Wednesday, January 19, 2011


“Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows him his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.”—Walker Percy

Epistemology’s always been more intellectual good citizenship than felt cause—we don’t act on knowledge, after all, but rise to a beckoning, or else flounder in the awful silence. The movies favor the ontological and their ontology goes: BE MOVIES TOO, Jack Nicholson coming through the door with the axe is the movies coming through the screen for we their shrieking victims. It’s more than “media ideology,” more than being educated enough to say that what’s up there only appears impossibly beautiful and coherent so that we might be suitably undone as subjects. No—abashed, we grasp the truth: what’s up there really is more perfect, and if anything we don’t feel badly enough about ourselves.

Nicholson: “I don’t trust myself not to manipulate you.” O. Wilson: “I think I screwed up.” Rudd: “Not from my perspective.” Tracy Flick: “Gee whiz.” Love, your scant permutations allow for infinite improvisation—if only one may acquit oneself of the license to be exposed. I take back what I said. O friends! The blemish is mine!

Closure is so revolting—the hairy little stitch that seals the base of the apple. That inspired 80s kiss-off: “It’s been real.” I was just a kid but I can assure you, Legos mush, rather than click, together. The digital will oblige us to relinquish the haunting metaphor of film caught in the projector, the sudden singe creeping from center to edge, contortion of melting celluloid, an extra-narrative supernova giving way to blackness and a murmur of consternation from the seats. Just another year in the dark, finally, year up in smoke, a heap of fantasies the fuel?

But walking around my neighborhood, the streets gone quiet enough to hear my own footsteps, I think, hit your marks, now, the camera is rolling on that impossible, life-long tracking shot, that single radiant take for which each of us is cast.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Keitel and DeNiro are still at it, here, still dusting up. What’s that first scene of Mean Streets all about? Recall: Keitel starts from sleep, sits up in bed (taut in his wifebeater), gets out (crucifix on the wall), crosses to the mirror—what’s gotten into him? Back to the bed, gets in, lays back, his head hits the pillow as: Boom-ba-Boom-Boom— “The night we met I knew I needed you so…” Ronnie Spector’s voice, once heard, ruins him forever, and us, too—it’s the popular itself, the ecstatic everywhere sound poor Jesus never heard, or maybe He just wasn’t listening, “Be My Baby” surely played at the Annunciation.

Erica and I are cracking up—turns out the name “Focker” sounds like a swear, and it kills us every time someone says it. The plot involves an ex-spy (DeNiro) with a genealogy traced back to 1643 who keeps unflagging watch over gay/feminine/infantile wandering-Jew Stiller. Jessica Alba (Machete) plays the year’s second or third viagra rep—it’s hard to keep track. All right, Father, we know you’re still virile, we know your giant focking thingy rules the world.

Knock knock, Who’s there?, Owen, Owen who?, Owen Wilson, Oh Christ why didn’t you say so, man, get in here, bro, I’ve been worried about you, I’m here for you, I get that stressed-out, headachy feeling too, looking at the city and thinking, how long till the damn dirty bomb goes off? But you made it this far. I get it—a pit in the world’s cheek, half-freed already from the chunk of luscious melon that’s all’s between you and getting spit. Hold on a little longer, bra, what’s magical about a pavilion is that it’s temporary, momentarily grand, suggestive of ruin even as it shrugs ruination off, it comes down somewhere and goes up somewhere else. Blue Valentine next week…at Angelika…


“You must pay for everything in this world; there is nothing free except the grace of God.” No shit, I’m broke, and oh so thirsty (“He loves to pull a cork”). I love those frontier towns in Westerns, a broad dirt road fronted by saloon, movie palace, savory pie shop. This genre—principal and full glass of which all others are but accrued interest and meniscus—is lately evolving, throwing off the laconic for every flavor of formal talk, as here we get, for starters, last-words-upon-the-gallows, horse trading, testimony, tall tales, and epitaph. (“You do not varnish your opinions.” But when did every poet up and decide that sex could only be referred to as “fucking”? Ease up, everyone, let go of each other’s hair, we’ll be plenty stony enough without abandoning the euphemisms whose rightness this enlightened cinema teaches). My own lucubrations hardly range as wide, and my concordance, sadly, falls short of the dictionary it shamefacedly courts.

Everyone knows the story: retribution. Is it totally idiosyncratic to say the girl is Death herself (Cf. The Sandman’s goth teen)? After all, she sleeps more than once among corpses, drives a hard bargain, pursues her quarry without pause, and through her particular vulnerability compels the hero to his (deferred) demise—when Bridges (Crazy Heart, Tron) rides a horse to collapse and then carries her slack, snakebit form across the starry-domed desert it essentially finishes him, he sags mortally and later, we’re told, goes into show biz. Grown hard and sexless, she collects and buries him. She is not our bride, then, but our charge, and our own sentimental solicitude serves the warrant for our spirit.

Who remembers Rooster Cogburn’s given name is Reuben—any chance he’s a, well, you know? Reins in his teeth, charging the Four Horsemen, it’s about as sweet as Albert Finney with the tommy gun in Miller’s Crossing. Who’d have thought poise so cinematic? And it doesn't preclude, we note, titanic shit-talking or getting totally, mortifyingly bombed.


The universality of the prohibition’s adoption staggers: No Movies In The Morning. But then, it is their nature to hide from the light of day. Alexander Kluge: “Our eyes…are not quick. Their power of differentiation is limited to one twenty-eighth of a second. As with film, where the eye cannot really make out that half the time spent in the cinema is spent in darkness. Out of every two hours we spend at the movies, we spend one hour in the dark, relaxing. The brain perceives this, its many synapses register it, and yet each of us will have seen an uninterrupted film. Probably this is the experience of film: We dream at the movies—In front of the TV perhaps a little less.” I never watched much Yogi, as a kid, nor entirely understood what his collar signifies. I often think, still, of Alvin (the chipmunk), accused (like Yogi) of selfishness, and wonder if he’s found his peace. Is the Jay-Z “Hard Knock Life” just a bit of stunt sampling? Or is the presence of the shrill orphans’ cries meant to mock such posturing as all men do? Or does he, on the contrary, dignify their cloying grouse with his gravitas?

It’s hard not to sympathize with the assistant ranger who’s not allowed to drive the ATV or guide tours until he’s “paid his dues.” The final humiliation: wearing a sandwich board to advertise the Jellystone centennial. Of course he’s easily seduced by the corrupt mayor, and sabotages the celebration. Let’s be honest: whatever damage done to any one of us by corporations and governments seems an order of magnitude less than that inflicted by the indifference of our own supposed communities.

The year’s first true 3-D spit-take seems shockingly late to arrive. Yogi has a bit of the Jackass in him, his ingenuity is for unstable contraptions. As the climax nears, he’s required to chase by homemade glider a pic-a-nic basket filled not with sandwiches and pie but containing a thought-to-be-extinct turtle whose revelation to the public will result in legal protection that would save the threatened park—but these stacked abstractions can mean nothing to a bear, a beast. His pic-a-nic is the plummeting. Play always goes too far.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


“Use the levels!” Okay, I’ll try! I need a word, first, for what I so fucking am—not “stoned,” as though in the proverbial village square, not “baked,” but raw, not “high” but somehow the more perfectly attuned to the axes of that cold, glowy grid. But for all that it promises precision and speed and circuit it’s a world that couldn’t be heavier or more clogged and bogged down with all we lug: the young hero finds dad Jeff Bridges vanished 30 years into his work, literally, constructing a new world that the son, transported there, must quickly master. No wonder Telemachus has no personality, he’s too busy playing catch-up, while dad’s so complex he’s split in two: gray-bearded benevolent sage (username: thedudeabides22) vs. pure, un-aged superego acting as dictator over “people” who are really programs—the easier to be erased. They shatter like car windowglass. Culture, the ultimate family business. And how does the son report the intervening three decades to the dad who missed them? “Ice caps melting, the Middle East, the rich getting richer, cell phones.” Don’t forget pretzel M&Ms, kid, I’m up to my elbow in a bag of ‘em.

Like Avatar, this film embodies what it dramatizes: the virtually-young Bridges, however deep in the uncanny valley, presages every virtual actor auditioning just around the next technological corner. Our modern conundrum and wish of wishes—The Matrix, Akira, Frankenstein, King Kong on the spire—is the animal on the grid, order laid over meat, flesh as software, mind as hardware, the cyborg’s greedy consciousness fused and fulfilled. Haunting the old arcade. “The only way to win is not to play,” cribbed straight from Wargames, is offered up here as an outmoded boomerism. “The coward is despised because he refuses to play the game, and so reminds us that it is a game, and that we have a choice of not playing it.”—Northrop Frye. And: “The strong man or successful ruler is the man who is no longer aware of a disparity between reality and appearance, and is able to live in a continuous state of self-hypnosis.” Take us to Defcon One. All those guys with their dicks (discs?) in their hands on Chatroulette are really an army-in-waiting for the war to end all wars.

Tugging those rubber pants on and off, oy. One wakes up, certain days, and feels evolution at work inside. Its way of wanting what it wants—ruthless and ingenious—teaches how impoverished our little wantings, which nevertheless echo its profounder action, really are. Americans are said to be shallow but we’re not especially fun: Do you want to know what we care about in 2010? I’ll tell you: Duty and Dystopia, stoically sticking around or else arriving somewhere awful, probably pretty soon. My New Year’s resolution will be to wear crazier clothes.


I love the episodes when they go to the movies on Seinfeld. Some drama, tonight, because the wrong time was listed on the web, but the ticket girl: “We don’t control that, they control that in, like, Virginia.” I shoot back a withering look. The fight over customer service is worth having—a way to confirm our mutual commitments—but don’t try to win. Remember when Jerry realizes he’s Even Steven? Remember what Elaine wants to see instead of The English Patient? Sack Lunch. A whole family, on the poster, stands inside a paper bag, and she, looking at it, giggling, to her date: “Don't you wanna know how they got in there?” And then, pensive: “So d'you think they got shrunk down, or is it just a giant sack?”

Like all great boxing movies, this is less about punching than punch-taking. Surely the genre that allows all others to exist, the ur-genre that authorizes our shared struggle to archive the light reflected, on a handful of hallowed L.A. afternoons, from the bodies of a few spectacular persons. Marky Mark’s unreal shoulders and vast, gleaming back. Amy (Julie!) Adams’s snow-whiteness, Christian Bale’s gaunt wolf. We sure like looking at gritty Massachusetts, don’t we, and hearing its vowels of swallowed complaint. The ramshackle avocado-green crackhouse of our reveries. The problem with deploring addiction is that suddenly one finds oneself in the position of spouting every kind of false, awkward lie about life meaning something. Whereas the taste of the crack bypasses rhetoric to freak the opalescent lens.

The fight is with the head. The fight is with the body. The fight is with the brother. The fight is with the mother. The fight is with the story. Based on a true. As in Conviction, the last shot’s of the real Micky and his bro, mugging for a camera they don’t entirely trust. “You Hollywood people…” says Dickie, and it really, really feels like he means us, too.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


We don’t deserve a film this great. Based on a ballet—the art form most like poetry in that it has to convince you, every single time you encounter it, that despite your every presentiment and memory it might actually succeed. Can you imagine the movies having to stoop so? On the contrary, we like this one before the tickets are even bought. Jason and Ethan gush over all the spectacle, while Michael teases me, at the bar, telling me his male students are driving him nuts, stuck on what he calls the merely distracting question of fate vs. free will in The Odyssey. I know he knows, of course, that I’m stuck on it, too. How else can we decide if events are the crucibles of our affinity, or if they are themselves, rather, the wedges sledgehammer time pounds into the chinks between us.

WINONA FOREVER. But everyone’s bonkers for Portman, those cheekbones, that you-know-what neck, my old mentor is reported to have said that he could watch this movie “a thousand times” and I think I might know why. As Nina, she’s a frozen little girl, a Rapunzel about to awaken, cram an armload of stuffed animals into her apartment’s incinerator—how amazing was Toy Story 3?—and push, out of desperate ambition, past mere technique. And yet, Zizek: “Death drive means precisely that the most radical tendency of a living organism is to maintain a state of tension, to avoid final ‘relaxation’ in obtaining a state of full homeostasis. ‘Death drive’ as ‘beyond the pleasure principle’ is this very insistence of an organism on endlessly repeating the state of tension.” Eros and abandon, you deserve this tale’s paean, but it’s just as much a fundamental instinct that makes both she and I so spectacularly uptight.

Your paranoid delusion going down on you is like nothing else. After all, it knows your unbearable organ: the skin under skin: rashed, stippled, enflamed. I keep mine raw, too, the beds of my nails are always healing, never healed. Plier: to fold, and unfold, and enfold, replicate and duplicate and explicate. Places, everyone! In this city you’ve got to kill your double every fucking night.


The chronic, indeed. Lady two rows back, loudly, to her date: “This feels more 3-D than Avatar.” Who wants to have depth, or be smart? I just want to feel what I feel. But where? The place-where-feeling-contends must be, as one by now expects, a world-within-this-one. Going from this land into that. In a way that 2001 didn’t, 2011 seems a frontier, a moment-truly-unto-eternal-return, with all the ambiguity that implies. Amor fati. Buy gold.

Sailing around, being tempted, manifesting one’s own deepest fears, it just gets better every time. The girl wants to be wanted; the boy calls forth from his mindscape a sea serpent/vagina dentata whose coils aptly depict the extra-moral turning-upon-oneself that makes the presence of a villain superfluous here. Aslan paws his litterbox-isle and roars the turmoil aright, then leads the kids and the rat-who-won’t-shut-up to the ceaselessly-cresting wave whose bitchin’ curl marks the border of his country, the world-within-the-world-within-this-one. “In your world I have another name,” he purrs. I tried to work it out—Arty Morty?

Writer Lewis is also known for making Satan bad again, director Apted for filming cute kids with funny accents growing up into the nightmare of adulthood. Ideology’s both a bolt from the blue and a long, painful slog. The Law isn’t all bad but it’s sad to see, in the deserted traffic circle, a lone car hit his turn signal out of pure habit. Midnight, winter solstice, full moon on the verge of a rare eclipse, I piss, brush, and plug in my cheap-shit, depleted phone.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Alfie remembers that Paul Bettany once played Chaucer, which means Alfie’s seen “A Knight’s Tale,” which means he’s seen everything. I still remember when he told us, “I love repetition”—who knew you were allowed say a thing like that? He was just on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire—the emphasis is meant to fall on the first word of that question, but one can’t help shifting it to the second. As The Tourist implicitly asks, by its lush late-capitalist Grand Tour, TGV and vaporetto, why move desire around, anyway, since it’s measureless and total? Just for economy’s sake, just to grease the flow of euros? Jolie, who never stops trotting the globe, is affectless here: Lyotard: “For it is of the essence of desire to desire also to free itself of itself, because desire is intolerable.” No one is closer than Jolie to that famous object of desire—herself—so it’s no surprise she hymns a nothingness. To where would she make a pilgrimage? She gravitates toward stories about fraudulence, while Depp is the face of innocence, though he began it all, let’s not forget, playing a narc. Scissorhands, William Blake, Cap’n Sparrow, the Mad Hatter—the filmography, anyone would agree, of the oldest old soul. The red twizzler in my fist, held up to the screen, dissolves into the tumblerfull of Campari he swirls and sips.

Old friend of mine, to a (pre-Katrina) French Quarter shopkeeper: “Can you recommend a place to eat where there aren’t so many, you know, tourists?” Shopkeeper: “You mean like you?” Authenticity’s such a drag. Depp, as a Wisconsin community-college math teacher, smokes an electronic cigarette that vaporizes tobacco, thereby delivering nicotine without the smoke which it nevertheless simulates, for nostalgia’s sake, with a little puff of water vapor—and this doesn’t satisfy at all. The joke being, getting the drug agent itself is hardly the point, the real experience is of the byproduct, the delivery system, the burnt offering. He’s taken as a double for the man he actually is, Jolie’s too suspicious to recognize him at face value, she wears a medallion of two-faced Janus, Brad must have one hell of a home life. Hitchcock and Highsmith: It’s not only that you don’t know you’re really a criminal, it’s that you always knew it perfectly well. Pursued, one finds oneself all-too-proficiently running, leaping a turnstile, supplying a false name. Of course we don’t really care about any given movie but rather “the movies,” as one smokes or travels by train not to inhale that drag or arrive at that city but to find, exactly where one left it, the same profoundly comforting nausea (as of the seasick womb), the same predictably exhilarating trance.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, fascinating and uncanny tale of an “eighteen-year-old” agoraphobe with “long,” “blonde” “hair,” if you know what I mean, that serves as rope and prehensile tail and microcosmic spiral, and with whose “magical restorative powers” she keeps her manipulative mother artificially young until an intruder helps the girl escape from the “big erect tower” with her “little chameleon friend” to fulfill her lifelong wish to see the “lights in the sky” (she really is the homeschooled hippiechick Neil calls her) and after winning over the entire clientele of a local leather bar and “taming a stallion” and “breaking open a dam” before “hiding in a cave,” if you know what I mean, winds up finally seeing the lofted lanterns with the “man in a boat” who is actually the “thief” to whom she gives her “crown,” and finds herself a “princess,” if you know what I mean, I mean her innocence is an innocence both in story—she never imagined her own true station—and of story, since she covers the walls of her de facto prison with pictures of the world as she has gleaned it through what portals she may access, and these very images later reveal themselves to have contained all along the crest that signifies her hidden identity, in the same way anyone’s impressions, confusing and piecemeal, even to the point of sickening us with their apparent arbitrariness, also encode intuited points of contact—open sesames—that find us, if not understanding, then somehow understood, as when as a kid I used to travel home from the movie theater already in the thrall of the latest film I’d seen, so that the world would inevitably take on whatever cast or mood I’d been moved to inhabit, and I grew to love, and love still, this very way that the world takes a stamp or filter, not just the preference of a single self but the tint and hue of collective persons and the way they push and pull with what only seems to be the impassive thingness of it all (the hard asphalt of the traffic circle, set off by its forbidding curb), when actually, impossibly, the world actively marvels at our rootless self-aware flesh even as, at the same time, the year’s obsession with dimensionality aside, our communion is far from total, the couple sucking face in the back row distracts us, the lights come on, every strand is cut and slackens and we find ourselves awakened and, in the mirror, gone gorgeously but brutally brunette.