April 13, 2007

The Trench

So with my review for David Lynch’s astonishingly unpleasant Inland Empire lodged in my craw like a fetid chicken bone (hey, it’s a masterpiece) – I open the Times today to find that Kurt Vonnegut has died at the age of 84. Funny, I thought to myself, he already seemed a lot older than that when I saw him on some television show a couple of years ago. Truth is, I hadn’t read any of Vonnegut’s newer novels (I gave up on Timequake after about thirty pages), but his essay a few years ago on war and religion and politics and addiction and general madness (it’s called “Cold Turkey” and it’s required) reminded me of the quicksilver of his erudition when aimed at subjects close to my heart.

“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith. I consider the capacity for it terrifying.”

My first exposure to Vonnegut wasn’t through Slaughterhouse 5 as it is for many – but rather Breakfast of Champions, in junior high. For a thirteen-year-old, it’s pretty much life changing. Like figuring out when the protag in London’s “To Build a Fire” doesn’t actually, that there is such a thing as irony and unhappy endings in art and life. It causes a moment of cultural clarity; an existential displacement wherein, suddenly, things lumped into “pastime” and “entertainment” can actually hold lessons for life looming in the shadows of all that positive affirmation. A lot of people point at movies and say that they don’t want to go see something they see everyday on the news – that they go to movies to “escape”. But in saying that, as in so many similar statements, I have a lot of doubts that these people watch the news at all.

But Breakfast of Champions, yeah, and from there it was Cat’s Cradle and the end of the world – and then Slaughterhouse 5 and the Americans (!) raining liquid fire on a civilian population that included Vonnegut and a few other POWs from the Battle of the Bulge – and of course aliens and time travel because what other explanation, or surcease, could there be from that kind of madness? I learned a lot about writing from Vonnegut – not that I write like, or as well, or with as much wit and insight – but what I did learn was that it was all right to be angry with the status quo and with the happy acceptance of it, even when all evidence seems to point to Abyss. I’m not up to writing a proper eulogy of someone like Vonnegut – but the irony is that Vonnegut makes me want to do it anyway.

“How on earth can religious people believe in so much arbitrary, clearly invented balderdash?....The acceptance of a creed, any creed, entitles the acceptor to membership in the sort of artificial extended family we call a congregation. It is a way to fight loneliness. Any time I see a person fleeing from reason and into Religion I think to myself, There goes a person who simply cannot stand being so goddamned lonely anymore.”

With the collapse of Grindhouse at the Almighty Box Office and the Weinsteins’ quick assertion that the audience is too stupid for it and that they will split it into two films for possible re-release in order to recoup their costs, Vonnegut comes to mind again as a guy who resists the very madness represented by the ABO. That we care at all is a function of bean counters and publicists. That it has begun to inform opinions of quality is frightening in the sense that anything can still be frightening that is so much part of the vulgate. Incidentally or not, I had a letter this week asking me to reconsider Blades of Glory.

G'night, Billy Pilgrim.

Went to a screening this week of Hot Fuzz and was gratified by the amount of gore in it. It’s surprising and extremely well done.

Of the seven or so major releases this weekend, the only one I screened (due to illness, availability, and so on) was Perfect Stranger and that at a last minute event designed to retard the number of reviews for it. I’ll do it on the radio, but I doubt that I have the energy to write about it with other, more worthy pictures, waiting to be reviewed. Writer’s block is blazing as well. As it is, I’m doing this little piece with a 101 fever that I’ve been nursing like cinder Otik for five days now. The flick is vaguely racist and certainly misogynistic, but then, you knew that.

Watched Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a little horror picture that’s been making some waves lately on the Internet. It’s diverting, I’ll give it that.

Doing a presentation of Rabbit Proof Fence tomorrow and then, on Saturday, of North by Northwest. One is critic-proof, the other is misanthropic: discuss.

Question of the moment: why did Grindhouse crash and burn in the popular conversation and what’s the fate of Tarantino’s creative freedom from this point forward as a result of it? For my part I should have said in the review for what it’s worth that I had more fun watching Grindhouse as part of a packed screening audience than any film since the first Jackass.

Also: best Vonnegut film adaptation? and best non-official (as in non-Vonnegut, Vonnegut) Vonnegut film? And, of course, best Vonnegut not yet-adapted and/or dream director/Vonnegut piece. . . say. . . Alfonso Cuaron and Cat’s Cradle?

25 comments:

Nate said...

Haven't seen Rabbit Proof Fence, but NXNW is one of those "whatever" classics for me. Saw it in undergrad and wasn't particularly impressed. I revisited it last year and continued to be unimpressed. It's at least 25 minutes too long and feels kind of like a Bond movie, but not in a good way. The two amazing suspense sequences make it worth watching, but I don't think it's anywwhere near the quality of something like Rear Window, or even Vertigo.

I didn't think Grindhouse's $12M weekend seemed that bad. Given its length and narrow potential audience, I'm not sure why they expected more. Splitting it in two is ridiculous. I'm still waiting (probably in spite of myself) for Tarantino to do an integrated 4-hour Kill Bill edit.

Cap said...

Grindhouse didn't crash at all - fucking Weinsteins. They released an R-rated film on Easter weekend, the very weekend in which everyone is flocking to family bullshit, and they're surprised it only makes a little bit of its cost back? If anything, it's going to maim in DVD sales, in which they'll see a fantastic profit. I am extremely angry that I, in Australia, will probably not be able to have the Grindhouse experience with it and have to see it as two separate features. Wankers!

James Allen said...

What he said. Grindhouse will make money (especially at the DVD counter). As far as the question of "the popular conversation" I find it hardly surprising that a 3-hour ode to a style of film (or, more to the point, the place where these films were shown) that most people aren't truly familiar with didn't resonate with the general moviegoing public. It's like Tarantino's only interest is to make films for some sort of private club of film geeks; the general winking tone that stopped me from really enjoying Kill Bill, for instance.

theoldboy said...

Read Breakfast of Champions in junior high, and it was my first Vonnegut...so what, did you copy my adolescence a decade or two in advance or something just to be cool? Book blew my mind, couldn't stop copying Vonnegut for at least a couple years. And so on. No comment on adaptations, though, as I never got around to seeing any.

Inland Empire astonishingly unpleasant? Maybe, will have to see again, as regardless of how creepy it gets the whole experience seemed joyous to me. (granted, that's with Lynch there)

Can't wait for Hot Fuzz, Shaun is one of my favorite movies, although less so now than in my zombie phase. One thing that does sort of irk me is how semi-miserable the US marketing is. Fittingly flashy, but mostly unfunny, digging into the well of cliches without coming up with anything funny to say about them...which is exactly the opposite of what I want out of the actual film and is the film I'm dreading and the marketing is almost promising. Still, can't wait.

This Grindhouse shit is disgusting. Not the movie, but the fact that people went to it who were too stupid to know it was a double feature, combined with the Weinstein's habitual pandering to the idiots who can't read simple things like "A RODRIGUEZ/TARANTINO DOUBLE FEATURE" at the beginning of a movie.

Keith Uhlich said...

To add to the Grindhouse debate, Matt Seitz and I just published a lengthy Tarantino conversation that touches on "Death Proof" and most of QT's other output. Hope you'll all give it a read:

"My Tarantino Problem, and Yours"

Seattle Jeff said...

My vote for best Vonnegut film is Mother Night...though I do love Valerie Perrine in Slaughterhouse 5.

Never saw Breakfast of Champions ...according to a friend in the know, when that film was screened for KV, Nick Nolte kept asking him if he liked it, Kurt acknowldeged that it really sucked. Apparently, nobody could tell Bruce Willis "No".

Cap said...

Question: Did you want to go to see ATHF:MFFT? Will you end up seeing it?

Bill C said...

"Breakfast..." is the shizznit; most heartbreaking last line of any book I know. I actually still read about one Vonnegut novel a year ("Timequake" gets better once Vonnegut drops all pretense of plot and starts lamenting the pretty girl who works at his local post office) and mourn the loss of him as a life force greatly.

For what it's worth, Robert Altman almost made the movie of "Breakfast of Champions" in the '70s, with Sterling Hayden as Kilgore Trout. That would've been something to see, I think.

Fuck, etc. Right now Richard Kelly's got "Cat's Cradle"; not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Oh, and Grindhouse rules.

Alex Jackson said...

Grindhouse didn't crash at all - fucking Weinsteins. They released an R-rated film on Easter weekend, the very weekend in which everyone is flocking to family bullshit, and they're surprised it only makes a little bit of its cost back?

You know, according to Down and Dirty Pictures Harvey Weinstein originally wanted to release both Dogma and Priest on Good Friday.

Seattle Jeff said...

Robert Wiede, director of Mother Night, had been trying to get Sirens of Titan made. Here's an update on that. (My best friend does his website.)

Ian Pugh said...

Planet Terror is indeed pretty terrible in a non-entertaining way, but my Grindhouse experience wouldn't be the same without it. Where does the plan to split up the films leave the faux trailers, anyway?

I myself can't wait to see the Aqua Teen movie. I hope that everyone has heard the techno parody "I Like Your Booty (But I'm Not Gay)"--which is pretty much the best summation of a horny, immature male's simultaneous love for lesbianism and hatred for homosexuality.

I hope everyone is enjoying the Philly Film Festival coverage, by the way. Things are going to pick up in the next couple of days.

Bill C said...

Just a small correction, Jeff, Mother Night was actually directed by Keith Gordon, about whom you will hear more in these parts in the weeks to come.

Seattle Jeff said...

oops...you're correct. Weide was the writer. I forget that as Weide has directed some episodes of Curb...I tend to think of him in that role...

Did get excited to see him working with Simon Pegg...

Alex Jackson said...

Planet Terror is indeed pretty terrible in a non-entertaining way, but my Grindhouse experience wouldn't be the same without it. Where does the plan to split up the films leave the faux trailers, anyway?

Shit man, I wish I had my review of this movie finished.

Well, three things.

1. You're wrong man. Planet Terror rocks.

2. You're right man. It is absolutely essential to see Death Proof after Planet Terror. It doesn't makes sense otherwise.

3. The faux trailers were pretty disappointing, with Machete being a noticeable exception.

Ryland Walker Knight said...

I'm still in love with Breakfast of Champions and Sirens of Titan hardcore. This passing has made me the saddest of any recent celebrity death. It even gave me a cold! Well, maybe not. But still... he was damned important to my growth as a reader, a writer, a person living in the world. However, I think I've got a lot more optimism in my life now than I did in adolescence so I haven't read anything by him in years. The last was probably a re-read of Sirens of Titan. I think I'd like to see that one made the most, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Nick Nolte as Rumfoord and Eric Bana as Constant, a Hulk re-teaming.

As for Grindhouse...I'm of the Planet Terror is a waste of time and Death Proof is amazing camp.

corym said...

Oldboy
This Grindhouse shit is disgusting. Not the movie, but the fact that people went to it who were too stupid to know it was a double feature, combined with the Weinstein's habitual pandering to the idiots who can't read simple things like "A RODRIGUEZ/TARANTINO DOUBLE FEATURE" at the beginning of a movie.

Let me replay a scene from the video store I work at:

Me: "Okay, ma'am, The Good Shepherd is due back on Friday."

Lady: "Wait, what?"

Me: "The Good Shepherd is due back on Friday."

Lady: "What's that?"

Me: "The Good Shepherd. It's the movie you're renting."

Lady: "Let me see it."

*she looks at the case*

Me: "It's a spy movie... It has Matt Damon in it..."

Lady: "Oh, yeah. I didn't even know which one I picked out."

*she chuckles vacantly*

That happens all day. Every day.

Anonymous said...

I think adult audiences are just plain neutered. Simple as that. Given the choice between an admittedly fun, creative and R-rated romp such as Grindhouse and the embarrassing PG-13 tripe of Wild Hogs, they'd rather watch a bloated, naked John Travolta than a scantily-clad Rose McGowan with a machine gun leg. I hope that Aqua Teen Hunger Force does better than expected and at least gives Perfect Stranger a run for its money. I already saw it once in the morning sober, and just now drunk. Still laughed at that Cronenberg reference just as hard. In fact, I think I was the only one.

Rick said...

Does anyone have access to the new movie information channel called "Reelz"? Kim Morgan (FilmFreak favorite) was on discussing upcoming releases. Kim was involved in a discussion forum including John Horn and the guy who hosts Beauty and the Geek. And you thought it couldn't get worse than going head-to-head with Roeper.

Pwetz said...

"I am not dying," said Rumfoord. "I am merely taking my leave of the solar system. And I am not even doing that. In the grand, in the timeless, in the chronosynclastic infundibulated way of looking at things. I shall always be here. I shall always be wherever I've been.

"Whatever we've said, friends, we're saying still -- such as it was, such as it is, such as it will be."

Have you guys heard that Rodriguez is actually going to make Machete?

Cap said...

Tremble http://www.gofish.com/player.gfp?gfid=30-1098629

Cap said...

Sorry, to clarify - it begins here.


Then progresses here.

Then here. (The actual opening of the movie.)

Not to mention here and here.

Discuss.

Dave Gibson said...

Why did a three hour film inspired by an inherently obscure wing of American film, and featuring such superstars as Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez and (sorry) Kurt Russell; make a (paltry?) 11 million in 3 days? I dunno, Easter? I’m wondering why anyone expected so much more, and aside from the Weinstein Bros. I can’t imagine why anyone thinks it’s very important. (Though, I must say that if these two babies were truly “Grind house” movies; 11 million would be cause for ecstatic celebration.) As for the film—I dug it immensely; A Film for Geeks and By Geeks. Geeks who like scratched ‘45’s, surf rock and cheer at the sight of Jeff Fahey. Contrary to what QT may have told Harvey; that aint really a big group. Too much net time can allow us to easily forget that the Geeks have not yet inherited the earth. As for Tarantino and Rodriguez I think they’ll be OK—Tarantino is the Woody Allen of Hollywood Hip—and he’ll always be working. Rodriguez currently makes two films a week; so I think he’ll keep the butter churning just fine (or bust out another Spy Kids if things get tight)

Sigh. Truthfully, how does a shirtless Will Ferrell trump a hot Goth stripper with a machine-gun leg? Along with the titular Grind houses; the world I knowed is gone.

cw said...

Did anyone catch the second title in the double feature of the "now playing" sign that gets demolished in Death Proof? (the first being Scary Movie 4 - fuck yes)

Bill C said...

Yep, it was Wolf Creek (another Weinstein release).

Rick said...

Geeks who like scratched ‘45’s, surf rock and cheer at the sight of Jeff Fahey.

Growing up in the early 90s, I have seen more Jeff Fahey movies than anyone should ever see. He did what he could with them, its nice to see him in something good for once.