Long Days, Long Months [4]

6 August:
Watched A Scanner Darkly. Except for the portrayal of the "scramble suits," I don't quite see the point of the animation. Not sure also if I like the contemporary setting, as the novel brilliantly captures the paranoia of 1970's California post-hippie drug culture. Fittingly - since Richard Linklater directed - the story doesn't just have a new time, but also seems to have a new place: Texas. Not really, of course... but the characters' demeanors, the colors...

Thinking about those "scramble suits," I wonder how VALIS would work if turned into a movie. Of course, an actor playing both Phil and Horselover Fats would not be anything special for Hollywood, which has used the gimmick of the same actor playing two different versions of the same character, or two different characters, on screen simultaneously. But, if an actor is portraying different versions of the same character (a past and present version, say) whoever sees these differing versions acknowledges the magic, or the absurdity, of the situation. Moreover, usually only the character himself is made aware. In contrast, how would we convey Phil's friends acting as if Horselover Fats is indeed a distinct person, as if the situation is normal? Simply having the same actor playing both Phil and Horselover Fats would give a result too comical given the subject matter. Perhaps animation could work here as well.

7 August:
Watched The Anniversary Party. Late '90's-early Aughts: "Let's make a documentary-like digital film." Have I mentioned lately what a terrible influence Lars von Trier had? At least we get John C. Reilly in this one. Young Hollywood talent... very boring. Scanning some of the reviews, the critics go it right: Roger Ebert ranks it too highly, but does say it shows a life "where smart people are required to lead their lives according to dumb rules." He might be wrong as to why they're smart, and what those rules are, but the summation works. Peter Travers says, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming "let their actorly urge for high drama blunt their flair for bracing wit and subtle feeling." Indeed, and then there's that hair-cut Cumming sports - just awful!

Watched Lakeview Terrace. Surprised that Neil LaBute directed. His movie for men, In the Company of Men, and for women, The Shape of Things. Otherwise, no worries.

Watched The Big Chill - another "classic" I'd never seen. Could've done without it...

I was going to watch all of Godard's films from Breathless to Week-End, accompanied by reading the biography Everything Is Cinema. Other entries explain why this plan ran aground. I suppose I'll watch some anyway.

8 August:
Listening to Jewelled Antler artists, most of all Thuja. Decompress.

Realized that the third of the original George Romero zombie movies (Day of the Dead) had, like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, also been remade. So I watched that. It's better than the Dawn re-make at least. I do love zombie movies.

When will the number of humans currently living reach the number of all humans who have died? An urban legend, I know... but you have to wonder - has it happened already?

13 August:
Driving from Saint Petersburg to Athens, every time wanting to explore rural north Florida, but the logic of the Interstate, of the drive, drags you forward. You don't even want to stop to piss.

Watching a lot of films: randomly coming across Death Hunt, with Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, reminds me of certain movie stars of the 1960's and '70's - the loner (Bronson as Paul Kersesy, Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan, Marvin in Point Blank, Steve McQueen in Bullitt) and the rebel (Bronson/Kersey and Eastwood/Callahan again, Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Contrasting these performances with those of Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson, the young prototypes of Hollywood's New Wave, one begins to imagine conversations movie-goers had at the time - kids especially, as they figured out what they thought and how they'd respond to the upheavals of the time.

Finally got the second Sun City Girls compilation of singles, compilation tracks, and unreleased recordings: Napoleon and Josephine. I've heard, roughly estimating, about two-thirds of all the records S C G have released, but surprises still keep a-coming: namely, "Reflection of a Young Boy Eating From a Can of Dog Food on a Shiny Red X-Mas Ball," 22 minutes long, though originally shortened when included on the Three Fake Female Orgasms double-45 [1991]. Following in the path laid, in earnest, by "The Burning Nerve Ending Magic Trick," on their eponymous debut L P [1984], the Girls, here collaborating with David Oliphant, who apparently enacts many of the electro-acoustic effects heard, delve deep into collage aesthetics, ending up far away from the Rock-band template. As such, it paves the way for later albums like Juggernaut, Cameo Demons and Their Manifestations, and Flute and Mask, as well as the "radio" works.

17 August:
Recently got Iggy Pop's New Values [1979]; James Williamson was involved, but isn't the main collaborator as on Raw Power. Instead, Scott Thurston. I love the gaudy synths on "The Endless Sea." Iggy goes out of his way to deliver not-so-clever puns, fitting for the jubilant "New Wave" context. This album's good enough to group with the first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust for Life, instead of the other two Arista albums that followed it. I like somewhat-random historical symmetry: the three Stooges albums - two fairly similar, with the same line-up, followed by a third with Williamson - plus the three Iggy albums - two fairly similar, with the same line-up, followed by a third with Williamson (and Thurston).

19 August:
Bit the bullet, so to speak (or should I say, "Washed away the bird dropping") and bought a bootleg of Brewster McCloud, which for some inexplicable, inexcusable reason has not been made available on D V D. Suffice to say, it's a brilliant film. Robert Altman at his best gave us such unsettling juxtapositions of comedy and tragedy, and this film surely does so.

The extraordinary run of films Altman directed from 1970 to 1977:

M.A.S.H., perhaps his most known - only because of the T V series that resulted and which didn't involve Altman - is fine, but nothing extraordinary. It gave him the freedom to do Brewster though; both were released in 1970;

McCabe and Mrs. Miller [1971] adroitly takes the concerns and biases of the era and social setting in which it was made - the sexual revolution, the political radicalism, Leonard Cohen songs - and applies them to the Western genre;

Images [1972] was unfairly ignored at the time and only recently made available again, presumably because of its simplicity: only a few actors, but more so because of the main character's mental problems are presented literally: a real man imagined by her - and the viewer left to decide for himself exactly what did or didn't happened; laid the groundwork for 3 Women;

The Long Goodbye [1973]: Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe, updated for the "baby boomer" generation; the screenplay adapting Raymond Chandler's novel written by Leigh Brackett, who'd also adapted The Big Sleep - what else to say?;

Thieves Like Us [1974] - a remarkable recreation of 1930's U S A, almost makes Bonnie and Clyde seem pedestrian;

California Split [1974] - as with Thieves, a realist film, in this case about gambling; as with Nashville, an revealing glimpse of the times, on the micro level though;

Nashville [1975] - a remarkable creation of 1970's U S A, and as with Brewster (set in Houston, largely at the Astrodome) the viewer gets a glimpse of the Southeast during a time of massive changes for the region;

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson [1976] is - despite what anyone might tell you - hilarious; Altman delivered the perfect bicentennial film; when it comes to the Hollywood New Wave satirizing U S A history, few match this one; compare it to Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, which switches from humor to serious historical commentary somewhat awkwardly;

3 Women - an artistic peak in terms of narrative and photographic experimentation, the where and when of the story being less determined, by far, than in any other Altman film except for Images.

The next period, 1978-1980, offered some fine films, but Altman was treading water somewhat [A Wedding (1978), Quintet (1979) and A Perfect Couple (1979)]. After Popeye's flop (though like H.E.A.L.T.H., also released in 1980, it's a fine comedy) lack of funding impelled Altman toward the filmed theatrical productions of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean [1982], Streamers [1983], and Secret Honor [1984], all of them quite astounding.

After another brief downturn, Altman again turned to another medium - television - to make his comeback: Tanner '88 and Vincent and Theo. Hoping that some day will see the original mini-series version of the latter made available, not just the shortened feature-film version.

Altman's last period, for all its highlights, saw the director veering between comedy and drama, in contrast to the deft melding of the two he'd mastered in the past. The comedies: Short Cuts, Prêt-à-Porter, Cookie's Fortune, Dr. T and the Women, and A Prairie Home Companion, and the dramas: The Player, Kansas City, The Gingerbread Man, Gosford Park, The Company. Yes, The Player and Short Cuts are a cut above the rest, slightly... not being an auteur, Altman the interpreter of others' writings got rich material to work with - the Michael Tolkin novel, Raymond Carver stories.

The Company and A Prairie Home Companion stand apart because Altman, advanced in age, creatively speaking was the second-in-command for both films. The latter, of course, was Garrison Keillor's project. The former grew out of actress Neve Campbell's desire to make a film about ballet dancers, the result - as with, to a lesser extent, Companion - was a unique combination of narrative and documentary film.