Monday, August 29, 2011
I could not tell you how often one gets inspired by watching an episode of Intervention. Common or random? I'm just not so sure. I tend to give too much weight to coincidences and the plethora of connections. Anyway, I recently had this happen to me. The episode seemed just like 2 to 3 chapters out of an awesome novel I'd shamefully only half read, having lost track of it three months ago. And both the television show and the book were now causing me to make further connections with 2 of my most recent movie revisitations.
The episode was titled " Latisha ', and getting inside her world for 60 minutes broke my heart. Her crack addiction kept her worldview obscured by a cheery veil, elevating her self image to 'Queen of the streets' in the fabulous ghetto of her diseased existence. The episode broke the mold of A + E 'reality' drama. The producers and director actually filmed with two lenses; one a lens of clarity, the moments of intoxication and cocaine psychosis embarrassingly clear. The second lens used was that of Latisha's own self protective or rather self projective denial. A sort of denial that is, mostly by the nature of both the disease of addiction and the nature of crack cocaine, narcissisticly destructive; self perpetuating by delusions of self importance.
This projection colored my sense of Latisha's experience of her world. It allowed me the escapism of her highly stimulated thought process and the momentary joy of her imaginary relationships.
I'd recently been chipping away at William T. Vollmann's :" The Royal Family", a sprawling dissection of genealogy and stratum of San Francisco pimps , whores, and the Unicorn of this particular zoo, the elusive "Queen of the Whores", aka "Africa."
Vollmann's male protag is haunted and degenerate. He is a noirish detective by way of a Proustian sad sack, dropped into a transgressive, insular world of fucked up folk. He is one half romantically haunted by a dead lover and one half digging progressively deeper into the mud of the royal whoredom; eventually projecting his obsessions on a whore who Judy Bartons herself into his deceased love.
How did anything strike beyond the obvious remembrance of the cool novel I'd failed in finishing?
What this television episode and this post modern novel share is a quality that also appears in films, though usually sweatier and involving pacing or the cover up of something like a heist or a murder.
This distorted self projection and fucked up self will is something of a germ. Infecting the host it leads to secondary diseases, such as compulsive behavior and addiction, be it gambling, alcohol, drugs, what have you. In films, lucky for us, it also results in projecting a world of their own diseased thinking's creation, one that is entertaining while illuminating, as well as insane, colorful and full of constant heart pounding danger.
I'm thinking of the sweat on Nomi Malone's face in SHOWGIRLS. She is three different things and they are also one and the same: victim or pursuant of Capitalism, a dancer who is a wannabee star, and an Addict. Not a surprise when in the film's fourth quarter she is revealed as an ex junkie, and we see her come alive when she does blow.
Her sweaty forehead and bugged out 'star' eyes are demonic and bothered, a distinct image yet mere mutation on the aloof vacancy in James Caan's eyes in THE GAMBLER. Any interiority ironically revealed through voiceover and the occasional sound bridge.
Both figures drawn here are playing the losing card. How can Nomi ever gain status and respect without stealing them? And how can a human being, as Ivy League as he may be, ever beat the Numbers?
In a classroom scene, Caan's collegiate professor speaks in a Psych or Philosophy class about intangibles such as Desire and Will. Things that , for Caan's alter ego of nighttime degenerate gambler find reflected only the simplest materialist games. The only expressions of emotive power and psychology in the film are those of people in Caan's world..those gangsters affected by the hustler's life and the family members distraught by Caan's risk and loss. Caan, meanwhile, remains a blank mirrored screen, and antithetical to a Nomi Malone, his own wild inner process is laid bare only by the measure of how others respond to his madness.
The film illuminates his disease by showing him as leading almost two entirely different lives. His battle is built around shame and a destructive belief of self grandeur, each fueling the other.
These filmed losers are lovers and their hatred of self and desperation to be loved is made visible in neon gemmed manicures, headdresses, coke nails, maternal robberies, and Atlantic City betting benders.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
I just learned my bird likes Spencer Tracy, and i find her taste reflects most film viewers' sensibilities. My bird can judge friendliness and likability in the matter of time it takes for someone to speak. People are not so different -- we listen and watch just enough to hear the calm and the warmth and the readiness for connection that a likable person's voice would convey.
Spencer Tracy has all these qualities, and as i watch BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, it is inescapably obvious how marvelous Spencer is for this film. Tracy is class, Tracy is a guy's guy, and he is also old guard and the guy you'd never go wrong trusting. He is the good sheriff and the moral compass, even though he enters the film as the one non cowboy and the outsider in the black hat.
It has been nearly 9 years since i've seen this film, and the social mirror of this film now reflects forward into the present day, making me think of Tea Party eccentrics and the laws of the Western genre. The people of Black Rock are unwelcoming and threatening to Tracy's visitor, and their own ignorance and closed community, again, like the Tea Partiers, is what implodes them all to bits. Robert Ryan, in an early sequence, explains to his cronies how this city outsider is a danger. "This guy is like a carrier of small pox. Since he's arrived, this town has a fever. An infection. And it's SPREADING."
Getting back to Robert Ryan, subject of a current series at NYC's Film Forum. Was there any guy better at being the film screen's psychic and visual equivalent to the trigger of a gun or the light on a fuse? He is sexy, carnal and dangerous. He's as fatherly as he is criminal. Incorporating all of these contradictions, he is the ideal identification for fellow haunted men (ON DANGEROUS GROUND, ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW), manic , bawdy and greedy patriarchs (GOD'S LITTLE ACRE.) He elevates every line to a smolder or an explosively hostile relationship. In this film , like INFERNO, the last Robert Ryan selection i saw at Film Forum, also taking place in the desert of the Southwest, Ryan literally is fighting with fire. Both films feature explosive fires in the desert, and it is no ironic observation that Ryan is the common denominator.
It's strange how this picture, which acts as if it's a social issue picture, speaks so much about xenophobia and racism, which is the social issue at the core of this film. The film is actually more of a Western, and it is never illuminating about race. It only speaks of men. And who belongs. but i see no Asians or African Americans, i see men from the city and men from the desert. It's colors bring out the smarts of some men over the banality of others. It's rocky desert topography speaks of the roughness of small town desert life and how simulatneously closed (minded) and open it's spaces and it's people are. BLACK ROCK has spaces closed (in community size) and open (in expansiveness of the desert) ; containing threats of overreaching foreign space that is pure territory...pure nothingness but physical background in which to fight and determine who is allowed to belong. Mostly, the film, for me, is about the experience of watching Spencer Tracy, metropolitan, cityfied movie star, walking in the psychotically beautiful and haunting desert, wearing a dark suit and dark, smart fedora.
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