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Paul Morrissey

Paul Morrissey

Mention Paul Morrissey and movies about transvestites, heroin addicts, and other varieties of lowlife are likely to come to mind; but the director of such films as Flesh (1968) and Heat (1972) holds very different views than one might assume from a first impression of these films and from his professional association with Andy Warhol. “Staunchly conservative, Morrissey still frowns upon the moral and artistic state of America today,” writes Steve Ryfle, who interviewed the filmmaker in 2000. Rather, Morrissey’s vintage films reflect his view that “modern American life was going down the toilet.”1 David Bahr of The New York Times writes:

Paul Morrissey disdains rock music, abhors recreational drugs and thinks even less of liberal politics. When asked his views on sex, he pauses for a moment, looks his inquisitor in the eye and says: “I’m Catholic. I’m with Rome 100 percent.”

Such sentiments may seem surprising coming from a director whose films luxuriate in the libertine lives of heroin users, masturbating transvestites and polymorphous-perverse male prostitutes. Yet Mr. Morrissey – who from 1966 to 1972 directed more than half a dozen movies produced by Andy Warhol, discovered the avant-garde rock band the Velvet Underground and once saw a court label his work “obscene, vulgar and profane” – believes he’s misunderstood, to say nothing of misrepresented.2

Morrissey situates his work outside the counterculture and characterizes it instead as his disapproving reaction to the general collapse of morality as it occurred around him:

There’s something I realized years later, after I had made all the films, although I probably realized it at the time even though I wasn’t conscious of it. At that time, there was this idea that was just coming in – the media was just getting hold of it, and the music world was just screaming its lungs out about how great it was – saying you could do whatever you want. That was really idiotic, and stupid and foolish and silly, unbelievably stupid.

People, by the late sixties, were doing whatever they felt like, and nobody gave a damn.

“I understood that these people were good story material, good subjects to show where life had gotten to, and how pathetic it was,” Morrissey explains.3 Blood for Dracula (1974), for instance, imagines a future-shocked traditionalist vampire (Udo Kier) who despairs of finding virgin blood to drink in the sexually free and easy 1970s, while Trash (1970) depicts the boredom of heroin dependency. “So much of the culture glamorized drugs at the time,” remarks frequent Morrissey leading man Joe Dallesandro. “Paul wanted to show the seedier side, where it all led to.”4 Women in Revolt (1972), which utilizes a cast of transvestites for satirical purposes, mocks the increasingly noisy and confrontational feminist movement of the day. “I thought it would be funny if they were playing women who were converted to lesbianism by the women’s lib movement,” Morrissey says. “The whole women’s thing was so ridiculous. ‘We don’t need men,’ and all that.”5

The director envisioned his Madame Wang’s (1981) as a satire of nonexistent American values and the decline of Western Civilization:

The huge Masonic Temple was a Greek temple, it represented past culture, and it was abandoned and lived in by derelict female impersonators. That was my take on Americans, especially Southern California Americans. They couldn’t care less about anything, except maybe getting up in drag or doing a punk rock show and screaming and throwing themselves on the floor. And the poor Russian agent comes from East Germany and says, “I’ve got to meet Jane Fonda, we’re taking over this country one day, and we have to have all of our operatives in place and I’m one of them.” And everyone says, “great, so what?”6

Morrissey gives the following explication of his comedy flop Spike of Bensonhurst (1988), in which his “pain in the ass” protagonist (Sasha Mitchell) “treats everybody like dirt, and does whatever he wants”:

The little switcheroo, which I thought was the point of the story, was that finally when someone disciplines him it turns out to be the best thing that happens to him. The idea that there are some standards and a sense of order in the world somewhere […]7

Like so many avowed conservatives in American politics, however, Morrissey’s work reveals his complicity in the projects of the culture destroyers even as he professes traditionalism. The mundane drugs-and-drag depravity of his classic oeuvre, while successfully illustrating the emptiness of the revolutions in sexuality and consciousness that had been engineered during the 1960s, also serves to normalize the ascendant dysfunction.

“Life is so second rate now,” Morrissey assesses.

And that idea that life has degenerated to a second rate position was part of the story to all those movies. I still don’t see that as a story element in any other movies – the obvious fact that life today is so much poorer than it was before. And I don’t think you can tell that story unless you’re aware that there’s a difference now. Most people don’t even know there’s a difference between today and before.8

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Endnotes

  1. Ryfle, Steve. “Life Is a Toilet: The Films of Director Paul Morrissey”. Shock Cinema 17 (Fall-Winter 2000), p. 18.
  2. Bahr, David. “Conservative Bard of the Demimonde”. The New York Times (February 27, 2000): http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/27/movies/film-conservative-bard-of-the-demimonde.html?pagewanted=all
  3. Ryfle, Steve. “Life Is a Toilet: The Films of Director Paul Morrissey”. Shock Cinema 17 (Fall-Winter 2000), p. 18.
  4. Bahr, David. “Conservative Bard of the Demimonde”. The New York Times (February 27, 2000): http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/27/movies/film-conservative-bard-of-the-demimonde.html?pagewanted=all
  5. Ryfle, Steve. “Life Is a Toilet: The Films of Director Paul Morrissey”. Shock Cinema 17 (Fall-Winter 2000), p. 20.
  6. Ibid., p. 21.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., p. 19.

As Above So Below

Perdita Weeks appears as a female Indiana Jones, an obsessive scholar and archaeologist of the history of alchemy in As Above, So Below. Convinced she has learned the whereabouts of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, she convinces academic colleague Ben Feldman to accompany her into the labyrinth of catacombs beneath Paris. Unfortunately, as they descend, they find that the tunnels they take are mysteriously closing behind them, compelling the expedition into ever deeper recesses of this subterranean world. Even worse, they are not alone. Directed by John Erick Dowdle, who co-scripted with brother Drew Dowdle, As Above, So Below is a first-person footage film in the long line of Blair Witch imitators and is fine by the standards of that genre; but the tale tends to lose its mystique to the degree that the Dowdles insist on depicting their rather mundane vision of Hell onscreen.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that As Above, So Below is:

Pro-miscegenation. Weeks and Feldman, the film suggests, are perfect for each other.

Relativist. “As I believe the world to be, so it is.”

Feminist. Weeks is intrepid and unafraid to the point obsessive insanity. Hinting at the Jewishness of the feminist plague, her character is revealed to be an expert in the Israeli “self-defense” techniques of Krav Maga.

Pro-immigration. Non-white Parisians are depicted as fully assimilated citizens. If anything, it is Africans who are at risk of attack from strange Frenchwomen.

Neoconservative. As Above, So Below is full of Judaic resonances that are never articulated. The film reinforces the engineered impression that Jews and Middle Eastern mythology hold mysterious keys to understanding the universe. Weeks ostensibly makes the decision to bring Feldman along because he knows the ancient Jewish language Aramaic. The remains of six million corpses, the viewer learns, reside in the catacombs, with the number six million triggering audiences’ associations with the “Holocaust” and the history of alleged Christian persecution of Jews. The characters’ subsequent descent into Hell, then, may be understood in this context. The film’s title finds a visual expression in a variation on the Magen David that appears on a wall next to a door on the path to the underworld. The underground realm in which the characters move is revealed to be physically inverted, so that those determined to attach an allegorical meaning to the journey might consider the possibility that, in order to atone and to come to grips with their criminal history of “anti-Semitism”, the goyim must endure the ordeal of having their world turned upside down. Gratuitously endorsing the neocons’ Jewish foreign policy, Feldman berates Weeks as “a crazy lunatic” for traveling to Iran.

As Above So Below Star of David

“As I believe the world to be, so it is.”

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

The Ideological Content Analysis 30 Days Putsch:

30 Reviews in 30 Days

DAY TWOApartment Troubles

Written and directed by lead actresses Jess Weixler and Jennifer Prediger, this offbeat black dramedy concerns itself with what happens to artsy ditzes Nicole (Weixler) and Olivia (Prediger) when they run out of the money they need to pay the rent on their New York apartment. Seemingly out of options, the pair flies to L.A. to impose themselves on Nicole’s Aunt Kimberley (Will and Grace regular Megan Mullally), who hosts a reality TV talent show. Full of oddball characters and off-the-wall moments (a favorite is the lactose-intolerant vermicomposting malfunction), Apartment Troubles wafts by in an instant like a gust of fragrant spritz and is impossible not to enjoy. Weixler and Prediger make a cute comedy team and could easily turn their partnership into a charming TV sitcom or film series.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Apartment Troubles is:

6. Anti-drug. Pill-popping doofus Will Forte is a danger to himself and others, particularly behind the wheel, with Adderall receiving some bad publicity. Too much wine makes Nicole and Kimberley shameless.

5. Racist! A young African-American gentleman is shown wearing a T-shirt that says “Primitive”.

4. Fag-ambivalent. Kimberley is a predatory lesbian and a drunkard whose advances toward Olivia meet with diplomatic repulsion. Apartment Troubles could be argued to normalize homosexuality, however, with Kimberley presenting an unusually attractive seductress. The casting of a Will and Grace alumnus would seem to corroborate the latter interpretation.

3. Anti-family. Nicole is estranged from her family, who have gone on an unannounced vacation without her. Forte calls his domineering mother a “turkey”. “She’s a powerful lady and she will spank me,” he says. “She will spank me hard. She’s getting older, but she packs it, you know?” He then claims to have been joking when he said this, but he really does seem to believe himself when he confesses, “My mom has really helped me to hit rock bottom.”

2. Anti-cuck. American men, as Apartment Troubles painfully illustrates, have been turned into ineffectual man-children and sexually undesirable weaklings. Familiar character actor Jeffrey Tambor plays the protagonists’ landlord and Nicole’s unlikely ex-boyfriend and recovering beta orbiter. He consults an energy healer for relationship advice. Nicole’s Uncle Robert (Bob Byington) is a lifeless, depressed, and dominated by his lesbian wife. Forte, in another manifestation of the prevailing non-man, unconvincingly proclaims himself the “knight in shining armor” of the two heroines. A foreigner, meanwhile, absurdly accuses American fruit of being “aggressive” because it is too big.

1. Millennial-critical. Whatever the intentions of Weixler and Prediger in crafting this eccentric film, it plays like a sustained act of trolling directed at clueless, useful idiot liberals. Pervading Apartment Troubles and destabilizing its heroines’ lives is the extra-special snowflake mentality according to which the world is obliged to endure the idiosyncratic whimsy that lives in every millennial’s heart. What they must ultimately learn is that they have “that special nothing”; but “We need a benefactor,” they moan, not troubling themselves as to how they would earn such patronage.

Nicole and Olivia are typical women of their generation – overly educated in useless areas of endeavor, underemployed, in arrears, and socially retarded. Olivia’s cat substitutes for a more rewarding human companionship, and one can only agree with Nicole, who tells her, “You need to, like, get a boyfriend or something.” One brief moment has Olivia’s eye caught by a display of books for sale on rape and climatic apocalypse. These are the bogeys that haunt the mind of the liberated woman. A toothbrush is lower on the list of things to remember. So ridiculously committed are the duo to the environment that they make a conscious decision (or economical rationalization?) not to pay their electricity bill. “There’s no law that says you have to blow up mountains and frack,” opines Olivia, who comes across as ridiculous rather than sophisticated.

In place of a more dignified, traditional spirituality, both women go for make-it-up-as-you-go-along new age silliness, with Nicole taking an interest in eastern religions and Olivia leaning on a “teeny tiny therapist” (a small toy she keeps in a bag). Both women, even when supposedly too poor to feed themselves, consider Tarot readings a worthy investment. Like Hillary Clinton, Olivia, too, finds consolation in the eternal wisdom of ZOG lord Eleanor Roosevelt. Olivia’s belief in the power of “signs” does not appear to be justified.

The validity of all thoughts, all opinions, and viewpoints, no matter how stupid, that constitutes the relativistic crazy-quilt fabric of twenty-first century American values, finds expression in the behavior of every character in the film. “I’m an adult,” says Forte, “and I know when it’s safe to go through a fricking red [light]. Sometimes I’ll stop at a green, okay? Oh, my God, I want some candy, but is it too late for candy?” Red light, green light – all is subjective. A theme of Apartment Troubles is the need to grow up, but nothing has been definitively resolved as the story draws to a close, its characters still adrift and having found no rock – nothing that endures – on which to secure themselves.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Wild poster

A career highlight showcase for star Reese Witherspoon, this freewheeling emotional odyssey into triumphant you-go-girlism concerns real-life tramp Cheryl Strayed, whose epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail takes her from “piece of shit” and “hobo” to liberated and self-actualized piece of shit with an Oprah’s Book Club pick. As with all wilderness pictures, from Jeremiah Johnson to Rescue Dawn, there is an innate fascination to the scenes of Strayed’s one-woman struggle with the elements. The interspersed flashbacks to the unpleasant experiences that drive her to make her quest, however, are hit-and-miss, diminishing any sympathy this reviewer is able to muster for her. Laura Dern appears as Strayed’s long-suffering, cancer-ridden mother.

4 out of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Wild is:

6. Drug-ambivalent. Wild sends mixed messages about Cheryl’s life as a heroin addict. Marijuana, however, seems to be a laid-back thing to do. Alcohol appears as a no-no, though, with Cheryl vomiting after some hard stuff. (see also no. 1)

5. Anti-Christian. Foulmouthed Cheryl utters multiple blasphemies.

4. Anti-redneck. The rural white male is a constant menace hovering in the gloaming of Cheryl’s consciousness, leering at her and making unsavory advances.

3. Pro-choice. Cheryl has an abortion.

2. New age, peddling mass market paperback mysticism that might have been cribbed from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The film ends with Witherspoon reciting some philosophical gobbledygook about how nobody knows what leads to what – the scientific method, contrary to this reviewer’s mistaken impression all his life, turning out never to have been invented after all – life being one big mysterious journey, each seeming adversity or disastrous decision constituting a necessary step toward destiny’s fulfillment. People – and, by extension, societies – might as well experiment to their hearts’ content on this starry trek of objectively valueless existence.

1. Feminist. Wild celebrates the junkie-adulteress-intellectual as heroine. One of its many nuggets of womany wisdom is that divorces, unlike marriages, tend to be lasting. Regarding her serial back-alley extramarital humps and heroin habit, Cheryl apologizes to her nice-guy husband (Thomas Sadoski) but later confesses that she harbors no regrets about anything. Adrienne Rich’s poem “Power”, a favorite of the protagonist, furnishes Wild with its theme. Marie Curie’s “wounds”, Rich explains, “came from the same source as her power”. Witherspoon’s body, accordingly, appears with unsightly contusions and cuts throughout the movie, these presumably being the feminist stigmata symbolizing the suffering through which she has attained her “power”. In a parallel characterization, Cheryl’s mother is an abused wife who abandons her alcoholic husband and goes back to school for her education because, she says, she never felt like she was in the driver’s seat of her own life.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Oprah’s Bucks Club

Zombies vs. Strippers

The Tough Titty, a strip club in a seedy Los Angeles slum, finds itself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in this silly Full Moon outing. Spider (Circus-Szalewski), the proprietor, along with his bevy of shapely and jiggly employees, must cope with swelling numbers of undead perverts who congregate around the building while everyone also tries to come to terms with how they will spend what may be their last night on Earth. A pair of lewd customers wants nasty thrills; DJ Bernie (Tanner Horn) just wants to get high; while Spider and the strippers increasingly find that staying alive is more important than making money they might not be able to spend.

Slightly better than the tacky and unimaginative title might suggest, Zombies vs. Strippers is still an unremarkable pile of trash and risks overstaying its smelly welcome even at a meager seventy-four minutes padded with lengthy opening credits. There are, of course, curves galore, and a few witty one-liners; but the zombies, after a nice gradual tease during the exposition, offer only a modicum of suspense and pay diminishing returns as more and more of the snarlers appear onscreen. Good enough for a slow night, but hardly the movie this viewer would want at the top of his queue at the end of the world.

3 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Zombies vs. Strippers is:

13. Diversity-skeptical. Black stripper Vanilla (Brittany Gael Vaughn) dismisses “crazy fuckin’ white boys”.

12. Pro-gun. Guns are used defensively against the corpses.

11. Anti-slut. Fornicators are punished, with the zombie plague being compared to venereal disease.

10. Anti-X.  Like Creep Van, Zombies vs. Strippers holds Generation X/Y in low regard, particularly in terms of their value to employers.  DJ Bernie is a pothead, and the strippers can be foulmouthed and sassy. “I’m a professional. That used to mean something,” bouncer Marvin (J. Scott) reflects disapprovingly on the slacker mentality. “The American Dream is stuck in the mud,” children’s host Hambo the Ranch Hand (Chance A. Rearden) says before advocating the extermination of the rising generation.

9. Anti-TV.  Paralleling the zombie plague is the zombie-like vapidity and desensitization of the characters in the film from what seems to have been a lifelong diet of dumb television. “What would Hambo do?” Spider asks, the pig-nosed TV personality having apparently taken the place of Jesus in his life. Characters are more than once unable to distinguish between entertainment and imminent threat.

8. Anti-police. The LAPD, whether from cowardice or indifference, never enters the neighborhood of the Tough Titty. Bikers laugh at the threat of a call to the police.

7. Pro-choice/euthanasist. The infected must be put out of their misery for the good of humanity. Hambo, holding up two eggs, calls for the “eggstermination” of the young.

6. Anti-drug. Spider insults a zombie, calling it “crackhead”, and tells Bernie that weed will lower his sperm count. Later, offering a reefer to a zombie, Bernie is bitten.  When Bernie the zombie is killed by Vanilla, she cries, “This is your brain on drugs, motherfucker!” and pierces his head with her high-heel shoe. Drinking impairs the judgment of more than one character. One man is killed just as he is about to light a cigarette.

5. Capital-ambivalent. Zombies vs. Strippers presents a warts-and-all but basically sympathetic portrait of the American small businessman in Spider, who despite his efforts has failed to make the Tough Titty profitable.  Spider is not above trying to cheat a customer out of his money, but his chosen victim, musician Spike (Adam Brooks), is dishonest and an admitted thief. Adding to Spider’s woes are disrespectful and lazy employees like Bernie, whose poor turntable efforts prompt Spider to threaten to replace him with an mp3 player.

4. Anti-Christian. Christians are represented by biker Red Wings (Brad Potts), who spouts biblical claptrap but makes little secret of his nasty-mindedness. Spike gets tired of listening to his “religious crap”. One of the strippers irreverently dons a nun costume.

3. Pro-miscegenation. Black stripper Vanilla, announced as two scoops of chocolate ice cream that will make a man’s banana split, is desired by the white men around her and engages in flirtation with Red Wings.

2. Feminist.  The name of the strip club, the Tough Titty, says it all. Strong women stand the best chance of surviving. The representative male chauvinist pig (Patrick Lazzara) who uses abusive language against the strippers is certain to meet with an unpleasant end.

1. Relativist/nihilist.  “We’re all a bunch of criminals. A whole world of ‘em.”

 

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American Hustle poster

To be perfectly honest, this reviewer was bored for lengthy portions of American Hustle, David O. Russell’s unaccountably lauded opus about the Abscam scandal. Like too many period pieces set in fashion-distinctive epochs, Hustle evinces an overly polished and inorganic quality, more concerned with fussing about its garish clothing, bizarre hairstyles, and flaunting an unwarranted sense of its own super-coolness than with the development of characters deserving of the audience’s interest. As with the less inspired moments in Scorsese’s oeuvre, American Hustle is too content to slide by on the likability of its vintage pop soundtrack and slick but empty visual flair, with – of course! – the obligatory trip to a decadent discotheque.

The performances of Bale, Cooper, and others are fine, but hardly career highlights. Russell’s unconvincing dialogue, co-credited to Eric Warren Singer, bears much of the blame for the film’s lifelessness. Actors can hardly be blamed for failing to salvage compelling drama out of the likes of the following yawners: “This is bullshit. We are bullshit. You were bullshit. You were bullshit.” While no character in American Hustle is particularly sympathetic, there are some affecting moments toward the end of the film when flimflam man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) begins to feel guilty about misleading and ruining a mark he has come to view as his friend. This in no way justifies a run time in excess of two hours, however – leaving the viewer to wonder whether the tale of this potbellied, philandering Jew con artist with a heart of gold needed to be told at all.

ICA’s advice: For a 70s con game period piece, see Richard Gere in The Hoax instead.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that American Hustle is:

8. Pro-drug. Nothing sells marijuana like the sight of a beautiful temptress (Amy Adams) smoking a joint.

7. Anti-American. Check the title.

6. Multiculturalist. Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) maintains friendly relations with the minority community and even adopts a black kid to show what a great guy he is.

5. Pro-gay, with one gratuitous lesbian kiss.

4. Pro-slut. Movie stars making out in a bathroom – how glamorous! Rosenfeld does “the right thing” by marrying single mother Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

3. Zionist, calling attention to the undying bogeyman of American politicians’ insidious willingness to sell out the country’s well-being to the Arabs. Dismissive reference is also made to (Israel-hating, Palestine-loving) “fuckin’ Jimmy Carter”.

2. Relativistic. “That’s the way the world works. Not black and white like you say. Extremely gray.”

1. Obamist. In union-friendly Carmine Polito, American Hustle portrays the corrupt but humble and likable politician as tragic hero, a man of the people, a caring, avuncular figure genuinely concerned with the welfare of his constituents, and who presides over a system of corruption only so as to create new jobs. “We dream and we build,” he says. Overly zealous investigators like DiMaso (Cooper) are ruining America, Rosenfeld charges, by exposing high misdeeds and so destroying the people’s faith in their leaders. So lay off the Solyndra, Benghazi, NSA, IRS, and other scandals, American Hustle cautions, lest the spiritually vulnerable masses lose their precious hope.

barrio tales

Nothing short of an incitation to racial hatred and genocide, the horror anthology Barrio Tales is a useful specimen of the burgeoning Mexploitation genre. The frame story has two foulmouthed but naive American punks venturing south of the border to buy some inexpensive drugs, where they meet a scary, scarred, and crooked-nosed lowlife (Alexander Aguila) who proceeds to tell them a trio of sordid and spicy campfire tales comprising the bulk of the film.

In the first story, newly arrived Mexican domestic servant Maria (Ana Corbi) is humiliated and victimized by a rich American college brat and his spoiled, decadent cronies. The second segment has David Fernandez playing a Hispanic variation on Clint Howard’s character in Ice Cream Man, with mobile taco chef Uncle Tio kicking it up a notch with his secret ingredients. Finally, a gaggle of wetbacks valiantly attempting to smuggle themselves into a better life in the United States are captured and tortured by rednecks until nationalistic Mexican gangsters ride to their aid like the ghetto version of the cavalry.

Imbued with genuine race-baiting venom, Barrio Tales is certain to entertain what would appear to be a target audience of alienated, Raza-minded Hispanics and America-loathing white liberal self-immolators. Fast-paced, passably humorous, and packed with gratuitous grossness, the film may also appeal to a broader horror audience willing to forgive or to take in stride the mean-spirited tone, taking the guano with the good.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Barrio Tales is:

12. Relativistic. “But who’s to say what a monster is? Maybe a monster to me is not a monster to you.”

11. Family-ambivalent. Mexicans come to family members’ aid, while whites, as exemplified by the rich absentee parents in the first story, would appear to be less motivated by family ties.

10. Feminist. A young girl (Elizabeth Small) bests the murderous Uncle Tio despite his telling her, “You can’t beat me. You’re just a stupid-ass little girl.”

9. Christ-ambivalent. Insane hicks pick out “Amazing Grace” on the banjo (and where banjos play there must be inbreeding!) between torture sessions, which would seem to cast their religion in an absurd light; but one of the heroic gangsters (Fabian Lopez) who stops them is, as a counterbalance, named Christian, the implication being that Mexicans are more authentically devout than whites.

8. Pro-miscegenation. Redneck bitch Didi (Jamie Wozny), like all white women, naturally lusts after men with brown skin and delights in tying up, straddling, and torturing a Mexican. “This is kinky,” she giggles when he resists. A black boy (Christopher Meyer) and a white girl (Elizabeth Small) are companions. There is also more than a hint of lust when Uncle Tio seizes and sniffs the latter in anticipation of doing her harm.

7. Drug-ambivalent. Hard drugs are depicted as harmful to the user, but a good way for Mexicans to make money off of stupid white people. Heroic gangsters Christian and P (Isait De La Fuente) are seen drinking from sneaky Petes.

6. Diversity-skeptical. The first and third stories in Barrio Tales are rabidly anti-white, peddling trite victimologies and Chicano moral superiority, while the second, at least at first glance, is something of an odd man out with its tale of a murderous Mexican taco cook. Even this entry, however, presents opportunities to make whites look dumb. Drug dealer Javi (Carlos Ramirez) boasts of duping white kids into paying exorbitant prices for his substandard product. The characterization of pothead Les (Hunter Cope, in the film’s most engaging performance) presents a surprisingly candid parody of the dumb white liberal. Even after it becomes obvious that Uncle Tio is a psychopath and a serial killer, Les clings tightly to his illusions, insisting, “He’s a kindhearted Mexican man who’s been serving this community for many years.” “I’m fuckin’ sick of people prejudging Uncle Tio before they give him a shot,” he says before himself being murdered by this “kindhearted” pillar of the “community”.

5. Anti-American. At the rednecks’ ranch, the American flag flies over a “No Trespassing” sign, representing the country in microcosm as a distrustful, ignorant, selfish, isolated backwater. More than one unlikable Caucasian character wears red, white, and blue (cf. no. 1).

4. Class-conscious. “They never had to work for anything their whole life. Everything is handed to them on a plate.” The raconteur of the wraparound story foretells that his guests will be chopped into tiny pieces and fed to homeless Mexicans. See also nos. 1 and 2, as all of the class conflict in the film is framed as poor, hardworking, innocent Mexicans vs. lazy, wealthy, and evil whites.

3. Alien-delugist. The film presents a sympathetic portrait of wetbacks and characterizes those who would secure the American border as uneducated sadists and bigots.

2. Anti-white. Whites, as depicted, are arrogant, stupid, rude, foulmouthed, murderous, and generally inhuman. Learning that there is a Mexican maid in the house, they are prone to call “dibs” on her, request “el blowjobo”, and say condescending things like, “Smokey el weedo?” “You sound like an idiot,” Jack (Glen Powell) says when he hears Spanish being spoken. Barrio Tales more than once suggests that whites quite literally desire to make Mexicans their slaves. In the first story, spoiled rich twit Trevor (Matt Shively) says of his servant, Maria, “I want to thank my parents for purchasing me this fuckin’ amazingly hot maid that I’m pretty sure I can do whatever I want with.” “I’m gone make you ma slave,” says Didi to her captive in the third story. The most exaggeratedly outrageous portraits of whites, however, are animalistic, growling El Monstruo (Scott Pollard) and his retarded son Reggie, whose one-strap overalls costume mimics archetypal caveman garb. “There’s no punishment that can do to you, you piece of white trash, that would even compare to what you’ve done to my people.”

1. Razist. “Don’t you know brown is the new red, white, and blue, puto?”

Spring_Breakers_poster

Writer-director Harmony Korine’s dope-drenched epic of college-age pagan debauchery suffers from the same fatal ailment as most other movies that insist on taking as their subjects the absolute dregs of society – namely a lack of characters worthy of the least bit of audience sympathy. The introduction of the principal quartet of spoiled and mostly indistinguishable bimbos is so icily off-putting and nonchalantly bile-provoking that it could almost be a set-up for some exercise in torture porn. College students in name only, these are pretty, pot-addled apes who, during a lecture on the civil rights movement, amuse themselves by scrawling lewd notes or drawing a picture of a penis. Where the Boys Are this is not.

Tired of what they feel to be their intolerably mundane lives, four girls determine to travel to Florida to “find” themselves on spring break. Short of funds, three of them successfully rob a restaurant, and off they and naive Christian friend Faith (Selena Gomez) head for the sun and sand, where their participation in grotesque bacchanalia rightly lands the disgusting group in jail. Coming to their aid as if by providence, revolting rapper and drug dealer Alien (James Franco, in a truly transformational character creation) bails them out and takes the girls under his demonic wing, introducing them to his gangsta friends. Faith, though stupid, retains some vague wisp of the notion of decency and so decides to go home at this point; but her three friends remain and go with Alien, who, like a thuggish Charles Manson, will usher them through an initiation into nihilistic evil.

More shocking and memorable than actually good, Spring Breakers does contain some visual coups that viewers will never forget: a man performing fellatio on two guns; three girls in pink ski masks dancing, guns in hand, in the attitude of the three Graces; and, of course, sand strewn with cheap, jiggling flesh. With the anesthetized and dreamlike shoot-out of the climax, the director walks a particularly dangerous line. Are the events at the end of the film intended to inspire audience approval or did Korine even stop to consider how these moments would be received? Is Spring Breakers really the serious social commentary it seems to pretend to be or just a tacky exploiter that points and laughs at societal disease? Is Korine documenting or actually celebrating the decline of western civilization? Either way, this vile opus has much to say about American life, and much of it is true.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Spring Breakers is:

9. State-skeptical/anti-business. “Everyone can use a little bailin’ out once in a while,” Alien says in a line that hints at a broader significance. With his neck tattoo of a dollar sign, Alien symbolizes misguided rapacity and mirrors the criminal world of big business.

8. Pro-gay. Girls frequently engage in teasing kisses, grinding, and so forth, none of it particularly sexy. The sum effect, however, is normalization. Alien clearly enjoys sucking the guns and tells the girls afterward that he loves them.

7. Media-critical. “Just fuckin’ pretend like it’s a video game. Act like you’re in a movie or somethin’,” one of the girls advises the others before they commit a robbery. “I got Scarface on repeat. Constant, y’all,” Alien boasts, contributing to the sense that these young people’s poor behavior has been programmed by their entertainment (cf. The Bling Ring).

6. Anti-American. Alien describes his materialistic gangsta lifestyle as “the American Dream” (cf. Pain and Gain). “Seeing all this money makes my pussy wet,” one of the girls says.

5. Anti-Christian. Juxtaposed scenes equate Christianity and substance abuse as means of escape from reality. Two dumb Christian friends of Faith advise her (with good reason, as it turns out) to “pray super hardcore” for her well-being in Florida. (Ironically, her religious scruples do preserve her from the danger experienced by the other girls.)

4. Diversity-skeptical and anti-wigger. “I don’t like it here,” Faith says, finding herself in the midst of a bunch of scuzzy blacks and wiggers and feeling intensely uncomfortable. This moment counterbalances the casual flashes of suggested black-white miscegenation in the film. A theme of Spring Breakers is self-destruction, and one moment in which a girl drinks from a black water pistol, a rapper’s smug face on a poster behind her, indicates the self-loathing and suicidal nature of wiggerism.

3. Culturally and morally ambivalent. From drugs to guns and gangsterism to flippant fornication, Korine keeps such a cold, ambiguous distance that his attitude from one scene to the next is occasionally difficult to fathom. The copious casual sex and drug abuse carry surprisingly few consequences, with only a shot of a vomiter passed out by a toilet (and party-crashing by police) disrupting the flow of fun. There is nothing at all admirable in Alien or his groupie disciples, and yet the amount of time devoted to his misbehavior, his air of a tragic artist of wasted potential, and the martyrish pose pretentiously granted him at his demise would appear to give him a neon sheen of antiheroic myth. The ravages of gunplay, likewise, are mitigated by the fetishistic fascination and sexuality accorded to firepower. One of the girls determines that “being a good person” is the “secret to life”, but fails to act according to this piece of wisdom.

2. Relativistic and nurturist (i.e., anti-science). Spring Breakers points to environment as the key determiner of individual development, discrediting the role that genetics and race play in shaping human intelligence and character. “I was the only white boy in my whole neighborhood,” the worthless Alien recounts. Consequently, he grows up to be indistinguishable from the criminal blacks among whom he moves. “We met people who are just like us. Just the same as us,” one of the girls reflects in voice-over. Only the social context of their spoiled upbringing, sheltered by white privilege, has presumably prevented the girls from sinking into savagery before now. Heritability would appear to play no role in shaping these people, so that Spring Breakers works like a stock anthropology lecture to the effect that those spear-brandishing jungle natives in the National Geographic are no less civilized than the European gentleman reading poetry in his smart smoking jacket, their mating and war-making rituals being identical at bottom. The culture war does, however, appear to hold importance for Korine, even if it is not always clear on which side of the battle line he stands.

1. Anti-human. No likable characters = no reason to care.

Part V of The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler in Ideological Content Analysis: A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective of the ICA Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

Unfairly trashed by the consensus critical apparatus on release, this ambitious outing from Adam Sandler goes where few previous comedies have gone with such earnestness of purpose, grappling with the eternal philosophical questions that have given mankind pause over millennia.  Why does evil exist in the universe?  Are there black people in Heaven?  And, most fundamentally, can white men jump – even when descended from the Prince of Darkness himself, and when the spiritual fate of the planet is being played out on the cosmic battlefield of the Harlem Globetrotters court?

Who but Adam Sandler – who, to his credit, manages to keep his face contorted in a comical grimace through every scene – could possibly have brought the heir to the throne of Hell to life in such edifyingly funny fashion while also essaying a bold theological meditation and commentary on the morals of fin-de-siecle America?  The answer – nobody!  Add a bevy of Sandler’s Saturday Night Live buddies including Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Ellen Cleghorne, Kevin Nealon, and Rob Schneider in cameos, stir with a pinch or two of tasty scatalogical humor and outright depravity, and Little Nicky makes for a strange but satisfying brew guaranteed not only to get the audience wasted, but lay their souls to waste as well.

4 out of 5 stars.  Actually a fairly heartwarming experience, Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Little Nicky is underrated, unholy, unashamed, and:

10. Corporate.  Bellicose product placement puts Popeye’s Chicken on the side of the angels.

9. Anti-South.  Nicky more than once jokes that he is from the “Deep South”, thus equating the region with Hell.

8. Pro-gay, at least from the standpoint that all publicity is good publicity.  Clint Howard portrays a grotesque but amusing transvestite.  Also, breasts are made to sprout from Kevin Nealon’s head, which later elicits a favorable remark from Rodney Dangerfield.

7. Multiculturalist/anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  Validating the authenticity of kitsch pictures hanging in the homes of believers of color, Little Nicky depicts a flock of angels of different races.  Hitler receives special (and very unwelcome) attention from Satan in Hell.  A pro-wigger current finds expression in the line, “Popeye’s Chicken is the shiznit.”

6. Drug-ambivalent.  Central to Nicky’s task of taking his errant brothers back to Hell is trapping them in a magical liquor flask, which could be interpreted as suggesting that liquor is the gateway to eternal damnation.  A boy is depicted vomiting after the drinking age is lowered to 10.  Still, “I came for the beer and the bitches,” says a kid at a Globetrotters game, and marijuana-spiked pastries also receive an endorsement.

5. Pro-miscegenation.  Nicky is the spawn of Jewish Satan (Harvey Keitel) and an Anglo-Saxon angel (Reese Witherspoon) and has one black and one white brother (Tiny Lister and Rhys Ifans, respectively).  Carrying on the bestial tradition from Billy Madison, a giant bird vengefully humps pervert John Lovitz.  A demon (Kevin Nealon) and a gorilla also find themselves in the throes of jungle fever.  Dog Mr. Beefy and sewer rat Heather have “five of the ugliest children you’ve ever seen.”  Jew Sandler again goes for the blondes, in this case mousy Patricia Arquette.

4. Anti-Christian.  Quentin Tarantino represents the faithful as a stereotypical blind-eyed fanatical street preacher.  Angels are portrayed as ditzes.  (See also no. 2)

3. Family-ambivalent/anti-marriage/dysfunction-tolerant.  “I love my father very much,” Nicky says, attempting throughout the film to do his father’s bidding and save him from oblivion.  His family is majorly dysfunctional, however, with unmarried parents and abusive brothers constantly scheming against him.  (“Mom and Dad tried dating for awhile, but were unable to deal with a long distance relationship.”)  The sum effect is a normalization of dysfunction.  A churchgoer praises God for his wife’s pregnancy only to be informed that the child is not his.  A baby in a carriage is transformed into an evil midget that attacks its mother.  “You look like my first wife – only she had more hair,” Dangerfield tells the gorilla.  “I’m cheating on my husband with the weather man,” says a reporter.

2. Relativist.  At stake in the story is the balance of power between good and evil, with one no better than the other.  “Why don’t we all just have fun and do whatever we want?”  Most demons are basically decent folks.

1. Racist! – and specifically anti-Semitic, in spite of the thin pretenses of no. 7 above.  Hell is conspicuously inhabited and lorded over by Jews, with Rodney Dangerfield, Harvey Keitel, and Sandler playing three successive Princes of Darkness.  Jon Lovitz also winds up in Hell.  An Asian stereotypically resorts to kung fu against Nicky.  John Witherspoon plays a jive-talking black thief.

“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story,” writer John Barth has said.  Not everyone can be Cary Grant or Arnold Schwarzenegger, however.  Real people tend to be more complicated, less successful, and make terrible mistakes that dog them for the rest of their lives – which can nonetheless be heroic within the context of their lives-as-films.  The ragged, damaged life of carnival stunt rider Luke Glanton is one such story of tragic heroism, and his film, appropriately, is as beautiful, messy, epic, haunting, and asymmetrical as is life itself.

Audaciously and frustratingly structured as a triptych, Derek Cianfrance’s new film The Place Beyond the Pines is really three interdependent stories, beginning with that of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), who as Handsome Luke and the Heartthrobs – his name echoing Paul Newman’s irrepressible, self-destructive rebel in Cool Hand Luke – risks his life on a regular basis for the amusement of strangers at carnivals.  When, during a sojourn in Schenectady, New York, he learns that one year previously a local waitress (Eva Mendes) conceived his child, Luke’s life is pitched into crisis as he yearns to play some part in the life of his infant son and the mother, who, however, is now involved with a black man, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who has adopted the child.

Luke Glanton immediately takes his place among the great character creations of the cinema, and Gosling is ideally cast to capture his combination of a wild, mythical quality with a naked humanity that touches the viewer from his first troubling, fascinating appearance onscreen.  Luke is a study in contradictions, of shadow and light, violence and love, with his brooding dark eyes and pretty blonde hair, his playboy looks and body scarred with tattoos telling the story of a lifetime’s worth of poor decisions.  A dripping dagger tear tattoo suggests both the sadness of the character and his mysterious criminal past.

Luke is absent after the first third of the film, replaced as protagonist by other, intersecting characters’ lives, but to tell too much about the stories in The Place Beyond the Pines would be to deprive the audience of the revelatory experience.  The succeeding segments of the film may not carry the same impact or immediacy of interest, but are definitely compelling, particularly insofar as these are informed and darkened or brightened in turn by Luke’s paternal and criminal legacy.  Flawed though it arguably is, The Place Beyond the Pines is a triumph for Gosling and Cianfrance, rich in atmosphere and unique music, and is one of the most striking films of the year – one that should be seen on the big screen while possible.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Place Beyond the Pines is:

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) gets high with the disgusting AJ (Emory Cohen), who also bullies him into stealing drugs for a party.  No definite judgment or consequences are attached to these behaviors apart from the threat of police interference and jail time, but the film does nothing really to glorify substance abuse – with, however, the possible exception of alcohol, when Luke’s old associate Robin (Killing Them Softly‘s Ben Mendelsohn, in a small but meaty role one wishes had been expanded) offers underaged Jason a beer in camaraderie.  Smoking, too, arguably receives an endorsement.

6. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn) – and yet surprisingly anti-wigger.  The revolting AJ, though a wigger himself, seems uneasy and put off by Jason’s mixed parentage.

5. Christian.  Luke has a tattoo of a Bible on one of his hands.  His religious views are never articulated, but one assumes that something approximating Christian morality motivates him to take responsibility for the child he has fathered.  Kofi attends church with Romina (Mendes) and sees to it that Luke’s son is baptized.

4. Anti-state.  Politicians are phony, opportunistic careerists, a mentality illustrated by one candidate’s itinerary cynically making room for visits to black churches.  Nor does the law apply equally when the perpetrator happens to be a politician or his relative.  Jason’s black market purchase of a pistol demonstrates the futility of gun control measures.

3. Family-ambivalent.  The film offers both positive and negative examples.

2. Pro-miscegenation/multiculturalist/pro-slut/pro-bastard.  Single mother Romina has no qualms about carrying on with two different men of different races while ostensibly committed to one.  Race realists and race deniers will, however, come away from The Place Beyond the Pines with totally different interpretations of the interracial triangle central to its story.  Progressives will see in Kofi’s relationship with Romina and his adoption of her bastard child a demonstration of multiculturalist harmony in application, with Kofi showing how a black man can do the responsible thing and raise a family, even one that is not his own, in a safe and loving environment.  Racially conscious whites will find in the triangle a horrific and repugnant allegory showing how the white man’s recklessness and poor management of his affairs have resulted in his thoughtless abdication of the future, with the disconcerting outcome that unworthy others will take and stain his office and bed and even father his descendents.

1. Anti-police/relativist.  The police, as typified by veteran Deluca (Ray Liotta), are corrupt and no better than the robbers and drug dealers they catch and whose families they harass.

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