Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Saturday, February 06, 2016


It's been a long time since there could be Hollywood women characters as cool as the Babes of pre and post-Nazi Germany. Does it take economic turmoil to make dames so tough it carries over into their DNA? Or was it always there, this iron clad-but-sexually-vigorous blonde bombshell type is a bear in the courtroom, a bore in the kitchen (all that flavorless burnt potato pancakes and stone dry roast) and what would Americans would call, how you say, a slut? In the bedroom? That is to say, in America we have a dichotomy - if a lady is good in business she has to be a cold bitch barking and ripping people's heads off, or if she's sexually active, she's a dimwit with wide baby eyes agog at the world, easily seduced and abandoned, a victim of exploitation and the male gaze. But German women can be professional in the workplace without being neurotic. Without sacrificing her sanity or making the men around her feel like they lose their balls in her presence, the German woman is fully both sensually alive and ruthlessly cool-headed, a thorough professional.

You can argue maybe America need a war  that killed millions of young men and left their hot wives destitute during a Great Depression (prostituting to survive) or War (pressed into jobs normally occupied by men) in order to create the perfect storm for the Weimar cabaret of Brecht's wry economic savvy and Weil's woozy drinking songs and promiscuity's syphilitic ennui, something to forge the Germanic woman in a cast-iron mode where sex and mountain climbing carry the same lack of shame and guilt, a land where a pack of cigarettes or tea is more precious than mere money.

Weimar, a wellspring of decadence wherein former gorgeous tall willowy aristocrats took to the stage just to feed their food and shelter addiction. Weimar, when a cold winter made coal and firewood as as costly to one's sense of moral decency as a $300 a day heroin habit would to a junky.

There is no admittance in Hollywood or in our PC putsch climate that at the core of it all, the whole sex and dying in high society bootstrap, the shit's just fucked up. And without that admittance we cannot evolve. We're still asleep. Nothing like being bombed nightly to wake you up into the moment. And unless you're awake you can't be neither whore nor virgin but able to oscillate constantly between. Only the pre-code heroine, rising from the shackles of small town hypocritical sexism, knew the moment's intricate playful contours here in the US, and even then she had to be reshackled from 1934 until the second war, when noir would begin to free her (on certain conditions). That's just four lousy years.

But all the while the German dolls had no need for morals and so they knew when to pull the plug on their dying moms, and their confidence was earth-shattering. They didn't need layers of security, they could just blind us with aggressive charm, didn't need a fade to black to convincingly seduce us. Stalking around the room, selling $20 apples, knowing just when to fall into their john's arms, only to whirl out again a moment later and ask for a light, to keep the push and pull fluid, these dames reintroduced a state of play to the proceedings Americans had forgotten all about. Our modern maidens cannot do this now, there's too much at stake and not enough. There's no more danger, the rate of exchange is set, with a thousand intervening pimp handouts between the girl and the guy. Now a girl can't go from murdering her pimp father to seducing her way up the company ladder to happily ever to into the harrowing void of genuine openness like Babs Stanwyck could in Baby Face (1933).
Today we need female characters who are not prostitutes in the sense of today, where they're brutalized victims of white slavery in tense Liam Neeson thrillers, but crafty capitalists moving fluidly between roles--adventuress, gold-digger, a spy, a hungry urchin, and a genuine romantic partner--unswayed by a man's charisma past the point of their influence and bankroll, but that bankroll is fluid, the money paid rising and falling like stocks in a volatile market. Seduction is boiled down to its essentials until even being nice to a lonely guy for more than a 20% tip on a rainy night carries the metallic ring of coins continually hitting the bottom of a tin bucket.

The only badass German chick I've seen on an American screen lately (they're all over in German of course, hier und hier) has been Nina Hoss (below left) as Astrid, the super cool BND op in the most recent season of Homeland. We can glean a tad of the corrosive sexism of America via the description of her character on Wikipedia:

"Astrid, Quinn's former lover who works for the German intelligence service, BND.
Harmless enough - but deconstruct it and you see how American sexism is encoded: Astrid is basically the Carrie Mathison of Germany, but cooler, less neurotic, it's a parallel drawn many times in their similar look, dress style, and penchant for quick thinking that leaves most men in the dust. Yet as far Wiki is concerned, all that comes second to her on again/off again fling with the (white male) American, Quinn. And she's not a spearheading official of endless clout and resources, she just "works for the German intelligence service." That could mean she's a frickin' secretary. It's like if Carrie Mathison was described as "Brody's lover, who pins pictures on bulletin boards when CIA men tell her to."

Am I exaggerating? None of your business!

Luckily we have that that 1929-33 golden age, when Germany and America alike suffered the throes of the Great Depression and America came over to Germany on the cheap as sex tourist talent scouts, saw the silent films and avant garde dance performances and signed all the best players, the best directors who brought over their whole crews, and Marlene Dietrich was there too. The makers of Caligari, Faust and Mabuse, M, Pandora's Box, and Metropolis hopped a zeppelin to Lakehurst, NJ and then the train to Hollywood, toting their expressionistic haunted house nightmares, where the dark comforting shadows one hoped to hide in turned out to be two-dimensional painted backdrops and the girl you sold your soul to be with turned out to be an evil automaton. Provincial morality was revealed as an indulgence of the prosperous and uneducated, usually played by fat ugly actors like Emil Jannings. Their eyes and white hair wild like they'd clutched a freshly lightning-struck harpoon, they stayed in Germany. Perfectly cast apparently, they took to fascism like a duck to water.

Emil Jannings and Josef Goebbels
If you've ever gone hungry, or had the DTs, or even a really bad fever, then you know how easily the artifice of civilization and language can be wiped away, like a Photoshop layer, revealing the true dimension below, the permanent bedrock of demonic devouring darkness that infuses everything around you. It's terrifying to behold, will make your pray for the first time in years, pleading for heavenly rescue, or it will drive you insane with terror OR you can dissolve your egoic crux in the acid bath of Hell so that the you who remains no longer winces when the devil's lash strikes, because you have no more skin, and so the devil lashes you no more, for his strength is gone, the fuel of your fear no longer feeds his fire. And lo, the artifice layer of civilization still hasn't returned, you're still hungry but the DTs break, the fever dies off, but you're free, you can see the world as it really is, without wincing. This is why artists to be worth a damn they need to be crazy, starving, tortured.

And isn't the moral crusader really one who is so afraid of that hell dimension they have to keep setting up stricter and more repressive Photoshop layers against it, presuming with tight enough restrictions the Rockwell layer can fuse irrevocably with the hellish real, so that the demonic ne'er can be found again? The American moral woman of post-code era was, like the Temperance League broads before her, of the staunch belief this could be achieved, reflecting her terror of the void, a terror those of us who've seen and been devoured by the horror don't share. It's the terror of the guilty, those afraid of holy judgment. They play up their piety for a reason.

The German women though, aren't afraid of the hellish dimension. They've collectively lived through it twice. They know if they just roll with it they don't have to feel bad about themselves. They might even get some chocolate out of the deal, which they can sell on the black market for nylons, or cigarettes, or vice versa.              

The Women in the workplace revolution wouldn't even have happened to the extent it has if not for Hitler or that women got the vote as soon as they did because WWI dragged the nation out of the 19th century too fast for its draggy hegemonically provincial back half to retard progress, and that the Depression made prostitutes of soldier's widows, and it made gold diggers out of even once-pure mothers and daughters, just to get some ear medicine for their sick child (as in Call Her Savage). And into this world of mercenary women and dead soldiers slunk enigmatic beauties, rising and falling along the economic ladder, sometimes three or four rises and falls in a film, for if they were beautiful and clever it was never in doubt they'd sleep their way up. And they wouldn't need to suffer to become saintly; they'd just sacrifice their claims to motherhood so their son could become D.A. even if it meant he had to send her to the gallows to do it, or at any rate they'd toss away their fortunes to follow some drippy dude into the poor house just to torture us in our masochistic jealous frenzy. And then he'd sell her into white slavery to pay his gambling debts, and soon she'd be heading for the river, only to be swooped down on and carried up and up once more by Cary Grant, or at least to land where they started, so wise, or to plummet blindly back to earth with a crash and art deco memorial (like Christopher Strong).

Prostitution could be slimy and violent but there were degrees, and the pre-code films are all about that. You can get all indignantly feminist you want but you'll never convince me that Barbara Stanwyck is being used by the men she climbs the ladder on in Baby Face (1933). The men are perceived as hopelessly weak, easy prey. If she was merely a prostitute she'd presumably have a tougher time, but she's not, and it's this in-between status that seems to be the order of the day. The diamond bracelet is invariably worth more than a mere engagement ring. In order to keep a mistress one needs the kind of wealth where the bracelets and furs can flow without embezzling or robbery needed to fund them. Man, I'd never want or be to able to afford keeping a mistress in luxury, so am grateful to grow up in this more permissive time. But that's the bizarre thing about it, after the feminine sexual awakening of the 70s, and the bachelor pad Playboy subscription backdraft, comes the feel-bad post-90s PC clampdown, the provincial morality, the return of women as helpless Blanche Dubois rushing to the PC stasi over a single patriarchal leer all while demanding equality, doubling the workforce and halving the salary. Returning to the Weimar era and Hollywood's pre-code period it's easy to see just how much power women really do wield in the patriarchy - presuming of course, they know how to use men rather than be used by them, or both. After all, as Phoebe Cates says in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "it's just sex." Was she the last American girl to ever say that in a movie?

In our clamped-down PC climate, it's a revolutionary stance, a refusal to play the PC militant feminist game. And isn't it a game? Are bitter frumpy lesbian professors really that different than straight midlife crisis divorcee males in their advocation of whatever philosophy makes their look and lifestyle most valid in the eyes of cute co-eds? I'm not saying they're even conscious of it. But damn, girls. To paraphrase the Lady Eve, the good girls aren't nearly so good nor the bad guys half so bad, or something - and it's that 'something' that the Weimar girl embodies. In this world, even the cabaret singing is a form of prostitution, with music and kinky clothes, with sex being the selling point of course, but only a sicko, a Ken Starr or Penny Arcade, or a Karl Malden in Baby Doll, would bother digging so deep under the surface to expose it and demand a blow-by-blow account of what paid for what. Same with barmaids soliciting drinks in exchange for a a sympathetic ear, or dance hall girls providing a soft shoulder for lonesome sailors to cry their dimes out on, actresses winning gold statues and foreign princes, or Broadway hoofers mining diamond bracelets along the Great White Way. They're all, in their way, using sex for money. Same with acting itself. As Loreli Lee would say, you don't have to be gorgeous to be a great actress but my goodness doesn't it help?

And from these hard-working women of nightclubs, was a trickle down effect, for they'd funnel some of the silk hat's bread down to their forgotten man husband, home from the war, begging on the corner with his one leg and one arm and one eye, castrated from a mine, forced to allow his wife to take rich man lovers while he crawled around on the subway with his tin cup. Remember my forgotten man? He had a bread line in his hand, a tenuous cord holding him barely to life, his address Central Park, not West or East but right in between. Or City Dump 32, the place Cordelia Bullock found her man Godfrey. I cry just thinking about it. Eugene Palette humbled by Powell's sublime grace, as powerful a butler transformation as Charles Laughton's Ruggles. Butlers are almost unheard of nowadays, in cinema anyway. Did the second world war wipe them away too? You dirty rat, you killed my butler, or chances to ever have one.

Getting back to the prostitute thing: what about the girls who come over with their friends to hang out, drink with you, take it back upstairs and in exchange for letting them 'borrow' some money they make all the seduction moves for you, sleep over and leave before you wake up, presuming any bankrolls or quaaludes they see lying around are meant for them but they're not prostitutes! Depending on who you ask anyway. I confess I don't know anything about this whole quaint custom. I've been propositioned by middle-aged guys in my old neighborhood if I wore my shorts down to NYC Video on 1st and 51st more than I'd see streetwalkers. When I first moved to NYC there were still blocks downtown in the village where you'd turn a corner and bam, it would be insane, drunken black ladies garish with make-up, dresses a world too small for their rotund, massive curvy bodies, bobbling around like a parade float in the breeze, anchored by eight inch pin point heels, a minuscule handbag like Dumbo's flying feather; menacing pimps in white furs strutting around, shaky crackheads eyeing your car for signs of wealth or the cops; everyone (including us) with open beers in brown bags, loud soul music (back before rap took off) with bass so heavy you felt it in your bones three blocks away coming from some low rider car. There was a route going up and around 7th Avenue and below Houston, where cars would just circle around and around, barely moving, everyone stopping every three second along double parked tailgates to say hi to someone or start a fight or buy drugs or sex. For us, a bunch of white dudes newly moved to the city it was like a magician lifted a curtain on our workaday David Dinkins-cum-Giuliani world and there it was: the NYC of the 70s.

Not long after (this was around 1991, the same drive would just show cars driving up, wondering where everyone was, cracking beers from trunk coolers, and getting promptly arrested, noise ordinances passed strictly to get rid of this Friday night tradition. And all along 7th Ave up from Houston: sad young suburban black teenagers pouring out open beers as I'd stagger past, drunk, to Max's fold-out in 17th St, where I'd pass out and watch channel 68 with one eye shut and try to write down a number from one of the Asian lady services ("You have time today?") over and over, never quite getting it all down but it didn't matter, i wasn't going to call, just thinking I would eased my existential lonesome, for that commercial played in a loop with about seven others, in between snippets of the Robin Byrd Show. Good lord, that show sure didn't help my depression, that cable access sex show was to real sex what one of those sun-faded, turned blue pictures of Chinese food are in the windows of take-out joints. Even now I can't see a sun-faded turn-to-blue video cover or picture in a window without wanting to kill myself. All those wasted hours nosing through crappy VHS boxes, looking for something worth getting. Wasn't that the whole reason I'd come to NYC, to escape those boxes? And there was Robin Byrd, like Poe's hideous faded-to-blue heart.

 In the old movies I knew of, but didn't then like, there was always the bragging Gene Kelly with his little black book of unseen dames. Thanks to Lane Pryce asking how much he owed Don after hooking up with a woman at his place, I finally could know what those black books meant. No wonder they were such a sure thing! These are the 'party girls'? The Foreign legion of Women? Not really at the bordello level, but at the swinging apartment paid for by either one rich sugar daddy or a slew of less exclusive gentlemen (the $50 for the powder room in Breakfast at Tiffany's). If not for the code who knows how sophisticated the various levels of prostitution, gold-digging, party girl operations, and dance hall hostesses could be by now. That's progress for you. Now it's too late. My naivete has set in stone, like the moralists photoshop layer dream was right after all -- or else it's just my Puritan Pilgrim blood.

There's is not exactly a sex for cash up front quick bordello transaction, more like the Holly Golightly approach of asking the guy for $50 to tip the powder room attendant, keeping it of course, and then delivering---what? The censors won't let us know whether it's just a night of basking in her gamin aura, a hand job in the cab, or a snog in the foyer of Tiffany's, the unspoken assumption that as soon as it's open, 9 AM or whenever, the horny guy and Holly will be there, the diamond bracelet like a marriage license at MGM, a ticket to ride. Sex it seems in American movies comes with a very high price tag, until around 1968. If you want an extra-marital fling you have to pay the girl's entire rent and keep her in furs and jewels until, at last, you walk in on her with her gigolo boyfriend (remember her forgotten man?) and chastened, run home to your wife and children. Did you remember not to write her any love letters?? If you did, and she still has them, the paying doesn't stop. For not all forgotten men are willing to go into bootlegging like everyone else, they'd rather live off their women especially now that you've been muleishly kicking their stall. There's a name for guys like that but before I can say it someone always bashes me in the back of the head with a bottle and steals my gold pinkie ring, thinking I'm dead and hightailing it to the tropics. By the time they learn I just got a minor concussion, it's far too late to return, for they've already bashed another one. And this time, they got to hang, for the kid, so he can become a DA.

European imports like Marlene and Greta hit their marks and quivered their lips but it was because they were in the moment, they lived between the marks in ways directors not versed in theater didn't understand, that they resonated, and to see Maria Braun in Fassbinder's Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) walk into a room and start playing around with items--even in the bombed out wreck of a city she's as happy as a lark-- is to feel the energy link between Polly Peachum, Dietrich and Fassbinder through to.... whom? Ich weise nicht. Or to paraphrase Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve, you Germans certainly have a funny way of bombing a city down just to build it back up again.


In the Hollywood pre-codes and in Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) they are slow complicated maneuverings oscillating between push and shove within a single scene. Rather than needing whole reels of crying by the window just to call or come running to the airport at the last minute, girls who came of age watching Friends insist no flight can ever be just quietly snuck off to, no mistress quietly visited in a sly 5-7 without the other finding out and making a ruckus. Maria Braun's great gift is to be able to change the dynamic of a relationship within the actual scene via small push-pull mannerisms, going in for a kiss, whirling away again, etc. back and forth, to avoid all the usual traps sitcom-saturated Americans dive into (as in presuming after one snog you're going to get married, or expecting a girl to be faithful to you just because you kissed her at the ball). She keeps the sexual chemistry fluid, the sense of play opens up, and it becomes a kind of magic, very close to what it's like when hooking up on acid (as seen in the Warhol bathroom in Midnight Cowboy), a swirling pincer movement and advance-retreat-advance somewhere else while the opposition is moving forces to where you just advanced kind of a wave tactic. It is not a romantic blitzkrieg as we have today - where screenwriters don't know how to write such stuff because they're not in theater the way Bergman or Fassbinder were, they don't even know who Fassbinder is. They hate subtitles. Imagine, Hollywood screenwriters who don't even know who G.W. Pabst even is. But on Hulu Plus lurks almost the entire Criterion back catalog--it's worth getting just for the Germans! Fassbinder gets it, and his Maria Braun is his finest creation, a perfect synergy with actress Hannah Schygulla that functions as both feminist parable and economic critique. Maria uses more than just seduction to move up the ladder, she helps build the business, using keen fiscal acumen to merge into a partnership with a post-war Marshall plan industrial clothing corporation. The kind of skill and sex combo that some women demonstrate in Mad Men only to lose their tenuous footing as sexism underhandedly knocks them over, Maria never falters, kicks back, never cowers or cries in the bathroom or throws it all away to become an actress or a mother. Her kind of courage would come with either the 'crazy' as in bi-polar druggie nymphomaniac or 'ball-buster' frigid bitch extreme tag here in the US. But in Germany she is very very sane, ambitious, and able to soar ahead of the men without them feeling resentful, able to drink and fool around (and murder GIs) without penalties or moral judgement, without psych wards and counsellors. Like Polly Peachum, she does it all for a husband (Mack the Knife is in prison or on the lam; Maria's husband is in a POW camp) but when the husband returns he's still merely a figurehead, a pimp in name only --it's more that the woman is demanding equality for her man rather than vice versa. He's a strutting peacock, or a shattered shell of a war vet, and either way, little more than a figurehead on the mast of the Black Freighter.

But deprivation makes the seduction a matter of currency always, and so it makes sense that in Europe, in the post-war years, even returning POW German officers would rather lunge for a cigarette than the throat of their wives' black American GI lovers when they walk in the door after being presumed dead. Such is the way deprivation makes Hawksian hipsters of us all (or Dietrich, who famously sent all her love letters from other men to her husband in Germany for archiving). And their women are not fallen from grace at all, just smart enough to use every sexual trick and ball-twisting curve at their disposal to keep chocolate and cigarettes on the table, including smashing a bottle over the black GI right then, before her husband can even find a lighter.

Compared to that quick decisive action, virtue is hardly worth a loosie.' Leave the noble starving to Loretta Young and Joan Crawford over in the States; the German women shall not be so easily snowed under. And they shall have smooth Camel taste, and maybe a radio. What else can zey do? They're addicted. Aus Deutschland, wo es nichts anderes zu tun! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Troopers of the World, there is one Bug you can not beat: the Bug inside: STARSHIP TROOPERS, NAKED LUNCH, SCROOGED, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

(The following was written whilst whacked out of my gourd on withdrawal sickness (withdrawal: the best drug in the world) coupled to flu-like symptoms and twelveteen shots of knockoff brand Robotussin while trapped at brother Fred's house for Xmas. Phoenix is an armed camp, your majesty, in a deep unconscious trance born of desert wind chill, plentitude, and cordite. I was gonna scuttle it but wanted something to run next to my AMY review to provide the proper balance/perspective, to take any buzzkill taste out, like HEAD after LOST WEEKEND. So take it for what it is, a deep Xmas poem riddled with diseased insect sci fi poetic film references, enigmatic but revealingly pretentious typos, and a profound realization borne from watching NAKED LUNCH and STARSHIP TROOPERS off Fred's savvy Tivo on Xmas at 3 AM (after SCROOGED) And getting it now - As Bill Murray so egocentrically says "I get it now" Three films! One's about a man who has a religious experience after disgruntled employees put LSD into his Xmas gin; one's a literalization of opiate withdrawal's 'Kafka high' rabbit hole, wherein one's typewriter takes on insect features and moans when you press its throbbing keys; the third finds giant insect aliens learning our secrets through drinking our brains like milkshakes (instead of vice versa, as in LUNCH). In other words, beware your own response to the thing you squash, for you squash yourself next, with your giant arachnid claw! 1/27/16

-- If yrt terllin; me that there's a difference, a fundamd,emta;a diffferemce. netwntwwme starsjip stroppp[ers amd Naked lunch, er lust, yr a lawyer and and I;m tellin hyou so

Put it another way - if there IS a difference between STARSHIT TROOPERS AND NAKED LUNCH I MEAN LUST then it exists only in the minds of MINOLTA, a Japanese company, think about that, mr fareqwell to manzzianar,  mr sm,arty pants pbeamnenk vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzn

Return of the Insectoid Meta Gaze (i.e. the projector watches you watch its
projection with its 3-color projector eyes from top: WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953),
THE VISITOR (1973),  STARSHIP TROOPERS (eyes as projector beams),
SCROOGED ("no eye in team" - eye in the glass)

Would you like to know more?

There's no correct answer, for we're going to, KNOW MORE, that is, regardless.

Starship Troopers - 1997
This post - present
Regardless: the whole terrifying endurance test of full awareness is coming. We shall inexorably, like a keel-hauled eyeball, KNOW MORE. Strapped into the conveyor belt of fascist indoctrination as snug as if we were pinned to the tunnel floor by an arachnoid claw, awaiting the slow gurgling arrival of a brain bug on the 3D screen God or parents have convinced us is space-time continuum permanence, its row of inky black arachnid eyes beholding us in patterns similar to our urine-froth, noticed while gazing deeply at a party house toilet bowl, (and then later in the beer from the keg or the foam on your highball)  and forgotten, filed away under layers alcohol and potty training cover memories, now returned with a probe to suck our brains dry as a keg and we screaming all the while on the human conveyor belt: stop stop! At least hit pause!


But the "like to  know more" button is hit again and again, purse-taken, for the brain bug WOULD like to know, like how to SWAT GOD and it knows just where to go for that knowledge, knows just what fleshy tendril to hit the button with, to slurp the brain slushy cup dry down to the ice with, rattling in its spinal column 'til clatter shatter and scatter.

Naked Lunch

Life is but Death's slow yawn, once it ends, he regains composure
does betwixt the columns flit
like some gay brain donor fancy free flitter
hitting the snooze button
agan and a LITE to NO MORE
NO MORE butTON, (is the hand that makes) WOULD YOU LIKE TO...please, NO MORE!!!
Starship Troopers
This is your brain when snorted by bugs
The NO MORE Know More LITE button (the hand that heals)
hit again ("Kiki come and see the parrots with me") LAW no more, slurps your soul's slug white glop from the gurgling straws pushed down into your sleeping head, my love, the sound of your own animal snore,
crashing like waves of liquid lead,
along Poe's obsidian shore, my little lovey glovey...

Vot ISS da LAW?
O'er the Grampian Hills beyond beyond, Harryhausen stops time to move another dinosaur.

(and once again, says weather on the one, we have cool conditions)

cool as the keeper
of the LAW
hung from a tree, his beard glued for hours,
a flag to from its prideful fascist twisting flee,

Weimar lock stock to Hollywood's larder, never believing Breen's censors could swastika snip their decadent art down even there.

The best thing about Verhoeven's ingenious and endlessly rewatchable masterpiece is the idea of an all service DNA imprint manual for fascist military mobilization. In America we didn't really get these until WW2. America's devout isolationism reflected greatly in all sorts of bitter anti-war tracts instead (such as the forgotten man pilots of John Monk Saunders) as far back as the easily seeable GUNG HO, or B-17 STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS, with the end of high school and the end of other various key moments in life shared by the representatives of labor (lion, roughneck), intelligence (scarecrow, gestapo), and passion/drive or heart (tin man, flight school) and the way all of the Earth has been homogenized into a tract that could be at home as a Japanese anime, a Nazi recruitment film, an Army or National Guard recruitment film, or an anti-war satire of any genre or age. Verhoeven's sense of irony is very Dutch and very abstract, coming from an, how you say, "occupied" country with nothing but windmills and spies, easily tromped across like a neighbor's lawn to get to the hated French.

this is your typewriter on drugs
But this could also even be a movie for and about bugs--"we're in it for the species, people." We've been at war with those suckers since the dawn of time. Only when we're finally ready to start eating them in force will we have a ticker's tape of a chance. Children, I was on the front line in the war against the Japanese... beetle, that is, in the 70s and if it wasn't for DDT they might have won. I'd get a dollar per jar, all captured and dumped into soapy water, until the jar turned dark yellow and the squirming stopped. Quite a lucrative occupation for an eight year-old during a major PA infestation. Would you like to know more about the slight itchy pain when they dug onto my childhood fingers, the difficulty in getting them to let go? Did I learn a hint of masochism even then? I lay at night with a ten year-old's imagination conjuring turning the cute blonde girl Susan Salter in my class into an Amazon queen of the school and me her slave, crouching naked at her feet in chains. Weird but true...  I had my queen, and I her submissive consort, fit to die after mating if I ever found out what mating entailed.

Denise Richards, nailed to the cross of her passive viewing position - STARSHIP TROOPERS
My red state brother and his gun crazy family and friends as well as my liberal bleeding heart pinko east coast friends all agree on one thing, STARSHIP gets better with each viewing. No matter how many times you see it. Be it a satire or a genuine (as Heinlein apparently meant it) call towards dissolving of borders in favor of one global and eugenically fine-tuned communal military spirit, blessed with a conveniently abstracted enemy, an insect of the sort that may not be as evil as the higher ups paint (for a NWO hangs together by its extra-terrestrial foe, as Reagan said), at least if there's any ENDER'S GAME sequels, which I doubt. (its losses transcend comprehension: $100 Million Dead!)

The little tiny bugs inside your money

Next up in the Xmas Viewing Cycle: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

And the Song WE'RE IN THE MONEY.
I saw this time Ginger Rogers and company as sprites, bugs if you will, within the money, moving with the tick tock military march rhythm, like a click clock salvia divinorum revolution through the space-time continuum thread counts, as literal gold diggers --tick burrowing into the gold of coins themselves, literally little sprites 'in the money' behind every coin, the way the green fairy could be singing "I'm in the absinthe."

Where did the phrase 'in the money' come from and what are the similes 'in the cool of the evening' - 'in clover' - 'in love' not 'in the love' though, so more like some bumper crop, we're in the cotton, or we're in the game.

a money sprite oscillates her 12 legs to hypnotize unwary prey
For life is but Death's brief yawn, the chasm of blank urinal stare from which infant to elder crawling towards bathroom like flogged Christ doth breathe but brief; we in our robes like Lebowski, like Peter, Paul, and Prokofiev on his week off are but shadows that for awhile, while the byang root tea arrived on time, were comported almost like the barbarity that passes for civilized, but when the tea stopped we still had to fulfill because that of yawning Xmas mail irregularities chasm of need, that King Kong Emperor Jones clanging on his hollow huffalumpagus skin drum, chanting madly to the bloodstream like an anguished and unassailed suitor, begging for alms and change and unchanging, and the brief candle onceness.

Not getting the cosmic joke makes the joke on you, and that's the whole joke--it is all there is, that mirthless angry laugh as the flames consume Richard III, or any angry and despotic ego unwilling to surrender its uniqueness and become just another wAVE IN THE SEA-SKY CONTINUum rather than a separate and superior cloud. The mark inside is the one mark you cannot beat, would you like to know more, you brain bug behemoth tottering towards me now in the guise of a pit-bull?

Now, in the guise of the pit bull.
tomorrow the guise of the floor where she lay.
Form of an avalanche,
Form of a water glass
Form of the sailor who's drunk at sea and sleeps all day.

Booze's bars closed down hard upon him ("kerPLUNK" was the sound they made)
and with a drowning howl did he comply to the exit (hurrpy up plays- iTS's time)
and proceeded to haunt Davy Jones' Liquors, for it opened always to him.
Penny-eyed and seaweed wreathed, the early morning sunshine
on bottles glistening like DEEP morphine pearls
til scraping enough off his barnacle billfold
bought him a pint pocket of air... just enough to get him up to speed
a messy, sloppy speed... and
how he breathed this song:

Now, in the guise of a lilly
tomorrow the guise of the hay.
Form of a whiskey jar,
Form of an after bar,
Form of a drunk on the concrete, prostrate...
His saliva as thick as the oceans
to the tiny ass gremlins
and sprites in a sidewalk black chewing gum circle,
drown as he drools in his sleep.
(and were their concrete pock mark impressions on his cheeks when at last he arose?) 

Probably, man. He can't feel it.
Even drunk he comes to know more than we'd like to remember to remember ourselves.
Click the 'like' button not, the "to know more" or to click the snooze button, or click it to yourself, Bill. and member dis
Remember me, Cloris in DEADLY.

Cuz of course only the Spectral Relief Pitcher of Self Annihilation so terrifies our Babe Ruth ego he finally says, here Pee-Wee (the nonegoic amorphous open-hearted self, the one vulnerable in its generosity, easily swindled by sad-eyed strait waif who keep the change tossed, and bring no fat goose to no Cratchett) you go ahead and bat this once and I'll sit out the inning, then, the mighty Pee-Wee lets fly and sends it out of the park, and the Pitcher vanishes! Freedom.

And if we've been a team dominated by its needy spotlight hog insecure star Babe Ruth ego all season, keeping Buddhist Pee-Wee on the bench permanently, then once Pee-Wee hits the homer, Babe Ruth comes running back to the field to take the credit for not taking credit. He needs to take that spotlight again and rant about how "we get it now."

He gets it now... no wait, now he gets it.... wait...
"I get it now," says Murray at the prolonged wearying climax of SCROOGED.

That ending has really dated badly but we used to LOVE it. In the 80s it was the kind of thing people just didn't say. This was the era before Dr. Phil and Oprah, before children became the equals of their parents, when they were meant to be heard only in the basement in a voice that wouldn't carry, until the haunted house was ready for the parents to be led through one at a time blindfolded, or failing that such time as we were called for one at a time to show some new trick. This was a time when therapy was still a shameful secret and a kid had to commit suicide successfully before his parents would consider it. That Leo Buscaglia love trip was strictly 70s naïveté. Scrape 'em off, Claire--that was the 80s rallying cry. Arnold Schwarzenegger was our spiritual leader in so many ways, steam roller paving the Hollywood politicians trail blazed by the mighty Paul Ronald Reagan Bunyan (though everyone knew her as Nancy), in a backwards Terminator motion, icing the Sarah Connor pro-drug 60s-70s with the kind of "NO" bumper stickers that Lennon worked so hard to flank with a "K" and a "W" in YELLOW SUBMARINE.








End Transmission

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Dirtbag Menace: AMY (2015)

What should it benefit the world if it should gain a talented jazz singer with an old soul, perfect pitch and a deep affinity with Ella and Monk but then lose her to a charismatic snaggle-toothed junkie in one of those goddamned mini-fedoras? Maybe we'd have been better off not to gain her at all, this jazzbo daughter of ours, if it means watching her make a slow motion leap into the first thresher that rolls past? The pain of our loss is so great there's only three things can stop it: crack, heroin, and sweet sweet booze. The things that make our fear of death bearable are the same things that kill us. Poison numbs the misery of being poisoned --this is the slow relentless clockwork coiling of the strangling python of addiction.

The pain of AMY, Asif Kapadia's chilling documentary about Amy Winehouse--Britain's Janis Joplin--lies in this. Watching her amply videotaped life starting from innocent young Southgate Jewish girl with loyal friends and the voice of a 40 year-old gold-piped diva to straggly bulimic loping after some K-Fed-ish skeever, is to know the pain of the friends who can't help no matter how hard we wish it. If we're addicts ourselves and have read a few celebrity bios, we also shudder with the sad recognition that perhaps glommers like her boyfriend (above) are the natural parasites of famous alcoholics. Even Lee Marvin had them, like lice, so tough guy stance has nothing to do with it. When you're drunk and stoned all the time there's not much you can do if a fast talking charmer locks in on you. Addiction has already taught you that the best way to live with yourself while slowly dying from your own lifestyle is to convince yourself you want to die in the first place. Life's grim absurdity has all but demanded your slow sacrifice. Jonesers and leeches come along like instruction booklets and warranties in the packaging of addiction, never wanted, never asked for, but you don't throw them out since you may need them one day, when the shit don't work anymore, even to numb the pain of it's not working, and all your sane, sober friends are gone. This dirtbag entourage will mix your drinks for you, even lift them to your lips, even inject you with speedballs while you're already passed out (i.e. Belushi). They'll never say a word about your 'problem' because they're part of it. And when you're famous enough that passers-by feel you owe them a picture of you smiling next to them, and the paparazzi blind you with epileptic seizure inducing flash bulbs every time you peek your head out the door, what you want is someone who's going to keep you well insulated, warm and toasty in the twin orbit of narcissist neurosis. Someone who's a 'cross-section of the American public' like Susan Foster Kane, or Joe Gillis. Someone who will make your hiding out from the public seem conspiratorial, like outlaws, rather than isolating fuck-ups painting the windows black at six in the morning because "they" know when you're awake... for days.

I've championed a lot of messed-up female artists (Lindsay Lohan especially) over the decade, or at any right championed their right to revel in their time, to be ranked with the 'bad boys' rather than the 'problem skank' warranting the pooh-poohing of the stern Puritanical popular Scarlet Letter press. Enabling is second nature to me. It comes from growing up with a heavy drinking dad whose rages always made me feel very very calm, as if I could counterbalance him through Zen stillness.  So it's easy to see why I feel so relaxed and calm when in the striking radius of insane hotties, but at the same time I shudder to see them lost in self-immolating frenzy, powerlessly, for it's far easier to criticize the brutal cost of our enabling pop cultural blind eye and schadenfreude than to make a bad blood-boiling polemics on the near impossibility of holding onto your self integrity while surrounded by the flashbulb equivalent of the cannibal boys in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. AMY may indirectly damn the British tabloid press's insatiable demand for complaints against its insatiable demands, may, with the wry guidance of indirect directions, show how such a feeding frenzy creates the death and tragedy it craves, their sneering and mocking as a 23 year-old pop star devolves into a bulimic walking corpse, but it offers no alternative. In a way, it itself is part of the problem. Film corrupts and films about the corrupting nature of film are not somehow double negative immune.

It's all there in her hit song based on an attempt to get into rehab kaboshed by her enabling moocher dad, "They tried to make me go to rehab / I said no no no" - he was the one who told her she didn't need to go, that she was fine (which, I admit is what my mom would have said in similar circumstances), that she had to do tour after tour - another who was largely absent until lo she became big money and fame and he realized he needed to take care of her, we learn in the film, to the point of crashing her drying-out facility with a camera crew and ragging on her for not taking care of her public, and flying her --while unconscious from the night before-- to frickin' Eastern Europe for a show she didn't want to do. But she allowed him into her entourage. How could she judge her dad without judging herself? And I know that feeling too well, because when soooo wasted you can barely walk, you don't know who your friends are, so you just have to trust the ones who seem to know you, from somewhere...

But it's not the dirtbags', jonesers', and moochers' fault. Slithering beneath it all, right down in our chromosomes, that's the enemy. The sensitive gene is the same one that falls prey to drugs, eating disorders, in other words, our own chemical imbalances, genetic addiction, depression. It's as tied up in the wheels of the celebrity death cult as anything. You can always tell the hacks from the real artists because the hacks have no drug problems. AMY delivers this global socio-historical truth in such a clear and concise way that it makes me kind of ashamed, even singleness of purpose sober as long as I've been... of advocating self-destruction on this site. Though hey I've never stood up for cocaine, heroin, meth or their myriad derivatives. For these un-psychedelic drugs bleed all over the psychedelic warrior's noble shoes by association. Me, I'm a drunk too, and if I vow I won't drink again until Hell freezes over, well, believe me, I'll find a way to freeze it.

All in all, AMY is a hell of a harrowing portrait of what alcohol, cocaine, and fame can do to a sensitive artist, the toll it can take on her friends, her real friends, the ones she had before all that stuff came along. It has less effective tricks, too, like the decision to show the lyrics of her songs as subtitles--every single song--for they aren't especially detail-oriented, or so I'd tell her if she was in my creative writing class, if I had one, and she was in it. Without them, maybe her raw bluesy chutzpah could shine better, for this alcoholic, maybe not. I didn't like Whitney Houston either for the same reasons. It's like hey, pick a note and stay there, all that single breath octave climbing gives me a headache. Give me Leadbelly or Blind Lemon Jefferson for the blues, and Dylan for the lyrics. Give me an old rocking chair and a song like "In the Gloaming," and Stumpy can take the bottle away.

In case you can't tell, that last sentence was a pip: NIAGRA and RIO BRAVO references. May you find them, the distance twixt the two locales on DVD. And for all the still sick and suffering in and out of the rooms--see you in Hell. I'll be the guy riding the Zamboni. A vow is a vow. And Heaven Hill needs ice. Or so I remember. Shit's nigh undrinkable straight. Stick with Ten High. Watching a poor girl disappear down the chute of bulimia and alcohol addiction isn't the kind of thing one should be sober for. Amen. It works if you work it so work it, so work it, you're broken, mossy with dirtbag jonesers. The record skips. The needle's dusted. But you can always blow on it while you flip to side B.

Baby, the dirtbag was me.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reeling and Writhing: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)

Seldom seen since its 1933 limited release,  ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Paramount's champagne surrealism centerpiece, can stand on its head proud for it turns out to be awash in the lunatic brilliance of the studio's peak pre-code '32-34 lunatic comedy output, i.e. MILLION DOLLAR LEGS, SNOW WHITE, DUCK SOUP and INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (1933 Paramount was the best gonzo-weird year/studio ever). For a long weird time we had to take it all on faith that this movie was as boring as those that saw it said. Well time is officially caught up with itself, and thanks to TCM's celebration of set designer William Cameron Menzies, ALICE can be fully and effortlessly appreciated in all its basement childhood nightmare / psilocybin overdose glory. Man how I would have flipped to find this floating around on a 5 AM Saturday morning UHF station as a kid in the 70s. I wouldn't have known if I was seeing an early Sid and Marty Kroft-style life size puppet kid's show or a late night horror movie... and that was just the way I liked it. Kids' TV was a big tent back then, and a five AM late night PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE or VELVET VAMPIRE segued into weird Z-grade European 'kiddie matinee' nightmares like RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS before finally morphing into LAND OF THE LOST as easy as falling down a K-hole. Director Norman Z. McLeod (MONKEY BUSINESS, HORSEFEATHERS), screenwriter Joseph Mankiewicz and set designer Menzies (CHANDU) have wrapped up all those influences, decades before they happened, and that has made the difference.

Remember when you were a kid on some haunted or pirate ride at Disney World or Dorney Park and imagining what it would be like to sneak out of your little water canal track car/log flume, and into the elaborate tableaux on either side of you, to hide there, amidst the animatronic figures? To go off grid, as it were? Well, if there was a Paramountland, or a Fleischerland, and a ride through Betty Boop's early great classics rendered in black and white automated papier mache figures, and you were kind of stuck there, and, like Lisa Simpson at Duffworld, drank the psychedelically enhanced water and were hanging out with a 10 year-old blonde girl with no fear of the unknown, who dragged you around to all the little vignettes and did all the talking, then that's this movies for you, my bro. So if you love haunted house rides, and creative miniature golf courses, and mushrooms, then my friend.... this goofball film is for you, sister. Between Mankiewicz's trippy wit, McLeod's zippy unpretentious pace, and Menzies' cartoonish backdrops, it's a kind of Boopland paradise, made for acid-addled pre-code Paramount devotees like me, man. And probably no one else

I never like to preface such rash statements, but if you know this site at all then you know I'm in that rarity of critical voices, the technically sober but clearly and permanently drug-addled classic monster lover with a badge. And early Saturday mornings as a 70s child watching TV are still with me, and I do mean early, so early it would be considered the night before to a sane adult, so when a movie stumbles way off course and into that time slot, where early morning and late night are still holding hands, then I find it. This 1933 Alice is that film. It's firmly in childhood nightmare territory, but in a good, fun, Erich kind of way, a cheap monster costume way. It invokes those Windsor McKay style dreams I used to get after eating too much cotton candy and riding the haunted house ride one too many times while recovering from a fever at the YMCA carnival, waking up to one of those early Saturday mornings and old, cheap, strange black and white movies fizzling in and out via a round UHF antenna in the 70s... me still too young to be able to read the TV Guide to find out what they were. I was never more enraptured by movies then at those times, the lingering images of dreams from mere minutes ago in bed segueing into surreal late night monster movies segueing into early kid puppet show imagery.

Flash forward 15 years or so, to my late 80s-early 90s Deadhead/Floyd period; there was no better time of the night after seeing a show, for me, who hated the Dead but wished to god I didn't, than when the show was over, so I didn't have to stand anymore, and every last parent and wally long tucked away. Still tripping our faces off but all the anguished paranoia of driving home without getting arrest finally done, safe and able to finally take our shoes off, with hours and highballs to go before the color bands flashing behind our eyelids would be muted enough to get any sleep. So we needed to watch something that wouldn't bum us out, and I mean we 'needed' it, desperately, for our good trip could become a bad one with a single lame or intense scene. And at those times, when they were needed most, my Paramount pre-code (before anyone knew what that meant) tapes of Betty Boop, W.C. Fields, Marx Bros, and Cary Grant were like glowing toasty fires in the cold darkness. One look into their crazy eyes and we'd know they knew. If MGM was the studio of amphetamines and apple pie, Warners of beer and coffee, and Universal of opium and gin, then Paramount was the studio of psychedelics.

Hence ALICE IN WONDERLAND is 1933 Paramount's ideal choice for a 'literary' adaptation. Remember what the door mouse said, man?

The idea to totally obscure our favorite actors with masks seems wrong, of course, until you remember that neither Gary Cooper nor Cary Grant were huge stars in 1933 at the time (just handsome contract romantic partners for Mae and Marlene). And it's wrong in a lot of ways besides that, too. But which Alice adaptation is--to the kids' and critics' alike--perfect? None. Disney's 1951 cartoon version is clever but pedantic; Burton's is beautiful and thrilling but lacks surrealist savvy; Jan Svankmajer's version is basement hallucinatory and uncanny childhood nightmare-level disturbing but lacks class and diction; and all the BBC versions are too much the same other way around. But Paramount's pre-code Alice is sooo wrong on the other hand, it's better than right.

Anyway, I had trouble getting past the first few minutes that last time it was on TCM, but this time I came in during the middle, half paying attention (I Tivo-ed, don't worry, so I saw the rest later) and soon there was this crazy mock turtle with a strange yet familiar voice, and I wasn't at all sure it even was Cary Grant inside the shell, until he sings "Turtle Soup" with that British music hall trill and you realize all the other layers and talents of Cary Grant, from his vaudeville days, that fell by the wayside like shavings, until he was, simply put, perfect in every way, sanded down from finest oak, a greatest hits and tics package. Here he's still just a lunatic, but this craziness is welcome, a bit like when he breaks down in front of the child services judge in Penny Serenade and you're like whoa, Cary, we never see this side of you, and it makes us weak in the knees all over again. We realize the vast wealth of brilliance and jubilance that went into making Grant as grand as he is, all of it folded and edited and streamlined until he was, as Stanley Cavell put it, "fit to stand the gaze of millions." Here, though, that gaze is rendered moot. He's in a turtle shell (or just doing the voiceover from offscreen) One wonders what kind of miracles Grant could put into, say, a Pixar film. Here it's pretty damn close to that, because some stars just do their persona when doing a voiceover. You won't find, say, Tom Hanks or Will Smith going out on a far limb into madness in their roles, not like Grant does. Grant is committed to the madness and the result is like reading/acting out a story book for agog infant children while hopped up on mescaline backstage at a 1920's Vaudeville theater. And that means excellent.

Amongst the stand-out sights are a king and queen of hearts perfectly gussied to resemble the English pattern playing deck, the king especially looks exactly like him. We've all seen that face since we first learned 'Go Fish' as a child, and suddenly wham here he is, in black and white and surrounded in a curiously 2-D dream space, as if childhood memory, card game, and fever dream had crashed ceremoniously together.
And just when you're wondering why they didn't just make this a cartoon, there's a segue into a Fleischer animation of the walrus and carpenter story. It's a a nice break, and there's all sorts of character actor familiar faces and voices to help you navigate the off-putting (and rather flatly lit) weirdness that the whole alienated kids ride acid flashback thing is tempered with the thrill of recognizing an old friend in a throng of strangers: Ned Sparks snarling through his croaky clenched jaw as the caterpillar; Louise Fazenda doing a White Queen hybrid of Ginger Rogers and the girl in the Eraserhead; Edna May Oliver, strangely sexy with her upturned nose extension as the Red Queen; Roscoe Karns and Jackie Oakie as the Tweedles; Edward Everett Horton singing about the tea-trays in the sky (and waving around saucers to make sure we get the UFO connection); Charlie Ruggles as the March Hare; Richard Arlen the Cheshire Cat. Charlotte Henry is fine as Alice, moving from freak tableaux to freak tableaux, size to size, like they're so many miniature golf course holes. Amateur trippers could learn a lot from this gal: no matter how weird things get, she never freaks out or judges them as horrid or ugly, bad or good. Where others cower or freak out she just notes shit got "curious." Is it any wonder a nervous sensitive artists like me would worship her? (1)

any similarities to a human ass surely coincidental
This is your dinner on drugs -but play it cool, bro
But for character actors like these, all they have to do is tweak their personae, the real challenge comes for these rising stars Cooper and Grant (don't forget this same year John Wayne was still doing non-western bit parts, like a middle manager stepping stone in Baby Face) and as I say Grant's voice is barely recognizable as he sing-cries-speaks of his "sorrow of a sorrow" as the Mock Turtle, hanging out with a laughing gryphon and chortling chessmen and cards. And Cooper, I'm happy to say, also acquits himself devilishly well, almost doing a deadpan satire of his laconic cowboy persona as the vertiginously challenged White Knight (below).

Gary Cooper, "seated"
As much as Grant is so over the top and unrecognizable he becomes familiar (therefore the definition of "uncanny)," Gary Cooper is so very much himself he becomes uncanny, too. It's pretty funny to think this tall laconic drink of water could ever fall off a horse, but he does so, with great nonchalance, again and again. Unshaken even with his head in a ditch, he tells Alice: "what does it matter where my body happens be? My mind goes on working all the same." Showing Alice his bizarre inventions, like his little box, upside down to keep the rain out, and his empty mouse trap and bee hive strapped to his horse's back, he's proud but reticent, the way a ten year-old boy might talk while trying to impress a slightly older girl, i.e. Alice's age, by showing off his toy collection or whiffle ball skills--half shyly, half with little boy bluster.

But the real selling point for this as the bad acid rarebit fiend K-hole nightmare miniature golf course-cum-carnival-ride childhood fever dream are the grotesque images that linger in the mind, etched on the soul like dark scars in the thick unconscious muck where nothing ever dries or heals, just festers until it erupts into sudden hallucinations and terrifying vertigo (with the right 'trigger'). When I saw the mouse, this big lumbering dude in a mouse costume I should say, flopping around in a shallow concrete pool (of Big Alice's tears) as if some plushy Overlook refugee paddling forward in the Freaks climax rain, never speaking, just starting and stopping his soaked mouse suit splashing when Alice orders him, I had that uncanny spine tingle of recognition, as if my nightmare childhood well, long singe paved over, was flooding up all over the couch around me. Or the scene with the crazy fat mom throwing the baby around while the cook hurls insults and pots, narrowly missing the child/little person (in real time) and the frog sits outside in a Sterling Holloway sigh, super uncanny creepy. Alice holding the baby and having it oscillate from what looks like Billy Barty to an actual baby to a plastic doll and then a real piglet; or the half-dead (or are they puppets?) flamingos waved around during the croquet game (did they drug a bunch of flamingos into submission or do they just play dead when scared or were they dead or what? They're as eerie in their oscillation between corpse, inanimate puppet, and barely conscious organism as, say, gramps was in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE); the way the white queen saying "better" over and over like a mantra until it gradually turns into a sheep selling a giant egg which Alice stares at until it turns into W.C. Fields as a giant Humpty, demanding she stop staring at him like he was an egg, and state her name and her business; the talking roast (it's bad manners, we learn, to slice off a piece of someone we've been introduced to) defining to a T what it's like trying to keep cool while eating dinner with your parents while on mescaline. At the final dinner party, where Alice is crowned queen, and everyone dances around, and chokes her and generally carries on like the "one of us, one of us" FREAKS wedding dinner combined with THE BLUE ANGEL wedding dinner, it's like the entirety of Allendro Jodorowsky's canon all boiled and distilled into one black and white fever dream bad trip childhood cold sweat k-hole delirium tremens nightmare moment. And in general the way small details become huge and vice versa as Alice alternates her pills for growth and shrinking depending on the parameters of each scene.

Joseph Mankiewicz wrote the script with the same sense of deadpan fluid riffing absurdity that made his MILLION DOLLAR LEGS and DIPLOMANIACS so pitch Paramount perfect. I'm not sure if Mankiewicz ever tried mescaline or reefer or anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if had. Capturing the bizarro tripping hipster wordplay very well, the freestyle way staring at something long enough turns it into something else, or saying any word more than once or twice renders the words themselves alive and fluid, strange and absurd. It could be the bad trip 1933 YELLOW SUBMARINE or HEAD, and maybe in the way it's those atop-linked European kids movie imports finally breaking through their acid-burnt bonds of language, persona and time, as well as providing them the guide on how to not wind up in the looney bin: just don't try to recapture the sense of where you just were, are, or will wind up next, and let go trying to judge or control anything that happens. Most of all, don't worry what those words someone spoke at you mean, don't try to nail words to the cross of meaning for they'll wiggle farther away the harder you try. Don't try to reclaim the perception of yourself and the world you had before you started to get off. And don't worry some dark corner of Wonderland is going to ensnare you, permanently, for the flux works both ways: all things are transitional. Nothing can last or be returned now that you're finally loosened from the bonds of Self, language, and linear time. You may or may not wind up were you started but you old 'you' won't be there to see it. If you can let go of needing even a single line of sanity, can throw that last breadcrumb thread into the wind and fall fall fall, then Hole in One, baby. You're awake for the first time again, and ready for a whole looking glass country of archetypal forces to reshape what seemed so mundane before you left. It's all true, and you were there, Uncle Gus in your patched pants, and oh Auntie Em, there's no place like home's reflection in a mirror stared at until the illusion of its 2D space deepens inward, and you can crawl inside.

Longtime readers note one of my graven image idols of worship is the giant Alice statue in Central Park - see Erich Kuersten: A Poet's Journey