The End of the Tour

     Needed to think about this for a few days to separate my feelings on the subject and merits of this movie. There’s no question the screenplay is fine and the two leads give award-worthy performances. But it is so hard watching DFW allow Lipsky/Rolling Stone into his already fragile life. Lipsky as portrayed here appears to be some kind of combination of weasel and vulture who only too late gets into touch with his feelings about DFW.

DFW comes across as an unkempt, neurotic, slightly paranoic man who can’t resist engaging in locker room talk with this equally insecure journalist through which I guess, they assure one another of their heterosexuality/masculinity which is in doubt I guess because they are intellectuals? There isn’t much insight provided here. DFW famously talks about addiction to television but his addiction to sugar is in full force as we watch he and Lipsky binge on candy from the convenience story in several scenes.

Sorry spoiler alert: The big reveal in the end is Lipsky (pressured by his editor) finding the callousness to ask DFW about the rumors of heroin addiction at least in the past. DFW here doesn’t confirm or deny, but emphasizes his addiction to tv and how that’s not paid attention to because it’s not as glamorous. Lipsky does nothing with this information.

I have so much to say about DFW and Infinite Jest but it’s hard to stay focused on just a few things, I guess. I stumbled across Infinite Jest in a discount bookstore (leftovers) several years after it came out in 1996. I read the novel and marveled at it. It is amazing and worthy of praise. But, as DFW himself said it wasn’t the second coming of Joyce or Fitzgerald. It is a work about popular culture and is therefore limited by its subject matter, I believe.

The hype that grew up around the novel was not good for anyone, except the publishers, who had a bestseller on their hands. DFW suffered from depression his whole life and was too fragile, sincere and ultimately well-meaning to survive the fame monster. I believe it literally ate him from outside to inside. This is a worthwhile film, worth seeing for a sort of summary of DFW’s themes and concerns but if you are interested, I direct you to his work in print and to the talks and interviews available on YouTube. He describes the term GenX as just a way to slap a label for demographic and marketing purposes on a group of people who are lost and alone. He is so right.

3 poems recently published

These three were kindly published by Harbinger Asylum recently.

Metal/liturgy

Amalgamation made of steel

Alloy ally carves away

The sandstone imitation of

The ineffable called religion.
Becoming mercurial, it flows like water

Seeking the low places

Soft as rain

Filling the hollow spaces.
Flowing into every crevice

Taking its shape, silvery

Glimmering incarnation of light

This is no emulation.

 

 

Empty desert house

The scent of old, sun-baked wood fills my head

Almost knocks me over and I look down at my feet

It’s uncanny, almost shameful or repellant

Like the wood resisted bursting into flames

And became something else, something other than it was

It took on the odors of the people who once lived here

But they are so long gone it’s come back to something

Like it used to be.

It is waiting and full of implosions

Bleached colorless where the sun continues

To beat on it, through glassless windows, an endless and timeless bond.

In the shadows the wood hides its grain and folds

In on itself.

I watch my feet tread the floor boards

Of this house where the scent of the wood has burned

Itself into my memory.

It stands alone on the desert floor

Surrounded by sand and cactus,

Mountains in the distance.

 

 

A Dry L. A. Winter

Pale, smog-filtered sunlight

Yesterday it was 70 degrees.

Cat-piss scented cypress releases its fragrance in the warmth.

Eucalyptus fingerling leaves flutter around

Peeling trunks naked and mottled like crime-scene torsos.

Long withheld rain has murdered the pine tree

It still stands needles gone orange and branches black.

Palm fronds flicker in the Santa Ana winds like lit matchsticks.

A dust-devil blows debris into the sky to join the smog

Already dimming a weak Winter sun.

 

 

Lost in Translation

There will be a spoiler here, so if you haven’t seen this, please be aware. I’ve seen this somewhere between 6 and 10 times and I have it in my collection. I’m tempted to add it to my list of movies about friendship but don’t because I’ve decided that what happens here is a chaste crush.

It’s a beautiful story because these people are there for each other in a very special way so that even though they are both in an ebb in their lives their hope is renewed through their mutual appreciation for one another. Some times people don’t suck, and they don’t have to be perfect to not suck. Bob’s got his issues about taking the easy way out right now in his career and cheating on his wife with the jazz singer. Charlotte needs to feel special and to have attention lavished on her and she’s not ready to face the fact that she married someone she doesn’t know.

There’s a lot of humor in this too, surprisingly slapstick stuff around Bob’s character, giving Bill Murray a chance to be wacky. Charlotte’s funny snottyness is given play in the way Cameron Diaz is thinly disguised by Anna Faris’s character who gushes about everything, including the latest cleanse that they all must try as well as her partner Justin Timberlake being portrayed by an unknown actor (couldn’t find him in the credits), who babbles obsessively and incoherently about his own music production.

I noticed this time around that there’s a subtle survey presented of roles for females in Japanese society and the limitations there add to Charlotte’s sense of isolation and wondering what to do with herself.

The soundtrack and songs chosen for this story are perfect and add such a special aspect because they are not mainstream pop songs or traditional scoring. The songs chosen are new wave and punk and the soundtrack is very modern EDM. This definitely conveys a sense that this is a film that has been made just for us.

What’s real about this story is that everything isn’t magically fixed by this crush, but that, as in real life, we can renew hope just enough to go on and face the future. Every time I watch this, I somehow think that I am finally going to be able to hear what Bob says to Charlotte in the last scene. To me, that’s magic.

Fresh Paint for Francis Bacon

I’m a painter, when I can afford the materials.  This is a poem I haven’t submitted anywhere yet.  It’s a bit intense.  But sincere enough.

 

Fresh Paint for Francis Bacon

I stagger around

in this depthless

whirlpool of muck

that is my inheritance from you

pigs at the trough

 

And even though

I have slaughtered

you in Bacon’s

paintings of hanging

(ohhh gluttonous joy)

flesh the stench

clings to my

skin and hair

 

Thank you piggies

for the putrid

stink of garbage

the smell of rot

and decayed dreams

 

I remember smelling

it on you

it wafted off

your shiny scalp

and nicotine stained

fingers as you

labored to keep

me at the trough

with you senseless

 

Sometimes I lunge

at the outer

rings of the

cesspool that clings

to my feet

breathing sweet fine

odors of fresh

paint and colors

on clean white

cotton canvasses waiting

for my work

 

I am able to

scrape the muck from

my worn shoes with

my palette knife

it falls away

without a thought

and for awhile

I am free

 

Cabaret

     Watched this again as part of my homework for TCM and Ball State University’s MOOC called Mad About Musicals. I’ll think of this review as my final essay for the course but it will concern itself with Cabaret only. I owe a lot of my thoughts about it to two of the professors for the course: Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament and Dr. Richard Edwards.

So, giving a little background to Fosse’s work, he was a renowned Broadway choreographer and his musical film Sweet Charity had come out in 1969 with Shirley MacLaine. I loved it even as a little girl but learned in this class that it was considered a bit of a flop! So, Fosse was really motivated to show Hollywood what he was capable of with Cabaret. Sadly, he isn’t around to ask him but I think we can see in All That Jazz how driven and meticulous he was at the expense of even his health. The profs mentioned they did not know how Fosse made such a huge leap in cinema but that in Cabaret he became a brilliant filmmaker at the height of his powers who has learned to trust the language of film to tell the story cinematically. This film won him an Oscar for best director but did not win best picture as that went to The Godfather that year.

One of the things that is very special about this film is that Fosse is able to use all of his influences in an expressive way that is seamless and fully integrated, nothing is disconnected. Fosse is able to incorporate film history by using tight close-ups of people in the KitKat club the way Eisenstein did in Russian formalist films, he quotes German Expressionist films for example by beginning with the emcee’s distorted face in a distorted mirror. He quotes an Otto Dix painting (considered “degenerate art” by Hitler) by showing a tableaux of the portrait in the club, he quotes French New Wave by using their techniques and he quotes American film school modernism which was just coming into being during that time. His precise choreography is a Broadway technique he uses to make his dancer’s bodies express exactly what he wants them to about the times. This is the most experimental musical that was still a mainstream film and became the template for later modern musicals like Chicago.

All of the songs, done in the club, comment on all of the real life elements happening in the story. This film takes on the rise of fascism in Germany at the time (1931 Weimar Germany) and culminates musically with the one song that takes place outside the club, “The Future Belongs to Me” in a Berlin beer garden where Fosse can show ordinary German citizens falling under a sinister spell of nationalism.

Inside the club, we get to see the entire LGBTQ community and the film develops polyamory, bisexuality, homosexuality in its relationships. Fosse’s work celebrates human sexuality. All throughout the film, a very oppressive wave of conservatism (fascism) starts to come in in a very dark and ugly way, represented by the Nazis that very gradually escalates into extreme violence during a frenetic montage that acts as dramatic climax to the film. It is a world historical pattern so that the film speaks to us about it then (coming out during the Nixon administration, the Viet Nam war and Watergate) and it speaks to us about it now with the current rise of fascism under the Trump administration and all of their crimes. It is still completely relevant and like all masterpieces, stands outside time.

One of the other very special things about this film is its wide array of points of view from its characters. Joel Grey (won the Oscar for best supporting actor here) plays the KitKat Club’s emcee who embodies the story’s muse, (Greek) chorus and narrator. We know he is commenting on all kinds of social degradation including fascism, materialism, narcissism, and dehumanization but we also don’t know if he is the devil himself. His character seems to mirror and tempt at the same time. Liza Minnelli (won the Oscar for best actress in this role) plays American cabaret singer/aspiring movie star Sally Bowles. Her point of view is one of denial and delusion about her current society and neglectful father juxtaposed with her “divinely decadent” and worldly wise sexual/social behavior and she represents “the babe in woods” America was at the time before it entered into WW II and she also stands in for us, the modern audience. Michael York (in all his early 70’s beauty) plays sexually ambivalent British writer/translator/English tutor Brian Roberts whose character will come of age during the film. Fritz Wepper (as Fritz) stands in for ordinary German society who perhaps sells itself as he does in the beginning but then is won over by love to reject self-hatred and bigotry and so perhaps represents the Resistance. Marisa Berenson is quite funny representing Jewish society (as Natalya Landauer) at the time who has literally gotten into bed with the Germans and there is no easy extrication. Handsome, suave Helmut Greim does an excellent impression of the 1% (Baron Maximilian von Heune) who as always, plays with human beings as if they were toys, drops them and runs off in their self-contained bubble of narcissism.

Per Dr. Ament and Edwards, musicals are made in post-production, otherwise they would just be filmed stage musicals. Per Dr. Ament and Edwards, Fosse has given himself many scenes to choose from and editing is absolutely crucial to telling this story and was masterfully done by David Bretherton. It is considered a very complex film, especially for a musical and it is shocking at how fresh and daring it still is. To paraphrase Dr. Edwards: Bob Fosse has created a tour de force work of art in a film that is one of the great directorial demonstrations of what’s possible in film in a mainstream film.

My personal reaction to the film is that it is amazing musically, choreographically, its make-up and costumes are unforgettable and part of the completeness that makes a masterpiece, in its performances and the way it stands outside time to show us something about the human condition that is so very much needed, sadly, today.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Want to make a note that the great Jackie Weaver has a small part as servant Minnie in this film from 1975.

This film marked Peter Weir’s big splash into the world cinema scene. Watching it now it seems so modern for its time and I realized it’s because it changed cinema and has been highly influential. I see David Lynch and Sofia Coppola in it very much from themes to montage. Lynch especially has carried its themes of sensuality, mystery and horror to extremes. I had previously remembered this film for how beautiful it is. It is rapturously beautiful, however, it is deeply unsettling and horrific as well. I had forgotten that part and it is a large part.

Rachel Roberts is perfect in her performance, capturing all of that horror and repulsion of the Victorian patriarchy, both as a perpetrator and a victim of it. And how about that coiffure? Looks like Francis Ford Coppola almost copied it for Gary Oldman’s strange coiffure in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula! Another film that I love. The 1970’s were an unsettling time when second wave feminism was awakening people and even though this film’s story takes place in 1900, it is very much of the time it was made, focusing on young ladies blossoming out of Victorian times and all the fears around their loss and loss of innocence mirroring what was happening socially during the 1970’s.

Sofia Coppola’s films The Virgin Suicides and The Beguiled are concerned with the same themes, the idealized patriarchal virgin and her victimization (or anxiety about her becoming a perpetrator in The Beguiled) if she dares to choose her own identity, sexuality and freedom. Coppola uses the same soft focus, lighting and montage techniques Weir uses as does David Lynch in his films to some extent.  His Mullholland Drive comes to mind specifically.

After this viewing, I’ve changed my 4 star rating to 5 stars because I think I am better able to understand its place in cinema history and feel that everyone wishing to understand cinema history should see it.

Taxi Driver

     This is being temporarily featured on Filmstruck with a commentary by Scorcese himself and I didn’t want to miss it as I had seen it before a long time ago and was puzzled and intrigued by it at the time. I wanted to see what I thought now after years of learning about film history through Criterion and other resources. There is just so much to talk about in both personal and critical or analytical terms. I turned 13 years old the year this movie came out and we were in the middle of the five years we lived in Connecticut while I was growing up. I was a Southern California transplant, born and raised up to that point in a sunny, white suburbia. Up to that time, I was an outdoors girl, not really wanted at home so I rode bikes, roller-skated and ran around the park with my friends.

When we moved to Connecticut, I literally and figuratively came inside, into a darkened tv room for SNL, live from New York, the city we went to 3-4 times a year, it was a two and half hour drive from where we lived and our neighbors thought we were crazy. Good citizens of middle Connecticut do NOT visit New York City. Nothing violent ever happened and yet the city and everything about it changed my life forever. Gritty, mid-to late Seventies NYC. Watching this film, now, so many years later is to be plunged back into the sights, smells and sounds. Unlike Travis Bickle, though, I was not repulsed by anything about it. I remember the smell of rotting trash on the street, uncollected during a strike. I remember the soot on my blouse after a day spent walking and walking and people watching on the streets. I remember the street-walkers in their halter tops, cut-offs with fannies hanging out, high heeled wobbling around the corner. I remember the wilting heat and humidity. I remember the hobos (mean people called them bums) staggering around. I remember the acrid smell of roasting chestnuts in winter. It was the best of everything (Broadway musicals and plays, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian wing, skyscrapers, hotel elevators, the theme for The Sting blasting out of the music store, the night-time lights, the skaters at 30 rock, meeting Kojak in the hotel coffee shop, room service cheeseburgers and chocolate cake while watching Blazing Saddles on the tv, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Central Park during the day) and it was the worst of everything.

Schrader talks about Travis being in a hell of his own making, and I can definitely understand that. I try to put myself in Travis’ shoes and find myself not quite able to and it’s probably because I didn’t have to live there and when I did stay there I had very privileged digs even if it was just the HoJo’s. Listening to the commentary by Scorcese and Schrader, perhaps I am not supposed to. Schrader says his theme was loneliness and then became self-imposed loneliness as the story developed. He says he was going to through a very low, difficult time in his life and this story came out of it, he was the taxi driver, literally. Thank god he was able to turn his pain into great art rather than take it out on the people around him as Travis does. The story is really visionary as we live in a time that it is peculiarly American to act out one’s pain with a gun. Scorcese said at the time he really felt that we all had Travis Bickle inside of us implying that now he doesn’t feel that way as much. But Travis represents our shadow and we do all of us have a shadow.

There is irony and cynicism in this story as Travis becomes a sort of hero that the city tolerates and Scorcese talks about that and how he modified the color in the last scene’s massacre in order to get around the rating problem the MPAA was giving him. He also talks about the fact that Bickle is a racist and they deliberately made casting choices (Harvey Keitel as Sport for example) to specifically be less inflammatory. He said Bickle sees himself as low man on the totem pole and expresses his resentment through racism, putting others down so he can feel better about himself. Scorcese also talks about the phenomena of films and characters becoming admired for all the wrong reasons. Just as a side observation Scarface with Al Pacino comes to mind in this regard.

Jodie Foster was only 12 year old when she played a victim of sex trafficking here and it is very disturbing to think about that. As a child I was always considered to be a forty year old midget (terribly ignorant way of justifying treating me like an adult) and it is dismaying to see her treated here as such and to hear a commentator read her letter of thanks to Scorcese for casting her and saving her from a lifetime stuck in the Mickey Mouse club). As children, we are so eager to identify with the oppressors we become collaborators with them in our own victimization.

Schrader talks about his own very strict, Calvinist upbringing and his subsequent obsession with pornography and this gave me insight into Bickle’s choice of past-time and its fitful use to combat loneliness and repression. I remember the peepshow marquees and adult movie theaters in the city. As a child I was surprised that people would watch that and do that in such a public way. While I have gained insight and appreciation for this film I can’t really say I’ve gained empathy and again, I am probably  not supposed to. Afterall, this seems to be addressed to a very specific audience (white male, working class) and its universality is perhaps specifically limited to that world. There’s no doubt that the direction, cinematography and script are all masterful. Robert DeNiro’s performance created an icon of American cinema. Both Schrader and Scorcese comment that he knew Bickle better than even they did and trusted him to embody the character. They commented that it was marvelous how three individuals came together in the perfect place and time to create a work of art. Personally, this time around watching it, I kept thinking of Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam. I want to watch Summer of Sam again.

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