Click images for desktop size: "Light Still Shines On The Fair" by Alec Feld
Movie wise it was a disappointing weekend. Not enough movies and then they were pretty sketchy.
I finally got to see Dario Argento's "Mother Of Tears." I was looking forward to it. Its the conclusion of a trilogy that started back in the 70's with smash hit "Suspiria" (The first mother, Mother Of Pain) which was followed in the 80's by the stunning "Inferno" (The second mother, Mother Of Sighs.)
I'm an Argento fan. His career is full of the sort of highlights that would be definers in an American filmmakers resume. He started out writing Spaghetti Westerns! That phase ended with his collaboration with Bernardo Bertolluci ("Last Tango In Paris," "The Last Emperor") on the magnificent Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In The West".
Then he moved into gilago (Italian Grand Guignol) as a pathway to directing. (Horror is the usual path to starting a movie making career - even Speilberg started with "Night Gallery"). Argento's films were marked with sophistication, he evoked an evolving Hitchcockinan mode creating suspense and real people. Like all gilago his films were marked with a savagery bordering on the ludicrous but in Argento's stuff that extended not just to the villain and victims but to the world that housed them, our world. Every thing seemed probable in his movies ("Four Flies On Grey Velvet," "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage").
Argento developed his tools, extended them and himself and exploded with "Suspiria." He combined all of his previous experience into a semi-classic horror film. He showed style was substance. Plot was secondary to the people and the mayhem and the beauty of it all. His casts' costumes were always by the top Italian designers, Armani, Versace etc. His sets were designed by Memphis. His scores were by Philip Glass! He got Keith Emerson to go for his chirasco best and make a compelling soundtrack that went beyond songs. He used punk and heavy metal to create a link between the viewer and to establish a mood connecting the plastic and the flesh and blood. He innovated in every detail and made cool fun horror films come as close to art as can be comfortable.
Argento's films played like persistent dreams. Beauty, sex, and oddness floated around your eyes, hinting at secrets you knew you possessed even when the secrets evaporated in jaundiced sunlight.
While he was making/distributing "Suspira" Argento was working with maverick George Romero. Their collaboration resulted in the classic Zombie horror flic "Dawn Of The Dead".
There's been plenty written about this wonderful movie, some even examining the music group Argento put to together, Goblin, to compose the music for this examination of our new world. Argento and Romero are artists. The colloboration was not an easy one. They both distributed edits of the movie.
Romero's has humor and fear as well as horror. Argento's cut focuses on the horror and the tragedy. Its also about 30 minutes shorter.
If you've ever worked with some extremely talented people you know that often they can be insecure and possessive
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of their vision and talent. They mark their territory and guard it. I think its because what they see is so far from the realm of what we see that they get nervous that their vision might be false. Nothing detroys the thin veil of "genius" than making a blunder. Nothing hurts a genius more than losing that tag.
So I was stunned when Argento asked Mario Bava, the pioneer and light of Italian cinema, to come in a direct and shoot a sequence for "Inferno". It was a section of the film that he was having problems with.
The admission was incredible in itself, going to another to correct it has a type of eerie genius. It was a solid thing to do. The sequence involves a cute girl falling into a hole, the hole leads to a rich New York immigrant apartment that is perfectly preserved and brilliantly lit by diffused sunlight. The apartment is submerged in water!
Its an hypnotic scene, incredible and it only adds to the entire insane spectacle of the movie. Bava removes the fear of drowning and replaces that fear with a tiny sense of awe. As th girl swims through the museum like space, her clothes clinging and furling around her afraid to touch any of the artifacts it creates a unique prettiness, a prettiness that soon gives way to creepiness. When she finally explodes from the pool into the world the harsh light and more saturated blacks of the un-submerged world are oppressive and depressing.
"Inferno" also includes one of the most auteur like moments in Argento's canon. A blind man is being devoured by rats! He screams for help. Somewhere away a dimly seen man who seems modeled after Duane Hanson's sculpture "The Crying Butcher", grabs up a meat cleaver and rushes off, seemingly to offer aid. When he arrives at the moonlit scene he stares at the carnage and wordlessly drives his cleaver into the blind man's skull, over and over again.
The sense is that evil and hatred abound. There is no escape. The butcher has no place in the story at all and is never seen again. Its the random violence that makes the actualized plotted violence seem secure and safer than the world outside.
So I hope you can see why I was excited to see the closing chapter of the trilogy, a trilogy thats been 30 years in the telling.
And then to discover that the flic starred Argento's daughter,
Asia, was like slicing my wrists open and finding I bled rivers of gold instead or common crimson blood.
Asia Argento is a massive talent, in my opinion. As an actress, she's got an ease that can only come from having been raised on screen in horror films (she was like 8 when she debuted in Lamberto Bava's "Demons").
Its as a director that I think she's got the potential to be something so serious as to change the world. Its only potential though. She keeps falling short. I don't know why. With her movie, "Scarlet Diva" she showed an ability to look into people with the same unflinching gaze that her father used to get us to watch a silver knife plunge into a naked beating heart.
In her film "The Heart Is Deceitful In All Things" Asia bought her EuroTrash sensibilities to a Jake Lamotta like woman. She is evil and bad, abusive to a loving child but never a monster, always vulnerable and hating herself for being less than human.
I don't know what has to change in her life for Asia to make the brilliant films that are always bubbling in and out of the center of her movies but I hope to be there when she finally figures it out.
So with all this history, all this talent hanging there why was "Mother Of Tears" so disappointing?
I mean, its bad and ridiculous, so bad that I'm wondering if I missed the joke somewhere. Once my kids were discussing "The Blair Witch Project." They all hated it and thought it was boring but were afraid to say so. They thought maybe they weren't smart enough to "get it."
I thought that idea was stupid at the time, now I feel the same way. Maybe Argento was just talking to someplace over my head. All I know is that I was disappointed. There's nothing worse to be.
Its a boring mess. I resisted fast scanning through it because I kept "knowing" it would suddenly get good, but it only got silly.
There are some good gags, the opening death where the woman is strangled with her own intestines is . . . interesting. Watching Torino fall apart to unseen evil, was semi cool if over the top, but smashing up an expensive car is not the ultimate evil act . . . honest. Asia pursued by her dead boyfriend whom she has set aflame has a coolness to it, and Argento forcing his daughter to constantly cry "Mommy! Mommy!"
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has a cruel Freudian conceit to it. The same way you wonder why Argento likes to put his daughter into rivers of human excrement holds a quirky fascination. There are moments but the thing just looks like a rush job.
I could accept the ghosts materialized by the lesbian medium, not well, but I could cope. I couldn't cope with the whack episodic story line that bounced me around from confusing place to place. Why was she on a dangerous train trip to go someplace that she walked back home from??
And the ending . . . A whole lot of set up so Asia could grab a spear and . . . catch a shirt on the spear tip, rip the shirt off an anonymous girls back (so we can see some silicone breasts? a spear to keep evil at a distance?) and burn the shirt . . . and that kills the bad guys . . . she burned the shirt . . . and that killed all the bad guys . . .
It wasn't even a very nice shirt . . . the silicone breasts were okay, if you like silicone breasts, I guess.
When you compare this to Argento's Student, Michael Soavi's movie, "Cemetery Man" it looks like Argento has run out of things to say and forgotten how to say them. Soavi seems to be picking up the heritage and taking it to new places.
In "Cemetery Man" Rupert Everett is the care taker of a grave yard in a small Italian town. He spends his time digging graves, tending the grass, watching TV and killing the zombies that sometimes come out.
There's not a whole lot made of the zombies, other than they must be dealt with. Most of the time Everett spends worrying more about courting recently widowed Anna Falchi than fighting zombies.
Its a great movie! It delights and astonishes and terrifies. Monsters and people define greatness here. The student has surpassed the master and I just feel sad.
I also watched the Korean film D-Wars. There was a great section of it that was cooler than Transformers, when the ancient mythic creatures fight the US Army in Downtown LA! RAH!
From that section you could see how this flic could become the box office champ in Korea. But everything leading up to that point is pretty dull and too child like, especially too childish for the carnage to come. And the ending was just kind of mediocre in a "He Man vs Sheera" kind of way. In fact, the movie made me think of "Masters Of The Universe" an awful lot . . .
And finally I watched an old 1930's omnibus film, "If I Had A Million." I remembered seeing it on TV when I was a kid and it left an impression. As a semi-adult I was interested because of early work by WC Fields, Gary Cooper and the remarkable Ernest Lubitch.
The films conceit is that a self made multi millionaire hates his relatives so much that he decides to give away his money to absolute strangers picked out of the phone book. The 8 sections then show us some details of the eight lives and then how they use the money.
Some of the stories are funny, some poignant and painful, others sadly depressing and contrived.
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It was the best of the lot to boot. Its just hard to have a movie hang together with 8 different perspectives and styles. The bits I remembered as a kid were still great (the guy walking into his old boss with a rabbit on a leash) and I still love WC Fields (My little sweet potato!) I also enjoyed, as I always do, seeing LA in the 30's and marvelling at what is still left to recognize.
What's not disappointing is that my little blind dog is still hanging in. He keeps developing things wrong with him but then he spends more time being happy, playing and eating.
I'm selfish and don't want him gone. He makes me laugh and smile. I worry that I'm letting him suffer needlessly.
I don't get the idea he wants to go anywhere yet. He still follows me around like a . . . puppy dog. I know he's happy. Even when he wakes me up at night because he wants me to hold him.
My puppy is kind to him too. She'll still steal his food but she herds him when he's lost and never runs over him (like the others do) but waits for him to either move or at least move aside.