Mark Allen's Top Ten for February 16th, 2004:
This week's Top Ten (the first five entries at least) are all about... you guessed it... another FILM! And how it's re-visited magic has touched my life:
1. Re-examining Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" ...re-examining my week ...my past ...my city ...my boyfriend
Listen you screw heads... you fuckers...
I have to admit that for years now, every time someone would say to me that Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" was their favorite film... or quoted that "You lookin' at me?" line... I would always get a really good examination of my own mind. This is because my eyes would be rolling so hard into the back of my head that I would have a clear view of my brain matter.
Nevertheless, I recently attended a midnight screening of Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and was kind of subtly, surprisingly, blown away by a film that I had seen countless times on video, and always thought was kinda over-rated. I didn't get one clear view of my brain the entire time! Sometimes (but not always) seeing older films the way they were originally designed... that is to be seen projected in a good theater with an adequate sound system, can change a mind that has grown up in the age of video and DVDs. This is especially true of pictures that may annoy you because people are constantly dropping the titles of as "one of the best films ever made" ad naseum. But... it took a full-bodied viewing of this fine picture for me to realize how it's imperfections in plot are irrelevant. It is a full-fledged cinematic experience... and a timeless energy capsule channel-er for the weird energy of New York City. As well as - a virtual bible for the value systems I am holding near and dear to my heart this week (as you will see below).
"All the animals come out at night: whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies... sick... venal. Each night when I return the cab to the garage I have to clean the come off the back seat. Some nights I clean off the blood. Someday... a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."
See it on the big screen if you can (which you probably can't). So instead, totally anti-social yourself and rent the DVD and watch it with all the lights turned out and with headphones hooked up to your player, to get the full sensation of the film. "Taxi Driver" truly is a great film... after all.
2. First of all: would someone please get me a replica of one of these signs?
I realize now my life has been leading up to one goal... one purpose. TO GET ONE OF THESE SIGNS! It's all clear now. I actually looked around the internet for people that might be selling replicas of the sign that Travis Bickle has hanging on the wall of his apartment, the one he speaks to Betsy about (Cybill Shepard) earlier in the film. It says "ONE OF THESE DAYS I'M GONNA GET ORGANIZIZED."
No, no... not "organized" ..."organizized" o-r-g-a-n-i-z-i-z-e-d ...it's a joke! Get it? Like those signs people put on their desks at work that say "THIMK." Well... sort of. You don't get it? I realize now how much you are like the others, so cold and distant. Many people are like that. They're like a union.
Anyway... to be honest... I would think some nerd out there on eBay or something would be selling replicas of these. I bet if I got in a time machine and went back to 1976 A.D., I could walk into any Spencer's Gifts in any mall in America... march right back to the adult section and pick up one of these for $1.99! But this is 2004. Oh well.
I just want one... to hang up on my wall... right up on my left... next to where I sit at my computer. Just exactly like Travis has. Somehow... as I work and do stuff... it will just really, really put things into perspective... in the truest sense of the word.
3. Jim... my own Travis Bickle... my hero
I remember right after I went through my whole cancer experience, after all the treatments were over and I was given a clean bill of health, I was having kind of a rough time. To be honest, I was practically having a total nervous breakdown... my doctors told me I was suffering from "post-traumatic shock syndrome." And since I was indeed having a pretty hard go of things, and New York City certainly wasn't going to give me a break, I decided to get out of the city and stay with my parents for a while. It really wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I really had nowhere else I could go. My parents really had no idea how to deal with something like that, which is fine... so I just kind of spent three months... hidden away from myself... barely visiting with my folks at all... jogging and lifting weights like crazy... eating a lot... keeping horrible hours... taking midnight walks in their lush Virginia suburban paradise. It was weird. Ultimately I would retreat from an easy day of rest, to more rest... in the guest room on the left of the house every evening. Every too-late night, I found myself in that perfect room, laying on the Laura Ashley bedspread with the cable TV on, surrounded by multilayers of tranquility wrapped in drywall, plush carpet, framed duck paintings, little lamps and fancy scented bathroom soaps... just sitting there on the bed.... diligently batting at the terrifying abyss in my head over and over, night after night. Honestly, I'm probably lucky to have had somewhere like that to go... it may have not been perfect, or even good for me... but at least most of the time it could be neutral.
Three months is a long time to have nothing to do but try and distract yourself from the newly over-sensitized realization that Death is always standing behind you, and can strike you down again on a cruel whim whenever it chooses. So rather than heal (which kind of started after I returned to New York), I placed an imaginary forefinger and thumb stun gun to my temple and *ka-pow* ...kind of sheer-willed my frontal lobe into a lobotomy for the time being. When your brain is in this kind of mode, your lack of anything to do, rather than giving you too much time to think, gives you too much time to fantasize.
A lot of people write me and tell me that I'm boy-crazy, and that they think I write too much about guys in movies or whatever that I think are sexy. And they're right, I do (for an answer, I always send them here).
Have you ever heard about that study that sexy woman scientist did once where she tried to figure out the human brain's chemical make-up while it was an infant in the womb? And then tried to find out which full-grown human's chemical brain make-up state most matched the un-rememberable "womb" perception reality? And did you hear it was discovered that the chemical match-up in a normal person's brain that was the closest match-up for the womb was the chemical make-up a brain has when it has a crush on another person? That was the chemical make-up in the brain that most matched prenatal bliss. Not "love" per se, but that initial fantasy initial crush on someone you don't really know all the way yet. The place where what is real and what is imagined meld the mind into hopeful tranquility. Yep. It's true. Even if I can't find any evidence to support it... you still must believe.
So... back there... in that suburban bliss, my mind healed itself by materializing an imaginary boyfriend. While I was all alone. He was a guy that I knew I would never meet. It was one who's personality perfectly yanged the ying I was in at the moment. His personality was this: he seemed damaged from something in his past, and even though it was unclear what this thing in his past was, it was clear that he had moved through it and on. And even though every day was a struggle for him, the only way he could make it was to be as diligent and clear headed as he could... and always do the right thing in every situation as best as he knew how. This gave him a Ninja-like economic sense of survivability if need be. He probably had a military background but it was a little unclear. He was completely unpretentious in the trues sense of the word. He was incredibly neardy, perpetually un-cool - but totally unaware of this. He never did anything because of what it represented to others... he did it because he wanted to, or thought it was right... even if it wasn't. He was the type that would put grease in his hair and part it over very neatly to one side and wear an incredibly out-of-style suit to a friend's wedding and not see anything wrong with it when people tried to point it out to him. He wanted his hair to look nice! It was a suit after all! He was proud of his look! When trying to please others he was very polite and formal, and sometimes, no... often, got it wrong... because he really didn't know any better. Like taking a girl on a first date... giving her flowers and candy and then taking her to a porno movie because those are the only types of movies he understands or ever watches. Then taking it hard when he realizes she's upset by this and trying everything he could do to set it right even though the situation was un-save-ably wrong. He was an idiot savant with incredible manners, and he had a false serial killer vibe (that was due to his mental imbalance and past damaging) which was very perceptible once you realized he had an extremely happy and giving soul. I remember he was obliviously charming in a way that was only perceivable to me. I remember he was also very masculine but not cocky at all and in no way fake. He was taller than me and had dark hair and was hung like a giraffe.
I found it odd that I would fantasize about such an odd hero in such a real moment of need. Maybe that's what fantasy is for.
I had truly, totally forgotten about this brief fantasy as the years past and my post-cancer life went on ... and I stopped trying to figure out what I thought the conjuring of it in my head for so many nights way back when meant... how it helped me in my awkward struggle to prevent myself from falling apart. Until, that is, I saw "Taxi Driver" again.
I realized that the fictional character Travis Bickle was, no... IS that fantasy character in my head. The ying that complimented my broken yang that I yearned for so during so many almost dimentia-filled nights so many years ago.
Whether he was taking Cybill Shepard on their first date to a porno movie, talking to Peter Boyle about the "bad ideas" that were creeping up on him when he couldn't distract himself with the night shift, or blowing the brains out of the "scum of the earth" (or maybe almost a presidential candidate) in a vicious bloodbath... Travis Bickle was that fantasy character in my head.
Upon further examination of my current life... I realized how my current boyfriend, Jim, really shares many traits with Travis Bickle. Jim is tall and masculine and very, very handsome and very smart. He's experienced. He's unfuss-ily polite. He causes those who rely on pretension to wilt... because his lack of it is impenetrable. He stands up for me but is un-bossy and never manipulative. He causes manipulators to back off because he's tall and scary. If he doesn't like the way people are treating me (like Travis Bickle didn't like the way 13-year old junkie prostitute Jodie Foster was being treated by her pimps) he will go make trouble for them. Why Jim would even make trouble for... oh I don't know, the President of the United States if he thought he was causing trouble for me. Jim might even take down the scum of the earth, or some suspicious people he saw over there ...take them down in a violent bloodbath if he thought they were disrespecting me. Because it would be the right thing to do. Because they were in a Hell and they were going to die in that Hell just like the rest of them. Because... listen you screw heads, you fuckers... he's a man who will not take it anymore, who will not let... wait, ...he's a man who will not take it anymore, who will stand up against the dogs, the cunts, the filth, the shit ...here is someone who will stand up. For me.
Suck on this!
I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like Jim. He's my Travis Bickle... he may even be my Henry Krinkle. Whatever he is... he's my hero.
And that (believe it in absolute horror is you must) makes me feel very, very ...finally ...truly ...safe.
4. I rode my bike to some of the NYC locations of "Taxi Driver" and took some photos - then and now
Completely obsessed... I went on my bike one day along 13th street (between 2nd and 3rd avenue) and the surrounding area and took some photos of the specific locations that were used in parts of the film. It was while I was watching it that I was like "Hey that Variety theater is still there!" And you know what? It is! With the images of the film fresh in my head, it was easy to find the doorways and buildings that were used one I found the street. I have taken some pictures from my TV screen from the DVD (sorry screw heads, I'm too lazy to hook it up to my computer) and compared them side-by-side below:
Here's the Variety Photoplay Theater marquee (west side of 3rd avenue between 13th and 14th street) where Robert Deniro first encounters Jodi Foster and Harvey Keitel in the back seat of his cab:
- in the film... and now.
And, quite literally around the corner... here is the street (southeast corner 13th street and 3rd avenue) Robert Deniro later walks down with Jodi Foster and the junkie girl (above):
- in the film... and now.
Keep panning left... here is the doorway (on the south side of 13th street) where Robert Deniro confronts and eventually shoots Harvey Keitel:
- in the film (night shooting shot - more pulled back)... and now.
Keep panning left... here is the street Robert Deniro walks down to pick up Jodi Foster after he has negotiated with Harvey Keitel:
- in the film... and now.
And then... here is the front of the building Jodi Foster leads Robert Deniro into after he buys her for 15 minutes (the building is literally down the same side of the street from the doorway Keitel hangs out in front of, just as is implied in the film):
- in the film... and now.
...and the tilt pan up to the top of the same building:
- in the film... and now.
5. The brilliant film score work of Bernard Herrmann for "Taxi Driver"
One of the things that struck me about the film was the totally, totally genius score by Bernard Herrmann (a gonzo and jarring mixture of some kind of military drum and spine-chilling, ominous orchestra stuff blended with the occasional muzak jazz). This was the last score Herrmann ever composed in his prolific career (his most famous score was for Hitchcock's 'Psycho'). Scorsese really wanted him to score the film, but at the time, Herrmann was getting on in his years and not well. Herrmann said "no" initially, and Scorsese persisted, eventually winning him over by showing him the dailies of the scene with Deniro eating the white bread in a bowl with milk and Schnapps poured over it (true!) Months later... a week after Herrmann finally completed the score for "Taxi Driver"... he died. Here is The Bernard Herrmann Society link.
6. ***ALERT!*** Ed Shepp on Pseu Braun's show on WFMU.org - this Friday, Feb. 20th, 8-11pm EDT!
The totally amazing and mind boggling Ed Shepp has been craftily lassoed by the totally amazing and mind-blowing Pseu Braun... to be her co-host and interview-ee on the impenetrable WFMU.org (listenable anywhere in the world via the web) this Friday, February 20th from 8-11pm EDT (on Pseu's regular Friday show). I haven't been this excited about two people coming together since I used that device to travel back through the space/time continuum and witnessed my parents meeting for the first time!
In case you have not discovered the as-yet undiscovered Ed Shepp (although 'FMU is doing pretty good job... first as always of course) and his brilliant spoken word whatever-they-are's (imagine the long lost child of Charles Nelson Reilly and Virginia Woolf)... go here or here immediately and check out his work (or buy some). I think it's totally amazing and, trust me - you won't forget it. And, if you have never experienced the great, legendary Pseu Braun on WFMU yet... by all means listen to her show (i've been obsessed for years).
According to Pseu, she and Ed really have no plan about what they are going to do for the three hours... perhaps just talk about Ed and his work amongst themselves and other stuff. Who knows! It's like your favorite variety show ever, with your favorite guest host ever, watched from a million cloudy celestial heavens! Swoon! I will literally be there in front of my computer this Friday night, tuning in with no distractions whatsoever... the phone will be turned off, the door will be locked, my roommate Domenic will be drugged and locked in a closet, I'll be wearing a CamelBak Hydration System Suit so I don't have to get up and pee (wrapped in a mink coat and slippers for warmth), my hair will be removed and in curlers and on it's wig stand so I don't have to mess with it like I do every three seconds, in my lap will be a big bowl of popcorn and a giant 2-litre bottle of Diet Coke (in a solid silver champagne bucket with ice), a box of Pierre Marcolini truffe bresilienne chocolates within arm's reach.. and every single functioning part of my sound sense perceptors (every anvil, every cochlea, every eustachian tube, every tiny hammer, every inner ear nerve, every outer ear canal, every pinna, every semicircular canal) pointing... focused... unwavered... yearning... towards my little computer speakers.
Tune in... and don't expect the expected!
7. A diamond to really shit your pants over
Speaking of celestial bling... as in one massively unbelievable "hunk of celestial bling"...
Did you hear about BPM 37093? You know, the 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10 billion trillion trillion) carat diamond that a group of astronomers discovered floating around about 300 trillion miles from Earth, in the Centaurus constellation? It's a hot core of a dead sun (a white dwarf) and measures 2,500 miles across. The whole fucking thing is a diamond. Apparently astronomers had theorized that white dwarfs crystallized into massive chunks of crystallized carbon for years... but this is the first time it has been documented.
Just imagining the on-air jokey chatter from QVC hosts trying to hawk a diamond of that size and density on TV ...is enough to cause your brain to implode into a black hole! Ha! Ha! No but really ladies and gentlemen...
After the discovery was announced, scientists in California also reported a strange sound coming from somewhere in Hollywood Hills. It sounded like crumbling earth, clacking teeth and mincing, bone-y hands. It was later revealed to be Liberace literally rising out of his grave. Haw! Haw! But seriously folks...
Looks like Stephen Hawkings has finally had closure on that Marilyn Monroe poster he's had hanging in his office all these years. No... no, really...
8. Virginia Woolf's "Haunted Street: A London Adventure"
As an exercise in trying to breath some life, or pump some steroids, or somehow charm something into my occasionally tedious "professional" writing, a friend of mine recently suggested I read Virginia Woolf's short story "Haunted Street: a London Adventure" - a story all about Virginia leaving her house to go buy a pencil. It's similar to a piece I am writing, and I actually enjoyed it very much. My Texas public school and Texas state university education skimmed only the bare essentials when it came to literature... somehow it never got around to Virginia Woolf (especially since I gravitated towards art). I was very impressed with the story after reading it, and I now see, if I may dare say so after reading one piece, why so many people refer to Woolf's writing as "God-like." She has an ability to craft words into something brain-bashingly brilliant... a craft apparently learned by writing like mad from the age of nine (and being a bit creative and kooky and unclassifiably intelligent). It's like her sentences form things that are like perfect molecules... which lead to perfectly structured paragraphs that form perfect chapters that lead to something reflective of the economical but beautiful perfection of something created out of nature itself. HOLY SHIT!!!
"Haunted Street: a London Adventure" is just a story about all the things Virginia experiences and thinks of as she leaves her house to indeed ...just go buy a pencil, and it is a perfect expression of a minute slice of experience in a complex urban setting. It's so refreshing to read something so lovingly and craftily spun from an obviously trained, experienced and perceptive mind ...after years of getting retarded by reading chronically diaphanous, post-irony, post-modern, post-everything writing. Do you think Virginia Woolf would have written a sentence as floppy and awkward as the one I just wrote? NO WAY!!! She was too good. She was a GOD!!!
I actually had the "speaking voices" feature on my computer read this piece out loud to me and I followed along (sounds retardo but I actually find it to be a good way to read things - I found 'Agnes High Quality' was the perfect voice for this piece)... uh, where was I? Oh yea. The really dumb thing about the experience was that, as I read along, I couldn't get the image of Nicole Kidman wearing that Cindy Sherman-esque, rubber and CGI-enhanced wizard's nose (from her role as Woolf in that awful movie 'The Hours') outta my head. It's like I could see her in my mind's eye, reading aloud to me, wearing the fake shnoze ...standing on the Academy Awards stage while holding her Oscar, with a bunch of dancers bumped and grinding behind her in sexy period costumes with matching rubber noses... twirling batons shaped like giant pencils. Isn't that SAD of my brain to do that to me?
Anyway... go read it... read about how Virginia went for a walk one Wintry evening to go buy a pencil. Go and read Virginia Woolf (perhaps for the first time for you uneducated folk like me).
Do your brain some good! Go fly a plane full of dynamite and innocent passengers into the stale smoke and dusty mirror twin towers of postmodernism!!! Now THAT'S a well crafted sentence!
9. The guy I always thought I imagined my parents always thought I imagined I thought they wanted me to be
Who has a better plan - this guy or this guy? You decide!
10. Sunshine and lollipops
Mark Allen's Top Three for February 2nd, 2004:
1. Withnail & I and me and me
If you're among the few who haven't seen Bruce Robinson's brilliant 1987 British comedy film Withnail & I ...I highly, highly recommend it.
I remember the first time I saw the film Withnail & I (1987). I was in a transitional mood and Stepford Wife-ish pre-mid period of my life (of course at the time I thought I was totally wicked and brilliant). The actual physical space I experienced the film in so long ago... has now passed on. I saw it at the Granada Theater (now torn down) in Dallas, Texas (I now live in New York)... with a long-known childhood friend (who's become long lost... twice, the second time very painfully)... at a time in my life that... like I said, is gone forever. All that physical space and friend and stuff is gone... and it's taken a lot of stuff (that I couldn't see at the time) along with it as it has transformed from the present to the past to the far past and then the "distant memory" category. The invisible things I couldn't see at the time... the value of friendship, the relentless action and "everything's new" naivety of youth, the fact that the true adulthood that awaited me was actually a transformation out of a magical time into a place of sublte desolation rather than the other way around (I always felt the true passage into adulthood was akin to that empty feeling you got as a kid the moment you realized you had ripped open the last Christmas present on Christmas morning) ...all that stuff I didn't know at the time and everything that comes with it that I didn't even have a clue about ...well, it's gone. I'll never see the stuff I couldn't see again.
The period of my life that I happened to see this film in was a confusing time for me. Just sitting here typing into the computer about it almost makes my thumbs go weird. If that period in Texas represents anything to me, it represents very happy memories... (especially looked at through the rear-view) but also the age-old realization that our far past and all the things that were invisible are nevertheless obliterated in the truest sense, and that there are no dress rehearsals for memories. In addition, the eons of of time that have passed, and the accidental and monumental events that have happened to me during the (un)normal serpentine paths of human existence since that night I sat in that modern art house cinema in suburban Dallas, Texas and watched what I probably didn't realize at the time was such a superb film... well the area of squiggly lines that connect those two phases, and what it all means to me, would be a cartographer's worst nightmare.
Who knew a way-into-the-future (2004), second-time viewing of Bruce Robinson's superbly sentimental and creepily touching gay(-ish) / bohemian / English / 1960's buddy pick Withnail & I on a DVD could ring a bell in my head like Pavlov's mutt and open a door and allow me to basically view the long-decayed body of that time ...like attending a funeral for the past way ahead in the future. Doesn't talking about such cliché lessons about the far past seem dumbly pointless? Haven't I been through these realizations already ten years ago? Is reminiscing this much like a re-run wrapped in a re-run re-run wrapped in a re-run wrapped in a migraine? Am I talking absolute twaddle? I see films all the time that I viewed once and liked years ago that don't resonate so profoundly with me when I see them again. Some resonate with me and some don't.* (see below)
Are you as viewers of my site starting to suspect that I am drifting into the arena of the unwell?
Anyhow, about the film itself; way back in 1986, Withnail & I was produced by the same team that was cashing in and churning out the excellent Terry Gilliam/Monty Python surreal mega-comedies during the 80's. A few weeks into production, the producers apparently balked when they saw first-time director Bruce Robinson's (first time director who also wrote the script) very dimly lit, character-driven black comedy taking shape... and they almost halted the production because the comedy didn't appear "big" enough (they were nearly successful in pulling the plug... but persistence by the director and actors won out in the end). It's impossible to imagine a treasure of a film like Withnail & I getting the usual gonzo Python-esque slapstick English comedy treatment (which was of course brilliant for those films). Withnail's contrast to that particular medium shows a rich emotional depth hidden amongst caverns of dismally hysterical situations and ingeniously acidic one-liners. Withnail & I is a comic masterpiece... being swallowed by a black hole.
The film's plot is incredibly simple. Two frustrated, out of work actors in Camden Town in 1969 are broke, living on the dole, starving, freezing, on some drugs and lots of booze and fed up with everything. They decide to pool what little resources they have (Withnail's rich, eccentric uncle Monty primarily) and go away to the countryside to spend a week in a Monty's countryside cottage. Bleak chaos ensues (Withnail's rich, eccentric uncle Monty primarily) and the two finally return home... one with a brand new acting job (with a possible path to an acting career) and one without (with no discernable path at all). The two friends who had relied on each other amongst so much eventful chaos, part ways... possibly forever(?)
The film's first three quarters do something important in any fictional work of art that portrays down-trodden characters in a comedy setting: it shows the recognition of absurdity amongst total despair, which always results in (certain members of ) the audience instantly bonding with said characters. If done right, the film concludes with an inspirational outcome, no matter how black the despair or how bleak it's ending. Fellini's Nights of Cabiria and Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude both do the same thing. All three of these films may be pure fiction, unrealistic and ultimately manipulative in their sentimental slyness... but their views of swatches of time in the lives of characters that represent society's outsiders packs an emotional wallop to the audiences they speak to most. Watched in the right mood... the ends of these films are heart-wrenching, but also warpedly inspirational. Withnail & I has developed a world-wide, devoted cult following... and like most great works of art, nobody seems to be able to quite put into words why the film is so important to them.
The characters of Withnail and Marwood (referred to only as 'I' in the film) may possibly be gay, it's subtly hinted at, but never thoroughly explored. The bond between the two is much more important than a romance though; it's an important friendship. Withnail and Marwood seem to have an unspoken dependency on each other to act as a kind of stage or palette for the other to exhibit certain personality characteristics. Each character relies on the other one to allow their most extreme personality quirks to bloom, which would probably wither and die without the other one present. At the film's poignant end, when they say goodbye to each other, they are actually saying goodbye to more than each other.
It was Gore Vidal that said; "It is not enough to succeed. One's friends must fail." An extreme and appropriate quote from an extreme and appropriate source. And this biting realization perhaps sums up the end of Withnail & I more under the surface than on it. At the end of the film, Withnail and Marwood are saying goodbye not just to each other, but to the "friends" inside themselves that they have relied on for so long, and who are no longer needed. Marwood may be answering a call to arms in saying goodbye to the past, but Withnail obviously needs to be dragged kicking and screaming (and he still may not go). How ever many ways you want to metaphorically cut through each character's dimensions and the multiplicity of their separation from each other and themselves... the truth is that neither wants to see the other one go.
I think another reason some people find this film so addictive is the physical spaces it portrays. The contrasts and details of the settings are almost dream-like, and (get ready to wince) Freudian in their seemingly accidental background semiotics. Withnail and Marwood inhabit cluttered apartments, cluttered relative's homes, a cluttered country cabin, cluttered sepia-toned pubs, cluttered car interiors, cluttered romantic advances, cluttered drug dealing friends... which seem to reflect their own confused interiors. This is then alternated with outdoor shots and scenarios of meandering, lush green parks, vast concrete highways, winding hilly roads and picturesque countryside and bizarre outback farm yards... none of which either character seems to be able to connect to. The visual palette is often made up of outside shots (in sun-less overcast) that alternate concrete or stone grays with vibrant natural greens - which are then contrasted with dusty, complex, golden-lit interiors. Even in the dark or pouring rain (sometimes both) these landmark-less locations seem comfortably familiar and weirdly embracing... like a places you notice in the backgrounds of photos of famous English tourist traps. Also... extras seem to be kept to a minimum. Save for the pub and restaurant scenes... very few other people are ever seen in public settings in the film. Even if we see other characters in the film, it's really as if Withnail and Marwood are the last people on Earth.
So, for whatever reason, when I watched this film after not seeing in over a decade, I found myself bawling my eyes out at the end. Realizing that the things in the film that seemed so quirky were actually reflections of real-life experiences see-able to those who, for whatever reason and to whatever extent, have been on the fringes. I became temporarily obsessed with the film and started to watch it over and over and over and nod at the screen and cry and laugh and quote the lines endlessly (great, great lines... never have swear words sounded so ...poetic.). I realized that my sadness in seeing the two friends part at the end was not because I was saying goodbye once and for all to a period of my life that existed so long ago (the period I discussed above, when I first saw the picture as a youth)... but that what I was seeing in the film represented was the very nucleus of saying goodbye to things in my life, large and small, on a daily basis... everywhere and at anytime!
Saying goodbye, in the truest sense, to something you love means knowing you will never see that loved thing... you will never experience it's characteristics that you, until that very moment, had not even realized were of value to you. Saying goodbye can be profound in the smallest or the largest sense (from spitting out a piece of gum - to saying goodbye forever to an important friend).
Somehow... the end of Withnail & I was plugging right into that nerve dot, that primal emotional response, that existed inside my gooey brain... the cranial gland that spurted out the mixed feelings of loss and hope whenever I said goodbye to anything, anywhere. The film found it's way right into that nerve and then pressed. Somehow... the creators of the film had concocted this celluloid drug that had addictive qualities... addiction to the mix of sadness and hope that you felt when saying goodbye. No wonder I had been watching it so relentlessly and crying my eyes out every time Marwood said goodbye to Withnail in the rainy park! Have Bruce Robinson and crew created a real life, but much weaker version of James O. Incandenza's fictional film Infinite Jest from the novel of the same name by David Foster Wallace? Did I need a toke off of a Camberwell Carrot? Pretty soon I realized I must be mad and I obviously had a brain tumor the size of a birthday present. So I told the nostalgic, longing, wistful half of me to shove it up his ass for free and fuck off while he was doing it.
I refrained from watching the DVD yet again and crying like an acidic git... instead, I told a friend glowingly all about the picture, someone I knew would appreciate it. Over dinner I loaned him my copy of the DVD. It turns out he had heard about it for years and had been dying to see it. I told him to be sure and watch it when he knew he wouldn't be distracted by the phone and other things... when he could really concentrate on it and pay attention to all the dialogue.
Really... I was trying to get the thing out of my site. The compulsion to watch it again and have it hit that oozy brain nerve was too much of a draw... and the body and mind's ability to filter and sieve sadness certainly has a limit. It's like I was discarding the DVD in the same way someone finally puts away an urn of the ashes of a dead loved one. My friend will love it I'm sure. At the least he'll be counted amongst the many who consider it a small masterpiece.
Whatever it's draw... I think there is a certain kind of rare sensibility that one must posses before one truly appreciates the film. Not necessarily a sophisticated sensibility, but one borne of a certain type of hard, weirdly brave life experience. If you've spent any chunk of your life on the fringes, the real ones, then this film will bring up a lot of memories for you. Where others might just see a quirky and memorable film, you'll denote a very depressing yet tangible sense of hope. A very depressing yet tangible sense of hope that is free to those who can afford it... but very expensive to those who can't.
(note)* I did have a very frightening and unhealthy week-long, screaming, crying, yelling at the screen, blinds drawn in the middle of the day while I watched it over and over binge and purge viewing orgy of David Fincher's Fight Club... that particular flick also seemed to hit a really strong memory gong with me (odd that both Withnail & I and Fight Club involve two male characters that in essence seem like [or are] two halves of a whole - that eventually painfully split). Perhaps I'll write another time about why watching Fight Club for me is practically a religious experience for me (trust me, I got pretty obsessed there for a while).
2. Florrie Fisher
If you're in the mood to hear a really ripping and long MP3 then you're gonna go bonkers for this. Go here to hear and find out everything about Florrie Fisher you've ever wanted to know.
During the middle of the 20th century, Florrie Fisher was an ex-junkie, ex-boozer, ex-prostitute, ex-con (who had dropped out of high school) ex-inhabitor of the slithering underbelly of America for 32 years. She partied from the teens straight through middle age... without looking back. After she reformed... she then returned to high school in the 1970's, at the age of 46, by going around to from school to school and lecturing (yelling, actually) to kids about the horrors of a junkie/hooker/con lifestyle and how drugs and booze were dead ends and blah, blah, blah. Sound familiar? Look familiar? The cast and creators of the brilliant cult comedy TV series "Strangers With Candy" constantly site her and documentations of her lecturing career as the inspiration for main character Jerri Blank. Well duh.
Even if you aren't a fan of the show or have even heard of it... Florrie's story is a time capsule itself into the values of another time (several actually). She actually wrote a book about her life as well, called "The Trip Back". I actually don't know if Florrie is still alive... but she left quite a warped legacy behind.
You must and I mean must go here and listen to Florrie's 20 minute-long stock lecture to high school kids (it's actually audio from a 70's school film about her), read the transcript, look at a list of drug slang references she uses, as well as find out how to get a copy of her book. If you're a fan of "Strangers With Candy" you'll recognize a lot.
3. The Hugging Machine (aka: The Squeeze Machine)
If there's one thing I've learned in life it's this: if you ever meet anyone who, within the first five minutes of meeting you, says that they think "...people should hug more" or that human touch "...is very important" ...like this is how they introduce their persona to you... drop the introduction and turn around and RUN. Literally... turn around and run screaming in the same way Marilyn Burns ran through the forest screaming to get away from Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
According to the Therafin Corporation... a simulated hugging/squeezing machine such as this can be used to sooth the secretly retarded, unknowingly schizophrenic, obliviously autistic, pathalogically giving, or those that are just a little too unselfishly loving. Here is a link... according to their website, "This ingenious system is used for deep touch stimulation and produces a calming effect on hyperactive and autistic individuals The Squeeze Machine allows the individual to control the amount of pressure as well as the release of pressure." ...and you must read the published research on their findings. I think it would make the world a happier place.
Copyright 2004 Mark Allen
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