe. He struggles because whether he wants it or not, he’s responsible for all of them; and in the end, he has to sacrifice himself to free them.

Contrast that with the movie, where most of the running time has McMurphy acting like any reasonable person might if they were thrown into the nuthouse...

Chuck Palahniuk also weighs in that it's a three-way struggle, not a two-way struggle (with the Chief as angelic third party), and why this is important:

And of course we have rebels, loud and dashing, but they'll be silenced when they become too much of a threat. Arrested or lobotomized or wrongly accused of molesting children and thereby discredited. But always lost, killed, left bereft.

That's the pattern. That's always the pattern. But we're never stuck with just two choices.

With any luck, the rest of us will see what's happening and choose to find a third option. Instead of reinforcing a social system by rebelling or conforming, we'll become the Big Chief, and escape into some beautiful vision. A future that's not a reaction to or an extension of any mental ward where we find ourselves trapped at the present moment.

By losing the Chief, as Forman did, you also lose the Chief's paranoid-but-perceptive vision of The Combine, the larger system of social control for which the asylum is just a branch office. James Wolcott gave special attention to that in his 2011 evaluation of the novel:

It’s tempting to consign One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest to a souvenir piece from the dissident 60s, its protest energy, trippy prophecy, and twitchy paranoia bridging the marijuana grove between the Beats of yore and the hippies ready to sprout. [Argh, this Vanity Fair style of writing --tm] But when I reread it, it seemed more (curse the word) relevant than ever, the oppressive forces it mutinied against having only gotten more immersive and influential in our lives since McMurphy got zapped. Big Nurse has been supplanted by Big Pharma, the pilling of America fulfilling the novel’s vision of weaponized medication: “Miltowns! Thorazines! Libriums! Stelazines! … Tranquilize all of us completely out of existence.” And the Combine, the novel’s metaphor for the silent machinery of social indoctrination, manipulation, and management, stands as a rough draft for the Matrix, the vision of modern existence as a holographic fraud, a covert information grid operating on its own agenda.

Wolcott wrote this pre-Snowden -- the Combine's biomechanical tendrils have only grown more pervasive in the last half-decade. Kesey's favorite version of the play incorporated the Combine into the production, according to the NYT:

[The Gary Sinise version of the play] was not [Kesey's] favorite production, he added. That designation he reserved for a production he saw 15 years ago at a Sacramento high school, staged so that an elaborate display of grinding cogs and gears appeared in silhouette between scenes to illustrate the play's sinister ''Combine,'' a metaphor for society's grinding machinery.

...and it would be interesting to see a remake of the film with the Chief's "hallucinations" woven into the story.

- tom moody

May 22nd, 2017 at 10:18 am

Posted in books, films

better watch out

I made this DVD cover as a thought experiment (previous example). Whereas Hellman's film Cockfighter will never get the Criterion treatment for an absolute certainty, because of animal rights activists and general distaste for southern cracker entertainment, this 1989 entry in the yuletide nightmare franchise might actually... nah.

silent_night_deadly_night_3_hellman

It's a pretty good effort, rather droll and arch as it delivers the goods to the teenage date market. The protagonist is a cute blind girl with psychic powers; the bad guy is the serial killer from previous films (I think) who was revived from the dead by a well-meaning (!) scientist, played by Richard Beymer (later Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks). More future Lynch actors show up: wifebeater Leo from Peaks and Laura Harring, twelve years before her breakout role in Mulholland Drive.

The serial killer wears a transparent plastic dome on his head that, as the movie progresses, shows clearer and clearer views of his exposed brain matter underneath the plastic. By the end, we even see reddish fluid sloshing around in there. Ick.

The film is never boring but moves slowly. Shots are carefully framed, especially closeups of the heroine, who looks like a Seventeen cover model and is smart, resourceful (at least when she's not walking up to the killer and touching his face), and surprisingly acid-tongued. An early scene with a shrink establishes that she's full of anger over the loss of her parents and that's why she keeps insulting everyone with rude one-liners throughout the movie.

Unless you are an IMDb commenter ("I feel that this is the absolute worst" etc), you can tell this movie was made by a slumming auteur. It's too smart, and the camera work and editing too assured, for the cheesy '80s series that launched with a topless Linnea Quigley running from an ax. In turns dreamlike and sarcastic, SNDN3:BWO is Two Lane Blacktop with decapitations.

- tom moody

May 20th, 2017 at 8:28 am

Posted in art as criticism, films

Dead Mountaineer's Hotel

...is a Soviet-era genre-bending novel by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky, one of their more memorable efforts. A ten-little-indians style mystery with an oddball assortment of characters snowed in at a mountain lodge. Just how oddball is gradually revealed to a by-the-book police inspector.

An Estonian film version, "Hukkunud Alpinisti" hotell, with script by the Strugatskys, showed up on YouTube. Made in the late '70s, yet it looks like an '80s film, with aggressively modern set design, an electronic score, and stylish costuming. Touches of Kubrick and Argento, as much as the budget allowed. The Strugatskys somewhat truncated their plot and characters but the story works, especially the surprisingly emotional ending.

Hukkunud_Alpinisti_hotell

- tom moody

May 19th, 2017 at 9:40 am

Posted in books, films

The Last Emperor factoids

Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne appeared in person at the Quad Cinema Saturday to discuss their music for Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987), which the Quad screened before the talk. Both charmed the audience; Sakamoto, in particular, told many funny stories about his career and the filming.

Below are some facts I learned from the screening and reading around the internet:

1. Sakamoto noted that Byrne wrote the non-Western sounding themes for the score and Sakamoto wrote the Western-sounding themes. This seemed counterintuitive, but sure enough, the Main Title is Byrne (similar to the world music he was doing in the Bush of Ghosts era) and the heart-tugging string and brass tunes in the middle and end are Sakamoto. Both had assistance from professional scoremeister Hans Zimmer.

2. Sakamoto acted in the film, because his screen presence in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence had impressed Bertolucci. He doesn't consider himself an actor and wasn't too happy about playing a "fanatic fascist" in back-to-back films. He was contacted later about doing the score. Both Byrne and Sakamoto were hired as composers on short notice. Sakamoto was given a week to write his "cues" (themes), he asked for two weeks, and presented 64 cues at the end of that time (about half of which were used).

3. Bertolucci thought Sakamoto smiled too much in personal conversation and at the beginning of the filming, began speaking curtly to him to toughen him up for his role as a fanatic fascist. When Sakamoto met John Lone, who played the emperor Puyi, Lone said "you are my enemy" and also treated him callously. Oy, these method people.

4. The film has held up over the decades, and continues to garner critical praise despite some sniping about Eurocentric tourism, orientalism, and so forth. The Chinese government of the '80s imposed very few limitations on the script and production. They asked that one scene be removed where a camel drops a mound of dung on the young Puyi, saying it was not fitting treatment for an emperor. This explains a couple of shots of camels in the film that seem to be given more significance than they merited (e.g., a reaction shot of the emperor's face).

5. Victor Wong, an American actor of Chinese descent, plays a mentor to Puyi, but he doesn't do much mentoring. According to the Wikipedians, Wong got in arguments with the director over historical accuracies, and Bertolucci cut many of his scenes. The Wikipedians imply some cause-and-effect there but I couldn't find any support for it. The movie may have just been too long.

6. Bertolucci wanted Sakamoto's character to commit seppuku (harikiri) after the Japanese defeat in the film. Sakamoto refused to do it, so Bertolucci had to settle for an after-the-fact self-inflicted gunshot scene.

- tom moody

May 16th, 2017 at 11:30 am

Posted in films

my am*zon reviews in html

A minor ingrate on the former dump.fm ridiculed the sidebar link here, "my amazon reviews, '98-'03" -- it was supposed to be a joke, oh well. These reviews were written in the innocent days before Jeff Bezos emerged as a totalitarian Sauron turning the American workplace into a high-tech surveillance hell.
The reviews were an experiment in attempting "pro" culturecrit in an unpaid environment and ceased when one of them had wording altered by a staffer.
Rather than continuing to link to the black evil that is am*zon, I've saved the reviews as an HTML file.

- tom moody

May 13th, 2017 at 9:50 am

notes on cockfighter

I made this fake DVD cover as a thought experiment. Like Magritte's non-pipe, this object could not, and will not exist. This is one Monte Hellman film that will never get the "Criterion treatment." Some reviews of the film from internet sources (below) suggest why. A "real" DVD cover (or poster, or something, also found on the internet) is at the bottom of the post.

cockfighter_tasteful

MartinTeller:

Frank Mansfield (Warren Oates) is one of the most respected "handlers" on the cockfighting circuit. He loses an impromptu match against his rival Burke (Harry Dean Stanton) and thus puts himself out of the running for the coveted "Cockfighter of the Year" award. He rightfully blames the incident on his big mouth and vows not to say a word until he's won the prize. Not to his family, his partner, or even his girl.

As in the earlier Two-Lane Blacktop, Monte Hellman takes a long look at people competing at the fringes of society, misfit drifters trying to prove themselves -- and make a buck -- in an edgy niche. Frank and his associates are participating in a cowardly, brutal, sadistic "sport" where their only concerns are the odds and the payoff. Frank gets by quite well without his voice because he has little to say that doesn't involve negotiating the terms of a fight. He's an unusual subject for a character study, as he seems to lack much character. And yet, Oates turns in an excellent facial and physical performance that conveys Frank's thoughts, and manages to imbue him with a shred (just a shred, mind you) of something resembling humanity.

The fights are pretty visceral and the film doesn't flinch. I was prepared to be disturbed and offended, but hell, I had chicken strips for dinner last night. I couldn't work up enough hypocrisy to get too worked up by it. [Nestor] Almendros also films them with a hypnotic beauty, abstract flurries of beaks and feathers and blood.

On the whole I prefer Two-Lane Blacktop, but as a single performance, this is the best I've seen from Oates. Although you occasionally get to hear him in voiceover or flashback, for the most part he plays it silent, and does so very effectively. His gestures communicate to the other characters, and his eyes communicate to the audience. I also really enjoyed Richard Shull as Frank's partner, a fun and glib character who provides some of the film's lighter moments. As I've said before, Stanton doesn't do much for me but he's okay here.

This was a tricky movie for me. For a large part of it I had kind of a blasé "so what?" attitude about it, and then it dawned on me that I was actually enjoying it. It gradually grew on me to the point where I was really invested in seeing what this offbeat -- and largely unsympathetic -- character would get into.

Cult Reviews:

Cockfighter is an extraordinary film from more than just one viewpoint. Charles Willeford‘s authentic script and Hellman‘s carefully researched preparations catapult you straight back to the gloomiest regions of the contemporary America’s deep south, where sleazy Georgia locals gather around, cheering and money-waiving, to witness two animals fight to the death. It’s basically a repulsive topic, and also one of the main reasons why the film was a tremendous box office flop at the time, but only through actually making the effort of watching Cockfighter, you will notice the film does not primarily thrive on animal cruelty and clandestine sports. Cockfighter depicts the story of one man’s obsession and how he will stop at nothing to accomplish a pre-determined goal. Frank Mansfield is a natural born cock-fighter. Throughout all of his life, he trained cocks and was considered the best in business. A couple of years earlier, he became overly haughty and lost his biggest prize fighter over a stupid and meaningless bet. Since then, Frank took a vow of complete silence and dedicates his entire existence to the training of new cocks so that he will eventually regain the medal of best cock-fighter. His obsession slowly costs him everything, including the house where his brother lives, his old friends and even the love and respect of the one woman he cares about.

Cockfighter_poster

- tom moody

May 9th, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Posted in art as criticism, films