Friday, June 23, 2006
La Strada (Italia, 1953, Federico Fellini)
Wherein Ben and I do the Fellini Shuffle, with yer humble narrator (supposedly) taking the initiative.
Hey, we didn't talk about La Strada. What say you go first for a change, even though I have seen the film more recently than you?
I'm game. But that will necessitate me seeing the film again. It's been awhile. I remember Fellini's wife being, for all intents and purposes, a distaff Chaplin who is sold to Anthony Quinn, a giant muscle-brained asshole, some quirky carnies, judgmental nuns, a terrible act of Quinn-initiated violence and a tragic ending. Am I missing anything important?
Not really. Are we done? Hummnn... this may prove to be a disappointment for our many readers.
She is definitely the dark (sad) side of Chaplin's (sunny) moon. In Nights of Carbiria, she covers both sides, if memory serves, and that film blew me away. I haven't seen it in years, mind you, but my present impression is that it is superior to LS because her character is more complex, fully realized, and does not simply succumb to a fatal end but rather resists and approaches a near transcendence in the final frames. But her character is the full-on protagonist in that film, whereas in LS, although her subjectivity is explored and her relationship to Quinn is the centerpiece, ultimately it is his experience - if not his point of view - that organizes the events in LS. Indeed, as I write this, it occurs to me that the power of the final scene in LS - never fear, no spoiling details here... I think - is derived from his point of view finally catching up with his experience as we have been observing it during the whole film. In short, he has some sort of epiphany and it is not unreasonable to hope that his future may improve as a result. This is only a faint hope though. He could just as easily give in to total dispair. Either way, he does at least confront the truth of his being to a degree hitherto impossible for him. Whether or not this is too little too late is a matter of considerable debate. His potential for the future aside, he does not absolve himself and redemption is not on the table now. The question is really about sympathy. I felt sorry for him, terribly sorry. Monica, on the contrary, had only contempt for him, a brute, a bully, totally non-deserving of the love Masana's character tried to give him. But even as I felt for the man, sympathy is not a hearty breakfast and the film left me broken on the rack of tragedy, if I may run amok with metaphors.
In addition to the two leads, who are very strong - I mean their performances overcome the horrible dubbing, come on! - the performance by the acrobat/fool is also outstanding.
There that's something. I'll wait for you to watch it again.
Couldn't wait for me to go first, could ya? Tell you what, I'm such a trooper that I'm not even gonna read what you said until I've seen the film again and put some thoughts together.
So, it turns out that I wrote a review for La Strada, back in my Apollo Guide days. Here's what I said back then.
"The legendary Federico Fellini began his career in movies as a screenwriter for neo-realist pioneer filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, and his great success would establish the expectation that Fellini would follow in his mentor's footsteps. While his earliest films, including I Vitelloni, met with neo-realist's approval, Fellini was soon denounced as a turncoat to the cause for crafting films, the first of which would be La Strada, that operated at a heightened level of reality, where fancy and fantasy would play vital roles. Fellini considered his films to be of the Italian reconstruction, and rather than dwelling on the devastation left behind by the war, he wanted to point his films in a more guardedly hopeful direction. Yet, there is little doubt that La Strada has at least one foot firmly in the "old school" language of neo-realism, with its unvarnished depiction of a ravaged countryside, peopled by an often inarticulate and taciturn citizenry. Still, the film has an unmistakable other-ness to it as well, as it is an early precursor to the sort of magical realism that would take hold in Fellini's late-career efforts.
La Strada is centred around the decidedly atypical and quite possibly symbolic figure of the part imbecile, part saint Gelsomina. Played by Fellini's wife, Guilietta Masina, Gelsomina is an expressive, Chaplin of City of Lights-era character who's as openhearted as she is dull-witted. It seems fitting (if cruel) that she is sold by her impoverished mother to a carnival strong man, Zampano (Anthony Quinn), who viciously trains her as both his sidekick and sexual conquest. Gelsomina has a bird-like quality, delicate and strangely beautiful, as well as a prophetic ability to predict the weather, yet she is unable to avoid the brutish Zampano's fits of ineffable rage and violence.
With Gelsomina operating in full clown make-up, it is fitting that much of the film's second half takes place in and around a circus, filling the movie with quirky secondary characters who help give the film an alternate sense of reality. It is here that the put-upon Gelsomina meets the Fool (Richard Basehart), who appears to her almost as an angel, full-winged and floating above her on a tightrope (an image Wim Wenders would apprehend to full effect in the magnificent Wings of Desire). While he would later disappoint her, the Fool tries to guide her with his parable of the pebble, an act that would prove to be both her doing and undoing, urging her as he does to remain with and tend to the spiritually bereft Zampano.
Typical of most Fellini films, the narrative is episodic in nature, with the familiar motif of travel (La Strad literally means the road) providing the justification for the picaresque nature of the film. The film's central characters – Gelsomina, Zampano and the Fool – are character types who somehow manage the neat trick of also being distinctive and dimensional creations. And Fellini knows how to push the empathy buttons, particularly with Gelsomina, whose innate saintliness and simultaneous powerlessness sometimes threaten to flood the film in tidal waves of pathos, as well as with the judicious deployment of a memorable Nino Rota-penned score ( The Godfather). Fellini's talent for using striking images to evoke moods and themes operates throughout, as the shot of a deserted Gelsomina watching a lonely horse clopping down the street in the wee hours can attest.
La Strada ends where it began, on a long stretch of abandoned shoreline. However, the journey that we (and the characters) have traveled leaves us perhaps even radically affected, and, like Zampano, changed permanently, and hopefully for the better."
Now I will look back on what you wrote.
If Cabiria is superior to La Strada, it is probably because Masini's character has more depth, more humanity. Remarkable as Masini is in both roles, her character comes a bit too close to symbol in LS to be considered a fully realized individual. Her refusal to cave into despair in both films is key to keeping the audience from slitting its wrists in both movies, however, as Fellini smashes us with enough grim post-war reality to keep his membership card in the neo--realist school.
I'm not sure about whose POV this film belongs to. It seems pretty consistenty hers in the first half, but shifts gradually to Quinn's corner as her doom appears sealed. I would concur that if there is hope for Zampano, it is a slim one. He hasn't earned redemption, but at least he has achieved some small measure of self-awareness and regret. Baby steps.
You have opened up a number of things for me and provided a corrective as well. The latter first. I exaggerated the focus on Zampano. You are right that LS is just as much about the experience of Gelsomina and with respect to point of view, except for the concluding portion of the film, it is even more about hers that it is his.
We are on the same page when it comes to Fellini's first movement away from neo-realism and you sum this up well. The film has at once the "heightened level of reality" and the "other-ness" you say. With the possible exception of Sytericon, I think Fellini always has at least on toe on the ground as the fantastic stuff floats by. I think this comes out of his adherence to The Circus as the essential artistic institution and bohemian way of life as well as the dominant metaphor for his interpretation of society. All the world's a stage and we are merely players is fine tuned to: all the world's a one-ring circus and we are merely acrobatic clowns. In LS, he is just beginning to impose this paradigmatic view on top of his basic committment to the material world and the human struggle to survive, occasionally even thrive.
Ignorant with languages as I am, I wondered about the meaning of "la strad" and it was helpful of you to fill me in. Even though much of Italy was still crawling out of the economic devastation of the war, life on the road represents the depths of poverty. Chaplin is a tramp afterall. The condition of the migratory worker, literally homeless, is the purest case of the property-less labourer. In the context of theatrical performers, Fellini's devotion to the circus is in solidarity with the subaltern sphere of the proletarian artist. A stage housed in a piece of real estate with all the attending sets and flies and such is a serious capital asset compared to the portable tent and wagon caravan of the travelling circus. While some successful thespians would be invited to meet the Queen, the lumpen-performer-tariate was juggling to stay out of the gutter. This demarcation may be applied to The Fool. There is a great difference between a tenured court jester who speaks truth to power when called upon to do so and always in self-protective cryptic verse, and an itinerant street clown who speaks truth to whomever will listen and therefore always in self-threatening bald language intelligible for all. The present class analysis pretty much boils down to who's indoors and who's outdoors and Fellini is with the outsiders.
Also an aspect of his departure from neo-realism, you mention that Fellini knows how to push empathy buttons. I said that LS is somewhat melodramatic. I prefer your version. It's more respectful and speaks to the class consciouness I am emphasizing in LS. The influence of Chaplin cannot be overestimated here. It violates Brecht's program but Chaplin and Fellini after him both pull at our heart strings in order to make us confront the facts of class. Your version is also better because the emotional appeals in LS "threaten to flood the film in tidal waves of pathos," but this sentimental wash-out does not happen. Fellini is still restrained enough by the dikes of realism and the film does not become a sea of tears.
The main issue you have made me examine is the saintiness of Gelsomina in the context of Zampano's sexual conquest of her. I sure did get the saintly quality. This was feeding into my initial description of LS as Biblical. But I completely missed the sexual conquest. Monica was certain that he used her as something close to a sex slave. No doubt, this must have contributed to Monica having no sympathy for him. I didn't get this at all. My take was that he - like us - found her asexual because of her dimwittedness, itself an expression of childlike innocence, itself an expression of her saintliness; i.e., impossible to fuck. Even the fool comments on how "ugly" she is, how she is beneath sexual consideration; i.e., above sexual consideration. (Of course, the actress is perfectly nice looking.) What is more, Zampano is shown on two separate occasions to have found sex elsewhere, with a tart in a bar and with a washer women attached to another roving carnival. Granted, this might be intended to show that Zampano has not even sexual fidelity for Gelsomina, nevermind genuine loyalty and affection. But there is no evidence that he has a sexual relation with her, nothing shown or said. Perhaps this is because the film was made in the early 50s and it was simply taboo to be explicit about permanent rape, for lack of a better term. Perhaps I just refused to face full-on what was being depicted, however implicitly. I am going to run with this.
Now, I was exhausted when I watched the film but even so, I think I was so completely aware of Gelsomina's saintliness - I lost sight of the real world that negatively confers sainthood. Another way to approach this, I was in denial with repect to the full specturm of her suffering, particularly sexual. No wonder I found it rather easy to be sympathetic for Zampano in the end. And this also explains why I mistakenly said that LS is fundamentally about him. Looking straight at her now, I see the importance of the scene with the nuns. I noticed at the time that Masina gives Gelsomina a hitherto unrevealed intelligence when she obviously connects personally with one of the nuns. The performance is nothing short of brilliant. We can see a light turning on in her head as her soul tells her that the convent is the place for her. And the nun explains to her that they - too! - move around, the church legislating that the sisters never stay long enough in a place to become attached, to avoid the wrong notion that some spot of earth is "home" when in truth home is with God.
This, of course, is the proper vocation for Gelsomina. The problem is not that she is poor, that she is the poorest of the poor, both in money and intellect, that she is so impoverished she is nomadic. No, the problem is that she is all of this and not sexless, not a nun. Afterall, the fool's pebble parable is just the commandment to love Jesus put in language another fool can understand. That this commandment proves impossible for Gelsomina we may or may not wish to interpret in terms of a critique of religion. (In theory, the church will take anyone, but only in theory. In fact, the circus will take anyone.) But either way, it is this impossibilty to be the spiritual creature that she is that is the primary tragedy in LS. Zampano realization that he has in effect murdered her, that he has literally murdered the fool, that he is a waster of life including his own, this recognition of sin is of secondary importance to Gelsomina as saint.
There's something faintly Steinbeckian about la Strada, life on the road where all of life's misfits and outcasts make their way. But while Fellini's neo-realist mentors would have worn such a comparison well, Fellini himself would not. There's too much Gabriel Garcia Marquez action in his films for him to sport those duds for long.
It's interesting that you should mention the question of Gelsomina's sexuality. My first impulse would be to agree with you that she is pretty much asexual, and Zampano, while brutish and cruel (he is like an animal trainer with her. In fact, when her mother suggests that G can be trained to help him out Z says something like, "sure, I've trained dogs before") is not a rapist. But having just re-watched the film, there's a scene fairly early on in their relationship that has me uneasy about such a declaration now. As night nears, G suggests that she'll sleep outside (alone), but Z insists she sleep inside (with him), and then he physically hoists her into his "boudoir" where it is pretty clear there's very little room for two unless they snuggle up. The look on G's face suggests she fears the worst, and then the scene goes black. When morning comes, she is wiping tears from her eyes, and looking balefully at Z. Then, in an interesting shift in tone, her face turns beatific as she looks down on the sleeping beast. Is she forgiving him? Hoping that things will improve between them now that they've made the beast with two backs? Dunno. And then, she starts to cry again.
Anyways, it seems pretty clear to me that he had her, and it was not only against her will but also beyond her understanding.
I like your notion that religion is offered as a theoretical haven for all, but that the carnival is the more realistic home for those left on life's fringes.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Fawlty Towers (UK, John Howard Davies
Bob Spiers, 1975)
And now for something completely different, Ben and I extol the virtues of one helluva funny televisual feast.
Jacob is starting to watch some of them for the third time as I write this. I won't gush much. I mean, should I go on and on that Michelangelo did a damn find job on the Sistine Chapel, to which Fawlty Towers is analogized on the DVD cover?
I just want to mention one observation. I offer this because I did not notice Cleese, or anyone else in the Special Features interviews, (although I have not seen them in full), comment on it. You and I have discussed suppressed rage as the cornerstone of Cleese's humour. Cleease himself stated this in an interview made during the filming of Life of Brian. And in the Fawlty interview, he points out that Basil is throughly contemptible, truly horrid, but because he makes us laugh, we accept him and even like him. In fact, Fawlty is not throughly contemptible compared to a number of his guests and even though he brings most of his misery upon himself, many of the situations with which he attempts to cope are not initially caused by him. Therefore, Basil is not entirely unsympathetic. So, it's not just that it is of the highest comedic art to see him freak out when he is literally at his wits end. It's also that when his wits do finally end, we know that he has done his very best to deal with things. Because here's the thing not mentioned in the interviews - Basil never gives up. More than just sincere in his stupid opinions, committed to his ignorant world view, the guy simply never admits when he has been caught out. He perseveres with every charade, every ruse, every attempt to pull the wool over somebody's eyes. Of course, this is a feature of far-fetched farce, broad comedy taken to ludicrous extremes. But at the same time, this never-say-die quality is, I believe, at the heart of why we can relate to Fawlty, even respect him a tiny bit.
If you are up for it, I would like to hear your thoughts on Manuel. Now there's a politically incorrect character we're not allowed to see anymore. Ditto for the physical (violent) comedy in general and that directed towards women in particular. Hey, it's fucking funny man.
But if I had to boil down the soup stock to an Oxo Cube, it's Basil's class pretentions feeding his intolerant, impatient, irritable disposition confronted by any sort of communication breakdown...
It's all about his class pretensions, isn't it? He lords it over those beneath him (Polly, Manuel, the O'Reilly's) and grovels at the feet of those above him. Everything else is gravy.
But you are onto something regarding his stick to-it-iveness. The determination is positively Sisyphusian, isn't it? Even though we know (and he's gotta have a pretty good idea himself) that all the schemes and plans are gonna roll back on overtop of him, he soldiers on. Jolly good show. Huddy huddy. But there's no stiff upper lip here. While he certainly represses his sexuality (that's a good lad!), beneath everything, Basil is seething, boiling. Of course, much of the humour is in his failed attempts to keep the rage in check. But what's most fun is seeing how Basil reins it in around that tiny mite (mate) Sybil, who has him by the short and curlies throughout most of the episodes. One of my favourite moments is in The Psychiatrist when he finally rips into Sybil, and actually has her cowering against the railing for a moment. It all collapses, of course, as we knew it must, and order is restored to the universe. But for a moment there, one fraction of a second, you thought, looky here, he's pushed that rock right to the top! Well done old man! Oops. What was that? That's your life mate. Can you do it again? Sorry, nope.
Manuel. Hmmmm...love that guy. Will have to think on why.
I should add to the class pretension comment by adding that Basil's snobbery is distinctly British. Notice the trhee I listed before: Polly, American; Manuel, Spanish; O'Reilly's, Irish.
It's funny you should send this addendum because I thought you had said this already. Actually, you had highlighted the Englishness of the social relations in Brazil.
Basil's snobbery is indeed British to the core. Hence, his dilemma in Waldorf Salad, a rich American.
In the interview, Cleese explains that in her audition/first take/whatever, Scales did not interpret Sybil quite the why he and Booth wanted and they had to sleep on it in order to realize that she was right and they were wrong, or less right. In her own interview, Scales provides key content for this fact. She asked Cleese why Sybil and Basil got married in the first place. Cleese could not answer this. So Scales suggested that Sybil was initially attracted to Basil because he was a relatively good catch insofar as he was from a higher class standing. The actress wrote this background for herself at the outset in order to provide some basic motivation for her character as more working class. This is absolutely essential to the relationship between Basil and Sybil and gave the writers the master template they needed for all the rest of Basil's relations with those he sees as beneath him. Of course, she is not - ha! - and neither is anyone else.
I mention all of this in response to your highlighting of the episode when Basil finally dominates his wife for a minute. Everything you say about this is correct. But it seems to me that the an even stronger argument may be made for the entire 11th episode, The Anniversary. Here we see Basil demonstrating what? One would like to think that he is finally showing a tender side, his true affection for his wife. But no, he is on a sadistic agenda. And what is more, he figures he can walk on both sides of cruelty street at once. He can have the joy of tormenting her, letting her think that he has forgotten their anniversary, like last year and all those before it. But he also figures that once he surprizes her with the party, all will be forgiven - especially in the safey of the assembled crowd - and he will have outsmarted the bitch, had the last laugh at her expense. In this episode, Sybil has Basil by the short and curlies - without even trying, without actively correcting his stupidity, without even being present. But for the opening act of the episode - far longer than the brief scene of outburst in The Psychiatrist - it looks as if Basil has for once fashioned a plan that will let him come out on top.
(Incidentally, while I feel that all twelve shows are wonderful, The Anniversary is for me not one of the strongest. I think this is because we move away from most of the regular hotel characters and enter the hitherto unknown social circle of the Fawlty's. This is problematic in itself because Basil is clearly a man who couldn't be a friend to anyone, so the entire gang could only be devoted to Sybil. Credible but pushing the boundries.)
Cleese says Manuel in an Everywaiter, standing in for all the foreigners in the English hospitality industry who are taken advantage of by abusive employers. So it is the latter at which he throws darts, in short, Basil. I buy this for eleven inchs but not the whole foot. Manuel is fucking stupid man. I don't give a shit how much slack you cut the guy for not knowing a word of English and for suffering under Basil. The man is an idiot. And he is completely without dignity. I think the only reason we can accept the not-so-crypto racism is that the dignity Manuel lacks as a man is dignity he would not have in any environment, including his own country. He is not a man. He is a boy. He is not emasculated by Basil because he is asexual to begin with, a child. Basil is a bad father - oh vey, what a terrible patriarch - but it appears as if he has adopted Manuel, taken an orphan into his home. He is from Barcelona - oh vey, is he from Barcelona - but we have the idea that he is never going back because they kicked him out and told him never to return, fool that he is. Don't be sidetracked by the moustache and the age of the actor playing him. Manuel is a dumbass kid.
Confession time. I've owned these discs for years, and havne't yet checked out and of the extra features. What kind gushing fan does that make me?
Your reading of Sybil rings true, and, like you, I find the Anniversary episode, while not weak per se, weak by comparison to the rest of the series. Basil's working too hard to impress people he probably doesn't really give a shit about. Now, if the folks had been some sorta landed gentry types, mebbe. It's all just too much work for not enough payoff.
As for Manuel, he is a "neetweet", a buffoon, a "hideous orangutan" but he's not without(a) his charms or (b) his predecessors. There's a Forrest Gump-ness about him that I know that I should find irritating, but there's something in the performance that wins me over every time. The eternal sunniness?
As for (b) The figure of constant abuse used to comic effect has been around since Cervantes. But that hardly excuses us from taking some responsibility for continuing to gain amusement from such figure's misery, does it? What can I say, I just can't help myself. Manuel makes me laugh.
Perhaps Manuel's important to us because Basil needs at least one person that he can feel he's better than. Just like Bob Ewell can always say "Well, at least I'm not Tom Robinson" no matter how shitty it gets for Basil, well, at least he's not Manuel.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Brazil (USA, Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Wherein you will find a virtual lovefest for Gilliam's dystopic vision.
this is a textbook case of more being more. At one point, relatively early on, I found myself thinking that the music was simply too much, over the top. Soon enough, however, I realized that the music was barely keeping up with everything else about the film. The brush strokes are broad man, on a canvas stretched out of all proportion. It is on this expanded scale that the film delivers it's two-punch combination. On the one hand, it's bloody funny. It's all so absurd and Alice and Wonderland, with almost lovable silly characters not too different from crotchety types Alice encounters, conducting themselves in seemingly benign if grotesque ways in circumstances so fantastic as to be farcical. On the other hand, well, on the other hand... he may not have made a film of 1984 as he initially intended but the dystopian horror gains momentum as the film progresses and comes in for the kill at the ending Gilliam fought for and won against the suits upstairs. And with respect to the latter, the excessiveness of the film really makes sense. These are totalitarian dimensions grasped aesthetically. The art-deco triumphalist architecture is only the most obvious statement and if this were the gist of it, Brazil would look like little more than another Hudsucker Proxy. But this is just the beginning for Gilliam, who instead makes everything larger than life precisely in order to show that it is anti-life. This applies as much to the dialogue and characterizations as it does to the sets and art direction, (and the music). It's a remarkable synthesis really, Kafka meets Willy Wonka, except in the reverse order and that's why by the final scene it is all much more disturbing than it is cute. Pretty cool movie. Better than, say, Clockwork Orange. And not just because it took its first cue from Orwell rather than Anthony Burgess, a name I wouldn't even know if not for Kubrick's film, whereas we agree with Hitchens that Orwell matters.
As the world depicted in Brazil is just as important as the particular characters and events in it, I want to highlight a couple of the brilliant features of this depiction. First, it is very powerful that the vision of the future provided is a vision of the future from the point of view of the past. It is tomorrow according to yesterday. This is more than Gilliam being guided by Orwell's 1948 frame of reference. It is more deeply an historic generalization of the dystopia, a transhistorical or categorical statement that reveals itself to be so by providing a technological admixture of the obsolete, the extant, and the soon-to-be. The particulars of the mix matter not because - contrary to sci-fi utopianiam - the problem is not technological and is not amenable to a tech fix. No, sorry kids, the problem is political. The state, the bureaucracy, the machine behind the machines, call it what you will.
My second point about all of this is much more visceral. You can talk about robots taking over the world till your blue in the face and certainly it is easy to freak people out by suggesting that Bill Gates is reading all our emails, but if you really want to upset folks in the seat of their pants - you've got to go organic. Horror requires an interface with biology. It's not for nothing that sinister aliens are just about always slimy lobsters with rayguns and so on. If it's not an insect driving a space tank, it's a reptile controlling a missile silo, a circus mutant clamping down on the oxygen supply, whatever, something animalistic, or shucks, even plant-like, bring on the spores - whatever, gotta have it, hardware on its own can not deliver terror. Now, I would love to digress on this topic but I won't. What I on to now it that Gilliam is no fool on this score. But Ben, there is no organic element in Brazil. Exactly! Gilliam makes the physicality of the dystopian technology suggestive of a diseased metabolism. Intruding into all of those supposedly hyper-rationalistic spaces, with their bogus Bauhaus vibe are tubes, tubes, tubes. Bent, bulging, bloated broken, backed-up, full of rot and filth, like a network of intestines overloaded with toxins. Like the film as a whole, they are funny... at first. Eventually, it becomes oppressive while simultaneously revealing the lie that is the system. It is this imposition of organisms on top of the technology that gives the film much of it dystopian sensibility and certainly makes the setting of the picture as important as the characters. Machines don't rot. But the point is that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. What to do? Gilliam sqaures the circle. More than merely dilapidated, in disrepair. Those tubes are the sinister tentacles of Big Brother.
So, I have few impressions to toss your way, hoping that this might open us up to further discussion. Trying not to repeat anything you said, and since (a) it's been a week since I read it (b) I'm still operating at about 60% of 'normal' mental functions, I offer up the following:
What is immediately striking about the film is its overall design. The look, the way it is shot, is quite distinctive. First there is the clear indebtedness to German expressionism in the camera work. You have the chiaroscuro lighting, with long and ominous shadows cast all over the place, the washed out colour palette, the extreme camera angles from below (Hadean) and above (God's eye--ironic?). This, along with the Triumph of the Will iconography and monolithic Nazi Germany-meets-Citizen Kane's Xanadu-like oversized architecture, might lead one to the mistaken and simplistic conclusion that Brazil is a belated assault on '30s Euro-fascism.
But behind this design facade, Gilliam's world is British through and through. The post-war dishevel and decay, the '40s suits and fedoras, the fascination with goofy gadgetry, but most importantly the overwhelming and soul-crushing bureaucracy. These oh-so-polite and gentlemanly civil servants, far from being invisible or faceless as in Kafka, are quite disturbingly recognizable. The torturer is an old pal and a family man (triplets! Oh how the time flies!")
The oh-so-polite and gentlemanly bureaucrats, far from being invisible or faceless, as in Kafka, are quite recognizable. The torturer is a friend and family man ("triplets! Oh, how time flies), while the ministry is run by a family friend in a wheelchair and Santa Claus suit. Could they be more benign? And yet, more sinister? Out of this apparent paradox comes much of the film's humour, of course, and Gilliam satirizes his characters, and yet in the end has us cowering in fear of them.
The ghost may be in the machine, but the devils in the details, and for Gilliam, a man who digs minutiae (check out the documentary on the importance of the hamster on the 12 Monkey's dvd for more on this), every little thing is accounted for. From the grey bathtub water and the rusty (bloody?) stains on so many walls, to the goldfish trapped in his bowl in Kurtzman's office, from the cage-like public transport to the .billboards that line the highway to disguise the environmental damage beyond, Gilliam fills Brazil with the kind of clutter that makes his Orwellian vision so distinctive and believable. I also really liked a couple of small moments at the beginning of the film that establish character. First, while the heroine soaks in her tub laughing at the anarchic spirit of the Marx Brothers, her neighbour reads A Christmas Carol to her child. In a nice touch, the ghosts of this family come back to haunt our man Lowry repeatedly.
However, I must admit that the mythology is strange. Lowry is Icarus, flying too close to the sun, and Gilliam combines this with the whole duel with the oversized samurai warrior thing that really has me struggling for context and meaning (similar shit reappears in The Fisher King, if memory serves). That Lowry ends up discovering that he's been at war with himself at film's end doesn't allay my confusion.
Anyways, for someone who never read Orwell's novel, Gilliam does a good job of capturing the spirit of 1984. At the same time, the film is distinctively Gilliam, and as such a personal film with all the flourishes and obsessions one associates with his work.
Good film. It must have made one helluva double feature with The Trial.
Monday, June 19, 2006
The Trial (USA, Orson Welles, 1963)
At which time we take a break from Lynchian parrying and volleying and take up the subject of existential misery.
What's the point of being a substitute if you're going to work every freakin' day? This is my way of warning you that I have the time to write a long review. How convenient for me, as I believe the film warrants it. But of course, I will mostly talk about Kafka.
This is a very good film, almost great, almost. I need to read a biography of Welles. I want to learn what conspired against him, both from without and within, to abort his career in so many ways. About the within side of the matter, I suspect that he being an actor, a writer and a director had something to do with the problem. Perhaps if he had been able to concentrate on just one of his talents...
It is requisite for us to begin with that chestnut challenge, the relationship of a film to the literary source on which it is based. In evaluating the film the first consideration has to be to assess the extent to which the film is attempting to follow the primary source. I use the word "follow" because it is vague and this is to indicate that there are any number of ways in which a film might try to follow a book without slavishly slapping a book up on a screen, for lack of a better way to put it. The less mechanical or duplicative approach is often said to be "based on" or "inspired by". Having acknowledged this grey area allowing for interpretation, poetic licence, transposition of the verbal to the visual, and so on, it remains that certain features must, well, remain. So the challenge has to do with determining what is essential, be it in a character's psychology, the details of the plot, whatever. This holds for less tangible and more conceptual factors such as atmosphere, going right down to the depths of theme. We need to go right down to this depth now in order to expose how Welles "version" of The Trail is fundamentally a failure. For no amount of leeway granted with respect to "inspired by" and the like will get Welles off the hook for missing what is essential - indeed, thematically bedrock - in the book.
Between the hundred years roughly spanning 1848 to 1945, the idea of alienation was advanced in a wide variety of ways, both as a concept in social theory and as an expression in art. Sorting out the meaning of alienation according to this theorist as distinct or even opposed to that, this artist as perhaps reminicent of or complimentary with that - I'm confident that this job of sorting has been the foundation for many academic appointments. Now, I am certainly no expert on Kafka's brand of alienation. Nevertheless, I can spin the paragraph or four I need to identify the essence that Welles did not preserve.
Kafka is alienated from his kinship structure in it's class setting, but a Freudian and/or a Marxist reading of Kafka is of secondary importance at best, more relevent in other works, but certainly cannot get us to the guts of The Trial, his absolute masterpiece. The alienation in The Trial is front and center political. Admittedly, more generally social forces are at work, but the nodal point of the alienation is that of the citizen in relation to The State. Again, in The Trial it is valid to view the government and it bureaucracies in terms of Daddy (Big Brother) or Bourgeois Rule and more, but only secondarily, epi-metephorically. The essential expression is "purely" political. Indeed, this purity, the reduction of political life to an entirely formal relation, an abstraction from concrete experience, a removal of lived particularity, the rendering of the individual to "a number," a statistic (etymology from the state) - this is what the alienation in The Trial is all about.
So what? What's the big deal? Shucks, even Bob Seger sings that he doesn't like being treated like a number. The big deal is that the theory and expression of this alienation undermines what is supposed to be the foundation of our political freedom and community. The Rule of Law. Alienation shows the citizen to be neither free nor in a community, contra 3,000 years of political philosophy in the West. Kafka continues to cut like a knife today, slicing through all the commercials that would have us completely repress our longing for true citizenship, meaningful political inclusion and participation, to say nothing of real democratic power. Kafka can give no political content to what is supposed to be present where only a hollow and terrified shell of citizenship exists, he has no critique, which always rests on a positive framework, usually implicitly. No, Kafka's alienation is absolute, an iron cage, to use Weber's expression. Call it "totalitarian," but if you do, make sure to remove any ideological substance from your definition. Again, Kafka is hollow, pure, an abstraction so abstract, so general, the alienation achieves universal proportion.
Joseph who? K. Joseph K? Who is Joseph K? The man has no name. A person with no personality. He is a citizen with no identity. A political nonentity. And the law comes down in all of its glorious impartiality, its noble nondiscriminatory form, its empty equality. But why? Why does it come down? K, of course, never finds out why. He never learns what crime he has committed. He is never actually charged. This is the point - it doesn't matter. And now we get to the fountain for the terror. Because it's one thing to feel that your government is Other, but to live in fear of this Other, constantly and completely afraid, persecuted for no reason, irrationally oppressed... makes 1984 read like a self-help pamphlet from Up With People publishing.
Back in the day, The King yelled "off with his head" and the peasant's head rolled. Power was arbitrary. But it was concrete, embodied, human. Power was arbitrary but it had a face. The Rule of Law is the only bulwark against arbitrary power. Kafka comes along and breaks the bad news. Power is abstract, disembodied, depersonalized. It no longer has a face. But guess what? The news is worse. For power is still arbitrary. No, it is more arbitrary than ever before! Systemic and mechanical, there are no citizens it serves any better than any other citizens. We are all "just doing our jobs," you know, "it's nothing personal." It is no longer for the benefit of a class, race, creed, gender, whaaaaa... "politics" is dead because the polity is dead because there is only The State.
Finally I return to Welles. He violates the essense of Kafka by reintroducing personality into the proceedings. He gives faces to the faceless. For in Kafka it is not only the unseen that is faceless, it is just as much the seen that is faceless. The State is invisible but the citizenry is in full view, yet it too is faceless. Again I point out, Joseph K. has no name, no identity, no face. Both sides of the coin are faceless, not just heads but equally so tails. Wells goes against this and in so doing corrupts the entire meaning of the work. His characterizations are simply too full of life, too concretely passionate, to fully realized as individuals with personality. Granted, their motivations are completely stripped away, so we do receive them are irrational and absurd, as arbitrary in their interactions. But they are human, all too human. It's all done with too much flesh and blood. Especially wrong is the overt sexuality. What is needed is much more Sargeant Joe Friday from Dragnet. Indeed, the whole thing should have leaned towards Last Year at Marienbad. Not the monotonous recursive feedback loop of which the point is that there is no point, rather the robotic death of it all, this is what Kafka requires, the only organic sign being the growing dread. We are all just oiling the gears of the contraption in "The Penal Colony."
It might be argued that this is a call for non-drama, hard to satisfy in a dramatization of a novel. It might also be argued that this is to call for a very boring film. I can't speak to this except to counter that Kafka's novel is itself boring, tedious in fact, dull really - hence its great, great artistic power! Of course, I am playing fast and loose here but I hope you know what I mean. Kafka doesn't make us CARE about Joseph K. The style of the account is - not a police report but damn close - a literary mirror image of the alienation portrayed. In short, unity of form and content. Two-dimensional story-telling for one-dimensional existence. Welles makes Joseph K. and all the characters much too three-dimensional. What is more, he misreads the universality of the alienation Kafka exposes and makes Joseph K. Everyman. But K. is not an Everyman. He is not even "any man." He is "a man," some guy, not Joe Average but Joe Blow, if that distinction works for you.
The film is, nonetheless, quite excellent. Like the box says, the sets alone are brilliant. The way he mixes up the lavishly baroque with the austerely modern architechture, the movement between ridgid order and confusing clutter, the juxtaposition of the barren and desolate outdoors (in and out of town) with the distorted and claustrophobic indoors (although there are moments of terrible expansiveness indoors too), distance shots and close-ups, obscuring shadows and accosting light - it's a hell of a thing to look at man! And his use of the slide show at the beginning, which returns later on, is really effective. Plus the performances are very good. Just because I think they are all wrong, doesn't mean that they are not well done, (Welles done). Tony Perkins is properly cast and does fine work, everyone is good, including Welles himself, of course. I really like the film. Jacob was blown away by it, especially on the heels of Brazil. But the film falls down on the job. At the end of the day, Welles is probably not the man for the task. His talent was too prodigious in too many directions, his celebrity too grand, his own personality too large to capture the essense of Kafka who could barely get his writing onto the page, was little more than a passerby on a sidewalk, condemned his own work to the furnace...only to have it saved by Max Brod, and then to have it single-handedly define modern existence like nothing else in the 20th Century.
I think your final point is key. Welles is too large to do Kafka. In Kafka's universe, there is no single God, but a faceless, invisible and oppressive regime, a bureaucracy of nonentities. But in Welles' films, there is a God, and his name is Orson. Did you know that he dubbed as many as eleven voices in this film, including some of Perkin's own? He said later he could not remember which ones they were, and I can't say that I can tell either. The man cannot disappear into a film, he IS the film. Welles would have made a grand Al Swearengen, for if anybody could embody an entire settlement, it is Welles. And while I think your critique of the film in terms of Kafka's source material is pretty much spot on, there is a single point I would like to address. You mention the inappropriateness of the sexuality in the film, and I think this is a case where Welles decided to work into the character of Joseph K some of Perkin's own issues, specifically, his repressed homosexuality, which infuses most of his work with a nervous and fragile energy. I think Welles wanted to take advantage of that to draw more deeply on Perkin's acting quirks, so while it doesn't fit Kafka's overall scheme, it probably helped Welles get a more complex performance out of Perkins. I think Welles wanted to make a Tom Joad out of Joseph K, a guy who sacrifices himself for all us poor suckers, which required him to be a bit more than a Kafkan shell. But, yeah, it certainly doesn't mesh with the original intent of the novel, that's for sure.
That said, I do believe that the film you describe would have been unreleasable. Only hardcore Kafka-philes would have any interest, and while I admire all five hundred of you for your patience, I don't think you can parlay that into a profitable film, no matter how skimpy the budget. And when I think of what Welles has done here, in the face of such long odds and crazy challenges, while not Kafka, is certainly pure Welles. As you assert, this is a damn fine film, even if it isn't the definitive version of the novel. One could do much worse.
Well(es) I did begin by acknowledging that the relationship between a film and the original literature is a chestnut problem. And I also conceeded that a dramatization of Kafka that was true to Kafka would amount to an anti-drama, I mean, a boring affair. I do think it might be possible for someone smaller than Welles to be a bit more faithful, following the Joe Friday in Merinbad approach I proposed. As for Welles fucking with Perkins' sexuality in order to get more twitches out of his performance, this presupposes that the casting came before the script, which might be true but most unusual. I think given Welles vision, Perkins is damn good. It makes a nice double feature with Psycho, that's for sure. In the end, we agree that the film is fantastic on imagery.
Speaking of Perkins and Psycho, have you seen Welles' film noir to end all film noir, Touch of Evil? It was released a couple of years before Psycho, and it features Dennis Weaver in a memorable supporting role, playing a twitchy and neurotic motel manager who harasses and torments Janet Leigh. It's downright eerie.
Also, I'm at this very moment reading Roger Ebert's review of the film. Listen to this story:
"Perkins was one of those actors everyone thought was gay. He kept his sexuality private, and used his nervous style of speech and movement to suggest inner disconnects. From an article by Edward Guthmann in the San Francisco Chronicle, I learn that Welles confided to his friend Henry Jaglom that he knew Perkins was a homosexual, 'and used that quality in Perkins to suggest another texture in Joseph K, a fear of exposure.' 'The whole homosexuality thing--using Perkins that way--was incredible for that time,' Jaglom told Guthmann. 'It was intentional on Orson's part: He had these three gorgeous women ( Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Elsa Martinelli) trying to seduce this guy, who was completely repressed and incapable of responding.' That provides an additional key to the film, which could be interpreted as a nightmare in which women make demands Joseph K is uninterested in meeting, while bureaucrats in black coats follow him everywhere with obscure threats of legal disaster."
can't stop thinking about the film and feel I didn't communicate how much it impressed me, so busy was I addressing Kafka. The way a scene carries over from one setting to the next can only be labelled surreal. It's quite mind-blowing. And unlike the characterizations and social relations which I have criticized for breaking with the vibe of Kafka, this surreal movement does adhere to his alienation. Because it is past discombobulating, disorienting. In fact, there is no compass point of any sort, the trajectory is purely random. Go here, go there, no no, go there first, then go here, or not, same difference. More than just the run-around, this movement amounts to non-movement, wheel-spinning. Futility is given spatio-temporal presentation that indeed corresponds to the arbitrary power that makes the rats run. So, this I found spot on and damn upsetting. Especially heavy was the trunk-dragging scene with K. and his landlady, very Beckett-like. And the near-final scene when the two executioners drag K. as if he were himself a trunk to a place (as indeterminate as the next) to die. Mixed in with all of this, the fluxations between zones and edifices of all kinds - especially those which should signify wealth and authority, on the one hand and on the other, poverty and subservience - liquidates these signifiers in a surreal stew that also serves Kafka's world view. I DO think this is a hell of a film!
The music though, not always the right choice, too much music in general, and the jazz entirely wrong. Jazz has randomness, to be sure, but unlike the citizen out in the cold, the random aspect of jazz is freedom.
Glad the film is giving your someting to work over. I really like the film a lot too. No, it's not Kafka. But it IS Welles, through and through. And I'll take that any old day of the week.
You should see what he did with Shakespeare in Chimes at Midnight (a condensed version of Henry IV pts 1 and 2 and Henry V). Apparenlty his stage version of Othello was a real stunner as well. But of course Welle's sensibility is much better suited to the Bard's material, so his success there isn't terribly surprising.
Very good point about the jazz score.
Love your mention of Beckett. Exactly what I was thinking--like Vlad and Estragon waiting for you know who, walking around and around and around and never getting anyplace.
I'm really happy to see that your love of Kafka has not prevented you from embracing the greatness in Welles film.
Did you know that Lynch is a huge fan of Kafka? He has tried for years to get financing to make Metamorphosis into a film. He once said he felt that Kafka could have been his brother.
Fascinating captain. I worry, however, that Lynch is actually a huge fan of Welles' Kafka, another guy who hasn't read the book. (I'm just up on my high horse because for once I have read the book.)
Didn't Cronenberg do a version of Metamorphosis with David Weller and Judy Davis? [PAUSE] No, that was Burrough's Naked Lunch. But I seem to recall some man-to-bug action in that film, not to be confused with his remake of The Fly (Goldberg is quite funny, similar to Keaton's schtick in Beetlejuice.)
See, I told you - in my attack on your categorization of BV - that I had labelled The Trial "surreal."
Yes, it's not a minor work. The opening lines of my review spoke to my wonderment at Welles' - shit, you really do have to call it - genius. I want to read a good biography on him.
Yes, there is bug action in Naked Lunch. Doesn't the typewriter turn into a bug at one point? Cronenberg likes Kafka too, I've heard.
As for which Kafka is Lynch's, there's very little I see in common between the cinematic approach of Welles and Lynch, whereas there's clearly a Kafka vibe running through Lynch's earliest work (his student films and Eraserhead in particular).
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Mulholland Dr. (USA, David Lynch, 2000)
Wherein Ben and I have further disagreement about the merits of another of the works of David Lynch.
[Blue Velvet] is worse than Mulholland Dr. even.
Don't get me started on your misreading of Mulholland Drive. I believe that I suggested to you an avenue into this film (a vicious expose of the cruelty of the dream factory that is Hollywood) that reveals that it is MUCH more than a simplistic piece of debauchery.
You may ignore such a reading at your own loss, I guess.
As for Mulholland Drive, yes, you did suggest that avenue into that film but it was, if not entirely a dead end for me, obstructed by the traffic of my feeling that the film was an excuse to see two hot chicks neck. Again, I absolutely adore that one scene in the film, which I experienced as a side street off the main drag. Perhaps you could convince me that the big drive is what you say it is by starting from the lane I love. Whatever, you do, steer us off this road metaphor.
The film starts with dreamy images of couples in a jitterbug contest, then proceeds to the sound of somebody breathing heavily (sounding distressed rather than aroused). Next shot is of a shadow moving towards a pillow. I believe the implication is clear. What follows is a dream.
The next hour and a half of the movie is pretty straightforward lesbian-tinged Nancy Drew story, with car crashes, amnesia, and lesbian sex. The two leads, "Betty" and "Rita," are trying to figure out the ID of the amnesiac girl (Rita, the dark haired one who took her name from a movie poster of Rita Haywood) who has survived a car accident where those in the car were about to kill her. It is interspersed with a buncha stuff in the movie-making world. First, there are scenes of a director being nearly fired from his movie and ultimately being strongarmed by some mafioso types into accepting a girl for the lead role in his film when he's clearly more interested in other options, and there's some weird behind the scenes activity involving a "little person" (same dwarf Lynch used in Twin Peaks) who appears to be manipulating the action from a sealed off room someplace in the heart of Hollywood. Oh, and there's a very strange and oddly humourous scene of a hitman whose hit goes all haywire, and he ends up having to kill a janitor and telemarketer in order to cover his tracks. And there's also a peculiar scene in a restaurant where a man is trying to tell a friend about a horrific dream he had where this really terrifying ogre, who lived just behind this same restaurant, scared him out of his mind. The men leave the restaurant to go look for the ogre. And they find it, in one of the great jump out of your seat moments in the movie. And the guy who had the dream collapses and appears to do. I think the two guys are male versions of Betty and Rita, who are trying to solve a mystery of their own, one which will turn up a dead body of its own.
Then there's also the sleazy audition with Chad Everett that contains all sortsa suggestions of potential molestation. Finally, after her stellar audition for a movie that will, according to the agent, never get made, our heroine is sighted by the director, who is going through the motions of auditioning the lead role for his film. The director is clearly fascinated by and attracted to her, but chooses the girl he has already been told to choose.
The scene then shifts back to the mystery, as the two beauties arrive at a Hollywood bungalow where they believe they'll get some answers about "Rita's" past. When no one answers, they break into the bungalow and discover the rotting corpse of a woman. The flee in terror, Rita cuts her hair, and the two lovely ladies have sex. Then, the scene at Club Silencio, where nothing is as it seems, it is all an illusion, it is all on tape, and yet we completely believe every single second of the singer's amazing performance of Roy Orbison's "Crying" (in Spanish.) She collapses (dead?) and yet the song goes on. We've been conned, she's only been lip-synching. The girls find a mysterious key in one of their handbags, flee the club, head home, and when the blonde (Betty) retrieves her aunt's hat box to see if the key fits this mysterious box in her aunt's house, Rita (who looks quite a bit like the singer at the night club, though they are different actresses) disappears.
And the dream ends. The rest of the movie takes place in "real time," and lasts about 45 minutes. As I see it, this is "Betty's" (whose real name it turns out is Diane) attempt to make sense of the things that have recently happened to her. As she does so, their connections to the dream are sometimes explicit, other times more tenuous. But as I pieced it together, it turns out that Diane lives in the same rundown bungalow that appeared in her dream as the living quarters of the dead girl. Her roommate (who appeared in the dream as the ex-roommate of the dead girl on the bed) has just moved out, and Diane is clearly in dire straits, as it takes all her effort just to make a pot of coffee. Diane ruminates on the disintegration of her relationship with the beautiful Camilla Rhodes (who was the amnesiac Rita in her dream) whose star is clearly on the rise as she has taken up a relationship with the director who appeared in her dream. The woman the director was ordered to cast in his film was named Camilla Rhodes, though she looks completely different (blond, blue-eyed) in the dream. Diane flashes on an invitation from Camilla to come to a fancy Hollywood party, where she is essentially snubbed by Camilla, and made to feel inadequate in the company of all the Hollywood hotshots. These are the same hotshots who appeared to be manipulating the action in her dream. It looks like all the Hollywood machinery is lined up against poor old Diane, and the dreams she harboured when she came to Hollywood have all turned to ashes.
In response to the loss of her lover and her dream of being an actress, Diane hires a hitman (same guy who was so inept in her dream) to kill Camilla. This is driven not merely romantic jealousy, but also professional envy; if Camilla is gone, maybe she get some parts, win over the director, get a toe hold in the business. Anyways, the hitman tells her that when the job is done, she'll receive a green key (remember the key in her dream that lead to the disappearance of Rita?), and lo and behold what should sit on her table but a green key? And the key gives Diane, who is already clearly a nervous wreck, the shakes and shivers. Maybe she dreamt the hitman was inept in hopes that he might not succeed at his task, but alas it appears that he has.
Then these two ancient folks who appeared in the beginning of Diane's dream as friendly folks she met in the airport, come laughing screaming under the door as some sorta pint sized demons who drive Diane into her bedroom where she grabs and gun and shoots herself, ending up in the same position on her bed as the dead girl in her dream.
Shit. Forgot all about the cowboy scene, where he tells the director to do as he's told. Or else. Great scene. The cowboy reperesents all the powers that be in Hollywood, laying it all out for the director. The director is told that he's just another cog in the machine, easily replaced. So put up and shut up. Which he does. And Diane later, in the post-dream sequence, sees the cowboy wandering by at the party held by the director and Camilla.
Oh yaaaaa, it's all so clear to me now.
With all due respect, your account is more of a synoptical description than an analytical explication. To give you your due, though, you have made me remember the film and the fact that I can remember it means that it made more of an impression on me that I have been willing to admit. On the other hand, in my defence, I did already say that MH has a Memento vibe to it that I found engaging. If I follow your account, however, I am wrong to attribute any sort of mental/memory illness to Betty/Diane akin to that of the guy in Memento. The whole thing in MD is a who-shot-JR? withinin another who-shot-JR?, concentric dreaming within dreaming? I thought the chick was nuts. Or am I missing the point when I attempt to differentiate an Alice with a reality principle intact but falling down the rabbit hole from a lady with a worm in her brain? These are not rhetorical questions, by the way. You have made me remember the film but all I remember a lot of sleight of hand.
So much for how it all works. As for what it all means, how exactly is MD "a vicious expose of the cruelty of the dream factory that is Hollywood?" Assuming that she isn't wacko but indeterminatly located in the concentric dream tissue, what per se is being viciously exposed? And who is exercising cruelty to whom? Betty/Diane abused by Rita/Camilla? Vice versa? Both of them in either or both of their incarnations are tormented by the factory? The latter is a technico-economic term, but I suspect you do not mean that the cruelty is of a technico-economic type. What else? Hollywood is a sort of zone wherein the big blur is between illusion and delusion, long having eclipsed any demarcation between fact and fantasy? You tell me man because for me it's a bunch of gobbledegook that we are expected to accept on the merit of its neato-keano style (and hot chicks) alone. I like it a lot more than BV, but I still think it's a load of rubbish.
Yes, that was mostly synopsis. I was under time constraints, and didn't have time to sink my teeth into it.
I dunno if you know the history of the film, but it was originally envisioned as a pilot for a tv series, a la Twin Peaks, which was going to follow the fate of a young naif from Canada as she tried to find her fortune in Hollywood after winning a jitterbug contest in her hometown. The idea was to show how this sweet young thing becomes beaten down and embittered by her experiences. The Dream Factory becomes a Nightmare Torture Chamber.
Unfortunately, ABC pulled the plug at the last second, leaving Lynch with a 2 hour pilot and no place to go. He sat on it for quite awhile, before some French financing came through. But he was still not sure what to do with this half-formed story, until (he claims) the idea for how to finish the film came to him in a daydream. As you might imagine, the original pilot ended long before the sex scene and Club Silencio. In fact, I am pretty sure it ends even before the discovery of the dead body (just before, I think), but I'd hafta do some homework before commiting myself to that as fact.
So anyways, yeah, the chick IS crazy, but the question is how does she get there? And I think Lynch's intention for the tv series--to chart Diane's disillusionment and eventual descent into madness by showing how her experiences in Hollywood contrasts sharply with her original naiviety and innocence--is still visible in Lynch's reimagining. The dwarf who runs the show from his isolation tank, the cowboy who directs the director, the bullying mafioso, the sleazy leather-skinned leading man, are all Hollywood authority figures who have played a part in Diane's debasement. Her insanity hasn't happened in a vacuum, or merely as a response to a soured love affair. These figures appear in her dream as threatening and degenerate figures for a reason, I think. And it isn't just cuz Diane's a nutcake. That's putting the cart before the horse. She's gone crackers because of what these figures (or whomever they represent) have done to her, the way they've shattered her smalltown Canadian dreams.
So, sure, there's some lovely lesbian sex and a very stylish cinematic veneer to lap up. But there's also something more meaty to chew on.
And I think Naomi Watts gives one helluva performance, moving from the sweet and innocent Betty to the disillusioned and shattered Diane. She knocked my socks, and various other pieces of clothing, right off.