Not over the fact that this 30th Anniversary Bob Dylan Concert Celebration happened 29 years ago (10.16.92) at Madison Square Garden, or the fact that it was probably the greatest boomer-rocker ensemble performance of all time, or the fact that I betrayed myself by not flying back to New York and somehow snagging a pair of tickets.
But over the glorious fact that there were no wokesters back then, and the Millennials who were destined to bring the terror to American culture (the worst era of witch-burning horror since the early ’50s) were toddlers back then…they couldn’t know and of course we didn’t know either, and everything seemed…well, not untroubled (life’s a constant vale of troubles) but at least the Monsters Wouldn’t Arrive on Maple Street for at least another 25 or 26 years or so and all was relatively “well”, so to speak.
George H.W. Bush was in the White House, Bill Clinton hadn’t been elected yet, Jett and Dylan were 4 and 2 years old respectively, I was driving a spiffy, semi-newish black 240SX Nissan and writing for Entertainment Weekly and the L.A. Times Sunday “Calendar” section and even the N.Y. Times, and my first trip to the Cannes Film Festival had happened five months earlier.
In my just-posted Pig review I asked if HE Patreon subscribers recall a recent (7.27) riff about “how the most interesting films focus on invisible things.” For elaboration’s sake, I’m going to violate the Patreon sanctity and re-post part of that article:
“Most of us are attuned only to life’s tangibles — food, shelter, warmth, money, clothing, pets, guns, cars, shoes, homes, furniture, trees, hills, mountains, oceans, swimming pools, sailboats. Things we can see, touch, smell, eat, wear, boast about and dive into.
“But others, fortunately, are also mindful and in some cases stirred or motivated by invisible things — thoughts, feelings, spirits, ghosts, dreams, intuitions, morality, melancholy, premonitions, memories.
“Any filmmaker can focus on the tangibles. Most of them do, in fact. Movies that are strictly about tangibles are ‘mulch’ movies, a term that I defined earlier this month. Mulch is the source of our shared Hollywood ennui…the muck at the bottom of the dried-up lake…the disease that keeps on infecting…the gas that fills the room.
“Except for a smattering of elite, award-season stand-alones (or festival movies) and select forthcoming streamers like HBO’s Scenes From A Marriage (Bergman remake), Hollywood makes almost nothing but mulch these days. The streaming + re-emerging feature realm is flooded with mulch…empty, inane, meaningless, spirit-less, jizz-whiz “content” crapola that nobody wants to see or cares about, but they’re made anyway because the zone-outs and knuckle-draggers need stuff to watch.
“But only serious directors are able to convey or dramatize the presence of invisible things. The finest films are actually concerned with a mixture of tangible things, which is natural and inevitable in any corner of life, but are driven by the invisibles.”
The reason that critics love Michael Sarnoski‘s Pig (Neon, 7.16) is because it’s saying something about the undercurrent of civilized American life in the year 2021. It’s saying two things actually. Thing #1 is “something fundamental and spiritual is missing in our lives.” Thing #2 is “the reason that fundamental thing is missing is because we’ve exiled it…we’ve shown it the door and shouted ‘get out of our house!…you’re not stylish enough!'”
Pig stars the burly, bearded, bruised and overweight Nicolas Cage, and costars Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin. It’s about a former bigtime Portland chef (Cage’s Rob Feld) who’s quit the restaurant business to become a reclusive-hermit truffle forager in the forest. The plot is about Feld’s pet pig being kidnapped and Feld trying to get it back.
It has soul, Pig does. It conveys a reverence for the unseen. (Remember my recent riff about how the most interesting films focus on invisible things? This is one of those films.) Pig is slow and obstinate in some ways, but it believes in the holiness of earth and nature and fine food and wine, and it’s saying that the urban sophisticated realm that most of us live in is…lacking. “Not real” in certain important ways. Lacking in a holy mystical current, lacking in the solemn fundamentals.
But just because Pig is snail-paced and under-written and filmed in shadows and subdued blue-ish light doesn’t mean it’s a great film. I think it’s definitely an interesting and in some ways a valuable film with the eternal things on its mind, etc. But I didn’t “love” it. I was down with it, but the funereal pace bothered me after the 55 or 60-minute mark. I actually decided to take a break at the one-hour mark because I knew it would maintain this same shuffling gait to the end.
I also got tired of looking at Cage’s bloody, beat-up, swollen face. Okay, his performance has a certain ruined integrity. Beaten up by intruders and left with dried sticky blood on his face and forehead throughout 85% of the film. Long gray ratty hair. No hot water, no shower, no change of socks…a sad forest hermit roaming around Portland as he tries to get to the bottom of things.
But Feld is no dummy, and we’re asked to believe that this 50ish truffle whisperer, who spends most of the film speaking to this and that person involved in the Portland restaurant business, wouldn’t clean himself up before making the rounds. He’s clearly not an idiot, and yet Feld is so caught up in the purity thing that he doesn’t clean the fucking dried blood off his face? You know what that is? That’s filmmaker hubris. Sarnoski is saying “Feld is too much of a truffle samurai to even think of cleaning himself up…he’s too angry, too enraged, too possessed to bother about appearances.” That’s movie bullshit.
Hands down, the most transporting version of Harry Warren and Al Dubin‘s “I Only Have Eyes For You” was recorded in late 1958 by The Flamingos. What makes it work is the reverb plus the background singers doing the old two-part-harmony “sha-bop sha-bop“. But for years and years I thought they were singing “kah-LUCK-kah-luck.”
The reason I was a kah-LUCK-kah-lucker for so long is a brief scene in Billy Wilder‘s The Apartment (’60). Consolidated Life of New York executive Al Kirkeby (David Lewis) is ushering his office girlfriend Sylvia (Joan Shawlee) into the Upper West Side apartment building of C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) for an assignation, and as she climbs the stairs of Baxter’s brownstone Sheila is singing “kah-LUCK-kah-luck.” Sheila’s improv stuck in my mind.
The Apartment was shot in the fall of ’59 — “I Only Have Eyes For You” was released in April ’59, and was pretty much the definitive romantic song of the moment.
Tweeted two days ago by @GrahamB47 (with grammar improved by HE): “Name a director whom you went all in for at first but whom you’ve since moved past, either because they dropped the ball or your relationship to their work changed. NOT for ‘being a creep/criminal’ reasons.”
HE answer: Terrence Malick, hands down. And if I may interject the opposite, there’s one director who not only didn’t let me down but delivered one of his greatest-ever films at age 85 or thereabouts — Roman Polanski.
Jordan Ruimy: Oliver Stone, James Cameron, M. Night Shyamalan, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton.
HE: I’ve been telling myself that I have to see David Lowery‘s The Green Knight this weekend, but something in me is rebelling against the idea of seeing it in a theatre. The memory of Pete’s Dragon won’t leave me alone. Did you see it?
Stormy Monday: I was bored to tears.
HE: Thank God!!! I knew that 54% Rotten Tomatoes audience score had to be grounded in something or other. When 54% of the ticket buyers give it a thumbs-down, you know something’s wrong.
Stormy: I didn’t expect it to be near-plotless. It’s just a reason for Lowery to indulge in these dreamy visuals but the substance is pretty thin.
HE: So what’s everyone going nuts about?
Stormy: About basically how weird, seductive and visually sumptuous the whole thing is. Plus it’s pretty woke.
HE: What’s the woke aspect exactly?
Stormy: Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think there ever was an Indian knight before in a major studio picture
HE: Of course not, but that’s standard Hollywood “presentism” a la David Copperfield. Presentism is accepted as a given these days. Because even in a historical framework, filmmakers have to make it clear that all tribes are equally good to go in a historical context, and that racism is, was and always will be intolerable.
Stormy: Yah, revisionist history. But I couldn’t care less about that if the movie was actually absorbing, involving, etc.
Flag Day “is suffused with what you might call the Penn Darkness Factor. It tells the story of the richly troubled, twisted, and touching relationship between a father, John Vogel, played by Sean Penn as one of the most scurrilous dads in the history of movies, and his daughter, Jennifer, played by Penn’s own daughter, Dylan Penn, who gives a fantastic performance. Yet this scoundrel father, who she has systematically learned not to trust, is the only father she has.
“That’s the story Flag Day tells, and it’s the reason the movie hits such a universal nerve. The wrenching pain of it is that he’s a counterfeit father who’s also the real deal.” — from Owen Gleiberman’s 7.10.21 Variety review.
Last week Jeff Bezos and three others rocketed to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard space capsule, which was named for Alan B. Shepard (11.18.23 — 7.21.98).
An honored naval pilot and NASA astronaut, Shepard is famous for four things: (1) Being the first American to soar into space, albeit for only 15 minutes, — it happened aboard a Mercury spacecraft on 5.5.61, and inside a small capsule called the Freedom 7; (2) Having acquired the reputation of a cocktail-lounge hound during the Mercury training period in and around Cocoa Beach, at least according to Tom Wolfe‘s “The Right Stuff“; (3) Being forced to take a leak inside his suit prior to the 5.15.61 flight, because of a five-hour flight delay and not being able to hold it any longer; and (4) Becoming the fifth man to walk on the moon (it happened in ’71, during the Apollo 14 mission), and hitting two golf balls on the lunar surface.
Sidenote #1: Shepard sliced or shanked both shots — excusable because he was forced to whack the balls one-handed due to his bulky Apollo space suit. Despite the enormous gravitational advantages, Shepard’s golf balls travelled only about 40 yards. Sidenote #2: Soon after the flight Norman Mailer complained on the Dick Cavett Show that Shepard’s golf stunt reflected an attitude of American arrogance.
The ’61 Shepard flight was nerve-wracking for tens of millions of TV viewers because who knew what might happen? The booster could blow up, something technical could go wrong, etc. It was the very first time an American had ascended on a flaming rocket, and to the edge of space yet — “What a beautiful view,” Shepard said.
When JFK mentioned certain NASA stalwarts who oversaw and engineered the Freedom 7 flight, he added that “most of these names are unfamiliar…if this flight had not been an overwhelming success these names would be very familiar to everyone.” [1:51 mark.)=]
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Instead they should gracefully complement or enhance. Bill Maher‘s new glasses (dark, thickish frames) are too domineering. They don’t work with his features — the glasses say “look at us first, and then Bill’s face.” One look and you’re thinking “uptight, stuffed-shirt, resident zoologist glasses.” Like the ones Cary Grant wore in Bringing Up Baby.
If you want thickish, distinctive frames you should go with cool colors — solid blue or red. And maybe go with adjustable amber- or gray-tinted lenses. Black frames, trust me, are too “Gig Young in the late ’50s.” They make Maher look bookish, and they add five or ten years.
“The Woke Olympics,” 2:05: “[The Tokyo Olympic firings are] what’s called a purge. It’s a mentality that belongs in Stalin’s Russia. How bad does this atmosphere we are living in have to get before the people who say ‘cancel culture is overblown’…how bad does it have to get before they admit this is an insanity that is swallowing up the world? [No applause, just a smattering.] Where did we get this crowd? I’m back, not the audience. [Back to script] And that is not a conservative position, my friends. My politics have not changed — I am reacting to politics that have. This is yet another example how [wokesters] invert the very thing that used to make liberals, liberals. Snitches and bitches? That’s not being liberal.”