Campfire Singsong: BIG DIPPER

Obsessing over Built to Spill these days, this lovely, funny, croaky, catchy, perfect song in particular.

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Book Learnin’: FAT CITY

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Fat City | Leonard Gardner | 1969

For a forthcoming podcast with my buddy Tom. Unlike most folks, I haven’t seen the Huston film yet (I’m so stoked to though), so I had the privilege of pure virginal contact with the original novel.

The experience is like careening down sludgy waterfalls of ambient unattributed slang-strewn dialogue only to crash against hulking concrete slabs of terse, blistery, scrap-metal prose. A pile of cast-off bricks with no mortar for construction, a sprawling junkyard of pawnable goods that no one’s gonna bother to dig out, a meditation on dead-end-ness without anything prepositional about it, not the ‘fall from’ or the ‘descent into’ or anything like that, just the plodding limbo of anti-aspiration. Taking a lap around ground zero.

Will the movie live up (or down?) to this experience? Stay tuned to Rio Bravado and our forthcoming podcast (someday, someday) for more!

Re-Watch Ranchero: MON ONCLE

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Mon Oncle | Jacques Tati | 1958

Tati movies are aircraft ammo for execrable formalist zigzag shot-by-shot drudgery, a form of film crit that works at an experiential inverse to its subject by supplanting fun/breezy/colorful/funny with anvils of cast iron verbiage to stub your toe on or trip over or get flattened by.

I re-watched Mon Oncle on the near-eve of the start of a new job and I vacuumed all theory from my memory-banks (as best I could) and was gripped by what is the movie equivalent of those big colorful activity books I used to read as a kid, where each two-page spread is a maze to be traced through or a diorama to get lost in or a weird deconstructive puzzle that cross-sections the world into its joints and parts and inner-mechanisms. Tati is the only director who could have adapted ‘Where’s Waldo’ for the screen!

Cross-thesis: Autonomy is anomaly! For both the happy homemaker bores and jollifying gesture-lobbing fruit vendor folks alike! They all lack faces. I mean you mind’s-eye any of these people and it’s just these faceless miller-abouters whose bodily expressions, animated as they are, don’t extend to anything facially expressive. Most long-shot cinema doesn’t really mannequin-ize or silhouette or just all around depersonalize (figuralize?) human subjects the way that this movie does. Which is cool, cuz it’s such a sweet, gentle, relaxing, rocking-chair movie with lovable characters and treacly little situations (i.e., a totally human movie! not soggy, sickening soul-sucking sociology!). But it arrives at those things by getting you – the exalted viewer! – to extract them from a distance, by observing an ant-farm overview of communal interactivity, midday labor, the throwaway rituals of everyday life and relearning the nested joyfulness of these monotonies. It’s not an ‘in spite of’ thing or even a daring feat of artistry. It’s just a reminder that you don’t have to do big sentimental wide-eyed mugging to enforce the oft-ignored (cuz not tailored to the star-system subconscious of Hollywood filmmaking???) universal truth that fingertip-nosetip contact is poignant, that handclasping without eye contact is poignant, that uncle and nephew sharing a bicycle is poignant. etc. etc. etc. Not to mention, of course, all the things that are funny that require no facial acting, which prompts a disquisition that I’ll leave David Bordwell to elaborate into an award-winning textbook.

Oof that paragraph was long…but the most fun I’ve had writing film criticism in ages! Anyway, I’m on my way to my new corporate hangzone tomorrow, just like Hulot!

EDIT: Couldn’t publish this last night cuz of Internet issues, so I just got back from work and sad to say I’m not gonna inadvertently buck the system into laughs for all the way my main man Hulot would, but it’s still gonna be a sick-ass gig!

Wilder West: KISS ME STUPID

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Kiss Me Stupid | United Artists | Billy Wilder | 1964

Ray Walston is Tom Ewell circa Seven-Year Itch shorn of all bumbling affability—creepily, manically possessive of a wife too gorgeous and (surprisingly?) humanized to realistically have anything to do with such a flaccid cretin. His face mangled by crazed cartoon anxiety, Walston shirks his own spouse’s advances in obeisance to a paranoiac sonar that red-alerts at the slightest misinterpretation of Beethoven (of all things!). This dipshit has his (actual, not Jamesian counterfeit) golden bowl of a marriage under microscopic scrutiny for the slightest defect  while Felicia Farr is literally dragging him into bed!

Dean Martin steps into his own shoes for a change and scrapes away whatever likability had clung to his screen persona up to this point in his weird career. He’s a force of raw ego, bathed in misogyny, cooked to a golden crisp. The rest of the cast schemes and strategizes and reacts and emotes, but Martin simply devours. He’s a frightening presence.

Kim Novak goes all in on sex, and Billy ‘ogler extraordinaire’ Wilder nudges her close to the edge of the proverbial pervert’s abyss. But she sidles that edge and achieves some kinda wonderful humanity (the women in this movie are the only characters constructed out of material more durable than phallic cardboard). As sacrificial lamb in a for-profit burlesque of gleeful extramarital surrender, she has the most emotionally at stake, even if it’s difficult to articulate the what or the why of it. In any event, Walston and Dino are grossly transparent in their scuzzy desires, where Novak seems to have a lot more going on perceptually, self-conceptually, existentially!!!!!

For a notoriously vulgar farce pile-driven by critics for its sub-adolescent wit, this is…a dark movie. Dreary, sand-strewn nowheresville exteriors ‘Scoped for maxed-out aridity, interiors crammed and dark-lit to the breaking point of claustrophobic psychodrama. America’s favorite crooner wants nothing less than to fuck your wife, and the only road to matrimonial redemption runs through mutual adulterous detox. It’s shameless juvenilia, but it’s a pained, guilted juvenilia, the shrieks of free-for-all ribaldry sharing aural space with the creaky floorboards of Walston’s unhinged mind.

Well, after weeks of not having watched a new movie, this horndog freakfest was just what the doctor ordered! My ITBS bros Tom Sutpen and Dan Patterson have recorded a great commentary track here, which everyone should check out. I’m gonna pester Tom to help me collaborate with him on an unfinished essay he once attempted about this movie. Wish me luck, faithful readers! And if you happen to know this Sutpen clown, be sure to pester him one for me!

The Continuous Content Conundrum

I am currently without Internet, on the edge of a new job and a new apartment. I am eagerly awaiting the settling into these new bastions of general life stability that the idea of engaging with books or movies frazzles my irrational brain. I am a big bounding ball of real-world excitement, causing my precious digital self-monument to mildew in the meanwhile.

But slowly but surely I am making my way through Henry James’ ‘The Golden Bowl,’ Leonard Gardner’s ‘Fat City’ is proving a breeze, and I just know I’m gonna pop in my new Kiss Me Stupid Blu-Ray sometime in the next couple of days.

So rest assured, faithful readers! More CONTENT will be generated soon!

For the moment, I’m jamming!!!!

Loose Canon Cinephiles

The esoterica fetish that predominates in select sectors of online cinephilia all too often catalyzes a chain-reaction of one-upmanship, of egocentric blowhards huff-puffing against canonical houses of supposed straw.

You know what I mean, the whole “Sunset Blvd. is good, sure, but MY personal favorite Wilder is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” routine, a mock celebration of ‘individuality’ that finds its expression in the most inexplicable eccentricities of movie taste. Never mind that the hypothetical poseur quoted above could probably fill a canyon with what he doesn’t know about Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, and the knotty history of the Hollywood studio system from the dynastic rule of Irving Thalberg’s MGM through de Havilland v. Warner Bros and beyond. This is knowledge, of course, that greatly enriches the experience of Sunset Blvd., and it’s knowledge that legions of cinephiles pride themselves on dispensing with in their revisionist history that Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece is but a stale staple of the AFI top 100.

The real radicalization in cinephilia is rescuing over-represented ‘classics’ from inevitable historical whitewash, by actually making an effort to meaningfully contextualize them and properly reclaim their greatness. But no, instead, we live in a world where we’re supposed to kick City Lights to the curb because there’s a greater opportunity to namedrop Rossellini if we blow the trumpet for A King in New York. This isn’t to say that all canonical cinema is great and all fringe cinema is navel-gazing elitism (or that there is not a very real need, insofar as anything in film discourse is needed, for genuinely radical canon reformation), simply that the limit to which this ‘fuck the canon’ tendency is routinely pushed is a bastardization of what it means to be anti-establishment. It’s pride in not knowing anything about film history, in having the most inorganic, ego-juicing, city-planner methodology of furnishing your taste, in lowering the curtain on your painstakingly designed alternative top 100 list so that tens of onlookers can marvel at how much Kargarga ratio must have been expended in order for you to have compiled it.

I write all this because I am, in many respects, guilty of this particular cinephile compulsion. Fortunately, I am working around the clock to get the help I need to correct it. I implore the rest of you to follow suit!

Campfire Singsong: BACKLASH BLUES

From Rejecting Bourgeois Feminism:

One of the most quoted statements made by Hillary Clinton is from the Beijing Conference on Women in 1995, where she remarks that “women’s rights are human rights”, and yet her support of even more muscular foreign policy emphasizes, among other things, a flagrant discrepancy. Humanitarian imperialism, or the use of human rights to sell war and occupation, is a fundamental portion of Clinton’s foreign policy. In March 2015 it was reported that Saudi Arabia would receive nearly $30 billion worth of advanced fighter jets— a sale that was allegedly necessitated and referred to as “a top priority” by Hillary Clinton, personally. To call these actions sanctimonious would be an understatement. Time and time again, Clinton has been at the forefront of the greater US drive for war and intervention, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and beyond. And so, if women’s rights are human rights then why further the military industrial complex, whose greatest victims both during and after periods of war are women? ~Roqayah

Cross Country: ANATOMY OF A MURDER

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Anatomy of a Murder | Columbia Pictures | Otto Preminger | 1959

Over at Illusion Travels By Streetcar, I have had the pleasure of participating in a ramshackle audio commentary track for what is, to my mind, Otto Preminger’s greatest film. I am joined by Premiere Preminger Professional Tom Sutpen, Jeremiah McNiel — who always gives the ol’ heave-ho to heteronormativity — Brian ‘actually read the damn novel’ Risselada, and Dan Patterson on bass.

After the false starts of The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955) and Saint Joan (1957), before the all-star extravaganzas of institutional deconstruction that he routinely churned out during  the 1960s (at least up until Skidoo swallowed him whole), Otto Preminger crested this parabolic career trajectory with his most expertly proportioned film, overfilling as it is with enough humdrum world-building realism to counter-weigh any of his showier instincts (here either muted or gloriously delayed until optimized moments of heart-quickening cine-drenaline).

James Stewart is the perfect star whose lifelong screen persona to flatten, for Stewart, unlike the bulk of his contemporaries, savored any acting challenge no matter how damaging to whatever manufactured ‘image’ the studio marketing outfits were then overselling to the public. He was a Pennsylvanian Presbyterian Princetonian Professional who was in it to Act goddammit!, not to lazily model a pre-digested ‘type’ (well, unless coasting by on his aw-shucksness was the best way to shill for family values or the FBI…but the less said about that the better). Now, of course, Stewart had already been doing a bang-up job in this respect through his work with Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann, but with Anatomy of a Murder he adopts a ruthless calculation that had never before factored into his acting. Whether martyring himself for America’s youth in Mr. Smith or ramming Dan Duryea’s oily face (alternate: snugly smug mug) against the bar counter in Winchester ’73, Stewart always landed somewhere along a spectrum of vulnerability, of raw emotional exposure. But in Anatomy of a Murder, we have Stewart at an unprecedented remove, as a lawyer who sublimates his actual feelings (which the audience is hopeless to successfully extract) to the tactical necessities of his profession; who can turn on ‘small-town charm’ like a faucet, as little more than legal artillery. In other words, layers within layers of Stewart-ness, a performance that etches a z-axis away from the vulnerability graph and into a cerebral meta-performative vortex!

Oh but I should say no more. Listen to this commentary folks! It’s a good one!