Saturday, 9 March 2019
Monday, 4 March 2019
I've just watched two Nicolas Cage films in a row. I don't normally do this sort of thing, and I don't know exactly why I did it tonight. But instinct is not something you understand, it’s something you feel, and I felt it, I felt it very strongly indeed.
Nicolas Cage is known for three things; his lack of professional and personal restraint; the elaborate and ever-changing methods he uses to disguise his baldness, and his inability to stop making films, even for a moment.
In 1993, Cage won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his extended drunk act in Leaving Las Vegas. I don't place much stock by awards, but Oscars tend to be given to people who give outstanding performances, give surprising performances, or have simply been around long enough to merit some recognition. Cage’s win was an anomaly, seemingly meeting none of the criteria. It didn't do him any good either, as within a couple of years he began to slide into b movies.
There is an enigma to Cage, a series of questions to which answers may not exist. He most often gives not poor performances, but inappropriate ones. As they are mainly in pretty nondescript films, this may not seem to be anyone’s business, but it does matter. What is it with Cage? What does he think he is doing? Why doesn’t he just act like other actors; like other people? Whatever the role or the context, no matter how necessary or suitable it is, Cage gives a bespoke interpretation of what the material (not the character) needs. He is not a good judge of what is needed. Early in his career he made a big deal about the method, then this evolved into cramming quirky tics into every nook and cranny of his performance. Now, he seems to have given all that up. He's not looking for authenticity anymore, and in most of his films he isn’t even concerned with acting. He mainly gives the impression that he’s just looking to get by and stay ahead of the IRS.
In one of the films I watched, Drive Angry in 3D, he was fun: dressed all in black, laconic and unstoppable, catnip to the ladies, a pasty looking ghost of the Elvis impersonator he used to resemble in some of his better films. In the other, the execrable Left Behind, he plays a commercial airline captain with such little conviction and energy that he doesn't even look like someone who knows where the pilot sits.
At this stage in his career, thirty five years since his first appearance, he has his own genre: a Nicolas Cage film is a Nicolas Cage film. When he appears in non-Cage films he seems like a cartoon character in a documentary: weird and out of place, like his teeth used to look in his younger, thinner face: too big to be real. Cage is a genre that transcends style, era, tone, other actors. Whether his co-star is Cher or Ron Perlman, they are just temporarily in his orbit, as we all are. He pays no more attention to them than he does carpet or dust or the spent cartridges that ping out of his hot shotgun.
Just a few words on Drive Angry and Left Behind, the double bill that prompted this post: Drive Angry is a film about a deceased criminal called John Milton, who is temporarily released from Hell in order to rescue his infant granddaughter from a Satanic cult who plan to sacrifice her (it turns out that Satan isn’t a bad guy, and he hates stuff like that). There’s very little that’s good about this film, but it does have bang and balls, and Cage is wide awake for most of it. In the most striking scene, he murders a dozen men whilst in the midst of sexual intercourse with a waitress. It’s really offensive, but it is memorable. His air of unreality lends itself to roles like this: we can believe he is an immortal wraith much more than him being anyone normal.
Left Behind is Christian propaganda disguised to the extent that it becomes totally bland and misses its message. Cage is a pilot who is on his way to London when The Rapture happens, and many of his passengers disappear, suddenly and unexpectedly ascended to Heaven. It’s an odd film, not least because it is so very boring. Cage hardly bothers to raise his eyebrows. The end sets up for a sequel that is clearly never, ever going to happen.
Lest this seem like a complete shoeing of Cage, let me also state that he can be great in films, but only films that have a Cage shaped hole in them or where the director (Lynch, Herzog, Cosmatos) is more interesting than he is. His performance in Mandy, my favourite film of last year, is perfect, and it is unthinkable that any other actor could have essayed it with the same amount of commitment and raw energy.
Monday, 18 February 2019
A menacing presence in the sky that calls to mind the constant scrutiny of our CCTV monitored existence. It doesn't seem to bother us much, but then humans have always been surprisingly comfortable with the idea that someone in the sky watches everything we do and silently judges it.
From Tashio Matsumoto's disquieting 1975 experimental short Phantom.
Thursday, 14 February 2019
Wednesday, 13 February 2019
I like to feel wretched. So much so, in fact, that I try not to feel wretched at all these days, lest I leap off a bridge, or embark on a self-destructive love affair, or inject speed into my eyeball. Wretchedness takes several drinks and night. It is not the same as recklessness, but rather the end result.
Recklessness leads to wretchedness, and wretchedness leads to a dangerous state of self-loathing, an emotional crevasse where the only option is to dig further down. I have felt the euphoria of this glorious despair, on neon nights, pissing blood in an alleyway while people fuck and fight in the streets like it's the end of the world. I have been punched, and liked it, presenting my head for another shot as the first one didn't hurt enough. I have smoked enough cigarettes that my chest felt likely to cave in, the ventricles of my heart constricting like the trick walls in an Egyptian tomb. I have wanted to chew my own lips off. Scratch away every strata of skin. I have been transfixed by lust, paralysed by longing. I have altered my state and been transformed into a monster, a smooth werewolf carrying a gun filled with silver bullets.
So I understand how Laura Branigan feels. She's a good person who comes alive in the presence of bad things. She can't help herself, she doesn't want to. Like Laura Palmer, she just knows she's going to get lost tonight. This might be the one she doesn't come back from. But she doesn't care, she likes feeling wretched too.
Monday, 11 February 2019
Valie Export was once loosely aligned with the Viennese Actionists, a group of confrontational performance artists who sought to challenge the post-war complacency of Austrian society, particularly with regard to their conveniently forgotten / ignored complicity with the Nazi regime. Whereas many of the Actionists were macho and aggressive, Valie was an avowed feminist, and much more subtle, though no less thought provoking.
In Tap and Touch, she walked the streets of Vienna, a large box attached to her chest. Passing men were offered the opportunity to reach inside the box, where they would be able to fondle her bare breasts. Watch the film. For all their old world respectability, the Austrian men are eager to cop a feel, queuing up to intimately touch a stranger in a way that, if it happened to their wife, girlfriend, daughter or mother, they would be horrified. Naturally, the media blamed the breasts, not the fondlers, even going as far as to suggest that Valie was a witch who should be burned.
Action Pants: Genital Panic is not only the greatest title for any work of art ever, but it is also a brilliantly simple but incredibly clever concept. Valie, her hair wild and strange, is photographed holding a machine gun. Wearing crotchless trousers, her exposed genitals are obviously the focus of the piece, but it takes a while for the eye to register her exposure, which makes it about her, rather than us, the observer. She looks like a dangerous revolutionary, a precursor to the Red Army Faction, but she knows that her vagina is the source of her power, not the gun.
Thursday, 7 February 2019
The Alphabet, d. by David Lynch (1968)
This film, Lynch's second after Six Figures Getting Sick, cost $1,000, and was inspired by his wife Peggy's niece, who once recited the alphabet during a nightmare. A room was painted black and Peggy was painted white to provide a suitably unsettling visual effect. The soundtrack includes a montage of unsettling things like the wind, a siren and a baby crying, all captured on a broken tape recorder.
Saturday, 2 February 2019
Wednesday, 30 January 2019
Cobra is a film made at the beginning of the end of Sylvester Stallone’s period of pomp, and its production was apparently impacted by the star’s arrogance, bad behaviour and insistence on creative control, despite not being particularly interested in the project. It has a slightly odd premise and a strange structure but runs on kinetic energy, only really hampered by Stallone’s character, a taciturn, hyper violent, seemingly superhuman cop who does what it takes to take scumbags down. His real name is Marion Cobretti, but everyone calls him Cobra, which is why he has a picture of a snake on the handle of his gun. The registration plate on his appropriately squat muscle car reads Awsum 50.
Cobra, who has built up shoes and an unlit match permanently pushed into the side of his muscly mouth, is a member of the elite LAPD Zombie Squad, and is going about his business curing the disease of crime (he’s an old fashioned sawbones rather than a keyhole surgeon) when he learns that there is a serial killer on the loose, a maniac dubbed The Night Slasher who has already viciously murdered fifteen people. In actual fact, The maniac is a group of maniacs, The New World, a cult who believe in the survival of the fittest and are working steadily to thin out the weaker members of society. When they meet, they do so in a moodily lit warehouse, and they bang axes and shovels together like a Radio Gaga video set in B and Q. Cobra wants in on the case, and he gets his wish, although he is warned that he needs to follow the rules. He says he will, but we all know he’s lying.
Things escalate when a model called Ingrid Knudsen (played by Stallone’s then wife, Brigitte Nielsen) is a witness to a cult murder and becomes a target for the group. Cobra tries to move her to safety (with his lips and groin) but is thwarted by an inside woman, a traitor within the force. This betrayal culminates in an all-out assault by a hundred or so New World members, armed to the teeth and riding motorbikes. Stallone kills ninety nine of them: by gun, by grenade, by setting alight, by snapping their necks like twigs, by kicking them in the back. So much for the master race, it’s a bloodbath. Eventually, with no-one left to kill, he goes mano e mano with the head villain, popping him onto a convenient passing metal hook (they’re in a completely deserted but fully working steelworks) and watching as he is carried screaming into the flames of the foundry. Job done, Cobra just has time to punch his superior officer before disappearing on a stolen chopper with Ingrid into the sunset to a soundtrack of arid AOR.
Cobra was directed by George P. Cosmatos (father of Panos, the best director in the world right now). He had previously worked with Stallone on the hugely successful Rambo II, but their reunion was less than harmonious (although still enormously profitable). Working with a writer, director and actor who is probably the biggest star in the world can be difficult, especially when that person is a monster high on a run of megahits that cast him as a superman. It’s rumoured that Stallone may have directed the film, but I’d dispute this. Cosmatos is not an auteur (or wasn’t given the chance to be), but he has a style (he likes sunsets, helicopters, close ups of weaponry and lots of cuts) and, although Cobra is quick and dirty, it has his signature upon it, albeit in pencil. The abiding emotion gained from the film is of mild embarrassment at Stallone’s showboating, and the feeling of ninety minutes sacrificed on the altar of an all-consuming ego.
Tuesday, 8 January 2019
Multiple maniacs during a powercut slasher film Alone In The Dark (1982) features dear old Donald Pleasence at his most free-wheeling and jocular, playing Dr. Leo Bain, the head psychiatrist at an asylum where treatment is a journey, a voyage of self-discovery. In his corduroy suit and Adidas trainers, Donald has obviously been touched by the psychedelic brush of hippydom, and still lives by those tenets, not least when he fills a pipe with ‘Oregon Sensimillia’ and puffs away in front of a bemused junior doctor (played by Dwight Schulz, Howling Mad Murdoch from The A-Team, ironically the sanest character in the film).
Donald plays Bain as a cuddly, enthusiastic, sensitive, supremely eccentric man: someone who could just as easily be inmate as overseer. Bain is clearly a mickey take of R.D Laing, and his nuthouse is a haven where the patients are encouraged to find their own cure – or not, it’s entirely up to them. This liberal attitude proves to be his undoing, unfortunately, as it turns out that psychotic maniacs (played by a wildly wigged Martin Landau and the always terrifying Jack Palance, amongst others) just aren't that easy going.