Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Existence of Robert Walden

Hey but I know you remember last year's Halloween Film Festival when a movie called THE VAMPIRE nearly destroyed us. It wasn't even about a legit vampire. It was about a guy who took pills made of bats! And it wasn't very good. And it was called THE VAMPIRE. So WHERE WAS THE VAMPIRE? It took the wind out of our sails. We didn't think we could go on! Why am I forcing myself to relive this? Well, this year's Halloween Film Festival, by contrast, has been going pretty great! BUT. Then there was this thing we watched called AUDREY ROSE. I guess it started out okay, with an eerily dreamy car crash. But then in the middle it turned into MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. Remember that? That's the movie where there's a trial that hinges on proving that Santa Claus exists. That's not a horror movie! And in the middle of AUDREY ROSE it suddenly turns into a courtroom drama about the existence of the immortal soul! HUH? And how it travels from body to body. And therefore you can't really be convicted of kidnapping somebody if she happens to have your dead kid's soul living inside her. WHAT! And everybody in the courtroom sits around nodding gravely like, "Hmm, makes a lot of sense when you think about it, I guess we should let this guy kidnap whoever he wants." MIRACLE ON 34th STREET handles this kind of implausible legal whimsy quietly and even believably. Here your jaw just drops. And you also realize that now you are watching a flimsy courtroom drama with a million holes in it instead of a horror movie. The defense lawyer arguing in favor of the human soul (!) is played by Robert Walden, the existence of whom the "blog" has proven before. And saintly soft-spoken spiritual weirdo kidnapper Anthony Hopkins sits there having long documentary-style flashbacks (I think) to religious rituals in India, where, throughout the movie, he has been sort of humbly yet obnoxiously bragging about living for a while and it made him so great and quietly humble and everything (it was at this point that Dr. Theresa realized we had been suckered into watching some kind of proselytizing religious movie for our Halloween Film Festival), and the movie suddenly cuts from the stock footage of India to the star of our movie, a little girl, inexplicably marching in a circle with some other little girls around a giant snowman in a schoolyard in New York or wherever the hell they are.
I mean a GIANT snowman! I'm not sure I can get across how big this snowman is, I mean, this is a towering snowman. (This "blog" "post" I found on the "internet" - "click" here - rightly compares it to THE WICKER MAN, which went through my mind too. [I should also include a "link" to this more appreciative though still skeptical analysis of the film.]) Then they put a crown on the giant snowman and set it on fire. Here you can see the girl being hypnotized by the flames because of her crazy soul and all. It made me think of the "burning the witch" segment in Fellini's AMARCORD (pictured), which I believe (if I recall correctly)
symbolizes the same thing the snowman seems to symbolize in AUDREY ROSE: the end of winter's tyranny. And then that made me think of the awesome beginning of Fellini's CASANOVA (below).
Which probably has something to do with fecundity, and so might be related to the coming of spring, I have no idea what I'm talking about, isn't that what's going on in THE WICKER MAN too, somebody help me, I just want to take my mind off of AUDREY ROSE. Then Fellini's CASANOVA made me think of THE LAST TYCOON, the movie version of THE LOVE OF THE LAST TYCOON, which kind of nicely captures the scene from the novel of the intoxicating vision of the girls floating on the big head through the backlot after an earthquake. That's an intoxicating vision it would be almost impossible to ruin.
But THE LAST TYCOON misses so much about the novel. Would you like me to tell you what? OKAY! For example, in the movie, whiz-kid studio exec Robert De Niro explains to a huffy "literary writer" exactly what a movie story is, and that's fine, but De Niro squirms and darts around and leaps about and gesticulates so much while he does it! Really laying it on thick. Whereas in the book, his character (Monroe Stahr) makes the exact same speech, but oh so still and simply... it's better. It's spellbinding! In the novel. A real centerpiece. And there's another big problem with THE LAST TYCOON, which I generally like. But let's not get into that. I do remember reading in Tony Curtis's autobiography about how handsome and fit he was in THE LAST TYCOON and it made Ray Milland and Robert Mitchum so jealous because Tony Curtis was walking around being such a fine hot specimen of manhood, according to Tony Curtis. I find it hard to imagine Mitchum giving a crap. BUT I'M GETTING OFF TRACK. Maybe I'm just avoiding AUDREY ROSE. A long time ago the "blog" used to tally up all the guys we saw in movies with cigarette holders, I can't remember why. Anyway we stopped that nonsense. But the prosecuting attorney in AUDREY ROSE, who hates reincarnation, is played by the stalwart John Hillerman (pictured), and he sits in judge's chambers puffing away on a cigarette through a cigarette holder. The man was born to use a cigarette holder.
I'll say that for him. The movie has a chance to redeem itself (maybe) at the end, when Anthony Hopkins tosses a chair through a two-way mirror (don't ask), a kind of neat effect that perfectly sets up (for reasons we shan't go into) a cathartic solution to all the troubled kid's terrible problems. (Robert Wise, who directed AUDREY ROSE, also co-directed CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, a much superior horror movie that's not quite a horror movie about parents who don't understand what their child is going through. But he didn't luck out twice with the child actors, I'll tell you that! Though I hate to cast aspersions upon a child actor. So we won't get into that.) BUT! And here is a BIG SPOILER. Instead of fulfilling the perfectly set-up catharsis that was right there in the filmmakers' hands, the kid just flat-out lies down and dies. The kid dies! Boom. She's dead. They killed the kid. No more kid. The kid's just lying there dead. No catharsis for you! And then there's a long solemn epistolary voice-over from her mother (!) about how that all worked out pretty well because her kid's ashes were sent to India (with her creepily beatific stalker Anthony Hopkins!) so maybe the whole reincarnation thing will go better next time. That's looking on the old bright side, I guess.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Their Actual Mouths

Someone has been reading all my "posts" about THE BIG MOUTH. And no, it's not you. It's never you. It's McNeil. He writes: "First of all, do Jerry and his leasing lady EVER kiss? I can't recall. Watch it again! Also a theme between TWIXT and THE BIG MOUTH you mention without actually saying it is their actual mouths! Remember how everyone had trouble talking in THE BIG MOUTH? I'm too tired to type more." Thanks, McNeil! Me too. But in his great monograph, Chris Fujiwara writes about "the failure of understanding, primordial in Lewis's universe." For more on the lack of communication in THE BIG MOUTH, see that essay from which I keep stealing images.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's a Theme

The Halloween Film Festival continued with a Japanese movie from 1959, THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA. "It's Shakespearean! It's Greek!" we said, trying to find the right word before realizing that "Japanese" was the right word, of course. But there is a little Iago-like character who runs around saying things like, "Push him into the waterfall! And if you miss, I'll stab him!" As you can see, there was a lot of white makeup with red around the eyes, a recurring theme around here lately.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's Wrong

I'm going to say one more thing about THE BIG MOUTH, and I don't think they cover it in that masterful essay I've told you about so many times. As McNeil and I noticed in our recent viewing, Jerry Lewis and his leading lady are dressed nearly identically in every scene they share. If Jerry is wearing red, she is wearing red. If Jerry wears black and white, so does she. And I think they even look alike. IT'S LIKE JERRY IS KISSING HIMSELF. Anyway, what is wrong with me? Do you know?


I forgot to mention the similarity between Elle Fanning's makeup in TWIXT and Jerry Lewis's makeup at the end of THE BIG MOUTH (see also).
I'm not sure it's apparent enough here. Jerry's skin looked a lot paler and the bags under his eyes a lot redder on my TV screen. But I urge you once more to read the article in which I found this frame ("click" here), the most detailed analysis of THE BIG MOUTH you will ever need. Do you need one? And in conclusion, this seems like a good place to mention (ha ha! There is no need to mention this at all) Jerry's braces at the end of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and the implication about his concessions to the monster he has supposedly defeated and also the way - SPOILER ALERT! - Elle Fanning's braces pop off with a comical yet terrifying "SPROING!" when her vampire teeth come out, or did I imagine that?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

To and Fro

Hey remember in the Geneva Bible when God asks the devil, "Where commeft thou?" and the devil says, "From copafsing the earth to and fro, and from walking in it"? You're probably wondering about my recent travels in the same way! Okay, you twisted my arm. But to understand my wandering properly we have to go way back to when my glasses fell off my head in the lobby of a swank New York City hotel some months ago. I lost a very nice silver pen in that same lobby! And Megan Abbott gave me a pen to replace it. Was the replacement a fancy silver pen? No! It was one Megan picked up in a hotel during her own travels. This pen was a gift from the heart! And cheap though it may have been, it was of an unusual and pleasing shade of blue, its body made of a sturdy, semi-opaque plastic, I believe. It advertised a company called Kimpton, which owns hotels and restaurants, apparently. So on my recent trip to Birmingham to do a reading, I thought I had left the pen Megan gave me behind in a bank! But when I came home it was just sitting there on the TV tray. While in my Birmingham hotel room, I distractedly watched the shoe factory show. Hey remember on GILMORE GIRLS when Luke had a daughter with another woman and that woman was angry when Lorelai (who was dating Luke at the time) hung out with the daughter and it caused problems in Lorelai's relationship? Well, now they are making Lauren Graham go through that plot line again on the shoe factory show, just like the other time they stole a plot from GILMORE GIRLS and marched Lorelai, I mean, Lauren Graham, through it. Lauren Graham is like some doomed soul, forced always to reenact the same torments! What a bummer. While I was watching the shoe factory show, Dr. Theresa was back in Oxford, having an elegant dinner with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls and T. Cooper, whom she had introduced on the Thacker Mountain radio program earlier in the evening. THEN! It was on to New Orleans, where I saw many of my fave former students from back when I used to teach: Abby, Elizabeth (wearing her mother's prom dress from 1968!), Burke, Rachel and SKIN MAG, Ryan, and Anya (wearing a wedding dress because IT WAS HER WEDDING DAY, a happy occasion I wouldn't have missed for the world). It was a lovely ceremony on the porch of an old house, the kind of house where I kept looking up at the attic windows expecting to see a gently approving ghost but I didn't. Burke gave me a book with this great first sentence: "Art has a way of undermining all aesthetic theories." Just like Jerry Lewis! I added the part about Jerry Lewis. On the drive back to Oxford, "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys came on the radio and I suddenly remembered going to see a feature-length documentary about the theremin back in Atlanta with Dr. Theresa - I think it was just called THEREMIN - and Brian Wilson was interviewed in it about the memorable theremin part in "Good Vibrations." You know how Brian Wilson thinks and talks. He's a genius! And he comes off very open and vulnerable and eccentric sometimes. And I think he said the theremin was scary and made him think of sex. Is that what he said? So, the director of THEREMIN was there for this screening (and as I recall, so was Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer!) and in the Q&A session afterward, some fool in the audience asked the director if it was "hard not to laugh" when interviewing Brian Wilson and the director shot back with shocked sincerity, "No, it's hard not to cry." And that came back to me so vividly while I was driving that I was completely absorbed in experiencing that memory and sort of forgot I was driving. Has that ever happened to you? Don't do that! It's not safe! Dr. Theresa snapped me out of it. And then I started thinking that Brian Wilson's genius might be profitably compared to Jerry Lewis's in its directness. When Kelly Hogan was just visiting us, she was trying to learn a Brian Wilson song for an upcoming performance. Hogan expounded thoughtfully on the lyrics "I wrote a number down but I lost it/ So I searched through my pocket book, I couldn't find it/ So I sat and concentrated on the number and/ Slowly it came to me so I dialed it/ And I let it ring a few times, there was no answer/ So I let it ring a little more, still no answer" and their relationship to the complex transparency of Brian Wilson (which is different than Jerry's complex transparency). Complex transparency! (It comes to me just now that the theremin documentary featured a clip of Jerry's encounter with a theremin in THE DELICATE DELINQUENT.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pushing the Anthodites

Don't watch this youtube clip. This is another thing that's just for McNeil. It's Jerry Lewis guest-hosting THE TONIGHT SHOW with Bob Hope as his guest. It will just confirm all your worst feelings if that is your inclination. Shame on you! Bob makes a bunch of awful ethnic jokes about the Italians and Irish then he makes an off-color remark about Ed Sullivan and then Bob and Jerry have some reactionary banter about "the young people today." It's 1970! Bob is wearing a striped jacket and what I think might be a powder-blue silk shirt. The commercials are included! One is for "wild blueberry" flavored cigars! An antiperspirant commercial shows us a new direction - understated, semi-documentary, almost like Godard shot it, it reminded me of MASCULIN-FEMININ. Edit out a few seconds here and there and it could be an indictment of pop consumerism. Repressive desublimation? No! But it used "revolutionary" techniques to sell antiperspirant. It really does stick out in the clutter. Don Draper probably thought of it. And of course you can see right there the world passing Bob and Jerry by. Then there's a charming local ad for Skyline Caverns, just a photo of two nice women standing in some caverns, I guess. (Not the photo presented here, obviously, but something similar.) And the announcer plays up the "anthodites" they have in the caverns. And when I looked at the present-day homepage for Skyline Caverns, well, they are still pushing those anthodites pretty hard! When we get back to the show, there's a lot of underlying hostility between Bob and Jerry, I think, some muttering about an incident in their past I couldn't quite make out. They're muttering at and over each other on television! Or maybe my hearing is going. Something about Bing Crosby. (A late addendum! Here ["click"] is some info about when Bing Crosby got scared that Jerry Lewis was going to pull off his hairpiece. Also - ironically, given how the times seem to have rushed past Bob and Jerry - a brash, pitiless, hilarious and supremely energetic young Jerry is giving Bing [by implication] a bunch of stuff about being old and passe.) Then when Bob leaves THE TONIGHT SHOW set, a big bunch of pencils gets knocked off the desk. Freudian! And Ed McMahon subserviently bends over and picks up all Johnny's pencils (another telling gesture!) and praises Bob Hope in a way that makes Jerry jokingly - but also not jokingly - prickly and defensive. Maybe all this helps confirm a bunch of scintillating analysis McNeil and I recently did of Bob and Jerry. My attention wandered so I may have missed a few things. Jerry asks Bob how much time Bob would give him on Bob's new special and Bob says "Thirty seconds" and Jerry says something and Bob says, "You bow for thirty seconds." Zing! It sounded like an ad-lib. A hostile ad-lib! But I don't know. And once Bob has gone, Jerry says a bunch of passive-aggressive stuff about how he admires the way Bob puts himself out there as a product. Anyway, why are you still here?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


October is crazy! I'm giving a reading in Birmingham and a talk in Savannah. Hmm, that doesn't sound so crazy. Well, there's also a wedding to attend. My point is that Dr. Theresa and I - in the wake of a similarly foreshortened McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival - may not be able to cram as many movies as usual into our Halloween film festival, that month-long, yearly event that I always tell you about even though (because?) you don't care. We've already watched four Halloween movies in a kind of panic: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE, the slasher movie (sort of) APRIL FOOL'S DAY, and the Francis Ford Coppola horror movie that came out just a couple of years ago (!) TWIXT. "Did you say TWIX?" Dr. Theresa asked. "Yes, it's based on the candy bar," I cleverly replied. Oh gee what fun we have. The closing theme of APRIL FOOL'S DAY features a lengthy kazoo solo! And then the closing theme of TWIXT goes like this: "Nosferatu! Nosferatu! Nosferatu! Nosferatu! Nosferatu! Nosferatu! Nosferatu! Nosferatu!" That's the chorus. TWIXT was recommended by Bill Boyle. While we watched it we ate sausage and peppers, which is a Bill Boyle specialty. But that was a coincidence! Nor was it an intentional tribute to Coppola, though I got part of the recipe from watching Clemenza in THE GODFATHER. It just happens to be one of the few dishes I make with confidence. It was our anniversary, as you know (?), and I cooked. I remarked how Brando-like the bearing of Val Kilmer was, and Dr. Theresa remarked with justification that he has been like that ever since he made THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU with Brando. At one point in TWIXT, Kilmer just starts doing a straight-up Marlon Brando impersonation (as he also did in MOREAU). Then he does James Mason! (That scene [above], in which Val Kilmer - playing a frustrated novelist - keeps retyping variations on the same sentence, bore a distinct resemblance to a pivotal scene in the ADVENTURE TIME episode "Root Beer Guy.") Val Kilmer walks down a lonely woodland path at night. "It looks like CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE," said Dr. Theresa. And it did! A minute later something reminded me of PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, and I said so, and Dr. Theresa said, "I was just thinking that but I didn't say it." It was our anniversary and we were thinking the same thoughts. Awww! We're adorable.