‘A Bigger Splash’ a fabulous romp with underclothed actors

Hollywood has lost the knack for and the interest in movies about gorgeous people doing absurd things, so Luca Guadagnino is showing producers how to do it. A Bigger Splash consists of a love roundelay among a quartet of beautiful people on Pantelleria. In the first ten minutes rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and her documentarian boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) hike, swim, and tongue each other while rubbing mud on their bodies. And it only gets gaucher. A Bigger Splash delighted me more than any movie I’ve seen in weeks: sunburned Matthias Schoenaerts, a mostly mute Tilda Swinton, Italy, rocks, pools, Tattoo You – gimme more.

The last is the Rolling Stones’ 1981 album, acknowledged as the last time they owned the popular moment. The same can be said about Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a record producer who enjoins a reluctant Marianne and Paul to pick him at the airport when he visits. On his arm is a girl named Penelope (Dakota Johnson) on the cusp of full womanhood. His daughter, he says (“I finally put some pieces together and figured it out,” she says brightly). Balding and proudly out of shape, Harry speaks in a delighted motormouth that bulldozes resistance. It isn’t long before he’s jumping nude into the swimming pool, exploiting Marianne’s fame to get a table at a chic restaurant at the summit of a mountain (when in Italy…), chugging daiquiris and wine, and swimming nude some more – and this is all on the first day. The glum Paul’s affection for Harry is mitigated by wariness; years ago Harry and Marianne had been lovers, and from the way they joke and nuzzle they might be again. Meanwhile Penelope, surrounded by the midlife crisis set, feels stirrings of lust herself – for Paul.

Shot by Yorick Le Saux as if to capture every sweat-soaked T-shirt, drop of chlorinated water, and dollop of ricotta, A Bigger Splash is as meaningful as a Negroni, the cocktail I recommend viewers mix and imbibe when watching this splendid twaddle. The star is Fiennes, in whose performances I see no trace of the starchy colonizers he played in the nineties. As a sybarite, Fiennes has no equal; Harry would frighten Voldemort into exile again. Learning Italian to read Boccacio, mincing around a living room to the beat of the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” Harry’s moving on the balls of his feet (there’s altogether too much classic rock in this film, despite my affection for Nilsson and Harry’s account of how he got Charlie Watts to drum on garbage cans for 1994’s “Moon is Up”). He can’t understand why a newly sober Paul can’t have fun or Marianne can’t shed her inhibitions. Swinton, whose Marianne has to conserve her voice, croaks her lines but she’s such a physical actress that she can convey her lusts by throwing an arm here, widening her eyes there; she has become among the most sensual of screen presences. As for Schoenaerts, well. A Bigger Splash is a loose remake of 1969’s The Swimming Pool, a movie about Alain Delon in a bathing suit. It’s a close call whether Delon’s pokerface and abs or Schoenaerts’s crinkly scowl and magnificent thighs deserve a pagan worship ritual. By the 60-minute mark even Paul has gotten into the spirit of the proceedings. “He’d fuck you too,” Marianne informs him. “That makes all of us!” he says in triumph.

A filmmaker who combines the lightness of Stanley Donen and Luchino Visconti’s knack for illustrating the angst of beautiful ninnies, Guadagnino previously made I Am Love – a heavier load but not as entertaining as this bowl of seafood risotto. Only the silliness of the last half hour keep A Bigger Splash from kitsch heaven; the change of tone is like a mourner at a keg party. Pictures like A Bigger Splash remind me of what directors of Marvel flicks abandon when they insist on keeping Chris Evans and Scarlet Johansson in colored pants.

A Bigger Splash his available on pay per view.

Debating ‘the single most awful political person in modern American consciousness.’

Dahlia Litwick with what will make Hillary Clinton’s Monday night harder:

As a former debater myself, I did feel like there is one useful area of focus for Clinton that hasn’t been adequately covered by the media: She will be debating an asshole. There has been much rumination on how challenging it will be for her to debate someone who has no policy positions, and doesn’t know stuff. We worry about the double standard around her clothes and voice. There has been a good deal of throat-clutching over the possibility that he will goad her into losing her cool. But it seems to me the real challenge for Clinton is that she must stand on a stage and debate the single most awful political person in modern American consciousness. Trying to stifle the impulse just to walk across the stage and belt him in the face would seem an insurmountable task. Add to that the fact that Clinton is expected to speak and listen, and it seems beyond human capability.

All I need to read.

Singles 9/23

A mediocre week, reliant on the star power of Tkay Maidza + Killer Mike and Butterfly’s interpolation of Robin S’s “Show Me Love.” Robert Christgau’s effusions over M.I.A.’s latest persuade me to give it a fifth listen, but I’m budging for only one thing: the last minute of “Freedun” sounds wistful and lovely in the car, where the beat works.

Tkay Maidza ft. Killer Mike – Carry On (7)
Dessa – Quinine (6)
Butterfly – Sorry for the Wait (6)
Joey Bada$$ – Devastated (6)
Jenny Hval – Conceptual Romance (5)
M.I.A. ft. Zayn – Freedun (5)
Puer Kim – Pearls (5)
Fabio Rovazzi – Andiamo a Comandare (5)
CL – Lifted (4)
Hank Solo – Söpö (4)
Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj – Side to Side (4)
Local Natives – Fountain of Youth (3)

Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Mirage’ sparkles anew

Jul 08, 2003; New York, NY, USA; File photo. Date unknown. Members of rock group FLEETWOOD MAC. (Credit Image: © Mario Ruiz/ZUMAPRESS.com)

As recently as last year guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was giving Mirage a shrug:

But in the wake of the Tusk album, the band – which had slowly gotten drawn into what it was, and was really quite charmed by it and loved it when we delivered it to Warner Bros. – had a rethink on how they felt about it when it didn’t sell 15 million albums. So in the wake of that, then we made Mirage, in which there was this kind of dictate that came down from the other four saying, “Well, we’re not going to do that process again, Lindsey, we’re going to go back to something a little more straight ahead

He wasn’t foolin’. Mirage even has a song called “Straight Back.”

Released months before Michael Jackson became the new Fleetwood Mac by a factor of ten, Mirage, to use today’s rebarbative political jargon, stopped the bleeding. Not only did it hold the #1 spot for five consecutive weeks in the late summer of 1982 (the last collection of new Mac songs to do so in America), but it clung to #2 for the rest of the fall while John Cougar’s American Fool sold in Rumours-esque quantities. “Hold Me” debuted at #33 — a rare honor in the pre-Soundscan days and a miracle during the music industry’s post-disco doldrums — and hovered at #4 for weeks while the beloved “Gypsy” and solid “Love in Store” followed it into the top twenty. “Oh Diane” even went top ten in England. A most palpable hit, then, but an ephemeral one. By 1983 Stevie Nicks had returned to a remunerative solo career and Buckingham to his battalion of Synclaviers; Christine McVie hooked up with pre-yuppie-comeback Steve Winwood for an amiable, bland solo debut; and John McVie and Mick Fleetwood crawled back into their bottles and

Familiar with Buckingham’s therapyspeak and tendency to self-aggrandize while hiding beneath a carapace of mope, I’ve read little in the last thirty-four years to challenge the conventional wisdom. If Rumours had D-I-V-O-R-C-E and Tusk had Lindsey Goes Punk, Mirage had no angles: ten tunes, played with Fleetwood Mac’s usual finesse. If there’s an aural difference, credit a mix that creates the impression, fictional or real, of three singer-songwriters harmonizing around the same mike over a live rhythm section. Mirage is Fleetwood Mac’s warmest recording. Rubber Soul warm. Logs-in-the-fireplace warm. Early eighties liquor ad warm. Thanks to a sparkling three-disc remaster overseen by co-producer Ken Caillat, Mirage sheds the Kleenex box sound that was a touchstone of early CD releases. The result is a collection whose creators had learned to fold the structural innovations of Tusk into top forty fare. Mirage isn’t safe or a retreat.

Like Tusk‘s subtle refraction of punk-inspired economy and Tango in the Night‘s absorption of world beat and doctor’s waiting room Fauvism, Mirage does follow a plan, perhaps inspired by the absence of a reason for existing; musicians love back-to-basics records when they don’t want to work together. It synthesizes the instrumental tropes of a generation ago: doo wop (“Book of Love”), country (“That’s Alright”), rockabilly (“Oh Diane”), Motown (“Love in Store”). Even Tusk gets a second look (“Eyes of the World”). The clarity of the new mixes impresses me. Did you know Buckingham plucks a banjo in “That’s Alright”? Were the three discrete guitar parts in the fade out for “Hold Me” so audible in 1982? Isn’t John McVie’s three-note bass line in the first thirty seconds of “Can’t Go Back” a marvel of economy and heft? For the last time on a Mac album the three singer-songwriters were in peak form. Nicks, coming off a triumphant 1981 after Bella Donna became a worldwide hit, offered the static and brooding set piece “Straight Back,” a farewell to her high notes in “That’s Alright,” and the luminous “Gypsy” – a wistful reverie describing how a young woman with some lace and paper flowers became the star she wanted to be. Buckingham’s arpeggiated hook and rippling solo are among the elements that make the track headphone fodder. McVie’s “Wish You Were Here” is a bowlful of mush, but she and Buckingham, breathing into the mike as closely as if she and not Nicks had been his Angel of Death, transform “Hold Me” from the innocuousness of the demo (included on the bonus disc) into a masterpiece of color. The outro adduces the excellence of the rhythm section: McVie on piano embellishing the melody line, drum roll, bass holding it together, second drum roll auguring the track’s most traditional solo, shrewd fade out.

“We ended up making a far better album than we gave ourselves credit for many years,” Fleetwood said in a recent interview. Don’t confuse the cohesion for tranquility, though. To peek into this study, explore the material from the brief Mirage tour, a PBS staple from my childhood. The dapper Buckingham excepted, the rest of his mates still mugged and fluffed their hair and beards as if the eighties hadn’t started yet (and I would argue that they hadn’t). Of the unreleased material Nicks’ rocker “Smile At You” is the sleeper; keeping this track off the original pressing speaks to the alternate behavior governing the band.

A word on those demos: they’re educational inasmuch as they show how even Stevie Nicks kept her eye on verse-chorus-verse strictures. What Buckingham did to the released “Book of Love,” the track with the most debts to early rock and roll, is textbook example of how the mixing board produces ironic complements. Missing from the early version are those mocking ha-ha-ha-ha harmonies; without them “Book of Love” is a J.D. Souther number with an ear for candy corn arrangement (the piano tinkle and Nicks’ background vocal are more pronounced). Even when the fivesome’s truce held they couldn’t resist squeezing lemon juice over each other’s songs.

Snappy, assured, owing noting to L.A. studio rock, Mirage documents the evolution of a band for whom the usual verities got muddled by a singular and, five years after Rumours, ever-fraught axis: if it were up to the McVies and Fleetwood, the band would’ve kept recording blues pop; if it were up to Lindsey Buckingham, he would have recorded material commensurate with the noises wrung from his guitar and the lushness of his harmonies; if it were up to Stevie Nicks, she would have joined Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Mirage makes Toto IV sound particularly conventional). The only nod to Reagan-era music I can hear is Buckingham’s pinprick guitar over the verses in “Only Over You,” also present in Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s “Ebony and Ivory,’ which shared chart space with “Hold Me.” But it was a well wrought cul de sac. It pointed the way to nothing and augured little about Fleetwood Mac’s future except its fealty to professionalism. This deluxe remastering may tell us little that we didn’t already know in 1982, and that’s fine. Wait till those 12″ mixes of the Tango in the Night singles get boxed too.

College Republicans for Trump: ‘…he speaks like a person of my generation’

Los pobres!

At Mr. Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, Grayson Sessa, the vice president of the school’s College Republicans, said he was dismayed by the nominee’s name-calling and hoped the party’s values could withstand him. “It’s not a great feeling,” he said.

At Yale, the chapter’s endorsement of Mr. Trump led to a mutiny, with departing members forming the Yale New Republicans and Yale Undergraduate Conservatives Against Trump. And at Harvard, alma mater of countless Republican leaders, the club’s president, Declan Garvey, 21, said that between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton, “I would have to vote for Hillary.”

But Karis Lockhart, the chairwoman of the University of Central Florida chapter, whose parents met as College Republicans, said that those who could not bring themselves to vote for Mr. Trump were being overly sensitive.

She argued that Mr. Trump would bring in new voters who would help in other races on the ballot. “He’s dumbing it down for people who don’t want the numbers and statistics,” she said approvingly.

College Republicans are a bigger albeit subtler force on my campus than you’d think in fervently blue Miami-Dade County; this chapter and student government are practically synonymous. As baiting minorities looks less acceptable, this iteration of conservatism treasures low taxes and “responsibility” with a healthy dose of received anti-Clintonism, the latter of which they learned from parents if they’re Cuban. Gay marriage they’re cool with — a “non-issue” as they like to say. Sea level rise they avoid as a discussion point, especially on a campus which produces excellent research showing its effects. Student who attend a commuter school have it hard: they’re at war with the small-l-liberal education of the classroom and their parents’ attitudes.

‘The market will take care’ of climate change

I have friends and relatives, disgusted with what they think is the perfidy of the two party system, who take Gary Johnson seriously. Many of them are disillusioned Republicans who want to vote for a president. These men and women are more honest, for the Libertarian Party nominee offers undiluted Republicanism served fresh, hot, and delicious:

In an August interview with the Los Angeles Times, he announced he was “open” to the idea of the federal government imposing a revenue-neutral tax on carbon emissions. Economists have long viewed a carbon tax as the most efficient way of putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit warming—many see it as preferable to the complex cap-and-trade proposal backed by President Barack Obama during his first term. In a subsequent interview on CNBC, Johnson called a carbon tax a “very libertarian proposal” under which “the market will take care of” climate change. (During the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders endorsed a carbon tax; Clinton did not.)

Many Libertarians and conservatives were outraged by Johnson’s sudden embrace of a carbon tax. “It’s Official: Gary Johnson Is a Left-Wing Candidate,” declared the Federalist, a conservative publication. After plenty of public criticism from the right, Johnson changed his mind, telling supporters at a New Hampshire rally that after considering a carbon tax, “I have determined that, you know what, it’s a great theory, but I don’t think it can work, and I’ve worked my way through that.” His flip-flop drew loud applause from the crowd.

Let me note that earlier thsi summer the Johnson-Weld ticket had been open to the thought of a carbon tax until no-government petri dishes like The Federalist accused them of heresy. Because the Johnson-Weld ticket tells hard truths.

Floridians who don’t consider sea level rise a problem should speak to the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County, or, better, stay on Miami Beach’s West Avenue during King Tide.

I was waiting for him: The career of George Michael

It could have been the pinstriped jacket. But credit the combination of thick generous hair and stubble. When George Michael, then and forever of Wham!, faced the camera in “Careless Whisper” (what a title!) and shared the story of how his character had acted like a cad, I felt the first stirrings of the homosexual lust I wouldn’t acknowledge for at least another decade. Before this look he’d tried tennis shorts — or wasit badminton attire? At any rate he and amiable non-equal Andrew Ridgeley had no use for clothes. From the young men imitating Duran Duran convincingly in “Club Tropicana,” pink cocktails and all (and free!), to the mulleted High Eighties cavorting in “The Edge of Heaven,” Wham! excelled at portraying guys on the make, eyes roving for the next pretty face and good party.

Distinguishing them from their New Pop peers was Michael’s songcraft, as much on the make as everything else about them. He understood saxophones. He understood Synclaviers. He understood Motown. He could belt and whisper. Like Bowie and Madonna, he realized that he could sell any image if his muse was forever on the move, driving like a demon from station to station. And, boy, did he understand The Career Move. First: record an embalmed duet with Aretha Franklin that stayed at #1 for two weeks in the spring of 1987, to date the Queen’s only British chart topper, which should tell you something about Michael’s persuasive powers (I can’t top Tom Ewing’s dismissal: “Simon Climie appears to have written the track using a set of gospel magnetic fridge poetry. Low valleys, high mountains, deep rivers, faith, destiny, spirit”). Next: release a single, several months before his first in-name solo album, tied to the forgotten Beverly Hills Cop sequel, that was as much an ambiguous come-on as “Papa Don’t Preach.” A bait and switch, actually: if she’s made up her mind and is keeping the baby, then George reminds listeners that sex is natural and sex is good when it’s one on one. That “I Want Your Sex” coincided with the phony heterosexual AIDS panic didn’t take away from its subtle endorsement of any kind of diddling so long as it was monogamous and safe. Best, he sang with the detached pep of an enthusiastic PE teacher giving his first sex ed lecture; no one would think he had ever done the missionary.

The album it heralded was the first that dominated my pop imagination. Promising a different look on every single, Faith was the apotheosis of the ’80s obsession with the crossmarket crossover. Unlike Tina Turner, though, Michael produced the record himself and played almost every note. Its most gratifying success? A rare #1 place on the American R&B chart. Those who weren’t there can’t fathom how big Faith was; only Thriller and Born in the U.S.A. were this omnipresent, plus those who freaked to Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. The two singles I adored came late in the release cycle: Miami’s Y-100 blasted the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis remix of “Monkey” through August 1988, as relentless, as conversant in hip-hop idioms as anything coming out of Def Jam (scratches, “Planet Rock” synth, Michael’s interjected “SNARE!”); and the ravaged “One More Try,” a Casio keyboard demo over which Michael lamented a doomed romance with a teacher who promised worse things that young George didn’t have to learn.

A confused youth learning to read signs and symbols, I heard something discordant about the depths of Michael’s yearning. Sure, Rod Stewart had written his own elegy for an educational tryst with an older woman, but he sounded merely pained. The hysteria expended by Michael seemed disproportionate to the scenario. Straight guys don’t yearn like this; if anything, the pop world has way too many “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”s in its repertoire. The first overt clue came years later in Michael’s last American top ten “Fastlove,” in which he tries to coax an available yum-yum into his BMW because he saw “lovin’ in his eyes.” By 1996, however, no one in the Western world had illusions about George Michael’s heterosexuality. The fact that Older and its singles struggled for American airplay and sales affirmed it; in the year of The Birdcage and the Defense of Marriage Act he could enjoy Soundscan-era catalog sales for “Careless Whisper” and Faith while few gave a damn about the queen’s new music. The rest of the world told a different story about Older, as I learned when I visited London the following summer and heard “Star People ’97” everywhere. Like the Pet Shop Boys’ “Can You Forgive Her,” 1998’s “Outside” was a belated acknowledgment of received knowledge, enlivened by Michael’s obvious relief, not to mention his kinky joy in dressing like the Village Person who wore a cop outfit.

When his personal life turned careless, he didn’t lose his ability with a whisper, but after 2004’s ironically named Patience he lost interest in a mass audience that had grown up with him. He put more energy into getting arrested than recording songs. As perverse as this sounds — I wish George the best — I can think of no better rebuke to contemporary notions of homosexual maturity. Yet “Fastlove,” “Outside,” and tracks like Patience‘s “Precious Box” suggest the kind of thump-thump a randy gay man in his fifties could record should he remember that this same mass audience is ready for these stories and beats in 2016. Unlike Scissor Sisters he can sing them. think of how the writer of “Freedom ’90” and “Too Funky” would flourish in this nu-house environment. And he can look the part: during the Blair/Clinton era former mentor Elton John was old and toupeed and as sexless as a spinster aunt in a Saki short story while Michael looked like George Clooney playing Tom Cruise’s vampire.

Don’t let these observations fool you. George Michael has been an indissoluble part of my life since the fifth grade without disturbing my canon. But as I creep towards the age when in the absence of security I make my way into the night I’m realizing how much I’ve underestimated him. Anticipating the ILM poll whose results were posted today, I went on a binge. I’m still discovering songs. “Precious Box” I’ve mentioned, but what about 1990’s “Heal the Pain”? The acoustic hook and multitracked harmonies are so delectable that Paul McCartney dueted with him in a live cover. What about the bossa nova lilt of “Cowboys and Angels”? (Everyone, it seems, was wrong about Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. except Michael.) For such a former megastar his catalog is approachable and un-vast. Spotify eases the experience of dipping. For men and women who watched him jump holding the shuttlecocks, reacquainting oneself with him will yield surprising rewards; for my younger readers who get Prince and Madonna, here was the other weirdo, the most human of him all. Look at that stubble: it was begging to be fluffed by human hands.

TRACKS:

1. Everything She Wants
2. One More Try
3. Monkey
4. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
5. Too Funky
6. Killer/Papa Was a Rolling Stone
7. Freedom ’90
8. A Different Corner
9. Freedom
10. Father Figure
11. Precious Box
12. Cars and Trains
13. Waiting For The Day
14. Heaven Help Me (Deon Estes)
15. Fastlove
16. Last Christmas
17. Heal the Pain
18. The Strangest Thing
19. Cowboys and Angels
20. Amazing

Best films of 1985 and 1986

somethingwild-1

1985

Vagabond (Agnès Varda)
The Official Story (Luis Puenzo)
Lost in America (Albert Brooks)
Prizzi’s Honor (John Huston)
What Have I Done to Deserve This? (Pedro Almodovar)
Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen)
Ran (Akira Kurosawa)
Shoah (Claude Lanzmann)
To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin)

1986

Something Wild (Jonathan Demme)
Aliens (James Cameron)
The Fly (David Cronenberg)
The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer)
She’s Gotta Have It (Spike Lee)
Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan)
Sid and Nancy (Alex Cox)
Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen)
My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears)
Blue Velvet (David Lynch)

Thank you, thank you: Best of Al Green

Here’s the thing with jukebox heroes acquainted with Greatest Hits: as much as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, with whom he has little else in common, Al Green recorded albums. Modest about issuing statements in the post-sixties sense of the word, concerned with the space between sticks and snare, attentive to the percussive effect of a single electric guitar strum, they did not reinvent so much as return rhythm and blues to its base: a relationship between the singer and the Divine as intimate as pillow talk.

The way in which Green and producer Willie Mitchell repeated their strategic use of strings and vocal moues reminded listeners of their debt to hymns and liturgies; for Green writing and singing a couplet like “Full of fire/You’re my one desire” was an affirmation, not a prayer. He sang from a place of confidence. Not for him Gaye and Curtis Mayfield’s anguish. Even Aretha Franklin’s melismatic evocation of joy as a secular speaking in tongues was beyond his interest. No wonder he covered Willie Nelson — I can think of no other singer from the era who trusted stillness, whose pose was emulating God moving over the face of the waters. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he sang in “Jesus is Waiting.” Although a few years from becoming a reverend, he had the swagger of a man who had found grace but sang as if he had to persuade, one listener at a time; this hushed breath-on-the-neck fervor gives “You Ought to Be With Me” and “Your Love is Like the Morning Sun” their power. The suggestion that he was assuming the omnipotence of the God he loved would have appalled him. I’ll take it further: how else to account for a grinning assurance unknown to any godhead who has tangled with mortals?

1. Jesus is Waiting
2. Feels Like Summer
3. Let’s Get Married
4. I’m a Ram
5. You Ought to Be With Me
6. Belle
7. Beware
8. Love and Happiness
9. Home Again
10. Funny How Time Slips Away
11. I Can’t Get Next to You
12. Full of Fire
13. Livin’ For You
14. Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)
15. Right Now, Right Now
16. Lay It Down
17. Call Me
18. For the Good Times
19. One of These Good Old Days
20. Sweet Sixteen

Best films of 1987 and 1988

HOUSEKEEPING, Christine Lahti, Sara Walker, 1987

1987

Housekeeping (Bill Forsythe)
The Dead (John Huston)
Tampopo (Juzo Itami)
Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson)
Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi)
The Stepfather (Joseph Ruben)
Law of Desire (Pedro Almodovar)
Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow)
Radio Days (Woody Allen)
Sign ‘o’ the Times (Prince, Albert Magnoli)

1988

Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Phil Kaufman)
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris)
Dangerous Liasons (Stephen Frears)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pablo Almodovar)
A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton)
Bull Durham (Ron Shelton)
Die Hard (John McTiernan)
Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese)
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton)

Curtis Hanson – RIP

In 1987 Curtis Hanson wrote and directed a thriller called The Bedroom Window. It boasted the very eighties cast of Elizabeth McGovern, Isabelle Huppert, and, uh, Steve Guttenberg. Three years later, Hanson released Bad Influence, a post-yuppie black comedy posing as a thriller in which part of the joke for modern audiences is accepting Rob Lowe as the creep who entices James Spader to do evil and not vice versa (with this and 1988’s Masquerade Lowe was trying to use his girlish delicacy, blankness, and decent hair to dissolve the blahs). Workmanlike but with an above average sense of rhythm and attention to character nuances, this pair looks today as quaint as Laura: American studios, not their art house divisions, used to pay for these scripts and films. The hit was 1992’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and it felt like it: Fatal Attractions with lesbian overtones and a patina of smoothness. The real concession to mainstream Hollywood was The River Wild, one of those movies that felt like watching a Disney theme ride, with an improbable Meryl Streep in Tevas as an imperiled mom; by 1994 roles for adult women were already so wretched that Streep got Oscar buzz that fortunately died.

The modest box office of The River Wild led to the financing of Hanson’s most realized project to date. The biggest American critical success of 1997, the year that Celine Dion’s voice sank a giant ship, L.A. Confidential still looks terrific as a period piece but remains more valuable as a study of masculinity in crisis – the theme holding together Hanson’s work. Guy Pearce as the careerist with blood like ice, sure, but I’ve never seen a character like Russell Crowe’s Bud White: the cop with a face like a pug, hating himself for being treated as muscle for hire, with a sentimentalist’s touch (there’s a lovely reaction shot of an enraptured White watching Kim Basinger’s Lynn Bracken watching Roman Holiday). Kevin Spacey’s Jack Vincennes, the brains with an insider’s gleam, codes gay and that’s how Spacey (for once) plays him. Perfect it isn’t: I don’t care for the violent denouement, and from the evidence of the staging, neither does Hanson; and while I haven’t read James Ellroy’s novel there’s a sense in which subtleties are erased.

The rest of his career was muscle flexing. Wonder Boys couldn’t overcome the miscasting of a game Michael Douglas, but the colors are richer and the canvas deeper as Hanson peoples his adaptation of Michael Chabon’s book as if he understood how you’re supposed to adapt novels. I remember the gasp as the dunces in the audiences realized that Tobey Maguire was under the blanket beside Robert Downey, Jr. Capturing a cultural moment, 8 Mile demonstrated a fine eye for the bleakness of Detroit in winter and a firm hand in dealing with Marshall Mathers but not much else. In Her Shoes was a muddle: Shirley MacLaine’s flinty detachment searched for a less sentimental movie.

When watching Hell or High Water a couple weeks ago I thought of directors who may have had gotten the project besides the able David Mackenzie. Jonathan Glazer and Curis Hanson were the finalists: the former’s talent for figuring how topography shapes character would have worked, but so too Hanson’s interest in sketching the filigrees in Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham’s affection, not to mention the gradations of love and power between brothers Chris Pine and Ben Foster. These are old school skills.

Not Just POLL Deep: The Best P-Funk and George Clinton tracks

Late to the party, I overcompensated. During a two-month period in 2006, I scarfed down every Funkadelic album reissued. This lover of freestyle and Miamian didn’t need to dance his way out of his constrictions: he had just grown up with people who knew George Clinton as dude with the weird-ass wig, author of “Atomic Dog” and “Flashlight” and “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” and that’s that. Then he found a CD copy of You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish for three bucks used—a rare prize.

For ILM’s poll not long ago, I contributed my favorite P-Funk stuff, although sadly it’s heavier on the funk. I’m not as enthusiastic about Chocolate City and Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome as I am about Standing on the Verge of Getting It On or Let’s Take it To The Stage (or even the eponymous debut, home of a single that sounds as bottomlessly weird as the first time). Lots of wisdom to glean too: “If You Don’t Like the Effect, Don’t Produce the Cause” has entered my lexicon and sounds only too appropriate after the Senate torture report.

Is it wrong to prefer the solo in “I’ll Stay” to “Maggot Brain”‘s? OK. So I prefer it. Is it wrong that I listen to The Electric Spanking of War Babies more than to One Nation Under a Groove? Spank me.

1. Funkadelic – I Bet You
2. Funkadelic – Can You Get To That?
3. Funkadelic – Jimmy’s Got a Little Bit of Bitch in Him
4. George Clinton – Quickie
5. Funkadelic – Cosmic Slop
6. Parliament – Chocolate City
7. Funkadelic – I’ll Stay
8. Funkadelic – Shockwaves
9. Funkadelic – (Not Just) Knee Deep
10. George Clinton – Last Dance
11. George Clinton – Man’s Best Friend/Loopzilla
12. Funkadelic – Let’s Take It to the Stage
13. Funkadelic – Funky Dollar Bill
14. Funkadelic – If You Don’t Like The Effect, Don’t Produce the Cause
15. Funkadelic – No Head, No Backstage Pass
16. Funkadelic – One Nation Under a Groove
17. George Clinton – Double Oh-Oh
18. Parliament – Mothership Connection (Star Child)
19. Parliament – Wizard of Finance
20. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
21. Parliament – Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)
22. Parliament – Dr. Funkenstein
23. Parliament – If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Force It)
24. George Clinton – Do Fries Go With That Shake?
25. Funkadelic – The Electric Spanking of War Babies
26. George Clinton – One Fun at a Time
27. Parliament – Testify
28. Funkadelic – Get Off Your Ass and Jam
29. Parliament – Up For the Down Stroke
30. George Clinton – Nubian Nut