Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Love and Other Hardcore Drugs

Virgin Viewings for September

directed by: Gaspar Noe
written by: Gaspar Noe, Lucile Hadzihalilovic

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) dies during a botched drug deal in Tokyo while dosing on DMT. Life and death flash before his eyes as Oscar tries to hold on to a childhood promise made to his struggling sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta).

According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, when you die you float above your life in an astral sort of abyss. If you plan on dying in Tokyo, make sure you're not epileptic. Gaspar Noe's latest stylistic descent, Enter the Void, is a deliriously vivid look into everything from birth to death, to everything before, after or inbetween.

It's cyclical, seizure-strobing, arthouse entertainment that takes great leaps in technical innovation to tell a rather simplistic story, all through the grandiose scope of the existential. As visually vibrant as its characters are dim, Noe's film feels like that rare feat of cult filmmaking with the budget to match its stoner-influenced audacity. It's a full-fledged cinematic experience of the variety I haven't seen since David Lynch's Inland Empire; another work so immersed in its own trippy wavelength that it serves up marvel and annoyance in equal measure (although Noe's film is notably more straightforward -- glowstick genitals, cumshot POV's and all). I was witness to several walkouts at my screening (and several walk-ins upon the sound of orgasm), as well as people bracing their heads between their legs as the strobe white flickers forced them to pretend to be tying their shoelaces over and over again. That certainly didn't happen when I saw Inception, a film that most seem to praise as the year's biggest headtrip. Where Inception has to tell you that you're in a dream (...and tell you ...and tell you), Enter the Void trips, floats, freefalls, glides and penetrates the dream state head on.

It's a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey's visionary trip to Jupiter, accompanied by a pipe and an erection. Noe's collision of imagery and sound is utterly spectacular as it hovers through all sorts of existential dread. Even the opening credit sequence outdoes most feature films in its pure cinematic assault. It's all so fluid, innovative and abrasive, that it's like a psychedelic rollercoaster diving into an oncoming truck, or an airplane mid-flight. Even at its most repetitive (there's a whole lot of soaring between lights, and Paz de la Huerta sounding raspy and bored), it has a cumulative tenacity and aura that is simply unforgettable. Destined for stoner cinephile infamy, Enter the Void is pure cinema that I'm oh so happy to inhale.

Even with his penchant for plummeting headfirst into grim material such as rape, abortion, murder and incest in films like I Stand Alone and Irreversible, I still consider this statement to be the most shocking thing Gaspar Noe's ever done:

Do you have any American actors you'd want to work with?

I guess just the ones who are my friends. The last one I saw was really pretty... what was her name... Kristen Stewart, the one who was in "Twilight." She has such an expressive face.

Like a fire extinguisher to the face, that's bold and shocking!

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Orgasm

directed by: Ken Russell
written by: Barry Sandler

Clothing designer Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) sidelines as a prostitute names China Blue, who becomes savior to a bitterly married man (John Laughlin). Meanwhile a maniacally obsessed reverend (Anthony Perkins) wants to be China Blue's client, savior, and ultimately her killer.

Love is...
never having to say you're seeking sex
outside the marriage.

Something akin to Eyes Wide Shut on poppers, Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion is a unique satire of relationships and American sexual mores. It's erotica at its most repugnant, equal parts fascinating and dull, clever and ill-conceived. Inbetween China Blue's business transactions are inserts of the Kama Sutra, even a short film featuring a wedded couple, their skeletons and caged birds. It's either an artistically charged meditation on love and sex that has been dunked in smut, or it's just smut with artsy pretensions. Either way works, but I'm not sure this film does completely. Then again, I'm not sure I'd have it any other way.

Russell's film (as should be expected) is bonkers. It's an ode to warped desires that has the gall to once again humiliate Anthony Perkins with an ugly wig and a dress, and a doctor's bag of sex toys that includes a vibrator esteemed for its ability to give less pleasure than pain. Perhaps it's best not to detail Kathleen Turner's use of a nightstick on her cop clientele, or Perkins fucking a blow up doll until it bleeds. The mere fact that I can even mention a film with such scenes is reason enough for this one to exist.

What a world of respect I have for Kathleen Turner, who has plenty of sordid fun with her role, from her soulful speeches as Miss Liberty, to her petrified popping of bubblegum. What a wealth of varied delights through her filmography as well -- from sexpot (Body Heat) to savage (War of the Roses), sociopathic (Serial Mom) to stifled (The Virgin Suicides). Crimes of Passion gives her plenty to play with, both in terms of delicious dialogue and dirty deeds, and Turner is one of the few actresses I could imagine would be game.

Love interest John Laughlin is charming in a bland, I've-forgotten-everything-about-the-man kind of way. Their love story is supposedly profound, but only given the fact that China's clearly whacked and Laughlin's wife (Annie Potts of Designing Women!) is a one-note icy bitch. Perhaps it's because Laughlin's lack of personality has been nicely veiled by his nice, athletic figure. His "Human Penis" party gag alone is reason enough for his wife to divorce him. It really is the perfect way to say to your friends, "My wife and I have a miserable, sexless marriage, and I'm a walking hard-on!"

And Anthony Perkins as Reverend Repression... oh how he does sexually disturbed psychos proud. If once we were led to believe he would never harm a fly, we now can't help but believe he's a closeted transvestite nutjob. That we can have faith in.

Ken Russell's directorial hand is both deft and clumsy, maybe intentionally so. For every sharply written scene and stylistic flourish, there's a humdrum commentary on marriage, or a hideous synth score by Rick Wakeman (think Civil War anthem on Casio keyboard) to bring it right back down the ladder. I can't help but admire it all the same in a very sick, senseless way. It's often called a masterpiece, and I'm fine with such acclaim being heaped on anything this debauched. Like a stroll through the red light district, it's a curious detour that makes you feel both titillated and gross. But like any marriage, it definitely hits some rough patches.


Cinema Du Meep said...

I love Crimes Of Passion. Anthony Perkins can be my pastor anyday.

Adam said...

He would certainly make church a lot more interesting!