Be sure and hang in there for the one-liners at the end…
Archive for December, 2011
Some people we’ve shared the planet with, without our ever suspecting it…
—from Bill Witliff’s Boystown: La Zona de Tolerancia
This book would’ve been a natural for me regardless—Tex-Mex culture, the seventies, and brothels all being long-time touchstones for me the same way Star Wars, Batman and Nancy Reagan are for normal people. (In fact the first time I got drunk was in Ciudad Acuña.) But it has the added attraction of containing a pic of the fellow whose haircut inspired the helmet-like do that Javier Bardem sports throughout No Country for Old Men (as if the very first picture of this bunch isn’t doing a good enough job of screaming “Cormac McCarthy!!!” at the top of its lungs). I haven’t yet nailed down exactly which photo it appears in, though, for the very good reason that apparently no good barbers could be found along the border back then. The book contains no less than half a dozen possible suspects…
A while back I told the old man to send me anything in the way of heirlooms which, for whatever sad or laughable reason, he’d like to pass on to the son he skipped out on half a century ago; at the time, he said he’d think about it, and then a couple weeks ago he told me that he was sending a couple boxes of stuff, so I was thinking, “Great! I have no idea what I’ll do with it other than be psychically crushed by its very presence, but whatever it is, bring it on.” That’s when I was picturing perhaps some photographs from his childhood, showing life as it was lived in an upper middle class Jewish household in Queens in the ’20s and ’30s, or some trinkets handed down to him by my beloved grandfather William Block. That was then; this is now. Tonight the boxes arrived, and if anyone here is interested in a couple of used electric razors (gray stubble included), a pair of butcher knives (for cutting my wrists, I presume), a photograph of a major league baseball game taken from such a distance you can’t even tell which teams are on the field, a giant Funk & Wagnall’s dictionary in mint condition, a copy of How to Clean Practically Anything (publisher: Consumer Reports Books), a beat-up Minolta camera (requires film), a Seiko wristwatch that’s a size too small for me, or a “genuine leather” credit card case which is a) white, and b) most clearly made of vinyl, why then, you’re welcome to them. However, I am keeping the 1878 silver dollar. In fact, that piece will take up its place of honor on my desk here, along with the tile from the square in Baghdad where that statue of Hussein got pulled down, the .30-30 cartridge from Peckinpah’s cabin, a handful of dirt from the Little Bighorn battlefield, and one of Loudcat’s whiskers.
I changed things up and had a breakfast burrito tonight because that’s the kind of crazy and exciting thing that I like to do on Saturday night, and it promptly knocked me on my ass. (I think it was the extra chorizo that did it.) I ate it about 5:30 and I just now woke up, sitting upright on the couch like a great Sioux chieftain who’s eaten some bad buffalo, with the menu for Meet Me in St. Louis staring me in the face. I feel urpy!
So if somebody wants to come over and give me a light, non-sexual hug until I burp, I’d really, really appreciate it.
An exchange with my friend Barbara:
B: Did I tell you I saw Shane?
Me: Oh man, you poor thing. How’d you like it?
B: It is, like, just the Hell of repetition.
Me: Yes! Doesn’t it go on forever?
B: It’s just this guy going through the motions of life, but everything about it’s so dour. So hopeless.
Me: I know, I…Well, hm.
B: He’s just locked into this numbed cycle of joylessness. I mean, I get it! His life is terrible!
It was around this point that I realized she was talking about, not George Stevens’ wheezy old oater, but Shame, the Michael Fassbender upper about sex addiction. I’ve always known I didn’t like Shane, but I didn’t realize just what little esteem I hold it in until now.
Two nights ago it was The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was praised in many quarters for getting the summer blockbuster thing right. And it is indeed okay, mostly thanks to the inestimable Andy Serkis, who makes every step of the lead chimp’s transition into a simian Michael Corleone believable. (The most interesting drama in the picture occurs not between any of the humans, but between Caesar and an alpha chimp—let’s call him Johnny Lovo—who gets taken down a definitive notch after Caesar’s arrival.) The movie is light on its feet, but the action scenes slather so many CGI effects into single shots that the images become impossible to process and accept as reality on any level; when things become this unstable, they stop being narrative and turn into art design. I’d consider my complete inability to suspend disbelief related to the Uncanny Valley except that, instead of revulsion, a frame overrun by too many figments of some animator’s imagination just throws me into diabetic shock.
That’s okay—I got the goodies I needed last night from Evan Glodell’s Bellflower. Using the possessive case is tricky here because even though Glodell wrote, starred, directed, and led the movie’s editing team, he partnered with his co-star Tyler Dawson and a handful of other friends on many of the critical production functions. A genuine DIY project costing $17,000 and employing a jimmy-rigged camera, the film was saved from oblivion when it caught the eye of a Sundance bigwig. It was a good catch.
I wish I’d seen Bellflower before I wrote this post—it would’ve made for an extremely pertinent addition. The story looks at what happens when a rudely interrupted love affair throws a young man (Glodell) back on his ass, leaving him in the clutches of the mythology of his youth—in this case, the dynamic, violent world of Mel Gibson’s Mad Max movies. The film it really builds on, though, is Taxi Driver, with its anger, its unsparing scrutiny of American masculinity, and its sense of a boy-man’s flailing in the face of all things sexual. Any of these things is a worthy subject, but I was really taken by Bellflower’s focus on people living the kind of provisional small-time existences of Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and River’s Edge. (The movie’s meet-cute occurs when the hero and heroine are pitted against each other in a barroom’s cricket-eating contest.) Bellflower’s reviewers have played up its “apocalyptic” violence, but that’s just laziness on their part: the physical violence, when it finally comes, falls far short of a million gore-circuses that are out there, and we’re never forced to wallow in the outbursts of elemental rage we do see. Bellflower radiates intelligence and discrimination, which is to say it’s a serious movie in the best possible way, and if people are sensing something radical in it, that may be the reason why.
Camillo Gordini, seventeen years old, is examining himself in a mirror. Rospo and Giacomo, both eighteen, enter and sit down at the table. Camillo sits at the head of the table and places before him some typed pages. Giacomo gets ready to listen attentively. Rospo sits tiredly and plays with Ja-Ja, the Gordinis’ miniature schnauzer.
CAMILLO: Certainly the necessity of a daily political presence—which rightly calls for efforts superior to the average—has distracted us from a problem which will become more and more serious the longer we postpone it: the sexual problem. By sexual problem I mean a coitus non interruptus, in horizontal position, with the body totally extended in length, with the active and self-conscious participation of both parties.
ROSPO: What am I, dreaming?
CAMILLO: We have excluded a priori the possibility of experimenting on a prostitute, in the first place because this would require our acting in the open, in public, so that the bourgeois laws would be able to slander our movement. Secondly, because we would risk being infected with venereal disease, whose consequences would weaken our already exiguous ranks.
Rospo kicks a ball to the dog.
CAMILLO: Rospo, if you don’t pay attention I’m going to stop.
ROSPO: You ought to.
CAMILLO: A friend who shall remain unnamed knows a girl by the name of Giuliana with amatory possibilities which, he says, are inexhaustible. According to him, during sexual intercourse she goes into a trance so complete that her partner might be substituted without her noticing it: a perfect experimental laboratory for us. She is from the working class, docile and reserved. Of course a bourgeois girl would be better, so as to ravish in her the class she belongs to. But since the education of such a girl prevents her from going into a hypnotic trance, and since she always has some end in mind when she lets her pants be taken off, we ought to try ourselves out on this Giuliana first. Furthermore, if Giuliana is a proletarian, she is potentially a petit-bourgeoise. Let us not forget that, as Chairman Mao says, the peasant class is the only revolutionary class.
Rospo is playing openly with the dog now.
CAMILLO: Oh, cut it out! This is no game.
Furious, he goes out.
GIACOMO: You could have let him go on. It’s such a high-level speech.
ROSPO: Who gives a damn?
GIACOMO: Well, you can’t say it isn’t well written!
—Elda Tattoli & Marco Bellocchio