Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer of my Netflix Streaming I: A Psychedelic Odyssey

It's the time of year when people come to me and say "Dude, how can you just sit there watching movies when it's so nice out??" Splayed upon the couch, I retort "duuuude, I'm going to get up any minute." They wait, but I do not. "OK, guess I'll go home," they finally say, "but I need some good Netflix recommendations." To this, I lurch forward in a great beverage-toppling spasm. "Welcome, then," I say, "to part three of a one part series: Summer of my Netflix Streaming."

First Up:  Do you believe in death after life? Well, I have. Buddha on the head of a pin dancing with Jerry Berry.Whatever, man. Roll the clip, Roach.

To remove your anxiety about what to watch in what order and when, I suggest all six of these, in the order listed... all at once. Empty your cue.... empty.... your....cue:


DMT: THE SPIRIT MOLECULE
(2012) Hosted by Joe Rogan

Go Rick Strassman go-ooo--ohm! In case you were born in some inane, counterintuitive dimension where all they keys to enlightenment through brain chemistry have been made into felonies, you should know Dr. Rick Strassman actually got clearance to do DMT studies by the government. The results? Mind-blowing of course, but inconclusive, equally of course. See this and answer the question: is there a difference between hallucination and reality? If what you experience in the DMT-verse feels a hundred times more real than our waking, consensual reality, then doesn't that mean--as quantum physics and bioverse theorists contend--it's realer?

The only answer is.

Even so, enough bad trips happened under the banner Strassman's experiments that he now feels a little guilty for messing in all those minds. So is he a Pandora's box cutter, a modern messiah, or an apex predator Albert Hoffman?  Only the machine elves know for sure, and they only tell the silver spiders that spin together crystal cities out of our universal thought matrix. Heads talking include my boy Daniel Pinchbeck and the 'other'-other McKenna... Dennis; there's lots of groovy Alex Grey art and deep hallucinogen-ready kaleidoscope eyefuls, their labels tampered with by Joe Rogan, narrating while standing in front of a blackboard... for extra validity. (more from Tripumentaries)

See also: Ayuhuasca Vine of the Soul


(2009) Dir. Gasper Noe

Drifting around Tokyo's pinku parlors, orbiting the copulations and floating into light bulbs like Hitchcock's camera might have if it didn't find its way out of the black tunnel connecting the drain with Janet Leigh's pupil in PSYCHO, we never know what the late Oscar's free-floating POV is thinking. We just see what he (or rather his third eye) sees. Drawn to the gravity of the flaming sexual heat bardo, he drifts towards any old giant sun egg in which to be reborn, looking for the white light to absorb him, and finding only the respite of 60 watt bulb lamps left on, then winding up floating off to the ceiling again, the way we used to walk around outside the Dead shows when we didn't have that miracle ticket, looking for that unlocked fence, that lax security guard... that one shot, the ripped condom, the missed pill. Doses... doses. (from: Die Like an Eagle) 




(1940) Start at the 7:32 mark (and avoid the 2000 version)

(From Acid Sound Symphony:) Walt Disney was determined to not just blow minds and thrill art lovers with his 1940 epic animated classical music film FANTASIA, but to bring what critic James Agee referred to as "middlebrow highbrow" culture to an America on the edge of war. It didn't... but yet, when re-released in 1969, it caught on with a new kind of American at the edge of war, the stoned draft dodger. As Wikipedia notes:
Fantasia did not make a profit until its 1969 re-release. By then, Fantasia had become immensely popular among teenagers and college students, some of whom would reportedly take drugs such as marijuana and LSD to "better experience" the film. Disney promoted the film using a psychedelic-styled poster. The re-release was a major success, especially with the psychedelic young adult crowd, many of whom would come lie down in the front row of the theater and experience the film from there.  

 METROPOLIS 
(1927) Dir. Fritz Lang (Giorgio Moroder version - 1984)

With wild color tinting, sci fi sound effects, and Giorgio Moroder's great 80s rock soundtrack (w/ Pat Benatar and Queen among others) comes this FANTASIA style protean music video narrative. I like this version way better than the digitally restored original cut (also on Streaming) that got a theatrical rerlease back in '05, with a new classical score, because, frankly, I think Lang would have roared in approval to see his 1927 sci fi parable turned into a stoner rock musical. The great moments of rock synergy include the workers' FLASHDANCE-style steel mill-style pop anthem, and the upper class brothel debut of the robot Maria, which is given growling rock authority via Bonnie Tyler's "Sweet Jane"-chorded "Here She Comes." If Lang could see the genius in Jess Franco's SUCCUBUS, he could see Moroder's grandiloquent disco cocaine-shiver synth 80s synth grandeur is the perfect fit for his cast's Weimar era's rabid frothing-at-the-mouth acting style and the sped-up herky-jerk of Karl Freund's silent 'crank' camera. If only all silent sci fi films were given such loving attention from synthesizer-twiddling Italian disco composers! You'll be wondering where lurketh thy holy copy of 1980's FLASH GORDON after this, for the two would be a great double bill. Some detractors say the story's harder to follow this way, I say those people are just not high enough, and neither is their stereo volume. 

CHARIOTS OF THE GODS
(1970) based on the book by Erich von Däniken 

The History Channel has been laden now for years with ancient alien-related programming, and Erich von Däniken is there, but so is repetitive narration and whiplash editing and catheter commercials to give you mad panic attacks. But this is the original, the groundbreaker. True or not is irrelevant - one merely looks at the facts - and these wild locations, long since traveled over and over by ancient alien truth seekers; here they're still overgrown, half-forgotten, under-explored, still surrounded by indigenous tribespeople. Shot on 16mm film with that earthy vibe of the day, the few talking heads are translated / dubbed (from German and Russian) giving a nice weird alienation affect. An illuminating highlight: some valuable footage of cargo cults in the Pacific help us understand the root of all of our religious thought. These natives keep watching the skies, praying for the return of the white brothers in their big silver birds and their cans of delicious peaches. Is Christianity really so different?



THE SOURCE FAMILY
(2012) Starring: YaHoWa & The Source Family

At one point does a divinely inspired lysergic-macrobiotic sage remember that, way down deep, he's a lusty huckster?  Yaweh-O or whatever Papa Bear's name is here was a Gilgamesh-esque mountain man messiah who, like the greatest of modern gurus, was able to waken people's kundalini with just a touch or a glance, but he was deluding even himself if he thought he could hang glide. That's why my own spirituality will always stop short of wearing long flowing robes and divesting my worldly possessions to my new family. But that's just me, it's a curse as well as a blessing to be so wary and spiritual at the same time. Watching this crazy documentary and hearing these crazy beautiful starry-eyed people proves to be a solid trip that can tingle your kundalini right there in the room, sparking off your third eye like an Olympic torch. (see also CinemArchetype Senex: The Sage)

And now... two episodes of STAR TREK 
(1968-70)
"This Side of Paradise" (season 1, ep. 25) finds Kirk the only member of the crew not bewitched by space poppies. Everyone who beams down on this certain Edenic planet becomes too happy and content to do anything but loll around in the sun and love one another. Kirk tries to convince them they need goals and challenges to evolve as people, but they're too busy digging the flowers; it's not until he stirs their more violent emotions that they snap out of it.

And though you can argue both sides, which is to the script's credit, it's one of the earliest examples of Kirk seeming a killjoy, especially when Spock gets the closing line: "For the first time in my life, I was happy."

"The Way to Eden" (season 3, ep. 20) finds a group of itinerant space hippies work various scams to convince the Enterprise crew to take them through the forbidden zone to an allegedly pristine planet named Eden. The hippies include Charles Napier on space guitar inviting Spock to sit in and jam with the flower people! ("He is not Herbert! We reach!") Vulcans consider their goal of these groovy brothers to be the highest form of sanity. We reach! But just as the Source Family found disaster following Father Yod to Hawaii in the last film, so this Eden planet carries its own tricky backhand bitch slap for their bucolic naiveté. (Sex, Drugs and Quantum Existentialism: The Acidemic STAR TREK Short Guide)


MICROCOSMOS
(1996) - Starring: insects (bugs)

With all the machine elf aliens dancing and the dangerous space microbes and cosmic mind-altering spores on your mind, let's, as Steve says, get small. Without any music or narration, the film provides the kind of 'close reading' nature's been waiting for all this time, the chance to really show just how bizarre insect interactions are... on a single leaf: Ants milking droplets of water from clingy flea-style bugs, kicking ladybugs off, gently... etc. Their weird 'right under our nose but we never notice' kind of insight is what head trips are, the utterly strange fractal aliveness of our world, what our mind usually screens out, made suddenly front and center. Only as small kids ourselves were we attuned to the crazy scariness and odd joys of the insect community. Well, when you tune into the 'other' realms you get all that kid's eye view back, so let the bug show begin.

On the other hand if this gets too boring or gives you a minor dose of delirium tremens, skip ahead!


(2012) Dir. Don Coscarelli

What if those weird bugs from Microcosmos were also hallucinogens that let their user see through time and space and transmute dimensions? And other bugs were constantly taking over human hosts and killing them while preparing for an sixth-dimensional Lovecraftian tentacle crossover? What? Slow down, man. Think about what you're saying... Then plunge into the coolness. Unlike Gilliam's Loathing, this is truly a film where the weird turn pro.


HENDRIX: HEAR MY TRAIN A COMIN'
(2013) Dir Bob Smeaton

There's one thing that never gets old on psychedelics and that's the crunchy delicious sexually far out sounds of Hendrix's guitar. On good psychedelics Hendrix's guitar is a warm, trippy electrical current that zaps your saliva glands like patchouli lemons and makes all other music seem pointless (aside from Ravi Shankar's). Let it take your mind wild places, and wonder what new sounds we missed thanks to the always bad idea of mixing Valium and alcohol.

In fact, I actually tried to go back in time to prevent Hendrix's death, as a kind of Reverse Terminator, but instead just aged into oblivion (see: Hippy in a Hell Basket)

From here of course you can go in for The Other One, the Bob Weir Story (but I never liked Bobby, no offense); or the occasionally not pretentious Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or you could go to bed. I mean, the sun's coming up. Too bad W.C. Fields isn't on here, because what you really need now is Never Give a Sucker an Even Break or International House, Mississippi or The Fatal Glass of Beer

IF AT ANY POINT YOU WIG OUT:

TELETUBBIES

If the walls start closing in, switch to this televisual equivalent of a Wavy Gravy chill-out tent immediately. This is way better than Bruce Dern handing you thorazine or Jack Nicholson and Adam Roarke melting into zombie monsters while trying to stop you from cutting off your own hand with a circular saw. Not that you ever would, because you're not a lightweight like Warren

Coming up Next in the Summer Series: "Post-Giallo Dream Logic"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Manson Poppins: DEATHMASTER


The Age of Aquarius... remember when it dawned? Wast thou thar? Wist thar thou, that dawning yawning chasm a new kind of exploitation film for to find? If you can keep your mind while everyone around you is losing their Hair of the Claude to the Zodiac amore; flowers in the hair and hands and minds of easily swayed runaways huddled shivery there in the candle-lit squats of Haight, ready to follow anyone with long hair and confidence; one tin soldier writing away in a mangy corner, writhing his way through into what is only a masterpiece while the ink's still wet and his pupils too dilated to read. Girls with beautiful blonde straight hair dancing like Prakriti in the flames of Bruce Dern's burning sculptures and sister Strasberg's childhood treasure box, spinning like a sparkling pinwheel in that basement furnace memory. Old SF Haight-Ashbury or Laurel Canyon mansions with paisley painted steps, cults emceed by shirtless longhairs with an eye for the young and clueless, bumpkins desperate to not seem so rube-like; ready to follow anyone who looked the part (fringe and facial hair) and deigned to feed and water them; Peter Fonda, wandering in search of lost Lenore or Salli Sachse; college campus foyers choked with seated radicals; dirty thrift stores and new age bookshops run by Dick Miller in a paisley vest.... Remember all that? Even if you weren't there? 

All of it, all of it gone, sliced away, by the arrival of the hard shit, the murderous exploiters of these pie-eyed specimens, the sexual predators following their nose from all points east towards the free love they read about or saw on TV. Needy middle-aged male sex drives like a tidal wave of pollution rolling towards an Edenic spring. All it needs is a match and it will burn like the Cuyahoga River. Charlie Manson putting the lysergic blood hex on the forehead of the sleeping Virgin Tate through his remote control hot chick assassins; armed acidheads kicking up violent dove sediment as they snake upriver towards your peaceful Kurz-ish lagoon, their self-righteous conviction leaving the ears of the fatherless young exposed to the sound of the barefoot rainbowed piper (1). Anyone willing to lead them, be it off the lemming cliff, or into their parents' bedroom to write 'acid is groovy' on the walls in their baby brother's blood, anyone with long hair and confidence... all you have to do is take the consequences, and their money, if they have any. (They don't).



Just as the alchemical conjunction of the late 60s created the runaway shelter squatter cult free love commune utopia Woodstock, the early 70s was spent reeling from the gate-crashers at Altamont, who all wanted someone to give them 'the scene' they had envisioned when they ran away from home. Satanists, warlocks, scheming crooks, vampires, and the devil himself all put in bids after the parents put the older leaders--Leary, Ginsberg, Kesey--in jail, left them crucified on the altar of 'drug laws.' Timothy Leary in jail for 20 years for possession of two roaches; Ken Kesey forced to tell everyone the acid test was over and 'everybody passed.' To name but two. Yeesh, but was he so far wrong? Acid was too powerful a thing to be played with by dumbass 16 year-old hicks who could barely read a set list. Naturally, the minute they felt they were gonna die they went to the hospital - which is about the most stupid thing you can do on acid, and on acid you feel, you do go through that spiritual / transformative death. If you roll with it, you get to the other side where the bliss is. If you don't, bad trip city. But if no one was there to tell these snots that, yeeesh. Yeeeeachhhh! Just thinking of these wallies now I can smell the mustiness of their flannels, their lame attempts at facial hair, their crap tattoos and terrible tie-dyes, the pleading puppy desperation behind their Saran Wrap-thin bravado.

Manson accepted them, when no one else would, and in the process stained the face of every long-haired date brought home late to worried-sick suburban parents in the early 70s. There were so many moonies, Hare Krishnas and other 'options' available that studying to be a cult deprogrammer seemed a viable career. Even in elementary school we were taught about brainwashing, although we had a pretty literal conception of it (I pictured it literally, the brain removed and massaged with soapy water).

In 1978, Jim Jones replaced the occult-LSD hippie cocktail with cyanide Christian Kool-Aid as the cult beverage in 1978; but between '69-'77 cults were still signified by chants and robes-- Krishna to Zeppelin to Crowley to EST swirled together in a haze of drugs and chanting--and back in the dawn of the 70s even upscale college grads and suburban parents were opting for the communal living style (including my own aunt). And if some Pagan love rites were included, so be it. We had a Parker Bro. Ouija board in the closet with the goddamned Monopoly. We all did.

Meanwhile, at the drive-in, the national post-Manson hippie backlash brought in a psycho guru murderous long haired cult gusher... Manson clones by the dozens, including this very special leader...


DEATHMASTER 
(1972) - Dir Ray Danton
***

The 'other' self-help guru vampire character Robert Quarry played in the early 70s (the first being COUNT YORGA) DEATHMASTER got no love from the critics of the era, who sneered at its dated look, but like a rainforest serpent crawling up from the depths of the Amazon Instant Video riverbed, it bit me at just the right time and place, and so I  love it. Also, the print on Amazon Prime looks damned good (which is--if you've surfed around down there you'll know what I mean--unusual in and of itself). It's special, man -- a real gem in the rough. All these screenshots are from it. Savor them.

Lensed by the great DP, Bill Butler (JAWS, DEMON SEED) in great countercultural AIP semi-documentary style, part Kovacs elaborate pull focuses, part Gordon Willis darkness and texture, the film might be a bit shoddy special effects wise but it looks great.  I dig that once the pre-credit coffin on a river sequence is over, you'd never even know it was a horror movie until around 45 minutes in. Before the biting starts, while the sun is out, Butler pulls focus along interweaving groups of bikers, free spirits selling trinkets outside at the 'Patagonia Market' parking lot, and that coffin being driven past in the back of an old pick-up fits-right-in, like 1968's PSYCH-OUT (which you'll remember also has a coffin) meets a non-musical HAIR divided by WILD ANGELS x BILLY JACK + an after school message movie where I was expecting William Shatner or Keith Carradine would show up to deal 'death,' i.e. acid which is just as addictive as heroin according to, say, GO ASK ALICE (1973)

I think of course that that's the way all countercultural-aspiring movies should be watched, with no clue what genre they're even in. This happened to me with CULT OF THE DAMNED (1969), which I thought (due to Netflix's use of the wrong icon art) was about Jim Jones --I still think it is, even though Jones never shows up. Would the movie have blown my mind otherwise? No, but not knowing what the film you're watching is called, about or what genre it's in, is liberating. If something's a comedy, tragedy, horror film, anti-drug message movie, or parental paranoia exploitation film we come to it with a pre-set expectation. Not knowing, but committing to the film anyway, as I did (I put it on, then forgot what it was, as I was writing some other post). I'd go so far as to say not knowing puts you in the mind of what acid is actually like when you're on it. (1)

On that note, since you might otherwise never notice this gem while paddling down the Amazon's datura root-webbed banks, be aware that the cover they use--with its faded monochromatic red bearded face like some hungry mental patient getting stabbed in his eyes with a thousand acupuncture needles--might be an instant turn-off, conjuring disheartening memories of 80s shot-on-video gorefests. It ain't like that, man. It's a safe place to hang out, get a free meal, read some of our literature and maybe think about joining us at sunrise for morning chants. Interested? You just might find what you're seeking, and if that momentary joyous white light rush cooks down to selling flowers in the street to keep our little family in tambourines, robes, candles, mushrooms, and dime store Dracula fangs, well, it's a chance to serve the cause. No matter how weak and susceptible not eating meat leaves you, granting the great leader your essence--your mortality's platelets and plasma--will actually give you life in the taking of it.

Only an idiot would say no to being bitten by love, by the source of eternal life and so DEATHMASTER needed an idiot, and for his sins, they sent him one. His name was Pico, and Bill Ewing was the actor (if that is the word) who played him.

(L-R: Reese, Jordan, Tree, Ewing, Dickson)
We first think DEATHMASTER is going to be a biker film (maybe it's the name of a chopper?) when old-school dirtbag Monk (William Jordan) brum-brums into town with his old lady Essine (Betty Anne Reese). His brusque savagery and thuggish behavior at the Patagonia Fair soon pits him against a Billy Jack-style Kung Fu 'peacenik' straight-edge hippie named Pico (Bill Ewing) and his girlfriend Rona (Brenda Dickson) who's turned on by Monk's outlaw swagger. The much smaller Pico knocks Monk on his ass, but no hard feelings because they all end up on the run from the fuzz and Pico, ever the Zen dude, invites Monk and his chick up to this groovy squat, where the kids are all hanging out.

Up there, in that house on the hill, these kids are making it work. You know, with no electricity but they got candles, love, and a big bowl of what looks like chicken nuggets. And while the kids sit around in the dim light there's a melancholy, haunting flute playing, slowly the buzz seems to dwindle, the gathering storm, the candles seeming to barely put a dent in the darkness. As the resident guitar guy, Bobby "Boris" Pickett says, "Hey what's happening? We're all hung up on some kind of gloom."

Pico, the ever square Paul Walker-esque narc conscience of the clan says "We're hung up all right, but always the same old thing, looking for our damn head, man"



Rona: (singing like nursery rhyme taunt): His head, his head, Pico can't find his head!
Pico: (wearily) round and round we go
Khorda (unseen, a voice in the shadows behind Pico, sitting cross-legged, having just kind of appeared in the dark morass of hippies, not speaking directly to them but in that same offhand to no one in particular way close-knit groups have of batting ideas around, like he's a teacher in the Socratic style)
... like living in limbo
Pico: yeah, that's it- - a treadmill
Khorda: ... gets to be a bore.
Khorda, manifesting in the party, as yet unnoticed as anyone
other than another tribal scene maker
Pico: Right, a goddamn mother lovin' bore.
 Khorda: The thing to do is to break away... find  a purpose
 Rona: I got a purpose --love... (gets up, starts  dancing around)
 Khorda: Love power... something to cherish. To  hang onto.... But to know love one must first be  alive... live
 Pico: That's just my point, we ain't living
 Khorda: Perhaps you need a spark, to light the  fuel within
 Pickett - Far out - you mean like a miracle or  something?
 Khorda: why not? (Claps hands - lights come  on)
Rona: Did you see that? What's with that guy?
Pico: Hey man, this is a weird scene!


(they pause, notice the flute player, Barbado [LeSesne Hilton] a zombie blowing like a hypnotized cobra /snake charmer combo all the while, casting the gloom mood in the first place most likely)
Bobby Pickett: What's with him?
Khorda: He's achieving his future
A hippie: Get in there, Barbados (Barbado keeps playing)
Another hippie: Yeah. Lay it down, man

The kids gather wide-eyed around Khorda, like he's Manson Poppins, wanting him to say more, man, about the stars and love power. Fix the place up first, he says. Clean house and switch to an all living things diet (like a vegan Renfield) and he'll be back to discuss further the ways of things. Then, dig it, baby, he vanishes

It's like whoa. The 'now generation' patter continues once the cleaning montage is over. If I could I'd write it all down, I wouldn't, cuz it's so spot off.  When he returns, Khorda says he's from 'The Isles of Maybe" and picking apart a flower, notes its beauty is a conceit, "as ephemeral as man's wish for immortality." But he loses his cool over Monk's iron cross pendant. Ain't nothin' holy 'bout that cross, Khorda! He may just as well shrink from a tire jack. Fuck this bullshitter, says Monk, and announces he's going out for some steak... and some whiskey!! Man, if I was still drinking, that line would have made me stand up and cheer! Hell, I did anyway. It might be the best line in a biker film since Heavenly Blue's telling the priest they want to get loaded want in THE WILD ANGELS.

But there's something amiss that Monk, for all his abrasiveness, is hep to, reminding us of the speech about 'needing the assholes' at the end of TEAM AMERICA. When Khorda returns with Barbado, this time playing the conga, he puts the bite on Essine, and the kids hear her scream upstairs, they run up to investigate. When they come back down, Essine's there dancing. The music "consecrates them to immortal life." But the second sign something is wrong is that Khorda doesn't like when you try to skip out. He's made his move, and shit just got mad culty. Like any effective cult, once you realize you're in a trap, you're trapped in it.

Pico and Rona figure they better split fast, especially once everyone else starts dancing too. They should have just rolled with it. Khorda is taking them outside time-space, as any good guru is wont to do, and the scene with them dancing in slow motion has a weird druggy vibe that lets you know, yes, Khorda is delivering the spiritual goods. The trick of all gurus of course is that, once you surrender your will to theirs then sure, you do feel a deep egoless bliss and connection to the eternal now, it's real enough, but you've also just let someone else take over your whole existence, and now you can't escape the guru's clutches even if you start to smell a rat. You need your parents or someone to come rescue you in the dead of night, whisk you back to Iowa.... sheesh, nevermind. What a choice.





After the excellent cinematography by Butler, what makes DEATHMASTER so supreme is the marvelously off-the-wall cast and their unholy raiment: As with the man called Dean Stockwell in PSYCH-OUT, Ewing wears a combination Native American headband long black hair wig probably 'borrowed' from the B-western unit. His pretty face resembles a young Robert Conrad, and though he can't act, his bi-polar veering from super-hammy to super-low key finally pays off when he 'snaps' into a weird bug-eyed maniac mode.


As his girlfriend Rona, Brenda Dickson has these big expressive blue eyes, Ellen Burstyn meets Jaclyn Smith features and a lithe, pale midriff that all combines to make her accessibly naive girl-next-door yet sexy and cool. Her eyes dilate with desire and contract with concern and best of all she seems genuinely thrilled to be on camera, no matter in what capacity. It's her infectious good nature that seeps into the corners of the film like helium and lifts the whole first swath of the film. I fell in love with her the way I did with Sandahl Bergman in CONAN or Kim Cattrall in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Alas: she disappears for most of the second swath, and her absence creates an anxiety in young Pico that we feel too. It helps motivate his return to the house, the way Valeria's death in CONAN helps us thirst for a final fight.

As the Van Helsing of the piece there's Pop (voice of Pooh) Fiedler, a mousy middle aged little balding capitalist in a hippie vest and sandals. It's to him Pico runs when he realizes the truth about this suave new guru, Khorda. Naturally, when some long-haired faux Native American boy barges into your store, foaming at the mouth and raving about vampires, you just assumes he's having a really bad trip --you find him a spot to lie down in, give him an orange, and let time work its magic.

And who hasn't been tripping at a party and have some hip know-it-all older skeeve show up with coke and turn what was moments ago a peace-love-unity happening into a dirtbag-studded fiend fest of foamy-mouthed sex-obsessed reptilian egotists and so had to run, disillusioned and confused, into the night? I used to rant myself hoarse trying to convince Johnny Spliff that his couch guest Doug E. Fresh was a moronic townie dirtbag who could give him nothing but IOUs, lowered whiskey bottle water lines, and crabs. Johnny would just look at me slack-jawed. It was a nightmare. That couch Doug was sleeping on was MINE! MINE!

At least Pop's convinced, eventually, (his dog gets drained) and soon they're examining a paperback on magical cults through the ages, very typical of west coast used bookstores at the time, and those same books are probably still there, well-thumbed and never purchased by the dirty broke hippies of the region. Dude, I bought a used paperback of Gravity's Rainbow at one of those bookstores, and was raving to my friend Beth about all the reptilian comfortable-in-their-own-skin evil swine around us at Reggae on the River out in Humboldt County, CA, summer of 1990. She thought I was hallucinating too. Why wouldn't she listen?? I barely understood a word of Pynchon's prose but I kept reading, hoping she would be impressed. She wasn't. She stuck with Robertson Davies. It was the summer of 1990, there was a massive draught so no campfires were allowed, and Operation Green Sweep was in full effect, so no weed. Ever try to camp without a campfire, or enjoy reggae without weed, or share close quarters while traveling platonically with a gorgeous Connecticut hippie girl? Or read an 800+ page book with no comprehension of its presumedly rich historical subtext, in a time before internet or cell phones to look up dates and big words? It's enough to make anyone see vampires everywhere. I was ready to drown myself, but could barely afford enough whiskey to make it worth the drive into McKinleyville. And when I got it back to camp, the seagulls would descend. Or were they more like vampire bats? Every drop of that 1.75 of Ten High should have been coursing through my grateful bloodstream instead of theirs. No matter how much got I drunk, it never was enough, save to pass me out for just long enough I woke up with double the misery and not a drop left. If a Khorda came for me then, I would not have waivered in my surrender.


And that brings us to the final marvelous performance in the clan - the 'adult' in the group, the great Robert Quarry. As Yorga he played self-help guru to a slightly older and richer enclave of California swingers, but there's apparently no relation to his incarnation here, which is fine, because I like this film much better than either of those (probably thanks to the great Butler cinematography). Though I know full well even the RETURN OF COUNT YORGA is far better reviewed than DEATHMASTER. I am not swayed.

Quarry, for his sins, doesn't ham it up or phone it in until the very end, but when he does, look out. He drops one of the fakest and worst evil laughs-turned-screams in horror history, which is followed almost immediately by Ewing's wild-eyed farewell to Lorna, where he seems to be passive-aggressively sabotaging his own incompetence like it's the 100th take and the director's been screaming at him all day and--rather than finally getting it right--he just snaps. Not a great way to go out, but the photography is beautiful; it's easy to see why Bill Butler would go on to be considered one of the best in the business, winning two Oscars. There's a kind of Gordon Willis duskiness at work; he catches more than a few great magic hour shots, and that abrupt switch from the PSYCH-OUT hippie house vibe to full on psychedelic uber-cheap vampire film is well turned.

There are annoying things, like that Pico is such a genius with booby traps but forgets to use his kung fu on Barbado, twice, and forgets he managed to defeat him the first time by just painting a cross on his chest in blood, but never even thinks about bringing a real cross with him, or to bring a priest instead of the cops, fucking narc that he is.

I kept hoping that it would turn out that the only way to defeat Khorda would be to get a crew cut and a job. That would have been so cherry, bro. Well, you can't have everything.

But, if you have Amazon Prime and a tolerance for plastic fangs, you can have 90 minutes with the DEATHMASTER --may the joy it bring add fruitful notes to your blood's bouquet! Ave Santa Sangrardo! 





NOTES
1. see my story of tripping to FLATLINERS

Friday, June 12, 2015

It's Not what it looks Like: HONEYMOON, FORCE MAJEURE








"This was supposed to be romantic under the stars, not sheets."
In the old days, before cable, VHS and Betamax entered the affordable mainstream, there was something called memory. Films were subject to the warping effects of 'telephone game' oration, passed around with novelizations we'd pretend to be able to read (looking at the photo inserts) as we were still only in grade school. Once the film had left theaters it was at least a year sometimes two before it would show up on TV, usually premiering at 8 PM on a major network, where it was panned, scanned, edited for content and time, cut up by commercials, subject to possible static from weather formations above our aerial antenna. Those who saw it on the big screen could then argue over what was missing, what was added, what they remembered that no one else did. People just assumed the 'good' parts were gone... which for us kids meant gore, breasts, and curse words.


Then there were some films, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1972) or Clockwork Orange (1971), that could never, no matter how much they edited them, ever be shown on TV. In the pre-VCR era this meant no one ever saw them again outside of their possible revival at the tail end of a drive-in triple feature, which meant never. Loaded with dread-by-scarcity, those who did see them were considered gods, the bad kids, a badge of cool like smoking or sex. Even if you were lying and we knew it, if you made up something believable and riveting, hey - you were a star.

Now of course things are better. Nearly all films from Edison onwards are all available all the time, unedited and in original aspect ratios on big widescreen HD TVs. It's such a great era for movies that there has to be negative side effects. For example, gone is the freedom to lie, to hide truth, to imagine a better movie than really exists, to change the narrative along according to our perceptions, instead of the other way around. No actual film gore or violence can compare to our lurid imaging.

Two recent films on Netflix streaming, the indie horror movie Honeymoon (2014) and the Nordic import Force Majeure (2014), offer diegetic examples of these negative side effects. Each relies on a certain cinematic familiarity, a common shared iconography that can then collapse as characters within each film are continually forced to confront their own helplessness in the face of real events vs. their instilled and conditioned expectations that they can somehow change what happened through denial or secrecy. In Majeure, an upscale Nordic family's Alpine ski vacation is interrupted after an avalanche blowback whiteout that rolls over the outdoor brunch patio causes the father to run away in panic, leaving wife and kids to fend for themselves. The whiteout clears, brunch resumes, the father returns like nothing's happened, but the mom's faith in him is destroyed; he only exacerbates her distrust when he tries to remember it differently, to deny and convince her of a different set of facts. Thanks to ever-present cameras, the white-out can no longer occur in memory instead of recorded image, not in this era, not when the elephant in the room has been identified and deflated, and no one can smoke, be mean to minorities or homosexuals, or otherwise trod carelessly over other people's feelings. He can't change her mind with a loud and forceful "ENOUGH!" and get her to change the subject. In this recorded age she has no power, inside our out, and he gets slapped for flinching from each previous slap.


In Honeymoon, a first date of the newlyweds is recalled as taking place at an East Village Indian restaurant that leads to Paul (Harry Treadaway) puking, trapped by food poisoning vertigo on the studio apartment floor of Bea (Rose Leslie). Their wedding reception has Indian food which they address directly in their video: "You tried to keep us apart. Fuck you... we win." Yeah, right.

Any sane person watching this already senses something is seriously wrong. Paul is just doing a longer range version of what the dad in Majeure does, submitting to a repetition-compulsion until the ugly memory is contextualized as triumph. Paul and Bea's intimate talk always seems to weave it's way back to puking, as if it's a trigger that disrupts what should be danger signals, that something's 'not right.' The puking triggers a skip in the record where normal good judgment normally functions.

Paul should take it as a sign to run - but he's a good guy and good guys don't run (right, Majeure dad?). So Paul rebukes the omen, reconfigures it. The wedding tent for example, seems like a shroud --we never see anyone else in the confessional booth but them - does Bea even have any other family? If she doesn't, Paul never finds out, until it's too late.

For their honeymoon, Bea brings him to her family's cabin up in Canada, where one of the duck decoys has her childhood note in it "Dear ducks - I am not a real duck --stay away." Of course it's too late by then. And whether and what she means, outside of trying to sabotage the very purpose of a decoy (as in to draw ducks to it), he doesn't know, and neither do we, and that's how history --family, marriage, self, individuality, civilization --slips its bonds, like Jack Torrance sliding into a New Years 1928 Gold Room while simultaneously freezing to death (in a white-out) in 1980.









Honeymoon
 employs a nice 'suggestion' of a POV home movie, via a Steadicam that whips around the woods and fuses with the opening wedding video, but then it subtly switches over to regular film (or professionally-shot HD video), and soon after that switch is mirrored in the film itself, as this two person isolation takes its toll in paranoia and dysfunction. It becomes another collapse of the social sphere in that uber-paranoid honeymoon Antichrist meets Zulawski's Possession way. The paranoia itself ends up giving "birth" like a virus to some weird The Hallow x  Dagon x The New Daughter x Invasion of the Body Snatchers amphibian reality (or do I just feel that way as 60% of my friends in real life mysteriously married Canadians?) You don't need a government to make you paranoid. Sometimes all it takes is a Force Majeure, i.e. an avalanche, or worse, a woman...


Good as they both are in their way (I saw them back-to-back on a rainy Sunday on Netflix), neither Majeure nor Honeymoon should be seen on a first date, or even a last. But they did make a great double feature, a before and after of the pros and cons of marrying into the reptilian bloodline. Majeure could be the sequel ten or so years after Honeymoon where instead of a nice redhead hipster revealing herself to be a frigid Innsmouth fishwife there's a father ostracized by the mom for a single moment of weakness, resented for the slightest of perceived offenses. Filmed for maximum geometric thermal dynamics, the film, floats quarely in the middle of the Alps, a place that seems inordinately hostile to human life, so that skiing and all the other human 'recreation' is made almost absurd-- like sandcastles in front of a tidal wave. The husband's response (i.e. fleeing) is completely 'natural' of course. It's not until the mom herself overreacts to a moment of perceived crisis on a bus ride down the mountain that the balance can be redressed.

Is the wife's problem with her man the fleeing, or that he won't cop to his moment of cowardice? In refusing to remember his flight, maybe blocking it out via subconscious mechanisms he can't control, he's like a kid who just won't admit he stole something. But she's worse, in that this is a vacation and it's a minor thing but she just can't let the matter drop. Within minutes of the whiteout, brunch is back to normal, with only a thin layer of powdered snow on the plates and coffee surfaces to indicate it was ever there... but she can't forget, and he won't remember. If it wasn't so common in the US (a similar rift forms in the family of Escape from Paradise), one would think the film was overreacting on her behalf. But watching the film it seems pretty natural you'd run for the door and presume your family's behind you rather than run to them to --what-- shield them with your body? Either way, as in Contempt, the woman uses this small event as a scratcher to some incoherent deeper itch, trying to test and provoke and de-masculinize the man she married.

In Honeymoon the de-masculinization comes from the complete ignorance of some kind of strange Lovecraftian de-evolution in his new (to almost stranger-level) young wife. It begins when he wakes too find his new (red-haired) wife outside in the dead of night, naked and with underwear covered in frog egg-style slime. The answer to the mystery of why she needs to be constantly reminded of the most basic things--like her name--begs the question: did he find the right 'thing' when he found her or some amphibious clone changeling, one able to hold the pose of a human for only so long? Is it all paranoid blue ball madness (ala dodging honeymoon 'duties' as if she was hiding a small penis or disease) or is it just that she wants to hook up with this guy down the hill she knows from childhood?

With the semi found-footage approach we never learn any of the answers, except maybe hottie young director Leigh Janiak would like some Paranormal Activity profits or delayed Bug acclaim. She deserves both, taking the same male-female approach (her boyfriend Phil Graziadel co-wrote) that works so well in both films. As with all great horror, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish reality from the vividly imagined the longer we're away from consensual reality, i.e. on vacation in the middle of nowhere, without a stable of normal social others--cops, EMTs, even enigmatic gas station attendants, doe-eyed librarians, lunch-eating coroners--to modulate any accruing cabin fever derangement.

We might even realize the truth, a truth all couples must accept sooner or later: there never was a consensus. There is, indeed and inescapably, no such thing as objective reality. There is just a shared delusion, a Rashomon-style collective cubist stigmatism. Couples delude themselves that swinging will work when all else fails, or kids, or marriage, or all of it, and then blame themselves, then each other, when it doesn't. Then they accept it. Or die. They die either way, actually. Kubler-Ross man, she knew.




Oh yeah, and there's the
Successive de-evolution of the masculine father 
in the post-industrial age. 

Sometimes kissing a girl is enough to tingle a man down to the toes. Sometimes he has to keep digging deeper, removing more clothes, grinding closer, just to get the same tingle, approximated or facsimile. Sometimes even after sex he still doesn't get the tingle, so then maybe without a condom? You know, to feel something? Anything? If that doesn't work, then tell her we love her. She does too? Uh-oh. No, still no tingle. Then marriage. Still no tingle - so kids. On and on, when with the right girl a single kiss would have been good enough to know, for sure, electricity existed.

A smart man would run when that tingle's not there.. A smart man would have run way back at the first lack of tingle, just there in the kiss. But just the thought of running is cowardly, what a frat murph asshole dude does. Still, even trying so hard to make it work, the old tingle-deprived misery surfaces like a toadish reminder of all the tingle's that never came. Better keep trying with what you got than just go back to that amphibious nil. After all, maybe it's we who are the problem, not her. Anyway we're not 'that' type of guy, the type who cuts and runs. Fuck you, Indian food.








Honeymoon is not perfect, but it is well-acted, especially by Rose Leslie who manages to look less and less like a human being and more like a bug in the way only certain red haired facial types look when you're on, say, enough acid that their small almond chin below a fast talking mouth begins to look like two mandibles moving like a mantis dismantling an unseen fly with sewing machine precision. I applaud that Honeymoon doesn't take a post-modern approach like, say, Intervention. It has the courage of its Lynchcraft convictions. As the film leads to a full blackout just as Force leads to pure whiteouts, there are no easy answers or even coherent questions. None of us in couples ever knows who the other is, or who even we are. Why we should have presumed a 'normal' existed to begin with is anyone's guess (unless they keep watching, keep watching TV).

But then, well the nightmare question that no recent remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers dare ask (there wouldn't be a movie if they did): in a land where no one stays the same, moment-to-moment, at a time marked by no set shared cultural touchstone (thanks to a proliferation of screens and mediums), in a culture driven by myopic narcissism and cultivated shallowness, a ground zero infinity of film history, how would we ever know if our loved ones were supplanted by pods? When the white powder fog clears the brunch deck, or the black-out clears the bedroom, worrying if our mate is the same person before the outage occurred isn't even in our top ten anxieties.

Every minute we stick around is a minute that could be spent running for our lives.

What or who we're running from is irrelevant when there's so many goddamned directions to choose from. Netflix Boulevard crawls with them, so why feign rootedness? Where is the fleeting urgency? Our monster monsoon has waited long enough in heaven's white[-padded room. Let it come down, eclipse the infinity of our perception so we might once more behold the outline of that dirty finite door. Let us be washed away in high floating style. Bitches be full of tricks. We can stay and be buried or be free and frozen in the Torrence's bit-torrent maze.

Beyond the Door II is, after all, just another name for Shock.

Friday, June 05, 2015

International Hawksblocker: HATARI!, RED LINE 7000



Howard Hawks fans like myself expect motif repetitions: if something works in one Hawks film, you can be damn sure he's going to use it again, and why not? His riffs and motifs strike deep archetypal tones that generate invigorating mythic resonance, especially when they concern men facing death in the service of some grand quest. Whether flying mail over the Andes, blazing the Chisholm Trail, helping save a bunch of ranches from a slimy war profiteer, or just defending the North Pole against some kind of super-carrot, Hawks' men in a group are the men you want to be with, their charisma and overlapping witty banter is intoxicating. But there can't always be wars, or Dutchmen with open bars, or endangered ladies, or scoundrels in jail with rich brothers trying to get them out, or pilots trying to land in ceiling zero fog, or mighty herds driven through a land rife with border gangs. So when noble danger-facing dries up, adrenaline junkies like Hawks' men-in-a-group have to risk death purely for the adrenaline rush, which is far less exciting... for us, at any rate. There's no noble existential pursuit to wanting to go super fast around a track, or to capture and cage wild animals for those uniquely 'human/e' environments known as zoos. To my mind, such 'careers' are just the opposite, showing the heart of the Hawks' masculine camaraderie may be less honorable than we thought. When given a noble cause their warrior instincts and courage are inspiring, but if not, it's just for kicks. Hawks flew with Faulkner in WWI, and he hunted and fished with Hemingway and raced with Gary Cooper, so he clearly falls into his own category of 'rugged' outdoors thrill seeker. Maybe the exhilaration of facing danger head-on and surviving during the Great War created a lifelong addiction. Maybe due to some repetition compulsion disorder, some existential PTSD from the Signal Corp and its "hurrah for the next who dies" approach to impending mortality in the sky before pilots got parachutes, the Hawks male is still back, so to speak, at the Russian roulette table in Hanoi. 

Hawks made very few bad films in his long career, far fewer than John Ford, yet he receives far less lionization at the hands of the popular press, who tend to think of his best work more in terms of the stars that were in it (there's no 'Hawks box'), thus BIG SLEEP is a Bogie picture, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS a Grant picture, or even a Jean Arthur picture. Part of it might be that his personal stamp is harder to discern, so comfortable is he across a spectrum of genres, sometimes within a single film, and his iconoclasm kept him independent, signing with studios for three picture deals or getting financing from this or that outfit, making each studio less likely to claim him than any other. (no Ford at Fox box, though 'Hawks at Fox Box" would be a great title). Still, for a lot of classic film critics, too numerous to name, in our top all-time favorite film lists, Hawks takes up at least half.

By the early 60s, we were a long long way from Hawks' days as a flier during WWI, perhaps he was less clear-eyed about what true courage was by then. Nonetheless, even the last last few films in his oeuvre reward study, if only to further discern his master class iconoclasm. I've already analyzed the comedy MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? (see: Fear of Fishing), and now....

HATARI!
1962 -  **1/2

So amulets in the jumbles somewhere, or scoring the animals for zoos 'round the world or whatever, and John Wayne and co. racing after an array of giraffes, rhinos, and wildebeests. With an international cast playing different nationalities than what they are, including German actor Hardy Krüger (in a pair of little Boer shorts so we can see his bandy little legs); Valentin de Vargas (he played the leather jacket-wearing ball-having "Pancho" Grande in Touch of Evil); and in the type of cigar-chewing role usually reserved for Ward Bond or George Kennedy, Bruce "Kong-blockin'" Cabot as "the Indian." There's also a little French newcomer, Gérard Blain, who decides it's easier to share women with the similarly diminutive Krüger rather than compete, which is good since there are only two girls to go around and neither are worth fighting for: French actress Michèle Girardon is a bit too mother-earthy as the ranch owner Brandy, and, all the tell-tale signs of an eating disorder or at the very least some African flu, Italian model Elsa Martinelli as a visiting photographer for one of the zoos.

Now, I have nothing against international casts, but even if English is not your first language it can be hard to sound breezy and conversational while delivering a mouthful of brilliant Leigh Brackett dialogue. I mean this as no reflection on the actors themselves, only that the international vibe might be what Hawks wanted but not anyone who loves Hawks' unique ability to bring witty overlapping dialogue to a group brave and skilled men (and a few women) without it sounding labored and inauthentic as it does to me.

There are perks like the memorable Henry Mancini score. And the vivid authenticity of all the hunt and capture sequences is rare and electric. Wayne and company had the guts to do all did their own animal-wrangling; there's no rear screen projection, no stunt doubles, no stock footage of any kind ("of any kind, David") and it makes a huge difference (vs. something like MGM's Tarzan series, which relied on all three). These scenes of the groups' complex hunting strategy, the racing jeeps and trucks chasing down an array of Serengeti plains roamers, rhinos bashing the sides of the tucks in a panicked jog, were a clear influence on, amongst other things, Spielberg's Jurassic Park: The Lost World.  







I love some things here: the leisurely cycle of the film follows, say, Hemingway's first person accounts of safaris, like Green Hills of Africa, where the book is divided into hunting on the plains by day and drinking by the fire at night about evenly, the cycle of animals and drinks, hunts and conversations as natural and easy as the progression of, say, a good vacation skiing and drinking at the lodge, or something. But this time--rare for Hawks--it's the night part, the drinking, that fails. This thanks to that aforementioned cast never quite seeming to gel. Breeziness is a hard thing to force.

I could forgive that forced aspect, if that was all there was to forgive, but what keeps this film out of my DVD collection is something else, something all Hawks' other comedy-laced 'group of men facing danger' adventures didn't have to contend with...

And that thing is a hirsute little ginger named Red Buttons.

Red Buttons, the original red-headed stepchild... I love his convulsive dance marathon heart attack in They Shoot Horses Don't They? But in Hatari! there's no need to ask who or what we'd like them to shoot.

Sure he's got a kind of Rooney-like Arthur Murray tenement grace to his burly hobbit movements, but his hammy cowardice and shameless cockblocking drag the joie de vivre down like a steel mesh net. Endlessly showboating, whining, blowing up one of the Serengeti's few scarce acacia trees in order to abduct a whole tribe of monkeys (but looking away as his rocket-driven net flies over and engulfs the tree) and then getting drunk that night and asking about it over and over, refusing to let anyone else talk about anything but how he didn't look for his big moment of triumph... oh my God but he's unbearable, as un-Hawksian as it's possible to get. Imagine if you parachuted Jerry Lewis down into Casablanca. Or what about that sketch in SNL with Fred Armisen as the weathervane removed from Wizard of Oz? Well, he's worse.


Not only is he a cockblocker, an unpardonable crime in my book, but he steals all the ice normally used for cocktail hour for his poor widow ass after falling into the pig trough. Adding insult to injury, he winds up with Brandy (the earth mother) instead of the Frog or the Hitlerjugend who've been dueling for her hand all through the first half of the film. It's not Hawksian to be so needy, so constantly demanding of praise, so ramped up with that short guy attention grabbing. It's not, perhaps, Buttons fault if he's the pisher left standing after the needle is lifted in Hawksian archetype musical chairs. He's the one 'new' kind of character here, completely outside the normal Hawks oeuvre, at least he hasn't been seen since Bringing Up Baby's Major Horace Applegate (Charlie Ruggles) or the US Army as a collective whole in I was a Male War Bride. Imagine if Walter Brennan wound up with Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo? It was bad enough he got Frances Farmer in Come and Get It. Nothing against Brennan, who's aces with me, but.... was you ever bit by a dead bee, indeed. Buttons ain't even got no stinger either.









Perhaps we can understand late period Hawks well by contrasting his two tame leopard-in-a-bathroom scenes, the one in Bringing up Baby and the one in Hatari!. In Baby, Susan Vance pretends she's being attacked by the leopard in order to get David (Cary Grant) to charge over to her apartment and 'save' her (he doesn't yet know it's a tame leopard); in Hatari! it's the girl in the bath who doesn't know the leopard is tame, and Red Buttons takes advantage of her fear to act like a hero, charging in with chair (top). But while Grant's over-acting was--and he knew you knew--a front, a grown man play-acting in a Cavellian comedy of remarriage, here Red overacts and gesticulates as if Mickey Rooney crash landed in the middle of Rio Bravo and tried to turn the whole thing into an Andy Hardy picture before Hawks came back from the bathroom.

Anyway, the real problem is sex. The way Buttons cockblocks Wayne constantly, interrupting his woo at the worst times, is forgivable the first time but the second is downright obnoxious, and the third, fourth, fifth... etc. completely toxic. Perhaps it's because Hawks could no longer get it up himself by this point, what with Viagra still decades off, so he lost all interest in sex's non-farcical aspects. But it's ridiculous and annoying that we're not supposed to wish he'd wind up gored by a bull. Wayne has to marry the girl (offscreen) at the end just so they can get a hotel room together in town, but then their bed is literally crashed by her three baby elephants, and Red of course, opening the door for them. Haw Haw.

Sorry to vent, but I've always hated cockblockers. I HATE THEM! Sex is hard enough to arrange on its own, especially in an uptight country like America. We don't need any more interruptions than we already have. I'm from the school of thought where when you see a buddy hooking up you don't interrupt, you just quietly give him some room, fend off the other suitors, dive on any grenades if needed, or otherwise just give him some room and leave him to it. I always thought Hawks felt the same, and I'm sure he mostly used to. Still, imagine if Bacall's attempted seductions of Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944) were continually undone by Brennan's drunk character randomly barging into the room without knocking, lighting her cigarette before she can ask for a match, asking for change or talking about the dead bees, over and over and over... for three hours.

Wayne has enough problems without Red as it is. Smoking cigarettes and getting older with every drag, the red sand radiation from The Conqueror mutating his cells, he seems always at risk of stretching his cowboy actor legs once too often in taming of wild animals, like he could wind up like Clark Gable in real life after that mustang in The Misfits (1961) and break something in himself that his body's too old to repair. Hawks and Wayne would be better off back in Hollywood, or on location someplace with an ocean breeze, instead of the animal dung and tsetse fly-ridden dust of Kenya before the rainy season. At this stage Hawks should be like John Ford, presiding over pointless Irish brawls in paradise instead of racing around after rampaging rhinos and wildebeests or giving a coiled Irish ham like Red Buttons an inch of improv leeway.


To get back to the girls in Hatari!, all two of them: now, pop culture has taught us a bit about eating disorders since 1962, I've had anorexic friends in AA point out all the telltale signs, like teeth that look like they're trying to crawl out of your mouth before they dissolve. So it's easy to see that, unless she was suffering from yellow fever while on location, Italian model-turned-actress Elsa Martinelli had an eating disorder (of course what model doesn't, at least at some point?). I could overlook that if not for other sins against Hawksian nature she commits, like when she declines a drink after her first long bumpy, dusty hard safari animal-wrangling jeep ride. Bitch, when you're all sore as hell from being bounced around, you don't refuse a first-rate analgesic like alcohol! It's like saying your head hurts too much to take an aspirin! I can abide anything but that kind of idiocy. bet that Agnes of yours wouldn't say no to a drink. This is frickin' Hawks country you're in, Elsa, not frickin' Texas Female Baptist College on a Blake's bus tour! These people are men!

And I wish to god I was with 'em.

Unless they were in goddamned Africa.

Center: the normal-height human who won Ann Darrow
---



RED LINE 7000
1965 - **1/2

This saga of interwoven young racers and the women who chase them is one of Hawks' harder-to-find and hardest to like later films. Shot in a full frame (1:85) ratio (at least that's the only version available), which is odd for a 1965 racing movie, it's on Amazon streaming finally and the stock car races are thrilling in a dusty STP sign and authentic stock car race kind of way, with great fiery spinouts and crashes so seamlessly interwoven into the storyline you'll swear the real actors are in the wrecks. Was Hawks' camera just hanging around waiting for crashes or were these stunt men? Or did he take stock footage of crashes and then reverse engineer them (paint a car to look like one that had already crashed, and then put one of his stars in a mock-up, etc.)? Knowing Hawks, all three and then some. A lifelong race car driver, he was one of the stunt drivers for the film (at age 69!) and unlike 90% of racing movies there's never a doubt which character is in which car.  The sound is so solid you can feel the engine throbbing in its exhaust RPM through your couch, even without a subwoofer.

It's been called a loose remake of Hawks' earlier racing pic, The Crowd Roars (1932 - see my review here), which is also distinctly 'lesser Hawks.' But Red Line is really part of the 'interwoven young lovers revolving around a cinematically-intriguing profession' genre, with its roots in trashy beach reads reaching as far back as Cinemascope jet trash like How to Marry a Millionaire (1957) The Interns (1962), The Carpetbaggers (1964), and still going strong by the late 70s (even the novels of Jaws and The Godfather hit all the marks for the genre, with a lot more sex in the books than in the films). There was also a then in-vogue thing for stock car racing, traceable in drive-in product of the era, like The Young Racers (1963), Viva Las Vegas (1964), Spin-Out (1966), Fireball 500 (1966), Jack Hill's Pit-Stop (1968) and bigger budget stuff like Grand Prix (1966) and Le Mans (1971). And of course this genre peeled out into the 70s in a lot of directions: the Easy Rider / Wild Angels biker genre; the Convoy / Smokey and the Bandit trucker genre; and the Monte Hellman Two-Lane Blacktop existential pink slip genre. So in a way, films like Red Line 7000 are the connecting thread between How to Marry a Millionaire and Mad Max. There, I said it.

Red Line is still Hawks down to its rims, but it lacks a center - there's nothing there to hold it. None of the women are exactly Hawksian (Charlene Holt aside), and the men are all unattractively stunted, at least on some level. It's the first movie, for example, in Hawks' canon where a man is allowed to hit a woman. Worse, it's James Caan! He gets jealous over his new girlfriend (Hill) while shouting "Slut!" at her because she slept with his on-track rival, albeit before meeting him. Usually that's enough right there to warrant a man getting killed, or at least pistol-whipped into releasing Walter Brennan. Here the girl seems to be more concerned with the condition of her man's knuckles than her black eye. He needs those knuckles to steer with! These women soak up abuse, and go running to clean up their own blood so their man won't slip on his way to another woman's boudoir. It's sickening... like a certain hirsute ginger's cockblocking.

That, in the end, is what's left over from The Crowd Roars, this antagonistic relationship to the groupies of the racing circuit, their slavish devotion arousing the self-hating drivers' contempt. As one who's known and loved rock groupies as a youth, I sneer at the misogynistic sneering of these bookend Hawks racers!

Still, I like Red Line gallons more than Hatari! For one thing, most people are on the same page, i.e. American and able to tap the Hawksian esprit d'corp. The one foreign accent here belongs to Mariana Hill--as a yeh-yeh vivant French racing groupie--but it works because she's actually American, a member of the Actor's Studio, and a classic example of what I meant earlier about American actors doing foreign accents being better than the real thing in Hawks movies. Another, there are more girls. A lot more girls than in Hatari, and way better looking. But mainly it's because the boys aren't terrorizing any animals. They're not exactly doing anything heroic, just racing around in circles, but they're hurting only themselves, their tires, and eventually the ozone layer.


Like Hatari, the film operates in a day-night cycle, with nights at the motel and its nearby restaurant / tavern owned by Lindy (Holt). These bar scenes could have been a heart and soul to the film, but Hawks dulls them with some terrible royalty-free country-tinged electric rock. Lindy talks about knocking down a wall in her place, to make room for a band and dancing, now that Holly (Gail Hire)--a recent racing 'widow' there for the funeral of her last lover and then dating Caan before swapping with Gabbi for Dan (Skip Ward)--has "bought in" to the place as a partner. Got all that? Problems arise therein. Bellowing like a bullfrog to get that Hawks woman voice, Hire seems like she's making fun of Hawks' insistence on low voices for his women, but when Paula Prentiss kidded that low talking she was still sexy. Hire just sounds dumb, like she's masking her own numbskull persona by mocking her character.

What the film really needs though, more than a rock band or a knocked-down wall, or a new cast, is a rewrite. There's no Leigh Brackett or Charles MacArthur or Jules Furthman or Ben Hecht to add the right sense of wit. Asking a guy you're having a one-night stand with to: "tell me about the other girls" is an example of the kind of numbnuts dialogue any of the four would have tweaked to be witty and wild and sharp and alert, cutting through the layers of crap instead heaping them on. Even Hawks might have changed it to "Who was the girl, Steve?" instead of "tell me about the other girls" --i.e. acidly curious about why he's such a shit, vs. a blank Westworld automaton eager to take notes of all the geisha-like submissive states that please him. As I wrote awhile back about The Crowd Roars, one came away realizing that Anne Dvorak and Joan Blondell were teaching not only Cagney about women, but Hawks as well. But in this film one gets the impression he done forgot all about 'em.

Oh well, it's still better than Grand Prix (1966).

And as always with Hawks, music is more than just a lull in the action, it's as essential to the bonding of the group as cigarettes (though there are but few of those this time), pouring drinks (again less emphasis than usual with Hawks), and sitting down to dinner at restaurant tables where you know everyone in the place on a first name basis, including the owner/waitress. But then there's the fake band playing fake 'rock' (ripping sax solo and no sax player, drummer barely even hitting his skins, etc--no relation whatever to the music) and the dancing all starts to resemble some terrible AIP beach party freak-out. 

Far better use is made of motel patio pool and a Pepsi machine, the strip of rooms and lights on the pool all paint a very vivid and familiar portrait to anyone who's ever been drunk at a motel and been out trying to find the ice machine while seeing double. Gabbi comes onto Caan out there while he's getting a Pepsi and it's a groovy scene. Gabbi's supposed to be Dan's girl, so why is she pouring it on? 

It doesn't make sense but what does? And Holly thinks she's unlucky, a kind of black widow of the race track, so wants to avoid Dan's love so she doesn't jinx him. The team owner's tomboy daughter (Laura Devon) champions the dumb blonde monster played by John Robert Crawford (he seems way too big and heavy for a racer, like a 200 pound jockey), who throws her over as soon as he wins a single race. But don't worry, though they went on one date she goes racing to him months later after he's back on the bottom and broken in the hospital. It's sickening, the kind of thing Hawks never stooped to before or after these two racing pics. 

Hawks' films at their best offer a utopian ideal of professional competence and stalwart support that is tested against terrible danger. But in the comedies that stalwart support gives way in the wake of a wild woman and the existential terror of sex, with death revealed below like a trapdoor opening to Hades. The same mythic problems of his comedy muddles his latter adventures, like Red Line 7000; the casting, usually so spot-on with old Hawks, is culled wholesale from a Where the Boys Are post-spring break yard sale. There's a feeling Hawks didn't rehearse them too much; that they didn't know each other that well before being thrown in to a scene. And Hire is a real liability. The great Ed Howard sums up Hire's performance eloquently, getting at the fundamental problem of later Hawks, implying he was losing his Svengali ability to turn normal girls into 'Hawksian women' with deep, sexy voices, which for Hire failed though Hawks didn't seem to notice:  "Hire's attempt at Bacall's distinctive, sexy low voice is simply embarrassing and awkward, and any scene with her is unintentionally hilarious just because of how stilted and awful her performance is. How could Hawks, always justly acclaimed for the quality of the performances he could coax out of nearly anyone, have thought this was acceptable?" 

Personally, her awful performance doesn't bother me that much (I just fast forward past her song), and more than Bacall she seems to be imitating Paula Prentiss in Man's Favorite Sport? who does a kind of playful take-off on the Hawksian woman. That was fine because it was true to Prentiss' own persona, and done with real affection (her natural deep voice goes even deeper). With Hire and the other kids though, they either need more rehearsal time, a decent script, decent sets, or all of the above. James Caan's whole thing of how he only wants to sleep with virgins and not any 'second hand' stuff seems like a problem made up by a man who was pushing 70 in the age before Viagra, angry at his libido for giving out right before the arrival of "the pill." Does he even know that it's the 60s? At any rate, Caan's obsessive Victorian era jealousy leads to a fight with Skip Ward (Hank in Night of the Iguana, where he was perfectly cast since he was supposed to be a sincere dimwit). He's the only guy who's not an ass to women, and as a result Hire goes to see him and his new girlfriend, a sexy French racing enthusiast who first shagged the repulsive cornfed oaf. That's life man, but just seeing Hire there sends Caan into a fury. And we're somehow supposed to care? Robert Mitchum he isn't. 

I mention Mitchum of course because the presence of Charlene Holt (right) made me think of El Dorado, again with Caan, made (hard to believe) the following year. There the the star wattage of both Wayne and Robert Mitchum boosted her own charm level considerably; as their "shared" girl (she says she's more than enough for both of them --we believe her) she plays off their grounded energy marvelously, never trying to steal a scene or do more than her natural-if-limited talent allows. Here there's not a watt to be found for Holt to light up with, and the problem is Hawks doesn't know it. He's forgotten what's important as far as where to point the camera when it's not on the race track and when to recognize a scene is dead and either rewrite it, recast it, or cut it altogether. Wayne could have reminded him, Leigh Bracket would know too and only they probably had the clout to at that moment.

Luckily, there's the racing to save it: unlike so many racing movies, thanks to distinct color coding you can always tell which car is whose and what they're doing to each other, especially as the furious Caan tries to run Skip Ward into the wall. But the thing is, the shots between drinks or drinks between shots are undone since there's no male group camaraderie (only competition) though there's some scenes with the girls bonding by themselves (they're never catty or competitive, even when dating each other's 'second hand' cast-offs) and there's not nearly enough drinking or smoking.

Maybe that's the key to good Hawks morale - take away the booze and the tobacco and the coolness dissipates to nothing. Maybe that's why Hawks returned to the western for his last two films, thus doubling his western output. Hard to believe he'd only made two up to that point, and that they were two of the genre's best -- RED RIVER and RIO BRAVO. 

Why they're the best has something to do with loyalty and a code of honor deeper than Fordian military school blarney and sentimental fascism, but when that current of loyalty is undercut or misused in a Hawks film, the whole enterprise begins to drift loose. Of course it's a problem we men in general have, this weird thing where as soon as a girl comes into our lives we try to make her into our mother and then feel suffocated by what we've projected, desperately looking for a way out of a cage we're too numb to realize we built around ourselves and doesn't really exist, and so we cage ourselves twice over by trying to escape.

But Howard, most of us left this cage, long ago... the marshall came and took Joe Burdett, and we moved out of the jail back to the comfort of the hotel. We don't even pass out cigars anymore, need fast cars anymore, need a light, or a fight or the bars anymore. We don't, because there's no 'where' to go once you're everywhere at once; unmoored, as it were, from that geographical spot; connected to the world faster than the speed of fiberoptic light. Now the only aspect of our lives we can't duplicate with an image, a keyboard and a mouse is that feminine vice clamp flytrap magnet that pulls us ever inwards towards our projector eye self. To not blaze away from its gravity with as much horsepower as we can cram under that mortal hood takes raw courage; every second we don't press that pedal down is a victory. But if we do drive away we only wind up going so far we wind up right where we started. As Tom Waits sang- "If you get far enough away / you'll be on your way back home." Racing around in an endless oval, these maniacs avoid that risk, kind of - they don't go home, but never get anywhere else either, or even see a single sight.

But who was the girl, Steve, who left we men with such a "high" opinion of women? She must have been quite a mother. Maybe Hawks had been driving and flying and shooting so long by the time he made Red Line 7000, that even he forgot her name, or who played her, and whether or not he should be surprised to learn she married another flier.

As the Dude said, a man forgets. But just because you forget what you're running from doesn't mean you can stop running. Crash after crash, the race goes on. If only there was a reason for winning  that boiled down to something more than a junky's fear of withdrawal, a fear strong enough to conquer even his fear of death... or genuine intimacy.

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