The Man Who Fell to Earth (August 6-11)
Both Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s youthful personae were not only poly-sexual, but trans-species. Nicholas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” is a companion piece to “Performance,” but without the demonic subtext co-director Donald Cammell gave to the earlier picture. Where Jagger’s Turner was a devil who had lost his demon, Bowie’s Mr. Newton is an angel who has lost his wings.
Both men have their Mephistophelean double. Turner has Chas, the gangster who attempted to destroy his feminine side by murdering the male lover of his boyhood. Mr. Newton has Nathan Bryce, a scientist who has dodged his destiny by becoming a co-ed seducing professor. Newton also has Mary Lou, who unknowingly sabotages his mission (to bring water from Earth to his dying planet) by destroying him with alcohol and sex. Turner channels his bisexuality into a ménage a trios with two girls, one masculine and one feminine. In one scene, it appears that has is making love with Turner, but in he following shot, Turner has transformed into the boyish girl whom Chas fancies. In “Performance,” Chas and Turner eventually fuse into a single personality. The parallel event in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” occurs between Newton and Mary Lou, in a shot reminiscent of the fusion of Bibi Anderson and Liv Ullman in “Persona.”
Turner eventually follows a bullet he fires into Chas’ head and comes out the other side of Chas’ psyche. In contrast, when Newton fires a gun at Mary Lou, he is shooting blanks, and the playful scene that follows restores individual personalities to both characters, and they go their separate ways to a mutual desolation. Bryce is not completely left out of the picture, as he has a tryst with Mary Lou that keeps him in the sexual web.
In “Performance,” past, present, and future are compressed into a single, flickering moment. Each action is made up of actions taking place in different time modes. In “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” time is linear, but elliptical, as Newton speeds through the years without existing within the years. He neither feels the passage of time nor is aged by it. As a result, it is difficult to keep pace with the story’s time-line. With Chas, sexual acts and violent acts exist in the same psychic space, and that space is the domain of infernal creativity from which Turner has been cast out, and to which he manages to return by following the bullet through Chas’ brain. Newton, having been humanized through intercourse with humanity, is unable to regain his paradise. Both films carry the theme of merging into the economic sphere with the gangsterism of the corporate merger. Chas murders his boyhood lover, Joey Maddox, because Joey resists the takeover of his company. Farnsworth, president of Newton’s company, is murdered because he refuses the offers of a merger. Both films are based on this “Merge or Die” ultimatum. Turner merges with Chas, Newton merges with Mary Lou. When the devil merges with the human, he regains hell, but when the angel merges with the human, he loses paradise.
The Tree (Varsity Opens Friday, August 12)
The thing that keeps “The Tree” from being a first-rate picture is the tree itself. Judy Pascoe was not content to write a novel about a grieving widow and her children. She had to put the spirit of the deceased husband and father into a fig tree, and turn the widow and one of the daughters into human tree-houses. When the symbols get too heavy to lug across the finish line, the novelist tries to blame the fall of this rural Australian dynasty on the tree roots interfering with the property’s sewerage. But we all know the reason this house cannot stand is because too many people are pretending the dead patriarch haunts the tree.
Writer/director Julie Bertucceli’s adaptation of Pascoe’s novel is a photographic gem and a narrative embarrassment. One can get lost in Nigel Bluck’s cinematography and at the same time recoil from the unfolding of the trite tale laden with heavy-handed symbolism. But then there are the children, “The Tree” boasts remarkable performances from all of them, with some of its most convincing moments arising from simple, honest reactions of the youngsters to surprising events such as discovering frogs living inside their toilet bowl. Charlotte Gainsbourg gives an obedient performance, but it is a superficial one, rarely suggesting either the depth of her grief or the dizziness of her impending joy.
But even when the story slogs through the most obvious of romantic arcs, Bluck’s images of Northeastern Australia prove more than worthwhile to the curious eye. One can get lost in his series of tightly composed pictures and forget all about the ghost in the tree who talks to his little girl who tenaciously welds herself to its uppermost branches when the villains arrive to cut the head of the family down.
There is no shortage of movies about making movies. Plenty of them, from “The Big Knife” to Contempt,” have been damn good. But none of them comes close to “Road to Nowhere,” a movie that goes outside what most people think a movie is supposed to be. Director Monte Hellman is so far into his own dream that he loses, or pretends to lose, the movie. “Road to Nowhere” is all about letting go of the reins and being dragged though the crimson pastures by a movie gone loco.
Take a look at Monte Hellman’s filmography and you’ll find half a dozen masterpieces throughout a half century of film-making. His best pictures were so out of step with what his so-called peers were making that he never got a piece of that “golden era” pie that everyone was saying was so sweet. 1965’s back-to-back westerns “The Shooting” and “Ride in the Whirlwind” weren’t much like westerns at all, yet their existential dread fixed the direction of the “new westerns” that would follow. “Two Lane Blacktop, “ which pitted James Taylor on a cross country drag race against Warren Oates, was about the slowest fast-car movie anyone had ever made, and had the misfortune to be released just four months after the heart-stopping “Vanishing Point.” Then there is “Cockfighter,” with Oates under a vow to keep his mouth shut until he wins the cockfighter of the year award. So we have a movie in which the protagonist doesn’t speak a word until the end, Not only that, but it was released to drive-in theatres under the lame title “Born to Kill”, in the same month that saw the release of Sam Peckinpah’s higher-profile but similarly offbeat “Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” also starring Warren Oates. Then there is “Iguana,” a cautionary fable about a deformed man who crowns himself king of an island and enslaves all those who wash up on his beaches. It was a brilliant film with many fearsome touches but went unseen and unappreciated. Now, twenty-two years later, Hellman returns to prove that when the light is on his side, he is still a damn good movie director.
From the beginning, we can’t be sure if we are in the right theatre. A journalist who has sold her article about some mysterious woman named Velma pops a DVD into her computer. A voice tells us Velma is the entrance into the film, but what do we know of any Velma except such a name was once given to a character in a Raymond Chandler novel? We have come to see a Monte Hellman picture, and the credits tell us we are watching a film by Mitchell Haven.
When a director holds a shot longer than seems necessary, it is usually because there is something in that shot that he is giving the audience time to discover. Not so here. Velma, or the actress playing Velma, possibly before she even knew she was playing Velma, or maybe when she actually was Velma, paints and blow dries her fingernails. The length of the shot seems to be determined by the length of the song (“Help Me make It Through the Night”) that Velma listens to while doing her nails, but the shot doesn’t end with the song. When the song is over, the sound of the blow dryer fills the space, and the shot doesn’t end until Velma finishes drying her nails, and the following shot depicts Velma directing the dryer to her face. The opening sequence, comprised of these two shots, ends in the silence when the blow dryer is turned off. So why did we spend so much time watching a girl with her blow dryer? Because she is the entrance to the dream.
If ninety percent of a director’s job is in the casting, Mitchell Haven comes across as ninety percent of an idiot, having turned down Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlett Johansson in favor of a has- been leading man gone to seed and an inexperienced girl. In his own words, he is not the kind of director to cast celebrities simply because they will enable his films to make money. But his Laurel Graham is such a bad actress that she is liable to cost him the movie. To emphasis how bad she is, Hellman follows a screening of the abysmal dailies with a scene of Graham and Haven watching “The Lady Eve” in a hotel room. Not only is Graham no match for Barbara Stanwyck, but Haven is certainly no Preston Sturges. And they both fall into that chasm standing between inspiration and capability.
The difference between a dream and a nightmare is that a nightmare has a plot. Dreams are held together by associations so free that the dreamer is always certainly mad. Haven’s scriptwriter tries to hold the movie together, but Haven has already cut it to ninety pages and the film is still running four hours. There is no time for narrative coherence. The actors are losing their lines as the film becomes completely about Velma, and the film crew watches drearily as the shoot goes into the toilet. Or so it seems. It is the syndrome Fellini explored in “8 1/2,” in which the director is the only person who knows what the movie is about and the director doesn’t know what the movie is about. However, if he keeps looking for the movie, at the expense of simply filming the script, the movie has a chance of breaking out of its doldrums and emerging as a real work of art.
Instead, Haven’s picture becomes a dream that trespasses against reality, and ends in a crime scene where the camera-wielding director is ordered by the police to drop his weapon. And what about Hellman’s picture? For one thing, Hellman doesn’t get lost , as does Haven, in Laurel Graham. Instead, he searches for the lost Laurie Bird, who starred in both “Two Lane Blacktop” and “Cockfighter” before shacking up with Art Garfunkle and committing suicide at the age of 25. “Road to Nowhere” is dedicated to Laurie, and she is the real key to the film, just as Warren Oates was the spectre that haunted and informed “Iguana.”
How far into his dreams does the filmmaker dare travel in the attempt to resurrect the dead from the ruins of memory? Hellman goes all the way, knowing that art is his only means of bringing the dead back to life. In the title song, Tom Russell sings, “ Even Lazarus keeps staggering down that eternal road to nowhere.” And so does Hellman. His movie is filled with his love for the movies and all the people who make them, from the anguished scriptwriters who despair at seeing their work reach the screen intact to the actors and actresses whose inner light isn’t always enough to light up the movie screen.
Art cannot be made from stale templates that provide easy access to a mass audience. Hellman has always made genre pictures, but has always subverted the genres and, in so doing, has stretched the possibilities for the genre filmmakers who followed him. It always takes someone who is willing to sacrifice logic for a higher truth to break open a genre and share the goods inside it. “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” would have been impossible without “Ride in the Whirlwind.” “Iguana” would have been impossible without “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” And “Road to Nowhere” would have been impossible without “The Big Sleep.” Where most directors are content to tell a story, the best of them want to break through the story into the dream where it had its inception.
There is a scene about forty minutes into the picture in which Haven talks with Nathalie Post, the blogger who broke the true-crime story upon which his film is based. When Post complains that the motives of the criminals don’t make any sense, Haven replies, “If it all made sense, I wouldn’t be interested.” I am sure this line echoes Hellman’s sentiments exactly.
“Road to Nowhere” screens at the Grand Illusion Cinema Aug 12 -18
Seattle Film Guide July 22 – 28
Opening This Week
Tabloid ”cracks and fractures into an array of contradictory narratives” — David Schmader, The Stranger
Captain America: The First Avenger ”So what is Captain America fighting for? Nothing more or less than screen time in next spring’s The Avengers.” — Karina Longworth, The Weekly
Friends with Benefits ”While trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.” — IMDB
If a Tree Falls: a Story of the ELF Read Bill White’s PostGlobe Review
Project Nim ”A tough movie to watch, but that’s just because it’s willing to take a stand.” — Paul Constant, The Stranger
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan ”In squeezing the raw material of Lisa See’s 2005 period novel through a partly contemporary frame, director Wayne Wang adds a charge of relevance to a story otherwise hinged on the dated traumas of foot binding and arranged marriages, playing up China’s rapid modernization while effectively suggesting that the secret rituals of female friendship transcend generations. — Karina Longworth, The Weekly
A Little Help ”The film’s title needs a question mark, as our drowning heroine must grab her own bootstraps, but for all its sincerity, the film is as average and forgettable as most CBS comedies.” — Aaron Hillis, The Weekly
Tourist Trap (Grand Illusion, July 22,23 at 11 pm only) Read Bill White’s PostGlobe Review here
Passione: A Musical Adventure (Grand Illusion, July 23,24) “at once a documentary and a musical” — Charles Mudede, The Stranger
Redland (NWFF, July 22-28) “T here is nothing in this film but cinematography.” — Charles Mudede, The Stranger
Into Eternity (NWFF, July 22-28) “Into Eternity is cinema as philosophy. And philosophy is at its best when it’s future-thinking (“philosophie der zukunft”), in the way that music is at its best when it’s future-sounding (“zukunftsmusik”).” — Charles Mudede, The Stranger
Stand By Me (Grand Illusion, July 22- 28) Rob Reiner’s 1986 picture based on the short story “The Body” by Stephen King.
Bad Teacher ”The general argument holds that because studios produce so few films built around strong lady protagonists, Hollywood must hate women. But be careful what you wish for.” — Karina Longworth, The Weekly
Beginners Read Bill White’s PostGlobe review
A Better Life “Pitched to tug at even Arizona governor Jan Brewer‘s heartstrings, A Better Life takes on the combustible topic of illegal immigration through the soft, safe focus of father/son bonding, with a heavy nod to The Bicycle Thief.” — Melissa Anderson, The Weekly
The Last Mountain Read Bill White’s PostGlobe Review here
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If a Democrat is a Republican in denial, a middle-class militant is a glutton with a bellyache. The Oregonian brats who ratted each other out to avoid serving jail sentences for arson attacks against timber companies are proof of the superficiality of such diaper-rash radicalism. Of the dozen or so members of the Earth Liberation Front who were charged with terrorist acts, only three had the courage to face the consequences of their actions. The rest spilled their guts to the feds and then went home and hid under the protective skirts of entitlement. For his part, Daniel McGowen was branded a terrorist and sentenced to seven years in a special cell.
“If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” takes multiple approaches to issues related to militant protest in the shut-your-mouth era of clamped-down democracy, when all it takes to be labeled a terrorist is to impede the destructive actions of an impetuous capitalist.
The ELF were a group of radical environmentalists who claimed responsibility for arson attacks against timber companies, horse slaughterhouses and a ski lodge in Colorado that was endangering the surrounding forests. As their strikes against property never caused harm to human beings, the FBI’s labeling them as “the number one domestic terrorist threat” was somewhat exaggerated.
Directors Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman don’t whitewash the criminality of the ELF’s actions, but they do stop short of putting them in the same category as those who attacked the World Trade Center in 2001.
McGowen is no Timothy McVeigh. He is more like an overgrown baby who threw a rock a the school bully. The film takes a cold, hard look at police violence against dissenters, not only in their footage of the WTO police riots in Seattle, but in rare films showing the sadistic torturing of environmental activists in Oregon. Now, a bunch of well-fed malcontents have no right to go around burning down businesses, but they do have a right to form barricades to protect the deforestation of their environs by greedy timber companies. But when the rights of the people are curtailed, some of them are bound get a little sociopathic in their next-stage response.
In the end, we are left with the question of how dissent can be expressed in a climate in which non-violent protest is punished with assault by chemical sprays and billy clubs, and militant action results in being branded a terrorist when the march for peace has ended.
“If a Tree Falls” screens at Varsity Theater July 22 to July 28
Seattle Film Guide July 15 – 21
Pianomania (Varsity, July 15-21)
Unlike the 2008 documentary, “Note for Note: The Making of Steinway L1037,” which interspersed scenes of musicians testing the pianos with a look at the craftsmanship and artistry that goes into the building of the instruments, “Pianomania” focuses exclusively on the relationship between the piano technician and the pianist in the preparation of the piano for concert performance and recording. As such, Robert Cibis and Lilian Franck’s 2009 documentary, only now being released in the States, makes a perfect companion piece to the earlier picture. It begins with Steinway piano tuner Stefan Knüpfer assisting the ebulliant Lang Lang in finding the perfect pitches by experimenting with soundboard accessories that will adjust the instrument’s sound output to the particular concert hall. It concludes with a long and fascinating segment about the tuning preparations for Alfred Brendel’s Bach recordings. If the pianists come across as being obsessively exacting in their demands for tonal perfection, their concerns are for the quality of the work itself , not, as the demands of so many popular performing artists, for personal comfort and ego gratification (do the Rolling Stones really need a snooker table backstage?) Cibis and Franck are as articulate in their film-making as is Knüpfer in his tuning, crafting a suspenseful sequence from Brendel’s choosing between two grand pianos for his recording and balancing the tenacious discipline of Knüpfer’s work with the levity of his camaraderie with fellow tuners. The directors also allow themselves the visual freedom to move away from the musical mechanics to color the film with some unexpected transitional material.
The Last Mountain (Varsity, open ended run)
With news media covering less and less of the news, we are coming to rely more on documentary film to tell us what is happening in the world. Entertainment media may not be the best way to discover that our food is killing us, that people in Bolivia have no rights to their own water, or that the US is torturing terror suspects in secret prisons, but it provides an entry into those subjects that we can choose to pursue after the emotionalism of the propaganda no longer engages nor enrages us. Did you know that coal companies are blowing off the tops of the Appalachian mountains, leaving cancer-stricken children in the wake of West Virginia’s Coal River Valley’s industrial decimation? If not, Bill Haney’s documentary “The Last Mountain” is the place to start finding out about it. The danger of this type of education is that the subject is often forgotten once the movie is over, so don’t let “Mountaintop Removal” be the Outrage de Jour until the next titillating documentary comes along. Stay on top of the news by following the news. Here is a link to the website that will keep you up to date on the struggle to save Coal River Mountain:
And remember, wind power is the sustainable energy, not of the future, but of the present.
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Hanging out at Duke’s Restaurant in Hollywood’s Tropicana Motel sometime in the Spring of 1979, I asked my friend Chuck if he’d seen any good movies. He answered that “Tourist Trap” was the best thing he’s seen in about a year. As the ad for the picture looked like a cheap cash-in on “Magic,” which had come out around Thanksgiving, I thought he was putting me on, so I didn’t even listen to his raves about this comeback event for Chuck Conners. Had I been paying attention I might have caught “Tourist Trap” on a triple feature at The World on Hollywood and Gower for 99 cents. As it was, I didn’t see it until 1983, a rental from Videosmith that I watched alone on a crappy couch in my Mass Ave apartment just outside of Harvard Square. Chuck had been right, and I kicked myself for missing the chance to have seen it on the big screen.
The screen at the Grand Illusion isn’t exactly big, but they run 35 mm prints, and if you sit up close enough, you can pretend you are back in the grind-house seventies discovering a masterpiece. Conners plays the owner of a marionette museum who has gone insane after …..Well, I’m not going to tell you the story. Even though you’ll figure most of it out as it goes along, it is still fun to think you are the one doing the figuring. I will say that director David Schmoeller, who studied theater in Mexico with Alejandro Jodorowsky, takes everything you could want in a horror movie and mixes it up into something that seems original. More than that, he has the audacity to subject the audience to things that can’t possibly be happening without giving a phony explanation about it. He pulls off a structural coupe by making it look like most of the cast has been killed off in the first half an hour and then bringing some of them back for encores, which makes the final reels speed by.
The scariest thing about a marionette has got to be the way the lower half of the face drops away when they smile, leaving us staring into a huge square mouth after the spring holding the jaw in place has busted. The scariest thing about Chuck Conners is that he is still playing good guy Lucas McCain from the Rifleman while going about the business of a Jim Thompson psycho killer. As horror pictures from the seventies go, “Tourist Trap” is right up there with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” “The Abominable Dr. Phibes,” and “Halloween.” Schmoeller is not a director who fools around; he plays it tight and to the point, not only throwing scares from all corners of the field, but putting a few things into your mind that rarely make it through the doors of perception.
“Tourist Trap” screens July 15-16 and July 22-23 at 11 pm at the Grand Illusion Cinema
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Whether the Neptune is going to make it as Seattle’s newest professional music venue is still a big if, but the wine , women, and song gushed freely within its steaming walls on Saturday night, when five of the region’s most visible female performers rotated through two hours of passion and crisis in the tuneful playground of song.
The evening began at 7 pm with a wine-tasting, and the cocktail-party ambience was palpable. When the music started an hour and a half later, it took a while for it to overcome the feeling of “class entertainment” at a corporate Christmas party and morph into a proper concert.
With only eighty available seats on the main floor, most of the crowd was left standing in the wine-tasting area, where chairs could have been effortlessly and conveniently set up in the amply vacated spaces. Instead, there was much shuffling and shifting that would have been swallowed up in the roar of a rock concert, but was ill-suited for a listening event.
The talent was well-chosen, although vintage performers Barbara Ireland, Carla Torgerson, and Kim Virant outclassed newcomers Star Anna and Victoria Wimer-Contreras. Considering that concert promotion promised these singers would be “performing their favorite songs by women artists that have inspired and influenced them,” Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” seemed an odd footing from which to launch the proceedings. Several other songs written by men were featured in the production, but most of them, including Bruce Springsteens’s “Because the Night” and Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” were popularized by women singers. “I’ll Be Seeing You” was a Bing Crosby song sung from point of view of soldiers fighting wars overseas who lamented the absence of their wives and girlfriends. Although Billie Holiday succeeded in giving it a more universal meaning, the song has been most associated with male vocalists. Wimer-Contreras sang it acapella, with a little too much bombast in her lower tones. Barbara Ireland was then lifted onto the edge of the piano where she kicked up her legs and proved there was still room for re-invention in the realm of the saucy torch singer.
Star Anna, accompanying herself on piano, followed with the first of her songs in the narcoleptic variance of country music that began with The Cowboy Junkies and ingratiated itself into the Northwest music landscape through such artists as Neko Case and Jesse Sykes. Carla Torgerson continued in the country style with an unaffected rendition of Mary Margaret O”Hara’s “Dear Darlin,” after which Kim Virant displayed excellent dynamics on Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me, “ beginning in a sultry whisper and blossoming into a roaring chorus, then modulating keys to turbo-charge the second verse.
So ended the first of four rounds. As the evening developed, Wimer-Contreras’ over-singing became more tiresome, although those who have waiting all these years for Cher to cover Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” will disagree. Torgerson got better with every song, finally reaching a kind of “Astral Weeks” transcendence on her last number, an original song written about growing up in the University district. Star Anna redeemed herself with a incendiary treatment of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” that featured Torgerson and Ireland on backup vocals. Virant provided the evening with its most delightful moments, bringing a sense of fun to everything she did. Ireland put something of herself to each selection, from the elegance of Gershwin’s “Summertime” to the kitsch of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are made For Walkin’.”
Seattle music critic Gene Stout hosted the event with an empathetic intimacy toward both the singers and the songs. As the long time critic for the now missed and lamented Post Intelligencer, he has been covering the likes of Kim Virant and Barbara Ireland through the length and breath of their careers. It was great to see him singing backup with them during the final song, “Ring of Fire.” He was both beaming fan, supporting critic, and privileged participant in the concert’s final moments.
Wed July 6th
3:30 7:00 10:15
Thu July 7th
Full Metal Jacket 2:30 7:30
Dr. Strangelove 5:15 10:15
Fri July 8th
A Clockwork Orange 12:15 7:00
The Shining 3:30 10:15
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Like “1984,” for which Orwell transposed the date 1948 of the novel’s true setting, “A Clockwork Orange” is a future-tense satire of the present day. From the American perspective, it could be an imagining of the seventies without the peace and love intervention of the sixties, the hoods of “West Side Story” taking a nihilistic jump across a decade into the next generation. What surprised me about the movie’s reception was how readily Alex was adopted as a role model by the post-hippie alterna-teens, both for his amoral expression of hedonism via ultraviolence and his teddyboy gone glam fashion sense. (Seeing the movie again two years later. I asked for a refund after twenty minutes, not having been able to take the closeness between Alex’s droogs and the creeps like Ted Bundy who were terrorizing our own streets.) Beyond this, Kubrick had also showed a keen insight into the likely direction of trends, including the development of the record store into a mini-mall and the milk bar as a cross-generational opium den.) Some of my friends unfairly dismissed the brilliant art direction and set design as being too much like a cartoon. I think they were looking for reasons to avoid engaging with the picture, and the ambiguities it presented in regard to championing a villain as reprehensible as Alex. The film allowed no comfortable moral position from which the viewer could dissect him. Everyone in the theater was an accomplice to the crimes committed in the first act. Shocking as were the murders and the rapes, we enjoyed partaking in them, and kicked Patrick McGee along with Alex to the rhythm of “Singin’ in the Rain.” In the third act, when he was on the other end of the stick, we were still with him, not with his tormentors, although they were the ones on the high ground. In the end, we celebrated his cure from the cure and were happy that the old Alex grimace had returned. More murder, more rape, hurrah!
“The Shining” is the story of a man who hates his wife and son so much that he wants to murder them. It is the perfect opportunity for Kubrick to fragment the family unit into its irreconcilable components. The father works (or pretends to), the wife cooks (or at least opens some cans), and the child plays (if riding a tricycle through a hotel corridor looking for or trying to outrun ghosts can be considered child’s play). Their activities should never intersect, for by such commerce are the seeds of family discord sown. Kubrick is not too concerned with spookshow logic. When a ghost appears, it is best we accept the supernatural and all that comes with it, leaving such questions as whether or not a man can get drunk on imaginary bourbon to the comic book convention panelists. What concerns us here is not why Jack figures so prominently in a photograph from the Overlook Hotel’s 1921 New year’s celebration (Stephen King’s novel is the place to go for explicit explanations of paranormal events), but how this guy ended up marrying this girl and having this son. Perhaps there is a religious explanation. Father, Son, and Holy Mary anyone? I’m afraid there is no explanation for any of it. “The Shining” is simply the best major studio spooko since Robert Wise’s “The Haunting,” which also took a callously transcendent view of its victim protagonists. I went to the Cinerama to see this with a pack of fellow workers from the Last Exit on Brooklyn. One of the guys cried “Ripoff!” as we left the theater. He was one of those pseudo intellectuals whose misreading of literature caused him to feel a kinship with Charles Bukoswki when he was only 24 years old. This guy, who dreamed of starting his own literary magazine and calling it IronWire, felt Kubrick had tricked him into seeing a lowly gross-out movie. Although he found the film unworthy of Kubrick’s name, I saw many similarities between it and his earlier pictures. Beginning with the minimalist home furnishings, even in a luxury hotel. For me, the film was about the trajectory of human life, how we keep to our own track even when we are supposed to be merging with others. Danny racing through the twisty corridors on his tricycle, then winding through the maze on foot in the same curve, Jack maneuvering his car up the twisty mountain roads while his mind fails to make the right turns, careening him over the cliff and soaring through the air as the car continues to make its earthly ascent. And poor Wendy, played by Shelly Duvall bless her heart, who is about the sorriest looking thing in pictures, so infallibly stupid that she spends crucial final minutes trying to squeeze through a window that Danny could barely pass. As we left the theater, each following his own gait, I thought it odd that all of Kubrick’s movies were opened at the Cinerama, home of the city’s biggest, widest screen, as these last three movies had all been shot in the 1:37 aspect ratio, which is not much wider than it is tall.
“How did they ever make a movie of Lolita for persons over eighteen years of age?”
For two and a half years, I wondered about the answer to that question, and was beginning to think I wasn’t going to find out until I turned eighteen. Then, while browsing the newspaper’s movie section on a Wednesday afternoon in the dead of winter, I saw that “Lolita” was showing at a sub-run house in Greenwood, a neighborhood I had never heard of before, and there was no mention of an age restriction. I called the theater and asked about it, and was told the theater was open to all ages.
On Saturday morning I called bus information and was told where to catch the Greenwood bus. First I had to go through the usual rigmarole with my stepfather to get my allowance. He never just gave it to me. First he put me through the humiliation of asking for it. Then he would ask if I deserved it. I’d answer that I took out the garbage every day, and he would come back with the accusation that I never made my bed. I said I didn’t see the point in making my bed, because I was only going to mess it up by sleeping in it again. Anyway, this would go on for a while, and he would finally give me my two bucks. Once I got it, I tore out of the house, leapt off the porch and ran down the street, visions of that lollypop-licking girl with the heart-shaped sunglasses dancing in my pants.
Despite the assurance that “Lolita” carried no age restriction, I half-expected to be refused a ticket at the box office. There had been plenty of times when I was turned away even though there was no age restriction mentioned in the ads. I had to beg the box office girl at the 5th Avenue to allow me to see “Cleopatra,” explaining that my parents had dropped me off and wouldn’t be back to pick me up until the movie was over. The matron at the Paramount was made of sterner stuff, and held to her insistence that I was too young to see “Splendor in the Grass.” But the woman at the Grand Theater didn’t think twice about letting me in.
First up was Elvis Presley with “Fun in Acapulco.” His character was named Mike, just as it had been in the World’s Fair movie, and he was working on someone else’s boat, as he had in “Girls. Girls, Girls.” After eluding the affections of an under-aged girl, as he did in “Blue Hawaii,” he met a female matador, who kept him busy until Ursula Andress, the sea goddess from Dr. No,” came along. Man, what a rib cage she had.
Although suffering from guilt for the accidental death of his brother, Elvis had the three top hotels in Acapulco out-bidding each other to contract him as a singer, and the two most beautiful girls in town were clawing out each other’s eyes over him. It was a Utopian picture of adult life, one that I would believe in fully until the scales fell from my eyes shortly after my fifty-first birthday.
I remained in my seat during intermission, afraid if I was spotted in the lobby before the start of “Lolita,” he theater manager or one of his henchmen might throw me out for my own good. While waiting for the movie to start, I overheard a conversation between the two old ladies sitting behind me.
“No, they aren’t showing ‘Lolita’ this afternoon. That’s only on at night. They’re showing a kid’s matinee instead.”
“I’m glad to hear that. “Lolita” is not a movie for children.”
“It certainly is not.”
I didn’t want to believe what I heard, but feared it was true. Then the lights went off, and the next movie started. It wasn’t “Lolita.” It was “Gorgo,” an English monster movie that combined the stories of Godzilla and King Kong. That wasn’t in itself so bad, but they added a little kid as the hero who made friends with the monster and discovered he was just a lost lad and that his mother was searching for him.
I held on to the possibility that “Lolita” would be shown after “Gorgo” right up to the moment Elvis Presley’s name appeared in crooked red lettering across the Acapulco sunset. Dejected, I almost left the theater when I realized if I just relaxed and watched the Elvis movie again, there would be a good chance “Lolita” would come on next. It didn’t. Not then anyway. I stayed put and watched “Gorgo” again, and my patience finally paid off. I got to see “Lolita.”
When it was over, I waited at the bus stop for over an hour before I thought to look at the posted schedule to find out when the next bus was due. There were no more buses. This route didn’t provide any night service. I found my way home by following the bus stops. The three- mile walk gave me plenty of time to think about the movie.
The world must be full of men who marry divorced women to get at their children. They wouldn’t make a movie about somebody like that if his was an isolated case. That I had four sisters made me worry about my stepfather’s motives. Maybe he was going for the Lolita jackpot. I started thinking about his habit of going into their rooms at night to tuck them in, and how it sometimes seemed he spent a long time in their bedrooms. I wondered what my mom did while he was up there making the rounds. Maybe she was in on the whole thing. Maybe he had threatened to murder her if she tried to interfere.
I let my mind race on like this for awhile until my thoughts got too silly to continue, and I went back to thinking about the movie for awhile, I wondered what the Dr. Strangelove guy was doing in it. The drama teacher he was playing seemed like he had run right out of the other movie into this one by mistake. Then it struck me that he was a child molester too, just like the main character, and that guys like them might be wandering around in all sorts of disguises. Stepfathers, drama teachers, and who knows what else. The whole country was crawling with old guys who were trying to get at little girls.
No wonder they didn’t want anybody under eighteen to see the movie. The adults didn’t want any of the kids to have any clues about what they were up to. Or maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe the adult world was full of mostly normal people, and they had made this movie to alert single women with kids to watch out for sneaky guys like this who pretended to be in love with them but really wanted to slime their kids. In that case, the movie was for people over eighteen because it wasn’t healthy for curious youngsters like myself to be thinking about this kind of stuff.
The above has been excerpted from “Cinema Penitentiary” by Bill White