Thursday, February 3, 2011


A nasty little piece I wrote in summer 2007 - obviously not a very happy time...:

    FUCKABLE.  This is a concept, yes, but an elusive one.  Pernicious.  A thought fanning out along another long-winded Hollywood day and its 'reality' zooming down from the northern shores to hold up the shit-stained smog of 'The Hills.'  A maybe disposable, presumptuous concept that is, nevertheless, an innately nagging part of the weather.  We, as Los Angelinos, find ourselves blindsided by the time (of the year) when the always rising tabloid steam chokes in the last gasping breath of a typically West Coast cerebral cortex meltdown. 
    The subterfuge - hell, superstitition, self-doubt - rise to the surface --- grasping the feelings of all (conscious or not, great or small) – frozen - in the long days' bright toxic lights.  Things begin to reveal themselves, uncomfortable things --- whether spying in the supermarket line, cruising the Sunset Strip, trolling the wasted downtown streets, or cozying up in fab Hillside mansions.  It's the time of year when the patented gated/extroverted lives of SoCal's denizens - man, women, child, gay, straight, bi --- LA Times, Variety, TMZ, CNN and on - morbidly dwell on the missed opportunities of their lives, and seek quick release through the comfort of a movie theater - and the play fantasy of those more wholly fucked than themselves.  Here, viscera sprays across the flickering silver nitrate --- lives of runaway luxury cars, coke fevers, and the blood drip of freshly slit wrists packaged up in alienating 100+ minute packages.  No greeting, no return address --- just the feeling of longing, crying, raging, and fucking --- the rhetorical questions not so much desiring a personal response so long as they keep stirring the bulging heart + loins.  Big explosions to micro-sized wet dreams.  It's peddled via drooling catchphrases ("Hot!") and the supposedly sugar-plum visions of fantasy make-out sessions framed in the fuzzy contours of a virally dangerous, coldly awkward little cell phone snapshot.  

    'Fuckable' means many things, but far from shame or honesty, it hits its bull's-eye – the heart of market value '07, a long build-up of 50 years, from that first moment when Marcello Mastroianni lived La Dolce Vita.  Fellini's film simultaneously critiqued and reveled in the fervent religious ecstasy of celebrity and its hangers on.  This was the inevitably sleazy turning point in the cult of fame (which reaches its long, omnipotent arm all the way back to the martyrdom of  Jesus and Joan of Arc), when sex and desire (forever co-modifiable passions) - commenced that pod invasion - first into the ideals of the popular zeitgeist, via HOLYwood - and then a straight shot to the simple heart of the "American dream."  Once the anguished prelude to transfiguration, i.e. death, a greater glory of being – God, a higher calling, FAME became reduced to the fight solely for the ugly vestige of labelization, derived of meaning and trumpeted as a solipsistic, self-destructive joy-ride unto itself.

    By now, any illiterate peruser of People is well-educated in how the flaunted lust, drugs, and recklessly self-centered aggression of CELEBrity tips on a keen, poseur awareness, moderated at specific levels in the progression of a career of famedom.  It's broken down into the development, production, and marketing of cinema worldwide, and inevitably filtered into the aura of cinephilia today.  And exactly what is that?  Cinephilia 2.0?  That's a question I've been wrestling with for a second now.  As a 24-yr. old white male, what target audience am I?  Have I reached my peak?

    All this half-cocked deliberation of circumstances, bullshit justifications and rationales, helps me make sense of the time and effort taken in the diligent schedule scratching and commercial investment in such vacation cocktails as I Know Who Killed Me, Captivity, Death Sentence, Halloween, War, Delirious, The Nines, and even (God save me) El Cantante.  I'll be the first to admit/acknowledge that these are all grotesquely sickening, and, sadly, "indie"-financed releases, the fly-swatting remains of the long summer deluge.  So, in a way, as an audience member, I am the real 'bitch' here, kinda like what's his face – dude always getting punk'd by Kelso.  But excuses are part + parcel of the critical vertebrae, so I have now to confess a certain 'cultural' vulnerability – which has a lot to do with the lure of this 'fuckable' I'm trying, vainly (and probably not too successfully), to describe.  It feeds into loneliness….maybe….self-loathing, for sure.  These a predictable obsession makes: Tablodia, LA peaks and valleys --- the rich narrative of the "behind-the-scenes" - so vivid in the light emanating from the classically silver Hollywood screen.  I by now realize that each and every component of this new breed of cinephilia, the one without a history, is an indelible by-product of the nightmares and dreamscapes that first drew me to the movies...and a subsequent love for the films of Michelangelo Antonioni + Ingmar Bergman (two of the recently departed).  The summer cocktails listed above have helped me recognize this, and the new insights into my own personality (and its limits).  For this…and these particular films, I have much to be grateful --- no matter how hard it may be to stomach in an already roiling belly.
    When one holds a cinematic mirror to the soul, the whole world is revealed.  It starts with the haves and the have nots --- torture porn dissects this, as do, to varying degrees, soap operas, teen comedies, moviemaking dramedies, serial killer thrillers, druggie biopics, and the occasional big-budget action spectacle.  The entertainment, the pleasure sparked in the too often excessive imaginations of audiences, is derived from sadomasochism, in terms literal, figurative, and metaphorical, often simultaneously.  For example:  The OC (Barton's turf) is aqua-marine hued masochism.  It's been out in the sun a bit too long, but somehow the resulting patina takes on a glow so brilliantly edifying, that it (literally) tears away with great violence might the façade of INADEQUACY– revealing the knotted, crystallized lies pop media has subliminally hard-wired into our subconscious.  We're left with nothing but a questionable 'gaze' – eyeballs glued wide to a Hellraised plump.

    This gruesomely naked image also can stand to represent a system of viewing --- the physical manifestation of the brain processing through the machinations of the 'cocktails,' with the questionably monikered 'torture porn' the thickest, most active mix.   This category would include Captivity, wherein a model is kidnapped, simultaneously pampered and tortured, and then escapes in a hysterically cathartic rush of bloody, bitch-slapping vengeance; and I Know Who Killed Me (which throws a different sort of bitch-slap- of the logic variety), wherein a smart, perfectly textured, unfailingly mannered high school girl is captured, has her right arm and leg chopped off, escapes, and then claims that she is a different person altogether --- not the rich, pampered daughter of a successful, loving mother and father in Massachusetts, but a slum slut supporting her crackhead mother through stripping and occasional blow jobs to "fat old men with bad B.O…"  (side note: I'm really starting to feel sorry for these guys who seem to be the last, desperate scapegoated souls who solicit hookers, rape girls, chop them into ordered pieces and feed them to cute little pets). (sidenote 2011: "Dating Game" killer anyone?)  

    Both these films make people believe that the old mantra, "There is no such thing as bad publicity," is an excuse.  Lohan's persistent infantile transgressions continue to push paper.  Captivity 'suffered' from a small-scale furor over a series of billboards hyping the film in Hollywood + Gotham with the type of sleazy confrontation that distributor LionsGate has become infamous for.  But the anguish over the imagery, which featured four close-up panels with the words: Abduction, Confinement, Torture, and Termination, with corresponding, though artfully subtle, imagery, seemed another sly pose, a whole lot of type over a dash of sleaze not nearly as unsettling or sexually provocative as certain graphics for other LionsGate releases, not to mention the hundreds of alcohol, tobacco, and fashion ads that simultaneously use terror and titillation to peddle their products.

    Again, this combustible myth is far more delicious (and print worthy) than the spin unraveled between the li(e)nes – and that may be the point.  A typically 'fuckable' 'behind-the-scenes' reality that boldfaces the galvanizing, though illusory forces (and bloated mediocrity) of 'controversy.'  This particular dervish of 'bad' publicity was actually, in fact, based wholly on the manipulation of director/producer Courtney Solomon, CEO of the production company behind Captivity, After Dark.  Solomon is the man responsible for An American Haunting, one of the sleeper stories of 2006.  With no distribution deal, Solomon + a Hong-Kong financier created After Dark and self-released the film on 1,700 screens, leading to a opening box office of over $16 million.  In the fall of that year, another former DIY company, LionsGate, signed an exclusive deal with the Solomon's new genre-based company, which at the time seemed a dangerously short-sighted, 'fuckable' move by a typically stealthy organization.  When LionsGate finally got a whiff of the results, a Hollywood style duck and cover was in order.  This explains Solomon personally pouring Roland Joffe's (supposedly) static, righteous, 2-year old media critique into the grooves of torture porn at the drive-by edit bay and then, behind LionsGate's back, drumming up the whole 'anti' promo campaign.  In the harsh design, Solomon even stole a page from LionsGate's playbook, perhaps to impress, but more likely to stick 'em good - holding Sunset Blvd. hostage for a brief, though glorious 11th hour.
    By this point the film itself (or what's left of it) is beside the point, a pitiful addendum by a once vaunted, politically raucous director.  Based on yet another original idea by former guerrilla auteur Larry Cohen, who's old closet of rejected screenplays has been ransacked in the last few years by cannibal-starved Hollywood, it follows closely the template of Phone Booth + Cellular, inexplicably trapping a character in a grungy, claustrophobic locale, and pushing the spatial + psychological narrative forward on their (and the audiences) pursuit of the who, what, where, when, and why (not necessarily in that order), and finally – reaching a dead-end, allowing them to hatch an implausible escape plan.  Unintentionally, the system of viewing here is dramatized by Cohen in the film's narrative sensations.  Looking back in the big-ass, jewel-studded mirror propped up in this locked den of iniquity, we see money tossed indiscriminately at a camera lens.  Serious dramatic stakes replace the fleeting trashy fun of the drive-in experience.  At the end we're left solely with a vampiric silhouette of Elisha Cuthbert, who plays the Paris Hiltonesque fashion model with all the blank servitude her Noxema-waxed face can muster.  The moan she emits from our bloodletting is a glamorously hollow symphony of subserviance.
    Sickly progens of 70s grindcore, Death Sentence, Halloween, and War ashamedly cleanse their origins through lavish promotional campaigns that, like Captivity, are invested with a diligent, artful eye.  Instead of celebrating their ugly, all-in-the-family exploitation, these films reek of the rancid aura of the producers' own self pity.  Again, 'grit' is a style moniker instead of the unconscious essence of the viewer's experience.

    Fighting against Death Sentence's aggressive onslaught of narrative missed opportunities is another stellar, haunted turn from Kevin Bacon as the blissfully content, blissfully unguarded senior executive of a risk-assessment firm whose star athlete son is senselessly killed as part of a inner-city gang's initiation ritual.  When the perennially cold, ineffective cinematic justice system tips once again out of balance, his working knowledge and embracing moral compass simultaneously implode, i.e. he goes completely batshit, unleashing with blind fury a sickening chain of revenge that is made explicitly clear has no end in sight.
    People have been throwing around the words allegory + metaphor in explaining the significance of these films in coming to terms with new dimensions in how culture/individuals witness and digest world events --- the war on terror, Iraq, government conspiracy, et al.  But as 'history' show us, this alone can't delay and/or sustain the pure EFFECTS of genre.  Director James Wan, who exhibited a lean, mean eye in the first Saw, seems to have gone fuzzy with the bloated luxury of Hollywood's spin machine.  He's been allowed to buttress a newfound lack of rigor with half-baked, pseudo-serious affront.  Where Death Sentence does actually resonate is in its consummate, though seemingly unintended, nihilism, a vision of the sickle cell effect of anger's (continued) hold on the world, and the unrepentant violence that erupts from its belly --- very much in line with the understanding of the world that can be gleaned (or grinded) from the cinematic landscape of ex-Alice Cooper shock rock puppet Rob Zombie, who consummates his 70s fetishism with a remake of its pinnacle summation, John Carpenter's Halloween

    The penultimate scene of The Wizard of Oz, the uncloaking of the great, supreme ruler as a blubbering, second-rate charlatan is the vision of American genre cinema we've trapped in this 21st century.  The bedrock's of a generations imagination (the 'nightmares and dreamscapes' I alluded to above), pulled back to reveal their gum + spit structures.  This is the minor tragedy Zombie's remake, or in the advertising's words 'reimagining' of the original myth of slash king Michael Myers.  I say 'minor' in the hopes that the film may suffer a quiet death outside the mainstream horror consciousness, where Zombie's putrid snuff (murder of grindhouse reverie, slaughtering of the primal conscious of horror cinema) should reside (addendum: …as the box office proves, again…this didn't happen).
    Obviously at a loss as to how to reincarnate reconfigure, and make sense of convoluted "history" the lonely hunter Michael Myers for an 8th installment, Bob Weinstein, caretaker of the property since his Dimension imprint bought the rights in the mid 90s, decided to wipe the slate clean and start all over again, bringing in post-9/11 mythmaker and educated gorehound Zombie to reinvent the franchise.  The Halloween series is a continually dull affair, the essence of the original character doesn't allow for the meta-inversions that have allowed similar horror figureheads, particularly Chucky and Freddy to not only survive, but thrive.  Based on the logic established by the series, it makes sense to go back to the beginning.  But Zombie? 
    In a recent LA Weekly interview, Malcolm McDowell (who in the film steps into the shoes left vacant by Donald Pleasance as the obsessed Dr. Loomis) compares Zombie to Stanley Kubrick!  This feeds a legend seemingly self-created by Zombie + bought hook, line, and sinker by journalists, critics, and even serious horror aficionados --- one of cinematic destiny shaking the foundations of exploitation outrageousness with true-crime snaps.  Zombie is an image-maker of unquenchable hubris who has built a cottage industry around his childhood hobbies.  Contrary to his loudly hard-charging metal music videos and elaborate graphic design, the unpolished crudeness + shoddy aesthetics of his recent filmmaking is a literal manifestation of this unhealthily juvenile diaspora.  Halloween may be his highest profile gig yet, but it's also his ugliest.  Imagine $30 million dollar production values shot  through the broken lens of a super8 camcorder.  The result kinda looks like the gaffer's son wandered around the set, shooting randomly and decided to compile a 'bootleg' Halloween --- and Zombie thought – shit --- no matter how hard I try I can't capture anything quite this butt-ugly, so let's release it --- as a goof.  Because of the fire of unquenchable hubris, he does just that.

    Halloween plows through a typical sonic dirge of gutter 'fucks' and other pidgin speak, tracing the hellish upbringing of animal torturing Michael Myers.  Zombie's dime-novel psychology has fooled many into buying into the unexpurgated "honesty" of his nihilistic drives towards the precipice of humanity, but in reality, the surface-level grunge is more typical of the Universal Horror inspired narrative of his cartoon band White Zombie than the pummeling visions of musical contemporaries Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and even the funky ironic suicidal vibes of Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails.  Halloween 2.0 journeys into the black hole mystery of the original and unleashes a Pandora's box of illogic and narrative paradox that was irrelevant to the dread-filled original.  The precedent for this type of mythological unpacking is M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable (looking increasingly better as the years pass), which was premised on an origin story devoid of the typical climatic recognition + upheaval.  This was effective because its straight-faced ignorance of the inevitable (and ludicrous) 'destiny' had no pre-history, let alone the twenty years of cultural groundswell that has pushed Myers around every other suburban trick-or-treating corner.  Too much has been hypothesized about the character and the Halloween legend that to literally lynch at its roots is akin to fishing the East River for Jimmy Hoffa.

    Phillip Atwell's War is another staggering missed opportunity, siphoning off the potential combustion of a Jet Li – Jason Statham showdown with hastily conceived action sequences linked to a script that appears as if it were compiled at the gym by bodybuilders in between glut-hammering squats.  In other words, it takes a big donkey shit, and everyone witness seems too blinded by the jumbo-sized chrome music-vid director lovingly caresses in order to stoop and pick it up. 

    Atwell's style is an autopilot with a dangerous sense of direction.  What cross-eyed fool can visually squander two of the world's most physically righteous performers, in sequence designed by Cory Yuen, one of the world's most inventive stunt choreographers.  Everything is sliced, diced, and strung together with blurred stutter effects straight outta iMovie.  One can only hypothesize/dream how the results might have looked if the film had actually been helmed by Yuen, who earlier in the year let loose a resplendently nimble, witty translation of similarly dicey support material with the vid-game adaptation DOA: Dead or Alive.  Statham + Lee's films succeed only when the world they inhabit can make sense around the physical ice picks of their  physical calisthenics, radically see-sawing the humorous innocence of their movie-star personalities with the lethal awe they can inhabit in a freewheeling blink-of-the-eye.  But War is imbedded in a miserable, shadowy swamp of angst-filled retribution.  It deadens the SENSATION of feeling in its doldrum dramatic drive to make us FEEL.

    Okay, so I've run off the rails a bit her.  FUCK.  That's what we're supposed to be discussing.  Well…here is the dark corner I now find myself in --- all the shoots and ladders of the concept I've tried (yes) to map it seems inevitably leading to nowhere.  So, in the name of dignity/decency let me end this succinctly.  I'm going to try to tie this 'Fuckable' thing to two very clear, explicit visualizations, meaning…works that directly address the Hollywood lunatic fringe.  Delirious follows the needy relationship of Steve Buscemi's pathetic New York paparazzo to Michael Pitt's innocent street urchin, who he takes on as his lackey, and, later, protégé.  The Nines is three separate stories, featuring Ryan Reynolds as an addicted TV actor on house arrest, a gay network show-runner, and one of the character's in the resulting show.
    There's some bullshit going on in both these films about the hazy divides of celebrity, performance…the absurdity and confusion resultant in re-creation's of reality --- and the horrific damage that is writ…but all that pretension comes gift-wrapped in Fuckable wink-wink punch-lines (y'know......Access Hollywood level pot shots, and the type of stylistic free-for-all that represents) that only exist as symptoms of the 'fuckable.'  They give the show-biz milieu a reason for being.  The organic corruption of Sweet Smell of Success or The Player is reduced to paint-by-numbers metaphor masquerading a simple-minded morality.  But, in this regard, perhaps Delirious + The Nines are the purest growths of this 'fuckable' plantation Hollywood has built, a place where producers, cinephiliacs + celebrity stalkers alike can join hands in muckraking anonymity, watching their shadows grow long and merge into the incandescent glitter of the movie-mad night.

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