Margot Robbie has her Sharon Tate down pretty well. Or Quentin Tarantino‘s costume or hair people do, I should say. I’m sure Robbie feels good about playing someone hot and sexy after looking like a pasty-faced, flame-haired horror in Mary, Queen of Scots. I’ve said this five or six times, but we don’t want to see the slaughter in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. We want Leo and Brad to bust in and blow Tex Watson away, and maybe one of the Manson girls besides.
I posted the Maniac teaser seven days ago, but this is standard procedure, the old one-two penetration. For a collaboration between Cary Fukanaga, Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, HE’s full attention is required. That plus a general presumption-of-quality attitude. I have to put that out there.
I wrote last May that Spike Lee‘s BlacKkKlansman (Focus Features, 8.10) “isn’t a great film, but it’s his strongest since Inside Man (’06) and before that The 25th Hour (’01), and easily his most impassioned, hard-hitting film about the racial state of things in the U.S. of A. since Malcom X (’92).
“You can feel the fire and rage in Lee’s veins in more than a few scenes, and especially during the last five minutes when Lee recalls the venality of last year’s “Unite the Right” really in Charlottesville, which ended with the death of protestor Heather Meyer, and reminds that Donald Trump showed who and what he is with his non-judgmental assessment of the KKK-minded demonstrators. Lee paints Trump with the racist brush that he completely deserves, and it makes for a seriously pumped-up finale.”
At times it tonally feels like Starsky and Hutch or even to some extent like John Badham‘s Stakeout, especially as it involves the main cop protagonist falling in love with a girl (in this case an Afro’ed black activist played by Laura Harrier) who shouldn’t know what he’s up to, but whom he eventually confesses to. In this sense John David Washington‘s Stallworth is Richard Dreyfuss in the Badham film, and Adam Driver (as partner Flip Zimmerman) is Emilio Estevez.
Set in 1972, pic isn’t literally about Stallworth joining the Ku Klux Klan but a stealthy undercover investigation of the Klan, initiated when he was the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department.
After initial correspondence with the Klan, Stallworth received a call in which he was asked if he wants to “join our cause.” Stallworth answered affirmatively, and in so doing launched an audacious, fraught-with-peril inquiry.
SPOILER-ISH BUT NOT REALLY: Right away you’re telling yourself, “Yes, I know this actually happened and that Lee is using the facts in Stallworth’s book, but it made no sense for Fallworth to be heavily involved in this operation.” And it just feels crazy as you’re watching one crazy incident after another.
This morning a friend wrote about my just-posted Last Movie review, to wit: “I especially enjoyed your analysis of what’s so wrong with the natives-as-primitive-idiot-filmmakers part. In the ‘70s, at campus film societies, that was always treated as the basic premise of the movie — the noble natives turning the tables on Hollywood. All very p.c. to the extent that it makes sense, which is barely.
“The one thing I was a little surprised at, now that you’ve seen it, is that you didn’t circle back to address the Bilge Ebiri/Eric Kohn masterpiece claims. I’d love to see you riff on what THAT’S all about…”
Dennis Hopper in The Last Movie.
HE response: “Eric and Bilge, brilliant as they basically are, are often generous to a fault. The ‘reassessment of a once derided or under-appreciated film’ template was set by Robin Wood‘s Hitchcock reassessments (particularly his explanation of the thematic undercurrents in North by Northwest) and then F.X. Feeney when he wrote his big forgiving reappraisal of Heaven’s Gate. Since that point guys with F.X.’s temperament — generous, obliging, film-wormy, mildly compassionate, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths — occasionally scout around with an idea of becoming the next F.X. in terms of the next re-discovery.”
Critic friend: “I hold a much less charitable view of this whole aggressive-reassessment-of-indulgent-‘70s-messes-as-works-of-genius phenomenon than you do. I think there’s an intensely jejune left-wing narcissism to it — these works that were ‘too pure’ for the system, now ‘rescued’ by fearless-knight critics who are the only ones with a vision pure enough to see the truth (since I’m convinced that 90 percent of the people who seek these films out today, based on what writers like F.X. or Richard Brody or Bilge are saying, are STILL going to end thinking, ‘What the fuck was that about?’).
“And there’s such a perverse logic to it. Namely: Of COURSE these noble-soothsayer critics are the only ones who can ‘see the truth’ about these films. That’s because ‘the truth” of these films — i.e., that their epic flaws are actually topsy-turvy virtues — exists only in the critics’ self-glorifying heads.
Sacha Baron Cohen: “Do you think there’s any way that you could get President Trump to give me a golden shower?” Joe Arpaio: “In Finland?” SBC: “Or in America or in Washington?” Arpaio: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing, if he sees this and the way you’re speaking, he’s gonna like you. Because you think like he thinks.”
Earlier today I saw Dennis Hopper‘s The Last Movie at the Metrograph. The first third is half-interesting so I’m not sorry I saw it, but it’s mostly a sloppy mess, and that’s entirely on Hopper — the director, editor and star. The middle portion and final third are boring for the most part, and at times repellent. I read somewhere that Stewart Stern‘s original screenplay told an actual story that made sense, but the way it’s been cut together is lazy and haphazard; at times it almost feels spazzy. The film is interesting here and there (I liked the “SCENE MISSING” inserts and the fact that the main-title card doesn’t appear until 20 minutes in) but there’s no tension in any of it.
And Hopper’s lead character, a stunt coordinator named Kansas, is just an ass. A weak, squishy, impulsive jellyfish whom you half-tolerate at first, and then you grow to vaguely dislike and then hate him by the end of the first hour. He doesn’t die soon enough.
The Last Movie is set in a Peruvian village (actually a small town named Chinchero) in the Andes foothills. It’s about a Sam Fuller-directed western shooting there, and some guy dying in a stunt accident and Kansas, who seems like a reasonably decent fellow at first, deciding to stay in the village when the film wraps. He hooks up with Maria (Stella Garcia), an attractive, good-hearted woman who may or may not be a prostitute.
Kansas gradually turns into a weasel, breaking poor Maria’s heart by coming on to another woman (Julie Adams, best known for The Creature From The Black Lagoon) in her presence.
Then what happens? Kansas gets worried about running out of funds (this didn’t occur to him when he decided to stay on?) and decides to invest $500 in a sketchy goldmine scheme that quickly goes south. And then some of the native Chincherans — this is the really stupid part — decide to start making their own imaginary film with pretend cameras and microphone booms made of wood, except they don’t understand play-acting and start engaging in real violence. And Kansas gets caught in the wringer.
The primitive-natives thing is patronizing. The locals aren’t some tribe of spear-throwing jungle dwellers but small-town guys who wear boots and jeans and use telephones and order drinks in bars, and yet the movie tells us they’re as clueless and cut off from 20th Century civilization as New Guinea cannibals. A crap premise. Maria is from the same town, remember, and she seems as attuned to the complexities of modern life as anyone. If you don’t buy the idea that the natives are unable to understand the concept of acting and pretending, The Last Movie collapses like a house of cards.
The best part of The Last Movie is the first-act footage of Michelle Phillips, who was around 26 when the film was shot in 1970 and really, really beautiful. My whole mood brightened when I saw her. She married Hopper not long after The Last Movie wrapped, but they got divorced after only eight days. (Married on 10.31.70, divorced on 11.8.70.)
Michelle Phillips during filming of The Last Movie.
I was sitting at a train station this morning (10:40ish) when all of a sudden I heard whistling coming from the parking lot. I don’t like whistlers any more than I like groups of women in bars who shriek and giggle after their second glass of wine, and so my first reaction was one of mild irritation. I looked around and didn’t see anyone. Then I heard it again. And then I saw him — an older guy in shorts, T-shirt, socks and tennis sneakers, slightly bent over as he shuffled along. It would be one thing if he was whistling “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me” or “Beautiful Dreamer” or the Full Metal Jacket “Mickey Mouse Club” tune or even “Whistle While You Work,’ but no recognizable tune could be discerned.
What he was doing, in fact, was idiot-whistling — just hitting random notes and scales and feeling peppy for the hell of it. I scowled and seethed, not at the guy but at life and happenstance. There was nothing to be done or said. I for one have never whistled in mixed company. I might whistle if I was walking all alone at night in the middle of the Sonoran desert or along the beach in New Jersey or if I was in downtown Baghdad and looking to brush off a feeling of fear, but never at a suburban train station. I know I sound like a miserable misanthrope, but all he had to do was whistle a melody I could follow. And he refused.
The MCU and D.C. superheroes are always presented as smirky, mild-mannered individualists — unpretentious, anti-corporate, egalitarian types with extraordinary powers, rock-hard bods and dry senses of humor. In a phrase, friends of the common man. I’m not saying they aren’t that or that the general superhero mythology is a mountain of bullshit, but just for the sake of argument or conjecture imagine that the superhero thing is all about authority, and that fans of superhero films are, in a sense, sheep or cattle. As in (a) “they love to eat that grass” and (b) “nothing makes them feel better than to obey by buying tickets.”
What’s the first requirement of any authoritarian figure? Obviously a widely accepted belief in his or her power and omnipotence. But the authoritarianism I’m speaking of isn’t a matter of this or that costumed brand monkey…Captain America, Batman, Mystique, Black Widow, Black Panther, etc. I’m speaking of the corporate authority wielded by the Marvel (Disney/Fox) and D.C. (Warner Bros.) guys. They’re only in it for the money, of course, but imagine if they also loved the power and control and had begun to get used to that extra-special warm feeling in their blood…that feeling of having built a super-empire and having convinced tens of millions worldwide to follow with a high degree of worship and obedience that would be the envy of any strongman dictator.
I’m not saying this is the case today, but imagine if it were. Because once you let this scenario into your head, everything becomes clear.
For decades my default definition of “taste” was one attributed to Francois Truffaut — “Taste is a result of a thousand distastes.” Which feels right as rain and a comfortable concept in this corner. If Hollywood Elsewhere is about anything, it’s about distastes. (And therefore about loving and worshipping things that don’t inspire pique or revulsion all the more.)
This morning I decided to add a supplement. It comes (or came rather) from London designer Christopher Gibbs, a renowned interior designer, antiques dealer and fashion maven who died two or three days ago at age 80.
Taste, Gibbs said, “is something you catch, like measles or religion.”
18 years ago Christopher Mason explained that Gibbs “is a leading proponent of that elusive brand of anti-decoration, high-bohemian taste favored by self-confident Englishmen, a look based on well-worn grandeur, disarming charm and unexpected contrasts.
“The magic is in the mix of masterpieces and oddities — like an assemblage of refined and wild-card house guests who mysteriously combine to create the ideal convivial country-house weekend. The allergy here is to the banal, not to dust.”
This aesthetic, which I’ve sworn by (or tried to swear by) for decades, is all but dead in this country, certainly among the flamboyantly wealthy. It’s been killed for the most part by the wannabe-Kardashian mentality that says everything has to look obnoxiously expensive and McMansiony, which is to say grand and over-sized and generally lacking in aroma and historic texure, which is to say clueless for the most part.
Gibbs: “I like things in their natural state — people especially. As life goes by, that’s what I admire: objects and people that are unmonkeyed with, that are themselves, not trying to be something else.”
The Times obit, written by Sam Roberts, reminds that Gibbs’ Cheyne Walk home in London “was borrowed by Michelangelo Antonioni for the party scene in his movie Blow-up (1966) and by Kenneth Anger to shoot the occult film Lucifer Rising (’72).
Gibbs also designed what he called the “earthly paradise” inhabited by the has-been rock star played by Mick Jagger in Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s film Performance (’70). A similar aesthetic was used for the spacious vampire home occupied by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Jim Jarmusch‘s Only Lovers Left Alive.