Sorry not to be kicking off the week with fresh "content" but certain other business and creative endeavors have been making undue demands on my time. And no, I really don't think I have anything interesting to say about the whole Disney/Marvel deal. Really, the only thing I want from Marvel now and for the foreseeable future is Volume Three of The Fantastic Four Omnibus, and then everybody can just go their merry ways. But feareth not, there's stuff in the works—tomorrow's Foreign Region DVD Report, a consideration of the greatest Jess Franco film Alain Robbe-Grillet ever made, and hopefully some musings on the picture from which I got the screen grab above, a picture I might have imagined Rod Taylor's character making a reference to in Inglourious Basterds, a picture I know The Siren probably knows by heart. Soon come, as King Tubby would say, maybe.
I don't think I've ever gone into my weird Al Jolson thing on this blog, or on my prior one for that matter, even when I was pondering Warner's controversial DVD release of The Jazz Singer a couple years back. I alluded to it here, but never really explained, say, just how I acquired it (which is part of what makes it weird). So no reason to do it now, except just to mention, as a way of partially explaining this post, that I have this weird Al Jolson thing. Which is to say that, beyond appreciating him in an objective/critical sense as a seminal,hugely influential, monumentally important figure in American popular culture (prior to Michael Jackson's ascendence, he was pretty much unquestionably acknowledged as the biggest solo act in all of show business), I also actually enjoy watching and listening the guy. For the most part, I'm a fan.
Get on down to The Auteurs' for the Topics/Questions/et. alia of the week, all in good fun and featuring a counterintuitive Whiteism and a new feature: my random spate of movie imagery. Fun or filler? You decide, and let me know, here or there.
"They said I was a pussy all my life. They said I was a pussy...because I was a Jew." So homicide detective Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna) explains to a mysterious woman in a diner, in the aftermath of a fairly...let's say definitive action by Gold, a rather un-cop-like action at that. "And the cops, they'd say: Send a Jew? Might as well send a broad on the job. Send a broad through the door."
It's interesting, revisiting David Mamet's third directorial feature in the recent wake of Inglourious Basterds and its Nazi-scalping soldiers, its putatively Golem-like "Bear Jew," and so on. Although more complex, I think, than even Tarantino quite grasps, Basterds is, on a certain level, a piece of wish-fulfillment from the outside. It's not for nothing that the Lieutenant who hands the Basterd the instruments of their vengeance is a gentile (albeit a part-Apache gentile). Mamet's examination of Jewish self-hatred versus Jewish self-determination is much more of an inside job. On the commentary track of the new Criterion DVD (out September 8) that he shares with William H. Macy, one of the film's co-stars, Mamet recalls the beatings he endured as a kid from those who called him "Christ-killer," and owns up to conceiving this as he was "starting to come back to Judaism...trying to figure out where I belong." I haven't yet read Mamet's latest book of essays on the issue, The Wicked Son, but if I follow the trajectory of his thought correctly via that volume's reviews, I'd have to conclude that his notions concerning self-determination have only grown stronger.
In this film, Mamet's third feature, his attitude is harder to pin down, but the ambivalence on display is of the detached rather than tortured variety. Urban Detective Gold wants to bring in a murderous drug dealer, but circumstances throw him off that case and onto the murder of a Jewish grandmother in a depressed neighborhood. Thrown in with his "people" and not liking it, he begins, almost against his will, to discover a shadowy organization of Jews out to avenge any and all acts of anti-Semitism. Gold gets to his Rubicon when this group asks him to turn over a piece of police evidence to them. "Where are your loyalties," one of them asks. Well, that is indeed the question.
Of all of Mamet's self-written feature films, this strikes me as the most thoroughly,well, Mametian in terms of performance style and writing—the flat, almost incantory delivery of dialogue combined with the iambic rhythms and the repetition of phrases: "I'll find the killer. I'll find the killer, I swear." The effect is even more bracing than it was in House of Games, I think in part because House of Games was introducing viewers to an unfamiliar, circumscribed world—the mien of the super-secretive con man—that the viewer had few expectations about as far as behavior was concerned. Much of Homicide takes place in a precinct house and on the street, and the theatricality of the exchanges in these settings we're familiar with from cop shows and cop movies is bracing, maybe a little alienating at first. But it's Mamet's world, and he's got utter confidence about how things work in it, and the film builds a unique, almost hypnotic power. An unusual picture, a unique picture, one that's certainly well worth reviving a conversation about.
...said question being "Does the recently released Warner Archive disc of the intriguing 1981 doc Urgh! A Music War feature the performances by Magazine, Skafish, and most importantly, Pere Ubu that seem to have been excised from the repertory prints of the film now in circulation?"
As a matter of fact, it does.
Oh happy day. Also, the disc looks and sounds better than the print I saw at BAM last fall, so if you're a fan of this pic—which I was rather disappointed with when it first came out, but now adore, not least for its time-capsule qualities—you ought to scarf this up.
Also: how much did Gang of Four completely and utterly rule, anyway?
A weirdly arresting image from Maurice Pialat's remarkable 1979 picture Passe ton Bac d'abord... (Graduate First...) upon which I muse today, over at the Auteurs'. As for this quieter-than-normal blog, well, I'm in the middle of Mamet's peculiar Homicide, an interesting picture to take in in the wake of Inglourious Basterds, and hope to have some good-for-the-Jews observations in short order.
My estimable friends and confreres Aaron Aradillas and Matt Zoller Seitz are concocting something very special and interesting over at L Magazine: a series of video essays on "The Evolution of the Modern Blockbuster," taking off from the summer of '84. The summer of '84. Oh boy. Check it out. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you may even retch. You won't be bored. Start here. New installments will appear, as the nightclub comic said, all week.
Simon Yam (center) and his pickpocketing pals want to know if you'll still have a song to sing when the razor boys come and take your fancy things away. No, actually they're not that mean. These guys are nice criminals in a particular Hong Kong tradition, one often honored by the great director Johnny To, whose delightful Sparrow is the Blu-ray subject of today's Foreign—but not, in this case, Foreign Region—DVD Report, over at The Auteurs'.
Sonia Saviange, Salo or The 120 Days Of Sodom, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1976
I am a trifle out of sorts today. Heat rash, and the promise of near-90-degree-highs through Thursday can do that to a guy. But look on the bright side. I kept my promise of a snark-free blog for a week. That's something. I wonder if I ought to continue this experiment. Save all my snark for the Auteurs' column. What say ye?
By the way, in the wake of regular people now being able to actually see Inglourious Basterds (and quite a few of them are going, which makes me happy), the conversation at my initial post about the film is re-heating, and growing ever more interesting, if I may say so myself. See here.