Saturday, September 23, 2006 


You must listen to this. Joe Morgenstern + him not liking a movie = me simultaneously wetting my pants at its hilarity and shitting them at how gosh-darn brilliantly he writes/speaks.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 

Book review: The Fall of the House of Usher

Let me just preface this by typing I know this is film site, but I've spent a literally about three hours writing this garbage so I'm thrusting it upon my non-existent readership whether they like it or not.

People think they know Edgar Allan Poe because he married his thirteen year-old cousin. Granted, its ethical implications are more than a little questionable and as such could be considered grounds for an appropriate affixation for Poe’s foaming, vitriolic ramblings on love, hate, insanity and ostensibly everything in-between. Such a criticism, though, profoundly over-simplifies and understates a personality at once disconnected and yet palpably ferocious.

This duplicity is no more prevalent than in The Fall of the House of the Usher, one of many short stories by Poe, which does away with the usual barmy protagonist as narrator and instead supplants this upon Roderick Usher: the one-time friend of our nameless guide, not only plagued by his unearthly place of residence and ill-fated twin sister but also an oppressive mental disorder which may or may not have something to do with the previous two. By eschewing the first person in this manner and up-playing the non-didacticism, Poe simultaneously adorns and degrades the soul. For itself is an emotional terror, not one of factual integrity. And so, as you’d expect, initial descriptions of the house sniffle of perpetual indulgence (“a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit”), but Poe merely uses these fantasist extortions to legitimise his realist intentions. Thusly Usher has little to do with a wildly transmogrifying abode, and everything to do with the wearing of individualism – an admittedly sensationalist conclusion is poignantly two-fold; as the Usher house falls so, too, do the lives and lineage of the ashen siblings.

One can accuse The Fall of the House of Usher, and by extension most of Poe’s repertoire, of being comfortably digestible in its own horrific way. Its finale is a fitting one, it flirts with both the supernatural and spiritual, and the plot serves to typify insanity just enough to entertain. Poe is restrained and let loose at the same time, both pure and puerile, frothing at the mouth like a witless animal circling the epicentre of innate ‘Baroque-ness’. And yet this is not a desperate lunge like the slovenly poet who overflows his passion in For Annie, neither the murderous semantics of The Tell-Tale Heart. Instead Usher teeters somewhere in the middle: suitably aware of its own grunge and stream of consciousness but less audaciously. Then it is not with grim fascination we enter the House of Usher as the host’s ‘friend’, rather with a snooping curiosity. We are drawn to its grotesqueness not because we ourselves are grotesque – that honour is bestowed upon, ironically, a house more animated than its inhabitants- but because we ask why. Why is it the house compares to “no earthly sensation” other than “the bitter lapse into everyday life” one receives after an opium trip? Our narrator even feigns a shaky justification, and in this vein taps into some odd wealth of primal human emotion. Poe makes us afraid, and out of nothing other than opinion and manipulative observation.

The fact that Poe is able to mask these machinations so completely is nothing short of intimidating. So whilst there’s a veritable gamut of now familiar horror staples (internment while alive, doors slamming, the original haunted house) it’s a tribute to the author that his story of the corrupted individual transcends any potentially dating genre trappings. The most obvious manifestation of this would be the invention of The Mad Trist, supposedly by Sir Launcelot Canning in fact Poe himself, which serves as unlikely means to extrapolate the reader’s fear further as the sounds contained within the story-within-a-story begin to mimic those in reality. Appropriately, though, Poe drenches the story of the knightly drunkard deep in satire and the plot is intentionally nonsensical. This gimmick in other hands would be nothing other than a scant excuse to showcase the author’s talents. In Poe’s case, it rings of a knowing selflessness many strive for but few achieve.

Subtlety is not something one usually associates with Poe, and The Fall of the House of Usher is no exception. Indeed, he all but stops short of bludgeoning us over the head with the novella’s wanton spirituality and vagaries of quietude. But there, in that moment, in that house, when Roderick Usher gives up his soul to bellow “MADMAN!” at his alarmed guest, there is an instant of such utterly sublime terror that strikes such a chord of unspeakable feeling that it warrants the excess that has preceded it. Expectedly compulsive and emotionally shattering, yet just as deliciously disordered as its titular dwelling, Usher is a decisive work with a slobbering intensity. Just what you’d expect, then, from an American who married his thirteen year-old cousin.

“By utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher.”

For Edgar Allan Poe, that idea is fear.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006 

Mini-review: The Sentinel

The Sentinel is just as gratuitous as its sensationally meaningless title suggests: a botched attempt at sexifying a tired sub-genre, with a tired leading man and sexy supporting cast. The trouble is it's so obviously inconsequential that no-one attempts to mask this and, as such, this type of film (which died a slow death in the '90s) is erroneously out-dated from the get-go. With a story so painfully high-concept (a Secret Service Agent is framed for the future assassination of the President, whilst banging the First Lady to provide convenient leverage for motive-less bad guys), one can expect at the very least a suckling pleasure dripping from the teat of convention -- especially with one alpha male attempting to re-assert his mojo (Michael Douglas) and another (Kiefer Sutherland) confirming it by playing his TV counterpart with less daughter/dead wife issues.

Alas, there is zero conflict and zero energy in The Sentinel; dialogue is so meticulously trimmed to provide ostensible yet 'subtle' plots point to an unwitting audience who are really more interested in Eva Longoria's sweater puppets than conspiracy. Which is a good thing, I suppose, when all potential for this to be a relevant, post-9/11, political doozy is completely and utterly cast aside. Instead, the film is tarred with that cornball Scooby Doo logic and just plain swirly-for-the-hell-of-it direction that when it finally does unloosen its shackles a tad for a sweaty third act, one can't help but notice that everyone involved is capable of much more -not least the un-expressive Douglas- and, frankly, should know better than to sign up for such evident Hollywood hooey with an unsatisfactory penchant for being frugal rather than gluttonous.

Saturday, September 02, 2006 

Marty doesn't live here anymore.

Anyone who over-simplifies Martin Scorsese to a mono-dimensional, Italian-American, gangsta-lovin' auteur is profoundly missing the point. His earlier work is far more in line with the Nouvelle Vague, a somewhat jerky surrealism with Catholicism nigh on invisible, or leastways existential experimentations which would later give way to the more familiar extortions of faith, doubt and self-destruction. And whilst dark situation-comedy is present in his later films (Jake LaMotta screaming about an overcooked steak to his hapless first bride, "It's like a piece of charcoal!" is just one of several moments of bleak hilarity that punctuate Raging Bull), it is none more prevalent than in his early shorts: What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?, It's Not Just You, Murray!, and -at a stretch- The Big Shave. All three criticisms of society, character, and typically American ideals; yet never pushy in their execution (The Big Shave can be seen as an extreme counter-culture indictment of consumerism, or simply a nut slitting his throat). Of course the results are sketchy and, in the absence of Steadicam, rough around the edges but they possess heart, vigour and personality The Departed can't hope to match.

All three can be found on YouTube here, starting chronologically with What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

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