Monday, 22 March 2010

THE TRANSCENDENTALIST (Charles Laughton, 1951)

The Transcendentalist finally makes peace with itself about an hour in, settling into a nonsense rhythm reminiscent of another sub-prime classic you'll have on the tip of your tongue, like the name of a minor lover you spent a long week promising to never forget on one of the more tousist-ridden Greek islands when you were eighteen and promptly didn't write to, ever, despite wanting to. (Why didn't you?) Gary Cooper, heretoforth vibrating with alacrity between folksy hero and weary cynic (a pendulum on which almost every Hollywood lead swings, at least if they're not on the one that ticks on homespun innocence and tocks, unbelievably but inevitably, on genius and glory. Neither are exclusive; many character arcs greedily take in both donging devices, or an unholy mixture of both), takes sixty minutes of chewing gum (beautifully, slowly, sexily, evoking the old Wrigley's slogan 'Too much mastication will make you go blind', a minor classic of inverse-advertising that made the kids chew their way through the fifties) before he ups the gears into something more, something om; He discovers a fifty-foot meta-Cooper at exactly the same time as James Agee and Dirk Langston's script begins to sing a second simultaneous song, spreading melodic shards in many new curves; this is also the exact moment that Charles Laughton's direction seems to twist into a new heaven, somehow capturing the exact moment that Western Philosophy meets east, causing a blissful Oz to permeate the director's canvas/Kansas.

Hyperbole? Watch it, and you too will think that the film suddenly shifts from black and white to colour. But it doesn't; it just seems that way, an illusion created by a coincidence of genius. ' Every one of my mother, Colin Cowdrey, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rin Tin Tin see the ending in colour,' said Graham Greene in a Times piece in 1956, going on to refute the myth that dogs are colourblind, instead suggesting that they see in fact a dim rainbow, in which blue is especially noticeable to their eye... 'so perhaps Rin Tin Tin appreciates the waterfall sequence here in a somewhat nuanced way'.

A metaphysical detective story becomes decadent, endless inqury; Cooper wanders into the golden countryside, not leaving a linear plot behind but somehow multiplying it tenfold and making even more sense. The gates of noir are flung apart.1 Somehow, you wonder, if in fact mankind would have been condemned long ago but for these curious puzzles we create to confuse the gods. Art doesn't just amuse us, it buys us time, until we can figure out a suitable escape plan. And so flippant jokes can actually be mordant philosophies, and Gary Coopers can actually be religious vessels, carrying our fevered hopes as far as they can before their knees buckle and they grow tired and tiresome.

'Our noons were in the same sky,' said Cooper of his time working with Laughton, Agee and Langston. The public wavered, however, finding the hard stare of genius too much to bear, and went to see other entertainments instead. 'Such is life,' remarked Laughton, I shouldn't wonder that if Christ was resurrected in our lifetimes, we would surely fail to notice.'
The Transcendentalist is the first of two one-hit wonders of Laughton's directorial career in Hollywood, the other being Night of the Hunter (1955), another slice of sublime dissonance.

(Nance... Nancy- that was it her name, knew her for a week in 1993. Or Susan. From Stepney, or Colchester. A six-foot tall tomboy in a West Ham shirt on the verge of blooming into a stunner, a fact of which she was all too oblivious. She was relatively spiteful in play on holiday, but wrote two letters full of longing back home. There was no response. She is thought of seldomly, but once every six months a girl with her likeness walks past and causes a wave of wistfulness.)

The Transcendentalist Directed by Charles Laughton Produced by Paul Gregory Written by James Agee, Dirk Langston, United Artists 92 mins Release Date US: Jan 1951/UK: Aug 1951
Tagline: 'He's gone.'

1. David Lynch was heavily influenced by The Transcendentalist, and the central motif of a detective encircled by mysterious evils was evident in Twin Peaks, with Lynch even naming his Special Agent hero after Gary Cooper.

Monday, 8 March 2010

HOW AUSTRALIA TOOK US (Franck Boston-Tobias, 2010)

Scene: In the midst of some kind of national crisis, a young man (Noah Taylor) sits in a police interview room, accused by a detective (Nick Cave) of murdering his lover (Isabelle Huppert). The young man proceeds to attempt to justify his actions by explaining that the cause of the American apocalypse is a disease which causes lovers to see, at the point of orgasm, every one of their partner's previous conquests. He suggests that this disease is an act of sabotage from outside. Monologue:

Australia's army was small, but their nous was acute. They picked off the sex-psychics first, exploded their skulls with cuckold imagery. Invasion unnecessary. No Billabong kids with crackling jaws were required to cross our borders, those smirking goblins just spent down their dreams to a fast edge to catch us cold. Smiling, the cool bullies infected us from afar, destroying our orgasms, rendering our small deaths into enflamed confusions. A series of internal bombs, hoaxes and smokescreens confuse us; secret war twitches our pens. When the key is the anagram of sex, the vanquished can't write.

The near-flaw in their plan of aiming for the libido of the nation was that they overestimated the value of sex to America. Our frigidity almost saved us. While they considered our fleshy levees to be lugubriously swelling, they were in fact obscured from our view, our decadence uncalculated. We appeared, at a deep glance, to be obsessed with rutting, but this disguised the facts. Unvisited orchards produced only apples.

But the plan worked, nonetheless. There's always enough sex to bring any civilisation down.

They scrambled our endings, Victoria's secretions. Before we knew what they had done, it was too late. No parachutes from the edge of the sky, no bloody hacking into our procrastination. After all, there was a labyrinth no interloper could ever pass through at the heart of our pentagon. Walls of fire, an infinity of code. Which we knew, because each previous failure to overthrow us had been paraded headless and hollow on television. Our digital safety was thus pledged. And as we were convinced that the only way they could come was through our plastic keyboards, we were comforted. But they found a backdoor we didn't know we had. Fantasies were sabota-
'-Mr Smith, you mean to say you didn't kill your girlfriend? That a foreigner did?'

Leading question. Tone of slight derision. It isn't Australia the country, but something more
elusive. Australia is the name we have for them, and it doesn't suffice. I'll tell him again.
He has the numbers: Domestic violence rose, but he'll say it always had. The divorce rate soared, but then it always had. The curse that had been put on us, the trick they were fooling us with, might have been a gift to a more enlightened people. Instead, we found that seeing images as we climaxed that revealed who our partner had slept with previously only hurt.
Previous lovers in this context were vampires reflected in surfaces.

For that was what they did.

Somehow, they managed to poison us. During sex with another person, we would see, every
time we closed our eyes, all of their previous sexual partners, stacked up, or in a line. There were those that may have been spies, sleeping with groups of friends, entire families. The greys and cool oranges of my city appeared to change. Although the invasion was not to be seen around us- there were no gunposts above bars, checkpoints as the occupying force marshalled space- our vision was suspect. Our eyes were all vichy eyes, lying to themselves. Some ran anywhere, just to get a jump on death, a couple of days.

'Mr Smith, you're ignoring the subject.'

'Sir, this is the subject. Our country has fallen into disrepair. They caused it. A skreeing satellite pixelated our thoughts. One moment we were scraping moondust from our boots, shedding ideas, almost controlling Time, period. But we didn't see that dark was the night, and it was falling. Now, before we know it, we are segregating ourselves. Fence wires are cut and snap back like guitar strings. A black humming in the distance might have given the game away. Church gatherings, street corners. We're burden bearers, licking friends, naming our afflictions to weaken their power. Uncrushed, dreams of blacked victory. Revenge flickers in cities, not coherent enough to rise like a threat. Names of towns haven't changed, but they now seem sad, echoing dully, devoid of Revelators to convey. Talent contests unfinished. TV towers hum, our bluesmen. Trains run as usual, but listlessly. We hold pretty things in our hands, and don't know where to look.'

'Not everyone is killing their girlfriend, Mr Smith.'

'The stories, complexities, were dotted among the news, but no pattern was traced to link them. Hetero concerns remain hidden, colourful ones pastiched into ridicule. It happened to me, one, twice, a hundred times before I linked it to the outside world, the passages in misspelt news
that leapt, the seasoned broadcasters' disdain for nothing much at all. We are a matrix, a clogged artery, a segue upon a segue. The East Coast hummed with this and everything else, a cold electrocuted corpse, over there and out of reach. In camps, some of the homeless rutted endlessly, and every time it hurt, they did it more. And once sex is gone, pleasurelessness will kill us before lack of reproduction does. We don't need children to refresh our cities, but we need stimulae.'

'You murdered her.'

I remember V, late, that middle of the night away from all. Her room was above the street, and even after she no longer worked in the bar below, she stayed. Fried smoke always found its way in. She'd change into a T-shirt, smile from the hall, slow right down to the speed of a record. Do you think I should cut my hair? She lifted it up into a bundle on top of her head, and pouted sideways at me. No. Never.

V, inverse opening, long-legged receptacle, on her back. She'd be below me, but would govern my action. V, a crooked seagull coasting on her own air. Sweat, fogged lenses, happy cheeks. The picture appeared in a cloud of activity, and I lost it in her ear canal: Her other lovers, on the wind, gone. Hundreds, thousands, all caring less than me. We ate cold lasagne while sitting on top of the sheets. She talked about her day, I forgot B momentarily. Christmas lights jumped, it was midnight in March. I knew I couldn't live with her anymore.

She died while wet, cut off from the shore. My withheld knowledge of the tidal situation incriminates me. The day was hot, so we went to the coast. Drove quickly, leaving behind a run of bad luck, frustrated bank accounts, percussive arguments. She proposed the escape, twenty-four hours away, and I agreed quickly. She was a brave swimmer, not a strong one. I wasn't even aware of my plan until it was all over, but by the time her cold lungs had stopped, I realised that my intention all along had been to end it here.

'That's a confession, Mr Smith?'

'I suppose. But I must add something. Her love was palindromic, you could approach her from both sides. Before and after the heat were identical, her smile distant, glances over your shoulder to future interests. Even in our special case, as victims of sabotage, she bore no ill will: She was just as warm as before our romance, and just as cool. But we were a special case. Our love ended at the phantom invasion, when one million homes sank like red herrings, tetchy and confused. I was a victim as much as she. We all were. Are.'

'Anything else?'

'Yes. Some of her hair was left in the bathtub. It suggests a message. But I could not decipher it. Could some of your experts have a look?'

'We'll have a look at the whole house, sir. Don't worry.'

How Australia Took Us Directed by Franck Boston-Tobias Produced by Hobson Tragic, John Boston-Tobias Written by Franck & John Boston-Tobias Starring Isabelle Huppert, Noah Taylor, Melissa George, Nick Cave, Music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis HBO/Film Four Release Date US/UK: November 2010 Tagline: 'They took nothing but our sex'