Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Best of Bestiality

            Everyone identifies with animals on screen.  It’s a part of movie going psychology.  You can bludgeon maim and kill human beings but kick a dog and the audience gasps in horror.  Maybe it’s because we know the humans are actors? They’re characters, they’re not real people but Fido can’t fake it.  Or so we believe.  You hurt an animal and you hurt every dog the audience has ever known.  So don’t fuck with the dog. 

            You won’t identify with the animals in these films in the same way you did with Benji and maybe that analogy doesn’t really fit here.  Or maybe it does?  The ultimate taboo put on display in these films becomes a centerpiece for examining relationships better than any relationship movie I’ve ever known.  Which says a lot about “relationship” movies in this day and age.  The funniest part is the intelligent audiences who need to see these films pass them by thinking it beneath them to watch a blonde give a dog a blow job.  And really who’s to blame em on the surface.  But looks can be deceiving and the adventuresome film goers who take a chance on seeing these films will be rewarded beyond the simplistic description I’ve so far shared. 

            I’m still figuring out who this Nagisa Oshima mother fucker is and it’s blowing my mind that I’ve come so late to the party.  I’d first heard of him described as a New Wave director which caught me off guard because the guy’s Japanese.  There’s little question that the French New Wave was a spark that exploded on the international scene and inspired more likeminded films all over the world.  In my enthusiasm for the French NW I failed to investigate the children it spawned internationally. Recently Oshima’s early works have been unearthed on DVD I’ve had an opportunity to see where he fits into that lexicon.  I’m just opening my eyes to his work so I don’t feel comfortable trying to piece together a history for Oshima since he made dozens of films and went through many stages in his career but in the small handful of his flicks I’ve seen I’d put him in the same league as De Sica, Bunuel, Kurosawa and shit like that.  Over the last few years I’ve been going apeshit watching his earlier films and they read like Godard in some ways.  If Godard had balls the size of watermelons.  I feel like in some ways he’s eclipsed Godard in my mind.   Which is saying a lot. 

            He’s Film royalty no doubt.  And it’s his place in film history that made this film Max Mon Amour come about.  Oshima wrote the script in collaboration with Jean-Claude François Carrière who worked closely with Luis Bunuel for several films and in many ways this feels like a Bunuel film in terms of the surreal tone the film sets.

            Suspicious that his wife might be having an affair a husband hires a private eye.  It turns out she is cheating.  With an ape.  Being the liberal free thinker he is the husband decides they can all live together and work it out.  It’s hard to imagine a more surreal investigation into the mechanics of a love triangle than throwing in this monkey wrench.  The conventions of melodrama fly out the window as jealousy, confusion, and curiosity overtake the husband.  Did I mention he’s having an affair as well.  Um with a human woman I mean.  There’s also the fine detail of the child from this marriage who may not understand the inner workings of this strange relationship and yet he finds himself to be a participant in the desperate struggle.        

            The DVD box describes the film as a harsh indictment of bourgeois morality and I think they stole that shit from the back cover of the Herman Hesse novel Steppenwolf.  But it kinda hits the mark.  It certainly goes a long way in forcing the audience to define morality in their own terms when confronted with such a quandary.  But I hate to be so clinical in my analysis.  The symbolism of who the “other woman” could be remains undeniable and yet it’s open ended enough to drag the audience in as they confront their own feelings about betrayal, morality, and the very nature of love.

            What the monkey represents seems to vacillate between the absurd comedy of how we perceive others and how we handle reality ourselves.  It’s made all the more gripping by the realistic treatment of the situation that couldn’t possibly happen.  But who’s to say it can’t happen?  The monkey as a lover can be substituted for just about anything now a days.  By pulling back the covers on this insane relationship the film made me question how I would react given the same set of circumstances.  Anyone who has ever loved someone who wasn’t what they appear to be should be able to relate, and yet it strikes even deeper than that.  Why should she be considered fucked up?  The performance of the wife seemed hollow to me on first viewing but I later found myself questioning why she should feel any shame at all?  Certainly no more shame than the husband and how he tries to deal with this “problem” while juggling a mistress of his own. 

            Perhaps this is the ultimate genius of the film.  I identified with the husband first, the wife second, then I found elements of the child to be a part of my psyche and lastly I became the monkey! 

            The film also goes a long way in challenging the assumptions we have about what marriage really means.  In this day and age, and perhaps it’s been true of humanity forever, it’s nearly impossible for people to get all their emotional/physical/mental nourishment from just one person.    

            Years ago I was dating a woman who was very vocal about her bisexual proclivities.  I knew what I was getting into when we started out and quite frankly it turned me on like fucking mad.  We spoke at length about these desires and it made me sick with lust, curiosity about the possibilities, and explosive in my passive aggressive jealousy which I could never share with her openly.  There were way worse problems which made the relationship impossible to continue but I find it synchronous that we broke up right before she was ready to share with me a videotape of her doing it to another woman.  Something I begged to see the entire time we went out.  I never did watch that video and we never spoke again.  So… um yeah… I can fucking relate.    

            For years I’ve treasured Max Mon Amour for the unique way it examines adult relationships.  It stands on it’s own as a masterpiece and I never thought I’d encounter another film which could be an equal mix of the ludicrous yet intensely personal.  I couldn’t have been more shocked to learn that Bobcat Goldthwait made a film which is the perfect companion piece to this film.  Maybe you’re familiar with his work on Police Academy 4 or Shakes the Clown

            The only reason I picked up Sleeping Dogs Lie was because it was directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and I fully expected a bullshit escapist throwaway which would help me lose an hour and a half of my life.  As the credits rolled at the end I had to admit that maybe Bobcat was a filmmaker worth paying attention to and not just as a potential time waster.

            Yeah both films use animal fucking as a springboard to look at love both conditional and unconditional, but the way they dovetail together so elegantly makes me wonder if Bobcat was at all familiar with Max Mon Amour.  Not that there are many similarities between both films aside from female human lips wrapped around engorged animal cock.  That’s a given.  While Max Mon Amour tackles emotions surrounding betrayal and the fallout that ensues, Sleeping Dogs Lie is another animal.  Instead Bobcat focuses on the concept of honesty and how it factors into relationships both romantic and familial.  While it’s outlandish it’s got both feet firmly planted in reality and it’s an amazing counterpoint to the surreal nature of Max Mon Amour

            A young woman on the verge of marriage is prodded into sharing her deepest darkest secret with her soon to be husband.  That’s all I’m gonna fucking say because along with Max Mon amour I think you need to see this movie in order to do it justice.  The film has a fluidity and enough jarring honesty in it’s own right that it left me no choice but to see myself in the place of the protagonist.  It’s a credit to the writing when a story can come from so far out of left field that the viewer can’t make heads or tails out of what’s gonna happen next.  There’s enough twists and turns that the story jumps the track of the genre’s mold taking us far from our comfort zone of expecting the next step in the story to unfold.  You can’t predict it because we’re in uncharted territory.  And here is where Sleeping Dogs soars.  Both of these films share that ideal making them hard to nail down in terms of genre.  Yeah they’re black comedies but an equal measure of drama is a thread that runs throughout.  Shit maybe it’s even wrong to call Max Mon Amour a comedy?  Who’s to fucking say?

            Max Mon Amour operates on a several thematic levels but the drive to forge a strong marriage no matter the costs is one I keep returning to.  Sleeping Dogs Lie doesn’t involve a marriage at the onset and so I see it instead dissecting the bare essentials of what a relationship needs to survive.  Without trust you can have no respect and without respect you cannot have love.  But it also goes on to prove that what’s left unsaid is just as important as honesty in terms of keeping mutual respect alive.  It's a complex movie but it's deceiving in it's simplicity.  

            Sleeping Dogs Lie is a comedy.  No doubt.  But it’s fucking thoughtful and decidedly contemporary.  Shit there’s even crack smoking involved.  I firmly believe it’s one of the best films to be made in the new millennium.  And while I don’t know much about the business of Hollywood that I can stomach I do know it’s incredible that a ballsy intelligent movie like this could have been made.  The fact that snively Mcdumbfuck (Bobcat) was the drive that made it happen makes it an incredible coup.  To me it’s the perfect amalgam of everything I like in art.  It’s intelligent and dirty.  Sharp in it’s delivery and yet misleading on the surface.  Again like a Bunuel film.  Almost camouflaged.  A smartly crafted trap to make you identify with the characters.  It’s impossible not to.  It’s multilayered yet it works for the lowest common denominator too.  It’s the kind of art movie I’d hope to see from a marginalized figure and the only one less marginalized than Bobcat is the black guy from police academy who made the crazy noises with his mouth.  Unless you count Steve Guttenberg

             So I’ll go on record to say that Bobcat Goldthwait has the potential to be cinematic royalty as well regardless of his past and maybe because of it.  It’s exciting to think about and my hopes are with him.  World’s Greatest Dad was the film he made after this one and it had similar moments of insanely dark comedy but it’s not nearly as good.   It also had the finger prints of Hollywood meddling which makes me wonder if it’s the film he intended to make.  I stumbled upon World’s Greatest Dad’s debut screening when it played in Portland initially.  It was buried under a million different ads and if not for a fluke of catching him on a talk show I would have never been able to pay for a ticket to see it.  It lasted only two days and then went away to DVD land presumably.  I’m wondering how much pressure there is to bury Bobcat Goldthwait in Hollywood.  Or maybe I’m just thinking about showbiz bullshit too much?  Either way Sleeping Dogs Lie is a phenomenal film that is as good as my favorite Oshima film.  Which says a fuckload.     

            Both these films blaze a trail that’s never been trod and both end up in different places a feat which makes them singular and exceptional.  The fact that animal fucking is the centerpiece seems incidental.  Unless you go for that sort of thing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

MIA Murder in a Foreign Place

       One of the first punk records I ever bought.  Imagine my surprise when I found out they were a band from Vegas.  I’m thinking they were the first punk band from sin city to release an LP but I don’t fuckin know. 

            In 1987 I recorded over all my heavy metal tapes and most of it was huge chunks of the Rock Avenue on KUNV.  Somehow in between songs by Lords of the New Church and the HooDoo Gurus I taped a song about Las Vegas.  I could never figure out who that band was but I rocked that fuckin song over and over on that goddamned tape thinking this was some outsiders version of what they thought Las Vegas was about. 

            It wasn’t until I saw MIA play with TSOL at Soundstage or That’s Entertainment or some shit that I finally figured it out.  They started the opening chords of that Las Vegas song and I finally put two and two together.  In my excitement I plowed into a crowd of people pressed against the stage and danced around the room like a maniac.  Aside from slammin at a handful of FSP gigs I think that was the first time I was caught up in the energy of the music and was forced to “dance” in the presence of a large crowd of my peers.  It was a great moment.  The kind of moment you can lose sight of over time.  Gotta hold on to shit like that.  This album became a staple of my young punk rock diet before I became disillusioned and disgusted.  It hasn’t lost any of it’s edge.    

            This is the only album by MIA that I ever got into.  Later records became less hardcore and more pop oriented which pissed off my hardcore blood at the time, although it’s hard to miss the poppy moments that flow through this album.  Listening to this in 2012 is a real treat although it doesn’t punch me in the nuts the same way it did in 1986.  Yeah but you only lose your virginity once and hearing my past come at me like this is still worthy of a dance although I doubt I’ll ever be in a room full of hundreds of likeminded people again in my life.  As it turned out I wasn’t in a room completely filled with likeminded folks back then so no love is lost. 

            They had a unique style that borrowed a little from that SoCal shit.  I hear anthemic TSOL moments and a few songs harmonizing in a way that is reminiscent of Channel 3 but you gotta remember MIA were contemporaries of both bands so I’d never consider it stealing.  In fact it’s a good variation on the style that makes MIA their own unique brand of degeneracy.  But that’s missing the point a bit.  They had something to say and they weren’t just a bunch of degenerate assholes.  Sure the sentiment  wasn’t all that different from what other punk bands were saying but it’s still a little more personable than the generic shit D.I. was saying.  At least on this record.  I have a demo tape of MIA’s early stuff borrowed from James Palmer.  I haven’t ripped it yet because I can’t tell what songs are what and I don’t have names for songs and that kinda bugs me.  I’ll try and give it a listen somewhere down the road and hopefully I’ll be able to share eventually. 

            Music and lyrics are pretty great on this LP.  There’s a stab at putting down nazi fuckos in the form of Boredom Is Your Reason that sums up the nazi trend in a real obvious and truthful way long before Nazism became the trend that destroyed hardcore.  They weren’t opposed to holding up a mirror to punk rock and asking their listeners to look at themselves as a few of these songs attest.  In my book that puts them head and shoulders over the vast majority of “political” punk cry babies.     

              There’s a good ratio of kick ass songs included here but the fact that these songs rarely go over two minutes means the songs I don’t like as much pass by in a blur which makes the album as a whole a serious keeper.  Small Man in a Big World rages but still keeps it super smooth.  The intro/hook to All I Know still brings a chill.  I included Who Will Survive in my compilation of nuclear war songs and it fits in snug with that paranoid nightmare.  Reality Is Killing Me used to hype the shit out of me as I flailed about in my room by myself after school.  It still makes me want to run away from the cops as I listen today.

            Hearing this brings back a lot of angst and that tangible mixture of desperation, anxiety, and full on FUCKYOU attitude.  It makes me want to spray paint a wall and try and make out with a punk chick who hates me right before I kill my fucking self.         

            I was gonna rip this record but it turns out there’s multiple blogs sharing this record for download.  Kudos to the blog linked below for sharing music that should never be forgotten.  He didn’t include the lyric sheet which I think is a huge oversight.  It’s great that he’s sharing it but I don’t think he understands just how important it was back then to see someone scream words that I was thinking about saying myself.  I guess that’s important today too right?  I’ve included a scan of the lyric sheet from my vinyl copy.