Thursday, July 29, 2010
Barry K. Grant’s article “The Classic Hollywood Musical and the Problem of Rock ‘n’ Roll” examines the rise of the rock film as a substitute to the classic Hollywood musical. Though the films Monterey Pop (1967), Woodstock (1970), Gimme Shelter (1970), and The Last Waltz (1970) couldn’t be further from the classic Hollywood musical mode, some similarities can be found. If the rock film posed a “problem” to the classic musical genre, it is through (as Grant describes) “dealing with issues of sexuality.” Where the musical attempted to contain sexual desire, rock cinema chooses to unleash it. Yet sexuality is just one aspect of the rock ‘n’ roll expression, as is drug use, political awareness, and fashion styles. When examining the four films mentioned, one can see the adoption of the musical form as well as its reinvention. The new rock film can be seen as a natural progression of the classic Hollywood musical, while adopting newer cinematic (documentary, cinema verite, and realism) and musical (rock, soul, folk, jazz, and psychedelia) styles.
Monterey Pop was one of the earliest films to showcase the various rock genres that were explored in the 60s and present them all on one stage with diverse artists. From west coast harmonies, rhythm & blues, and psychedelic guitar solos to Indian sitar ragas, Monterey Pop offered a collage of musical styles that define a generation’s youth culture. Like prior musicals, the new rock film showcased musical entertainment for all tastes, providing a sampler for the masses. Yet unlike the classic musical, the narrative story takes a backseat to the performances. Still, if a narrative is to be found, it is through the lyrical content that the story is told. The story becomes a much more existential description of youth psychology, pertaining to the song selection. For example, both “San Francisco” by Scott McKenzie and “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and The Papas provide a sense of location to the film; “My Generation” by The Who signals the transition from mod to hippie culture; “High Flyin’ Bird” by Jefferson Airplane and “Wild Thing” by Jimi Hendrix depict a countercultural drug sentiment, while “Bajabula Bonke (Healing Song)” by Hugh Masekela and “Raga Bhimpalasi” by Ravi Shankar offer meditations to global seekers of spirituality. Each performance acts a narrative description of 1960’s youth ideology, while suggesting communal harmonization. Monterey Pop doesn’t destroy the Hollywood musical genre; it simply reboots it.
Both Woodstock and Gimme Shelter provide a continuation of Monterey Pop’s themes, yet suggests a stronger emphasis on narrative construction. Woodstock utilizes similar lyrical-narrative storytelling but adds an even closer examination of youth ideology. Through interviews, many of the young audience members voice their parents’ reactions to the countercultural movement. Stories of communal life, drug usage, and sexual freedoms are explored in ways that the Hollywood musical was incapable of expressing. Yet similar to the musical, the film contains show-stopping numbers that leave the audience in awe of the various musical talents. The beginning of the film spends nearly a half an hour depicting the process of creating a concert of such magnitude and explores the various concerns of audience safety (the brown acid scare, food/ drink needs, and restroom facilities). These worries are juxtaposed with images of the famous musical artists who themselves have become the victims of counterculture living. One need only witness a drugged-out Tim Hardin, who wanders aimlessly with his guitar, to see that once prolific songwriters were succumbing to the pitfalls of the rock-star lifestyle. If a story is to be found in Woodstock, it is a cautionary tale concerning hippie youth culture. When John Sebastian (of Lovin’ Spoonful) sings “Younger Generation,” he describes the hypocrisy of adulthood and the betrayal of one’s youthful ideology. Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” offers a grim celebration of future issues and worries concerning addiction. The latent fears associated with Woodstock become crystal clear when followed up with Gimme Shelter, an even darker journey through the 1960’s youth culture.
Gimme Shelter depicts the tragic Rolling Stones’ Altamont concert, using the technique of a “film within a film.” Grant writes, “One of the essential satisfactions provided by the musical then, is that it seems to celebrate the exuberant expression of sexuality (metaphorically in the production numbers) while at the same time maintaining social stability (in the narrative).” Gimme Shelter, however, eliminates this narrative safety by using sexuality as a metaphor of social instability. Tina Turner’s overtly sexual performance of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” acts as a dark precursor to the violence that would ensue. Similar to the documentary and thriller genre, Gimme Shelter presents the concert like a murder investigation using a non-linear chronology to reveal its crime. These narrative tools are mixed with the classic musical, creating an amalgamation of genre styles. If drugs were a worry for Woodstock, then Gimme Shelter offers the realization of these fears into reality. As we witness an audience member’s drug-induced meltdown on stage (right next to the band), we are reminded of the connectivity of the performer and spectator relationship. If the 60s gave birth to a communal relationship between artist and fan, then the 70s made sure to separate it.
The Last Waltz utilizes aspects of the classic Hollywood musical more than the previous films of the rockumentary genre. Director Martin Scorsese used advanced camera equipment and technicians, shot on 35 mm film, and created distance between artist and audience. Where prior rock films strove to provide a cinematic experience of the “real” rock concert, The Last Waltz chooses stylization over authenticity. Scorsese uses beautiful pans, warm colors, an all-star cast of performers, and staged recreations of musical guests who were not in the original concert. Scorsese’s The Last Waltz can be seen as a post neo-musical, compared to his earlier homage New York, New York (1977). Though presented in a rockumentary fashion with interviews of The Band, the film uses documentary storytelling as a means for narrative construction. If drugs are responsible for the many rock casualties of the 60s, The Last Waltz recapitulates this issue with guitarist Robbie Robertson’s recollections of various rock fatalities. Through certain elements of the Hollywood musical style, The Last Waltz attempts to offer a summation of the previous decade’s trappings.
Though rock and roll posed some problems to the classic musical mold, it also posed a problem within itself. For example, Grant states that rock “…was a new musical form that naturally appealed to a sexually awakening population of adolescents growing up in a generally repressive decade.” With rock culture’s drug and sexual hedonism came its complications. The four films examined can be seen as continuous narrative that transcribes the 1960’s ideology and its shortcomings, while updating the musical genre form. Just as the French Nouvelle Vague attempted to mix different genres (ie: Film Noir, Italian Neo-Realism, German Expressionism, etc) to create a fresh cinematic expression, so did the new wave of rock musicals. Where the classic Hollywood musical had reached a zenith point of expression, the rock film can be seen as a natural progression of changing styles, ideology, and sounds.
Friday, July 23, 2010
The Martin Scorsese film The Last Waltz (1978) is split between being both a rock concert and a documentary on the 60s to mid 70s group The Band. Both Stephen E. Severn and Barry W. Sarchett have written compelling articles on The Last Waltz, each offering different takes on the film’s interior meaning. Where Severn’s article “Robbie Robertson’s Big Break: A Reevaluation of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz” focuses on producer and group guitarist Robbie Robertson, Sarchett’s “Rocumentary- As Metadocumentary: Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz” examines the end of an era concerning 60s rock music. Though hardly opposing thematically, each article brings to light the complexities in the way The Last Waltz can be seen as symbolically meaning. Severn’s article is by far the most honest examination, where Sarchett’s feels loftier and pretentious trying to link its artistic merits to early Russian cinema. Severen continually hits the mark with his comparison of The Last Waltz to later Scorsese films such as The King Of Comedy (1982), The Color Of Money (1986), and Casino (1995). Severn makes a strong argument connecting these films through the theme “image may be manipulated as a means for eliminating risk.” Though stylistically I find The Last Waltz to be similar to other Scorsese films like Mean Streets (1973) and Goodfellas (1990).
If Sarchett sees The Last Waltz as merely an exercise in nostalgia, then the films Mean Streets and Goodfellas work in similar ways. The music found in both films are based in 60s nostalgia. Each offers music that relate to a span of time, which defines the character’s generation. When Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) dances to “Mickey’s Monkey” by The Miracles, he’s relating to Charlie (Harvey Keitel) a youthful connection created through popular music. All the members of The Band aesthetically look like characters from Mean Streets as well. Each one plays pool, lives in debauchery, and expresses a sense of world-weariness.
Severn makes a great point of Scorsese’s obvious worship of Robbie Robertson, and the films attempt to showcase his insight and talent. In defense to Robbie Robertson, the one problem The Band faced in their career was a certain amount of invisibility. A band that backs the legendary Bob Dylan and offers a generic name will always have identity issues. Robbie Robertson is obviously the best looking and most articulating member, who happen to also be the lead guitarist. If The Band was to have a spokesman or leader than Robertson is to The Band, what Mick Jagger is to The Rolling Stones. Despite Levon Helm’s bitterness (and as talented as he may be) it is hard to make the leader someone who is hiding behind a drum kit. The identity insecurity is furthered by the concerts inclusion of continuous guests as lead singer.
The Maysles Brothers’ film Gimme Shelter (1970) is a very curious and macabre 60s concert film. During a free concert performed by Rolling Stones in 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in California, four audience members are reported to have died. One death in particular was a murder caused by a member of the Hell’s Angels (who happened to be working as security), which was caught on film by the filmmakers. The documentary is a film within a film, as the filmmaker presents the edited footage to members of The Rolling Stones, as the audience tries to gain some perspective or insight in the reaction of Mick Jagger and company. As the director’s camera probes for a human reaction of Mick Jagger, we are left feeling we just witnessed (yet) another performance by Mick. The documentary is a strange experience, because if one knows the fatal result of this ill-conceived free concert, it is truly hard to enjoy the performances of the show. The film builds with warning after warning, and like a mystery or thriller, the film presents foreshadowing moments that will lead to tragedy. The announcer of the concert gives warning to audience members that are hanging on the rafters or loitering on the stage, shots of drugged out audience members streak nakedly through the crowd or have meltdowns on the very stage next to the band, as managers and promoters haggle over the many issues of the free concert. The filmmakers pick and choose the images that build to the climactic chilling moment, which is delivered in an Antonioni (Blow-Up) like manner of instant replay. Yet during this replay, we witness a faked reaction by Mick Jagger, leaving us to wonder if he is capable of real human emotion, or if he is incapable of revealing his true self.
William F. Van Wert’s article “The Hamlet Complex” believes we are watching “lie” or an “artifice as opposed to the truth.” Yet, some blame must be pointed at the filmmakers, who have exploited the tragedy into insight. Up to the point where Mick Jagger is confronted of the murder, the filmmakers have been quite content on presenting Mick as your typical rock star up to that point. Little has been required of Mick outside of his typical performer self, and during the concert Mick does try and calm the audience with threats of not playing. Whether Mick is responsible for the manic level of hysteria is hard to gauge. But the filmmakers take every opportunity to present the uncanny side of the show, where a member of Jefferson Airplane is attacked (reasons are unclear as to why) and the Tina Turner’s performance has got to be one of the strangest sexualized performances in recent memory. When examining the entire film, one has to wonder if the Maysles even wanted a real reaction from Mick, or if they preferred to keep the film cloaked in darkness. When Mick views the film footage, there are moments when he sees himself and smirks at his performance as if he realizes his own projected artifice. Mick’s reaction to the murder is understandably unreal, because he is protecting an image and a personality. Strange that the film he made at the same time was titled Performance (1970), because it is actually more insightful of the real Mick Jagger than Gimme Shelter.
When comparing D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968) to that of the old classical Hollywood musicals, few similarities can be found. Rock and Roll changed the face of the Hollywood musicals back in 1956 with Rock Around The Clock, as it mixed youth delinquency B films with that of a new musical genre. Yet, as times were shifting the youth of the day became drawn to a more authentic vision of themselves. As we’ve seen in the Beach movie genre, the youth was presented in the form of actors like Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, As the 60s progressed there must have been a need for a more legitimate representation of the youth, and nothing better illustrates this than the documentary form. Director D. A. Pennebaker was a filmmaker who had previously helmed the Bob Dylan documentary Dont Look Back (1967) and with Monterey Pop he creates one of the earliest authentic rock revue films. Gone were the glamorous actors, as the youth are finally given a real voice and face (pimples and all). Monterey Pop also rejects the notion of the delinquent youth, as all the mellow hippie children are well behaved to the point of sedateness (we even see a couple of peaceful Hell’s Angel members take seats in the audience). As Thomas Wiener points out; “It was laidback, mellow, and appreciatively cool, almost like the Newport audiences in Festival, but without any looks of intensity. Even when The Who smashed their guitars and set off smoke bombs, the Monterey audience seemed too spaced out to even be amazed.”
If Monterey Pop was to be one of the earliest films that started the rock revue concert genre of the late 60s and early 70s, films like Woodstock (1970) and Gimme Shelter (1970) slowly started to show the more worrisome aspects of the collected masses of hippies. Yet if one is to compare Monterey Pop to a classical musical, one has to eliminate the comparison of narrative. In the classic Hollywood musical lyrics often explained an emotional state of the characters in the film, progressing the narrative. In Monterey Pop the lyrics tell the story of the 60s narrative, with subjects as diverse as love, war, sex and drugs. Like the Hollywood musical, Monterey Pop builds the acts into dramatic presentations all trying to out do each other in terms presentation. As both The Who and Hendrix destroy their instruments, the film builds to an emotional crescendo with the show-stopping finale with Ravi Shankar. The film also presents a mixture of genres like the earlier rock musicals, with a little bit of jazz (Hugh Masekela), folk (Simon and Garfunkel), soul (Otis Redding), west coast pop (Mamas and Papas), rock (The Who/ Hendrix), and Indian (Ravi Shankar). Like the Hollywood musical there is a certain amount of stage production, yet the dance numbers are replaced with a psychedelic light show.
I liked Gary Morris’ “Beyond The Beach” essay, which begins with a little history on American International Production, one of my favorite production and distribution companies through the 60s and 70s. As Morris’ points out, AIP began to view the American teenager as a commodity and began financing beach genre films. Most of these films starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and the first was Beach Party (1963). Beach Party was the first of many films to follow, though Morris’ believes that Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) is the best realized. The beach films follow a certain formula, which usually is some teenage romantic entanglement with outbursts of song and dancing. The beach films also follow much of the Hollywood musical genre in spirit, while using a teenage subculture slang and customs as its hook. Like the musical, there is a certain amount of “chaos” through the fantasy element (as Morris points out) that would be “intrusive” in a narrative film. The film’s teenagers were restricted solely to white suburban kids who had unlimited access to car, surfboard, property near a beach (or in their “backyard”). Usually there was a juxtaposition of good teenager and bad teenager, with the character Eric Von Zipper imitating a very silly Brando type leader of a motorcycle gang. Beach Party also has some strange adult characters like Robert Cummings who plays an anthropologist who is studying the surfer teenager and their mating rituals. It’s interesting that the director is clearly taking an etic approach in its projection. Cummings has always been an enjoyable lead (in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942) and Dial M For Murder (1954)) and he kind of sold the movie for me, for Frankie Avalon is a bit limited in his acting ability. I also enjoyed Vincent Price and a beatnik Morey Amsterdam (from the Dick Van Dyke Show) in their cameos. AIP was sure to present surf music in the film, and Dick Dale and the Del Tones show their talent. I especially liked the Dick Dale’s playing of the bongos with one earring in his ear.
Laslo Benedek’s The Wild One (1953) and Franc Rodam’s Quadrophenia (1979) depict two very different characters who represent opposite youth subcultures from the 50s and 60s. Where one is a leader of a motorcycle gang who wears leather attire, the other is a parka wearing modernist who rides an Italian scooter. Both films present teens with similar afflictions to the society that surrounds them, yet both are also different in the way they express those issues.
Benedek’s protagonist is viewed in an etic manner, which presents his teen as a mumbling irrational non-conformist. Marlon Brando’s Johnny is an individual so guarded that he is incapable of letting any other character (or viewer) into his emotional state. Brando’s characterization of Johnny as rebellious and closed off is a means of exhibiting the youth of the day with all their complexities. Though the director chooses to sympathize with the town’s folk and their fears and bewilderment of the youth. The director is trying to articulate a subculture, which the protagonist is unable to do. The character Johnny doesn’t waiver or back down from his belief or desire’s; his refusal to deal with police sheriff, back down from a fight with Lee Marvin, or expressing his sexual desire for Mary Murphy (the sheriff’s daughter). Yet the audience is given little insight as to why. Johnny does mention when being punched by a local, that his father hit him harder, though that is about as much insight as we are going to get. Benedek creates a mysterious rebel that is at times cool and vulnerable, but emotionally vacant.
Rodam’s protagonist is viewed in an emic fashion, with his character being conveyed as an emotional open book. Phil Daniel’s Jimmy is filled with much confliction and it is mentioned that he has four personalities (each represented by the four members of the band The Who). As unpredictable as Jimmy may be, we are never unaware as to why. If Jimmy has problems with his friends, it is due to his over expressing his emotional state. Jimmy is at times charming, sarcastic, confident, insecure, suicidal, violent, sexual, crazy and yet emotionally unguarded. Rodam isn’t just documenting a youth culture with cinematic detachment; the director is trying to understand the confusion of this youth culture and their need to belong to it. If any character in Quadrophenia is closest to Marlon Brando’s Johnny, it would probably be Sting as Ace Face. Both characters are the detached leaders of their gang and both have the same contempt for the law.
Despite their differences, Johnny and Jimmy share some similarities. Both characters belong to a two-wheeled gang (motorcycle and scooter) and seem to feel most alive when roaming in their pack. Johnny and Jimmy come from a problematic home life with their family. The chosen subculture defines their personality and sets them apart from the unsatisfactory world they inhabit.
Director Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979) depicts the British mod subculture of the 60s as a gang of working-class, pill-popping, scooter-riding, parka-wearing, fashionable misfits who express themselves violently at Brighton’s seaside resort. The protagonist is a character named Jimmy (Phil Daniels), an emotionally mixed up modernist who expresses himself in contradictory terms. Jimmy’s ideology is based on that of being different, to not be like everyone else, so he declares himself to be a mod. Yet Roddam’s film snubs its nose at Jimmy’s claim and goes about showing his hypocrisy. As sensitive as the filmmaker is to his protagonist, he is less so with the mod subculture. The film manages to excite interest in this subculture as well as criticize it. It’s hard not to be seduced by the mass numbers of green parkas chanting “we are the mods,” though the film’s characters are projected negatively as shallow, working-class, pill-poppers who will steal your girl when your back is turned. Dick Hebdige wrote about commodity and ideological forms, and the mod subculture can be examined in this way when connected with The Who.
The film Quadrophenia is set in 1964, at the height of the mod culture phenomena in the UK, yet the original modernist movement began as early as 1959 with the introduction of modern jazz in England. Though the fashion was thought of as working-class in its origin, according to writer Richard Barnes (the definitive book Mods! in 1979), “The earliest originators of this look were, it seems, kids from secure middle-class homes. Most were Jewish and had money to experiment; presumably they got it from their parents as a lot of them were too young to be at work.” The original mods were teenagers who rejected 1950’s conservativeness or teddy boy fashion for a look that was new, continental, and sophisticated. Though modernist culture was British-born, its expression was outwardly international. The mod ideology can be seen within intercontinental interests including American jazz/ soul and Levi jeans, French haircuts and films, Italian scooters and suits, Jamaican ska and rock-steady, and Cuban heeled shoes. By the time 1964 had come around, the modernist aesthetic and ideology had been co-opted by the press and media. The working-class youth had adopted the style as a tribal reflection of British culture and fashion labels began to market the subculture. With brands like Fred Perry (tennis wear), Ben Sherman, Harrington, Lonsdale (athletic and boxing wear), and Savile Row (suits), British labels and manufacturers began to convert sub-cultural signs into mass-produced objects as commodity forms.
If the commodity form of mod culture was sold to the British teenager under the banner of various clothing labels, then it is safe to assume that the modernist ideological form began to mutate inwardly into a new one as well. As drugs and violence began to define what was originally a fashion statement, working-class youth (who had only a minor interest in fashion) bought into the commercialization of the subculture. One need only to look at pictures of early mods and compare them to the photos found in the newspapers (that depicted mods with news of violent seaside fights) to see who were the originators and who were the followers. A true mod (who is preoccupied with maintaining a polished look) would never get into a fight with a rocker.
As mod ideology shifted from outward (continental) to inward (British), so did its musical roots. Where mods consumed jazz and soul records that were imported to England, British bands began to reflect those musical interests with their own brand of interpretation. Bands such as The Who, Small Faces, The Action, The Creation, and The Kinks began to adopt soul music and rearrange its formula into a British pop aesthetic. These bands helped to promote and sell mod culture, using lyrical affinities to the subculture. The band The Who were not originally mod, yet they were encouraged by their manager (at the time) Pete Meadon to identify with the mod aesthetic as a means to sell records. Although the song “My Generation” is seen as an anthem to mod culture, though originally it was purely a means to sell the culture through the pop charts. By the time The Who had created the album “Quadrophenia” (which influenced the film some years later), one cannot help but feel as if the band were selling out the subculture. Previous bands had written songs of mods (ie; The Kinks’ “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” or Small Faces’ “Here Comes The Nice”), yet “My Generation” is the far more recognizable anthem.
The film Quadrophenia presents the mod subculture as being solely emblematic of The Who’s identity. Not only does the film present music of The Who, at various points in the film there are pictures, performances, and records of the band placed as points of reference and connection. The Who would also use mod pop art symbols (ie: images of targets, Union Jack flags, scooters, and parkas) as a means to sell their own records or concert tickets. The Who converted sub-cultural signs into mass-produced objects, while presenting a mythical identity to mods. The character Jimmy is presented as a rebel to British conformity, yet his daily work is (visibly) surrounded by advertisements and commercials. It’s no wonder Jimmy spends a lot of his working day throwing up, while his boss carries on holding conferences in the bathroom.
As decades and styles change, the past is often dug up to help promote the new. Just as Levi ads use icons to sell a lifestyle, a lifestyle may also be used to sell a product. This marketing strategy is blatantly visible in metropolitan cities like New York where three stores (Fred Perry, Ben Sherman and Amarcord) use mod imagery even today to sell their products. As interest in fashion and street culture continues, the fusion of rock music and mod fashion will surely endure, to help and sell some commodity goods.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Based on the semi-autobiographical, 60s mod & hippie (love & drug) counterculture book by Robert T. Westbrook, "The Magic Garden Of Stanley Sweetheart" (1970) is a mostly faithful adaption. The story is of a boy named Stanley (a very young Don Johnson) who studies filmmaking at Columbia University . Stanley spends most of his time usually lost in daydreams and masturbation until he begins a relationship with classmate Cathy (Dianne Hull) who he romances.
As time goes by, Stanley becomes bored within the relationship, and begins an affair with her plump roommate Fran (Holly Near).
The scene where he's trying to film Fran for one of his independent short films (apropriately titled "Masturbation") is at times funny, awkward, and clumsily executed.
Stanley also occasionaly meets up with friends
Originally to costar Joe Dallesandro as Danny, he was fired from the set after one day of shooting and was replaced by Michael Greer.
Barbara (Linda Gillen) and Andrea (Victoria Racimo) who he'll sometimes get high with. One night while Stanley and Cathy are sleeping, the uninvited three friends stop by to get Stanley and Cathy loaded. During the stoned experience you find Danny picking up on Cathy and Stanley becoming increasingly jealous. Soon however, Cathy will leave Stanley to pursue her new crush, while Stanley is left all alone to his daydreams. The "Magic Garden" refers to the place in his mind that he somehow finds solace and peace through his imagination and daydreams. The book will make this point clearer, than in the movie. At this point Stanley will fall into a hallucinagenic menage a trois with the two girlfriends Barbara and Andrea, only changing the direction of the film from light comedic romance to drug addict casualty. But these scenes are fantastic. Where else (but in the 60's) can you find such images as group sex, body painting, drugs galore, and psychedelic light shows all wrapped up with the most sugary bubblegum pop song in the world? (the song in question being "The Gingerbread Man"!) These scenes for counter culture freaks are absolutely priceless! What's really interesting is how downbeat the endings of movies were in the late 60's or early 70's. Why must every film from that era always be a casualty tale or sort? Also, another interesting aspect of the film is the hints of homosexuality in the script. Danny's leering at Don Johnson's bare chest suggests something that is never fully developed until the surprise ending which in itself has also got homosexual conatations (the sparing of the rabbits life signifying sensitivity, and the barrel of the gun signifying the phallus???). It's fitting that an actor like Joe Dallesandro (from Andy Warhol Factory and Paul Morrissey film fame) would have played the role of Danny. Because at times the film resembles some of Paul Morrissey's films in the depiction of New Yorker drop outs. Don Johnson at the time was a popular actor amongst gays, due to the exposure he received from the play "Fortune In Men's Eyes" a gay prison story directed by Sal Mineo. And one time TV show director Leonard Horn does every shot in an exploitative manner. You'll see numerous shots of Don bare chested, bare butt, or just plain nude. Also the obligatory gay pick up scene (ie: "Midnight Cowboy") in a cafe (which seems slightly out of place), where actor Brandon Maggart tries to pay Stanley for sexual services. All these scenes make for an awkwardness that the film either suffers or benefits from. (depending on your tastes?) I found myself slightly unsure of the director's intention with some of the material, which satisfied the thinking side of me, to make me want to see the film again. Was this a coming of age, sexual awareness film? A romantic comedy or drama? A drug counter culture film? I found it to be all these things. The film is by no means perfect (the acting is slightly shoddy at times), but I do think it's a tad underrated. I kept seeing these really horrible reviews of the film, but it wasn't too bad at all. It's always entertaining and interesting, and never dull. It's got a great soundtrack, (especially "Magic Mountain" by Eric Burdon and War) the clothes look great, and some of the filming is quite imaginable. It's a story that probably a lot of younger guys could and would relate to. Check out the scene when Stanley's short film called "Headless" is played for Cathy, it's a pretty funny and far out.
In May of 2002 I contacted writer Robert T. Westbrook concerning his book "The Magic Garden Of Stanley Sweetheart." I had recently found the film and offered him a copy of it on videotape, in turn he was extremely gracious in answering some questions concerning his life, book and screenplay work. Having been a fan of the book a couple of years before seeing the film, it was exciting to get so much information. Thanks again for your time Mr. Westbrook!
Jarrod LaBine: First off, I'd like to ask how you felt about the casting of the film of such a personal story. Did you find Don Johnson a suitable actor for Stanley, or did you find him miscast?
Robert Westbrook: I was against Don Johnson from the start -- I never liked him even a little. At the age of 19 he was a real twerp, a hustler of the worst kind, and I thought he was utterly miscast. I was overruled by the producer, Marty Poll.
J. L.: I found it interesting that you had written the screenplay as well as the book. Did you ever write any other films after that? Were you ever involved with any other aspects of the production, outside of screenplay?
R. W.: I've fooled around with a few screenplays, but basically I've avoided Hollywood ever since "Stanley Sweetheart," feeling a bit burned. I love movies -- good movies, that is -- but decided I just don't quite have the personality to succeed in Hollywood. Iris Murdoch once wrote that to succeed in the movies you have to be like a ship with a strong bow . . . and probably that's not me. Officially, I was the "associate producer" on the film, but every idea I suggested was nixed.
J. L.: I'd read on the dust jacket of the book that you had also attempted writing and directing your own underground films, what had ever came of these films?
R. W.: I was an undergraduate at Columbia in the 60s but spent most of my time at the West End Bar or roaming around with a 16mm Bolex camera. I made a bunch of strange, short films . . . but I have no idea what happened to them. For a while, I moved around a whole bunch -- Europe, New York, California, then back to Europe again, and thus lost a lot of stuff.
J. L.: The book seems to be an autobiographical account of possibly your own life, was this the case? Is it a personal book for you?
R. W.: Yes, totally. An autobiographical account of my Columbia days.
J. L.: Unfortunately, there is not much written about the film, and so information! about it is hard to come by. Because it is one of my favourite books, I'm naturally curious of why the film had slipped into obscurity (especially because it was Don Johnson's first film), and only a handfull of people that I've met know about it. One site named pimpadelicwonderland.com (a 70's film rarity site) even went so far as deeming it "lost", until I contacted him! If you could offer any information on the history of the book and film, I'd be completely appreciative (and delighted).
R. W.: I really don't quite know the answer to why the film (and book) have slipped into obscurity. Marty Poll once told me that Ted Turner (who took over MGM after the film was made) was a prude and didn't like it. I'm not entirely sure if that's true. Most of all, the 60s were over-exploited by the media, and when the movie came out in 1970 everyone was completely sick of the whole sex/drugs/hippie thing -- a period which remained a kind of embarrassment until very recently, perhaps. Anyway, these are only conjectures. To be honest, I feel that one day the general public will discover me, though perhaps after my death -- then that first novel and the movie will maybe come back. Other than that, I feel that for a writer (or artist of any kind) the main thing is just to work, put out your best effort . . . and what the world will make of it, or not make of it, is not really the point. As for me personally, fame and fortune have certainly avoided my path, but I'm glad to report a rich, wonderful life with much adventure and many fine people to love.
R. W.: Anyway, I hope this satisfies some of your curiosity. For me, "Stanley Sweetheart" was a kind of wave -- I was 23, I sold the book for quite a lot of money, went very wild, got married to Katie Heflin (who was signed orignally to play Cathy), and by the time the wave was over (and the money gone) I was living the simple life in a redwood forest in northern California. Basically, I'm glad I didn't stay in Hollywood as a screenwriter -- I'm not certain I'd even still be alive, with all the various possibilities of abuse that come with fame and fortune.
Giuliano Carnimeo's "Case Of The Bloody Iris" is one of my favorite giallo films. The film combines genre regulars George Hilton and Edwige Fenech, a mysterious killer, a lush score by composer Bruno Nicolai and many surreal moments. The plot has the usual violence, sexual and drug debauchery that Italian cinema loves to exploit. A black gloved assassin is carrying out his murders by repeatedly stabbing a lady in an elevator, drowning another in a bath tub, and even steaming one's face to mush. Each murder is commited as an act of vengence on an immoral society, which was a typical genre theme. The story concerns two models; Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) and Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) who meet building architect Andrea (George Hilton). The two models move into an apartment complex that Andrea designed yet the apartment has a sinister history. Days before they moved in, an exotic dancer was murdered for having discovered the body of a dead prostitute in an elevator. Andrea is the police's biggest suspect, yet despite these suspicions Jennifer begins an affair with him. Due to her affair, Jennifer is harassed by her ex-boyfriend, who she use to engage in drug induced orgies with. To give anymore away, would cheat the viewer from discovering and trying to piece together this most convoluted puzzle of a film. Trying to figure out who the murderer is in a giallo, is one of the genres many pleasures. Filled with enough nudity that can be done in an R rated film, "Case OF The Bloofy Iris" contains one of the genre's biggest and most beautiful assets...Edwige Fenech. It's a shame that more people in America have no idea who she is! Oh, and George Hilton (like always) is the dependable shady rogue.
"Let Sleeping Corpses Lie" is cool little film that fits in nicely with the better Zombie film genre. It pre-dates "Dawn Of The Dead" and the assorted Italian rip-offs that followed, but contains gore that rivals them. Obviously influenced by "Night Of The Living Dead", it still holds a lot of it's own originality. Set in England, but actually a Spanish production, director Jordi Grau makes great use of wide-screen cinematography. The English countryside is a vast open area made extremely dangerous, with lurking Zombies ready to eat the living. This time the Zombies are being awaken by a radiation spewing device used by scientists to kill pesty ants (if you've ever lived in a home with an ant problem, Zombies seem like a small price to pay!). The ants are forced to attack each other, which kills off the race. Well, this machine triggers dead people to rise and (like the ants) attack each other. I will give them credit that at least the reason for the Zombies is somewhat original. But this time our (anti) hero comes in the form of a groovy hippie type named George (Ray Lovelock giving another credible performance!) with the help of Edna (the always pleasent to watch, Cristina Galbo), who try to survive the hungry intruders. What's great about the film, is that it also makes a lot social comments of the time. The police inspector (the always mean Arthur Kennedy) continuously harrases George, and never believes his story because he's a "long hair". While the Zombies are tearing people limb from limb, the Inspector thinks that it's George. I'm sure for the 70's this is a formulaic idea, but for a Zombie movie it's a little different. The music for the film is quite effective as well (though at times the noise that proceeds the Zombie approach, sounds like a large metal sheet being waved in the air) which contains a great opening tune. I've always been fond of Ray Lovelock, because he continues to give good performances in Italian films (see: "Queens Of Evil" and "Autopsy"), and in this film he really attempts to even clone very English like mannerisms (which made the silly dubbing less irratating). Cristina Galbo has also given great performances as well, (see: "What Have You Done Solange?", "The Finishing School", and "The Dark Is Death's Friend") plays the frightened victim role to perfection. As for it's status in the zombie genre, it ranks as one of the best.
George Lazenby was in two Italian giallos, one in 1972 and (this) one in 1981. Where Aldo Lado's Who Saw Her Die? (1972), is a great stylish thriller, The Last Harem's mysteries take a back seat to the erotic elements. Relying more on sexploitation elements (with soft focus shots), The Last Harem clearly is geared for the late night cinemax viewing. Interestingly, both Who Saw Her Die? and The Last Harem contain actors from previous James Bond films (Thunderball's Adolfo Celi and Moonraker's Corinne Clery). George Lazenby is Prince Almalarik, heir of some oil fields who seems to have the last remaining harem (of discontent wives). After marrying Sara (the stunning Corinne Clery), Prince Almalarik decides to give up his harem for one woman. Yet these wives refuse to give up that easily and one (mysteriously) kills Sara. From this point on the film becomes a series of flashbacks as Almalarik buries his dead wife in the sand dunes. He has vowed to punish all the wives unless the killer confesses. While he is gone, the wives wax poetic about their origins of arrival to the harem. Lots of romancing and nudity follow as old Almalarik chases after women, gathering everything he wants like a spoiled Prince. The endings twist is an unsurprising event, yet creepily downbeat. Lazenby is sporting his trademark 70s mustache and actually is quite effective in what is really on- dimensional role. Unfortunately (like his other giallo), Lazenby's voice is dubbed, which distracts from his performance greatly. Director Sergio Garrone had previously helped pen the cool giallo Death Knocks Twice, but in this film he seems to have gone a little lazy. There are however some nice shots to be found, for I like when (wife #4) Laura's (Daniela Poggi) arrival, with the burning oil fields for-shadows her doomed hellish imprisonment. At times the music soundtrack has some nice moments as well, in a typical surreal Italian manner. This by no means a great film, but I have to admit that it held my interest.
Trivia: When I met George Lazenby I asked him about this film, and as soon as I mentioned it, he made a pretty sour face. He apologized by saying he was drinking a lot at the time. I told him I liked it, and he looked at me very suspiciously. After pestering him a little, he told me the story of how he got into a fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was filming Conan, the Barbarian in Spain at the very same time)!!! Apparently, Arnold was staying at the same hotel and said something to Lazenby, who responded with "F--- Off!" Arnold attacked Lazenby in the elevator, and I didn't even want to ask who won that one. It was very strange story that he shared with me, but I was happy that he did!
Sergio Martino's giallo masterpiece `The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh' (also under the inferior titles: `Next Victim' or `Blade Of The Ripper') is one of the best films in the Italian cult genre. This was Sergio Martino's first (er..um..excuse the pun) stab at a Giallo thriller, and it's one that defines the genre as much as Argento's `The Bird With The Crystal Plummage'. Directed in 1970, Sergio Martino set the standard for Italian Hitchcockian slasher films. His use of fancy camera angles to explore the art of killing is quite entertaining while at the same time unsettling (an example of this, has a man being shot while we see it happen in the sunglasses of the killer). Sergio Martino also incorporates a surreal travelogue of exotic locations (all the characters seem to be on permanent holiday) and erotic imagery, which depicts the Italians as the ultra hip jet setters of the 70's. Mixing the seductive and intense music of Nora Orlandi with these visuals, the viewer is captivated by a darker attraction, which cannot be justified. The viewer is barraged with misogynistic violence and female cruelty, while simultaneously being lured into the debauchery setting through the lush veneer. The film also weaves a convoluted plot, that has more then one murderer (I counted four!), and everyone seems guilty. Fresh from the Spaghetti Western genre, actor George Hilton was beginning to make himself a name in the Giallo world. Though he'd previously been in `The Sweet Body Of Deborah', `The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh' was a meatier role. This film would also be the first of several that paired George Hilton with Edwige Fenech, as they continued to be the tortured couple in various Giallo outings. As a couple, George Hilton and Edwige Fenech seemed to represent exactly where Italy was at in the 70's. They were completely hedonistic, beautiful, rich, sexy, and free with passion yet completely shallow. They maybe shallow, but they are still more beautiful and nicer then the victims around them. It's the cardboard beauty that is the allure, yet their characters are never allowed to develop to be anything more then pawns for the mystery at hand. They represent our shallow fantasies, and unreal nightmares they represent a dream state. Ever notice how the characters never converse, but rather make statements, it never feels real. Along the way, we are introduced to other characters played by genre regulars Ivan Rassimov and Alberto de Mendoza. The story proceeds with a killing of a prostitute in a car by a sex crazed maniac. Then it moves on to Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) a rich wife to an Ambassador Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) who is being harassed by her ex-boyfriend Jean (Ivan Rassimov) who used to violently have sex with her. At a party she meets George (George Hilton) a handsome playboy, who likes to drive fast on motorcycles and wear white leather fringed jackets and aviator sunglasses. Suddenly the sex crazed murderer begins to kill women around her, while psychologically torturing her. The film lifts a reference or two from Psycho (there's a shower murder) and other Hitchcock films, but one must realize that this film fits into a genre known as Giallo, which is unique in it's own way. Though homage is paid to American mystery films, these films are still very much a product of Italy. It's this very genre that influenced `Dressed To Kill' and other American slasher films, not the other way around. It's these films that have the stylistic flair, where the likes of DePalma learn their craft by stealing. Some call it Euro Trash, or exploitative, but they refuse to see the finer aesthetic of the film. It's really just exploring the art of murder. This film is a must see for fans of Italian genre cinema, and should be done in widescreen.
Jerzy Skolimowski's 1967 obscure New Wave comedy-drama is a must find for Jean Pierre Leaud fans. The movie opens with Marc (Leaud) borrowing (more like joyriding) a Porsche, and continuing through the rest of the film trying to get a car to join a Belgian car race. Marc works as a beautician and desires to race, though along the way he meets up with Michele (Catherine Duport) and she assists with helping Marc find a car (or at least forget about the race). The story is actually about Marc and Michele, and Marc's inability to be sexually physical or emotionally available to Michelle. I'm not quite sure if it's due to immaturity or if it's something else. But his character reminds me a little of Michael (John Moulder Brown) from Skolimowski's later film "Deep End" (1970) Both are impotent in emotional and sexual contact, when it comes down to making love with their potential partners. Both characters view things in a childish but surreal manner. "Le Depart" contains a scene in which Marc and Michele are in a car (that's on display at a car show) that splits in half allowing both passengers to be seated in the car to look at each other, but not able to touch (being that Marc refuses to let go of his childish notion to car race, the car is now what splits them apart). In "Deep End" Michael falls into the water after quarreling with some boys over Susan (Jane Asher) and underwater, he views a naked woman swimming underneath him. Again both films represent the out of reach sexual fantasy. Marc play with cars, and Michael sucks his thumb and has temper-tantrums. Both are boys, that have refused to give up a part of their childish ways, to make them free to live in a more mature sexually adult world. The difference in both are in the endings. Where Marc is able to forget about his notions of racing, and commit to Michele in a sexual way. Michael's fight to remain in his younger state, has sabotaged Susan's life in an explosive accident. Jerzy Skolimowski is trully an unrecognized director that deserves much more. Some of the greatest films of the late sixties to the late seventies were directed by Skolimowski ("Walkover," "Le Depart", "Deep End", and "The Shout"), though unfortunaely he goes unnoticed. If anyone can find this film, I recommend it. Funnily, I noticed that there wasn't much dialog in the film. Later I was to read that Polish director Skolimowski doesn't speak French at all, though it was filmed in Belgian. That must have been fun to direct? Highly recommended! The burning up of the film negative was a great closing!
Paolo Cavara's brilliant Giallo "The Black Belly Of The Tarantula" contains a beautiful (Euro babe) cast, that would please James Bond afficianados everywhere. It contains three Bond Girls in one film! The wonderful Claudine Auger ("Thunderball"), Barbara Bouchet ("Casino Royale"), and Barbara Bach ("The Spy Who Loved Me"), all lending shady perversity to the proceedings. The title refers to the sadistic means in which a killer is performing on his prey. An acupuncture needle is inflamed with a paralysing poison that the killer inserts into the neck of his victim (realistically, this would probably kill someone, but hey... this is an Italian B Movie!) thus insuring that the victim is paralysed yet concience while the killer tears open their belly with a knife. The story primarily surrounds the investigation by Inspector Tellini (well acted by Giancarlo Giannini) of the murder of Maria Zani (Barbara Bouchet) who was being blackmailed before her death. Other murders follow, as the Inspector's trail leads to a Fashion Boutique, a Science Laboratory, and then a Health Spa, which are all linked to drug traffiking and sexual deviant politics. Like "What Are Those Strange Drops Of Blood Doing On Jennifer's Body" this film as well could be a kind of prototype Giallo film. If you are familiar with the genre, you can only laugh at the way the victim always says to the Inspector "I can't talk right now... but I think I know who the killer is. Come back later (or tomorrow), and I'll tell you. (another equally laughable sentence is: "I just want to check something out, but I'll meet you later!) This line is usually a recipe to get yourself gutted and tortured in the most painful of ways. Also, like "What Are Those..." this film again has the theme of moral avenger (quite often this theme is linked with something resembling impotence which has the killer striking out on poor girls with viciousness. The killer's use of fetishistic surgical gloves only insures that this is pure Euro-Trash at it's best. Giancarlo Giannini's Inspector Tellini is a slightly different breed of cop. The film interestingly delves further (then most Gialli) into the relationship of him and his wife Anna (played by the beautiful Stefania Sandrelli), and the moodiness surrounding his job. He neurotically says "I just don't think I can do this anymore. I want to quit." (echoing my own displays of verbal discontent in the work world, as my girlfriend pointed out) And in the end when Inspector Tellini loses his cool, as the killer gets closer to getting to his wife! This is a great little Giallo, with a cool Ennio Morricone score.
Director Sergio Martino was a regular Itailan Giallo director, who brought us "They're Coming To Get You/ All The Colors Of Darkness/ Day Of The Maniac", "Next!/ The Strange Vice Of Madam Wardh", and "Torso/ The Corpses Show Evidence Of Rape (though I'm not sure why this title is relevent, because I don't remember any moments of rape from the killer?)" and a slew of other nasty little numbers. But I found "The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail" to be his most accomplished work (outside of the silly model Airplane explosion in the beginning!). The rather perplexing story weaves so many red herrings, that when the killer finally does become unmasked, you are a little surprised! Keep in mind that not all that you see, is what you may have really seen. Keeping with Giallo tradition, this film has a little nod to Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" (Dario Argento's "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" would be the first of "Blow Up" immitators, which loved to have "I thought I saw something...if only I could recall what it was!" moments in it.) with even a moment where the investigators "blow up" a photo to find a clue in the picture. This film contains (can you believe?) actual tense moments in it. The scene where Anita Strindberg is assaulted even had me biting at my finger nails. There are two parts to this film, the first is centered on Ida Galli (Evelyn Stewart) and then a third of the way switching to Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg) in a "Psycho" style switch of heroines. Both leads (genre female regulars) are interesting to follow (and sensually alluring to look at) and the film moves at an even and fast pace, keeping the viewer inticed. I have to say that after watching this film though, it was really George Hilton who won me over, and made me an instant fan. Though like the female leads, he's a genre regular, I found this to be his best role. Always smarmy and shifty, George Hilton personifies the Giallo male to perfection! I won't describe the story in any great detail, because I think it should be viewed with a virgin state of mind (also I'm too lazy to describe this convoluted story), but it does contain the usual block gloved assassin (always super human in ability) and the gratuitous killing of female characters.
Eloy de Iglesia's lost rarity `Forbidden Love Game' would sit comfortably next to `Salo: 120 Days Of Sodom' as being a foreign, art house flick that borders on exploitation. When looking at Eloy de Iglesia's other works though, this hardly comes as a surprise. Subsequently, Iglesia had made `Cannibal Man' and `Murder In A Blue World' (also known as `Clockwork Terror'), which were both exploitative B movies, hiding intelligent political ideas. His films tend to be meditations on characters that do warped and horrible things, yet we care about the characters, because you feel that they are politically (and irrationally) motivated through their poor economic circumstances. It is no surprise to me that Iglesia would choose to create a Spanish version of `A Clockwork Orange' through his film `Murder In A Blue World', because that very film is about a protagonist who does horrible things, yet. we're sympathetic to what happens to him. Though the two films that were just mentioned are lesser known Spanish cult films, `Forbidden Love Game' is even more obscure (I'm not sure the film was even released in the U.S.?). The film begins with a school teacher played by Javier Escriva bidding farewell to his students, who are leaving for the summer. As he is heading home he notices two of his students are hitch-hiking (a boy and a girl, played by John Moulder-Brown and Inma de Santis), and picks them up. He invites them over for dinner and lodging, which they accept.. The majority of the film from this point on is set at the mansion, where the two students turn from guests to prisoners under the teacher's command. The teacher has a thuggish (yet sensitive) henchman played by Simon Andreu, who enforces the teacher's wishes. The teacher begins to sexually humiliate and torture the two students until he has mentally brainwashed them into his way of thinking. What is really interesting about the movie from this point on, is that the scenes are relatively tame compared to a movie as notorious as `Salo', but the viewer is put on edge through out, because you think something worse is in store for the students. The film needs to be seen to recognize the political ideal logy, but it's just as evident as the other two films mentioned. Eventually there is a reversal of roles, and the girl (Inma de Santis) is not as innocent or sweet as she looks! This film really benefits from the great cast that seems perfectly handpicked. Javier Escriva is perfect as the fascist teacher, who looks like an aristocrat born from wealth. Simon Andreu who was a favorite among Italian and Spanish exploitation films (he's great in the `Bloodspattered Bride' and `Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion') was perfect as the henchman who has bi-sexual leanings. His rugged and unique appearance makes him an intriguing character, who has different faces at different times. John Moulder Brown as the boy student is great as well, he's such an interesting lost actor, who'd played in numerous cult films in the 70's (I quite love `Deep End', `The House That Screamed', and `First Love'). His androgynous youthful looks, and egocentric behavior fits a cocky teenager who has the rug pulled out from underneath him. He becomes a ruthless, self centered survivor as expected. The beautiful Inma de Santis is wonderful as well. This extremely attractive girl metamorphosis' from victim to controller with amazing ease! The film is by no means perfect (I could have done without the jarring classical music), but it did have an amazing hold on me, though I've only seen it once it quite often pops up in my mind as being memorable.
Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” is a collection of eleven short stories connected by a loose narrative, concerning the drug-induced exploits of a narrator named Fuckhead. Johnson’s book takes on a self-conscious first person narration that continuously breaks the chronological narrative, to present the different stories in a fragmented order recollected by the inconsistent mind of a drug addict. Alison Maclean’s 1999 film adaptation pursues a similar narration and chronological structure, yet numerous minor characters of the book are morphed into a stronger singular character in the film. Maclean’s film embodies the poetry of Johnson’s novel, yet the independent Hollywood film manages to sand the rough edged characters of the novel into sympathetic cinematic personalities. Both the book and the film translate drug-induced vignettes into prophetic spiritual poetry for lost souls.
The narrator named Fuckhead is a twenty-something drug addict, who volleys himself from one drug incident to another, usually making unwise decisions that lead him into a surreal and shaky universe. In the novel, Johnson’s FH seems to make selfish decisions that lead to temporary bliss, out of the necessity to feed his addictions. On the rare occasion that FH is required to step up and do something for someone else, it’s usually out of the need to be loved by others. Johnson writes; “But I was happy about this chance to be of use/ I wanted to be the one who saw it through and got McInnes to the doctor without a wreck/ People would talk about it, and I hoped I would be liked.” F.H.’s low self-esteem is probably one reason why he is an addict in the first place, but since we are given little to no biography of the character, we can probably assume that he has other issues from the past. Actor Billy Crudup plays FH in a way that is far more passive and sensitive, yet he retains the drug-induced confusion of the book’s character. In the chapter titled “Work,” FH describes an incident with his girlfriend: “Once, as we stood arguing at a street corner, I punched her in the stomach.” (Johnson) This shocking display of abuse in the book is diluted into something of a mere accident in the film. Another example of the character’s extremity is in the chapter “Two Men,” which concludes with FH searching for a drug dealer who robbed him and pointing a gun at the dealer’s girlfriend’s face. The chapter ends with FH ordering her to lay down on the ground; as the mother of a child begs for her life, he threatens that she’s going to be sorry. In the film, this scene is omitted, and we are left feeling empathetic towards a lovable addict whom we can root for.
In the film, F.H.’s girlfriend, Michelle, played by actress Samantha Morton, dies of a suicide drug overdose halfway through the narrative. The film version of the character Michelle is mixture of four characters in the book: Alsatia, his nameless wife from “Two Men,” a nameless girlfriend from “Work,” and Michelle from “Dirty Wedding” (who leaves F.H. for a man named John Smith, the catalyst of her suicide). While Michelle is only a character in passing in “Dirty Wedding,” the film develops Michelle into an extremely memorable figure that haunts the film and F.H. after she dies. It is this love story that contributes to the characterization of F.H. as a sensitive, likeable being. Unfortunately, F.H. extends his empathy so far as to take on the self-defeating habits of his girlfriend; namely, that of a heroin addiction. F.H. arrives in the kitchen to find Michelle shooting up, while a children’s cartoon plays on the television in the background. The ironic juxtaposition of cartoons and drugs portray the couple as children who resistant towards adulthood. This lack of responsibility is further exemplified when the scene blends into the chapter title “Holiday.” (“Holiday” does not exist as a chapter in the book, but pieces of it are from the chapter, “Work.”) “Holiday” begins with the Barbara Mason song, “Yes, I’m Ready,” while Michelle and F.H. are now shooting up heroin, immediately vomiting, and declaring their great love for each other.
Other characters in the film are hybrids of characters in the book such as Wayne (played by Denis Leary in the film) in the chapter “Work,” who shares the same demise as Jack Hotel from the chapter “Out on Bail.” The character McInnes, who is shot in “Dundun,” is combined with Caplan in “Two Men” in the film. McInnes (played by John Ventimiglia) finds F.H. kissing his girlfriend in the film, and this leads him to rename the narrator “Fuckhead.” Another significant character blend is Mira (played by Holly Hunter) from “Beverly Home” who is both a nameless Mediterranean dwarf from that chapter, as well as his next girlfriend who is a cripple. Maclean does a nice job blending minor characters into fuller richer individuals for the film, where every actor has a significant role in F.H.’s hallucinogenic tales.
Though the title “Jesus’ Son” is derived from a Velvet Underground song called “Heroin,” both book and film connect the search for spirituality through drug use. Smith writes, “The chemical addictions of Johnson’s unnamed narrator are also the warped expression of a longing for more profound spiritual experience. His drugged and drunken adventures evoke obvious religious affinities.” (Smith) When examining the characters in both book and film, one can find numerous examples where a character tries and finds spiritual fulfillment through a confused drug haze. For instance, in the chapter “Emergency,” both the book and the film depict a moment when a drugged-out Georgie expresses the desire to go to church because he would like to worship. Later in the chapter, both F.H. and Georgie find themselves wandering into what they believe to be a military graveyard; this cemetery is slowly revealed to be a drive-in movie theatre, which morphs into their hallucination of angels and visions of the book of Revelation, parts of which appear on the drive-in movie screen. In the film, this scene is slightly changed into visions of Michelle interspersed with the film “Carnival of Souls,” which further emphasizes the lost souls who inhabit the book and film.
The significance that F.H. places on his hallucinatory perceptions seems to be derived out of spiritual guilt. In the chapter “Dirty Wedding,” F.H. ostracizes himself from the abortion clinic in which his girlfriend undergoes a procedure. As he rides the train, he latches onto a fellow passenger whom he follows to a laundry mat. When the man approaches him, F.H. narrates, “His chest was like Christ’s/ that’s probably who he was.” (Johnson) This description reveals that F.H. has been down so long in his drugged out world that maybe his gods have been reduced to the lowest common denominator, or he’s able to perceive holiness in the lowest of individuals. Another example of F.H.’s spiritual quest is in the chapter “Happy Hour” when he is about to eat a psychedelic mushroom that is ground up into a big pill. Just as he’s about to swallow it, he remarks that it’s like an Easter thing (referring to the egg shaped pill), but it’s as if F.H. is equating the high associated with a mushroom with that of the resurrection of Christ. Another example of guilt and redemption is found in the chapter “Beverly Home” when F.H. spies on a couple of Mennonites. F.H. witnesses an argument between the couple, and the husband returns to the room to wash his wife’s feet as an apology. Parish writes, “reversing the archetypal moment when Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet, the husband returns to end their argument by washing her feet.” It’s through this couple that F.H. is able to witness a spiritual unity that also symbolizes a sanctified means of living. Through the Mennonite couple, F.H. can learn how to live a virtuous existence unlike the one he has been living up to this point.
Whether through the vision of spirituality or reality, F.H.’s vision is obscured. In the chapter “Emergency,” character Terrence Weber’s (ironically played by the writer Denis Johnson in the film) vision is affected by the knife in his eye. It’s this example that can be seen as an allegory of the blind-sightedness that lead the characters to proceed through life in a clumsy manner. Even Georgie’s (hilariously played by Jack Black in the film) removal of the knife has an accidental quality to it. Later, it will be F.H.’s blinded memory that will squash the baby rabbits that he holds in his pocket. F.H. is not even sure that the rabbit moment even happened that time, and memory is looked at as untrustworthy or blurred by drug use. However, it is the blurred reality that lends itself to the poetry in the book and films. As Kakutani writes, “Dreams blur into real life for this man, hallucinations mimic and merge with reality: a state of affairs that gives Mr. Johnson ample opportunity to display his dazzling gift for poetic language, his natural instinct for metaphor and wordplay.”(Kakutani) It is this characteristic of Johnson’s writing that takes unsympathetic souls and makes them poetic prophets.
In conclusion, “Jesus’ Son” is, in book and film, an odyssey of the search for spirituality and sobriety in a dislocated chemical world. Though the film morphs different characters and makes the lead protagonist more sympathetic, both book and film relay the confusion and danger of drug addiction. The spiritual quest searched for in drugs and alcohol can be seen as a modern example of a new God. This God comes in the form of amphetamines, alcohol, heroin and meaningless sexual encounters. The nameless and faceless narrator is a mirror to our own confusion in modern life. Through the rough and tumble, we, too, can see the beauty, poetry, and divinity in even the most questionable moments.
Work Cited Bibliography
Johnson, Denis. Jesus’ Son. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Stories That Range From Bleak to Bleaker.” New York Times 11
Dec. 1992: C31.
Parish, Timothy L.. “Denis Johnson’s ‘Jesus’ Son’: To Kingdom Come.” Critique 43
Smith, Robert McClure. “Addiction and Recovery in Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son.”
Critique 42 (2001): 180-192.
John Cassavetes' 1970 masterpiece "Husbands" is by far one of my favourite films of all time! I'm aware that this film divides a lot of fans of John Cassavetes. Some love it, and some loathe it. And to be honest, I can understand both sides. But I find it extremely dramatic, funny, touching, brutal, and thought provoking. Some have complained that it is too long, misogynistic, contrived, pretentious, and badly acted. You're intitled to your opinion, but I don't share it. John Cassavetes' cinema was never to appeal to mass aproval or for enjoyment. It's meant to slap you in the face silly, wrench emotions out, throw you into uneasy laughter, put you ill at ease with an uncomfortable situation, drag out scenarios pass the point of tediousness, get into your skin, get into your brain, and have you walking out of the theatre feeling like you just got off a rollercoaster. If you haven't felt this by the end, then I'm afraid you should ask your designer to input an emotion chip in the android brain of yours. Lots of film directors make great, fun, entertaining, and dramatic films. But few take on the emotional coach role. Cassavetes has you running around nerve ends exposed, doing laps around your own personal plights, guilts, and loves. Maybe I've painted an over the top description of his films, but when I think back on his films, this is what comes to mind. I have a very hard time criticizing his films, because his films abandon typical cinema interpetation. He does not follow cinema rules, therefore I cannot follow typical rules of criticisim. Cassavetes had inserted a heart into celluloid, that burns before the eyes on the cinema screen. The film "Husbands" begins with three middle age males attending the funeral of a fourth friend. We have John Cassavetes (Gus), Peter Falk (Archie), and Ben Gazzara (Harry) returning to the man-child role, as they escape from middle age suburbia on a European bender. The bender includes scenes of drunkeness, singing, basketball, gambling, picking up girls, picking on people, and often making complete asses of themselves. This film is just too thick on topics to have a simple review give it any justice. But I urge everyone to experience his cinema with an open mind, and commitment. John Cassavetes has given us this commitment in making it. He is truly a genius of independent films, and is obviously (in my book) up there with Orson Wells, Francois Truffaut, and Alfred Hitchcock as one of the greatest directors in cinema history. Be prepared to not like everything you see, because I don't think he wanted you to. He wanted an emotional reaction that sticks on your brain. I've read that he said "We only have 2 hours to change someones life", and for me...he did!
"Bed And Board" is the fourth installment in the great Antoine Doinel (played by a maturing Jean-Pierre Leaud) film series, directed by Francois Truffaut. This film is really almost as perfect as it's predecessor "Stolen Kisses", and (in ways) almost a sort of remake, using the same characters and similar situations. The story begins with a newly weded Antoine, who works as a flower dyer, while his wife teaches musical lessons. Again, Antoine goes through his life trying to find his occupational and romantic nitch. His occupational endeavors consist of becomming the guy who electronically maneuvers model boats at an American corporation. His wife soon is pregnant with his baby boy, and the idealistic domestication becomes shakey, as Antoine begins an affair with a Japanese girl named Kyoko (played by Hiroko Berghauser). What is somewhat interesting, is the French purest attitude (or small town mind set) that seems to take place in the film. The owner of the American corporation is played by American actor Billy Kearns (can be seen playing Freddie Miles in "Purple Noon") and he's the stereotypical baffoon American. Japanese girlfriend Kyoko, is the quiet reserved Asian that thinks of romantic suicidal notions for Antoine and herself. Another outsider (who everyone in the Parisian village is afraid of, until he's found out to be a comedian/ impersonator and NOT a strangler) is treated with contempt until it has been established through media/ television performance spoken in French. But it seems that Antoine and Christine's happiness is being constantly pulled at, by French outsiders. But I suppose this is what Antoine would like us to think. Still the character who (accidently) lies and cheats his way through life. This is a far more cynical version of love, compared to "Stolen Kisses", yet all the more relevent in it's depiction of growing love pains.
The Antoine we see here is more emotionally lonesome than he ever was, yet he's married and has a kid. It still contains some of the greatest romantic moments in cinema history though. The scene where Antoine asks Christine to put her glasses on (one more time) is beautiful. Also the reversal situation of fetching wine from the wine celler, will put smiles on the faces of anyone who'd seen a similar scene as this in "Stolen Kisses". Though Antoine may not be as innocent as he once was in the earlier films, his Antoine is a far more realistic portrayel of men in general. This is truly another wonderful film by Truffaut, that would be as great as "Stolen Kisses" if it had retained some of the innocence.
I'd been searching for this gem for nearly 15 years, until I found it. When I did, it was as good as I imagined! The film follows the adolescent obsession of a 15 year old (John Moulder Brown) seedy (Newford) Bath House attendent. He falls under the romantic spell of a red haired tease (brilliantly played by Jane Asher), that toys with his emotions to the brink of taking him over the mental "deep end". Director Jerzy Skolimowski's film is so unique that it deals with the mind set of a sexually inexperienced youth in a way that is comedic, sensitive, and yet totally insane. Parts of the character reminded me of a darker Max Fletcher (the child character in "Rushmore") and a less calculating Tom Ripley (see "The Talented Mr. Ripley"), but totally immerssed in a Mod London invironment that is saturated in sex and seediness. What strikes me as interesting, is that you can never tell if London was meant to be represented in such a sexual red light, or if this is all just how the protaganist views London with sexually curious eyes of puberty? My one criticism towards John Moulder Brown is his English accent tends to sound more proper rather than lower class Cockney, which would have suited the story's angle. Jane Asher's performance however is truly amazing! Her use of the dialog, is completely naturalistic in approach. I always feel as an eavesdropper to someone's private conversation. Check out the scene in which her and John Moulder Brown are trying to retrieve a diamond from a pile of snow, and sprinkled in the dialog are comments of her being hungry (it would seem strange to see those lines written in the script, which leaves me to think it may be improvised?). And when she tells off the Gym Teacher (one of her lovers) and then continues to work on finding her diamond. Totally improvised and naturalistic!!! As a person like myself who studies acting, I was quite impressed by her acting, and am saddened that she has not appeared in more films (she seems to be mostly known for being the ex-girlfriend of Paul McCartney). The music soundtrack to the film is of great interest as well. It contains the song "But I Might Die Tonight" by Cat Stevens as the title track, and different variations of that theme supplied by either Cat Stevens or (Kraut rock group) Can. It also contains one of Can's most amazing tracks "Mother's Sky" in a great scene where the boy stalks his obsession to a London Club, then to a seedy Nude Girl joint which contains a cardboard cut out of her, then to an out-of-commision prostitute, and then finally to the London Underground where he confronts Jane Asher. All done with the surreal mind, of what only a 15 year old could conjure up. The film contains many surreal moments, in which the boy sinks to the bottom of a pool and eyes a naked woman swimming underneath him. Or when the boy jumps off a diving board and lands on top of the cardboard cut out in a pool. He again sinks to the bottom holding the cut out as if it was her. This film captures the complete frustration of that age, and the yearning to be a part of the sexually grown up world that is just out of reach, but keeps getting dipped towards your hands by a taller, more mature (?) tease. Unfortunately, teasing an imature boy can also have very horrible consequences.