random moments in film criticism #2

“The pure horror movie would be that in which the forces of evil succeeded in taking over, the one they would themselves direct: pure, and therefore unrealizable.  Carmilla, the gorgeous undead girl (invented by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu) who infiltrated bourgeois households in Blood and Roses and The Vampire Lovers, was the advance agent for a New Order, but you would never get to see what sort of a world that would be.  There would never be The Last Man on Earth II, detailing what happened on virus-ridden Earth in the aftermath of Sidney Salkow’s unforgettably downbeat 1964 production, after there was no one left except vampires.  The inheritors, in such a scenario, would propose a ravenous alternative dispensation, in which the lords of chaos in their unrestrained domesticity could give themselves over to a voracity without end.”

The evocative passage above was by the writer/critic/editor Geoffrey O’Brien and taken from his superb, impressionistic analysis of movies and memory, The Phantom Empire: Movies in the Mind of the 20th Century, originally published in 1993.  It’s not a traditional critical examination at all, but it’s brilliantly written and contains many insights that keep me going back to it all these years later.  Reading the above paragraph immediately reminded me of the movie below.

The video clip is taken from the experimental movie Begotten, directed by E. Elias Merhige, from 1991.  It’s not really a horror movie, although it contains plenty of macabre imagery and feels unwholesome in that way only the best horror movies can exude.  It looks and feels as if it had been unearthed from ancient soil and screened as a sacrament to unnameable gods.  It feels like something they would screen for themselves for a night of entertainment, when their bellies were too bloated to continue their ritualistic sacrifices.

some of my favorite things #8: patricia arquette

I almost got fired for this woman.

It was sometime during the summer of 1993 and I was working at an independent video store in Northwest Portland.  It was a great job and I worked there for years.  Of course, one of the perks was that we’d get free passes to see movies every now and then.  I lucked out and was given one for two to see True Romance at the Lloyd Center Cinemas.  The catch, though, was that I couldn’t leave work early to see it.  I got off at 7:00.  The movie started at 7:30.  I had to race out, jump on a #15 bus and ride it downtown, then bolt onto the MAX and ride that across the river to the cinema, then try to get a seat.  No way was I going to get in that screening on time and I had to see this movie.

It was based on a Quentin Tarantino script, the first release after Reservoir Dogs, and a year or so before Pulp Fiction shook the film world.  It had a great cast and it co-starred the lovely Patricia Arquette, who I’d had a crush on since seeing her in that third Nightmare on Elm Street movie.  We’re roughly the same age (I think she’s a year older) and I was smitten.  I was going to get into that fucking movie.

I left about ten minutes early.  I got in.  I loved the movie.  And I almost got fired the next day when I slunk into the store and was given a serious reprimand by the co-owner who had checked up on me.  I apologized… sincerely… and was grateful to still have my cool job.

But it was all worth it.  She was worth it.

It’s Arquette’s birthday today and she is definitely one of my favorite things when it comes to modern actors.  I don’t like everything she does–she’s woefully miscast in John Boorman’s screechingly earnest Beyond Rangoon–and she doesn’t have a lot of dramatic range.  But so what?  She made for a perfect cinematic dream girl for this movie-mad American male during the 1990s.  And she’s still lovely.

David Lynch obviously thought she made for the perfect object of unobtainable desire in his superbly creepy and sexy 1997 neo-noir Lost Highway, my favorite of his movies.  Playing duel roles in it, duel symbols of a sometimes frightening female sexual power, Arquette entered that rarefied realm of ultimate noir siren.  A siren worth risking it all for.

And like all great cinematic sirens, particularly of the noir variety, she is forever out of reach.

But that’s what repeat viewing was intended for.

directory of world cinema: american independent and sinescope

It’s been pretty busy around these parts and as the summer crawls forward… it’s only going to get busier as the Terry Gilliam book gets finished and a new book project gets started.  I’m not going to say anything publicly about the latter thingy… but it’s exciting and in time I can be more open about it.

First off, I noticed this evening that my comrade from across the pond, UK film academic/editor/writer John Berra, has been interviewed by Jeremy Richey over at his fabulous site Moon in the Gutter.  I was fortunate to have been able to contribute a number of reviews (and an essay on Yakuza cinema) to both of the books that Berra edited (when not teaching film studies at Sheffield Hellam University), Directory of World Cinema: Japan and Directory of World Cinema: American Independent (both published by Intellect).

The book on Japanese films is now available in the UK and will soon be available in the US.  The American Independent book can now be pre-ordered here.

I also want to mention a project that I’m very happy about.  I’m now a contributing editor and resident film critic at the online arts journal Sinescope.  The site just went up Sunday evening and… well, it’s just getting started.  Plenty of wonderful essays already up over there–including my own piece on Quentin Tarantino’s war epic Inglourious Basterds–and I also have a film-oriented blog (He Watched by Night) there too which will include DVD/Blu-ray, theatrical, and movie biz items.  And if you head over there you can read my reviews of the recent superb Criterion Collection releases Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy and Steve McQueen’s remarkable feature-film debut Hunger.

Whew!  Sorry for the self-promotion, but I really wanted to mention those nifty things.  We now return to regular programming…

john shirley… smegma… what’s not to lurve?

john_shirley300dpi.jpg

Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.–from the film Adaptation.

For those of you who don’t know–and you really, really, should, considering he’s been writing provocative science fiction, horror, and whatever else for three decades–John Shirley is an adapter. In the 1970s, Shirley was a pivotal figure in the punk underground in Portland, Oregon, antagonizing, engaging, and spreading the virus of ideas and sounds in bands like SadoNation. In 1977, Shirley and another local musician, Mark Sten, opened up the city’s first punk club (albeit an illegal one), The Revenge. Shirley subsequently left Portland for New York City, where he continued to work as a novelist during the day and chart sonic waters at nights with the band Obsession. Later on he played with The Panther Moderns and wrote a number of songs for Blue Oyster Cult, most notably on the underrated album Heaven Forbid.

His novels are strident, erratic, sincere, violent, thought-provoking, rubbish, and brilliant. His short story collections–Heatseeker, Neo Noir, Black Butterflies, and Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories–are probably the best place to start if you’ve never read him. And then check out the novels City Come A-Walkin’ and the Eclipse (Song of Youth) trilogy. Oh yeah, he also wrote the first draft for The Crow movie before horror/noir writer David J. Schow (another fine scribbler in his own right) took over.

Anyway… read Shirley. Without him there would’ve been no William Gibson (certainly not in the shape that he took on), and arguably the “punk” in cyberpunk would have been muted if not terminated all together. The above video* is Shirley with Portland noise/experimental musical pranksters Smegma from, I would guess, late, late 1970s or very early 1980s.

Doesn’t matter what time it is. It’s timeless absurdity.

* The alien subgenius intelligence that posted this video to YouTube would not allow me to replicate it here on this site. But you can simply go there and view it for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHh95hICPiM

Enjoy….