(Vague but major spoilers for Let the Right One In are contained within the first two paragraphs of this post)
Over the weekend, I finally got around to watching Let the Right One In, the Swedish vampire film, directed by Tomas Alfredson, that last year was hailed as one of the best movies of the year, one of the best horror films ever made, and possibly the best vampire film, period, full stop, the end. It's all a little too fresh for me to make any similar proclamations, but it is a damn good film, easily the best horror film I've seen in at least a few years. Last year, I wrote about the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist on which the film is based (don't click on that link if you don't happen to feel like it, because the post is nothing to get too worked up about), and the short version is that I wasn't too keen on it. Apart from problems with either the prose itself, or the translation, it's clear to me now that the novel's greatest problem was massive bloat: it's about 500 pages long, and truly didn't need to be more than 300. A film that clocks in at just under two hours is going to have needed to hack away at a lot of that, to carve away anything that wasn't essential. Sometimes, what's inessential to a novel is part of what makes it great, but in the case of Lindqvist's novel that which was intended to add color simply drained all the life out of the story. .
Not so the film, which is wonderfully moody and sad, and which preserves everything strong about the novel. Part of the genius of Lindqvist's story (and he wrote the screenplay) is that in rooting for Oskar -- the young boy who is relentlessly bullied at school, and who leads a largely friendless existence until he meets a young girl name Eli, a girl who treats him well, who likes him, and for whom he feels immediately protective -- the audience is basically rooting against themselves. Everyone -- everyone who's not a bully, at least -- wants the weak and bullied to finally lash out against their tormenters, and when we see it happen in movies, when the asshole at the summer camp finally gets knocked into the lake, our impulse is to cheer. But in reality, when the tormented strike back, it's not always the bullies who get lashed. Let the Right One In, it seems to me, without ever mentioning it, is based on this idea. At the end, Oskar and Eli are on their own, traveling who knows where, to live their lives together. But we know what it takes for Eli to stay alive, and so does Oskar. Eli will take what she needs from whoever she can find, and if Oskar becomes like Hakan, Eli's previous keeper, he will provide for her at the expense of the first person he can lure.
Root for Oskar and Eli if you want to -- I did -- but you do so at your own peril.
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I just finished watching Erik Nelson's documentary about science fiction, horror, and etc. writer Harlan Ellison, Dreams with Sharp Teeth. It was more or less what I expected it to be, except maybe a little bit better. Clearly, Larson came to the project as an acolyte, and Ellison is his altar. The only words spoken against Ellison -- this man who has amassed such an array of enemies that at one point they formed a club -- in the entire film are those uttered gently and with love by his friends and admirers. Ellison himself has claimed that Larson should have interviewed some of the many people who hate him, but Larson's excuse is that Ellison is his own worst enemy. True enough, and up to a point, but believing that does not make the film more interesting.
But I grew up reading Ellison, and though I now find him to be an obnoxious, insufferable egomaniac, he can still be a darned entertaining one (his rant about writers getting paid is a highlight of the film). If you've read enough of Ellison over the years, especially his autobiographical essays (all of his essays are finally about him, no matter what his ostensible subject is), then you've heard all this before, so it probably helps if you have some distance from that part of your reading history, as I do, before checking this out. It's a hagiography, but I can't find it within myself to get too worked up about that. Ellison's an old guy now, and he's written some terrific fiction, and he got kicked around a lot when he was a kid. Let him have his movie.
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Speaking of documentaries with which Harlan Ellison has some involvement, when is this thing coming out?
I can't pretend to be any kind of expert on the bizarre work and life (presumably also bizarre) of Brother Theodore, but what small taste I've had over the years -- on Letterman, in films, now in internet clips -- really makes me want to be an expert. Singular, hilarious and disturbing, Brother Theodore has been a background fascination of mine for years. How could I get my hands on his albums? Is it possible I could ever see him perform live? The answer to the second question is now, of course, "No", and the first one is "Probably not", due to the steep prices at which used copies are currently selling. And knowing just enough about some obscure artist to make me want to know more, only to have a full understanding and appreciation of the art thwarted by that very obscurity, until finally I have to settle for scraps and biographies or documentaries, is not a fate with which I'm unfamiliar. So I'm used to it. Once again, you've defeated me, The Universe. Now at least let me see this goddamn documentary.
"Originality" has become a meaningless word. The loss -- not physically, which is inevitable, but in terms of cultural memory -- of people like Brother Theodore is the reason -- the entire reason -- for that. Far too often, true originality gets buried with the body. If no one tells you, or shows you, what the word means, how will you ever know? That's why I want to see the film: to remind myself what genuine, mad innovation really is.