Thursday, December 19, 2013


In the past I don’t think I’ve made any lists of the most striking (interpret that as you please) movies I’ve seen recently.  Maybe I'm wrong.   The great river of Netflix gives me access to films I would not see unless I lived in a big city or a university -- indeed, I wouldn’t even know they existed.  The Netflix algorithm took a long time to catch up with me, but they’re getting better at it.  The problem is partly their idea of what fits into what category -- which are clumsily defined -- and partly that their “star” gimmick captures popularity rather than quality.  It never dawns on them that I sometimes watch a movie just to see what it is without any consideration for what I like or what everyone else likes -- their two variables.  Sometimes a movie is a text to think about.  Maybe I didn't know I would "like" a movie.

A few excellent examples are "Disgrace" and "Inhale", both mind-opening tales about unfamiliar territories.  "Disgrace" is John Malkovich as a professor who has a great sense of entitlement but also emptiness, which he tries to fill by invading the intimacy of his female students.  This gets him into enough trouble that he has to go visit his lesbian daughter on her subsistence farm in South Africa where she has lost her partner.  She survives with the help of a black man who cheerfully both uses her and protects her.  I can’t tell you too much else without destroying the suspense, but it is a brutal lesson to the professor on what real boundaries and real rape are about, both in the sense of being destructive and of enabling survival.  From the book by J.M. Coetzee.  I haven't read it.  Yet.

The other movie about the unthinkable is "Inhale", which starts out being one of those “your parents will do anything to save you, even produce a miracle” kind of movies and crosses into Mexico (why is the migration in that direction never considered politically?) where drug culture has frozen law enforcement out of a secret world.  The father this time is there long enough to make real contact with people, even children.  His mission is to get a lung transplant for his dying small daughter, who is too far down the list in the US.  He has not considered the idea that a transplant must come from someone and who that someone might be.  He was in the position of Bob and I when we ordered a 6-foot skeleton from Turtox, the biology supply people, and were impatient, so called them up. They explained patiently that they were waiting for some tall indigent person in India to die, but that they tended to be small, given their health handicaps.  We finally settled for a plastic skeleton.  But until the 3-D printers learn to produce new lungs, there are none made of plastic.

Realistic movies about Native Americans are thin on the ground and mostly about personalities, but "The Exiles" (1961), an old documentary film, is about the conditions and habitat that produced Russell Means, but NOT about Russell Means.  The exiles are internal, American Indians from reservations, mostly from the SW so they are not tall, hawk-nosed and symbolic, but rather beer-drinking softies who can’t find work and the women and crowd of children trying to be faithful to them.  This is LA in the day of convertibles and Tiger Balm pompadours.  But somehow the old life breaks through and the People gather in the hills near LA to sing and drum ’49’s all night, once again tribal and connected like-to-like in the territory of coyotes.  

Then there are the X films, not so much about sex as about intimacy -- why is it so elusive and illusive?  This is where Netflix has an advantage: no one knows what I watch.  I do NOT want to “share with my friends” what I watch.  (You can tell that Netflix and the other social medias are leading the retreat from the individual to the group.  I guess it’s a generational thing.  But I’ve never been attracted to orgies.  Maybe that's just arrogant of me.  Maybe there's an element of politics.)

Like a lot of women, I watch some MSM films, but not FSF, I think because it separates the issues of sex from having to conform to expectations, though the issue of top versus bottom doesn’t seem to be something human beings of any persuasion or gender identity are able to escape.  It’s just that what constitutes dominance in any situation can change.  “Keep the Lights On” is about two young men, one who loves the other faithfully and without backing off in the face of abuse -- virtue makes him the “top”, right?  Or is he a sap?  Is the bad actor, gripped by addiction and the need for freedom, the one who is really the top, since he calls the shots?  It's a well-done movie, dignified and sincere.

Something like that domination question is explored "28 Rooms", in which a man and woman fall into sex so strong and rewarding that they meet over and over, 28 times in 28 different hotel rooms.  He’s a Jack Russell of a guy, all eager and over-wired; she’s cool and thoughtful, an achiever.  Maybe this is just opposites attracting -- but is it strong enough for them to leave their quite separate lives in order to be together all the time?  In the end . . .  oh, see for yourselves.  It’s a bit of a surprise that there IS an end, but we all age.

“Nine 1/2 Weeks” is the precursor to “Fifty Shades of Gray” and a definitive example of the genre with Mickey Rourke in the days (1985) when he had more erotic charisma than any present Hollywood actor.  (I notice they're having trouble casting the male lover in "Fifty" -- too many too pale.)  This shows the teasing, invasive, controlling top working on the willing beautiful bottom -- what Americans think sex is all about.  They say the book is even more powerful.  I haven’t read it.

“Conversations with Other Women” combines the male/female dance with beautiful editing that uses a split screen throughout so we can watch both actors at once.  Since both are worth watching alone, you may want to watch twice.  Shooting was compressed with a stripped budget, and truly about the portrayals and the issue of intimacy.  These two have been married, meet again at a wedding -- pretty much on purpose -- and the subject is framed for the viewer by the supposed setting, another fine hotel -- or an illusion thereof.

“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” is still sitting here beside me.  Based on short stories by David Foster Wallace -- whose writing I don’t know except by reputation -- it is another tour de force of editing, united by the “conceit” that an earnest and intelligent young woman is trying to understand what just happened to her in a quick corrida with a lover who could not be faithful.  Her method is interviewing men who are willing to be frank, impersonated by some of the most skillful actors in existence now.  I want to watch it again -- maybe multiple times -- not just for the issues but also for the artistry and cleverness with which it is assembled.  It is so very honest about subterfuge, deception, and all the other kinds of cape-wielding and wounding between two people.  Irony doesn't cover it.

There is another memorable donnée purely about sex that is on YouTube.  I can’t remember the name.  Find it yourself.  It’s pretty young women sitting at a table skillfully reading famous erotic scenes from renowned writers.  The camera doesn’t move.  There is no editing.  There is no dialogue.  Under the table someone -- we have no idea who, what their gender, what age, whether or not they are strangers, but they are busy with a noninvasive device.  So is it about relationship or just raw physical response?  Is it about the writing or the physiology?  Who’s the top?

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