Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Poverty and Spit! Poverty and Spit! THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

 Those of us who were punk rockers at some point in the 70s or 80s now feel old as fuck, clutching onto last ditch straws and first canes; our old hearts and puffy eyes trapped in middle aged, vice-tainted bodies, our tattoos gone to gray blobs, the safety pin holes in our ears and cheeks long scarred over, our livers shot from Hep-C and whiskey. But hey hey hey! In the words of this kid who sang for Black Flag before Rollins came along, below left...

 I was just a suburban poseur moping around the all-ages City Gardens shows in Trenton in the early 80s, smoking myself into a coma while standing in front of the stage, waiting, waiting, waiting... for one crappy opening punk act after another, to get it over with, so I could see the Replacements, Ramones, Iggy Pop, Replacements or X. Pogoing and slam dancing around until the skinheads took over and turned the whole front half into a war zone. Coming back to our parents' houses exhausted and alive, triumphant, to catch NIGHT FLIGHT on the USA Network. None of us ever got a chance to see Penelope Sheeris' punk-breaking ground anthem, DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981). It's never been on DVD or tape.... until this week.... Onetwothreego! Our whole fucking life is a wreck!

Darby, sings into 'the mic' 
Now, at last the full tawdry skeevy glory of Spheeris' no-holds barred musical documentary can be seen and endured, from the apocalyptic audience bashing and riot starting of Fear's Lee Ving to Jon Doe giving out jailhouse tattoos. Shot on full frame 16mm, the film's never going to look like Kubrick or anything, and the sheer poverty-stricken messiness of the punk lifestyle is better experienced at arm's length anyway. I needed a Silkwood shower afterwards, especially post-the gaybaiting of Lee Ving, and so might you, Harvey. Are we kids or what?

Of all the interview subjects, X are the most charismatic, and Darby of the Germs the least, with terrible acne and townie teeth, playing with a tarantula at breakfast that is so normal and homey but just seeing this kid anywhere near a plate of eggs is enough to send me windmilling out of the room. Spheeris seems to film about six hours of a Germs show in what looks like a parent's basement, perhaps fascinated by his sheer loathsome druggy mania as he crawls atop speaker cabinets and crowds like Harpo Marx in the stateroom scene of NIGHT AT THE OPERA, his vocals dragging behind the 'rhythm' of the band like Angel behind the Generalissimo's automobile in THE WILD BUNCH. Too many film references? Fuck you! Jon Doe wouldn't think so. He references PERFORMANCE and GIMME SHELTER after a tussle breaks out in the similarly orange carpeted basement of Club 88.

What saves Darby from looking like some trainwreck intersection between Sid Vicious and pre-sobriety Iggy Pop is perhaps Spheeris' kind use of subtitles for the lyrics, all cute in the iron-on decal style Cooper font of the period. It's unusual and welcome considering the snarling incoherence. But the speed and downer mess of the Germs is like the frickin' Beatles compared to Slash Magazine writer Kickboy's godawful band 'Catholic Discipline" which we see play to an audience of around six bored people in a Chinese restaurant. Deliver us, Generallissimo Tso! The most disturbing bits come towards the end, with a couple of cute young boys utterly terrifying in their calm discussion of punching out girls and breaking kids' jaws with a tire chain. (Yet his own teeth are perfect!) and the vile gay-baiting rhetoric and unsubtle hatreds of Lee Ving, a kind of undeclared child of Travis Bickle and Sean Penn as the anti-Milk.

Fear ("You talkin' to them?")

But it's all worth the slog if you're a true X fan, for the on-again off-again marriage/romance between Jon Doe and Exene Cervenka is one of the great punk rock love stories of our time. Even when they're at odds their music only flourishes, singing as frankly and honestly in one song as an entire Sam Shepherd play rolled into one playful glance and howled lyric. Doe was the inspiration for me becoming a bassist, which his bass guitar slid like a serpent across the dorm room and around my leg while the rest of the band was lamenting the loss of the old bassist. That very night I was playing in front of more people than the goddamned 'Catholic Discipline' ever saw. Not X, though. Even giving ratty jailhouse tattoos Jon Doe is magnetic, a future side gig as a screen actor all but assured and Exene is like a relaxed Lady Macbeth who's target isn't the king but the entirety of narrow-minded American adulthood. I remember Exene smiling beaming down at me after one big dude clocked a skinhead who was about to knock my lights out - It was a baptism - I know now that was no fluke.

I don't even think there was the word skinhead yet - or thrash.

And that's another thing - we definitely wonder just how much Spheeris is being put on by these clowns, Claude "Kickboy" Bessy especially seems to consider himself some kind of media maven whose sneering hatred of everything and everyone provides the entirety of the punk movement with its voice, soul, and spine. But there's the feeling too that he's performing this iconoclast routine for Spheeris' cameras.

Fortunately this vast set includes both sequels (the second making real heavy metal into something funnier than Spinal Tap) and audio commentaries with Spheeris and more key interviews. And the third which takes a more runaway-squatter rights approach.

For me the punk-poseur scene dropped from my repertoire in 1986 when I found out all my (what today would be called Goth but then were just punk-poseur kids (back when 'poseur' wasn't necessarily bad - it just meant you weren't alienated from capital) in the 'Cure-Smiths-Siouxee' branch of the then-big tent punk family (near but not next to crossover-straight bands the more straight meat-eaters of us liked, such as REM and the Dream Syndicate) were all bi or gay and hadn't told me because they didn't know if my jammed gaydar was a result of being jut naive, closeted, or legitimately homophobic. Thus I peeled out in search of acid and hippies, my camp's former enemy. And I windmilled back into City Gardens over breaks, but slam-dancing and pogoing became moshing, where only big ugly skinheads (when they were still called 'baldheads') were really 'safe'. '

X marks ze Monster
Well, I was too mellow to go full thrash, my parents weren't divorced or uptight to be a squatter; and I was too straight to be (what today would be called goth, there was no emo yet) and too fucked-up to be straight-edge. Without the black nail polish and eyeliner (as I used to wear) punk was just British, in America, hardcore was called 'thrash' and X, the Replacements, Violent Femmes, Husker Du, Clash, Ramones, Iggy, and Minutemen were all crossover artists, like the Clash, and then grunge splintered it still further, and the kind of vitriol spewed by the likes of Fear. "Let's have a war / so you can go die! / Let's have a war! We need the money! / Let's have a war: We need the space!" The kind of stuff one hair away from Skrewdriver or Prussian Blue.

Then again, hearing all these boys' preference for rough masculine contact and their general aversion to girls, it's not a stretch to peg the whole punk thing as stemming from a kind of Jenner-esque macho burlesque, the safety of punching over the terror of embracing, or as Florence of the Machines sings (and BRONSON suggests), "A kiss with a fist is better than none."

Florence and the Machines, incidentally, would have been classified punk in 1981, as was Patti Smith, Television, and REM and, believe it or not, Bob Marley (thanks to UK bands like The Clash and The Slits providing the crossover bridge

That's so punky: Eugene decries the violence of his scene before confessing he's punched everyone he knows
I haven't pored through all the extras but already think the end shouldn't have been Fear's gay-bashing rhetoric but the 'X signing their Slash contract' a super 8mm extra wherein we finally get a glimpse of Penelope Spheeris herself, with punk-approved oversize suit jacket and panic-blonde hair and the righteous sense that a lot of the pointless steam-vent fight club anarchy of the film we had just seen might be at least a little bit just semi-insecure throat pouch puffery for Spheeris' camera, and at any rate you can't keep street cred and a record contract... and thanks god. Street cred is strictly poseur. What matters is a seven figure hit count; DIY has never been more alive, even if the 'alive' is mostly virtual.

Spheeris, still smokin'
But it's not us who've aged, it's the vampire celluloid, the vampire forever-youth reverse Dorian Grays throwing their coiled angst upon the pyre that destroys nothing. Goddamned these kids seem younger than I ever was when I was their age. To think I once looked up in awe at the 'adults' Cervenka and Doe as they passed Budweisers out into the all-ages throng like proud parents at some kind of unholy graduation. Here they're like any other fresh-faced kids toughened up by being artistic, drug addicted, boozed-up, maybe bisexual or semi-insane, not getting enough sunshine or sleep, playing their hearts out under overhead lighting in community hall basements, giving themselves terrible home tattoos, and playing every lousy gig like it's the last show on Earth. Boy were they wrong. OnetoothreeFour!

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. In other words, I've been to my orb reorbiter. 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:

(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 suggest, it's realer?

The only answer is.

Even so, enough bad trips happened under 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, where reincarnation can occur and he can get back in the game again, 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 by the couch, then winding up on the float 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) Skip ahead to 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.  

(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 continues the FANTASIA style protean music video narrative; I like this version way better than the digitally restored super long version (also on Streaming) thatgot a theatrical release back in '05, which has a classical score, because frankly, I think Lang would have roared in approval to see his 1927 sci fi parable turned into a stoner (the dark outlines dividing some of the color restoration give a HEAVY METAL-Ralph Bakshi rotoscope vibe) rock musical (the workers get grand pop anthems like a FLASHDANCE steel mill, and the whole upper class brothel debut of the robot Maria 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. If possible, see it at a college revival in 1987. 

(1970) based on the book by Erich von Däniken 

The History Channel is laden with ancient alien-related programming today, 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 for Ancient Aliens and seekers; here there are still the original inhabitants, by which I mean wildlife, overgrown with jungle and sand: shot on film with that earthy vibe of the day. There are almost no talking heads, those that are are translated / dubbed (from German and Russian), but there is a lot of travelogue style footage of pyramids, etc. And valuable footage of cargo cults in the Pacific that 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 and their cans of delicious peaches.

(2012) Starring: YaHoWa & The Source Family

At one point does a divinely inspired lysergic-macrobiotic sage either remember that way down deep he's a lusty huckster? I tell you one thing, I'd follow Yaweh-O or whatever Papa Bear's name is here way sooner than I'd ever be swayed by Phillip Seymor Hoffman as a faux L. Ron Hubbard in The Master. Apparently he was a near Gilgamesh mountain man messiah in and of himself, like the greatest of modern gurus, able to waken people's kundalini with just a touch or a glance from across a crowded room, 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. Watching this crazy documentary and hearing these crazy beautiful starry-eyed people, it's a solid trip that can tingle your kundalini right there in the room, sparking off your third eye like an Olympic torch - as Master Wong once said, "Take what you want, and leave the rest, like your salad bar." I'm quoting directly from one of my holiest of texts also on Netflix, from der unheimlich Vater J.C., Big Trouble in Little China! (see also CinemArchetype Senex: The Sage)

(1968-70) 2 episodes

"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) wherein a group of space hippies work various angles to convince the Enterprise crew to take them through forbidden space 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!") Dig that Vulcans consider the goal of these groovy brothers to be the highest form of sanity. 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)

(1996) - Starring: insects (bugs)

With aliens dancing and the dangerous space microbes and cosmic mind-altering spores on your mind, let's, as Steve says, get small. This weird movie tells its own story in insect language and movement, without any music or narration, allowing the intricate weave of nature the space and 'close reading' it's been waiting for all this time, to really show just how bizarre insect interactions are...ants milking droplets of water from clingy flea-style bugs and kicking ladybugs off their leaf home. That's kind of what head trips are, the utterly strange aliveness of our world, what our mind usually screens out. Only as small kids ourselves were we more open and attuned to the crazy scariness and odd joys of a fluent 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, you're excused.

(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 it. Then plunge into the coolness. Unlike Gilliam's Loathing, this is truly a film where the weird turn pro.

(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 a bad idea mix of 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 there of course you can go in for The Other One, the Bob Weir Story (but I never liked Bobby much, 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 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: "The Good, the Bad, and the British"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Manson Poppins: DEATHMASTER

The Age of Aquarius... remember when it dawned? Wast thou thar? Wist thar thou? Into that dawning yawning chasm, a new kind of exploitation film for to find, dangling down drive-ins of the mind? From Hair of the Claude to the Zodiac amore / but no more; flowers in the hair and hands and minds of disenfranchised kids from all walks of life, congregating against the man in candle-lit squats of Haight; one tin soldier writing away in a mangy corner; folkie playing "Gave my love a chicken," waiting for Bluto to bash his acoustic guitar; girls with beautiful blonde straight hair dancing like Prakriti in the flames of Bruce Dern's burning sculptures and sister Strasberg's childhood treasure; old SF Haight-Ashbury or Laurel Canyon mansions with paisley painted steps, Peter Fonda wandering in search of lost Lenore or Salli Sachse; college campus foyers with afroed radicals; dirty thrift stores and new age bookshops; all gone with the arrival of some straight edge Paul Walker narc type presuming himself the calm rational king of it all. It's 1972 now but everyone still pretending it's 1968, before old Charlie Manson came and put the lysergic blood hex on the forehead of the sleeping Virgin Sherry Tate and Owsley mixing up the Berkley medicine; radicals kicking up violent dove sediment as they snake upriver towards your peaceful hawk lagoon --self-righteous conviction leaving the ear's of the fatherless young exposed to the sound of the barefoot rainbowed piper (1) to lead them off the lemming cliff, or worse, into their parents' bedroom to write 'acid is groovy' in blood on the walls. 

If the 60s created the runaway shelter squatter cult free love commune utopia (Woodstock), the 70s was spent reeling from the barbarian gate-crashers at Altamont) merely searched for someone who wanted to lead (i.e. manipulate) it: Satanists, warlocks, scheming crooks, vampires, and the devil himself all put in bid after putting the old leaders in jail, 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.' Manson's strung out wackos bled into assassin shadows that stained every long-haired date brought home late to worried-sick suburban parents. There were so many moonies, Hare Krishnas and the other 'options' around, that studying to be a cult deprogrammer seemed a viable career. Even in elementary school we taught about brainwashing although we had a pretty literal conception of it (I pictured making someone drink soapy water and stand in their head while you turn a crank stuck in their ear). Jim Jones replaced the occult-LSD hippie cocktail with Kool-Aid as our key 'cult' beverage in 1978; but between '69-'77 cults were 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.

Meanwhile at the drive-in, the national post-Manson hippie backlash brought in a psycho guru murderous hippie cult gusher...

(1972) - Dir Ray Danton

The 'other' self-help guru vampire character Robert Quarry played in the early 70s (first being COUNT YORGA), this gets no love from the man, but like a rainforest serpent crawling up from the depths of the Amazon Instant Video riverbed, it bit me, man. And the print on Prime there looks damned good (which is--if you've surfed around down there you'll know what I mean--unusual in and of itself).

Lensed by the great Bill Butler (JAWS, DEMON SEED) in this countercultural AIP semi-documentary style, I dig that once the pre-credit coffin on a river sequence is over, you'd never even know it was a horror movie. In the cinema verite style of just a few years earlier, we pull focus along interweaving groups of bikers, free spirits selling trinkets at the 'patagonia market' parking lot, and that coffin being driven past in the back of an old fits-right-in pick-up, like 1968's PSYCH-OUT (which you'll remember also has a coffin) meets a non-musical HAIR (a grave) divided by WILD ANGELS (a smashed church) x BILLY JACK (righteous kung fu peacenik; runaway hippie shelter) + 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). Acid and 'horse' are both narcotics, and narcotics are death, kids --remember that. 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 error was about Jim Jones --I still think it so, even though Jones never shows up --would the movie have blown my mind otherwise? No, but not knowing if something's a comedy, tragedy, horror film, anti-drug message movie, or parental paranoia exploitation kind of puts you in the mind of what acid is actually like when you're on it.

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 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 literature (that you know, really reaches you kids, telling it all in your hip language) and after that, maybe think about joining us at sunrise for morning chants. Interested? You just might find what you're seeking, and if that momentary joy of connection cooks down to selling flowers in the street to keep our little family in tambourines, robes, candles and dime store Dracula fangs, well, it's a chance to serve the cause, and most of all to be in the picture. Dig, man, in the picture, for the picture itself is in, as it is in life which is love and life is essence, therefore granting the great teacher your essence, your mortality's platelets and plasma, is to spend eternity as one bitten" by the love bug. Only an idiot would say no to eternal life and so DEATHMASTER needed an idiot, and in his grace, they sent him one, his name was Pico, and Bill Ewing was the actor (if that is the word) who plays 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 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 kind of turned on by Monk's outlaw swagger. The much smaller Pico knocks him on his ass, but no hard feelings because they all end up on the run from the fuzz and like Mongo in BLAZING SADDLES Monk respects a guy that can whup him 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 food; and while kids mull around 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
Another hippie: Yeah. Lay it down, man

The kids gather wide-eyed like he's Manson Poppins, wanting him to say more, man, about the stars and shit. Fix the place up, first. Clean house, sayeth Korda, 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, 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 --it's so spot on/off.  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 little things are odd -- he freaks out over Monk's iron cross pendant (I used to have on just like it). 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! It might be the best line in a biker film since, say it with me, Heavenly Blue's telling the priest he wants to get loaded 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. After a cleaning montage (cooperation is beautiful - far out), Khorda returns with Barbado, this time playing the conga; Khorda puts the bite on Essine, and the kids hear her scream upstairs. 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. Pico and Rona figure they better split fast, especially once everyone else starts dancing too. Hey man, let's split. 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 yes, you feel a deep egoless bliss and connection to the eternal now, but you've also just let someone else take over and now you can't escape the guru's clutches even if you start to smell a rat.

After the excellent Lazlo Kovacs-esque 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 (making it seem like he was being yelled at by the frustrated director between sets, "show emotion!") finally pays off when he 'snaps' into a weird bug-eyed maniac mode. Whatever the method it took to get him there, I like it. As his girlfriend Rona, Brenda Dickson (below) is a blast --with big expressive eyes, Ellen Burstyn meets Jaclyn Smith vibe and a body that knows just how stretch lithely to expose a celestial pale midriff. She's cuter than most, with real star quality, wearing the same Howard Hughes-designed bras of AIP beach girls; she's accessibly naive girl-next-door yet cool, open, eyes dilating and contracting on command, 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. Alas she disappears for most of the second swath, though her absence creates an anxiety in young Pico that we feel too.

As the Van Helsing there's Pop ('voice of Pooh') Fiedler, a mousy middle aged little balding capitalist in a hippie vest and sandals, who looks out for the kids. It's to him Pico runs when he realizes the truth about this suave new guru Khorda, and of course when this long-haired faux Native American Pico barges in on him foaming at the mouth and raving about vampires, Pop just assumes he's on acid. Why wouldn't he? 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 had to run, screaming and hysterical, naked into the night? I used to rant myself hoarse trying to convince Johnny 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.

At least Pop's convinced eventually (his dog gets killed, of course) 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 evil swine around us at Reggae on the River. 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. It was the summer of 1990, there was a massive draught so no campfires, 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 blonde hippie while suffering terrible DSB? Or read an 800+ page book with no comprehension of its presumedly rich historical subtext? 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, as the song goes, would descend, or were they more like vampire bats, for every drop of that 1.75 of Ten High should have been coursing through my grateful bloodstream instead of theirs.

And that brings us to the final marvelous performance in the clan - the 'adult' in the group, the great Robert Quarry, who'd played a similar role in the two Count Yorga movies the previous years. You would think this might be the third film in the series, considering as Yorga he started as a self-help guru to a slightly older and richer enclave of California swingers, but there's apparently no relation, which is fine, because I like this film much better than either of those, and I know full well they're far better reviewed than DEATHMASTER. But Quarry doesn't ham it up or phone it in until the very end, when he drops one of the fakest worst evil laughs-turned-screams in horror history, which is followed almost immediately by Ewing's farewell "Lorna... it's all right Lonra" speech, which must be seen and heard to be believed. Part of my tolerance is due to my penchant for this kind of indie DIY countercultural druggy ambiguity-horror aesthetic, but the other is that the photography is beautiful --it's easy to see why Bill Butler would go on to be one of the best in the business - there's a kind of Gordon Willis duskiness, he catches more than a few great magic hour shots, and even when Khorda claps the lights on in the mansion it still has a deep dusky atmosphere. And that abrupt switch from the PSYCH-OUT hippie house vibe to full on psychedelic uber-cheap vampire film is well turned by actor Ray Danton. Granted by then the whole enterprise has gone south, as the saying goes. But what a great drop!

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, but never even thinks about bringing a real cross with him, or to bring a priest instead of the cops, fucking Paul Walker-Keanu Reeves narc type that he is.

I kept hoping that it would turn out that the only way to defeat Khorda would be to get a hair cut, a suit and a job. But you can't have everything.

But, if you have 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! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Not what it looks Like: HONEYMOON, FORCE MAJEURE

"This was supposed to be romantic under the stars, not sheets."
In the old days, before VHS and Betamax, there was something called memory. Films were he-said-she-saids subject to the warping effects of recollection. If and when the films resurfaced after leaving theaters, they were no more representative of their true selves than the memory of the viewer: panned, scanned, faded, fuzzy, edited for content, edited for time, and doused in commercials and the whims of an aerial antenna, i.e. they looked like they'd been maimed in a war. Sometimes they even had to have new footage shot since so much was cut, or because it needed a longer running time to grab a longer time slot. Fans of the film could then argue over what was missing, what was added, what left the cinematic equivalent of phantom limb syndrome.

But there were some films, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1972) or Clockwork Orange (1971) for example that could never, no matter how much they edited them, ever be shown on TV... which meant no one saw them unless at some midnight drive-in revival, for they came to us not as the mutilated but the mutilator --they left us feeling maimed, psychically, or at least ripped open, 'cured' in a Luvidico chopper.

Now of course things are better. nearly all films from Edison onwards are 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. This post then, via two recent films on Netflix streaming, the indie horror movie Honeymoon (2014) and the Nordic import Force Majeure (2014) are--in their skewed way--examples of that side effect. 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. In Majeure it's an upscale Nordic family on a skiing vacation in the Alps, with a rift caused when the father runs in panic after an avalanche sends a wave of snowy fog over the resort, shrouding the brunch porch in a white-out, causing a momentary surge of panic followed by everyone just resuming brunch. The father returns like nothing's happened, but the mom's faith is destroyed.

In Honeymoon, a first date at an East Village Indian restaurant leads to Paul (Harry Treadaway) puking and trapped on the floor of Bea (Rose Leslie)'s apartment unable to make it to the subway; then she gets sick in a mysterious way "As you know, I got sick." Their reception has Indian food as a fuck you to Indian food: "you tried to keep us apart. Fuck you... we win." It's kind of an odd motivation for marriage, but then again, what isn't? Their intimate talk always seems to weave it's way back to puking - as if it's a code that disrupts what would be normal danger signals of intimacy - triggering a skip in the record where normal good judgment and realization there's something wrong would occur. The wedding tent for example --we never see anyone else in the confessional booth - does she even have any other family? She brings him to her woods home in Canada for a honeymoon, 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, 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 New Years 1928 Gold Room frieze, freezing to death in 1980 at the same time, and forever...

The film uses a nice 'suggestion' of a POV home movie, via a Steadicam that whips around the woods and fuses with the opening wedding video to collapse the social sphere in that uber-paranoid honeymoon Antichrist meets Zulawski's Possession way, and gives "birth" like a virus to The Shining crossed with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and that film you sometimes see skulking in the shadows of cable, a Kevin Costner-starring horror film called The New Daughter (2009). So be careful. Exercise caution. You don't need a government to make you paranoid. Sometimes all it takes is a Force Majeure, i.e. an avalanche.

The more you know, but you don't really know, that's the thing. Neither Majeure nor Honeymoon should be seen on a first date, or even a last (you might never date again). But they make a great double feature, a before and after of the pros and cons of marrying into the reptilian bloodline. The mother and children in Majeure cope with a father who ran away and left them during an avalanche while they were having brunch at the foot of the Alps on a skiing trip. He's ostracized by the family in the way most American fathers are perhaps used to, resented for the slightest of perceived offenses, but this upscale Nordic foursome seem far cooler --this sprawling resort, located squarely in the middle of the Alps, has a sterile immediacy we can't quite grasp. It's not until the mom later needs help or overreacts to a moment of terror herself, that the balance can be redressed. Is the problem, the thing that drives them apart, that he won't cop to his moment of cowardice, refusing to remember his flight, maybe blocking it out via subconscious mechanisms he can't control, or that she's so unforgiving she can't just let the matter drop? Within minutes of the white out, 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 can't remember.

Welcome to the Seaside resort town of Innsmouth

In Honeymoon the de-masculinization comes from the complete ignorance of some kind of strange Lovecraftian de-evolution of which a new young wife is involved. It begins when he finds his new (red-haired) wife out in the woods, 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--asks the question: did he find the right being when he found her naked in the woods in the dead of night, or some Shadow over Innsmouth meets the pod people-style amphibious clone, one able to hold the pose for only so long. Or is it all the break of madness? With the semi found-footage approach we never learn anything, except maybe hottie young director Leigh Janiak would like some Paranormal Activity-style profit margins and may just get delayed Bug acclaim. She deserves both, taking the same male-female approach (her boyfriend Phil Graziadel co-wrote, so the newlywed interactions ring true) that worked so well in both those 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. We might even realize the truth - there never was a consensus, just a shared delusion. 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.

Taken together these two film chronicle the age old battle of the sexes and the successive de-evolution of the masculine father in the post-industrial age until you have to wonder if the amount of bad role models for men in films is the result of the films or the men - which came first. It's hard to know for sure, but after watching both those films as I have, you may never look at your wife the same way again after she comes back from the store. Is she really the same wife at all? Maybe not. She may have been impregnated-possessed by a tree branch. Not saying that's the way it is, just realizing we could have done either thing --  run from an avalanche, proposed marriage just to fill the void. Sometimes kissing a girl is enough to tingle me down to the toes. Sometimes we keep kissing, going deeper and deeper, if sex still doesn't get the tingle then maybe without a condom, if that doesn't work, then tell her we love her, if she does too, then?? No, still no tingle. So marriage. Still no tingle - so kids. A smart man would run... but no one is smart until it's far too late. A brief tingle gives way to revulsion and suspicion as one's old tingle-deprived misery surfaces like toadish reminders of all the tingle's that never came.

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 begins to look like two mandibles moving like a mantis dismantling an unseen fly with sewing machine precision as they talk. I applaud it doesn't take a post-modern approach like, say, Intervention or whatever that movie's called. It has the courage of its Lynchcraft conviction and that says something, as the film leads to a full black out just as Force leads to pure white-outs. But in both there are no easy answers. None of us knows who the other is, or who even we are, why we should have presumed a 'normal' existed to begin with.

Usually it's the Europeans with their Tower of Babel post-Iron Curtain disconnect that are most keen to notice this in the dating and marriage front, the mix of similar features and class (especially in skiing resort circles), socialized higher education and a less pop culture-based social epoxy (they all still dress and act like it's the 70s, while we've pingpong-ed back under our Puritan couch, Katy Perry our new Glenn Miller) which makes Honeymoon seem both behind, and ahead of its time. This couple, NYC-dwelling drinking hipster types that remind me of myself at their age and Manhattan location, has married almost on a whim, but you can see us doing the same, they're young - they look kind of alike, they're in love and 40 years ago people got married knowing each other less well - they had a cute little ceremony (like we did) and a honeymoon, the first 'new' family vacation...

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 time, in a culture driven by myopic narcissism and cultivated shallowness, in 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 we left behind or left us behind isn't even in our top ten anxieties. Every minute we stick around is a minute that could be spent running for our lives, from whom or what we're running from is irrelevant when there's so many goddamned crossroads to choose from. With so many damn options along Netflix Boulevard, why feign contemporariness? Where is the fleeting urgency? Our monster monsoon has waited long enough in heaven's white padded room. Let it come down, let it eclipse the infinity of Aldous' perceptions so we might once more behold the outline of that dirty finite door. Beyond the Door II? Just another word for Shock. The easy noir air conditioned anonymity of the 90 minute to two hours in the dark, our most precious allotment, has grown too valuable to waste on anything but peaks. Yet the warmth of the familiar is the same as the cold of the grave. The unknown devolution along the obsidian shore is too much too fast, forever. We cannot allow a mineshaft gap, but turn it on its side and that gap is just a hallway to a door we're long shut out of, like The Swimmer or Shannon at the end of his long swim. Hear the elder god burbling of our slimy ancestors? Take another drink, and let it dissolve to uncritical applause, let the flap of the pool filter dissolve the roar of the ocean muffling a million fishy screams. That's entertainment, 'til it's too late to know it isn't.