Friday, July 25, 2014
Monday, June 2, 2014
|The Queen of Versailles (2012, Dir. Lauren Greenfield)|
|Wall Street (1987, Dir. Oliver Stone)|
|Danger: Diabolik (1968, Dir. Mario Bava)|
"Money is the obverse of all the images that the cinema shows and sets in place, so that films about money are already, if implicitly, films within the film or about the film. This is the true 'state of things': it is not in a goal of cinema, as Wenders says, but rather, as he shows, in a constitutive relation between the film in process of being made and money as the totality of the film...What the film within the film expresses is this infernal circuit between image and money, this inflation which time puts into the exchange, this 'overwhelming rise'. The film is movement, but the film within the film is money, is time...And the film will be finished when there is no more money left."
-Cinema 2: The Time-Image by Gilles Deleuze, 1985
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Dir. Susan Seidelman || 1982 || USA
Recently, there have been a few films that have popped up on Netflix Watch Instantly from the 1980s that concern young women trying to become famous via punk music. So far Smithereens has been the only one I have watched (unless you count Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). The premises of Smithereens and the like films kind of boggle my mind, but I came up in a post-punk, post-Ian Mackaye, post-hardcore, post-riot grrrl world where one is not supposed to get into punk or zines or whatever for fame, money, or even glory really. Punk and its various subcultures now are perhaps overly earnest, naive, and insular; things I'm realizing more and more as I get older and more distanced. I was a year old when this film was released, but it is my understanding that punk was already on the decline by 1982, and that is the world that Smithereens somewhat reflects. It's also one of those New York City films that could never be remade today. This film and The Howling are two films off the top of my head that show how decrepit NYC was 30+ years ago.
Smithereens is about a 19-year-old girl named Wren from the North New Jersey suburbs who comes to NYC to yes, seek fame in punk music. She works in a copy shop where she makes fliers of her face to post around the city. She constantly claims to be busy trying to get bands together, but it never happens. She's rarely seen actually speaking to musicians who might want to be in a band. She's blown off by a band who plays frequently at The Peppermint Lounge. She gets involved with Eric (Richard Hell) a has-been singer from a one-hit wonder band called The Smithereens. From Eric she learns that most of the punks have left NYC for Los Angeles. So she schemes to somehow get enough money to leave with Eric. In the mix is Paul, a cute guy traveling through NYC from Montana who sleeps in his van and eventually wants to settle in New Hampshire. He's enamored of Wren, but she blows him off and generally just toys with him until he gets tired of it, which takes awhile.
Wren is not a sympathetic character. She's manipulative and is basically a bum in both the sense of constantly couch-surfing (or bed-surfing, or van-surfing), borrowing money to the point where even her family refuses to loan her anymore, and being a social climber of sorts. And yeah, people like her do exist in punk and zines. Although she goes as far as acting jealous and fighting other women Eric speak to and ruining "business" Eric is trying to attend to so he can further his own career; you do feel sorry for her sometimes, especially at the end of the film. But despite how unlikeable almost every character in the film is, Smithereens is a interesting and fairly compelling movie. Seidelman gets bonus points for having The Feelies' "The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness" as the main and recurring theme for the film. The Feelies' Bill Million helped with the soundtrack.
PS - I was finding it weird that the film was called Smithereens, after Eric's band, when Eric is a secondary character. But it is perhaps an appropriate title to the film because of the phrase "blown to smithereens", which is what Wren's life is throughout the entire film.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
I remember liking Tank Girl as a teen in the 1990s, but looking at it now, it's easy to see what a mess this film is. It's not an odd or even fully enjoyable mess, and it's only occasionally amusing. It can't be chalked up to inexperience or disinterest in the source material, qualities that tend to factor into the better comic book films; because Talalay was an experienced director at this point and did like the material. But by all accounts, there was a lot of studio interference with the film because up until this past decade, very few people knew what to do with comic books or graphic novels as source material. The film is live action, but it also has clips from the comic books and animation sequences.
Most post-apocalyptic films tend to have a timeless quality to them, no matter what decade they were made in. Tank Girl is so 90s it hurts. The situation that the film takes place in is timeless - where a comet hit Earth and it hasn't rained in 11 years, so water is high in demand and only a select few has access to it. But everything else is 90s. Considering that one of the first places I was introduced to Tank Girl was an article in Harper's Bazaar, the fashion magazine (yeah, I read this as a teen, what?), the film is very high on costume changes (IMDB counts 18 for Lori Petty as Tank Girl) and it's all very punk-grunge-pseudo-riot grrrl. Even The Rippers dress in 90s clothing (flannel shirts and t-shirts, one Ripper looks like a half-man-half-kangaroo member of Color Me Badd). It's funny that in the comic's revival in the mid-2000s by IDW Publishing, Tank Girl was drawn as wearing a lot of 1980s power suits because the reasoning was along the lines of "a lot of people still dress like Tank Girl from the 1990s, it's no longer edgy." The soundtrack, supervised by Courtney (Love, Love-Cobain, whatever she's calling herself now) is sort of a mix of good 90s music and music that never made it past that decade, along with some bizarre covers (like Devo covering Soundgarden's cover of Devo's "Girl U Want", or something).
Tank Girl is an overwhelmingly cartoon-y film. And yeah, Tank Girl is a cartoon character even in the comics, but on film it's ridiculous. The film just meanders. The sense of urgency towards saving the little girl that lived with Tank Girl is never there because of all the side missions that are jokes and costume changes. It would almost be a parody if the film could settle on anything whatsoever, other than being a valentine to Tank Girl as a fashion icon of sorts, and occasionally her other positive attributes; like being a good friend or being a loud-mouthed and brave woman.
The one thing that I will give the film is that for much of the film, Tank Girl and Jet Girl (Naomi Watts!) have realistically post-apocalyptic water shortage greasy hair. Do you know how rare that is in post-apocalyptic films? Although Tank Girl's makeup rarely smudges, even when being in a torture chamber for what seems like a couple of days.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
Flesh for Frankenstein & Blood for Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein & Andy Warhol's Dracula) (1974)
It is advisable to watch Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula back-to-back if possible. It is how they were made and both have the same main three actors (Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging) in similar roles - Kier as Dr. Frankenstein, then Dracula; Dallesandro as the proletariat servant-gigolo, and Juerging as Frankenstein and Dracula's assistants. Although the films appear to take place in different time periods, they also seem to be similar in atmosphere...and that atmosphere is bizarre, trashy, and campy. These are not adaptations to watch if you are looking for faithful adaptations of Frankenstein or Dracula. Both of these films seem to take place in some realm either before or after those stories, or almost a netherworld just outside of the original stories. It is a world that takes some adjustment because while it is laughable in Frankenstein that an actor with an Italian accent and Joe Dallesandro with his heavy New York accent are supposed to be lifelong friends who grew up together in some European countryside; by the time you get to Dracula you just kind of have to accept that Dallesandro is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Udo Kier takes some adjusting as well, although he fits into these films easier than Dallesandro, especially Dracula. For at least the first half-hour of Frankenstein, I could not shake the notion that Tommy Wiseau has been fooling us all along and is just doing a very extended impersonation of a young Udo Kier in Frankenstein. Except Udo Kier actually seems to be mentally present in his scenes, and not in space like Wiseau.
While Flesh for Frankenstein ends on a note similar to Twitch of the Death Nerve, I find Blood for Dracula more interesting and prefer it a little more. In Blood for Dracula, Dracula and his assistant have traveled to the Italian countryside so that Dracula can find a bride, preferably a virgin. They take up with a family with four beautiful daughters who have fallen on hard times due to their father's gambling problems. They are able to keep their villa, but the daughters must do the farming. They only keep one servant - a handyman played by Dallesandro of course. And of course the mother is insistent on allowing Dracula and his assistant to stay with them, although almost all of the daughters find him to be creepy and too sickly to marry. The family has two virginal daughters who are actually virgins; and two wild daughters who lie about being virgins, because they have both been having sex with the handyman, and apparently with each other. The wild daughters are steadfast about their lying, even when Dracula tries to insist that he does not mind if they are not virgins and that it is just something his family insists on. Dracula finds himself poisoned as soon as he tries to drink the blood of the two wilder daughters.
What I find interesting about Blood for Dracula is that the daughters' situation or prospects is beset on all sides. Dallesandro's Socialist handyman character insists that the aristocracy is dying and perhaps the girls should learn how to work; which is not a terrible idea, except for the fact that Dallesandro's character is a rampant misogynist and a rapist. Blood for Dracula takes place in the early 20th Century, not the 19th, so it is a bit odd that there is the insistence of keeping up appearances with the mother, although it is often remarked that the family has not had visitors in years. If that is the case, then there is no need to worry about shocking society if the daughters do not marry an aristocrat or a wealthy man. The other side to this is that other than perhaps the youngest daughter, the daughters seem to be settled into the idea that they should marry up (just up, not middle or down or even for love really) and that there are no other options because that is how they were raised. The father (played by director Vittorio de Sica) leaves the film early on for London, leaving the mother and daughters to fend for themselves (i.e., remain willfully ignorant of how dangerous Dracula is). Only the handyman catches on to Dracula's nature which leads to the gory and over-the-top fight sequence at the end of the film. And Dracula is not a romantic hero, he is a conservative traditionalist and a rapist as well considering that he attacks the daughters often in mid-conversation. While one could find the end of Blood for Dracula a bit more hopeful than the ending to Flesh for Frankenstein (or see it as the Socialist/proletariat killing off one more crumbling aristocrat), I do not believe that the survivors are much better off with the handyman. The film seems to be more concerned with the Socialist argument with just a bit of subtext thrown in to acknowledge the changing times, but it does not appear that it wants to give the female characters in the film too much choice in the matter.
|And this is just creepy.|