Sunday, December 25, 2011

Coming Undun in the One One

I would like to apologize to what few readers I still have left for the drought of updates at this blog, and the tedious predictability of what few posts I've made in the last half of the year. Yes, it would appear that the only things that have gotten me off my keister and to the word processor have been a) obscure death memorials; b) puff pieces on pulchitudinous princesses; and c) blatant suggestive selling for merchandise I wasn't paid to create nor collect any treasure for purchase. What has kept me from writing, let alone writing anything of real substance...feh, that's an MP, not a YP, so I won't bore you with the details. I'll just bore you with something else.

Maybe everybody learned their lesson from the forboding start of last year and decided to make some improvements, because 2011 was a wonderful year of moviegoing for me, not quite the watershed that 2007 was, but similar in the excellent pace and parcel of good movies throughout and not just in the fall. As the countdown of 13 primes began there were many early releases that held on for an awful long time, until the limits of my categories reluctantly forced me to send them lower. I've heard more than one critic say that they could make a second list of choices just as strong as the first, and I'll join that quorum.

My one disappointment is that this year did not yield any strange, misbegotten, left-field, O.G. Watasnozzle-type movies that I could savor and pass on to other daring souls like a clubhouse password. Granted, SUCKER PUNCH had a decent amount of what-the-fuckery, but it did not qualify, because it is not a fun movie; when I watch it again, I will simultaneously be crying in my ice cream for that hideous, perverted corner of my soul that would not join the rest of my rational mind in abandoning the Saturn train, for it is that Black Spot which will certainly doom me to a solitary death in a welfare hotel.

I will however, award a special Jury Prize this year to Sion Sono's audacious, operatic, and deeply moving epic about guilt, sex, and redemption, LOVE EXPOSURE, because in its lightning-fast four hour running time, I was catapulted into a whirlpool of unexpected emotions unlike any other I'd seen in a cinema in years. A plot that encompasses upskirt photography, religious cults, and cross-dressing makes it sound like something you would be buying in a burlap sack in a seedy backroom, but it posesses every bit the sincere grasp of art and humanity that the works of Sergio Leone or Douglas Sirk tapped into previously. The long gap between the initial 2008 release in Japan and the slow rollout to reasonable U.S. availability made it ineligible for actual placement on this year's list, but it's a special film that you will not forget if you open yourself up to take the plunge.

And now that we've got our feet wet, on with the wade...

10 worthwhile films nobody saw but me:

City of Life and Death
Cold Weather
Higher Ground
I Saw the Devil
Margaret
The Myth of the American Sleepover
Shut Up, Little Man!
Terri
The Trip
Tyrannosaur


And here comes the deep end of this dive, The Top 13 of 2011:

13. 13 ASSASSINS

12. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

11. MONEYBALL

10. BRIDESMAIDS

9. THE GUARD

8. THE DESCENDANTS

7. THE TREE OF LIFE

6. DRIVE

5. ATTACK THE BLOCK

4. HUGO

3. MELANCHOLIA

2. WARRIOR

1. YOUNG ADULT


And 2011 gets put in the box while you're all unwrapping yours. I pray that your year of diversions brought you some happiness, and for that matter, my writing about my favorite diversions was able to do the same. Thanks for sticking with me this far.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"I've got all the room in the world"

The day before Sunday, July 18th, 1999, I had a birthday. Quite a triple threat, really: my first birthday in Los Angeles, my last birthday of the millenium, and my 30th as well. Displacement, end-of-the-century psychosis, and mid-life crisis all at the same time! So as a gift to myself the following day, since the actual date was consumed working in an undisclosed madhouse, I spent most of the day at a Playboy Expo & Playmate Reunion at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. And the highlight of the visit, among many great conversations and autograph gatherings and a photo with The Man himself, was a surprisingly extended encounter with '69 Playmate and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOORS star Cynthia Myers. We talked about the movie, other current film, pop music, my career ambitions, her family...a generous amount of personal sharing for a first-time meet. She was rather upset no one informed her of the revival screening I had attended at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood earlier that month of BVD, or of an upcoming full retrospective Russ Meyer festival planned for that September, so I told her I would buy her ticket if she would be my date for the event.

We exchanged email contacts, and while no actual date emerged (since the venue did give her an official guest invite later on), a correspondence and genuine friendship began, that heartbreakingly ended with her untimely passing earlier this month, November 5th. Many generations of men, including my own father, would have been left short for words to have an ongoing line of communication with one of the most lauded Playboy Playmates of all time, so this was a privilege that meant a great deal to me. As such, I figured that perhaps rather than concoct another essay about her significance to the cultural landscape, since there are plenty of very good ones already available, I'd rather just present in our own words, albeit slightly redacted for privacy, some moments to reflect the simple joy of having common ground with the lady behind those iconic images. It's nothing worthy of a Charing Cross Road address, mind you, but it's something you don't see everyday, Chauncey.

July 19, 1999: a proper thank you note post-convention

I can't thank you enough again for the great conversation I had with you today at the Playboy expo and for your autographing my BVD laserdisc. You really helped make a special birthday (my 30th) become even more special.
I don't have exact dates yet for the September Russ Meyer fest, but as soon as I do, I will send them to you. I hope you will still do me the honors of accompanying me.
Meeting you exceeded the highest of my hopes. You're sweet, kind, and deserving of all the good things you've got. Best of love and luck to you.

Hi Marc,
I'm glad I could be part of your birthday celebration...thank you for the info on BVD also I will watch for you to give me the dates and other info!


August 10, 1999: a quick shout-out to me while prepping for a Comic-Con appearance

Hey, Marc,
Get this......the two stars of the "Blair Witch Project" got hired by answering a casting notice in the back of Dramalogue!! That's why I love this crazy business.


November 17, 2007: a condolence note on the passing of her BVD co-star and former husband, Michael Blodgett

I just saw this blog posting from a few days ago about Michael's passing, and I wanted to send my support and love to you. I know that you had a
lot of difficulties in the last stages of your time together, but I'm sure he was a very important part of your life and that this is sad news for you.

Thank you so much for the notice. It is very thoughtful of you. Yes, we had more than our shares of ups and downs but everyone does. It was five years of non-boredom that's for sure!
I can't help my curiosity, do you know how he died??? He drank heavily for many years.


Unfortunately, I don't know any more details. So far, this blog entry is the only source I can locate for his passing - I guess the family hasn't submitted an obituary to the press yet. According to the post, though, the writer is a friend of [name redacted], so maybe you should drop him a note and see if he can tell you more. I don't think he'd mind.
The only thing I remotely know is that [another member of his family] was a member of the video store [I like to shop at], and I heard a few apocryphal stories from the store staff that he would pop in and chat but be very evasive on his whereabouts - there was suspicion he was evading taxes or some other situation.

On a completely different matter, the hot young director Edgar Wright (he made SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and one of the fake trailers for Quentin Tarantino's GRINDHOUSE) had wanted to screen BVD in December as part of a two-week program of his favorite movies at the New Beverly, but was told by Fox that they are withdrawing the film from circulation. Have you heard anything about this? Are those nasty people that control Russ' estate causing trouble and perhaps Fox is retaliating against them? They claim they no longer have the rights to it, but that sounds fishy considering it was their project in the first place, not one that originated with him.

It's all in Russ' secretary's hands..."Janis"....but she is so foolish, granted her and her boyfriend want to make all the money they can off of Russ, but they sure are NOT doing the right things. They don't even know how to interact with film people to preserve Russ' legacy. EVERYBODY could benefit..it could be a win win situation!
STILL trying to find out how Blodgett died. You are very perceptive...Michael wrote hundreds, maybe a thousand? bad checks, bullshitted a lot of people and never paid a dime in taxes. I know he was living in Santa Monica hotels. He always stayed there because I think he remembered doing "The Groovy Show" there and it made him feel good.
When I inquired about his death to Erich and he put me in touch (email) with [name redacted], of course I was very polite. She has not answered me yet. Maybe she won't? I just asked if he had had a long illness or maybe a heart attack.
Marc, if you hear anything please let me know....I'm curious if it was his liver....I have never seen anyone drink so hard in my life.


November 20, 2007: verdict arrives

Blodgett died of some form of Hepatitis. Well, he always joked about his liver being donated to the Smithsonian.
Be good, be safe.
Happy Thanksgiving!!


December 4, 2007: complications subside

Edgar Wright was able to pull some strings with Fox and he will be able to screen BVD on the 13th and 14th of this month at the New Beverly for his film festival. (Fox claimed there's some sort of music problem involving Strawberry Alarm Clock that caused them to pull fhe film from circulation, but that sounds fishy). He's pairing BVD up with Bob Rafelson's HEAD starring the Monkees, and Micky Dolenz will be coming to introduce it on the 14th. So it would be an added bonus if you were able to attend that night as well.
Tonight, Edgar is showing BUGSY MALONE with PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, and Paul Williams will be there, so I'm excited for that.

Thanks so much for the update. Paul Williams....Sounds so exciting!
Life is so damn interesting! When you emailed me with the tragic news of Michael Blodgett's death, I went to the IMDB and posted my condolences...it was read by [a family member] who, in turn, passed it to [another family member]. To make a long story short we have become e mail friends.. if you can imagine that.
I mentioned that I have a friend (you) and you let me know when there will be showings of Dolls and events connected to it. She said she would like to view it with me...do you think the showing your telling me about would be a good one for her and I to attend?
I trust your judgment.
Keep up the excellent work!
Let me know how Paul Williams was...I hope he's a nice person.


The Sunday night show was incredible! The New Beverly was practically sold out. Besides Edgar Wright who was hosting, the other luminaries who showed up included horror director Eli Roth and screenwriter Diablo Cody, whose movie JUNO opens tomorrow and will likely be a big awards contender. Plus, as an added bonus, Wright added a surprise midnight show of ISHTAR to the program, and it was introduced by Quentin Tarantino! Paul was terrific, he spoke a lot about PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (which was presented in a print almost brand new) and his career in general. I was struck by the fact that Paul is 67, but he looks even better than the "old" version of himself during the Faustian portion of PHANTOM. According to Quentin, who sat next to him, Paul had planned just to watch the first part of ISHTAR, since it started late and he's not a midnight person, but he not only stayed to the end, he sang along with all the funny songs he had written for the film. It was 3:30 in the morning when we all finally got out of the theatre, but it was a great time.
Now, when I spoke briefly to Edgar, he said there were still some kinks to work out in screening DOLLS next week, so there's a chance it may not happen. But I will keep you posted on that. So yes, absolutely, if it's a go, you should attend. You'll love Edgar: he's very handsome and energetic and I'm sure he'd get a kick out of meeting you.

What a fantastic turnout!! And, what a wonderful treat for all the fans!
Keep up the great work Marc!



And that, unfortunately, is where the correspondence ends. Part of the losing touch was just us going about our business and not having a real point-of-entry topic to start a new conversation. And, as I've learned in the recent days, a large part was likely the toll that cancer was taking on both her husband and herself; I had not seen her name attached to any of the events she had long been a fixture at, but I had chalked that up to other possible personal reasons besides ill health.

Which brings up the other reason I'm writing about Cynthia. Like many Americans right now, the combined costs of care for herself and her husband wiped out almost all their assets. The family does not have enough money to even pay for her cremation or for a chapel to hold a service, so a very generous friend and fellow Playmate is raising the funds to give her a proper sendoff. And they're pretty close to their goal, so I would like to play a role in putting them over the top. So if you have been reading as a fellow fan or just from a name-curiosity search, any dollar amount, even literally one dollar, that you can add to the till would be welcome.



Thank you, Cynthia, for large images and small kindnesses. See you in the long run.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hat, Meet Hand: Has Anyone Seen Silver?

I always find promoting my own work a bit of a dicey proposition, at least at this blog. A blog post that is ultimately just a crossplug to some other site, or more importantly, some other site where you're expected to spend money, to me is not a real post; much like my concern about lists, links are not literature. However, I'm a little tired of getting informed by DVD companies that the movies I provided my services to aren't selling, because it stands to reason they're going to determine that maybe it's not the movie that's unpopular, it's me. Now most believe that the broken clock is supposed to be right twice a day, but I maintain if it's digital with a couple diodes out, well, let's just say where in the world is it ever 1-:7P o'clock? So I suppose it is my obligation to the men who gave me a microphone and a credit on the cover to spread the word on what I've done that's on the shelves, in the hope that maybe one or five of you (or, most desirably, 3000 of you) will drop some legal tender and take home a shiny platter that contains my voice on it.

To give you background, after the slow, prolonged demise of that game show, I spent a good couple years as a freelancer for the late great Subversive Cinema DVD label, and while I only did one audio commentary for them, I did plenty of other tasks that tapped into my well of creativity and cinema knowledge. Unfortunately, all those discs are out of print, though in many cases the printing quantities were so high you can find new and used copies at a reasonable price. I have since done the bulk of my work for Code Red, and it's put me in the orbit of many interesting films and people. I should stress, though, that unlike the greats of the DVD special features business, like David Prior and Mark Rance at the majors, or Elijah Drenner and Mike Felsher for the indies, I really don't get to pick and choose my assignments. In fact, it often goes down like this:

Fictional exchange: not an actual transcript


"Hey Marc!"

"Yeah?"

"I got this movie in that Canadian package, never got released. But I found the guy who did it. Wanna do the commentary?"

"Has he done anything I've ever seen?"

"Naah, it's his only movie."

"Whatever. Send me the screener."


Two days later.

"Hey Marc! You watch the movie?"

[a beat]

"Why do you hate me? What did I ever do to you? I work for free, I give you my learned counsel, and this is how you repay me?"

"You don't like it?"

"I was in pain. I had to mute the audio, I couldn't listen, it was so painful."

"So you don't wanna do the commentary?"

"I'll do the damned commentary."

"Naw, if you don't like it..."

"I googled this guy, he has an interesting backstory. I can talk to him about that."

"You're not gonna make fun of..."

"NO! I'm not gonna kiss his ass and lie, but I can ask him questions about the project and make him look good at least."

"Ask him about the Juggalos."

"What the fuck do Juggalos have to do with this movie?"

"The makeup this one kid is wearing looks like Juggalo makeup."

"You told me this movie is from '89 and never got released. Why would there be any connection between it and the Juggalos?"


Blather, rinse, repeat, usually over the span of 45 minutes, and you'll have an inkling of what I do to keep myself gathering dust in the ersatz "Cult Movies" section of the local Fry's Electronics while everyone buys the latest repackaging of THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Yes, it is true that much like the original pressing of "You And I And George", the DVD release of NIGHT OF THE DRIBBLER featuring my commentary on it sold exactly 2 copies: I bought one, and The Dribbler bought one -- Where were you? Did I mention that I take my pension in loneliness and alcohol free DVDs and no actual money? But nonetheless, I continue with this special kind of movie mishegoss, because, well, what is the alternative? NOT getting to be immortalized for 90 minutes? History may have taught us nothing, and there's plenty of those nothing-taught fellows out there who would gladly do my job for the same not-pay, so I'd rather be the fool who at least knows what he's talking about when someone's magnum opus gets its one go-round in the digital realm.

So in anticipation for the November 15th availability of my latest (and for the moment, last) work, the Shout! Factory Select exclusive release of Katt Shea's STREETS [which, see below, was a massive false positive], I thought it was time to aim the barrel of my sawed-off journalism shotgun at my toughest subject yet...MYSLEF! {echoes ridiculously} Eh...I mean...myself. So here, in another instance of hard-hitting, buffalo-style journalism, is a ranking, of sorts, of every DVD commentary that I've participated in or moderated, in terms of how professional I come off, how illuminating the comments are from the panel, and how entertained you are likely to be by the discussion. This should reflect every piece of work I've done, save for two which, due to ownership dispute, have not been released - if those ever surface, you'll hear it from me - and another two where I'm actually just playing second fiddle to another moderator because all I really do on those is provide comic relief, and they don't reflect what I want this whole piece to demonstrate: I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says...like dumb...I'm smart and I want respect!.

Going from the butt-bottom to the best:

SCREAM

As I once bemoaned in a dedicated post, this is likely the worst movie I ever agreed to give a full hearing, and probably the worst commentary I've ever done. I spend the entire time trying to glean something deeper from director Byron Quisenberry, and end up with the aural equivalent of a shaggy-dog joke. Code Red, who recently reissued this as a double feature with TERROR CIRCUS (under its BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD alternate title), ported over the previous TERROR CIRCUS commentary track but not mine, prefering to use the bitrate to offer more footage of the charming and delightful Maria Kanellis making fun of the movie, a wise decision if ya ask me: would you rather watch an overdeveloped girl or listen to an underdeveloped thesis? So unless you are heavily into the backstory of bad cinema, and want to hear me grasp at straws that fly out of my fingers like poor Beth Howland during the opening credits of "ALICE," you can safely skip this one.

URBAN LEGENDS

So shocking that it had to be hidden in the brown paper credits for "THE UNKNOWN COMEDY SPECIAL," there is a work of homemade horror that, as a student of the art form, provided plenty of LQTM's, but probably would not be as amusing to someone looking for a degree of coherence in a movie. URBAN LEGENDS was an early effort by performance artists/pranksters Dino Lee and Carl Crew, which got usurped by producer Bill Osco and mangled up into what is now, as Mondo Digital observed, "A staggering train wreck that will have you doubting your sanity and rejecting whatever religion you hold closest to your heart, this belongs on your shelf in a deep, dark corner next to atrocities like COOL AS ICE, THE UNDERGROUND COMEDY MOVIE, and TRANSFORMERS 2." The commentary track with Crew, which was supposed to be a co-host gig with our mutual friend Lenora Claire until she was unable to appear and I had to go solo, is a fun listen, but I always got the notion that in klassik karny style, I was being kayfabed by Crew, especially on the topic of his late friend Eric Fournier and their controversial media creation Shaye Saint John. So between the lack of structure in the movie and the lack of transparency from the interview subject, I only recommend this to my most devoted fans.

THE BEING

Another Bill Osco production I got roped into. Since most of the principals of this so-called-spoof-that-doesn't-seem-to-have-any-larfs-or-sex were either dead (Jose Ferrer) or were too media shy (Osco himself), I sat down with the quite informative and still funny Johnny Dark for this commentary, despite the fact his contribution to the film lasts less than 10 minutes. You'll learn very little about the movie, but you'll learn a lot about comedy history from Johnny, who rattles tales about the great stand-up strike of the '70's, performing with both the Osmonds and the Jacksons, and his decades-long friendship with David Letterman.

NIGHT OF THE DRIBBLER

If you want a clinic on how not to write or perform a horror comedy, you can watch this. If you want to hear one legendary funnyman, one hardworking producer, and this squirrely nut trying to crack each other up to compensate for the lack of laughs, this one is right up your alley. There is a retroactive poignance to this track since neither me nor HOSTEL producer Scott Spiegel were aware that Fred Travalena was valiantly fighting cancer when he sat down with us, and would ultimately lose that fight a few months later; he coulda fooled us, as he was fast with the quips and honest with his assessments on the state of comedy. It's essentially the career retrospective interview that would not have happened were it not for a movie that Fred probably would have been happy to forget, so something good came out of it all.

HORROR HIGH

So, now we start getting into movies that I genuinely enjoy, and feel quite happy to be associated with. This occasion was borne out of an initial problem: Actor/producer Pat Cardi had long been challenging the ownership of this film by Crown International, and as such refused to participate in this release. And aside from Austin Stoker, most of the cast had disappeared to the four winds and could not be found. Code Red approached me about doing a "comedy commentary," and initially I bristled because I didn't want to anger fans of the movie like me who genuinely liked the film, plus recently there have been too many sub-par pretenders to the "MST3K" throne that were making tracks that were either tired drunken rambling or mean-spirited snark. But when they suggested I reunite me mates from "BEAT THE GEEKS," I warmed to it, because J. Keith and Paul know how to be funny and smart and not lean on tired condescenscion for laughs. And it worked out great: we cracked some good jokes, and I even got some legitimate history on the production into the mix. I think even Cardi would approve of what we ended up with.

THE PYX

I had quite the struggle to get this commentary done: it took a lot of honeyed discussions to convince Karen Black to sit down for one of her not-so-beloved movies, then there was the matter of nailing down a date to record it, and finally the finished commentary was literally added to the mastering process at the last minute! Thankfully it all came together. I think I'm alone in the wilderness in my genuine enjoyment of this long misunderstood film, which is really less of a horror film about devil cults and more a MEMENTO-style mediation on religion and righteousness. I only rank it lower than other commentaries I've done because upon listening to it, I have so many "Um" and "Ah" moments that the Toastmasters would grill me alive; I'm sure that's present on other commentaries I've done, but it just felt especially egregious here. Well, that and I occasionally lose my focus when Ms. Black chooses to take the discussion in another more interesting direction. Ultimately though, a long poortly-treated movie finally gets its due, and I got to help.

STREETS

Katt Shea had always been an inspirational figure to me - moving quite quickly from "Pretty Girl" dayplayer to stylistic auteur in a few short moves, with the nurturing of sex-positive and sexually-progressive producer Roger Corman - and it had always bothered me that her career advancement hit a wall. In this commentary track, not only did I get to meet an idol, I got to ask point blank what happened. And she answered it, in a frank and refreshing manner: Shea addresses low-budget shoots, working with real homeless kids, and why it's still so damn hard for women directors in this business. And since Christina Applegate's excellent and touching performance reminded me an awful lot of a girl I used to know, the whole thing got emotional for me; you might just hear me tearing up as we wrap. It also took a little behind-the-scenes wrangling for this to get out, so I'm very grateful you'll be able to hear it.

Update:Contrary to what I had been told by a trusted source, my commentary with Katt Shea for STREETS is NOT offered on the just released DVD of the movie. So if you ordered it hoping to hear her tell the story of the making of the film, I'm sorry I misled you.


THE VISITOR

Joanne Nail didn't make many movies, but at least two of them have found long-loyal fans over the decades. And when technical snafus forced a previously-recorded commentary with her to be scrapped, and I was asked to sit with her and re-do it, it was a privilege for me to sit with the eternal Switchblade Sister. THE VISITOR is quite a goofy movie, with its parade of slumming legends (John Huston, Shelley Winters) and bizarre patchwork of elements from every major '70's trend (demonic possession, space travel, conspiracy theory), but you get caught up in it all the same. Part of the reason is the legitimately thought-out and committed performance by Nail, which she details in our chat, demonstrating that sometimes the best acting is devoted to the most ludicrous stories.

THE CANDY SNATCHERS

This one is still the big glittering prize for me, even though technically I play second fiddle to Subversive founder Norm Hill, because it was my determined efforts that helped put the otherwise reclusive Tiffany Bolling and Susan Sennett in the studio in the first place. And when you hear them talk, you feel you're sitting in on some heavy emotions and confessions that have been waiting years for revelation - relief that work is appreciated, scars from harsh shooting conditions, lives that took deep turns. It becomes less of a chat and more of an encounter group, and you almost feel guilty for eavesdropping.

MEN CRY BULLETS

After all these years, after movies with higher profiles and bigger stars and bigger stakes, somehow, I still think this is one of my best moments, because it was my very first commentary track ever, done in the service of a close friend who was also recording her first commentary track ever. As such, while both of us would go on to more polished work, here we were like two kids playing dress-up and going for broke, me as the overly prepared interviewer, her as the iconoclastic director. Sure, I think you'll learn a lot about this specific movie and indie filmmaking in general from our talk, but I think you'll also learn about us and who we were all those years ago. And I think the thrill of the best commentaries is not so much dry information but really gaining intuition into the personalities of those artists that move us, what makes them tick...and in certain moments, finding out why we were drawn to each other.

And of course, there's my commentary track for LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE FABULOUS STAINS too - but I don't really feel like I should include that on this countdown since it didn't get on the actual disc, and you can download that for free by just moving your cursor a little to the right and clicking. Nobody's going to judge my ability to move product for that one.

So there's my list of what I naively hope may just fill up your shopping cart and perhaps even pop up near the end of the year in wrapping paper under trees and 8-holster candelabras. Movie Godz willing, maybe next year I'll have some more commentary trax to level the business end of my 12-gauge journalism bazooka squarely at for you to listen to...even if it's just white noise to help you fall asleep. It's okay, I've done it myself; That SCREAM DVD is better than those Sharper Image environments synthesizers!

Friday, September 30, 2011

"All I want to do, is to spend some time with you..."

For all the philosophizing, soul-searching, and navel-gazing that the onset of online social networking has brought about in the realistically short time it has existed, I've considered it nothing but a gift. Much as I can't be content to just enjoy a movie and leave it behind like the disposable entertainment item most others view it as, I cannot do so with the people in my four decades of life who have had the remotest amount of positivity for me. Thus, any time one of them chime in on a video I repost, or type out reactions of laughter if I make a particularly strong wisecrack, I feel very happy. It's a small daily validation that just as these people contributed to what I became, and what I am now, in a small way, they're letting me know I'm doing a small, similar amount for them as well. I am quite aware that most likely almost none of the people I went to high school with read this blog, since I'm waxing on subjects for which they don't share my deep enthusiasm, but I do know that they are happy for me and encourage my writing from the little pokes and comments they leave in the short bursts of correspondence such websites thrive upon.

It's hard now to contemplate that even a decade ago, for all purposes, unless you really worked at maintaining communication, that whole cross-section of your friends, of your life, could essentially be left behind for good. It was that heavy notion that came to my mind on a late-night drive home in August of 2001, when I began thinking of a friend that I had lost too soon...

Maria Olberding was one of the upperclassmen in my high school days, my superior by two years. She was active both in the drama guild, which was my strength, and in high-endurance sports, which was my absolute weakness, and worked both disciplines with enormous enthusiasm. Thus I was an enormous fan of hers. Were she not slain in a robbery attempt in 1994, no doubt she would still be working those talents. As such, to quote David Simon & David Mills, once her life ended, all of us who loved her joined a club. It's a very exclusive club. But the funny thing about the club is that none of the members want to belong. It's like some sort of secret society where only the initiated can recognize the other members.

Thankfully, because the majority of her life was so upbeat and energetic, so has her memory been kept in such a fashion through the Reggae Run, a yearly event in Cincinnati that continues to both draw over 8000 first-class runners from around the world for a daunting 5-kilometer race through the hills of the city, and raise large sums for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. As Elle Woods observed years ago, exercise raises your endorphins and your subsequent attitude, and to not enjoy a large spread of good food and solid reggae music is nigh impossible; with these two elements in tandem, it's a fine way to remember a great lady.

In 2001 however, I was far away from all of that. I only had sporadic contact with Maria's younger sister and my graduating classmate Patti Olberding, and I knew about the race from clippings my dad sent me, so in those days before Zuckerberg's Famous Ping, there was a feeling of being cut off from that section of my history. And while now I can message with Patti frequently and keep up with her and all our mutual friends from school, and I'm able to use my blog to eagerly promote this race in Maria's legacy, I thought it would be interesting to go back to that pensive night before all that was possible.

It was during that long late night drive from work when I was inspired to write this posthumous note when I got home. I didn't know if I would ever show it to anyone, especially on the public scale which I'm presenting it now; I think I just wanted to document a moment lest it get lost. With all the renewed cameraderie that I'm amidst today, I feel okay in sharing it with the world. Aside from some grammatical fixes and strategic hyperlinks, I am presenting it as is from a decade ago:

When I was first made aware of you, and who you were, I could tell you were one of the cool people.


I don’t use that term to imply some sort of exclusive cabal, the kind of mythical illuminati that run the high school in so many people’s troubled memories of their adolescence. I mean that I could tell you were one of the interesting people in the universe of our high school.


I think the initial instance of seeing you was in a play my freshman year, which meant already that I idolized you because at that time I still entertained notions of acting. At that time, the school was not co-ed, and I was still navigating the strange new world of high school (and in candor, doing a horrid job of it), so thoughts dissipated. After all, out of sight, out of mind. Then I tried out for the spring play, and made it in. And you got cast too. You and your sister. Although I look at the person I was back then and shudder at my maladeptness, you both seemed to see some good in me, and I was invited to socialize with you with regularity since.


When I became convinced of your coolness was at a cast party for another play. We were in your basement, listening to a mix tape you had made. Since you were older, you were getting hip to the really good music, the stuff that wasn’t getting played on the Top 40 parade I was still paying attention to. I remember it had all the now classic alternative hits that were still fresh and new and making all of us teenagers feel we were discovering something—Depeche Mode, Modern English, etc. It had an extended mix of Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” that had an intro and exit that sounded diametrically opposed to the short single version that was sandwiched inside, but that captivated me. That, and it had a song I knew existed, but had never heard, or at least, never listened to properly: “Red Red Wine” by UB40. By the time the toasting bridge portion of the song came on, the addictive chant of “Red red wine you make me feel so fine, you keep me rockin’ all of de time…” I knew in my heart that you were hip. You were pretty, smart, athletic, artistically inclined, and now, I knew you had the best taste in music.


With all those elements in your favor, long before Nick Hornby quantified it in literature, it was inevitable: I had a crush on you. You and your sister. Actually, in honesty, I had the bigger crush on your sister, because she was my age, in the same classes as me, and it seemed more plausible to possibly date her than you. By the end of my sophomore year, you were already on your way to college; it would have been totally impractical to attempt anything. But each time you came to school wearing those electric blue running tights under your uniform skirt, I always mused a little on the “if onlys.” Nothing ever materialized with your sister either.


I keep using the phrase “you and your sister.” If I can indulge in a sidebar, that last sentence is the title of one of my favorite songs. It does not actually apply to my musing, because the song is a plaintive ballad of a man who only wants time with the object of his affection, trying to counter the warnings of their sibling, whereas outside of perhaps some private comments about my overall sanity or lack thereof, I don’t think your sister has ever voiced any derogatory feelings about me. I bring this up because this is a song I discovered after college that I would have expected you to know, with your exquisite taste. Or perhaps one I would have tried to turn you on to, to make some sort of repayment for the music you introduced me to in my formative years.


I felt a great deal of sadness when you were murdered. I was in my 20’s, in another city, and I hadn’t seen you in a couple years, but when I got the news from my parents, I felt deep grief. For the family, for the friends, for never getting to see you again. And that’s where I felt an even deeper sadness, because I had to stop and consider that for all intents and purposes, I would never have seen you again anyway. By the time you left school, you were already on a different path in life than me, connected only tenuously by my friendship with your sister, our common friends and school experiences. Now we were in different cities, different lives, likely only to meet or hear of each others events through rumor and five-year reunions, seeing as a similar divergence occurred with your sister. Short of some radical change in either of us that was not a plausible possibility, we would have no reason to be in each other’s lives. My time of being part of your world had ended long before your untimely death, and it made me miss you more.


You see, some people are content to leave even the most idyllic of pasts behind, to be reduced to anecdote, a couple funny photos, maybe an occasional lunch, and staying smartly and rigidly focused on the present and future. The recent movie CHUCK AND BUCK is very uncomfortable to watch for the fact that it captures the awkwardness of what happens when two childhood friends meet again: one is still living in those memories and wants to behave accordingly, while the other has a new and different life and does not have feasible room in said life for that kind of friendship. Indeed, while I strive to maintain better than average contact with people from my past I consider significant, I’m smart enough to know that significance has diminished for us both. We have lives that don’t mesh, newer and more convenient friends, families of our own (well, they do anyway – I’m still single with no dependents and living a bohemian life, so I could be in an arguable state of arrested adolescence). The past is always pleasant, and we like to be updated on the present and future, but the relationship from long ago has become the acquaintanceship of today – it ain’t the same anymore. But those “if onlys” do stay the same. We are always drawing speculative maps for those roads we didn’t travel, the choices we couldn’t make because they weren’t available. And memory operates in such peculiarity, the most mundane elements can trigger the most deepest recollections.


Like tonight. I was inspired to write this because driving home tonight, “Red Red Wine” came on the radio. By now I’ve heard it over a thousand times, and it often just goes in one ear and out the other, like anything else we’ve heard in excess. But tonight, and frankly on many occasions before, when it played, I thought about the first time I heard the song; how I was at a party in the basement of a girl who was pretty, smart, athletic, artistically inclined, and at that moment, had the best taste in music. The embodiment of everything I looked for in a girl.


And even though I am now twice the age I was when I first received this hormonal epiphany, I still search for a companion with cool tapes and clingy opaque tights, and I begin to think maybe you still are.


I would likely never say this to you if you were still alive, because it would be inappropriate, or uncomfortable to hear, although I would like to believe you would smile and laugh and pat me on the shoulder afterward. And if you were still alive, some other man would be able to revel in that wonderfulness about you. Or at least I could think that the next time “Red Red Wine” came on the radio.

So, if you're in Cincinnati this Saturday and feel up for some heavy breathing in a forward motion, or just want to bypass the race and get to the music, please head down to Ault Park and enjoy some good fellowship. If you're not in town but want to put in, the Reggae Run website has plenty of merchandise for sale that will help the cause too.

Otherwise, just tell a friend you haven't spoken to in a long time that they still mean something to you. And maybe try listening to a special song as if it were the first time you heard it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Never Get Involved in a Fan War Over Asia

"I mean, seriously, Asia? You framed an Asia poster? How hard did the people at the frame store laugh when you brought this in?"
"They did not laugh at me."
"Know why you're gay? Because you like Asia."



For the progeny of talented and acclaimed artists, there is always rocky terrain where one would suspect there should be rose petals. In public, perceptions of nepotism and favoritism must always be fought, and the legacy of one's elders is expected to be matched or trumped. In private, there is often the feeling that one is in a competition with the muse for a parent's time and affection. Some Hollywood families are hallmarks of balance and support. Others are more fraught with conflicted emotions that get transcended only after years of struggle. As the man once said, "Buffalo Bill's son couldn't shoot as well as he did," but few take the time or the concern to ask whether a) he was still a decent shot on his own; b) if he had other skills that he was better at than his father, and c) as long as they were a productive member of society, should these even be an issue?

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite second-generation artists. A lady who drew me in by the family name, but took her circumstances and made her own fortune upon them...and with whom, unlike my hapless non-connections with another celebrity crush, I was able to share one all-too-short evening of convivial exchange. If you're reading aloud or sounding this in your head, the proper name pronunciation is "ahh - SEE - ahh"...as in a red door you want to paint black...but the moxie within is equal to the size of said eponymous continent: Asia Argento.

As stated previously, being a maven of the films of her father Dario Argento, I was essentially a fan of young Asia by default, watching her mature in a parade of Eurocult horror and the occasional arthouse crossover. So I got quite excited when in late 2001 America at large took notice of her, first as Vin Diesel's inscrutable love interest in xXx, and then with the strategically-delayed-after-xXx release of her writing/directing debut SCARLET DIVA. As is often my wont, I was finding myself alone in my enjoyment of her crypto-autobiography: patrons at my screening were mercilessly mocking what they perceived as her first world problems, and were hoping she'd be carried away by a "waaahbulanza" by movie's end. And as caustic friends have said countless times before, I have a fixation on brunettes with the appearance of severe emotional problems, so that partly accounts for my affection for this film. But what most see as pathological narcissism in this story I see as a heightened fiction; Asia is creating what people think she is like for the sake of drama, while indeed addressing some of her real baggage - a goth chick spin on STARDUST MEMORIES. And I also simply enjoyed the random traveling nature of the narrative, one minute in historic Italy, the next hanging with pretty gay boys at a WeHo IHoP...maybe it's the cinematic equivalent of playing with Colorforms ("Put her in France! Now she's in a disco!"), but dammit, it kept my attention. And from what few glimpses I've had at the demonic netherworld of reality television, it would appear an awful lot of those art directors have been copying this movie's aesthetic. It is a movie I somewhat enjoy more for its cheek than its coherence, but SCARLET DIVA demonstrated to me that Asia had the instincts of a good filmmaker, and since all my favorite directors have at one time been branded a pasticcio caldo, I would be eager to see more.

I did get to see more, both in film and in the flesh, as I will unfold.

We now go forward to November 2004, during the AFI festival at the ArcLight Hollywood. Cult-bombshell-about-town Lenora Claire was generous enough to tell me that her artist friend Gidget Gein had passes to the premiere of the new film by my intended future ex-wife, an adaptation of THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS by JT Leroy. I had been wanting to see this film since I first heard about it, since I was curious about Leroy's work though I'd never read it (I liked ELEPHANT, which he produced and likely helped Gus Van Sant write under the table), and the concept of cosmopolitan Asia going to hard country Knoxville, TN to make a film made me very curious. But first, there was the matter of getting in.

Gidget met up with me and warned that he may not be able to get me into the sold-out screening, it would have to be wait-and-see. His '+ 1' for the evening as it were was filmmaker/author Kenneth Anger, who in odd circumstance was occupying the apartment previously held by Miss Lenora, who was not present. I hadn't spoken to her since the initial invite, so I did not know if she was just sitting out the show in favor of other things, or waiting at home to learn whether she could get in also. As for Anger, I'd met him a few times at work and other locations, and gotten a taste of his...ummm...how to be polite...his eccentric nature. And that evening he was walking around the yard on his own agenda while Gidget and I chatted and waited for Asia's manager to arrive and confirm whether more tickets could be freed up. Gidget found Anger, began to brief him, and it went something like this: [paraphrased quotes]

Gein: "We're still waiting on her management to arrive, see if there's tickets."

Anger: "You tell those fucks I'm not going unless all my friends get in." (looking to me) "See, I only go to movies in parties of three." (looking at me closer) "You should smile more, you have such a stressed look."

Me: (trying to make light) "Oh, I'm just anxious to see if I can get in, I've been wanting to see this a long time."

Anger: "Oh fuck all of this, I'm going home!"


And with that, he just stomped off never to return. So it was just Gidget and myself catching the show. Very odd. But fortuitous, because the house was packed and we got on line at the right time; by the time they started admitting, the patrons waiting stretched from the upstais of ArcLight all the way down the stairs and practically to the gift shop. Thus was this an evening when Anger solved my problem, literally.

Things got even stranger when we got our seats. Directly in front of me was a former contestant from "BEAT THE GEEKS". And not just any contestant, but the one...I think you know who I mean...the blond circuit boy who got the tainted victory in the Geek-off by rattling off a couple horror titles and a bunch of numbers to get an impossible to beat score and pissing me off enought to curse him out on air and cause my mother to denounce the show and berate me for weeks in despair as to how she could raise such a son that would use the "F" word on national TV? Yeah, that one. To our mutual credit, it was a diplomatic affair, and we made nice and called truce. Seemed an interesting enough chap, we had mutual interest in exploitation films, and he said he rather liked my insult of him from the show, describing him as looking like what would happen if Crispin Glover had a one-night-stand with a Breck girl. I commended him for even knowing what a Breck girl was. {You see, boychiks, years ago dere vas this shampoo company, and dey had the gemutlich blonde goils who were on the bottles like Ivory soap flake babies...wha?? What about the Ivory Flakes? Aaah, who needs you, putz!} I would later learn that my former Breck bête was in fact comedian John Cantwell, co-founder of the acclaimed sketch group the Nellie Olesons, so it's probably a good thing we're on the same side now.

THE HEART IS DECEITFUL was not a pleasant evening's diversion, that's for dead sure. There is very little element of hope in this movie, barring the fact that what was a purportedly loose autobiographical story had a de facto happy ending because "the real JT Leroy" was alive and writing now and had people looking out for him. I had to admit to feeling a sort of abuse fatigue, watching boy protagonist Jeremiah suffer one humiliation after another at the hands of his unhinged mother (played by Asia) and a long string of untrustworthy adults and thinking it's never going to get better, so is there any other point to this story? But yes, it was a good film. The child actors had roles with character arcs adult actors dream of, and everyone else managed to create scary people that were still human and rounded. I especially liked one scene with Peter Fonda as the ultra-pious grandfather grilling Jeremiah with questions and showing a bizarre, stoic sympathy to his plight even though he's going to ultimately make it worse by instilling an irrational fear of God. TARNATION was much better in the 2004 series of "resilliency of abused children" themed films, but this sophomore feature proved Asia had a distinct voice as an artist. And today, long after the revelation of Leroy as a creation of Laura Albert and Savannah Knoop, the film that pseudo-scandal inspired is still worth your time if you're ready to get down with the sickness.

One month later, the weekend before Christmas, I had been assisting with hosting and closing a Friday midnight movie, a fairly regular activity for me, except for what would follow when I casually checked my email at 2 a.m. for the first time since before I left for the theatre, and saw a message from the ubiquitous Lenora...


"What time do you get off work? Asia's having a going away party tonight. Call me!"


My thought process worked remarkably fast.

Lenora Claire -> Gidget Gein -> Oh, snap: THAT Asia!

I grabbed the phone and dialed feverishly. Lenora was still up, but on her way out of the party, it appeared to be winding down. But she said if I hurried, I could catch the last gasps. I thanked her, punched up Mapquest so that I wouldn't be hunting like a fool around the neighborhood, and burned rubber to get there. Found parking and found the house much easier than I should have under my normal cloud of fuckupitude. Walked in, and yes, the house had the barren messy allure of a move. What I gleaned from Lenora was that Asia was going back to Europe, and a lot of what was left in the house would be up for grabs. Not many people were around, but those that were all looked like they'd been there a while.

Within a few minutes I was looking right at her.



NOT ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPH FROM PARTY;
LIKELY ACTUAL FACIAL EXPRESSION


Naturally, there was the brief awkwardness of having to explain how a solemn Dickensian street urchin in a black trench and a large soda cup wandered into her party.

"Helloow."

"Hello, I'm Marc. I'm a friend of Gidget's."

"Ah yez he iz upstairzz."

Gidget was indeed upstairs with his girlfriend and other appropriately glam types. He was happy to see me, asked me about an upcoming reissue of ON THE WATERFRONT, and we talked of favorite moments from the film. (His is, of course, "I coulda been a contender," mine is Karl Malden's eulogy for the dockworker, "This was a crucifixion!") A monitor aired what appeared to be a poor tape of some '70's-era film, and naturally I was occupied with trying to identify it. Asia came upstairs looking for her camera and a light. By the time she found her lighter, I correctly identified the movie: it was the documentary MARJOE, about former child evangelist turned B-movie actor Marjoe Gortner. I asked if playing that tape was her idea. She was impressed that I was the only person to correctly identify the movie. "No one elze here knowwz Marchoe." A somewhat dazed lady friend of a handsome fellow lying on the nearby bed seconded the right-on for Marjoe. When she found her camera, she asked to take my picture. I set down my soda cup but she insisted that I hold it in the picture. She pulled a couple curtains behind me, positioned me...next best thing to being directed by her in an actual film. Gidget told her the story of the packed AFI premiere of THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS, and I provided the color commentary on how I wound up with Kenneth Anger's ticket. She was amused and not surprised at the curious turn of events.

Sadly, fate was kind but time was not: practically everyone disembarked around 3 a.m. She entreated the bed-sitting couple to stay a little longer..."We could zit a while and talke abowt muuzik."...but they had to go, and if "Fab iz leeving", everyone had to leave. And as I tried to think of musicians with that name since he did not look familiar to me, I thus came up with the double-edged thought, "Was I in the room with a Stroke?" So in making my goodbyes, I was able to do the following:

1) Tell her I had been looking forward to meeting her since moving from Ohio 5 years before, and was quite thankful to get this first/last chance;
2) Proclaim that I enjoyed both of her directorial outings and that I hoped to work on one with her in the future. She asked what I did, I told her that I wrote, and had at least two scripts with her in mind;
3) Gave her a quickly-improvised going-away present, a copy of the now out-of-print 2002 Sins o' the Flesh calendar. I figured she would appreciate some lovely cheesecake photos of L.A.'s ROCKY HORROR shadow cast, and since she would be leaving the next day, I would not be able to lure her to an actual performance as I had hoped. Embarrasingly, the calendar had gotten wet from an errant partygoer (along with some CDs I had brought from the car because people had been taking turns DJ'ing), but she found it amusing and adding of character.
4) As she said goodnight in Italian, it led me to riff a bit clumsily in Italian and French in turn, explaining my mother's mixed background. She liked the fact that my mother still only speaks French to me to keep me from losing it.

I can't call the night a total smash, because it was all over much too quickly and I didn't get to ask any of the things that I have wanted to ask for years. Had I access to the web 2 hours earlier, I could have arrived there in a timelier manner to enjoy a more substantial party. But 20 minutes with a subject of admiration is better than none at all. And while I doubt I made any large impression, she was quite nice, admitting that she is shy by nature despite the exhibtionistic public persona out there.

"Please don't stay away from here too long. I want to meet you again." I said.

"Then we weell have to do so," she replied.

I contentedly walked back to the car, clutching my slightly-soaked CDs. Water damaged jackets would normally annoy me, but now I have a story behind them: instead of just a household accident, it's "Oh yeah, that's one of the CD's that got damp at Asia's going-away party." I take my memory touchstones where I can get 'em.

After almost 7 years, things have changed for us both. Happily for her, Asia has married and dotes over her children like any good old European mamma. Happily for me, I started this blog and have slowly begun to reclaim some degree of public validation for my otherwise dubious body of knowledge. Sadly for us, Gidget died a couple years back, much too young. Asia has not directed another movie, but she still acts in plenty of them and they're always provoking curiosity. I have not been lucky enough to have that promised second encounter, but the first one took long enough so patience is worth maintaining.

What has not changed is that Asia has not had to do anything she is not passionate about; no paycheck gigs to pay a mortgage, no Hollywood dreck to please an agent. She's an all or nothing kinda woman, so here's a little tribute to all that:




Buon compleanno e buon viaggio, donna Asia. A giorno quando voi rittorno e mi videre ancora.



2014 POSTSCRIPT

In February of 2013, during an otherwise ordinary afternoon, I found myself in an eclectic and electric Twitter conversation with Ms. Argento, which led to reminiscence about the night in question documented above...




About a month later, during another conversation, the photograph came up again:




And then, just this past June...


Thank you, Asia. For your art, and your heart.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Do you ever feel like there's a thousand people locked inside of you?"

I found out quite unexpectedly about Jaime Grijalba's challenging Richard Kelly blogathon at his Exodus 8:2 site; had the maverick Eric Kuersten at Acidemic not provided a submission of his own, I likely would not have heard about it at all. But since it's going on, it provides me an opportunity to yet again race under the wire to offer my thoughts on the much-battered sophomore outing from the ballsy writer/director.

Having seen all three of his theatrical features, and also Tony Scott's film of his screenplay of DOMINO, a theme has come to my mind that I don't see much exploration of. For all the expansive environments he presents, be it the suburban playground of DONNIE DARKO or the penultimate days of apocalypse in cosmopolis in SOUTHLAND TALES, or the southwest social junkyard of DOMINO, all of his produced screenplays also suggest that, quite possibly, these dramas exist entirely within the mindscape of one of the movie's characters, as purgative fantasies.

For an obvious example, at its core, DONNIE DARKO is a retelling of Ambrose Bierce's AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE, only instead of a condemned soldier fantasizing of escape to home and wife, it is a troubled teen who, in the seconds he has to contemplate his death, purges his guilt for the tumult he's created by fantasizing that it's all for the best, and he will be vindicated by his family and peers. The haunting, Kieslowski-esque "Mad World" montage serves the latter purpose - even Patrick Swayze's false healer/pedophile character can sense the loss, because while his career is ruined in Donnie's alternate reality, it brings a closure to his double life that he will still be tortured by in a Donnie-less world. All the allusions to theosophy and portals could just as easily be deathbed notions of escape from his environment, or perhaps his transition into another existential plane, a theme revisited in Kelly's adaptation of Richard Matheson's story "Button, Button" into THE BOX. For a more opaque example, Museum of Cinema proprietor Blake Etheridge has posited that in Kelly's screenplay for DOMINO, the events described to government investigator Taryn Mills by Domino Harvey are entirely a lucid mescaline fever dream; Domino has been earning a living as a bounty hunter, but the events which brought her into custody are by no means as colorfully bizarre as she is describing them. Consequently, with SOUTHLAND TALES, while Kelly would like the viewer to plunge into the adjuncts to the film (the prequel comic books, Krysta Now's website, Boxer Santoros' MySpace page) and immerse themselves in the side details of his ambitious vision, they're all red herrings, entertaining but non-essential, in the same manner that "The Philosophy of Time Travel" is an engaging but ultimately needless sidebar to DONNIE DARKO.

Before I go any further, I want to give a huge acknowledgement (and some web hits, I hope) to the excellent and provocative critic Kim Nicolini, whose wildly enthusiastic review of SOUTHLAND TALES back in 2008 inspired my own analysis, which I initially offered only to her and a few messageboard denizens. Kim had eagerly devoured all the extracurricular material Kelly created and thus included them in her analysis of the film, so it feels a little funny that I am also praising it while dismissing said added material which was partly integral to her enjoyment. But then, much like Hercule Poirot stated in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, this mystery has a simple solution and a complex solution, and perhaps they are both correct.

SOUTHLAND TALES is another extended fantasy, though despite the constant allusions to "the end" not a deathbed fantasy. To me, almost all of the sprawling tale is a somewhat drug-induced construct of Justin Timberlake's wounded war vet narrator Private Pilot Abilene, who is wrestling with how to deal with the injuries done to him, both by his best friend Taverner in combat, and by his country as a whole. Key to my reading is that aside from tertiary contact with minor characters, and his firing the fatal shot that kills a government mole (which would thus be an imaginary act through this reading), Abilene has no interaction with Boxer, Krysta, the Frost family, or any other of the ostensible leads of the story. Abilene lives separated from them all in medicated inertia amidst a hyperpoliticized America, angry with the friend who scarred him, the politicians who sent him to kill, the revolutionaries who failed to stop it, the celebrities who sold the war to him, etc.

So he begins to split these people as if they were all "good cop/bad cop" (literally for Scott's character Taverner), which allows him to explore and empathize with their redeeming qualities. By letting his imagination run wild, he finally begins to see that all causes can be corrupted, good souls make bad compromises - the duality of humanity is inescapable. And he sees how to reconcile those two halves, in the almost literal manner of his former best friend. Yes, the friendly fire incident left Abilene ugly and wounded, but it also got him out of the war zone, where he would have likely perished, and back to a semi-comfortable life in America. The "end of the world" he keeps talking of is not a literal one, but of the fogged, drugged world of hurt and anger he inhabits - the "bang" is the necessary rush of pain when the drugs are gone and he is fully conscious of everything that's happening. And now that Abilene can understand that his friend Taverner can be both source of his disfigurement and savior of his life, as can his country be, he can forgive them both and start his life anew.

I am always left to wonder if this is an autobiographical read on Kelly's behalf too. In interviews, Kelly has never been terribly vocal about politics (I've found no declared party affiliation) or religion (for all the constant notions of Christ figures in his movies, he professes to be an athiest). But when one considers that the Republican party is depicted as the initial antagonists of his story [though ultimately, every fringe group is shown to be venal and corrupt], and Dwayne Johnson and Sarah Michelle Gellar were registered Republicans during filming, that odd contrast offers intrigue. The film definitely takes a dim view of the Iraq war and its effect on society, but this spirit of collaboration with actors of an ostensibly polarized opinion to his parallels Abilene's resolution, as if to say Kelly once judged his stars by their politics, but now can see they had a sincere belief in the same manner he had one that was in opposition, and that all of them found flaws in those systems of belief.

On a dishier level, I'm also rather fond of the possible "shoot" aspect of the tensions between the characters played by "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" alumnae Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, Amy Poehler, and Cheri Oteri. The four play characters very definitely at odds with each other, and each actor comes from a different incarnation of the show's history (Dunn and Lovitz sharing theirs). Again, there's no high profile accounts of any rivalries between the performers, but comedians are a family that can be both collaborative and savage, so when Poehler's character castigates Oteri's with "Just 'cause it's loud doesn't mean it's funny!", you are reminded that Oteri's "SNL" tenure consisted of portraying a lot of shrill characters, and Dunn's character's duplicitousness towards her cause may remind older fans of her rather self-serving refusal to work with shock comic Andrew "Dice" Clay when he appeared on the program. Comics do certainly love to milk dirty laundry for a laugh, so it wouldn't surprise me if Kelly encouraged the performers to improv and throw a few low blows.

I instinctively feel I'll always carry a minority opinion on SOUTHLAND TALES, and depending upon my debate opponent, I may not always be in the mood to defend it; if left to fight an army of snarksters fully bent on declaring it "Worst. Movie. Ever.", then, as the late Frankie Bastille once said, I may as well be Captain Kirk left to fight the Klingons in a Mercury fucking station wagon. But it's a film that's given me stimulation over repeat viewings, and for fans and foes of Richard Kelly's who aren't intimidated or annoyed by the film equivalent of an Everlasting Gobstopper, I would firmly say it's worth visiting multiple times as well.