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Trash Humpers

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Loving the Addict: THE BLACKOUT and 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH

from publication in Italian journal LFU 2014... since ive been discussing both films recently w friends..here is a re print of my piece.

Loving the Addict:  THE BLACKOUT and 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH

Addicts are seers.  Sometimes they live by watching others, afraid to feel too much themselves.  Sometimes they cannot handle what they see, so they set about trying to alter their own senses.  
They feel so much self hatred or resentment that existence is unbearable.  One stays alive only to perpetuate the attempt to obliterate.  But how does one film such a head-space?
The souls of Abel Ferrara’s protagonists are screaming.    Two films of his explicit about evoking the inner mental and psychological state of an addict are THE BLACKOUT (1997) and 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (2011).  The main characters they track are tortured men who fight Addiction.   As addicts, they recognize the ugliness of society more brutally than the rest of us:  they see more clearly through society’s lies, and they feel heartbreak and disloyalty more potently than other humans.  When they suffer a loss, they are simply inconsolable, and when they fall in love, it is total.  Self pity takes over and one turns to drugs.   THE BLACKOUT tracks this most beautiful and intimate orgy of self pity into the poetic extremes that only the using addict can experience.
 The opening shots of THE BLACKOUT  feature music playing over glimpses of  the ocean at night.  It is a dark enveloping space, one that holds the potential for absolution as well as dissolution.   This is a gaze onto a dark yet inviting space that we see Matty looking out onto, longingly, throughout the film. Matthew Modine stars as Hollywood “It” filmmaker Matty, and as a creator as well as performer in movies, he not only watches but obsessively tries to see images of people he has lost.  His French girlfriend Annie (Beatrice Dalle) acknowledges the addiction he hides behind. He clings to her asking about “their baby” and she tells him she didn’t want to have a baby with a junkie for a father.  
This sets Matty on a sped up quest to seek a solution, or maybe  just relief, outside of himself.  His drug intake actually begins in the opening credits, timed with an arrival to Miami beach . He snorts coke in the limo from the airport.  There is video playing everywhere he goes.  Sometimes it is put up by constantly filming friend  Mickey (Dennis Hopper), acting as both director, prophet (“Video is the future!” ) and drug partner.  As more drugs are ingested, more events are filmed/recorded, and the reality of what is occurring and what is imagined becomes blissfully less clear. The world is intense, images coincide and collapse into other images to create a multitude of superimposed frames. There is a collage effect, where one must overdose on the abundance of images and sensations in order not to  withdrawal into the total emptiness and silence of the ocean.  The hypnotic world concocted in this part of the film is an inviting universe that expresses both inebriation and the pleasure in losing oneself;  a pleasure fairly unique to addicts. Fixated on the abortion, Matty clings to this concept of loss. Looking morosely into the ocean and into mirrors, he hears her words echoed in voiceover again and again. Haunted, he begins to blow lines of coke, drink by the gulpful, smoke rock and shoot dope.

The film actually works (for me) on two levels.  On one level it does tell a straight story of addiction and a man tortured by a memory that he must dissolve, replace and repress, through loss of memory, replacement of images,  and  massive drug intake.  It tells this in a creative way:  the replacement of images( the first annie replaced by a second, false annie), the new german girlfriend to replace the old French one)a collage aesthetic, with  superimposition of  images and the proliferation of televisual playback.  

beauty witnessed and experienced. the seduction of addiction, frame by frame.

On a second level, THE BLACKOUT can be read as a unique attempt to convey the mindscape of an addicted brain...one that can not see how he is a slave to his obsessions (to use drugs, to obliterate his memory, to kill himself, to implode his relationships, to replace his girlfriend, to erase an existence of his own moral crimes).  This is the world of a man who has not cut through denial.  
There is a large section in the film where the wild collage of images and televisual playback comes to a halt, and where the imaginative world of doppelgangers and dreamlife aspect is abated.  This is the section where Matty gets sober, he attends a 12 step fellowship, he has sober chips, he has a new life and a safe angelic new girlfriend (Claudia Schiffer)  in a home in New York.  

Sweet new girlfriend, sober chip, new life, but no love.
This world, though at first glance a successful one, is still drawn  from the point of view of the addicted mind.  This part of the film is a sterile, passionless  world, one where we as viewers experience his civilized malaise, and we share the desire to obliterate it’s confines.  Compared to the impressionistic dream world of the former part of the film, this section is almost ugly in it’s sobriety.  Did Matty really kill the waitress who became Annie # 2? Does it really matter? That question, and the sterile search for the answer with his therapist is the antithesis of the full throttle beauty Ferrara gives us when Matty returns to drugs to seek his answer.  
Matty’s triumphant return to sublime intoxication coincides with a glorious return to superimposed images
 Never has the pursuit of total obliteration and fucking delusion and fantasy been so damn seductive as it is in this film.  Any viewer or cinephile who has battled with addiction can  watch THE BLACKOUT and experience recognition.  That world of active “using”  may be filled with confusion and pain (Hopper shouting about reality and video while real and unreal things happen simultaneously to Matty .  Matty takes a hit of crack and he literally disappears into the black of the screen...) but this reality is the truth to those who know the beauty of saying fuck it and trying to destroy one’s mind. THE BLACKOUT is told from  Matty’s viewpoint  as someone in the thick of his disease and without any awareness that would come with recovery.  Matty runs toward the void, embraces loss and disorientation, fleeing to the ocean in Miami at night, as Schiffer finally catches up with him.
Matty recognises he is still in love with chasing unanswered questions, fucking up his head, and suffering the extremes of his perceptions.  

Ferrara returns to the plight of the addict in 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH.  The idyllic love nest of Willem Defoe’s two years clean  Cisco and Shannyn Leigh’s Skye is quite reminiscent of the briefly recovering Matty  and  Susan (Schiffer ) in THE BLACKOUT.  In fact, Modine and Schiffer could be Defoe and Leigh in a younger incarnation.  Again we are given a protagonist who is fighting with urges to descend back into active addiction.  Here, the balance is more towards recovery.  Cisco has been clean for multiple years and is in a successful romance.   Unlike Matty, our initial experiences in observing Cisco are seeing him in his sober life, living in a cocoon like railroad apartment and listening to (again, being televised) spiritual leaders discussing how our inner spirit determines the course of the world.
The film opens with the plucking of a sitar; at once spiritual and singular, note by  note, a sound to accompany inward motion.   His girlfriend Skye is quiet and artistic, painting a large piece, the canvas the floor of their home.
Where Matty was all outward action; throwing himself at women or pushing them away, grabbing crack pipes, drawing lines to blow...Cisco is all about withdrawal; both from the insanity of a past life on heroin, and the withdrawal from externalized sensations, living in a sort of artist’s sanctum.
The film begins as the end of the world has begun.  But the first time we hear this explicitly is from Cisco, stating this in an email.   Everything that follows perpetuates the idea that the end is inescapable ,and that it is coming very soon.   We as viewers have two options.  One is to experience the film as an impression of a final day, an insular and specific one.  Another option is to recognize the reservation of the addict who has not accepted that they can not use again.  To love heroin as only an addict can, is to know an all consuming love whose bonds are not immediately broken.  What follows Cisco’s email is a series of expressions of outwards rage or disgust at the world that does not seem to be shared by either Skye or any of the earth’s other inhabitants.  The ugliness and unfairness of the world  (he yells at a landlord about high rent) seems to drive him to his wit’s end more than it would to another.   One again recognizes the sensitive worldview of the addict.
Cisco cannot help but see all the suffering in the world.
In a key early scene, Skye soothes Cisco’s ruffled feathers with a shared meditation session.  Then the camera separates its shared coverage, focusing on close ups of Cisco, eyes closed.

Next we see our first view of the fantastic: Cisco imagines himself lashing out with force, cutting a  massive tree down with an axe, being observed by a quiet stranger.  This is the first time we understand that the confusion and turmoil in the world is not something that is necessarily happening or not happening, but more so what is fueled by a specific struggle within Cisco.

4:44 can actually be experienced as a fantasy from Cisco the addict’s point of view.  The end of the world is a not uncommon reservation  to “ pick up “ that is shared by many addicts new to recovery.  One thinks, well if my mother dies or my baby dies, then I can use.  If i know the earth will implode tomorrow, then i will go out and use. .. It is in this way that the power of addiction keeps hold and the fantasy that heroin will love him back this time perpetuates.  And so, in the third act of the film, Cisco sneaks and lies, but he succeeds in scoring dope.  And the end of the world does indeed come upon them, fantasy intact, reservation explored..and filmed.

                                                                                                                              J F

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