Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Film Review: GO GO TALES (2007, Abel Ferrara)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Willem Dafoe (BODY OF EVIDENCE), Matthew Modine (VISION QUEST, FULL METAL JACKET), Bob Hoskins (THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, THE COTTON CLUB), Sylvia Miles (MIDNIGHT COWBOY, THE SENTINEL), Asia Argento (TRAUMA, MOTHER OF TEARS), Burt Young (ROCKY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA), Stefania Rocca (THE CARD PLAYER, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY), Anita Pallenberg (BARBARELLA, DILLINGER IS DEAD), Shanyn Leigh (PUBLIC ENEMIES, MARY), Roy Dotrice (AMADEUS, SUBURBAN COMMANDO), Joseph Cortese (AMERICAN HISTORY X, WINDOWS), Pras (of The Fugees). Soundtrack in association with Grace Jones.
Tag-line: "Un film di Abel Ferrara."
Best one-liner: "You can't put the dog in my gourmet kitchen!"

Described by its director as his first "international screwball comedy" and a mash-up of THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE and CHEERS, GO GO TALES is indeed an absurdly funny film, (it seems that Abel and Werner Herzog, at odds though they may be over the BAD LIEUTENANT 'remake,' are becoming the 21st Century's top purveyors of comedy and Willem Dafoe) but one which also strikes the seasoned Ferrara fan as an intimate self-portrait, full of melancholy and a yearning for simpler, scuzzier times. We're witnessing a world in transition; one with a smaller and smaller place in it for the scatterbrained, non-tech-savvy sleazemeister (here embodied by Dafoe's "Ray Ruby"). Ferrara himself, like many a gritty 70's NYC director, began rather modestly with pornographic films (NINE LIVES OF A WET PUSSY), simple exploitation (THE DRILLER KILLER, MS. 45), and even chronicled the Times Square strip club culture (FEAR CITY) in its pre-Giuliani heyday. But recently, despite cult followings and international successes, it seems he can't even get arrested in America. In a way, thank God that the Europeans have swooped in as his sometime patrons, but fuck the American 'indie' studio system for not allowing significant distribution or funding for a legendary filmmaker who, unlike so many of his contemporaries, has continued to generate that creative, envelope-pushing spark after nearly forty years in the business.

And so Dafoe's Ray Ruby finds himself living on the edge. Hand to mouth, hand to mouth, hand to mouth to lottery ticket.

His strip club, his brainchild, his life's work, his "Paradise Lounge" ...is in trouble. His brother (played with élan by a a moptopped, pompous Matthew Modine), a Staten Island hair salon mogul and the almighty supplier of finances, is threatening to pull the plug.

"The plug is pulled. Paradise is over!"

This delights to no end the vitriolic New Yawwk landlady (Sylvia Miles in one of her finest, meanest performances) who's been waiting in the wings, ready to sell the place out "to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, motherfuckers, on a ninety-nine year lease!"


But Ray must shoulder some of the blame- after all, he's poured all of his profits into a dangerous lottery addiction ("I played the lottery- I mean, I REALLY PLAYED IT!"), has made some foolish investments ("Frisbees with my face on 'em, I don't know what I was thinking") and has lost money over his soft spot for struggling artists (seen in an incredible, tour de force sequence that can only be described as 'Talent Show Nite' at the strip club).

All is not lost, however, when Ray actually wins the lotto, but in the midst of his inveterate, notorious disorganization, he can't find the ticket!

It's Abel's plea to the heavens- actual, sort of quaint sleaziness has been hijacked by the corporate version of sleaziness! Is nothing sacred? You've taken everything else, are you gonna take TIMES SQUARE, too? Yes, they will. And they did. By the time Ray's business is being redirected and stolen by a doofus in a crustacean mascot costume, Ferrara's exasperation has become completely tangible. Go ahead, Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Just take it all away. I've got nothing to live for anymore.

Unfolding over the course of one night, and with an Altman-style, observational, roaming camera (which captures the life which teems upon and outside of its frame), Ferrara captures the best sort of comedy- the unforced kind, the kind that's true to life. Even at it's most outrageous, the laughs here don't feel planned or even like 'jokes,' they feel like the natural outpourings of characters whose lives (from afar, of course) happen to be hilarious. The musician Pras wanders about as the club's resident 'chef,' obsessed with the gourmet artistry of his (microwaved) free range hot dogs,

Pras witnesses the ignominious end of his organic, free range, gourmet hot dogs.

an ancient Burt Young receives awkward lap dances, a robust, gravel-voiced Bob Hoskins lauds the respectability of the joint, tanning beds catch fire, a Eurotrash stripper (Stefania Rocca) wrangles the greenlighting of her script during a private dance ("Sign da check! Sign da check!"), Matthew Modine plays a toy piano and performs a mind-blowing musical number,

and Willem Dafoe even croons a ballad with a debonair suavitude and creepy flourish seldom seen since the glory days of the Rat Pack.

All this, and I didn't even get to Asia Argento yet! I'm reasonably certain that her performance as the "scariest, sexiest girl in the world" is entirely improvised and her free-form poledancing/make-out session with a terrifying dog is easily the most startlingly outré incident to be captured on celluloid in years.

Yes, GO GO TALES is insane, and, yes, it rambles. It induces spit-takes, eye-pops, raised brows, and as Sylvia Miles' psychotic end credits song (about Bed, Bath, and Beyond) attests, it even draws a comparison with STREET TRASH. Most importantly, however, it's sincere. Five stars. Abel: may you always find new, disorderly, and innovative ways to make these maniacal movies of yours. Distributors: shame on you for not picking this film up during the four years it's been available. Willem Dafoe: take it easy, take it breezy... and take it sleazy.

-Sean Gill

EDIT: Apparently the release was also held up by a legal dispute concerning screenplay credit.


Unknown said...

I gotta see this! Have you ever listened to Ferrara's commentary for KING OF NY? Best audio commentary EVER! SEriously, check it out.

It's good to see Abel still mixing it up. Makes me wish I WOULD win the lottery and then I could bankroll his films. Love to see that Jekyll and Hyde film he wants to do.

Sean Gill said...

I've got KING OF NEW YORK on DVD but never got around to listening to the commentary. After hearing his outrageous orations on THE DRILLER KILLER commentary, I can only imagine what transpires- I gotta check it out!

Oh, and that possible JEKYLL/HYDE reimagining will be mind-blowing, I'm sure, if he can get the funds.