Saturday, June 29, 2019

Body Double (Brian De Palma)

The second of the two trailers is a unique piece of editing with a more artistic flair. Though it doesn't really give a strong impression of what the film is like, but it's of interest for editors or film enthusiasts.

Brian De Palma's 1983 thriller/noir film (and/or neo-noir) which had mixed reception when it came out, though given high marks by Ebert and amassing a cult following over the years. It's heavily influenced by Hitchcock, most notably Vertigo and Rear Window—two films that De Palma screened with Robert J. Avrech, the co-screenwriter. De Palma is often dismissed as competent but unoriginal, lifting elements from Argento here and there, from giallos in Dressed to Kill, and frequently returning to Hitchcockian thrillers. 

But paying homage or updating the style with a modern director's own touches is fine. It's all about the execution—not every film needs to be original, but it needs passion and it's own identity, all the same—something the viewer can be mesmerized by, or it's just memory holed as a competent enough piece of cinema if you've already imbibed the greater offerings, and unfortunately, that's exactly what this is. De Palma's only update is usually a more cynical and depraved vision from a subsequent generation and some light post-modernist trappings. To date, the best Hitchcockian film, often out-Hitchcocking Hitchcock is Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon's animated film, with dramatic color usage similar to Vertigo and the warped sense of reality of a Lynch film. This one is very typical by comparison. A movie De Palma is uncertain as to whether he wants it to be a run-of-the-mill, almost parodic, thriller, or an off-kilter art film with genre trappings (and/or deconstruction of said genre). 

It starts off swell enough with a kitsch cemetery scene, made all the more garish by the ginormous moon. out-of-place palm trees (who has ever seen palm trees in a cemetery scene?), and copious amounts of dry ice. The camera pans to a man in a grave, decked out in silly vampire garb and makeup, and the main character's weakness is revealed—his muscles lock up when he's anxious or in a tight place; a sort of catatonic state—a nod to Jimmy Stewart's case of vertigo.

The scene is revealed to be a film-within-a-film sequence, as if it weren't obvious from the props already, with a ridiculous movie director who looks just like Ron Jeremy (the film ended up being seedy enough that they might as well have casted him). 

Jake (Craig Wasson) is a struggling b-movie actor. He evidently doesn't know what sex sounds like, so even once he gets to the door with the loud sounds of his girlfriend engaged in coitus, he still has a smile plastered on his face until the door is yawning wide and he gets an eyeful of it. A dog is seen as he peeks into a messy room on the way to the big reveal—one of the age old symbols for fidelity, and being that the dog is surrounded by squalor, not to mention the sound, he should have known what to expect. 

The main character is an idiot and a loser throughout. Never doing the right thing. A sleaze bag.  A bad actor who plays in bad films. You wonder how he can even afford the place he's living in until it's revealed that he kicked himself out of his girlfriend's apartment. Passive, used, and powerless—he goes numb during many pivotal points in the film—and since the film is mostly about sex even when there's no sex being engaged in, it can be seen as a sort of impotence. 

Not long after the opening sequence there are several visual gags with matte paintings, revealed either by their carriers tilting the painting or the camera revolving around it. There's a regular return to elements of artificiality and film-within-a-film reveals, all the way up to the jarring and immersion breaking ending of the film. De Palma mostly plays it safe with this technique, but while some simply use it as a framing device and a minor commentary on filmmaking itself, he takes a somewhat ambiguous and alienating direction by the end, which I suspect is part of why the film wasn't terribly successful or popular among his oeuvre at the time. 

The cinematography by Stephen H. Burum is proficient, if not as spellbindingly technical as Szigmond's in De Palma's 1981 stab at the genre with Travolta as a sound man who stumbled onto a murder scene and conspiracy. Frankly, I didn't find a lot of scenes worth screen capping and the film relies more on the camera revolving around the characters and on cranes for the exteriors, and disorienting close-ups for much of the heightened scenes of stalking. Many of the static shots are actually fairly drab other than some of the moody interior scenes, and there is a reliance on quicker cuts in lieu of more dramatically staged sequences.

Sam (Gregg Henry) is introduced to Jake and runs into him a few times before he offers him a gig housesitting a rather extravagant home with a set of fancy telescopes and plants that require daily watering. It's constructed like a tower, looming over everything else. It's across from another expensive home, where Sam has been peeping on an attractive woman (Deborah Shelton). Jake takes over as the neighborhood voyeur while Sam heads off for an acting role elsewhere. 

Long, drawn-out scenes with awful new wave pop is played while we're treated to a sound effect of Jake unzipping his pants and long telephoto shots of him tracking the woman, who seems to be dancing for his enjoyment, often in the nude and bedecked with diamonds. These scenes are tedious and not particular titillating, if that was the intention. Instead we're left to observe a character being titillated. Not especially appealing. The trashy pop music is indicative of his fantasies, and it doesn't carry the depth a character study usually would—this takes a back seat to unfolding the plot, the thriller and suspense elements, and Jake's threadbare journey from passivity to dominance.

It continues on like this for a bit, with little of interest happening other than Jake losing his acting role as a vampire (a point which becomes important later on). 

One night a strange man is doing electrical work on a satellite in the neighborhood. It's very strange seeing this, and he seems to be a voyeur of sorts as well, watching the woman. He is exceptionally ugly and sinister-looking, clearly indicating he's the villain of the picture.

When Jake spots the man trailing the woman, he steps up his game, going from mere voyeur to stalker, following the woman through the busy streets and her daily itinerary. It's not clear if he would have stalked her if not for the sinister man in wait, watching her, following her. This is the impetus for his stalking. In some ways its a fairly standard fantasy of the disempowered male who is fascinated by a woman out of his league (or whom he's simply too craven to approach).

Usually it involves a scenario where the male can rescue the woman and reveal his good traits and masculinity, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Of course it's taken on a more perverse, fetishistic form because of his midnight escapades as a peeping tom and the stalking. Yes, his stalking does have good intentions, but it seems to be just as much a product of his desires as it is to protect the woman. It's later mentioned by the detective that he could have called the police, which he fails to do. If he were to insure her safety, he would no longer be able to pursue his heightened fantasy. He'd be back to mere peeping from the safety of his telescope, never bridging the gap to more anti-social behavior or further contact with the woman (at least he would have no convenient excuse to be in her vicinity or approach her with). 

Looks an awful lot like a Philip-Lorca diCorcia street photograph.

Jake is often stated as being average or even an everyman of sorts. But it's hard to root for him as the underdog or feel sympathy for him with his role as a veritable loser after the peeping, however, which inevitably leads the viewer to be slightly repulsed, perhaps even disinterested in his plight. But perhaps that's just me growing tired of such characters.

One might liken the scenario to the proliferation of porn and the graduating stimulus required to be satiated. He's frustrated after the scenario with his ex-girlfriend and seemingly has few prospects. Voyeurism is its own genre of pornography, and even stripped of the commercial pornographic element can become a fetish, often accompanied by or leading to stalking, if not further indecencies. He watches porn on the TV (a very important plot point that leads to the second arc of the film), and he even gets involved as a porn actor to unravel the mystery, leading him closer and closer to despair and death. And predictably, this is another film that interlinks sex and death in the sensational scene of murder the film is semi-notorious for.

"He hit me again," the woman says on the phone as Jake listens.

There's the typical setup of adultery and a marriage gone sour that's slowly revealed over the course of the stalking sequence through the mall and the apartment complex at the beach. 

Feeding into the voyeurism angle is the scene where Jake is watching through the window of a clothing store, while Jake and the viewer get to see the woman dress and undress through a parting of the curtain.

Jake's other half.

Does he remain silent because he'd be implicated as a peeping tom or is he simply exhilarated by the chase? 

Those panties aren't going to sniff themselves...

A reminder of the combination of the threat on her life, which is a partial justification of his pursuit, and necessarily woven with sheer desire is, not just the scene with the woman undressing, but also Jake snatching her discarded panties out of the garbage right in front of her (they play the same trashy pop song that was used during the peeping scenes to connect them). 

After a while of amateur hour shadowing, Jake finally intervenes when the woman is accosted by the more malicious stalker. He never even learns her name until he goes through the contents of her purse. Prior to that, she seems to notice she's being watched, pursued, seems to even encourage it when she walks through the sand, as if searching.

Jake locks up again when chasing the stalker, in the darkness of the tunnel, a narrow space just like the one he'd been locked in as a child. One could see it as rather Freudian, with the womb-like imagery of the tunnel, and the interrupted love making that was to come. 

There's nothing sexier than making out with the better-intentioned of your two stalkers, whom you've just met.

The dramatic revolving kiss sequence has a hint of the artificial with the soft backdrop, and it almost appears that it will be revealed as a matte painting, similar to the earlier sequences in the film. Of course it also draws very directly from Vertigo here.

Later that night, unsure of how to approach her, still having failed to call the police, he witnesses the murder in progress. When he rushes to her rescue, he is assaulted by her dog. Much like the earlier scene in the apartment with the dog and his girlfriend, the dog here is a symbol of sorts—a far more vicious and large dog, looking like a wolf that prevents the protagonist from marching into the bedroom to interrupt the lurid symbolic sex of the cat and mouse sequence upstairs.

De Palma denies the implied sexuality of the scene with the oversized drill used as a murder weapon, but it couldn't be more obvious. It's cartoonish enough that it's often considered a parody of the hypersexualized nature of such films.

His interview with the police is highly reminiscent of his earlier interview for an acting role in a Shakespeare play, which connects the dual worlds of the thriller he's found himself in and his life as a fledgling actor—perhaps they're one and the same, but the film never clearly answers that as it goes on to intermix the two.

Up to this point his viewing of the woman next door was relatively tame, but he views pornography on the television. The viewing experience is not unlike the nudity he saw through the telescope lens, though it has all the hallmarks of the typical porno of the time. Reality and irreality are confused as he sees a lookalike of the murdered woman in Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), an annoyingly plucky and naive porn actress whose routine also bears a resemblance to the performance of the dancing woman on the previous nights.

He seeks her out, starring in a porno and presenting himself as a porno producer. The movie Jake stars in at first appears to be part of the film proper, despite the terrible musical number performed by new wave group Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The crew is soon revealed in the mirror as he meets Holly, continuing the trend of the film-within-a-film setup. When he kisses her it mirrors the scene where he kissed the stalked woman. De Palma even cuts between the two sequences.

Surprisingly De Palma didn't cast the same actress to play both roles, similar to Luis Bunuel in so many of his erotic films. He gets a second chance with Holly, a stand-in for Gloria, but he has to deceive her to keep the act up. It's never made clear if he had the same desire for Gloria (the mirrored kiss scene would suggest as much) or if he merely wanted to solve the murder case. His body language and the framing of the scenes seems to suggest the latter.

He attempts to save Holly, again, given a second chance. The mask of the murderer is torn away. The dog growls at him from inside the stalker/murderer's car. Once Jake conquers his fears and overcomes his catatonia, he's grappling with the murderer, and the enraged dog breaks out of the window of the car as Jake emerges from the grave. The dog plays an important and escalating role throughout the film. It can be seen as both a symbol of some aspect of the strange adulterous ensemble presented: the original intersection of Jake, Gloria (the woman being stalked), and the murderer are a depraved love triangle, and this setup is similar, only with Holly in place of Gloria. The triangle ends with the dog pouncing upon the murderer and sending him to his watery grave. 

As the film seems to be heading toward a happy ending, it takes a turn for the bizarre.

He says he's trying to help Holly, but she views him as a sex pervert, sinks into the grave, and ceases to move as he pleads with her. He's branded as a necrophiliac and a corpse fucker by Holly, perhaps suggesting the escalation of voyeurism, to stalking, to murder (similar to how he viewed the escalation of his sinister counterpart). In some sense the roles here are reversed. Holly is in the grave unwilling to move and he's attempting to help her, much like how Gloria helped him out of the tunnel when he was in his catatonic state. The scene is similarly dark and narrow. Both scenes are near the water. The water is also connected with life and death, just as sex so often is in art. As he rises out of the grave, his fears conquered and the situation seemingly resolved, she falls into it, vulnerable, unmoving. It's at this point that the thriller would find the love interests coming together to match the romantic music played during the beach scene when he was stalking Gloria, but that doesn't happen. 

His catatonia prevented him from fulfilling his fantasy of saving Gloria during his first chance at the beach. Now it's cured, and he saved Holly, the stand-in, but it doesn't matter. Both he and Gloria and Holly were or became damaged individuals who met under peculiar circumstances. An adultress, a porn actress, a peeping tom. Love shan't flourish under such circumstances in real life, and it doesn't come to fruition in De Palma's Hitchcockian world either. These fantasies aren't really about love, anyway.

However, it's clear she's taking on the passive role he once embodied. Lying in the grave, waiting for her death at the hands of the man looming over her, just as the girl awaits her own death in the vampire film, as she takes on the role of fodder so many women before her have in thriller and horror films. 

He stares at her in confusion because while he is now dominant and behaving normally and has conquered all, his transcendence is solely preoccupied with what happens in the vampire film. This thriller storyline is no longer important, so it is discarded.

Jake is catatonic in his opening role as a vampire and is fired in the following days despite the director assuring him it'd be fine. He's compared to a baby during the acting sequence, and he has to overcome his childhood fears to transcend this role—to even act. When the murderer is shoveling dirt into Holly and Jake's grave, he says he'll give him one more chance to act. He awakens in his vampire garb, the opening scene replaying, but he has the knowledge he didn't have before. He confronts his fear in the coffin instead of walking out by redoing the scene. Back in the thriller scenario, he breaks free of his catatonic state. By overcoming his fear he successfully completes the movie and overcomes the murderer simultaneously. In the vampire film, he's essentially resurrected, the walking dead, who lives only to drink the blood of others, specifically fetishized women.

In the ending—the vampire film—he's groping a girl and on the verge of sucking her blood. It's a slow scene with the crew swarming around them and a c-stand arm in the frame. A realistic portrayal of a film set, with the cinematographer swooping in to meter the scene. The first girl is switched out for a body double, just as happens in the thriller portion of the film. Holly even makes an appearance with the last line of the film, connecting both stories even further. 

It's hard to tell which of these parallel worlds are real, if either are real. It doesn't really matter. It would seem that the portions with the vampire are real enough and he has to go through the trial and error of fantasy to transcend his more passive role of non-acting or voyeurism into acting and activities of a more active nature than mere voyeurism. It seems De Palma is keen on using the gore and nudity of the genre film to deconstruct the nature of these films—to say something about the process of transformation from being a viewer to actually engaging in such acts (whether it's of the mock nature of film or even that of the actual sadomasochist). 

I prefer to see Jake as a weak, not especially masculine man trying to overcome his insecurities, but he's manipulated into deviance—voyeurism, pornography, and the like. This all becomes passé, no longer a strong enough high to please him. Eventually he does what he would never have done before to satisfy that need to sate his hedonism. By the time he's at the end of the line in the thriller film. His path is already set. His fears no longer hold him back. And he hasn't taken on a positive masculinity, but a negative one as seen in the vampire film. Yes, it's just a movie—something artificial. But this is what he's been striving for all along? To play a terrible role in a terrible film that's only fancy is gore and nudity? It seems the only end is a mingling of the erotic with violence and a glorification of it for sadistic pleasures. Nothing about his life or either scenario of the film seems real. It's all fake. It's a confused mess of one fantasy world devouring the other and vying for dominance.

Additionally, there is an androgynous, freakish appearance to Jake when dressed as a vampire—a further debasement of his masculinity into something negative.

The whole thing seems too tongue-in-cheek and parodic, only farcically cerebral—pointlessly so. A pastiche of Hitchcockian motifs with De Palma's more brutal and misanthropic spin. It really has nothing new to say and the ride to get there isn't that compelling. Had they stuck with the basic thriller scenario and omitted the post-modern ending, I'd have been disappointed. I'm also disappointed with the final cut. A mildly entertaining and stylish film that deconstructs the thriller/horror genres, but not an essential one.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told (Dennis Wise)

Well, it's hardly a story never told. The actual story and many of the sub-stories have been recounted many times, yet, at least, rarely in documentary form is it ever told in a way that is sympathetic to Hitler or National Socialism. You can find books of this nature, but documentaries require a greater budget—that is, until the internet age. 

It's not really a documentary featuring any original content. As far as I can tell, Wise doesn't interview anyone or film anything on his own. It's a combination of still images, archival footage, documentaries from many production companies (including very mainstream ones like the History Channel), fictional movies, audio clips from commentators, etc. Perhaps some of it's taken out of context or image and sound/word are combined in a manipulative way, but it's not always easy to tell. Wise doesn't even narrate or find a narrator when he can find an audio clip or interview to support his writing—he scrolls text across the screen. With the frankensteinian or patchwork nature of the film—the production values are inconsistent, but it seems especially cheap when the viewer is assaulted by endless text scrolls that freeze the action.

A constant criticism of documentaries are the non-cinematic "talking head" scenes. This text scroll is similarly not immersive and very dull. Moving image and spoken word should harmonize. I didn't take the time to count the minutes for the scrolling text, but I wouldn't be surprised if 1-2 hours of the film consisted of this tedium. 

It's understandable to want to portray the Axis powers in a more neutral or even good light, given they've been demonized so thoroughly by the victors of WWII. The typical WWII documentary presents the Allies as almost angelic and the Axis powers as evil, satanic. One would expect more detachment from a historical program—neutrality without moralizing.

Of course this is a complete reversal. If the typical Allies = good | Axis = evil is cartoonish, then you'd expect the same of the reversal. This documentary practically does that. It minimizes anything Germany did during the war that might be criticized and greatly emphasized everything the allies did—sometimes in exaggerated fashion. 

This is a very controversial documentary and controversy requires much more robust citations than the established court historians—not that the viewer should trust them wholeheartedly, for they shouldn't, but when you take a controversial position, the status quo will look for any slight flaw to discredit an entire work. While they will give a free pass to the court historians in many cases. 

Sources are given at the end, but it's in the form of a bibliography or "recommended reading." I understand that it's quite daunting to include all of your citations in a documentary and very few documentaries do this, but at least the most striking claims should be accompanied by a well-sourced citation for the viewer to peruse. Much of the information in this documentary is actually pretty run of the mill and can easily be verified. Other claims... not so much...

If there's one claim that needed to be backed up, it would be anything to do with the "Danzig Massacre". The source for this seems to be Goebbels propaganda, and I can't find anything to back this up from non-German sources. Nothing from Polish citizens or any source external to Poland or Germany. I believe Hitler also references the 58,000-60,000 ethnic Germans being slaughtered by Poles, and that being the reason Hitler felt it was mandatory to invade Poland. General Remer stated in an interview that Hitler also relayed this information to him; however, Hitler and Remer simply lead back to Goebbels. This is not to say Goebbels information—being propaganda—isn't sometimes worth evaluating, but it needs to be cross-referenced. He also conflates the very real Bromberg Massacre (Bloody Sunday) with the dubious "Danzig Massacre", deceptively showing some very horrific scenes of violence from the former. I couldn't find any good sources on the "Danzig Massacre" online. It's not at all part of the official narrative. On sites like, which are generally sympathetic to Nazi Germany, you will find the occasional person pushing this narrative, but most forum users will say there is no evidence for this event. Similarly, CODOH, which is a revisionist site,  dismisses this event as well. There is a published revisionist author named Thomas Goodrich who allegedly supports the idea of the "Danzig Massacre." I'll have to hunt down his book, but I'm not expecting any real evidence... 

Additionally, for being called Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told, a great bulk of it is covering the German side of the war in a very broad fashion, often without any real depth. Many of the top ranking party members are never really mentioned, and Hitler often takes a back seat to pad out non-essential information—again, without much depth: Skorzeny rescuing Mussolini; The Pacific Theater. It's pretty pointless. 

Much of the music is saccharine. Obviously it should have more Wagner and classical music. Many of the movie clips don't relate to the story being told in any important way. For example, there's a long clip where Germans are being hanged. It's long and adds nothing that you couldn't express by simply saying they were hanged. It's a dramatized reenactment of executions, and not a particularly effective one. At least relay information while the turgid scene unfolds. There's nothing I despise more in a documentary than large stretches of dead weight. And speaking of dead weight, with a running time of over 6 hours, there's a lot of it! There's the occasional interesting tidbit of information, and it's nice to see a counter-narrative, but when you have what appear to be glaring holes in the research, sometimes shoddy production values, and a merciless length, it's hard to recommend it. 

Where to find it: it can be found on It used to be on Youtube, but it was removed, as far as I know. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)

The Long Goodbye is a 1973 noir film Directed by Robert Altman. It's based on Raymond Chandler's sixth book, and follows private detective Philip Marlowe (played here by Elliott Gould), one of the most famous characters in the detective/crime/mystery genre(s).

After B&W mostly became a thing of the past, aside from the occasional art film, noir lost much of its moody, often clinical, darkness and pools of shadow, much of the work inside the studio. The newer wave of colored noir films were much seedier, often eschewing the studios for the unfettered grime and bedlam of location shooting—the streets lined with trash and graffiti, the people often not as well dressed (save for gangsters and pimps in cheap suits, and the occasional upper class urbanites), drugs were just part and parcel of the urban environment.

Whereas the older black and white noirs were often just a momentary lapse into a darker world, with a clear juxtaposition of the two, the colored noirs of the 70s and onwards seemed steeped in cynicism—an individualistic, consumer-minded low-trust society.

At the least, The Long Goodbye is mostly beautiful to look at—thanks largely to the keen eye of Vilmos Zsigmond, one of the great American (well, that's where he did most of his gigs, anyway) cinematographers. There's a visual beauty to this film that's lacking in most color noirs. There's still a dreariness to the surroundings, specifically the city, and it gets even worse in Mexico (of course).

I'm not terribly familiar with Marlowe as a character, with the exception of reading The Big Sleep and watching the film adaptation, but Bogart was definitely a better representation of the character than Elliott Gould. This seems to be a different character, one envisioned by Altman.

The character really does seem a bit like a loser (even being called as much by the end and agreeing with the epithet)—kind of in the laid back, wisecracking way of stoner characters found in films since the 1960s, and a more modern equivalent might be Pynchon's Inherent Vice (or Anderson's adaptation).  His humor is on the drier side;  he mumbles many of his lines, seemingly to himself when the person whom he was originally talking to can't possibly hear him; he dresses well enough but seems like a slob, anyway, what with his posture and unshaven face; and he chain smokes like crazy, lighting a cigarette almost ever scene, smoke always filling the frame much of the time. Hipsters of today would probably find something compelling in this iteration of Marlowe. That pretty much completes the character of Marlowe in this movie.

Some scenes feel a little pointless, and the same could be said about certain segments of dialogue. It opens with Marlowe on a unfruitful quest to feed his cat. It easily could have been cut out. However, the intention was probably to humanize Marlowe a bit—make his everyday existence mundane like the average viewer of the movie. To show how banal and empty his existence is.

It's the 1970s. Plenty of hippies around at that time. Strangely Marlowe lives right next to a gaggle of women who constantly giggle and are high on drugs, presenting topless, and performing yoga maneuvers. It's part of the humor, and often commented on by Marlowe's guests. They are annoying, but they give a feel for the zeitgeist of that period. Toward the end of the film, the girls are more incoherent than ever and Marlowe fails to communicate with them. They don't even recognize he's there. It shows a big generational gap compared to Marlowe's origins—when the character was first used in the late 1930s.

Along the way is a side story about his cat. He makes several attempts to find it and even seeks help from the hippie chicks, uselessly. He never finds the cat during the film, and is completely alone by the end.

One thing I definitely noticed when watching, which is also referenced on wikipedia (referenced from a book):
Altman and Brackett spent a lot of time talking over the plot. Altman wanted Marlowe to be a loser. He even nicknamed Gould's character Rip Van Marlowe, as if he had been asleep for 20 years, had woken up, and was wandering around Los Angeles in the early 1970s but "trying to invoke the morals of a previous era".
This made sense because of how much this modern (at the time) era would clash with Chandler's character of Marlowe. However, it didn't feel as if the "Rip Van Marlowe" idea truly came through. It seemed like Marlowe fit in well enough with the era, but there was a vestige of that former era that was building up like a slow fire, and at its hottest by the final confrontational scene.

The story itself isn't too exciting: Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton), a friend, drives to Marlowe's apartment around the time he gets back with the cat food. In the scene where Terry is introduced in profile, and he's presented as clean and without any wounds. In his second scene, the other side is revealed with several cuts, dragged along his face like claws or the nails of a hand. Terry is in trouble with someone and Marlowe drives him to Tijuana. Marlowe gets taken to jail by some cops who think he might know something about the murder of Sylvia Lennox and where Paul Lennox is. He refuses to tell them anything and is in jail for three days before being released. It's referred to as an honorable act a few times in the movie, since he didn't snitch on his friend. Paul is declared dead by suicide.

From there Marlowe is hired by Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) to find her husband, an author, named Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden). Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson) is introduced as a minor character to whom Roger Wade owes money. Meanwhile, a gangster is looking to find Paul and the money he owes him.

Bit by bit much of what we learn turns out to be lies and Marlowe slowly unravels the case. Even as he finds more clues, the police are uninterested in reopening the Lennox case. When he heads back to Mexico, he has to bribe the police to get the final piece of information to solve the case.

The interesting thing about it all is that Marlowe's PI business is struggling, and it doesn't appear he even broke even or made enough money for it to all be worth it. Eileen must have paid him, yet not nearly enough for the trouble he's been through. But he ends up giving the $5,000 dollar bill as a bribe. It becomes, by the end, not about money. It's honor and tradition which seems to propel Marlowe on his course.

Many people who are Chandler fans don't like the ending and think of his actions as being out of character. They probably are right (It's best to think of this movie as an Altman film that was inspired by Chandler's book—not a faithful adaptation of Chandler). But all the same, the ending packs a punch and makes the viewing worthwhile. It's difficult to explain without spoiling it. Marlowe acts as a vigilante, bringing justice when the law refuses to budge. In a movie inhabited by corrupt and ineffectual cops, damaged and adulterous men and women, gangsters, listless hippie chicks, and murderers, his honor-bound actions seem revolutionary and anachronistic.

Mandy (2018, Panos Cosmatos)

Mandy, the 2018 horror film from Panos Cosmatos, is just as psychotropic in its reality-bending imagery and psychedelic coloring as his 2010 horror film, Beyond the Black Rainbow.

The credits open with King Crimson's Starless, and not only is the main character named Red (Nicholas Cage), but a red filter or the color red often dominates the scene, much of it being lathered in blood. Although crimson and red is probably merely a coincidence, it sets the tone well for what is to come with its gloomy melodies. Even the lyrics seem to suggest some of the themes of the movie—starless relates to the celestial imagery, bible black to the odd pseudo-Christian cult (more of a countercultural bastardization of Christianity) and occultic elements, and the imagery of eyes recur throughout the film.

The two main characters are nestled away in "The Shadow Mountains", an idyllic setting, along with their peculiar cabin (appears to be vernacular architecture) with walls comprised of many different-sized windows. They're secluded from society other than the demands of their work. Red is a logger, and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is a fantasy artist working a dull job at a convenience store, who paints scenes with women and strange creatures, similar to many depictions in mythology, such as paintings like Jupiter and Io (Corregio)Admittedly not much more than that is unveiled about the dyad, but it's suggested Red may be a recovering alcoholic (I considered PTSD at one point, since Red's age is right for him to potentially be a Vietnam veteran) by most reviews and media reportage. Mandy likely suffered from abuse—there's a scar on her cheek that's never explained and she tells a story about her childhood: her father presented all the children with a pillowcase, filled to the brim with young starlings, all of which were subsequently smashed by the father with a crowbar before their eyes.

The tale she tells about the killed starlings is foreshadowing for what inevitably leads to the second half of the film, just like the fire imagery from the lakeside camp that blurs Mandy's face as she emerges from the water and walks closer to Red, and the dead baby deer she finds when wandering alone through the misty morning sunlight of the forest—it appears to her like a sacrifice, and there are many more to come.

While walking to work, Mandy is spotted by Sand and his cultists, the Children of the New Dawn, as they drive past. He is enamored by her. He requests for one of his underlings, Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy) to bring her to him. Swan uses the Horn of Abraxas to summon the Black Skulls, a motorcycle gang consisting of strange humanoid creatures resembling the cenobites from Hellraiser. They seem to have the wickedest desires of humans, without much of the actual humanity. They are controlled by Sand's cult with LSD.

Sand attempts to initiate Mandy into the cult once they've kidnapped her, but it all fails, and leads to tragedy. They leave Red to die, his hands bound and bloodied by barbed wire. There are some allusions to Christ here. The wound in Red's side is much like the Lance of Longinus piercing Jesus's body, and the barbed wire and bound hands bring to mind the nailed hands and the crown of thorns. Sand remarks that Jesus's big mistake was not choosing a sacrifice in his stead. Thus ends the first half of the film.

Before continuing onto aspects of the second half and where most of the problems emerge, I'll delve into some of the context and symbols that recur throughout the film:

The film is set during 1983. Ronald Reagan is the president. He's featured on the Radio while Red drives home: "There's a great spiritual awakening in America. A renewal of the traditional values that have been the bedrock of America's goodness and greatness. An overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of pornography and abortion—". Red shuts the radio off, and the ominous drones of Jóhann Jóhannsson's soundtrack drowns everything out.

Looking back, it's hard to think of Reagan's speech as being accurately reflective of the 1980s. Red is apolitical and a flat character, but it's assumed he saw it as vacuous pandering as well. Since 1973 we've had 50 million abortions. And Cosmatos seems to later poke fun at the declaration by prominently featuring a porno throughout a fight sequence with Red and one of the Black Skulls, the TV finally exploding orgasmically from a shotgun blast. There was a nihilism brought about by the counterculture movement and the sexual revolution that was never quite abated. Megachurches flourished, a high amount of people claim to be religious but either irregularly attend church, are very casual in their beliefs or shamelessly behave in ways that conflicts with their stated religion. Televangelists and their flock were conjoined to the hip with the neocons. The alternative religions or spirituality birthed out of the counterculture was equally hollow and even more hedonistic. Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his cultist followers seem to represent the darker elements of that bygone era, merged with the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Similar to Manson, Sand is also a psychedelic folk singer and artist, and he plays his music during the initiation with Mandy in a disorienting scene. The entirety of the cult seems to be based on the false transcendentalism of hallucinogenics.

Mandy and Red speak of the galaxy, the planets that inhabit it. This is another important point in the symbolism. Mandy favors Jupiter because of its raging storm—the great red spot, peering back at its viewer like a large red eye—big enough to swallow the earth. Red's favorite is Saturn, but he takes it back and says his favorite is Galactus. Of course, the names for the planets came from Roman mythology and the planets feature heavily in myth and the occult, so there are a multitude of possible meanings. As for Galactus... I'm not sure that's a planet—according to wikipedia, that's a cosmic entity from the Marvel universe that devours planets. Clearly this is more of a dorky pop culture reference, though it may have some other significance.

Saturn relates to the god Saturn (Chronos in Greek mythology) and Saturnalia—a festival in honor of the god Saturn. Sacrifices are a core part of the festival. The death of Mandy is essentially a sacrifice.

Mandy is reading a book called Seeker of the Serpent's Eye:

Under the crimson, primordial sky, surrounded by the jagged black rocks of the ancient volcanic mountain, the wretched warlock reached into the dark embrace of the fissure until his hand touched a smooth glassy surface. Cold as ice. His fist closed around The Serpent's Eye. Slowly he withdrew it and held it before him in the fading light of the blood red suns. It glowed from within. A ghostly emerald light.

Strange and eternal. 
It's quite deliberate that while Mandy reads the passage, she has a one-dollar bill inside the book as a bookmark. U.S. currency is notable for Masonic imagery—a semi-secretive group steeped in occultic elements—the bill features the all-seeing eye of God/the Eye of Providence. The pyramid is also similar to the A-frame/triangular/pyramidal church at the end of the film.

The serpent's eye is important in occultism, and suggests the red eye of the storm of Jupiter. Both the knife used to stab Red and the Horn of Abraxas glow and an eerie green in close-ups—so it may be possible items associated with magic are represented with green colors.

This particular literary passage is also shown in animated form (though modified a bit) when Red is hunting down the cult. Before the animation starts, Red lays down in a field to sleep, a woman, who appears to be Mandy stands over a sleeping (or dead) monster/demon, and pulls from a wound (roughly it might be the location where Red was stabbed) an object that looks like a shining emerald, dripping a green substance upon her body. It's suggested that Red is this monster.

The Horn of Abraxas is also interesting. I'd recommend this article:

So exploring the rabbit hole of the Gnostic Gospels helps provide even greater insight into the demon called Abraxas. Our boy Abrax (that's what the cool kids call him) is considered a trickster demon. He takes on many forms and seeks to confuse, confound, and control humans through a form of spiritual subterfuge. Some scholars also make the argument that while he may not be considered THE eternal god by many theologians he is seen as the temporal form of THE God's present form. So like he is not the all-powerful God we need,he is the all-powerful God we have right now.
We also associate Abraxas with snakes and serpents. If we pay careful attention to the beginning of the movie we are treated to the titular Mandy reading from the Eye of the Serpent. A clear reference to the importance of serpents in demon lore generally and Abraxas specifically. The Gnostics believed Abraxis had two serpents as legs and often drew images of him having reptilian features. As things go from kind of strange to completely bonkers we are introduced to the demon bikers. These actual Hell's Angels are clearly servants of Abraxas by way of Jeremiah Sands, who might just be Abraxas. Shortly after defeating the demon bikers but before confronting Sands and company Cage visits a tiger keeping, drug making, guru who shows Cage the darkness around him by way of hundreds of large black centipedes. Those could easily be considered serpents for our purposes. 
Now, returning to the second half of the film, it becomes a generic revenge film:

He smelts a battle axe (will most likely become a popular replica weapon) and reacquires his crossbow from a man, Caruthers (Bill Duke), who functions as a wise man of sorts (referring to the theory of the hero's journey). He provides information to develop the Black Skulls.

At this point, the film is nothing but Red hunting down those who wronged him, with plenty of graphic violence. His descent into madness provides only further dehumanization and brutality—this is the closest he has to a character arc.

Only by tasting the LSD is he led onward to meet the chemist (Richard Brake), heading deeper underground into tunnels that lead to what appears to be another world with the church of the cultists—perhaps it should be referred to as an underworld. One might even think of Valhalla Rising during much of Red's transformation into an axe-wielding murderer, blood-soaked and garbed in a tattered vest, and wading through a warped series of visions barely resembling the reality he once knew.

The scene with the chemist is also filled with meaning. "Joven warrior sent forth from the eye of the storm," says the chemist. This comment connects the aforementioned references to Jupiter, which is Mandy's favorite planet. There is a tiger released from the cage—in earlier scenes, Red is wearing a shirt with a tiger on the front. The chemist says Red "exudes a cosmic darkness" and asks if he can see what he means. Red is standing in a pile of black, squirming leeches. Not only do they evoke his state of mind and his current place in the world, and how far he has fallen, but they also bring to mind the serpent mentioned previously because of their serpentine appearance.

Additionally, the dialogue from the chemist bares some similarity to portions of what Jeremiah Sand related to Mandy, his recollection featuring a mysterious interlocutor whom Sand speaks of in vague terms. The chemist tells Red how right he is, seemingly as a non-sequitur. The chemist says how they have wronged Red. Red is in a state of pain and despair, similar to how Sand once was, but now he knows what to do, for the chemist has guided him. Both Sand and Red seem to have been set down the path they're on with aid from drugs or those who concoct them, just as hippies and gurus sought enlightenment through drugs, specifically hallucinogens.

When he finds Sand's church, he has to go underground once more, deeper—equivalent to the multiple circles of hell in Dante's Inferno.

Caruthers mentioned that a special batch of LSD altered the Black Skulls—warped their minds. By the end of the film Red has power beyond that of a normal human, much like the Black Skulls—he crushes a man's skull with his bare hands by squeezing alone... he speaks in a distorted tone similar to the Black Skulls, and he declares that he is now the god that Sand refers to.

There are some details of the film that are not clear to me, but we could potential infer a sort of progression that the main characters is going through. He backtracks from Saturn being his favorite planet—he goes with a bugman reference of Galactus, perhaps a reference to his life before things went awry. Then there's the planet he first identified, Saturn, which links to Saturnalia and sacrifice. Next is Jupiter, the planet Mandy named—most importantly, the chemist recognizes him as a Joven warrior. He seems to move beyond this stage at the end by becoming less human—identifying as a god—a darker, more esoteric one than the familiar gods of Greek/Roman mythology. Something dark and sinister like the Black Skulls, but perhaps greater.

The final frame is that of a painted image of an alien landscape with multiple planets and seemingly it's an entirely different universe Red has found himself in altogether.

While I found scrutinizing all the different esoteric elements of the film interesting, and it's a fascinating audio-visual experience, the second half is still rather underwhelming with its cliche story of revenge and drawn out action. The humor, specifically the one liner about Nicholas Cage's ripped shirt, is a bit off-putting and detracts from the grim atmosphere. There's the chainsaw battle that is a silly homage to Evil Dead and just slows the pace down further. And looking back at the length of the film, it feels overlong at two hours.

The animations are particularly awful, and they would have been better off using practical effects akin to The Thing (John Carpenter) or From Beyond (Stuart Gordon). The sequences, being drawn, look nothing like the other visual and are quite jarring, not to mention a bit stiff. Thankfully they are not common.

For those who are concerned with dialogue and ample amounts of characterization, character development, or story, there really is not a lot to be found here. It's very much style over substance—perhaps the style is the substance, in some twisted logic.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Somerton Man (Gerry Feltus)

The Tamám Shud case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead at 6:30 am, 1 December 1948, on the Somerton Park beach, just south of Adelaide, South Australia. The case is named after the Persian phrase tamám shud, meaning "ended" or "finished," which was written on a scrap of paper found months later in the fob pocket of the man's trousers. The scrap had been torn from the final page of a copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám, authored by 12th-century poet, Omar Khayyám.
To add to the wiki: His cause of death was never determined, and any wounds on his body were superficial. It's suspected he may have died from poison. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam has an unsolved cipher on the back page, as well as a number to a nurse, which leads the detectives to many new leads, but none that can possibly close the case as of yet.

A good read for those interested in the case of Somerton Man/Tamam Shud. The way the chapters are laid out is somewhat disjointed, though perhaps there was a logic to the structure that I didn't notice while reading. It honestly appears that a lot of material is repeated. There's somewhat of a thoroughness to the work—heavy with pointless minutia that is really only there for the sake of completionism, and some of the information only pads the work out with little excerpts that quickly are revealed to not be related to the case and lead nowhere. Oddly, Joseph "George" Marshall and the Mangnoson case isn't touched on at all (well, if my memory is correct there was a brief mention of Marshall), and while I'm not convinced they are truly related to the case they add an extra layer of intrigue to the event, and it would seem Marshall was likely an influence on either Jessica Thomson or the Somerton Man.

It would have been nice to have included more about Prosper Thomson, but I suppose he was either ruled out early on or he was somehow not considered as a good lead and, hence, there's little information to be found. There is some dull information about Prosper prior to the death of the Somerton Man, but it doesn't really add much to round Prosper out as a character nor connect him in anyway to mysterious death.

It has some great and convenient material in the appendix, such as the inquest involving the coroner and other people who examined the body. Great as a reference tool.