OASIS: SUPERSONIC (MINT PICTURES, 2016) is easily one of the better documentaries ive watched in recent years, not least because strucurally it is an anomaly having two competing narrators in the GALLAGHER BROTHERS walking us through their story on separate tracks. recorded separately with no interaction, which seems as good a description as any for the dynamic within the group. this film shows how this highly dysfunctional pair of siblings rose to prominence with the BRITPOP movement and cemented their legacy as iconic BRITISH cultural exports on par with THE BEATLES and THE SEX PISTOLS from previous generations. its an amazing story.
you don't have to look very far in this film to see examples of singer LIAM GALLAGHER's loutish womanizing behavior that have made his king hooligan public persona the stuff of legend. but honestly that stuff bored me. what you really get at the heart of their relationship, and by definition the crux of this film, is this notion of an unbalanced division of labor. guitarist NOEL GALLAGHER comes off as the brooding, sensitive son of an abusive MANCUNIAN father who made himself into a songsmith whose innate sense of melody and human observation led him to write transcendent songs that put him in the pantheon of great BRITISH songwriters along with the aforementioned LENNON/MCCARTNEY as well as RAY DAVIES, MORRISSEY/JOHNNY MARR, ELVIS COSTELLO, ELTON JOHN/BERNIE TAUPIN, VAN MORRISON, IAN CURTIS and even DAMON ALBARN. but that only got him so far without the magnetism, charisma and straight-up sex appeal of LIAM in the vein of iconic BRITHS frontmen like JOHNNY ROTTEN, FREDDIE MERCURY, PAUL WELLER, NICK LOWE, JOE STRUMMER and of course (again) JOHN LENNON. with NOEL you got the substance of an older brother that took the blunt of the blows from their father and with LIAM the upstart baby of the family, shielded from such abuse, who wanted all the attention good or bad. super interesting family dynamic and expressions of warped masculinity that was probably also influenced by poverty, unemployment and the like in 1980s MANCHESTER.
perhaps my favorite moment in the film is when NOEL is hard at work writing songs for their follow-up record in the studio while everyone else in the band has pissed off to the local pub, leaving him with all the creative control, but also the pressure. at some point he asks LIAM for ideas and his brother is totally dismissive, saying that he didn't have time for that right now. you really get the sense in this film, admittedly by both narrators, that this was NOEL's ship (despite the fact that he didn't start the band) and that LIAM was just in it for the fame, glory and the birds.
it makes sense now that NOEL's solo career has blossomed into, for all intents and purposes, the second phase of OASIS' career given that the quality of the material has never diminished. this can't be said for LIAM's solo work or lackluster BEADY EYE efforts, the later of which saw the remaining OASIS members dismally attempt to recreate the magic sans NOEL to no effect. its super glaring and obvious now, but by watching this documentary you begin to understand that this trajectory was embedded in the very framework of OASIS and how it functioned and that LIAM seriously better set his ego aside and make nice with his brother.
seriously, for all our benefit. make up and go conquer the world again. nobody died. you all survived. nobody took your throne so got out and kick ass again.
please. i really want to hear "ROCK N ROLL STAR" in a stadium. just do it.
i remember watching the documentary JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND (VICE FILMS, 2017) with a family relative at his house within a year of returning stateside. people had long thought that JIM CARREY had lost his mind based on some "unhinged" interviews he gave in which he questioned the very nature of identity. at best people thought he was attempting to be provocative and at worst, his faculties had devolved to the extent that we were now watching another HOLLYWOOD star in some sort of twisted, psychic free fall in which he had become detached from reality.
this documentary is based on his work in the MILOS FORMAN film MAN ON THE MOON (UNIVERSAL PICTURES, 1999) and the lengths in which he went through to become comedy icon ANDY KAUFMAN. first some background. KAUFMAN was a transgressive comedian who used several outlandish personas that were designed to confront, and ultimately destroy, audience expectations. he would withhold punchlines and gags indefinitely. it almost reminds me how german composer RICHARD WAGNER would utilize leitmotifs in his OPERAS that never resolved, leaving the listener to be more and more enwrapped in the proceedings without a release. KAUFMAN in my opinion was the COMEDY equivalent of such, working on a level that was both juvenile and transcendent. makes total sense that another generational talent in CARREY, a man of many faces himself, would be so intrigued. the footage of the filming showcases CARREY's dedication to being in character, even to the point of speaking with the family of KAUFMAN's in the first person.
it makes sense to me that life as performance art made an impact on how CARREY viewed himself as an individual, even apart from comedy, since in essence we are all performing for each other all the time. but who are we really?
this is where i think CARREY loses people when he talks about their being no individuality and that in essence we all cease to exist. i know my relative fealt that way.
in my mind that was BUDDHISM 101, the idea of ANATMAN or "non-self." there is no soul or unchanging essence that precedes us or follows us into death. the idea of self-hood is a mirage, a biological phenomena that helps us get through our lives but is ultimately a lie. this precept takes root in HINDUISM with the concept of ATMAN, or a self concept, that in some schools is equated with BRAHMAN, or the ultimate reality. its interesting because in the HINDU context, in essence there is also no individuality because we are all in essence an extension, a manifestation of BRAHMAN. any concept of selfhood as being separate from the physical world is a contradiction in terms, by definition you are of this world because it is you.
for me the most interesting nugget in this film is how this idea of a non-self becomes interjected with the acting occupation, where people take on personas for a living. in a sense, any persona is as relevant as any other and, to draw the point home again, we all are engaged in this activity. we all perform according to what the local normative culture requires of us. i personally saw this again and again living overseas when fellow AMERICANS would take on the racial prejudices of the local majority population. it always jarred me but made sense on a certain level, that your sense of self is intertwined with your surrounding context.
the fact that CARREY took this concept to heart doesnt seem crazy at all but a recognition of the false precepts that we all assume are resolute and unyielding when it comes to our sense of identity, yet in actual fact they are all inventions created to help us navigate an uncertain reality,
a fascinating documentary well worth checking out, whether or not you find the humor of CARREY amusing. this film is working on a level far beyond that and i hope it reaches a decent audience, as we are in a downward spiral at the moment based on cults of personality and mass conformity spear-headed by corporate media companies of all political stripes. the message of this film resonates with me far beyond the context of one actor and a film he did in the late 90s.
what doesn't jive with me is CARREY's anti-vaccine horse shit. that's another rant altogether. SMH.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
DUNKIRK (WARNER BROS, 2017) is a film very close to my heart.
i should start by mentioning that during WII my great-uncle CHARLES CALIENDI worked for the DE HAVILLAND AIRCRAFT COMPANY and played a major part in designing and testing the MOSQUITO fighter plane for the war effort. he was a very sweet, funny man and i still miss him dearly.
in my mind this film is a love letter to all those who fought and died in WWII, with special focus on the efforts of the ROYAL AIR FORCE and common sea merchants who braved incredible odds and paid a high personal cost to bring their countrymen safely home during the BATTLE OF DUNKIRK.
the film itself focuses on harrowing experiences of the ALLIED forces as they were marooned in the coastal FRENCH coastal town of DUNKIRK awaiting evacuation. as they waited along the beach they were picked off and bombed at will by the NAZI LUFTWAFFE.
where this film excels is its ability to position the audience in the psychological and emotion headspace of the main protagonists: common soldiers stuck on the beachhead at DUNKIRK, RAF pilots and brave sea merchants doing their solemn duty. this is done through a masterclass of visual storytelling, with absolute minimal exposition. this film is really a story to be experienced rather than read as a piece of history.
in particular, there are numerous scenes of random wanton violence. what is truly shocking is the silence shortly thereafter. again, the psychological space that compels the characters, as well as the audience, to piece together meaning from that which is unsparingly violent and wholly unpredictable. in essence we move forward but that silence lingers.
director CHRISTOPHER NOLAN is well-known for his ability to tease out the inner psychology of his characters, despite given genre expectations as seen in his filmography that includes INTERSTELLAR (SCI-FI), INCEPTION (SCI-FI) his DARK KNIGHT trilogy (SUPERHERO) and MEMENTO (NOIR/THRILLER).
in my estimation, his war film DUNKIRK is his finest effort yet. i highly recommend it for anyone interested in the power of filmmaking.
when people consider the PUNK ROCK movement that swelled up on both sides of the ATLANTIC in the late 1970s, the bands that usually come to mind are iconic acts like THE RAMONES, SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH and THE DAMNED. whats interesting about those bands is that in many ways they are rather conservative in their approach, basically recycling CHUCK BERRY riffs and taking back ROCK AND ROLL in essence back to its core 1950s origins with ROCKABILLY legacy acts like ELVIS PRESLEY, EDDIE COCHRAN, GENE VINCENT, CARL PERKINS and the like. i find it one of the great ironies that a cultural movement so celebrated for being transgressive was actually quite traditionalist in a sonic sense, at worst even nostalgic.
such was not the case with two bands of that period, X-RAY SPEX and especially THE SLITS. the documentary HERE TO BE HEARD: THE STORY OF THE SLITS (HEAD GEAR FILMS, 2017) interview surviving members (and former members) TESSA POLLITT, VIV ALBERTINE, PALMOLIVE and NENA CHERRY about their experience during that period. the recently deceased ARI UP (R.I.P.) appears in archival interview and performance footage.
my big takeaway from that film was how truly revolutionary THE SLITS were in context, both musically and socially. musically they blazed the way forward towards POST-PUNK by incorporating WEST INDIAN and AFRICAN rhythms into an aggressive yet sophisticated sound which sonically reinforced confrontational lyrics dealing with the VICTORIAN ideals of womanhood. and if you thought these famous male PUNK bands were supportive of their female brethren you'd be surprised. apparently while on tour with THE CLASH on their WHITE RIOT TOUR in 1977 across BRITAIN, the bus driver needed to be bribed in order to allow THE SLITS on the bus. such was the stigma against female musicians in this effective boys' club. this resulted in THE SLITS developing a sense that other bands and their manager's became extensions of the establishment.
think about that. THE SLITS were outcasts within a subculture defined by their outcast status. its quite remarkable and really puts those other bands in proper focus, since the revolution advocated at least initially had no place for women outside of traditional roles. it is almost absurd how truly conventional those bands were and how authentically subversive THE SLITS were during their prime.
and it doesn't stop there either. founding member and powerhouse drummer PALMOLIVE (later of THE RAINCOATS) was dismissed because the PUNK ROCK ethos of the band couldn't square itself with her CATHOLICISM. so even within the internal realm of a band that was the outcast within a scene of outcasts, a CHRISTIAN found herself to be the most isolated of all. if anything, her example is to follow your convictions despite societal or peer group pressure, which is by definition the essence of PUNK ROCK. funny how life works sometimes.
the larger aim of this documentary is to present THE SLITS and ARI UP (in fact, this film fulfills part of her final will) to a new generation of music fans that may be unaware of them and their influence not only on the experimental POST-PUNK scene but also perhaps on the RIOT GRRRL scene that flourished 20 years after. THE SLITS due to the misogyny of rock critics from major BRITISH and AMERICAN publications alike have been dismissed from the greater narrative of PUNK ROCK as nothing being a footnote or curiosity. this documentary helps shed light on their proper place as an equal (and perhaps maybe a little more equal than other bands) creative force in a storied, influential scene.
compiled and edited in the wake of the death of ascendent HIP HOP artist LIL PEEP, the documentary LIL PEEP: EVERYBODY'S EVERYTHING (FIRST ACCESS, 2019) appears to be the result of a copious amount of footage (tour, behind the scenes, music videos, family home recordings) and interviews (family, friends, peers, management). what emerges is a portrait of a charismatic creative that was much beloved by all who knew him well, despite his efforts to mark himself as a societal outcast with his outrageous appearance.
having passed on from a fentanyl overdose at 21, his young life found him creating highly affective music that blurred the lines between SOUTHERN HIP HOP-influenced TRAP PRODUCTION and POP PUNK melodies, which sounds contrived but in his hands was entirely unique. this was probably due to his tuneful yet emotionally resonating vocals which belied an alternate universe of endured pain and sullen isolation. its hard not to watch this and see a troubled LONG ISLAND high school loner that was rejected by his father and wanted nothing but to connect with others. through the power of the internet he found his footing and community of artists and ultimately exploded on the underground HIP HOP scene, creating an ever-growing posse of hangers-on and enablers that no doubt, contributed to his demise. this point is hammered home with the revelation that he was dead in the front lounge of the bus for 4 hours before anyone noticed. the life of the party, yet seemingly everyone saw his gentle nature as a welcome gesture to be exploited.
he seemingly could not say no. could not distance himself from those that didnt have his best interests at heart. he was so young. you get the feeling that he was on the verge of something. his final tour was a gesture to his crew before he planned to leave them. no conspiracy is hinted at here. he passed away from the same drug that took PRINCE, TOM PETTY and MAC MILLER. the OPIOID CRISIS is real.
but this documentary does not come off as a cautionary tale, it is more of a love letter from those whom he left behind. a celebration of his life and music.
the documentary AMERICAN VALHALLA (EAGLE ROCK, 2017) takes its name from a song off of IGGY POP's late-career album POST POP DEPRESSION (LOMA VISTA, 2016), which was a collaboration between the iconic STOOGES frontman and musician JOSH HOMME of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE/KYUSS fame. this documentary follows their collaboration throughout the songwriting and recording process with interviews of both conducted by ANTHONY BOURDAIN (RIP).
i guess it should be stated that while IGGY and HOMME come from celebrated bands, both are actually quite unconventional musicians. lots of bands pay lip service to expanding their sound on subsequent releases, but if you track the career trajectory of both you will see that is actually the case. when IGGY reached out to HOMME, both took it as an opportunity to experiment and see what new creations could be manifested from their respective provided elements. it was interesting that in navigating this new relationship they based much on instinct and cooked the songs quickly in short order to not overthink it. just move forward.
i think this film at its core is about the nature of collaboration, especially when you have a history or legacy. it is about dismantling those expectations, both external and, more importantly, internal.
i remember when i was teaching i never slept particularly well because i was constantly questioning my plans. its not that they were inferior, i knew they were sound, but the opportunity cost of it all drove me nuts. there were so many options and how could i choose the right course of action that would best serve my students. i think that drive in part is what broke my heart about the profession, the fact that so many of my peers phoned it in. taught the same thing in the same order as years before, altering nothing. i saw the classroom as a dynamic venue for exploring ideas and challenging them against new technologies and world events. opening up the curriculum to show how these classroom concepts affect our understanding of both the world and ourselves. the fact that i did this in foreign countries, never on my home court made it that much more invigorating and scary at the same time. more colors to play with. i was willing to fail and being unable to settle down completely at night was the price i was willing to pay. risk nothing you get nothing.
what i am trying to say is that im well aware of this fear HOMME had in the film. how do i collaborate with an icon? make it worth his time and my time? and most frightening of all: the opportunity cost of all the other possible music i could write, that i could present to him. how do you conquer that fear?
you just do it by doing it. being truly in the moment. their collaboration was all instinct, mutually respecting and sharing that creative moment. in the moment. right now.
i loved that tightrope dance. i miss it.
note: but i wouldnt return to teaching. dealing with administrations that didn't have the students interests at front of mind cut my heart out. repeatedly. a bad one-sided collaboration rooted in politics.
great film. intriguing documentary on the nature of collaboration and cost required to make it a fruitful and meaningful endeavor.
ECHO IN THE CANYON (MIRROR FILMS, 2019) is a documentary about the mid 1960s LAUREL CANYON scene located just outside the SUNSET STRIP in the hills above LOS ANGELES that served as a sanctuary to FOLK-inspired ROCK AND ROLL musicians. musician JAKOB DYLAN of THE WALLFLOWERS conducts the interviews with luminaries such as BRIAN WILSON, ROGER MCQUINN, DAVID CROSBY, RINGO STARR, ERIC CLAPTON, GRAHAM NASH, STEPHEN STILLS, TOM PETTY, JOHN SEBASTIAN, MICHELLE PHILLIPS, LOU ADLER, JACKSON BROWNE and most compellingly, reinterprets the songs himself of BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, THE BEACH BOYS, THE BYRDS and THE ASSOCIATION with a roster of modern musicians including FIONA APPLE, CAT POWER, BECK, JADE CASTRINOS and NORAH JONES. as i will discuss shortly, this continuing of the cycle of interpretation and experimentation is a genius stroke as that passing of ideas is at the core of how the scene developed and was nurtured by artists back in the day. very cool stuff indeed.
what i found most interesting about this period of music history was the atmosphere of experimentation that defined it with songwriters cross-pollination and contextualizing the sounds of peers in new concoctions, moving everyone forward together.
prime example: THE BEATLES inspired THE BYRDS to take FOLK chord progressions and play them in a ROCK AND ROLL setting, which found them reinterpreting PETE SEEGER in a cover of his "THE BELLES OF RHYMNEY" which, in turn, influenced GEORGE HARRISON to interpolate that chord progression and 12-string RICKENBACKER sound in "IF I NEEDED SOMEBODY." just a cycle of ideas being ping-ponged back in forth across the pond by like-minded artists.
and for me that is the crux of any healthy scene, irrespective of outside distractions like business, fashion and aesthetics. at its core this scene nurtured artists to spread their wings and take chances. as BECK points out in the film, this may be why most of these bands have multiple singers and songwriters. they are in fact supergroups in a sense channeling the best of what they have to contribute. just take the songwriters in two of the most prominent groups: BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD (NEIL YOUNG, STEPHEN STILLS), THE BYRDS (ROGER MCQUINN, DAVID CROSBY). its pretty amazing they stuck together as long as they did.
its a complete 180 now in terms of the media landscape where artists are afraid of being explicit about their influences for fear of being sued in the aftermath of the 2013 PHARRELL/ROBIN THICKE case concerning an interpolation of a MARVIN GAYE song. or maybe im wrong in that, maybe with the internet there is a bevy of experimentation going on beneath the surface, producers trading files with musicians and rappers, songs being remixed, ideas being shared in the same way those house parties in LAURAL CANYON helped spark such a rich tapestry of music from 1965-1967 at the outset of that scene (including others not interviewed like FRANK ZAPPA, JONI MITCHELL and JIM MORRISON) which obviously blossomed in the 1970s with acts such as CAROLE KING, JACKSON BROWNE and FLEETWOOD MAC among othes. something to consider. great film.
seriously, who doesn't love PAM GRIER?
in my opinion the BLAXPLOITATION films she starred during the 1970s (FOXY BROWN, SHEBA BABY) showcase the real american nightmare, empowered sexually liberated minority women who take charge and buck the power structures that hold their community back, structural racism and drug lords be damned.
my favorite of these films is director JACK HILL's genre-defining masterwork COFFY (AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL, 1973), which carries an almost LADY SNOWBLOOD-esque revenge plot as GRIER's protagonist seeks to kill a drug kingpin for allowing heroin to ruin her neighborhood and kill her younger sister. she does this by going deep undercover as a working girl and establishing relationships with all the inside players before making her move. GRIER is a tour-de-force whose character displays an emotional trajectory that allows the audience to understand her pain and how such governs her means of devouring her competitors through seduction. like a righteous femme fatale only in a very different political, cultural and racial context.
i find this film endlessly fascinating for its scope at addressing a contemporary societal ill when such was ignored or demonized in the wider WHITE media and political classes. i think QUENTIN TARANTINO must have felt similarly when he cast GRIER in JACKIE BROWN (MIRAMAX, 1997) over 20 years later in an update of her character of sorts. again, GRIER hasn't missed a step, only this time its corruption on a higher political level.
COFFY is worth your time. it is absolutely required viewing for anyone interested in cinema, period.
what's funny about ZOOLANDER (PARAMOUNT, 2001)is the fact that it is one of these cult films that initially bombed at the box office but totally destroyed when it came out on DVD and was put in movie rental chains (remember those?!) like BLOCKBUSTER and HOLLYWOOD VIDEO. other films i'd put in this category include OFFICE SPACE, THE BIG LEBOWSKI and A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY.
what makes ZOOLANDER such a fun movie is the piss it takes out of a pre-TMZ, 24-7 on-demand digital CELEBRITY culture and the high fashion/glamour industries. the very premise that a new "look" by model DEREK ZOOLANDER would set the world ablaze is so preposterous and self-absorbed that it is the perfect foil that director/actor BEN STILLER take for all its worth.
i think imbedded in this film is a NAOMI KLEIN-esque critique of BRAND CULTURE and the idea that the logo of your garment somehow belies some deep aspect of your personality is a inherently hollow, narcissistic and just absurd. yet our consumer culture and the marketing that underpins it relies on such. i think its easy to laugh at DEREK ZOOLANDER but the real joke is on me every time i purchase anything from NIKE or LEVI'S despite their labor practices abroad and lack of real support for AMERICAN manufacturing capacities.
ZOOLANDER is the kind of film i regularly return to throughout the years because its message is only more intense given the age we live in now with its even more corrosive form of micro-targeting and digital marketing where our choices are even more thoroughly analyzed and manipulated. DEREK ZOOLANDER to me is the patron saint of our current predicament where fast fashion chains, shoe culture and equally vacuous figureheads (cough, cough, THE KARDASHIANS) influence our collective self-image.
and how depressing is that? ZOOLANDER is a must-watch. the sequel not so much.
what was originally intended as behind-the-scenes footage to be utilized as extra content for their upcoming release transitioned into a seminal documentary about the dissolution of a band in real-time, something that has not been documented before or since to my knowledge.
controversial at the time of its release among METAL fans, the documentary SOME KIND OF MONSTER (THIRD EYE, 2004) by directors JOE BERLINGER and BRUCE SINOFSKY (BROTHER's KEEPER, PARADISE LOST trilogy) has proven in retrospect to be arguably their highest achievement (other than those perfect string of legendary CLIFF BURTON albums in the 1980s). i say this because there is a lot of posturing and machismo bullshit in METAL. it is by far the aspect of the genre i dislike the most and for years METALLICA were the pied pipers of this toxic brand of masculinity. that was until their second bassist JASON NEWSTED departed in order to claim the freedom of pursuing other projects. this was the first domino in a series of internal debate and reconsiderations that led to group therapy and lead singer/rhythm guitarist JAMES HETFIELD's admittance into rehab for alcoholism.
again, given their history with these issues it was a brave move. original lead guitarist DAVE MUSTAINE of MEGADETH fame was booted out for his behavior when intoxicated. he wasn't afforded a second opportunity. to interview him and put all the cards on the table in such a public manner really altered the culture in my opinion. none more so than the issue of therapy.
METALLICA was mocked extensively for going in to group therapy as such was perceived (moronically) as being weak, passive and not metal. if anything this was a power move that took incredible courage. i look back now at a seminal band like PANTERA who had internal struggles that were never dealt with out of a sense of toxic masculinity and they broke up out of spite with one another. they battled each other in the press and ultimately cowered to their corners with their respective enablers and hangers-on, never addressing anything in person, man-to-man. in my mind stepping up and speaking your truth and probably more importantly, the act of listening would have been more METAL. but what do i know?
i feel as our culture becomes ever more coarse and driven by wedge issues that seek to divide us, here is an example of a group of men looking each other in the eye dealing with their internal issues directly with begrudging respect. taking control of their behavior. being adults. thats what this film represents to me.
too bad the album ST. ANGER sucked.
sometimes you feel so connected to a piece of art that you start to wonder what you were like before encountering it. such is the case with me and the work of MEL BROOKS in general. as i think i mentioned before in my REVIEW of SPACEBALLS (BROOKSFILMS, 1987), my first viewing of his movies was early, like around kindergarten.
so that should explain quite a bit about me.
i remember during one of my first semesters at RUTGERS UNIVERSITY as an undergraduate attending a required class that was focused on the gifted and all-too-human cultural prodigy that was PAUL ROBESON. somehow with a fellow classmate, who was AFRICAN-AMERICAN, i got into a heated discussion about whether or not BROOKS was racist. if you haven't seen BLAZING SADDLES (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), it is a send-up of WESTERN films in the tradition of JOHN FORD, HOWARD HAWKS, JOHN WAYNE, ANTHONY MANN, etc. and really just eviscerates them. the language alone is something that likely wouldn't be allowed in today's political and cultural climate, as it regularly used racial epithets and ethnic, gender and sexuality-oriented slurs. but you have to ask at whose expense in the film. the answer to that is the white men. the only people being debased and pilloried in BLAZING SADDLES are the dumbass white frontier folk (men, women, young and old) that use it.
during those arguments i eventually won given that i mentioned that one of the co-writers of the screenplay was none other than RICHARD PRYOR, arguably the greatest comedian of all-time (he has my vote). if you didn't know, he's also black. years later i watched the director's comments by BROOKS and learned that all the great one-liners in the film are more or less PRYOR's, but the racist stuff was all BROOKS. hilarious.
i understand that now life is more complicated given that foolish people think that given media where people use unfortunate language that somehow gives them permission to do the same. i am talking about white people here. this phenomena is something famously that CHRIS ROCK, DAVE CHAPPELLE and countless other comics of color have had to deal with over the years, white appropriation. forget about it now in the age of TRUMP. so i get why this film still chafes at people.
but for its ability to utterly annihilated the tropes of a bullshit genre that was created to showcase the primitive superiority of the white man (a la MANIFEST DESTINTY), i am a huge fan of this film in its original savage context. not how a moronic TRUMPIST may misinterpret it and weaponize it for their own regressive agenda.
its funny, when my brother and i were both attending high school in KUWAIT roughly 20 years ago our middle eastern peers were largely naive about AMERICAN culture and pretty much anything that wasn't related to that isolated oil-rich hellhole. my brother had a binder that carried a printed out picture of JOHN TURTURRO's epic bowling nemesis from the THE BIG LEWBOWSKI (WORKING TITLE, 1998) and his KUWAITI classmates would ask him who that was. he'd cooly reply "that's Jesus" to which they'd inquire confusedly "THAT's JESUS?!"
THE COEN BROTHERS are masters of playing with genre expectations and THE BIG LEWBOWSKI is a great example of them experimenting with the cinematic form of NOIR films and their ROMAN NOIR literary antecedent. NOIR films were largely created in a post-WWII climate where the world order was being rebuilt and the role of men was being challenged and rethought along economic, cultural and social considerations. the literary analogue to this genre predates WWII. usually there is a single male who throughout the film is fighting a series of outside forces that include government agencies (of the secretive variety), the media and (of course) women. women in particular are depicted as agents of destruction, i.e. femme fatales, who use their sexuality to attempt to derail our hero from his goal. of course its bullshit, but its a construction that is dear to a genre that at its heart is questioning what identifies masculinity when their hegemonic influence is questioned in a patriarchal society.
what makes THE BIG LEWBOWSKI so interesting is that instead of a determined, idealized male protagonist that rises to the occasion to supersede these overwhelming forces, we are instead given JEFF "THE DUDE" LEBOWSKI, an aging inept stoner with no will to effect change on the world other than his commitments to his bowling league and listening to CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. he is the personification of ineffective masculinity, yet he is the protagonist that meanders his way through a convoluted plot of outside forces that he inept to deal with any reasonable capacity. that is the core of its humor and humanity.
i think i identified with that character not for his slacker-ness but his being thrown into crazy situations, much like i had at that point survived NIGERIA and boarding school.
LEBOWSKI throughout the film is manipulated by more sophisticated and devious counterparts, including another high-achieving JEFFREY LEBOWSKI who is nonetheless crippled and cuckolded by his barely legal porn star wife. even his doppelgänger or mirrored-self is compromised. much like his inability to effect change, the film also just kind of ends where it begins, and endless loop of inadequacy and mediocrity.
a film that never really ends or begins. no character development. no lessons learned.
great film well worth watching on repeat. i have since i was a teenager.
i am a total fanboy of DIVINE and JOHN WATERS.
i mean really. if you check out any of their trashy EXPLOITATION filmography from the 1970s, movies like PINK FLAMINGOS (DREAMLAND, 1972) and DESPERATE LIVING (DREAMLAND, 1977) or even more obscure earlier fare like MULTIPLE MANIACS (DREAMLAND, 1970) and MONDO TRASHO (DREAMLAND, 1969) you will not be disappointed.
my favorite out of the bunch is FEMALE TROUBLE (DREAMLAND, 1974) which depicts the life of a BALTIMORE teenager seeking attention throughout her life and ultimately commits murder for the sole motivation of becoming notorious.
for me this film is a bitter take on TABLOID culture in much the same way as BILLY WILDER's ACE IN THE HOLE (PARAMOUNT, 1951) eviscerated yellow journalism a generation before. WATERS saw the future of the AMERICAN SOUL and the lowest common denominator in cultural terms as the concept of infamy being a goal in and of itself predates today's online social media culture where people are famous for being famous and being "on brand." DIVINE is psychotic as all hell in this film and the DREAMLAND cast, as always, keep the film grounded in its debased underbelly like a more deranged and conked-out alternate versions of ANDY WARHOL's superstars.
the look, the acting, the humor and the caustic message about the nature of the media and the vacuous nature of seeking fame in this film is all textbook JOHN WATERS and is why FEMALE TROUBLE has been a touchstone of my movie-viewing habits since my teen years.
this film is required viewing in my opinion.
i revisited the SCI-FI classic LOGAN's RUN (MGM, 1976) the other day and was again intrigued by its depiction of a future dystopia where all inhabitants are genetically modified to maximize pleasure, only to be discarded in public once they turn 30. what hit me about this film was its critique of ritual and the dislodging effects of free love culture.
to mark the end of a class of the population, there was an elaborate sports-like spectacle called "carousel" in an arena where participants where systematically killed off in hopes of being reincarnated. the implications of such a display are obviously barbarous, but the fact that such had been normalized via its status as an embedded ritual in society made it easy to gloss over on behalf of its inhabitants. reminds me in a way of how we choose to perceive pugilistic sports (MMA, NFL, boxing) and war as competitions rather than life-altering experiences that forever change the mental, emotional and physical capacities of its participants.
the other interesting bit about this film is how everyone is supposedly engineered to be equally desirable and sexually available for all takers, male or female. ironically, a world free of sexual prudishness and boundaries has lost the ability to connect. a world free of adults and children is rudderless, guilt-free world with no responsibility. perhaps this was a critique of the free love and commune movements of the late 60s where unconventional living and partnering relationships were experimented with for a time. i dont know how i feel about that one. i have friends from childhood who participated in kibutzim in ISRAEL and others in NIGERIA that had extended families via their father's other wives. they all seemed to be well-adjusted despite having multiple "parents." interesting thought none the less.
last thing i'll say about this film is that the youth-obsessive nature of the narrative made me immediately think of my experiences KOREA and JAPAN, where KAWAII culture has infantilized the population and really devalued people once they moved past puberty. its unhealthy and their suicide rates among teens and depreciating birth rates among adults proves such.
why cant we just value the whole spectrum of human development. where does that come from?
art by nacrowe
who doesnt love EXPLOITATION films?
i for one always appreciated their directness in selling you the base, lowest-common denominator entertainment based on sex, race and other issues deemed to taboo to be touched upon by the prudish gatekeepers of modern culture. RUSS MEYER's landmark FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (RM FILMS, 1965) is an iconic underground film that follows three go-go dancers on a murder and kidnapping spree through the deserts of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.
this film has influenced countless films in its wake, most notably those where women use their appearances to switch the tables on gender roles and exploit their oppressors in the process. this plot is still mined to this day as seen most recently in HUSTLERS with JENNIFER LOPEZ and CARDI B, where MANHATTAN strippers exploit their WALL STREET patrons in the wake of the market collapse of 2008. it begs the question of who is exploiting who?
awesome, totally underrated film that everyone should view. can't say that for the rest of MEYER's output.