Saturday, September 21, 2019

Only now does it occur to me... DEATH WATCH (1980)

Only now does it occur to me... that I would ever see Harvey Keitel trying to strangle Harry Dean Stanton while Max von Sydow tries to stop the violence.

The circumstances of this assault involve a sleazy television producer (Stanton) and his "camera-man" with cameras installed in his eyeballs via science-fictional contrivance (Keitel). Keitel has been tasked with filming the voyeuristic drama of woman's (Romy Schneider) excruciating death in a world where illness has otherwise almost been eradicated. Max von Sydow is the dying woman's husband.

The film––made in 1980 and directed by Bertrand Tavernier––is melancholy as hell and beautifully photographed by Pierre-William Glenn (DAY FOR NIGHT, COUP DE TORCHON). It's based on a spectacular novel called THE CONTINUOUS KATHERINE MORTENHOE (1973) by D.G. Compton which is said (and rightfully so) to have predicted the trajectory of reality television. I  recommend both works––especially the film, which feels very proto-Atom Egoyan in its assessment of an alienating mediascape.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Theater Review: JIM STEINMAN'S BAT OUT OF HELL––THE MUSICAL (2019, New York City Centre)

Bats: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 165 minutes, including intermission and curtain call.

I don't usually write theater reviews, but I think you'll see why I made an exception for BAT OUT OF HELL––THE MUSICAL.

Sure, there might not actually be bats in this show. Hell, there might not even be Hell. I guess we do get to see a projection of flames after a certain character dies, but I hardly think that counts. Consider this: all I wanted out of this show was to see a motorcycle being swarmed by bats as it was launched out of Satan's lava-spewin' jaws. Remarkably, the show does not deliver on this tableau, and yet it still stirred the depths of my soul. That probably had something to do with it being, essentially, as if Ken Russell and David Lynch had co-directed Samuel Beckett's porn parody adaptation of the "Dancing With Myself" music video. If I didn't know better, I'd think that somebody had been reading my 1990: BRONX WARRIORS / RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 / ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK fan-fiction.
Courtesy of Specular

I don't understand why there haven't been more musicals inspired by Cannon Films' CYBORG (right on down to characters being named for famous guitars). Or why the visual vocabulary of early '80s local access cable, abandoned Eastern Bloc discotheques, cyberpunk rec rooms, and Jersey biker bar parking lots are so rarely combined. Or why more characters named Jaguar don't spell it like "Jagwire." I don't understand critics who are unsatisfied with the answer to every dramaturgical question being: "cocaine... and fever dreams."

Courtesy of Little Fang Photo

Don't walk––hell, don't even run––glide on a slow-moving motorcycle across a fog bank straight to this show. A good drinking game might be every time there is a Peter Pan reference. Or each time someone "offers their throat to the wolf with red roses." Or whenever someone collapses completely, limp in a melodramatic frenzy.

A part of me will be at this show forever. To paraphrase THE GRAPES OF WRATH: "I'll be in the dark. Wherever you look. Wherever there's a futuristic riot cop beatin' up a post-apocalyptic street urchin, I'll be there. I'll be in the way undead (?) kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready at the weird sewer dive bar they hang out at. An' when folks are doing open mic poetry night in the skyscrapers they build––why, I'll be there, too. Wherever there's a plutocrat-with-a-heart-of-gold struggling against the tide to name what part of his body hurts the most, I'll be there. I'll be there during the power ballads, and, um, I guess during the regular ballads, too. Wherever there's a Bridge n' Tunneler in the audience fondly mumbling along to 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light,' I'll be there. And whenever a kid gets so frustrated by their parents' adolescent sexual fumblings that they rip the engine block out of a car and hurl it into the orchestra pit... I will definitely, definitely be there."