Psychedelic Film Criticism for the legally insane

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Myrna Loy: December's Salve


The holidays is a time for joy, giving, family, religious or cultural iconography, cold, boredom, old people smells, excited new dogs, alcoholism, despair, sunshine, candy caning, and-- saving every cold, old dying soul from the terror of time, now there's Myrna Loyl The THiN MAN, and so also Myrna Loy. That heavenly vixen so able to embody exotic blends of counterespionage agents, loving witty and wry detective wives, good-natured prostitutes always willing to testify against the mob if it means saving an innocent whatever, and vamps with secret hearts of gold. Button-nose cute, too, with a twinkle in the eye so pronounced it's like looking into an ice-packed highball on a country club veranda as the sun sets...

TCM digs it, so Fridays they're pulling out the stops, and Acidemic has culled its totterirng archives to tell you which ones can be missed (post-code gender straitjacket re-donning) and must be watched, and even with what relative or relatives. Mira:

FRIDAY 12/9:
2 PM -MASK OF FU MANCHU  
(1932) - ***1/2
MGM's contribution to racist sensationalism, this great punchy little film plays like a massive headrush serial, with elaborate exotica sets: opium dens, expressionistic corridors, eerie operating rooms, lightning, crocodiles, spiked crushing walls, ear-drum bell torture, mind control and above and best of all, Myrna Loy as Fah Lo Suee, the sadistic-kinky daughter of the exonerated Fu Manchu (Karloff). As if that wasn't enough, one of the 'good guys' is Karen Morely, who insists she come along on the expedition to rescue ancient Chinese artifacts (the sword of Genghis Kahn) from the Chinese (i.e. Fu), who'll use them to stir a revolt to "kill the white man, and take his women!"
(for more: Free Fu and Fah Lo)

8 PM - LOVE ME TONIGHT
(1932) - ****
I haven't written much about it in the past, but this is Maurice Chevalier's best film and a musical perfect even for those who dislike the genre and especially Jeanette MacDonald's trilling operetta singing. Here she's pretty sexy as is sister Loy, but not in a winky way like Lubitsch might do with the same cast, here it's all warm and wry and more about singing "Mimi" straight into camera than sublimating dirty limericks. Myrna--playing a sex-starved sister trapped by her moral father at the family estate where no man is under 60, is alas mostly cut out due to being too sexy even for 1932. The quest to find the footage of her singing her verse of "Mimi" while in lingerie in her boudoir is one of the great undertakings of the 21st century.

11:30 PM- NIGHTFLIGHT
(1933) - ***1/2
Long unseen due to a rights dispute with author Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry's estate, Night Flight (1933) might not give Loy more than a scene or two but turns out to be quite the dreamy-poetic meditation, full of great cool midnight moments all its own. Unfolding over one long night it has curious poetic-noir fairy tale qualities-- a film spent in the pajamas, if you will, occurring in a land where most everyone else is sound asleep, recalling They Shoot Horses Don't They? and nothing else. So there's Clark Gable--isolated in his pilot seat--a radio operator down below him passing up notes up on weather and direction--clears the fog and emerges into a clear night sky. A full moon above, he loosens up on the wheel, leans back in his seat, tunes in a radio station of tango orchestra music on his operator's headphones, and looks up at the moon and stars like they're a girl he's about to kiss for the first time. His smile is so wide and the moment is precious and so pure you understand the appeal of risking one's life in a rickety biplane just to deliver mail. But that's no guarantee he or any other pilot in this film is going to survive the night. Just our luck if anyone dies it won't be dopey William Gargan. All I can do when I hear him is remember how he goes on and on about how great "Babs" is (Mary Astor) while she's off shagging Clark Gable in Red Dust! And now he's got the divine Myrna Loy, and he leaves her for a week to ten days without so much as a radio. Meanwhile Helen Hayes is talking to Clark Gable over a late supper, but he's not there, is he? Her maudlin insanity is worrying to the maid and any viewer averse to overly theatrical acting. (more)

(1932) ***

Myrna Loy may be gliding through her then-typecast parts as Asian or half-caste femme fatales but she's still got Loy star powers, so evil or not,you'll be rooting for her vendetta against a now-married and settled down pack of girls' college alumni racists, all the way (unless you're a prom school snob who's never felt the sting of a snubbing yourself), even if it would stung more and been more daring if Georgie was played by Anna May Wong instead, i.e. actually Asian or half caste. The racism would have some real bite, then, but one understands if not forgives perhaps these pre-code baby steps, and if you love Loy as I do you have a special spot in the dark of your heart for her early Asian vamp roles. What she lacks in the warmth and wit of her later persona she makes up for in slow measured cobra staring, taking full advantage of the unwritten rule where a vamp could get away with all sorts of verboten sordid sadism, as long as she was at least a half-caste (for full review - here)

3:35: PENTHOUSE
(1933) ***1/2
This was the one that made critics and audiences perk up and go whoa, this girl is a frickin' star - it just took us awhile to catch on as she was trapped under all those faux-epicanthic folds and exotic headdresses. Warner Baxter is the typical mob lawyer with a secret heart of gold and a shocked butler - and Loy is a party girl his grateful mobster client (Nat Pendleton) hooks him up with, who then winds up helping him get the goods on a dickhead rival mobster who offed Myrna's roommate (Mae Clarke). Either way, she's resourceful, fearless and genuinely touched when he doesn't molest her the night she first sleeps over. You can actually see Loy's wings come out of her back and expand as her character realizes this guy's no naif-in-the-woods, but at the same time no douche, and so, now she doesn't have to get tiresomely noble like Clarke in Waterloo Bridge or resort to her old exotica spellbook. She sees the chance and blooms, and flies clear away with the picture. Nat Pendleton smiles like a helpful marriage counsellor, and it's that even-keeled honesty about character and innate nobility over labels, social standing and circumstance that prevail, leaving up feeling pretty optimistic about the future and smitten beyond words with little twinkly-eyed two-fisted Myrna.

5 AM: THE BARBARIAN 
(1933) - **1/2
Of course she still had a bunch of MGM contract parts to fill, and those miscegenation fantasies were big business - here it's the reverse where she's liberated from stodgy British marriage (she's half-Egyptian but--like Zita in The Mummy, Egyptian royalty, so it's okay) by a smoov tour guide gigolo (Ramon Navarro) who's thing is seducing rich bored British wives. (Like Svengali, we first meet him saying goodbye to one, and immediately setting out after another). At first she's just sport, but then he's so fed up with Loy's resistance he abducts her out into the desert, whips her, bathes her and ta-da, it turns out he's the son of a rich sheik on walkabout, so it's okay. As I wrote while in a pervious incarnation: "If you imagine what it would be like if MUMMY star Zita Johan went off into the MOROCCO ending winds to endure SWEPT AWAY-style whipping and dominance head games at the hands of General Yen, well you'll find the erotic Myrna Loy bathing scene to be approximately sexier than Claudette Colbert’s milk bath in SIGN OF THE CROSS, which if these things matter to you, is nowhere near as awesome as Maureen O’Sullivan's nude swimming in TARZAN AND HIS MATE. Frankly I’m ashamed of myself for knowing all this, and so is Ramon Navarro, or will be, once he’s caught by Myrna’s coterie of harrumphing Enlganders." (pop the full capsule here)

---
That concludes the 9th. Coming up the following Friday (the fightin' 16th), most of the morning and afternoon are those quality but inert post-code MGM triangulated weepers that bottom out Loy boxes but then:

(1934) Dir. Sam Wood
**/12

I must preface this recommendation by saying I'm personally no fan of the inescapable soap peddler George Brent. A holdover from the pre-Gable kind of pursed-lip romantic acting which seems today as gooey as a molasses spill, so that he's the bumbling American tourist (allegedly) who knocks the sublimely urbane counterspionage super spy Fraulein Doktor off her heels is a kraw-sticker in this otherwise enjoyable addition to the many pre-code movies made about either Fraulein Doktor or Mata Hari or some fictional combination, ala X-27 (Dietrich's DISHONORED). Why? Maybe it's the weirdly condescending trill in his voice, the way he talks to every girl like she's six and just skinned her knee, or his stupid face that kind of leans out with his nose like a self-satisfied anteater, or his wholesale buying into terrible romantic lines. He was made for woo, and his behavior here would today be hopefully labeled as stalking.

Here, as Doktor, Myrna Loy is in slinky and exotic mode (probably close to the last time - she had just made THE THIN MAN) and wears a fabulous dress in the climax, a big finale which leaves us with the notion, at least for awhile, that ardent Loy-wooer George Brent has been shot by a firing squad. Hinting at the steep 'price one must pay' as a hot female spy in Austrian counter-intelligence, she starts the movie ratting out Mata Hari for falling in love with a Russian officer --fatal for a femme fatale, we know from her strident position on the subject (and since Ben Hecht isn't writing it) that 'Fraulein Doktor' has doomed herself. Too bad for us it's the naive whimsicality of George Brent that woos her away from trapping double agents, and he treads all over her sublime machinations with his muddy American bungler feet.. (full)

Friday 12/23
Merry Xmas!
(1936)
Trippy musical numbers evoke a time before TV or 3D movies, when the eye was courted as if an indulged royal baby. Or maybe I was just super strung out from a terrible weeklong fever last time I saw it (see: Flo, the Great and Powerful: THE GREAT ZIEGFELD and the Ludovico Flu)

(1941) - ***1/2
Loy and Powell are by now too old for the previous meet-ups' debonair sparkle; Loy's no-longer-amused and patient wife is now debating wether she has the energy to waste time yelling at him. And you can tell their rapport is strained because they have such affection for each other as actors it hurts to see them play characters who hurt themselves by hurting each other. It hurts her to be mean to him, to force him to re-examine his notion of himself as an adorable souse. Drinking men Loy's age slide into sobriety, moderation, or an alcoholic ward. They seldom get a second chance to detox their liver for ten years before they, as we say in AA, turn from cucumber to pickle. For an actress who's been granted-- or perhaps burdened--with excessive MGM-brand dignity to make her romance with either version of Powell believable, Loy's had to mellow, and so they seem like Nick and Nora Charles if Nick joined AA and got super boring and preachy for ten years and Nora was so sick of how unfun he'd become she filed for divorce and started dating the local Bellamy. But then Nick relapses she loves him again and hence the title! His co-dependent stammering and soft-shoeing and trying to get her drunk makes a weak wooing combo, but it all starts to work, as the magic of booze always does, until it finally doesn't, and takes off its loving mask to reveal the cold sadistic demon beneath. But who can't forgive a little torture if provides even a moment of true bliss? (more: William Powell's Psychedelic Amnesia)


--
Sorry loyal readers if my output late has slowed - I'm writing, but finishing things has become difficult - Diffused, scattered, trepidatious is my heart, even my usual pre-apocalyptic black humor is failing me. BUT things are coming, soon. Crom bless us, every one. fejjpfpdew[

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Primal Scenesters

(NOTE: TWIN PEAKS SPOILERS)

Thanksgiving has come and gone, other holidays roll around and everyone with parents still alive slide into their special roles as composites of past versions of themselves to not alarm their elders who remember them a certain way, and it's the one chance for differing political views to find themselves handcuffed to tradition and turkey like a seasonal DEFIANT ONES electoral college, and self-righteous drunk sophomore English majors trying to show racist uncles BLACK MIRROR, season two episode 3 ("The Waldo Moment") and uncles thinking it's a load of British tosh instead settle on football, or CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. But it's the HATEFUL EIGHT will lead the way; a common foe shall bond these disparate sides anew: the moms and wives nagging to go home or go to bed just when you and your racist uncle or communiss nephew are just starting to feel the buzz of familial love you've been drinking towards all night. Hang all those reproachful female glowers as you both clink your ice and toast each other's burning health.

TWIN PEAKS though, has found an even better route... the common bond of mystical forestry. Take only footprints (casts) and leave only pictures... don't tell me of what, let Cooper look on my behalf, for his eyes are trained for horror.


On this we can agree: money buys booze which buys at least numbness and occasional ecstasy. And it's in the valley between those two states of mind that TWIN PEAKS does its misty mountain creeping. Especially once one folds in FIRE WALK WITH ME, because for all your family's flaws, unless they sexually abused you or otherwise warped your growing up, they're damn good parents. If you're formed into an adult with a somewhat concrete sense of reality vs. fantasy then they did a decent job. Of course there's no way for YOU to know if you are a single cohesive whole, until you meditate or trip really hard, or get a massive fever, and see just how easily your whole sense of self and reality can shrink to naught or widen to the universal with little more than a slight bump to your neurochemistry. When you come back to normal from a serious trip, or your fever breaks, or your meds are adjusted, then you feel like a restarted hard drive, and what programs open and how the drive structures itself --its basic startup OS--that's the parental gift. If you come back into a feeling of well-adjusted parameters of self, a good moderate balance between emotional extremes, then you owe your parents or caregivers big time because from age 1-5 they paid attention and did you right, made you feel adored and then forced you kicking and screaming if needed, to go to kindergarten and (in the old days) to endure what seems like dozens of painful booster shots. Like LSD or pneumonia, Twin Peaks shows us this by bumping the neurochemistry of a 'normal' Pacific Northwestern small town, the usually subconscious demons and darkness can come bobbing up to the surface like a ship's hull in stormy seas. Incest--that of Laura Palmer by her possessed father Leland--structures the core of the warping reality of Twin Peaks the way that of Jack and presumably his father (not necessarily in physical reality) structures The Shining. 



My theories here expand on those of Roger Ager in his Shining analysis, a genuinely disturbing interpretation in the vein of ROOM 237 but far darker and more inescapable, a kind of mad mixture of Oedipal detective deconstruction and blood-chilling fate--like watching the election results in real time, or realizing the circumstantial evidence your spouse is cheating has become too great to ignore. As with the best theorists (as opposed to the dry 'respectable' ones), Ager doesn't give a shit if he sounds like a crackpot, because he's not--it's not like we can do anything to help Danny, or Laura for that matter, they're fictional characters, he knows this, and even finding indications of this incest theme within the making-of documentary and diegetic art on walls only recently visible with the arrival of HD-he never succumbs to 'think of the children' hysteria--just warps back around with perfect logic until paranoia starts to steep in one's mind. For Ager all the ghost stuff is cover memories and excuses for this most odious of abuses, covered by Shelly Duvall's denial. While I agree to a small point I'd say you lose me when insisting these ghosts can't be both real and figments of a warped cover memory repressed imagination. I mean, even basic physics proves adequately to even the laymen that the perception of matter as solid is a hallucination, as is the perception that we are not constantly spinning on a giant orb whizzing inexorably through space.

UNTIMELY RIPS:

The disturbing implication of course is that we're all somebody's bad dream cover memory. TWIN PEAKS certainly catches that spinning orb and rolls with it. That's the Cooper/Buddhist way, joyful participation in the sorrow of the sexy 50s universe pleasant dream that oscillates regularly into nightmare and back again. THE SHINING on the other hand is almost swallowed whole by that dream's devouring demon maw. There's no Cooper there, no cops (aside from emergency radio monitors seen in one brief scene), nothing to help keep the one source of sane goodness--Shelly Duvall--from total breakdown. There's no sexual desire anywhere in the film, no connection whatever between husband and wife. The only desire is for alcohol, and other venues of escape (including murder). The common conspiracy theories about the reptilian sexual predator Illuminati CIA Monarch 7 programmers in our midst (see: Make up your Mind Control) tend towards young women, but other branches of the theory say members use their own children in sacrificial ceremonies and sex magick rites, not necessarily just for some kind of perverse enjoyment but to intentionally create split personalities they can then use to their own ends (as assassin amnesiacs, etc.) and to create a massive amount of negative energy which sixth generational reptilian overlords love to drink.

These deeds are so horrible, in fact, that they literally tear open a hole in the space-time continuum.

Consider the implication in a lot of these stories (THE INNOCENTS and THE HAUNTING in particular) that deep cover memory repression of dark events provides the current that activates the dark ghost 'residual energy' captured in the crystals in the stones of walls and bedrock, so that traumatic moments in the past keep repeating, or that free-floating demonic spirits--formless and powerless usually, like inactive ions or dried-up flies--are suddenly jolted into some kind of existence, be it from past dark crimes or--in the case of poltergeists--boys or girls hitting puberty. Whatever it takes to release a huge amount of psychic disturbance in a short time, as long as it shocks the inert magnetic anomaly some choose to call Satan into our dimensional spectrum - is their reason. (1)

In other words, incest or similarly abominable crimes are like a wave generator that gets the boat of consciousness bobbing, allowing the usually unseen barnacles on the lower hull to rise above sea level. In other words, it really is some kind of dark magic, incest is a psychic wormhole generator. We need our dad to protect us from demons, we long to sleep in our parents' bed where monsters are afraid to come bother us. But then, of all things, if the incest is real and the parents are the monsters, that's so horribly unfair and cruel it's too horrible even for horror films.

And the craziest part is that the incest doesn't even need to be 'real' - the primal scene witnessed at the right age finds a dark projected reflection in the water of the child's subconscious (a fear they'll do me next), near his/her fear of being spanked etc (at least in my day, and Freud's), creating the nucleus hollow jouissance core around which will be spun the tennis ball threads of healthy adult sexuality. Covered up as it is with lime green felt, the hollow core is still there, giving the ball its bounce. Usually it's never even seen.

The cocoon of reason brings death's head moths.

And surrealism, of course. The primal scene and repressed infantile sexuality are the interior decorators of the subconscious. And if the filmmaker is a good surrealist--like Bunuel or Lynch--they decorate the mise-en-scene with seemingly incongruous details that point to truths too deep and subconscious to approach directly, as with dreams they are the mirror to the Medusa. Gazing directly at the primal horror of our own primal birth, the gaudy horrors of the human reproductive life cycle, will drive even a Lovecraftian mad.

It is happening... again
This lurid stuff is supposed to be in the subconscious, a bad dream, interpreted as in the sidpa bardo by entwined lovers as fires in the cold empty darkness - get too close and you get stuck on the flypaper womb and become destined for incarnation. As a child you are far closer the previous life than adulthood, so unable to process or resist. This is only part of why sexual desire in young children is focused into their parents, but why the parents and adults in general must never be. Otherwise the young developing brain warps like a plant growing in on itself or a feedback squall. Dissonant and destructive. Reality itself becomes like a dream, a time and space-melt occurs, the usually progressive phases jam up on each other like a bunch of kids jammed in the middle of a twisty water slide. Multiple selves spring up to accommodate, the singular slide becomes as a hydra, each branches away in extremes erupts.

Usually a kind of yin-yang dividing line between the adult conscious mind (structuring 3-D space/time reality and correct decoding of social signifiers), and the unconscious mind (dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, mythic correlation, the ability to become immersed in a book or movie narrative) becomes a complicated post-war map where boundaries are susceptible to constant invasion far beyond our usual 'waking up into or out of a dream' while either falling asleep at your desk or having a lucid flash in a bad dream and trying to wake up out of it, clicking your ruby slippers together like Dorothy trapped in reform school after drowning Mrs. Gulch. If Dorothy was molested, then the wicked witch would be unstoppable, and the Wizard would have Dorothy's face beaming back, and all the scarecrows and lions would be left to their own devices while she hides forever in the poppy fields, and later kills the tin man and hides inside his armor. The first thing she'd do when back in Kansas is become a tornado chaser, then later when that didn't work, move to Kansas City to become an opium addict prostitute who--when she looks in the mirror--sees the dead wicked witch of the east looking back. It's fate, baby. If you can't even look in your own backyard without a tinge of terror and shame, then you'll be very distressed to know there's no place like home because even at home you are still no place.

Thats why Lynch is such a genius and why we can see through the bullshit tropes of the other Twin Peaks creative voices and why even if you were a TWIN PEAKS fan in 1991 you were horrified by the 'cop-out' answer to who killed Laura Palmer in 1992, because it brought in the supernatural in such a way as to almost seem like cheating (the 'it was all a dream' twist that leaves any respecting horror fan feeling cheated and angry).

There were other annoying things, all involving the fame of the show itself, and its subsequent burden of becoming the show we all told our friends about rather than the show it wanted to be. 1991 was a very special time to have just moved back east from Seattle; thanks to the show, the whole Pacific NW fantasia had come to mainstream America, riding my rearview like a plague, bringing gourmet coffee, Nirvana, Starbucks, and flannel depression. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS came out around the same time as season two and took the whole moody serial killer thing to a whole other level; the sudden appearance of Cooper's ex-partner, psycho super-genius Wyndham Earle late seemed a rather hamfisted case of the original imitating its imitators. Dumb shit like the one-eyed crazy wife Nadine thinking she's back in high school exhibiting superhuman strength after an amnesia conk; the puppy-eyed David Schwimmer-esque agoraphobe with the special diary; James--the bland leather jacketed, dumb-as-a-post pretty boy with the dyed-black hair--embroiled in a femme fatale's rich husband killing scheme like goddamned John Garfield; the love affair and pregnancy between the dangerously incompetent buffoon cop and the baby-voice nitwit receptionist at the sheriff's office; Josie Packard's old Hong Kong pimp flying in to raise hell over a perceived double cross; Ghostwood Estates, Joan Chen, the boring ass fuck - "less oppressive shadow" of Peggy Lipton,  the poor man's Patrick Swayze; idiot James blaming himself for everything that goes wrong... There's so little of that resonant Lynch surrealism because the traumatic disruption of the primal scene isn't there, the underlying dread of a real, dark, reality-altering secret isn't there to vivify the symbology.

Instead, dead husbands are now alive for no real reason; the furor surrounding a noted anonymous travel writer / food critic A.M. Wendt (what a chortle to be had over all the painfully trite mistaken identities!) seemed like some middle-aged hack who'd been banging out scripts since the Lucy Show days might think of as having "that Twin Peaks kinda kooky," like "that Barton Fink feeling," the sort they glean from a cheat sheet faxed over by their agent.

As the series petered out there were sill spots of brilliance: Lynch's guest spot came with his incomparable homage to the Weenie King in THE PALM BEACH STORY ("you have a nice clear voice like a bell!"); Wyndham Earle evoking the great Brember Willis in two James Whale movies--as the kindly woodland hermit in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and crazy cackling Saul Femm in Whale's 1932 OLD DARK HOUSE--in his befriending and torture of still-alive Leo; David Warner himself importing genuine menace, class and surprise as Josie Packard's old pimp, surprising everyone by re-bonding with Dan O'Herlihy, the man he tried to kill, and Piper Laure; David Duchovny as the cross-dressing FBI buddy of Cooper's (their easy by-play exhibiting truly wondrous Hawksian male professionalism), but Earle's elaborate games with the pretty girls of the show--their naive excitement over a "Miss Twin Peaks" contest (I think they'd had a group Vanity Fair cover by that point) deadens their collective mystique the way our love for Nick Drake deadens when we hear first hear "Pink Moon" in a car commercial. When Lynch directs an episode you can tell right off as the surreal touches stack up and line up like an eclipse of uncanny frisson; when other hands take the controls, we just get the equivalent of fan fiction.


I'm not blaming anyone in particular. If anything it's the public that are to be blamed, myself included.  The whole TWIN PEAKS craze had broke out in full over the summer before -we were TWIN PEAKS obsessed but there were only seven episodes and now we had a long wait for more. And while more were being made, you could feel the pressure to not lose track of whatever they felt had led to the success. Lynch is a deep practitioner of transcendental meditation so that kind of pre-set acclaim can destabilize a 'right-sized' creative ego. A humble man with inner stillness is like a polite and gifted child who sings sweetly and musically and keeps quiet when asked because it know it's not in charge, but the man with no self-distance or humility lets the acclaim he's receiving puff out his ego control slide so it just never shuts up, shrill and incessant and laughing at its own jokes, a strutting marionette rather than a worthy king, he hears the praise and it just puffs him further out

I know Lynch wasn't the only creative force involved with the show, but Mark Frost never really registers except as an all-around TV series guy--harnessing Lynch's surrealist imagery and use of music to a series-ready narrative chapter structure (normally a weakness with Lynch, who often has to backtrack out of narrative and pacing holes and dead ends with Moebius loops and dissociative character dissolution).

The problem was of course too many cooks. We could feel Lynch's unholy touch when he took control and directed episodes--they're infinitely more intriguing, darker, stranger, than the rest, more resonant. What's immediately apparent is the difference between true surrealism as above (reflecting the primal scene and subconscious incestuous dread) and 'quirky' - i.e. surrealism light. Whereas in Kubrick and Lynch (and Bunuel), the incongruous elements point towards dark subconscious desires, in the hack episodes the elements point only to older sitcom and soap plots. The bottom line being each director (aside from Lynch) on the series added their own flavor, and some were clearly hired guns with lots of different, mediocre TV dramas under their belts, who looked at the other episodes and rather than 'getting' the dark subtexts just thought "they haven't done an amnesia bit yet" or "what about a mistaken identity food critic bit? That always works!" They're like the dad who crashes his son's game of war and decides he can shoot around corners and make bullets go backwards. Half the kids leave but the son is trapped and then--so proud of himself--the dad boasts he's such a good dad for 'entering his son's imaginary world.'

But in trying too hard to be 'different' in that by-then mass-marketed Twin Peaks-style, these episodes only accentuate how bad formulaic weirdness is vs. what's at the deep deep core of true weirdness, which is something no sane parent wants any part of.... the primal scene --as inescapable and under the surface, as immediate and foregone an eventuality as sudden cannibalism. We don't lunge at our children and devour them at dinner, and we don't molest them -- it's a no brainer -- on such things society is formed, and the titans like Cronus are banished to the depths of the Earth for doing both and so the sun finally comes out. Whether or not the Illuminati demand corruption of the innocent for their magicks or if it's just the collective subconscious burbling up through the cracks of regressive post-suggestion hypnosis, I for one cannot say, but I can say, this being the age of "After Freud," that it doesn't necessarily matter --if the primal scene / repressed libidinal projection of Satan worshipping child molesters didn't exist it would by very virtue of its being forbidden be dreamt about anyway and seen by schizophrenics and visionaries as all too-real.

So as I say this holiday season, or next time you look in a mirror and wince or see yourself in your parents remember that they too see themselves in you and that's not always a blast for them. You're not as perfect as you think. The very fact that you think you are is testament to the quality of their parenting. Bad parents never instill that because they never create the right conditions, they don't go for the long game. They spoil you rotten one week and ignore you the next, so that you live and die by their smile even after your old enough to move out. Remember how you screamed and cried when mom first dropped you off at school, feeling as if she stuck the knife in and twisted, sending you off to your death instead of kindergarten. You'd have been so happy if mom relented, if she heeded your cries and took you home.

You'd be happy for a few more hours but then fucked forever. More of than not, thank heavens, mom knows this. Just as we must stop sleeping in our parent's bed, and we must go out and play with other children, mom must shoo us from the room. If not done soon enough, Norman Bates is the result.

 So what happens if, instead of the Norman Bates result, we have the Laura Palmer? What if instead of enduring this trauma during the Elektra complex phase of a girl's life she in a sense takes the mothers' place in the primal bed? It's an infantile wish she doesn't even understand the implications of, and she shouldn't have to. If the dad comes to her when she's deep asleep it might not even register as more than a disturbing dream just way more vivid than most. Even if he's a typical good dad, the dream might still be there, but coded, vivid enough that a hypnotist with an agenda can coax it into reality via regression hypnosis and maybe it will even be 'remembered' as real if the hypnotist digs deeper than the actual reality and unearths the subconscious instead, like she's trying to excavate the back yard to put in a pool but accidentally cuts into a water pipe or sewer main. It's a simple mistake in digging, but the result destroys the father's life and ruins the backyard forever.

No family is innocent of incest if the subconscious is taken as real. The result is an inversion, the conscious--the social life, school, normal boyfriends, family dinners--are made dream-like, nightmarish. If she's pretty and charming like Laura Palmer her dreamlike disconnect can enrapture and confuse a whole community. But do they know the real her? Maybe she can haunt the dreams of all the scuzzy border drug runners when she's in her bad girl mood swing, but do they know the real her either? Either way, when she dies it's like a triple reverse axle of depth of field, her body is marooned in the river of the real, a decomposing home to crabs and muddy water, and her mystique is even more assured. Her effect on the community increases, she lives on now in their dreams. She's the madonna of their personal nativity, the siren of their collective ocean, and the demon whore of their private nightmare delirum tremens. The only thing she doesn't see in the mirror is herself. But that's just Bob.



'Member, "Bob"? Like so many of the show's initial fans I threw my hands up in aggravation when the whole "Bob the ghost escaped" thing played out, almost like an "it was all a dream" cop-out that makes viewers mad and disillusioned they ever got sucked into such nonsense. For me it wasn't just the idea that "The owls are not what they seem" coming up as a "Wow" signal --mighty damned twee, even for 1991--or Bob or anything, it was the half-assed nonsense with the travel writer coming to Twin Peaks so everybody be on your best behavior and give me some petty cash for new table clothzzz and the save the otters campaign and the Civil War re-enactment and Billy Zane, and all the other second season throw-ins that seemed too 'quirky' in that same batch of freelance TV scriptwriter shiite I'd left Seattle to escape, where the writers don't know much about surrealism, or meditation, or even psychology, or Freud or the Pacific Northwest, but they did write on WINGS for three seasons,  and that show about the doctor in Alaska, so know something about what 'works' for the mass moron audience of yesterday.

IT ALL CAME TRUE (then turned FALSE)

If we can't remember back to our own childhood conception of sex, the weird miasma of magic and misunderstanding by which we imagined our coming out of our mother but carrying our father's features, we're maybe lucky. I envisioned a soundwave-based process wherein my mothers' "stomach" received a radio signal from my father's brain.

It's perhaps the duty of parents to put up with the child's constant curiosity about these big issues, their being drawn to the sound of the primal scene going on upstairs, the Oedipal 'mom is being hurt; thing.' If we learn the truth too early, let it be from other kids so it comes masked in plausible deniability. I remember being told about by kids who'd seen X-rated magazines in the parents bedrooms, and calling them liars. Hearing it from other kids first we get a grace period for it all to settle in the brain as fiction prior to fact (we're grossed out --that's where we pee from!), so the monstrosity of these acts can slowly fade under the safe buffer of possible fiction. Hearing it from our parents we can't deny it. We're like a middle-aged smoker getting waiting for the results of his first chest cat-scan - sure we heard it was bad for you from our friends, and sure smoking killed our relatives, but as long as the doctor's cat scan hasn't come, we can bluff our cough and grey pallor in the mirror.. While waiting for the X-ray results or the Cat-Scan, we're ashen with genuine fear.
---



All fans of horror must deal with the feeling Freud doesn't mention, but Lacan does, that the primal scene also carries a current of jealousy and if prolonged over time ("Bob's been coming to me at night since I was seven") the cover memories become part of the maturing identity ("Laura was like two different people"), which could never grow if stunted by the traumatic realization that this bestial act is how in fact we came to be. If it comes too soon upon the heels of our birth, the very same horror that created us now destroys us, like Lot's wife turning around to look at the explosion too close to the blast radius, only instead of becoming a pillar of salt we're merely bereft of any sense of security or safety, with no idea of what is a dream and what is reality because we don't trust the person who should be waking us up when we're screaming. That's why Lynch is such a rare great filmmaker for he can tap into that zone - there's no need to distinguish a dream from reality. He KNOWS there is no difference, because meditation and vision have given him the strength to not flinch from the blinding light and scalding sunshine. He can hear colors and see sounds! At the very least, he's found the ultimate 'door in the floor' to his own subconscious mind. Therein be monsters that can come up to grab you (Bob to Leland; Leland to Laura) like a maniac from the backseat suddenly grabbing the wheel while you're going 80 on the highway.


It's in Lynch that this dark incestuous table cloth flip comes to life via surrealist touches--collective cover memories woven together from 50s teenager pop culture funneled-- worlds darker and farther beyond most dime store horror freak show nonsense.

Today you can see the myriad half-assed attempts at being shocking that confuse vivid torture porn and kinky abductions and brutal serial killer artists with that kind of edge --or worse, don't bother to mine the actual Freud below, but take the surreal touches as their own reality, leaving a diluted sense of prefab emptiness -like expecting an oven to arrive but instead getting a meat thermometer and a pie recipe. Lynch's edge is so deeply etched that the surface can be portrayed as a very tranquil stream with just a tiny eddy in the current, the music from Angelo Badalamenti just as layered -- the pretty emotional sweep atop, the lower ominous bass drone below.

If it happens for real it's like a fish riding a dark 'devouring father' pederast Cronus bicycle through the mirror, splintering its budding superego reflection into a thousand persona splinters; may as well be plastic and mounted on the wall, and occasionally turning to face the camera and singing "Take me to the River." We spent thousands on marketing and mass audiences really responded to that song, while showing women subjected to brutal rapes is okay for the church, a female orgasm is demonic, as behind me, watching a film on Syfy a Predator rips the spine out of a dude, but the dude can't even say shit!  The most basic and obvious taboos are so far afield they're blind to them - but Lynch isn't. That's the surrealist difference and you can sense it even with your eyes closed, maybe even especially.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Audrey Horne

Audrey used to be favorite TP crush, but that was 25 years ago. I have changed, gone from her approx. age to old enough to be her father; seeing the show now Audrey seems impossibly young and coy--cherry stem knot or no---she's out of her depth at One-Eyed Jacks, but we admire her for going, as we admire Cooper's fortitude in the way he can gingerly refuse her advances without losing her friendship; we also note with relief the healthy disregard and wary respect whoremonger Benjamin has for her. She wants to follow in dad's businesses but lacks his conniving amorality --but rather than a confederate or opposition or burden, Ben is scared of her. He might try to ignore her as much as possible but at her age, isn't that his job? Compared to the incestuous closeness of the adults around Laura, he's a saint in his avoidance. This also gives her room to practice the art of feminine manipulation, working on the manager of Horne's department store (above) to get a job at the perfume counter, the 'gateway to Jacks' - but once there is subject to a near miss of incest (that would have horrified Ben more than her--even--the way Leland is first horrified when seeing his daughter as 'the other girl' in the trailer park in Fire Walk with Me.) 

That's OK though, that nothing happens between them is a pointer towards how daddy-daughter relations can have respect and tension without all the physical closeness craved so unrealistically, even frenziedly, by say Natalie Wood in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. If a daughter still wants to climb all over her dad's lap by the time she's 17, something is wrong. She should hate him, or think he's square. This is the natural order. Ben has his own peccadilloes to worry about - Audrey comes and goes as she pleases. Her mom is a clueless depressive, her brother mentally handicapped and both are seldom onscreen. She may feel unsupervised but with the run of the hotel (and its secret passage system) she's unusually protected and empowered. it's only when stepping outside its walls, as into the red velvet womb lining of One-Eyed Jacks, that she becomes endangered. We admire her because her motivations are noble --her desire to help Dale more than just desire to earn his gratitude but a recognition of his goodness, a goodness in short supply in her redwood-walled hotel world.



Note above the masks echoing the Illuminati masquerade party in Eyes Wide Shut. If you know you're conspiracy theory you know the whole one eye shut signifier is Illuminati code, pointing to the Eye of Horus (as in the top of the dollar bill pyramid - watch it next time you're tripping and see if you can catch it winking --magic's everywhere, bro).


Of all the younger characters, Audrey us the closest to Cooper in her mixture of poetic depth and genuine altruism. With her weird scene ending jukebox dances at the diner she indicates she doesn't need drugs or sleazy drug dealing pimp types to be really high, to keep a foot in the fantasmatic.

Ben Horne makes the universal Illuminati "Eye of Horus" sign
Lack and the world laughs at You:
Cocaine and the Fantasmatic

Alternately, Laura Palmer degraded herself with the two nastiest characters in the series, the fat, gross drug dealing bartender slob Paul Renault --who we realize was involved in the sick sex and drug parties given in the cabin in the woods with his fellow drug wholesaler, the Shelly-beating Leo. Conspiracy theorist will point out the compulsion towards degradation in Monarch-victims and incest survivors, but one can't forget too the all-consuming jones that comes with regular use of bad drugs like cocaine and heroin. I've seen impossibly gorgeous models throw themselves at sleazy dirt bags at parties just because the latter has brought all the coke and the models are either already out or desperately want some. It's quite shocking and upsetting. I'm too cheap, and decent, is what --a noble Cooper/Audrey type, I am! But hey, if you have a lot of cocaine and whatever else you can always sleep with girls that are normally way outside your league. All you have to do is have enough coke to always have enough coke, i.e. to have far more than you personally use, and be patient enough to nurse their jones into full on addiction and then you cut off the supply--but make it clear (but on the DL) you have plenty but aren't passing it out anymore, and are now leaving to go home-- and see who asks for a ride. You didn't hear it from me, I'd never stoop so low myself, and I've stooped low enough in my days. But I've been to those parties sober, and seen the externals of that whole process and man is it demoralizing.


Lynch, wisely makes no attempt to capture the realness of that scene--the sordid externals of the druggie backwoods lifestyle--but rather a mix of what it's like to actually be that super high on 'tactile' drugs like cocaine and ecstasy and what an outsider straight-edge like Lynch who by all accounts doesn't do drugs (and it's clear from his depictions this is so) might imagine with a mix of envy and fantasy and horror. 

Not doing them or having wild orgies himself (by all accounts) he invests these scenes with his subconscious fantasy, what Todd McGowan (in his book The Impossible David Lynch) calls the fantasmatic level. According to McGowan, Lynch's films occur on two levels at once, the fantasy conscious idealized small town social constructs (picket fences, log trucks, diners, poodle skirts) and the fantasmatic (dark red or blue velvet on the walls, kinky sex, drugs, road houses, slow dancing). Cooper is a variation of Kyle's Jeffrey in Blue Velvet, an Orpheus descending into the Underworld to find lost souls (Palmer's body like the ear in the field), just as Bob ascends from the fantasmatic dimension to the fantasmatic dimension of the real, i.e. One-Eyed Jacks and the cabin and the nebulous stretch of woods between Canada and the USA on the 49th Parallel, i.e. Canada  ("border towns bring out the worst in people" as Charles Heston says in Touch of Evil).

DESCENT INTO THE FANTASMATIC

The most amazing and least talked of aspect of the show is the way dreams and mystical visions
are never doubted as evidence of at least clues, not even by the pissy FBI coroner played by Mel Ferrer
--
Agents: Cooper goes deep--to the Black Lodge--from his position in the above,
a representative of the US and the FBI, a paladin essentially from heaven;
Bob - goes up, from his position as a representative of the Dancing Dwarf. essentially from Hell
with Bob for all his fierceness, as imprisoned and subject to some lower order dictated even to the Dwarf
One shot Cyrus; one stabbed Bernardo
---
EPITAPH-EDRINE

I mention all this to posit gratitude for parents born, dead, even indifferent, because if you're not a split personality coke whore schizo at your soul death's door it's not for your lack of trying. They may have done dumb things, or ignored you or fought or burdened you with their problems, but if your primal scene crypto-Elektra complexes were grown out of, relegated to the subconscious basement of childhood--then you're lucky, because so much work and energy and care has to go right for you to come out normal --at least six or seven years of solid attention, the right brand of attention, and then the ability to lessen that attention and--if necessary--to boot you out the nest, hoping you fly and not crash to the forest floor. Consider the case of Audrey--a brunette maneater just beginning to stretch her claws, frustrated but safe to do so within the confines of her spacious hotel house--and her father Ben Horne, reprobate but no molester (he'd certainly not go through with it at One-Eyed Jacks if he knew it was his daughter behind the mask, no matter how lovely her long lithe legs)--and Laura and Leland Palmer, each with an ineffectual in-denial wife, split personalities begetting repressed memories recalled as dreams (ala ROSEMARY'S BABY or EYES WIDE SHUT) but one has a dad positing himself as all good and pure and the other is an unrepentant hedonistic capitalist, but which is the better man?


And as for the series itself, Season two especially warns us of the danger of moving too far afield from primal scene anxieties and the other subconscious elements (the misconstruing of what constitutes sex, the mysteries of one's own conception and inheritance of one's father's features) and instead reflecting already reflected signifiers, the sort found in nearly every small town soap drama--food critics, conspiracy, jailbird husband stalkers, cross-eyed imbecile cops, every male wearing the same terrible curly haired black toupee, amnesia, hospital pillow snuffing, femme fatales seducing cross-eyed pretty boys into offing their husbands, shady gambling dens and brothels, disguises, seductions, identical cousins investigating a murder from a different town, beauty contests and other lame attempts to become--not what initially already won America's heart and captured its imagination--but everything it thinks you already are, and there's a huge difference.

If in doubt, consider the slasher movie, still loping around dying drive-ins prior to Twin Peaks' 1990 debut, vs. the game-changing (and Twin Peaks-reflecting) Silence of the Lambs in 1991. The insidious dark father Lecter (a perfect dark shadow animus) and the crusading single FBI agent gathering weird clues by 'descending' to visit with him. From Silence came Se7en and countless dark Vancouver-shot psycho mood pieces, which indirectly led to the X-Files. Badalamenti's memorable music led to loungecore and trip-hop, and the Black Lodge.... is still there, alive in Salvia culture and Ancient Aliens, and the dusky Pacific NW old growth romance vibe is in Twilight. And you were there, Tiny Dancer, Tim Scarecrow. And your crutches and sobriety fell like glitter from a Wigstock head trip makeover down down into the abyss of the materiality second wind, the rich co-opting our fabulousness to sell each other art and perfume, couture...

Maybe too it was the disturbing second murder episode where we see in vivid detail a terrifying dual performance from both Ray Wise as Leland and Frank Silva as Bob - each one more terrifying than the last - Ray Wise especially is genuinely blood chilling as his compassion and sadness at what's happening intensifies to higher and higher degrees until the madness of a howling rabid dog.

Critics fawn over Dennis Hopper in BLUE VELVET (1986) but on revisiting both, Ray Wise as Leland blows Dennis Hopper out of the water as far as insanity - for that matter so does Dana Ashbrook as Bobby, because his eyes show real madness, just as Lynch's visions are mad, vs. the way people between the lines and inside the box think in terms of the surface, i.e. put a giant waiter talking in cryptic code up in there or have a shrink with 3D sunglasses and an obsession with Hawaii, hey far out - but Lynch goes deep into the moment - you never know where another is going to land - blood on the donuts, squeaky chairs, now that I too am insane, I can smell the real deal vs. the trying to be crazy version, and for all his coiled angst - Hopper's sobriety gets in the way - he's a man pounding cracks in a wall- farther than De Niro did as RAGING BULL (1980) - but doesn't break through any wall. The crazy of Dana Ashbrook and Ray Wise on the other hand is mind-boggling -the latter's layered in its madness it's marred only by his insistence on singing which might be the writers' idea but I always suspect actors of asking directors to let them have a scene where they can sing; they do it a lot in actor indulgent TV shows like later seasons of most anything when the original creators begin to run out of ideas.

I remember this image from the local Seattle paper when I lived there, needless to say they were very dismissive, how dare a non-Pacific NW native attempt to depict their lifestyle and love of gourmet coffee?
In its terrifying over the top way, it's up there with the greats, like the last act in the original Texas Chainsaw, or the type that needs no markers of quality or realism but gets to the true terrifying core - offset by the Suspiria cherry reds and deep ocean blues of the Roadhouse stage where Julee Cruise plays regularly--and if nothing else we gain hope that it narrows the suspect list considerably to have so many of them assembled there while the murder goes on, but when will they even find out there was one since she was supposed to have left town that same night? My god, right when we were ready to give up - and most of all seeing the giant onstage indicates the essential tawdriness of the 'other place' - the way our imagination of the 'space' of the stage mirrors it and leads to a kind of double negative positive that pulses with power while remaining trapped in almost 2D stasis.

Alas - while Fire Walk with Me and the second season second murder both reverberate with a pulsing surreal horror, there are still some 12 episodes or so in which to kill time after the killer is caught. Cooper's almost out the door and in walks a DEA Fed and a Mountie, railroading Cooper on behalf of Jean Reno who's angry about his dead brother Jacques. You can hear the entire nation groan in the feeling they're being taken for a ride. If that wasn't bad enough, comes the quirks. If The Shining didn't have any murders, what would it be? A tree falling in the woods? Would you answer it?  Even if it was her... hot and damaged Del Rey that was the tree and she was falling... falling.... in love? And she was out of meds? And it was the rainy season?


You would? Damn are you stupid, A.M. Wendt... indeed! Zooey's mother Mary Jo Deschanel (as Donna's mother Eileen Hayward) could tell you that, even as she passes down good genes and a love of quirkiness that would define her era... this fall on THE NEW GIRL, only on NBC.

She as ten when mom was shooting the Twins, and you can kind of tell!
Trip to the Lounge, Swim to the woods.
TWIN PEAKS to DEL REY 
Post-Histaural Chronologic Signifer Map

Monday, October 31, 2016

ACIDEMIC HORROR / SCI-FI REVIEW INDEX/ROUND-UP

This is an index of past reviews and current updates, as the links so carefully curated are gone. May these stay forever. For handy reference, I've emboldened personal favorites I've seen at least three times of my own free will. That's no guarantee, except that it's gonna be cool and free of petty moral encumbrances. So if you're all partied out, either from the weekend or the 90s, and fixin' to kick it on the couch, dolin' out treats or whatever, and looking for good spooky movie recommendations, I'd say TCM's line-up is on point, mostly, especially DEVIL RIDES OUT at 8. Otherwise, a lot of these are very handy on Prime, Hulu, Netflix, etc.


Also - be sure and check out Amazon Prime's vast selection of... what do you call them? Ambience videos? Whatever that old Yule Log video used to be to Xmas, these are to Halloween--flickering pumpkins, ghostly trees, jack-o-lanterns in ghostly trees, etc. names like HALLOWEEN FUN AMBIENCE and PUMPKINS IN TREES by outfits called Chill Dude and Mooney Vision Recommended, for... I'm not sure what? Ambient Background to some ghastly macabre event? Some quiet nightmare? Count me in.

But first, the movies...


PREVIOUS YEARS' WEIRD HALLOWEEN RECOMMENDATION ROUND-UPS:

Post-Giallo Nightmare Logic
Deadpan Comic Horror Initiative
(Curated Lists of films on Netflix - 2015)

13 Suggestions for an Uncommon Halloween Viewing Experience
(Bright Lights Film Journal - Oct. 2014)

13 Obscure Horror Films to watch this Halloween
 (Slant 2013)

And my long running unclaimed series celebrating strong confident crazy women in horror...

ANGELS OF DEATH Series
ANGELS OF DEATH - 1
ANGELS OF DEATH - II: Great Women of Horror
ANGELD OF DEATH III: Badass Brunette Edition
ANGELS OF DEATH IV: Lynn Lowry Special Edition 
ANGELS OF DEATH V: Magic Slut Split/Subject Maenad Edition
TOP TEN ACIDEMIC WOMEN

INDIVIDUAL REVIEW INDEX:
I've bolded my absolute favorites - your mileage may vary...

BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971)
X- THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES (1963)

TELEKINETIC 70s:

ALTERED STATES (1977)
ANTICHRIST (1974)
SHINING (1980)

Post-Lounge 1990s
THE ADDICTION (1995)
THE ETERNAL (1998)
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