Saturday, November 24, 2018

R.I.P., Nicolas Roeg

I'm sorry to report the passing of one of the greats, Nicolas Roeg, at age 90.  Roeg's films, from DON'T LOOK NOW (one of the greatest melancholy horror films, hell, one of the greatest films of all time) to THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (featuring Bowie at his most enigmatic) to BAD TIMING (an atom bomb to the guts) to WALKABOUT to PERFORMANCE seemed simultaneously to define and to surpass the counterculture cinema world of the 1970s and beyond, in all of its jagged temporalities and wild, hallucinogenic complexities. Later works like THE WITCHES, INSIGNIFICANCE, his episode of THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES, and TRACK 29, reveal an aging filmmaker who, even apart from his ideal time and place and cultural zeitgeist was capable of crating memorable, artistic, and sometimes mind-blowing work. Even lesser projects like EUREKA and Cannon Films' CAST AWAY and FULL BODY MASSAGE experiment with form in ways most filmmakers would never dare.

He was an auteur whose bold, fracturous visual and editorial choices left quite a mark on me as a young man, both as a filmmaker and a burgeoning film critic. (One of my first bylines, in a student newspaper, was an absurdist rhapsody to two October re-releases of Roeg's work entitled "October? More like Roegtober!") Like other personal favorites like Ken Russell, Federico Fellini, and Richard Rush, his work was fully without inhibition, the rarest of qualities among artists, and even rarer still to be paired with actual talent.

We must also not forget his work as a cinematographer and camera operator, where he made notable contributions to films like Corman's THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451, Schlesinger's FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, Clive Donner's THE GUEST, Zinneman's THE SUNDOWNERS, Richard Lester's PETULIA, and Lean's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. In some cases, he seemed, in doing so, to abscond from the premises with authorship of the film itself (I'd single out THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, for sure, and perhaps PETULIA as well).

In the end, he had one hell of a run, and I'm more than grateful for the work he left behind. R.I.P.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... POINT OF NO RETURN

Only now does it occur to me... that John Badham's lukewarm remake of LA FEMME NIKITA contains a romantic scene that was surely intended to be as iconic as the pasta slurping from THE LADY AND THE TRAMP or at least the food montage from 9 1/2 WEEKS––but instead, it lands about as well as the "Sexy V8" sequence from NINJA III: THE DOMINATION. To set the scene: as in LA FEMME NIKITA, Bridget Fonda plays a junkie turned assassin who's looking for a human connection. She makes one with "90s nice guy" Dermot Mulroney, who picks up one of her off-brand Chef Boyardee ravioli cans after she drops it in the grocery.

This, naturally, leads to a dinner, whereupon, like Constance Leonore Gielgud in TROLL 2, she decides that the best seduction tactic is to take the generic canned ravioli and feed it to Mulroney with her mouth.

I especially love the look of "discount marinara-sauce clown mouth" satisfaction afterward.

While on the whole it can't touch its progenitor NIKITA, there's a few things to like (or be fascinated by) here, like the muscular Hans Zimmer score with Enya-esque wailing; a bit part by Miguel Ferrer:

(who is essentially playing it as if Bob Morton survived ROBOCOP and took his job more seriously); Anne Bancroft as the mistress of "Assassin Charm School" (a role played by Jeanne Moreau in the original):
and finally, Harvey Keitel as the Terminator-esque badass The Cleaner,

a role perfected by Jean Reno in the original, but given an even more ominous (and overtly villainous) twist by Harvey Keitel, who is always welcome, no matter the context.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... KAMIKAZE 1989

Only now does it occur to me... that I would ever see German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder (BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN) running around in a leopard-print suit (well, lurching around, rather) and solving crimes as a hardboiled detective in somebody else's (Wolf Gremm's) queer cyberpunk thriller.

It bears mentioning that Fassbinder died at 37 of a drug overdose, little more than a month before this film was released (and at Wolf Gremm's apartment). One can tell watching this film that he is near death; he stumbles around in a daze, punctuated by episodes of rage and childlike impotence; generally, he's as corpulent and unhealthy-looking as Orson Welles in TOUCH OF EVIL.

It's been years since he could pull off the mesh-shirt/kimono combo

I have a lot of personally complicated feelings about Fassbinder and his death––in the sanitized, arthouse-fan-service version, he's a mad genius/enfant terrible who worked himself to death by making three to four feature films a year and who picked up a drug habit because it allowed him to make even more films. In this narrative, he's the living embodiment of the Lao Tzu quote about "the flame that burns twice as bright" burning half as long. In the version supported by those who knew him personally, he was more like something between a schoolyard bully, an angry toddler, and a cult leader, abusing the actors in his troupe and the people close to him with sadistic abandon. For me, this does not diminish the quality of his incredible films, but forces me to reckon with his personality whenever I engage with those films. It also makes me wonder if, here, at the end, his character invades the personal space of everyone around him because he is directed to, or if he is just being a dick.

Does he throw tantrums––like smashing the buttons on apartment buzzers––because it is a character trait of "Polizeileutnant Jansen," or a character trait of Fassbinder himself?

Seriously, like 10% of this movie is him furiously smashing buttons:

There's a rogue's gallery of Fassbinder regulars throughout, including Günther Kaufmann (WHITY, IN A YEAR WITH THIRTEEN MOONS) and Brigitte Mira (ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, MOTHER KÜSTERS GOES TO HEAVEN):

and the whole thing functions mostly as an insane New-Wave fashion show (which is something I would never complain about):

Just another day at the office

Yep, that's Franco Nero 

Yep, that's a Superman phone

Yep, that's a modified football jersey on a futuristic housewife wearing New Wave swimwear

Yep, that guy is just carrying around a broken toilet

On the whole, it's as if BLADE RUNNER were a queer German art film channeling THE APPLE:

I'm pretty sure the nurse behind this man is wearing a giant BIM mark

except with a dreamy electronic score by Tangerine Dream's own Edgar Froese instead of sci-fi disco, but that's neither here nor there. Perhaps appropriately, the film ends with Fassbinder humping an image of Neil Armstrong and touching himself while listening to the audio of Nixon debriefing Armstrong after the moon landing.

This is literally how the movie ends, and it's Fassbinder's (unknowing?) ultimate farewell to the world of film.

Somehow, it seems appropriate: masturbatory, strange, histrionic, and sad.