Monday, April 28, 2014

A Man of Uneven Temper, or Satan's Favorite Wife

Kino Lorber and Raro Video are about to pump out a lot of nearly forgotten genre movies from places such as Italy and whatnot, and I've been fortunate enough to get an early look at some of them. That'll have to about do it for this introduction because guys, there are four of them to cover today. Four!
Death Occurred Last Night (d. Duccio Tessari) - This is a curious one, in that it turns out not really to be at all what it first appears to be. What it first appears to be is a quite possibly sickening piece of exploitation, but while the exploitation vibe lingers throughout, it's not so sickening. High praise indeed, I realize, but the set up here is that a single father (Raf Vallone) has a beautiful adult daughter (Gillian Bray) who has the mind, as he puts it, of a three-year-old, and one day she goes missing. As the film opens this has already happened, and we see her in flashback, a grown woman with clumsy pigtails who needs her father to help her brush her teeth and fix her breakfast and also put on her bra. This flashback is scored to a rather ridiculous bit of Italian pop that could also possibly work well in a strip club, who knows. There's nothing unseemly about the father's relationship with his daughter, nor is one meant to be inferred, even as a red herring, but choosing to show him putting on her bra while Bray camps it up in her best approximation of cartoonish innocence is perhaps not necessary. And almost completely beside the point, except to the degree that her appearance, and mental state, relates to the fact that she was kidnapped so that she could be sold into prostitution.

But as far as making anything of this, her appearance that is, the flashback pretty much ends matters, and Tessari's film becomes a mixture of a police procedural and a revenge film. With Vallone covering the revenge part, Frank Wolff as Detective Lamberti takes up the procedural end, and while this does take him and his partner from one brothel to another, which ramps up the flesh quotient, pretty quickly I got the feeling that what flesh was on display was mainly there due to demands by the financiers. There's nothing here that Tessari particularly wallows in -- what seems to interest him most is the father's rage and frustration (this despite the fact that when Wolff begins his investigation, Vallone disappears for a while). Death Occurred Last Night isn't a particularly twisty film, but there are plot elements that I shouldn't give away -- suffice it to say that when Lamberti's investigation reveals certain things, my instinct was to regard the film as very padded to distract from a lack of imagination, but in fact where we end up, the place that makes the film look padded, is in fact kind of vital to what Vallone's father is going through. None of which is to say this is a great film, and in fact the climax includes moments that are silly enough to have caused me to backtrack on some of my positive feelings about the whole thing (all I'll say is, sometimes in movies people die of things that wouldn't kill them in real life, and if this pet peeve is just nitpicking to you then so be it). Like a lot of films of this type that were made with certain financial goals in mind, and were made at a certain pace, Death Occurred Last Night has a hurried, get-the-boobs-in-there feel to it that can detract from Tessari's intent. That intent is still there, however, if you stick around.
Hallucination Strip (d. Lucio Marcaccini) - Almost certainly stranger is this story of I guess radical politics, drugs, murder, and hallucination, the only film ever made by director and co-writer Marcaccini. The basic story is pretty simple: a politically radical student named Massimo (played by the blatantly Italian Bud Cort), the kind of guy who thinks colleges shouldn't teach things like literature and history and who tells his girlfriend, after she's announced that she has to go home because she has stuff to do tomorrow, that he hopes she enjoys her "prison" and then expects her, not to mention us, to think he's pretty cool and not just some kind of prick shithead, steals an expensive tobacco box. This gets him mixed up with the cops and the mob, the most important thing for the head cop (Marcel Bozzuffi) being to use Massimo to lead him to a Mafia dope pusher known as The Sicilian. Massimo, a nice guy, only wants to help a couple of friends escape a drug charge, while also scoring a variety of drugs for his rich friend Rudy (Settimio Segnatelli). Which he does, and in fact Rudy, and the long, surreal party sequence during which Rudy takes those drugs, seem to have been of more interest to Marcaccini than any of the crime stuff. Not that the two are unrelated, because despite the film's politics, which are presented in a very perfunctory way, Marcaccini does not portray drugs in a very flattering light. Rudy's need for them has nothing to do with any attempt to expand his mind or go on a journey -- he wants only to escape what can only be described as a pretty nasty home life with his mother (Eva Czemerys), and the trip he goes on at this party is intended to be completely nightmarish. That part of this terrible hallucination put me in mind of the nude dance sequence in Vampire Circus, and other parts reminded me of cut-rate Jodorowsky (and I'm not in love with top shelf Jodorowsky in the first place) is to perhaps tell you only that your interest in such material could very well exceed mine. But this sequence did not exactly stop any shows that I was aware of.

It's not all bad, though, and in fact I'm pretty fond of the film's ending. I'm not necessarily fond of what it represents, or what I think it represents, if anything (though one could connect it to one of the storylines in Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, and maybe get something out of that, if one wanted to), but because it's an example of a kind of approach to, well, I'll just say it, to violence that I usually think works. The idea was best expressed, if not conceived by, Bruegel in one of his most famous paintings. I'm about to disappear up my whole ass in just a minute here, so I'll sign off quickly by saying it's a powerful idea, one that Marcaccini handles well.
The Demons (d. Jess Franco) - How do you even talk about this movie? A Jess Franco skeptic, I've recently been able to see the late horror filmmaker's genuine gifts in films like A Virgin Among the Living Dead and especially The Awful Dr. Orlof, which I guess makes me an agnostic now, but I'll be damned if that agnosticism has a hope of being tipped towards faith if films like The Demons are what I'm up against.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy the film, which is an aggravating thing to have to admit. In truth, it's hard to not enjoy, on some level, a film whose simple premise is that back in witch-burning days, a witch is burned, mainly at the order of three powerful individuals whose lives and families are immediately cursed by the dying witch. That witch had two daughters, Kathleen (Anne Libert) and Margaret (Britt Nichols) who at the time of their mother's death are living in a convent, as nuns. Kathleen is pretty "sensual," so that's a problem, and indicates some amount of witchery within her, so the villains -- Lady De Winter (Karin Field), Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbes), and Lord Justice Jeffries (Cihangir Gaffari) -- would like these girls rooted out, tested for witchness, and burned. The short version is that one girl is a witch, in fact, another escapes and is hunted, not all villains are so villainous, and Karin Field steals the whole damn thing by being a real firecracker and playing a pretty awful person, and being, as so many of the actresses in this film seemed to be, up for whatever.

If I say I enjoyed the nudity in this film, how much closer can I possibly be to understanding the regard with which some people hold Franco? If I say that despite the former, I was often simultaneously bored by how long the scenes revolving around it were dragged out, then the answer is obviously "Not a bit closer." As a piece of storytelling, The Demons is often clumsy, as when, for instance, a climactic moment of vengeance should not have ever worked, based on information provided earlier but it had to so the movie could end. And the three tests to determine if a woman is a witch often don't seem to reveal what Franco is saying -- and what the film's audio wants to confirm -- has been revealed. This could be explained as sadism or hypocrisy or corruption on the part of the test-givers if in this film witches weren't real, and if these tests didn't apparently prove as much. But anyway. "It is what it is" isn't much of critical stance, and I won't say it's one I'm taking, but with films like this, as I sit there watching them, I think of that phrase, and I get it.
The Black Torment (d. Robert Hartford-Davis) - For my money, this classic, even straightforward, Gothic horror film from 1964 is the best of the lot. Sir Richard Fordyke (John Turner) is returning from London to his family’s sprawling estate with Elizabeth (Heather Sears), his new wife. Elizabeth hasn’t met anyone in the family, so as she meets, for example, Richard’s father, Sir Giles (Joseph Tomelty), confined to a wheelchair and rendered speechless by a stroke, or Sir Giles’s nurse Diane (Ann Lynn), so does the audience. It’s a time-honored and neat excuse for exposition, not any kind of a big deal but graceful and even entertaining in its way, as the relative brightness of these moments quickly turn to shadow as Seymour (Peter Arne), one of the servants and an old friend of Sir Richard’s, takes him aside to reveal that another servant, Lucy, has been brutally raped and murdered while Sir Richard was in London, that she was heard to cry out Sir Richard’s name before she died, and that suspicion among the townspeople has fallen on him as a result.

And we’re off. The story that director Robert Hartford-Davis and screenwriters Derek and Donald Ford are telling is just complicated enough to keep the mystery and the horror compelling – there’s much to do with Sir Richard’s first wife, Anne, who killed herself after being harried into it by Sir Richard’s grandfather due to her apparent inability to conceive an heir. As if that’s not enough, people in the town, and even in the family home, claim to have seen Sir Richard in places he couldn’t have been, and Sir Richard also sees a ghostly, white-shrouded figure walking near the woods outside. It’s all great, professional and sharp and enormously entertaining, but never, thank God, camp, or anyway, not to me. This may be because my tolerance for camp is somewhat low, while my tolerance for taking the sort of film The Black Torment is seriously is pretty high. It might cross my mind that John Turner probably deserved the BAFTA for Shouting for this performance, but that doesn’t stop me wondering how the hell Sir Richard is going to get out of this mess. It doesn’t hurt at all that Hartford-Davis’s talent for the Gothic is assured – he’s not interested in smothering the audience with atmosphere, and in fact seems to realize that a ghostly figure walking silently through the grass is quite enough atmosphere to get the point across. There’s one moment in particular, a great one that I’d rather not spoil, that involves one character happening upon a terrible sight, and there’s a quick cut to what is being seen and then a quick cut back to the person seeing it, before finally cutting back for a lingering shot on the terrible thing, that actually put me in mind of Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs finding the dead cat in the closet, turning on the light, seeing it, turning the light off as a thoughtless reflex, turning back on for the same reason: an uncontrollable spasm. In The Black Torment, the spasm isn’t physical, but found in the editing, yet the effect is the same.

At the end, you get a terrific showdown on a staircase, then some rather less graceful exposition complete with a vital piece of information the audience is learning for the first time. This is unfortunate, but fine, and anyway right after that there’s a sword fight. It may not be Flynn vs. Rathbone or Neeson vs. Roth, but I’ll tell you, it ain’t bad.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Don't Slam Gate

Let me tell you why a film as expertly made as Jules Dassin’s Brute Force nevertheless irritates me so much: in its attempt to castigate the nation for the appalling condition of its prisons, it constructs an inmate population consisting, apparently, entirely of innocent men. God knows they seem free of any guilt. The head prison guard played by Hume Cronyn (in a great performance) seems to have rounded up all of these men at random for his own sadistic amusement. We should put a stop to that! So Dassin’s film is a pretty rare beast: a message movie that is a good movie while being a bad message movie. Most filmmakers with a message they’d like to impart and fail at doing that well are going to fail at the rest of it, too. Jules Dassin wasn’t most filmmakers, however, so Brute Force comes out ahead in the end, but despite itself.

Another film that tackles the exact same subject matter and is as blunt with its message as Brute Force, but successfully and gratifyingly avoids the simplicity of Dassin's film is director Don Siegel and producer Walter Wanger's 1954 film Riot in Cell Block 11. Today Criterion has released this film on Blu-ray, and included in the accompanying booklet is an article written by Wanger the year of the film's release. In the essay, Wanger is arguing for the same kind of prison reform that his film calls for, and he's doing it from a place of experience, having spent time in prison (about 100 days, mostly in a facility that Wanger says he was told came off like the Waldorf Asotria next to other places he might have ended up) for...well, Wanger doesn't say. Attempted murder, if you're curious, and having noticed this withholding of information before watching the film, I must say it gave me pause. I worried that Riot in Cell Block 11 would, like Brute Force before it, paint the inmates as nothing but a group lovable mooks who had frankly had just about enough of this poor treatment. It's another facet of films like this that the misdeeds of the criminal -- if he's ever acknowledged as such -- must be understood and empathized with, whereas the misdeeds brutal wardens and/or prison guards don't need to be understood because we already know these guys are just a bunch of sadists, and nothing about their jobs our outside life, or the kind of men they're called on to supervise, could ever offer up anything with which to empathize.

So I was gearing up for frustration, but I was being unfair. Riot in Cell Block 11 is really quite remarkable in a lot of ways. Not surprisingly, being a Siegel film, it's very lean: 80 minutes, in and out, and the prison riot gets off the ground just a few minutes after the opening credits. Today we might regard it as a cross between a procedural and a docudrama. The key players are Neville Brand as Dunn, the leader of the riot who not only draws up a list of very reasonable demands, but also threatens quite sincerely to kill the guards the inmates have taken hostage (there is glee, even desire, in his eyes as he helps develop a particularly grotesque method of doing so, should he decided the occasion calls for it); Carnie, played by Leo Gordon, Dunn's psychopathic right-hand man, similar to John Cazale's Sal in Dog Day Afternoon in that you understand that Carnie, like Sal, would happily go on a murder spree without someone to control him; Robert Osterloh as The Colonel, an intelligent peaceful man who did one stupid and terrible thing once but doesn't have it in him to do such a thing again, a person who approves of Dunn's demands but not necessarily of his methods; and the eternally weary Emile Meyer as the compassionate Warden Reynolds. He's compassionate, but no pushover. At one point, in the middle of everything, Reynolds barks at the rather myopic Commissioner Haskell (Frank Faylen) that he would never sign off on the prisoners' demands if it wasn't for the hostages.

From here, Siegel, Wanger, and screenwriter Richard Collins attempt to create a story of tension, violence, and justice in which no solution is without its drawbacks, all the while being quite clear about which side they come down on. This is a task at which they largely succeed. Occasionally, as when the warden points out that you can't avoid riots by treating inmates badly only to have the commissioner ask if he thinks you can do it by treating them better, the filmmakers' are half-assing their complexity, but other times they hinge their whole film on it. When The Colonel, nursing an injured hostage, seems to find the very idea of being a prisoner (he's only guilty of manslaughter, after all) to be justification enough for disliking his guards, if that rankles you (it did me) you can hold on and see how The Colonel is treated by his fellow inmates when he works hard just to save lives. (I don't want to ruin the moment by giving too much context, but there's a sequence of shots relating to The Colonel in this moment that first show the rioters slowly backing up, and then the camera backing away from what they see. This section of the film is striking, chilling, and rather damning of the men whose cause Wanger and Siegel have taken up.) Or how the guards are presented in general, or rather how their plight is presented (I don't hold it against the film for not spending much time on the hostages as characters). The fact that these are human beings whose lives are genuinely at risk is never lost on Wanger or Siegel, and in fact one of the reforms Wanger proposed in his article was that prison guards be paid a decent wage, not a demand made by Dunn in the film, certainly, but nodded to all the same when a prisoner wonders how one of the guards can support a family on his salary and is told the guard works two jobs.

It's also interesting to me how the film depicts, or rather doesn't, the brutal beatings the inmates say they've suffered at the hands of the guards. One guard in particular, named Snader (Whit Bissell), is supposedly the worst of the bunch, but we never see him do anything. Wanger, Siegel, and Collins didn't make this up, but they don't show it -- the price of keeping things as brisk as they do, perhaps, since during the vast majority of the film's run-time, the guards are powerless. Whatever the reason, it avoids easily lazily painting prison guards -- and the number of sympathetic portrayals of such people in American films runs as high as six, maybe -- as nothing but brutes, though on the other hand it could also make the legitimate gripes of the prisoners seem less urgent. On this count, I also wonder at the intentions to show Dunn calling out the The Colonel, who is reluctant to participate in the riot in any capacity, partly because he's due for parole and will probably get it, for being selfish, and for thinking only of himself, and then later showing Dunn, having achieved some goals but getting the short end of the stick himself, betraying a great bitterness. This bitterness, if one were inclined towards a lack of empathy in Dunn's case, could read as the very selfishness he saw in The Colonel. He was willing to shame The Colonel into jeopardizing his own freedom, but can't take that kind of heat himself. Well, neither could I, probably, but I've also never murdered anyone, and so on. The film avoids none of this, though, and while it's difficult to know the intentions of the filmmakers when it comes to every little moment, those moments are in the film, and are a part of it.

In any event, Dunn makes his own best case when he points out to Reynolds that this riot wasn't an attempt at escape, but only for fair and reasonable treatment. It's hard to not see the implications of this fact, one of which is perhaps an understanding of Dunn's own guilt. I deserve to be here, but I'm not an animal.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Cronenberg Series Part 10: Report on the Assassination of Joan Lee by Unknown Forces

I should perhaps begin by talking about how I screwed up. My intention was to read Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs so that when I wrote about David Cronenberg's 1991 film I could say "Hey I read that book." Having read Burroughs before only to find his way of going about things to be entirely anathema to my own, I don't know that I would have been able to say much beyond that, but it seemed important to be able to say it, if for no reason other than to cover matters of due diligence and so forth. Well, I read most of Naked Lunch, and then one day I set it down, but with no sense of anticipation for the next time I might pick it up, and this is I think key. I never picked it up again, though I only had about 80 pages to go, and I've remembered very little about what I did read that could be useful to me today. Therefore, in any way that matters, I have not read Naked Lunch.

I think I'll be okay, though, because watching the Cronenberg film again yesterday, and doing some research, I feel sure that David Cronenberg was not so much adapting Burroughs's 1959 novel as he was adapting this passage from Burroughs's 1985 publication of his novel Queer:

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.

"Joan" is of course Joan Vollmer, Burroughs' common-law wife, who, while in Mexico in 1951, and in a roomful of friends, Burroughs shot in the head and killed, apparently while trying, with Vollmer's permission, to shoot a glass off her head. "Why I did it, I don't know," Burroughs later told biographer Ted Morgan. "It was an utterly and completely insane thing to do." He would publish his first novel Junky two years later, then write Queer shortly afterwards (though it wouldn't be published until 1985), and then his signature, landmark novel, the phantasmagorically drug-sick Naked Lunch.

And while I might not be a fan of Burroughs' work, David Cronenberg, unsurprisingly, is. The idea of making a film out of Naked Lunch had been kicking around between him and producer Jeremy Thomas since 1984, though he says in David Cronenberg: Interviews with Serge Grunberg that the very early notion was more of a joke than anything else -- a joke, presumably, because as he tells Chris Rodley in Cronenberg on Cronenberg, a "literal" adaptation of Naked Lunch "would cost $400-500 million...and of course it would be banned in every country in the world. There would be no culture that could withstand that film." And, well, no, probably not -- the sex and violence in that novel ("what I read of it," he shamefully amends) is not only very graphic, but also so stratospherically elaborate that filming the sexuality alone would force the great special effects minds of the late 1980s to devise new ways of doing things. Add to that the fact that Naked Lunch is also, essentially, science fiction, and the expense begins to grow exponentially.

However, after The Fly and Dead Ringers, the film version of Naked Lunch was becoming a reality in Cronenberg's mind, and the method he developed was what he calls a "fusion" between himself and Burroughs, while the result was something like a general adaptation of Burroughs' ideas and a kind of biopic. Peter Weller plays William Lee, which Burroughs used not only as a character name in several novels but also occasionally as a pseudonym, an exterminator in New York during the 1950s, or perhaps an "exterminator" in "New York" in the "1950s." At the beginning of the film, he discovers that the bug powder he uses in his work has been skimmed. Lee learns from his writer friends Hank (Nicholas Campbell) and Martin (Michael Zelniker) that Lee's wife Joan (Judy Davis) has been doing the skimming, because she's become addicted to the powder, injecting it like heroin. Lee is less horrified by this than maybe bemused, but anyway he goes along with her idea and begins using it too. He does take some steps towards getting Joan off the stuff by visiting a Dr. Benway (Roy Scheider), who introduces him to "black meat," made from a particular kind of Brazilian centipede, which is supposedly a drug similar to methadone -- wean her off the powder with the black meat, increase the black meat little by little, her craving will disappear. Things really kick off, however, when Lee is approached by two cops who take him to the precinct, where he's introduced to a giant talking cockroach (voiced by Peter Boretski) who tells him that he, the roach, is Lee's "case worker," and that Lee is an agent whose new mission is to kill Joan because she is an agent for Interzone, Inc., which in the grand scheme of things is essentially both a country and a drug-manufacturing corporation. It's best to not try to summarize all this too much, so the important part now is that Lee dismisses all this and flees, first killing the giant roach. Lee is a wry but passive sort of fellow, and he's soon back living his normal life, even his newly-boosted paranoia failing to crack him too much, until during a bug powder-and-booze fueled gathering of himself, Joan, Martin, and Hank he tells Joan that they should do their "William Tell" act, so she puts a glass on her head, he pulls a gun, and shoots her in the head. We're maybe a half hour into the film at this point.

Typically, I'm not a huge fan of films whose stories can mostly be interpreted as a hallucination of the protagonist, or some kind of drugged-out fever dream, but Naked Lunch is a different kettle of fish in this regard. Soon after Joan's death, Lee goes to a bar -- he's trying to figure out what to do, but he's also not a guy who's capable of doing a great deal -- where he's introduced by a gay man named Kiki (Joseph Scorsiani) to a Mugwump, a big humanoid insectile alien creature (voiced again by Boretski) who gives Lee new orders, as though that roach had never been killed, to travel to Interzone and investigate and write reports and such, et cetera and et cetera, the point being that later when Lee is telling Martin where he plans to flee, from the legal aftermath of Joan's death, he shows a confused Martin his plane ticket, which we saw the Mugwump give him, but what he holds out to Martin is a tube of bug powder. Or heroin, in other words. Martin is no less confused by this, but Cronenberg's intentions couldn't be more clear. Lee's "plane ticket" doesn't exist. He's going on a "trip," a pun I don't like making, and which Cronenberg himself doesn't make even while he's making it.

How much of what happens really happens? Very little, it would seem, but I can't see how that matters. Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is, in its best moments, an exhilarating intellectual portrait of diseased creativity, or creativity born from disease, the artistic flowering (whether you like what Burroughs wrote or not) of one writer from a brain exploding with the most powerful and deadly of narcotics, and raw guilt, and from tragedy that almost redefines "senseless." The cockroach, and the Mugwump, insist that Lee write very detailed reports, which he does (on a typewriter that itself turns into a Brundlefly-like object, half talking cockroach, half typewriter, which, needless to say, Boretski again), and this is why Lee/Burroughs writes anything at all. And he doesn't type a word until Joan is dead and he's in Interzone. His need to escape both justice and his guilt transforms into the "appalling conclusion" of a writing life. Of course Cronenberg complicates things a little bit further by having the idea of killing Joan planted in his head by a talking cockroach, which even in that early scene is a hallucination (isn't it?), because by then he'd started on the bug powder-as-drug (the bug powder, Joan tells him, provides a very "literary high," and by the end of the film I suppose we know what that means, don't we?) so nothing he sees, at least nothing that seems so very much out of the ordinary, can be read as "real," even within the very expansive borders of a Cronenberg film. The point being, in this film Burroughs has to kill Joan to become a writer, though he doesn't understand any of this, it's a subconscious notion (earlier he tells Martin and Hank that he gave up writing when he was ten; he also tells them that writing is dangerous), and in Cronenberg's film it can be read almost as his destiny. Which sounds terribly cold-hearted in regards to the death of Joan Vollmer, but one mustn't be so literal about these things. When you look at the mark Burroughs eventually made on 20th Century American literature, and you think about what Burroughs says led him to write in the first place, this demonically stupid death, is it insulting to think -- again, let's not take this literally, please -- that this was all going to happen one way or the other?

So there's William Lee pounding out his reports on his Clark-Nova bug typewriter, in a little room in Interzone. His literary career has begun, and though Lee still doesn't regard himself as any kind of writer, in Interzone he finds himself among the literati. Because Interzone, as Cronenberg depicts it, is, or might as well be, Tangiers, Morocco. This is where Burroughs wrote the novel Naked Lunch, and in the 1950s it was also for strung-out or otherwise socially unacceptable writers what Paris in the 1920s was for Hemingway and all the rest. A lot of Beat activity, in other words, but also the home, by then, of the American writers Paul and Jane Bowles. Paul Bowles and Jane Bowles were both gay, but were married to each other (in the case of Paul Bowles, at least, there could have been some of the intense denial that Cronenberg says was such a strong feature of Burroughs' own struggles with his sexuality, and which helped the filmmaker construct how homosexuality is presented in Naked Lunch, as a "disguise"; in any event, in his introduction to The Stories of Paul Bowles, Robert Stone writes that Bowles was "genuinely puzzled" that so many people thought he was gay). I bring them up because in Interzone/Tangiers, William Lee meets Tom and Joan Frost. Tom Frost is played by Ian Holm, and you're meant to pick up on the Paul Bowles link from certain circumstantial clues, such as Ian Holm's hair in the film, and then you see a picture of Paul Bowles, and you go "Hey their hair is the same." As for Joan Frost, she's also played by Judy Davis. Here's a picture of Davis as Joan Frost:

Okay, now here's a picture of Jane Bowles:

Now tell me, am I crazy? No, I don't think I am, either. While the last half of Jane Bowles's life is a very sad story filled with disease (she had a stroke when she was 40, which essentially put an end to her writing career, though it would take another thirty years to kill her), it's not as if Paul Bowles had anything to do with her death. So even though Burroughs and the Bowleses knew each other in Tangiers (Bowles was even instrumental in getting Burroughs's career started), the presence of these stand-in figures in Cronenberg's film is a little bit obscure to me. It could have as little to do with the historical figures as W. P. Mayhew in Barton Fink being very loosely based on William Faulkner, or Fink himself being based on Clifford Odets, neither detail being something about which too much should be made. But there are a couple of things. The Frosts are somewhat sinister figures, with Tom Frost going from friend to Lee to a man battling with Lee over insect typewriters (because Tom Frost is himself possessed/addicted/infected), and Joan (Jane) being revealed as having connections with Interzone, Inc., and a strange lesbian cabal. Nothing much is made of Joan Frost as a writer, and her drifting away from the action for a while could be her "stroke"...maybe. Whatever the case, in the film Joan Frost the writer, as Jane Bowles the writer, is sucked away from her literary life. Joan Frost also becomes the key to one of the most bone-chilling, brutally ingenious moments in any Cronenberg film. At the end, Joan Frost has ended up with Lee. They've left Interzone in a van and have crossed the border to Annexia, a country under some kind of Communist influence, it would be appear, because their van is stopped by soldiers. Joan is asleep in the back, Lee is driving. The soldiers ask Lee questions, including his profession. He tells them he's a writer, but they want proof. He holds up a pen. Not good enough, they tell him. So he turns around in his seat and wakes up Joan. He tells her that they need to do their William Tell act. So she puts the glass on her head, he takes out his gun, and he shoots her in the forehead. He has now proven himself a writer.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Coming Soon...

This is my promise to anyone who gives a shit, but mostly it will force me to actually fuckin' do it already. I'm so serious that I'm using swear language!