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Monthly Archives: September 2014

That is weird… I worked for years for a film company that had the Eraserhead poster as their logo, I worked in cinemas that screened it like 5000 times, and yet… I think I have only seen it once. I know exactly where and when that was, and that I fell asleep almost immediately after sitting down in the late night screening.

So here we go, better late than never, and on the occasion of the Criterion Collection’s BlueRay edition, my first time with  the creepy baby and the dancer in the radiator, and the man with paternal panic, and the almost edible squeeze juice chicken and the hot neighbour, and the baby, oh the baby, always the baby….

There was a time when I would have left the cinema after an Eraserhead screening with a stupid grin carved solid into my face, ecstatic about the consequence with which a director / auteur follows his vision and does not give a crap about the audience understanding what he does. Lynch is, without doubt, somebody whom you can entrust the weirdest images and he will glue them together in an elegant fashion, conjure up some crazy hypnotic music and throw it at you to choke on it while enjoying the feeling.

Admittedly, this did not perfectly work for me. I did enjoy the craziness of it all, I did enjoy the lack of meaning and direction and sense, but I also felt a tinge of boredom, had to reassure myself frequently that this is an intense albeit short moment of cinematic history. Maybe this was because Eraserhead as an image for eccentric yet somehow mainstream film making is too established already, so David Lynch in 2014 cannot deliver on all levels of weird the way he could when the film came out in 1977. Maybe there is a great tolerance these days (at least on my part) for what Lynch does, he just cannot possibly surprise me anymore, as he has done it all, and I have seen it all.

Whatever the reason, I was wondering whether Eraserhead is not the first film that made it from the arthouse cinemas by way of the slightly more educated DVD shelf into the video art museums. Being projected on a large white wall, maybe overlayed with some nice Chien Andalou … that would be the more appropriate place today? “Well Henry,  what do you know?”

This latest Transformers film gives the audience a lot to think about, if you are open-minded and allow yourself to be challenged by the film. I was, for example, wondering how many angels would fit on Mark Wahlberg’s biceps, and whether if the answer is “infinite” that would mean that on his other biceps there would be none, them being exhausted on the first arm, a paradoxon in the making that could bring down civilisation as we know it (“knew it” before Michael Bay started eroding it step by step)! I was also wondering whether any man who has a penis would suffer from said penis falling off immediately if he drinks a urine-based “beeralike” drink that comes in a bottle that happens to have the same blue colour as the “substitute liquid” used in tampon commercials. Or – other questions that – whether it would not be easier to introduce (maybe by trade union agreement with script writers) an internationally standardised sentence in every movie henceforth, along the lines of “let us change our location to [insert completely random completely new location that has nothing to do with previous location or plot] where [include main sponsor here] is located, because we always had all our facilities there in case we destroyed the previous city with which we had a production location deal and now everyody is after us here so it makes a lot of sense to go there. They also have some nice shots of olympic facilities prepared, just in case we want to use sports venues in our plot to take over mankind.”

If you ever lived in China, you identify 20 cases where the audience’s intelligence is insulted with what can only be described as “spray-shit in your face” product placement, apparently assuming that a Chinese audience is too stupid to recognise product placement in the embedded way it is done in real films (as opposed to these freakish creatures out of the Transformers assembly line). Fortunately, Transformers is almost an equal opportunity offender, and the American products on display are also shoved into their idiot audience’s face like a tampon up a boxer’s bleeding nose (second tampon reference today! What does that say about me and / or the film?).

It is very good to see the likes of Wahlberg and Tucci have their children’s and grandchildren’s university tuition paid through Michael Bay’s pockets. If I was them, I would do exactly the same, and I would wear a golden-teethed smile next time other people go to awards ceremonies. Michael Caine has set a standard here, and who are we to question his choices. I am almost certain neither Tucci nor Wahlberg have seen the finished film either. Unless it’s in their contract, that is.

One thing always has to be repeated about these Transformers movies: apart from all the other flaws, I am absolutely stunned how one can possibly throw so much money at the screen and produce such utterly utterly boring output?? The action in these films is (oddly enough: consistently) so poorly and indifferently directed and edited that the only thing you can do once a battle (usually epic) commences is go to the fridge (home option) or the cinema concessions counter and get beer, preferably plenty of it. Drink it where you are, put another bottle in the fridge (home) or go to the toilet (cinema and / or home) , then slowly move back towards the screen, hoping that the (epic!) battle is nearing its finale. Don’t worry though if you forgot some beer or popcorn to take with you for your friends (you know it’s just an academic exercise: IF you have friends, you would not take them to Transformers films… IF there are people with you at a Transformers screening, they are not your friends. IF friends ask you to join them see Transformers – run!) or did not spend enough time on the loo, there will be another battle, it will be epic, so you will have time to catch up with whatever you forget last time.

One constantly curious element that has to do with this boredom is the flat voices of all those transformer-roboty-thingies. If those fighting for the … whatever … fate of mankind… sound like generated from a tamagochi with a weak battery, how can they convey drama?

This is all stuff that is independent of the fact that, of course, I am not the target group, because I am not an 8 year old boy who does not know the difference between birds and bees yet and hence likes to twist parts out of a robot toy instead of making some sense out of his existence.  Still: I was that kid one time, and I enjoyed films and tv shows that were fun and dynamic and well played and in which I knew what was at stake. With Transformers, everything is always at stake, nothing makes any sense, but if you drink mineral water with green logo or beer-coloured urine  with blue logo, everything will be … not sure, everything will make it your fault that there will be another part of the franchise.

There was the discussion the other day ON why it is that Scarlett Johansson is such a sex symbol. It is not because of her looks as such, “looks” being defined (by me, at least) by the first impression you get when you see somebody’s face. She is not ugly by any means, but she does not have the stunning looks of a Gina Lolobrigida or Penelope Cruz. Johansson is much more straightforward, a pretty girl, maybe appearing a bit more accessible than those others. But that, paired with her generous curves and overall delicious completeness of female features creates the Johansson effect: you would like to hold your breath until you turn blue in the face and faint the second she appears. Maybe, again, that’s just me, but the way “Under the Skin” is constructed around her seems to confirm there is a general (male and female) perception of the cliché that she represents as a sex goddess. It would take somebody like her, the film suggests, to lure regular, innocent men, or at least men not specifically guilty of anything other than being men, into her spiderweb, from which there would be no return. And those men, they don’t mind there’s no return, they are very happy to spend their final minutes (or hours? Centuries? The film is not very clear about this…) in a state of blessed sex-hypnosis.

Why does she do this? Select men, lure men, hand over men to a system that… er … processes them and makes them useful input to whatever kind of unknown? Not very clear either, but what is clear is that this is her task, and she (it?) is diligent about the task, learning whatever skills and moves are necessary. The opening shots illustrate that there is nothing emotional of any kind about that: a change of wardrobe happens between two women. One is up and running, the other one dead or almost dead. The live one needs the clothes, so she takes it. Whether this is from a living or dead body or from a shop rack is of no concern to her. It is an element of her task. As is to perform some form of quiz show with her potential victims, seeking to figure out whether they fit the profile she is tasked with identifying (she is an equal opportunity predator, at least with respect to looks and general physical appearance). If they do, another game ensues, an erotic song and dance to bring them to a point where they literally drown in their lust and their projections of this woman.

There is so much to say about this film that it is worth checking out all the reviews listed at Rotten Tomatoes. I also would specifically check the Slate Spoiler Special after seeing the film, that is even more rewarding in this case than in others, and it is also enlightening to hear how a bunch of people can collectively remember important plot points profoundly wrong (fate of baby on the beach…) without losing their feeling for the overall film.

The one aspect I do want to mention is the visual style, or more specifically the fabulous contrast between the gritty street looks of regular Scotland with the ethereal looks of the inside of Johansson’s … lair? The people almost floating in an eternal space, walking on black water or drowning in it, this netherworld is dreamlike in every way other than it seems to be real to the people in there.

The narrative style reflects this in a way (although I cannot really express how): there are no explanations, maybe the only character who ever gets agitated is the (lead?) motorcycle man, who serves as Johansson’s “My name is Wolf, I solve problems” backup and cleanup crew. He gets agitated very late in the film, though, and I am not yet too sure whether it is anger and frustration he expresses, or whether it is the more sober need to get this situation resolved they worked themselves into. The latter would be more convincing in terms of character consistency, but then again, at this point in the film Johansson has shown already that her particular group of society sometimes is actually able to deviate from their straightforward mission and do things that can be deemed rather counterproductive.

Whatever the flaws may be, whatever over-stylishness you may want to accuse this film of – it is so fantastic to watch this kind of film after a long summer of rubbish blockbusters! Challenges for the eyes and the brain, that’s never a bad thing. Naked Scarlett Johansson neither. Naked Celtic supporters … well, it needs all kinds to make a world, right…?

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