Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Life without Zoë
Ferrara’s are exploitation and genre movies inundated with lofty goals and sour idealism. Ultimately their desired effect hinges on where and how you see them rather than from the content within. Ferrara on television seems ridiculous, the milieu too antiseptic. He has no business being on DVD, either…a digitized Driller Killer (1979) runs contrary to every sleazy thing the work stands for. If you’re going to ‘do Ferrara’ at home, it should be with pan-and-scan tapes, preferably plugged-up, third-generation dupes on a brand-x label picked up for three bucks apiece from a street vendor.
Nor should they be viewed outside of New York City, Brooklyn or the Bronx. Watching Abel Ferrara west of Staten Island should be punishable by law. But, alas…even in the Big Apple the venues are now woefully limited. Ferrara at Lincoln Center? The Paris? The Ziegfeld? No…not at all. The places that are worthy were exiled down the memory hole ages ago, one reason why New Yorkers cling to the Film Forum as if it were a life preserver. One or two of the sites may still operate, though far removed from their proper function: the 8th Street Playhouse, The Waverly, The Elgin, Variety PhotoPlays…perhaps the Thalia on a drizzly Tuesday evening. These are where the films could once breathe…or gasp for the rancid air emanating from the sewer.
His vision of New York isn’t anywhere near the posh uptown digs of the nouveau riche in Woody Allen. It’s not even close to the lower Manhattan of Martin Scorsese or the Brooklyn of Spike Lee. Sure, Ferrara and his camera have toured those neighborhoods, but his lowly characters and sordid morality tales — many seemingly ripped from the pages of the Sleazoid Express — are fixed in an underbelly that Scorsese’s tough guys can only speculate on. Compare the drug breakdowns and ask, who here is truly fucked: Harvey Keitel descending from the frying pan into the fire in Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992), or Ray Liotta’s relatively cushy comeuppance at the mercy of the Witness Protection Program in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990)?
The recurring themes of persecution and self destruction (to say nothing of the hollow religious iconography) that run from Ms. 45 (1981) through The Funeral (1996) will surely be analyzed ad nauseam by the blog community today, making my bead on them inconsequential, irrelevant and undernourished by comparison. If we excuse Driller Killer as the product of an overanxious sophomore unwilling or unable to calm his ambitions (it’s as bad as any film can get), then the ‘auteur’ in Ferrara and his subsequent pictures appears to me to be superficial at best. There are obvious qualities that can’t be denied, namely a technical proficiency and the outright gift when it comes to actors. There are excellent performances by Keitel (terrifying through a wide-angle lens) in Bad Lieutenant; the late Zoë Tamerlis in Ms. 45 — an actress and model, she also had a hand in Bad Lieutenant’s screenplay; the fruitful association with Christopher Walken, at the top of his game in King of New York (1990) and The Funeral; and Lili Taylor as the subdued vampire in The Addiction (1995).
However, would the films work at all without the intuitive casting? Ferrara’s jaundiced and myopic outlook eclipses otherwise viable scripts (usually written by or co-written with others), their impact dependent upon how much selective cynicism is shared between the director and his viewer. This makes him very popular among audiences eager to interpret all the urban angst and bloodletting as strands of political and moral editorializing — and not just some artfully rigged outlet for self-indulgent aggression. But when Jesus Christ calls on Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, what ought to have been a blinding revelation plays like an impotent and demystified postscript, a hasty afterthought imagined by a temperamental rube caught squandering a particularly vast resource.
Soon after, it somehow seemed appropriate, perhaps even necessary, that the director land in the murky science fiction of Body Snatchers (1993). The third version of the Jack Finney story that spawned the earlier Don Siegel and Phil Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers pictures, Ferrara’s bunker mentality seized the impending doom of emotionless drones with understated relish. It may be the weakest of the three, but it’s one of the best things Ferrara’s ever done.
After that I gradually lost interest. Ferrara was part of the committee behind Crime Story, an excellent TV program that ran for two seasons in the late ‘80s. But Dangerous Game (1993) was an exercise in tedium, dissuading me from later efforts like New Rose Hotel (1998) and ‘R Xmas (2001) — have these things ever experienced proper release? I’m sure my Blog-a-Thon brethren will taunt me with claims of greatness for the few I’ve yet to see, as if watching them will make me come to my senses. Perhaps, one day…
Friday, March 24, 2006
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Drawing Restraint 9: Giveaway
Monday, March 20, 2006
Darkness at the break of noon
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Spring takes its toll
Thanks to a thought-provoking prod from Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, we think that it’s time this soft, blond, enduring beauty was given her due. She’s worked with Hawks, Fuller, Siegel, Penn, De Palma, and Vadim (to name just a few), in a career spanning several decades.
Wednesday, April 19 — AngieThon. Be there: aloha!
Friday, March 17, 2006
Caught in the Headlights
Monday, March 13, 2006
Semolina Pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower
And the Uniondale Mini Cinema was the only place to see such things as they were meant to be seen…at least in accordance to the invisible and unwritten rules of ‘70s youth. Drinking, smoking, whatever…management defined lax and you could get twisted right in front of the screen. The sound of empty beer bottles rolling down the cement floor was a given. Marijuana smoke wafted through the auditorium, the foyer, and out into the parking lot. We even smoked boo up in the projectionist’s booth with the legendary Ashley Stanhole, master of the Mini’s mighty 35mm lions.
Poor Ronald got a ride home, after calling his dad and pretending that he “drank too much.” Ha! He was a psychedelic ranger all the way, and a complete lightweight when it came to alcohol. But his old man bought the lie, leaving Nelhydrea Paupér and myself to our own devices. We knew the acid would thrust it’s first cerebral kick fairly early (especially if prodded by a joint or two), and had procured our separate tickets for the special midnight show. After the three Beatles movies (just under five hours total), the Mini would be hosting a witching hour premiere of the legendary Magical Mystery Tour, which no one in the United States had yet seen.
We made it through Let it Be, and another joint or two placed one in the odd position of having the munchies without having the munchies. It’s that weird paradox when weed meets acid, a drug that can register hunger while dismissing it. In the meantime, the jaw feels like a jackhammer. That grinding sensation, an indication of too much speed in the mix. Perspiration, gritting teeth, eyeballs darting to all corners of the room. If I did this shit today, I’d have a nervous breakdown.
If the Mini Cinema let its audience sit there and get wasted on weed, mescaline and wine, it seemed only fair that they take advantage of the situation by screwing with the schedule as well as our heads. Magical Mystery Tour was the main attraction at midnight…but who said they couldn’t throw in a few extras? Tripping our brains out, stoned beyond all recognition, light years away from A Hard Day’s Night and Help! and Let it Be, the auditorium grew dark, the curtains parted for the screen, and we sat there, hopeful, eager, and so bloody deranged, to feast our eyes on…the ‘entering Jupiter’ (a/k/a ‘tripping’) scene from Kubrick’s 2001. No explanation. No advanced warning. No reason. And nothing else from the movie, either. Just Keir Dullea (‘gone tomorrow…’) watching all those colors flash by. The general consensus across the room was, “What the fuck?”
They knew we were fried…they knew our circuits had been compromised, our fuses blown. After Keir Dullea, there was an odd stew of musical clips: the Rolling Stones on The T.A.M.I. Show…a Stones promo film for “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby (Standing in the Shadows)” with live concert footage from the ‘60s…followed by another Stones promo film for “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby (Standing in the Shadows),” this time with the Stones in drag. The repetition angle, having the same song performed twice in a row with different visuals, is a brilliant maneuver to freak out anyone who’s tripping.
This was followed by a clip of The Beatles. “It was live in Washington, DC, in 1964,” remembers Nelhydrea. “A videotape made from a ‘Closed-Circuit Theater’ — remember those??? — that showed once in 1964, never intended to be seen again. It was the entire thirty-minute concert…except that it ran out in the middle of the closer, ‘Twist & Shout’. No credits explaining what it was or where it was from. It felt like we were looking through a foggy telescope into the ancient past.”
Finally, Magical Mystery Tour came on. We really didn’t notice or care about the poor quality of the image (it was shot for television, presumably in 16mm, and blown up to 35mm eons before any kind of movie restorations or digital enhancement). In fact, the fuzzy picture complimented the retina under the influence of LSD. Our reality looked just like what was on the screen. The entire universe, in fact, looked and sounded just like this:
Nelhydrea reflects: “It was one of my favorite nights in my entire life. It was on a Friday, and I remember thinking that we just had to go the first night. Later on, someone said that they showed completely different accompanying stuff at the Saturday midnight show. The whole thing, by the way, had to be films belonging to a private collector.
“It was brutally cold that night. We got out very late, and had no way of getting home. No one would pick us up hitching at the exit of the parking lot. So we started walking. It was you, me and Nancy and Amy, who we met in the theatre. We walked for a good while, but there were no cars on the road and it was about twelve degrees that night.
“Then a car comes driving in the other direction. He slows down. He stops. He rolls down the window and says, ‘Hi! Do you guys need a ride?’ And we, in our teenage Long Island terror, reply, ‘N-n-n-no thanks. W-w-w-we’re walking the other way.’ ‘Well, that’s okay,’ he said, ‘I’ll turn around. It’s really cold.’ We looked at each other nervously. But we can’t say, ‘We don’t wanna be murdered!’ so we get in. All four of us.
“The car is warm. I have a very clear memory of how warm and comfortable that car was. It was a town car or something. Roomy. Nice. Warm. I sat in the back. Nancy sat up front. Amy says something like, ‘Wow man, it’s shelter’…you ragged on this statement for months afterward.
“The driver has long hair and a beard. He looks like one of us…please, Lord, not Charles Manson Jr. He tells us that he’s driving the car for someone into the city. He has time to kill, saw us out there and thought, they must be really cold. So he stopped.
“He asks if we want to smoke a joint. Maybe he’s a narc. So I say no thanks. Nancy says yes — that girl never said ‘no’ to a joint in her life. I keep my hand on the door handle, ready to jump if necessary.
“He asks what we were doing out. We tell him we saw Magical Mystery Tour. He’s floored. ‘Woowwwww. How was it?’ We gush about it — oh man, it was so cool. He wished he could have seen it.
“He drives each of us all the way to our doors. He is the nicest guy I have ever met in my life. To this day I wish I could find him and give him a big hug.”
Saturday, March 11, 2006
The Last Wave
In the kitchen at parties
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Sheep dog standing in the rain
Bull frog doing it again
Some kind of happiness is
measured out in miles
What make you think you're
something special when you smile
Childlike no one understands
Jack knife in your sweaty hands
Some kind of innocence is
measured out in years
You don't know what it's like
to listen to you fears
You can talk to me
You can talk to me
You can talk to me
If you're lonely, you can talk to me
Big man walking in the park
Wigwam frightened of the dark
Some kind of solitude is
measured out in you
You think you know me but you haven't got a clue
You can talk to me
You can talk to me
You can talk to me
If you're lonely, you can talk to me
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Teeth like baseballs, eyes like jellied fire
Monday, March 06, 2006
Happy Birthday, Sharon
I would never have given Sharon a second thought had it not been for Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990). It was then when I recognized the familiar face, the manner, that seductive, calculated smile. Had she enchanted me when we were newborn bed buddies? Did those icy-yet-inviting blue eyes put the whammy on me while I lay there innocently sucking my thumb in the next crib?
Imagine Sharon in a crib as Daddy’s Little Girl. Bad girl! You need to be spanked…!
She had her fifteen minutes in the early ‘90s. Before Total Recall there were forgettable movies, TV shows, a lot of junk. After the Verhoeven picture, there was still the looming threat of a career in mediocrity: fifth billed in He Said, She Said (placing her a degree away from Kevin Bacon), John Frankenheimer’s Year of the Gun, the bizarre cable staple Scissors, the intriguing Diary of a Hitman — all in 1991! — and Where Sleeping Dogs Lie (1992).
Then came Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992). Kismet. I was certain that I’d been hexed. How else to explain my fascination with this clanging monstrosity of a murder mystery action flick? Sharon smoking. Sharon crossing and uncrossing her long, tan legs. Sharon messing with Michael’s head. Sharon giving head. Sharon snorting coke. Sharon grinding with Roxy. Sharon’s aerobic intercourse workout. Michael going down on Sharon. Sharon for breakfast…for lunch…for dinner!
There followed a run of magazine covers, fashion shoots, cocktail parties, social events, red carpets, the whole bag, all leading up to…Sliver (1993). This is a prime example of the comet burning itself out in a moment’s notice. The picture made one-third of its total U.S. gross on opening weekend alone. People went sweating from Basic Instinct but were sobered by a mess of a thriller, and word-of-mouth pulverized it from there. Part Robert Evans, part Ira Levin, part Joe Eszterhas, all of it crying out for the guidance of Roman Polanski but entrusted to Phillip Noyce, who failed to fathom the dark satire of media addiction and voyeurism. There’s still a great movie waiting to be made here, starring…Jessica Alba?
Still fairly real
A telling vindication of time taking its toll, when Verhoeven was casting Showgirls (1995), Sharon tested for the older dancer. She lost out to Gina Gershon and the sex kitten days drew to an end. I’m fascinated by an Elizabeth Berkley / Sharon Stone Showgirls: they could almost be sisters…or trailer park mother and daughter.
The critics and Academy noticed her in Scorsese’s Casino (1995; no Oscar, but a Golden Globe), though she was better in Peter Chelsom’s The Mighty (1998), a quiet, overlooked gem. She was miscast in the Simone Signoret role in an unnecessary rehash of Diabolique (1996) — a picture that managed to make Isabelle Adjani appear dowdy; and she was semi vacant in Barry Levinson’s Sphere (1998). Two earnest attempts at social drama — Bruce Beresford’s Last Dance (1996) and Sidney Lumet’s remake of Cassavetes’s Gloria (1999) — played to empty seats.
Which meant that Sharon had become a star who couldn’t sell tickets. And now that her ‘day’ is over and she’s inching up on fifty, the roles and opportunities seem strange, outmoded, even a little reaching. There’s a Basic Instinct 2 in the pipeline — Catherine Tramell in London directed by Michael Caton-Jones, a guaranteed train wreck — and we’ve been informed that she’s naked in several scenes. At this point in time, is that something we really want or need to see? Other than the rock-solid softball-size breast implants, she’s in fairly good shape from the neck down. But her face has seemingly frozen, the mouth and eyes apparently flattened (along with all that early, earthy rambunctious character) by Botox. The wrinkle-free, ironed skin was lampooned in Catwoman (2004), when her evil cosmetics magnate cultivated an epidermis as hard as a diamond. I’m among the few who appreciated the erotic stupidity of that goofy venture, to say nothing of Halle Berry looking fabulous in leather. (For the record, Halle played ‘Sharon Stone’ in the live action Flintstones movie.)
All my love forever,
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Friday, March 03, 2006
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
A film by Les Blank, 1980
Obscure objects of desire
The photographer was Allan Tannenbaum, then working for the SoHo Weekly News, which I used to read every week in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. You can see more of Allen’s work here.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Matt helms ‘Home’
Musicians, authors and filmmakers have asked that of me in the past, and the few times that I’ve been brutally honest upon request has caused more anguish than I’d ever want to inflict on anyone again. As artists, most of us wear thin skin. But to be perfectly truthful, there’s nothing about Home that had me groaning in my seat, bolting for the door, or opening the window to Frisbee the DVD into outer space. Sorry to disappoint you, Matt: it’s not a bad picture at all.
Not polished, not slick, and certainly not without its flaws. And the tenuous genre it belongs to — the chitchat picture, for lack of a better term, ninety minutes of gradual, revealing discussion — is dependent upon the writing and editing prowess of its creators, the spontaneity and freshness of its actors, as well as the flexibility and patience of the viewer. I’m not sure when this deviation of Cinéma vérité took off — perhaps with John Cassavetes and Eric Rohmer in the ‘60s, and Henry Jaglom in the ‘70s.
In keeping with that select group, this is a bare bones effort set over the course of a party in Brooklyn, New York. The dicey use of a single location — a three-story brownstone, we learn, that’s not really a brownstone — is mined for every room, nook and crevice, leading the viewer through halls, patios, staircases and hidden alcoves. As people pushing thirty mingle, flirt and try to impress one another, we’re invited to eavesdrop on personal conversations, pick up on attitudes, learn of secret longings, and watch personal triumphs and defeats as they come and go.
Heading the ensemble cast are Jason Liebrecht as a slightly woozy visitor; Nicol Zanzarella as one of the residents of the brownstone, and eventually the object of Jason’s affections; Erin S. Visslailli as a hostess who watches helplessly as her love/lust interest falls into the arms of another woman; Stephen T. Neave as her emotionally immature prey; and, in an example of bravura casting, Pavol Liska as the kind of arrogant intellectual manipulator/prick that I’ve run into far too often at far too many gatherings just like this.
For those who are in or near New York City, Home opens this week at the Two Boots Pioneer Theatre, call for info: (212) 591 0434.