Medium-busy screening week for a change which was a nice break from the feast/famine cycle of the last month or so. Saw Doom at a public screening where two middle-aged ladies talked to one another through the whole goddamned thing (“ohhh, that was stupid!” “Look out, I don’t think he’s dead!”) – but it’s Doom, right, so how much did I care? I, Seuss-like, did not over-muchly. Nor did I care over-muchly about the ten or eleven text messagers, the pair of cell phones going off, nor the children screaming in fear and asking their parents - in not so many words - why it is that this of all films would be the instrument of their scarification. Saw industry screenings of Marc Forster’s unfortunate Stay, Niki Caro’s unfortunate North Country, the harrowing Three Extremes, and the abovementioned Squid and the Whale.
What I like is this none-too-subtle attempt to make Theron some sort of literal saint in the PR art:
Eh, it's probably just my imagination.
On the record already for most of these, wanted to say that Three Extremes is uneven as is to be expected, but because the DP on all three shorts (by Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, and Park Chanwook) is the great Christopher Doyle, there’s a certain visual elegance constant to the piece. (An interesting way to inject cohesion.) Fruit Chan’s short is the most provocative – reminding if only in theme – of that "South Park" episode where Christopher Reeve shucks and slurps fetuses to give him the full benefit of stem cells. Almost unwatchable and another fascinating Chinese picture about repressive societies and the toll of a very specific kind of traditional misogyny on the gender relationships in the biggest friggin population concentration on the planet. Heard that Fruit’s short was trimmed down from a 90-minute feature to fit the format of this anthology picture – it shows in a certain inexplicable abruptness in its transitions, emotional or otherwise. My favorite of the three is Park’s self-knowing, self-deconstructing meta-flick that demonstrates exactly how stupid Saw was by using a similar premise and injecting fury and intelligence (and a point). Speaking of which, now they’re screening Saw II for the crix and I’m not going to be able to make it anyway. Oh well. Miike’s piece is extremely formal – looks like the lost segment of Kwaidan in some parts, but reminds me mostly of a Masato Harado picture called Inugami
from a few years back.
It’s beautiful, yeah, but it falls to pieces. Mmmm, Patsy Cline.
I’m a fan – a middle-to-big one of Joe Lansdale – the cult writer that a lot of folks know of as the author of the source for Don Coscarelli’s fabulously melancholy bit of Americana, Bubba Ho-Tep. (Bill had a chance to talk to Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell in Toronto a couple years ago.) He was at the forefront of a “weird west” revolution a decade or so ago; a melding of genres that brought splatterpunk and the supernatural to the traditional Zane Grey oater. His early short story collections (first of his I read was in a now defunct horror quarterly digest called “Night Call” I think – the title, not the place) featured tiny print runs, almost every copy signed, and cover art by photo-surrealist J.K. Potter. In addition to the card-covered chapbooks I tried to collect, I managed first editions of his first five or six books – and then he hit the big time so to speak – graduating from Kensington Press to Bantam and Doubleday. Waters choppy again after the “failure” of Nightrunners (still his best novel – it’s just fucking astonishing and it’s out of print in every format, naturally), Lansdale’s been leaping around between various smaller and independent publishers like a tick on a griddle. When he’s right, though, he writes genre fiction that isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever read – well, maybe I’ve read that kind of ferocity in Donald Westlake’s stuff, but he doesn’t do the gore. What I’m saying is that Lansdale’s one of a kind and a prodigious talent, but I do wonder after reading his most popularly acclaimed novel, The Bottoms, now for the first time (released the same year as a superior collection of his work called High Cotton) if he isn’t doing the Dan Simmons/James Lee Burke dive into mediocrity: publish or perish, am I right?
The Bottoms, see, opens with what would have been a magnificent short story – scary as all hell, Depression-era Texas story of two kids and a crippled dog in a wheelbarrow being pursued by the devil in a tangle of mud and bramble. I wondered if I’d have to sleep with the lights on. Then it becomes sort of an Alienist conceit with a To Kill a Mockingbird civil consciousness (complete with Atticus and Scout figures), told from a child narrator’s point of view. This results in a lot of contrivances involving the kid fortuitously eavesdropping on key conversations, and taking a lead somehow in solving a serial murder case complete with little artifacts left in the victims’ wounds a’la every serial killer story since Thomas Harris started defining the subgenre. Its politics are unassailable and so what’s the point? The writing is clear, but it’s in love with its conceit and so manages to be neither a good update of Flannery O’Connor nor, even, a good example of Lansdale himself. Repetitive, too, I should add. Extremely minor stuff – by the time it’s over, I was impatient for it to be over for a good fifty pages. I don’t want to say it’s bad.
On the bedside table now: Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
Introduced/discussed the first of five films in my new series for the Gilpin County Public Library with a spiffy new television in their meeting room no less, that should make all future series an absolute joy (not that they weren’t already). The atmosphere at Gilpin is exceptionally cozy. With a permanent population up there of around 3,000 people, turnout is generally light (about twenty or so), but people bring baked goods and popcorn and it feels like a community. The discussions are lively and interested and at one show a retired primatologist related to me a story of a chimp kicking a drum root that mimicked Charlie Chaplin’s cigarette trick at the prison gates in City Lights. It’s there, too, that a woman whose father owned the horses and land on which Hawks shot Red River told her recollections of the drinkin’ and carousin’ and spending that the Hollywood boys lavished on their family during their stay there. No juicy Montgomery Clift stories, though, but a priceless afternoon nonetheless.
The film was Jack Clayton’s The Innocents – as fine a dissection of the toll of sexual repression on the young and the imaginative as any – co-written, of course, by Truman Capote, in the middle apparently of his unholy obsession with the slaughter of the Kansas Clutters. Arguably, the picture’s the best ghost story ever shot. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s scary as hell with Freddie Francis’ astonishing deep focus, B&W CinemaScope cinematography a genuine marvel on its new aspect ratio-correct transfer. Next week is Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Not a favorite of mine, it’s something that should be included in a ghost series and worth a discussion all the same.
Realized with a little shock that my favorite poem by Robert Duncan is not Google-able – call this a public service for your friendly neighborhood web-crawler, and scroll on down past it. The surprise of it is that although it sounds a lot like a poem of the Blitz, I think it was written in the late thirties (’38 or ’39 most likely):
Passage Over Water
We have gone out in boats upon the sea at night,
lost, and the vast waters close traps of fear about us.
The boats are driven apart, and we are alone at last
under the incalculable sky, listless, diseased with stars.
Let the oars be idle, my love, and forget at this time
our love like a knife between us
defining the boundaries that we can never cross
nor destroy as we drift into the heart of our dream,
cutting the silence, slyly, the bitter rain in our mouths
and the dark wound closed in behind us.
Forget depth-bombs, death and promises we made,
gardens laid waste, and, over the wastelands westward,
the rooms where we had come together bombd.
But even as we leave, your love turns back. I feel
your absence like the ringing of bells silenced. And salt
over your eyes and the scales of salt between us. Now,
you pass with ease into the destructive world.
There is a dry crash of cement. The light fails,
falls into the ruins of cities upon the distant shore
and within the indestructible night I am alone.
On the queue – working like a dog on a review of Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool and have been for the past, oh, 30 hours or so – a movie that I’ve worked like a dog on before to zero results. My deadline for this little stillbirth was about five days ago. At the rate I’m going, by the way, I should be done sometime in the middle of August, 2007. Occurs to me that the film is more discussable than reviewable and damned if it doesn’t just keep getting more relevant: year by year – all the same, it buggers critique. I’m gonna’ get this bastard, though, one way or another. Finished a 3,000-word review of "Desperate Housewives" Season One as well – color me ambivalent. First half good, next half meh. And of course it’s best to assume I’m still wading through "X-Files" mythology episodes until I say otherwise or you hear the shotgun blast. Began this week, too, to wade through some of the screeners that the upcoming Denver International Film Festival has been sending to me – no signs of life yet. . . Will do a mini-post in the next couple of days on stuff I’m watching for fun: a bunch of Val Lewtons, a Robert Wise, an old Italian horror film about killer snowmen, and a couple of Asian gangster flicks (Fulltime Killer and Branded to Kill). Afraid to peek at next week’s openings – I think there’s a Meryl Streep flick, another Nicholas Cage, and sequels to Zorro and Saw. Y’know – I think the second Star Wars flick is better than the first, ditto the second Babe and Godfather and Mad Max films. I really like the third Mad Max film, I should say – I wonder if it’s not the best of the three. (Sounds like Alex liked the second Breakin’ flick better, too, with a groovy rationale for why first sequels are “freer” to boot – doesn’t explain the second Children of the Corn, though.) Sequel I’m looking forward to coming up next month: Harry Potter 4. What I’m saying is that I’m not certain that Saw II is going to suck – just that it’s gotta’ suck particularly for it suck harder than the first.
Mystery capture #5/7:
On the shuffle:
Dickon Hinchliffe - Laura
Dar Williams - Comfortably Numb
Bjork - Who Is It?
Daniel Johnston - Impossible Love
Angelo Badalamente - Jitterbug
Editors - Open Your Arms
Patsy Cline - I Fall To Pieces
Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees
Death Cab for Cutie - Dream Scream
Sufjan Stevens - In the Devil’s Territory
Elvis Presley - Mystery Train
The The - Sodium Light Baby
Bessie Smith - Honeyman Blues
Pedro the Lion - Rapture
Elliott Smith - Somebody That I Used To Know
Throwing Muses - Bright Yellow Gun
Devo - Girl U Want
Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones
Asie Payton - I Love You
My Morning Jacket - It’s About Twilight Now
Nick Cave - Let It Be
OMD - If You Leave