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Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1963), an incredibly faithful adaptation of Richard Matheson's novella "I Am Legend." In that classic '50s science fiction story, a plague turns the entire population of Earth into vampires; it was later remade somewhat ridiculously as Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, and strongly echoed in the recent 28 Days Later.* Spoiler: Robert Neville (Price, called Robert Morgan in the movie) thinks he's all alone in the world, killing vampires by day and sharpening stakes at night inside his boarded up house. Turns out the plague has mutated; some people can survive with a pharmaceutical cocktail of defebrinated red cells and a bacillus-killling drug. In his ignorance, Price has been slaying these non-vampiric day sleepers, and they view him as the most unspeakable monster of all. As Stephen King wrote in his excellent culturecrit book Danse Macabre:
For a nation whose political nightmares still include visions of Kent State and My Lai, this is a particularly apt idea. The Last Man on Earth is perhaps an example of the ultimate political horror film, because it offers us the Walt Kelly thesis: We have met the enemy and he is us.Actually, I'd say Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are our latter-day Robert Nevilles. The poor deluded Cold War relics truly think they're doing some good in the world by killing thousands of Iraqi civilians. Unlike Neville, though, they aren't horrified when they discover Iraq is WMD-less, and even think getting rich is their reward for being so "noble." Talk about a monster movie!
*Hat tip to Sally for reminding me of this movie--the DVD retails for six bucks!
UPDATE: The brilliant blurb writer(s) over at Atomic Cinema believe that "[t]he real plot [of Last Man on Earth] is that an aging man loses everything dear to him, and finds whatever purpose to his senseless existence he can." I've been emphasizing the story's politics, but it's the undertow of melancholy and loss that makes it so powerful, an aspect of the Matheson story that the movie captures very well.
Art Fog in Tribeca
New York artist Matthew Geller is presenting Foggy Day in a section of Cortlandt Alley between White and Walker Streets in Lower Manhattan, Oct. 3-Nov. 14, 2003. The "urban earthwork," as the artist terms it, shrouds the street in fog at selected times during the day, with "a regular pea-souper that grows and dissipates as wind and weather conditions change." The picturesque Cortlandt Alley has frequently served as a set for film and photo shoots; in Geller's real-life version, the alley is enhanced with translucent rubber puddles on the sidewalk and trees growing from building niches, turning "a normal walk through the city into a kind of temporary cinema." The mysterious fog is activated at lunch and early evening Tuesdays through Sundays; for more info see the artist's website. (from artnet news)
The trailer for Gus Van Sant's new film Elephant is like a Hemingway short story. The action is all in the margins, revealed through hints and implications. Even as a tease it's sketchy, postmodern in that it knows audiences will map another well-known story onto it to complete it. Mostly it consists of pretty shots of pretty kids lollygagging in the halls and playgrounds of a modern suburban high school. You see a car crash into another car and think maybe the movie's going to be one of those jackass-themed comedies. But then one of the kids gets out and says "Dad, you shouldn't be driving." Brief shot of a wasted, forlorn businessman behind the wheel. Later, the same kid sees two of his classmates walking into the school dressed in fatigues and carrying heavy canvas bags. He spots a teacher about to go into the school and tries to warn him: "Don't go in there, trust me, you don't want to go in there." In the last shot the kid is at home crying, and his girlfriend gives him a kiss, thinking he's just sad.
Attended a party last night where each person brought clips from 3-5 science fiction films, each cued to a specific scene of up to 10 minutes. One could introduce the clips or not, and no one knew what anyone else was bringing. It was kind of fascinating to see the range, and that there was no duplication. (The 1970s predominated, however.) Food and booze were consumed. Below is each person's list, captioned by theme rather than the individual's name:
Rollerball (1975). James Caan explains the importance of using your ears and humiliates a cocky new team member.
Death Race 2000 (1975). David Carradine: "It's euthanasia day at the geriatrics ward. They do this every year."
Tron (1982). Light cycle race.
Bonus: An mpeg of hardcore role-players, in medieval costumes, calling out their powers and hurling tinfoil lightning bolts at each other.
Design Theme. Clips emphazing design and art direction.
Brazil (1985). The sliding desk scene.
The Fifth Element (1997). Leeloo drops into Bruce Willis's cab and a race through the multilevel city ensues.
Andromeda Strain (1971). Scientists are ritually humiliated as they descend through a succession of color coded "clean rooms."
Existenz (1999). Jude Law assembles the gristle gun in the Chinese restaurant.
Alien (1979). Opening scenes of the Nostromo chittering back to life.
Science Fiction is a State of Mind.
Land of the Lost (1974). Cute stop motion dinosaurs Grumpy and Alice menace kids in this Sid & Marty Krofft Saturday morning adventure.*
Waiting for Guffman (1996). Eugene Levy in a papier mache Martian costume.
Rushmore (1998). In a parallel universe, the Vietnam war is reenacted on a middle school stage.
Sleeper (1973). Miles Monroe escapes from the cops with an intermittently functioning helicopter pack.
John Carpenter is God; Going Crazy in Space; Forest Themes
Silent Running (1971). Bruce Dern plays poker with the maintenance drones Huey and Dewey.
Dark Star (1974). Talby breaks the communications laser and the bomb countdown begins.
They Live (1988). Rowdy Roddy Piper puts on special sunglasses and sees reality for the first time.
Castle in the Sky (1986). Sheeta and Pazu meet the forest keeper robot on Laputa.
*Script by Norman Spinrad (Bug Jack Barron, The Iron Dream). Other scripts in the series were by Larry Niven and Theodore Sturgeon. Who knew?
Hmmm. Whether to see Olivier Assayas' art film Demonlover. In the plus column, Roger Ebert pronounces it "completely amoral" and means it as a criticism (this from the screenwriter of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls!) On the other hand, a thumbs-up from Charles "I Love Actresses" Taylor in Salon signals the camera will probably be making love to the stars for the better part of two hours (Connie Nielsen, ChloŽ Sevigny, Gina Gershon). Well, maybe that's okay. So I went.
Report: Paul Virilio and half the regulars at Index magazine seemingly served as script consultants, but the movie's not so bad. Mulholland Drive for cyber-wankers. The score a too-busy encyclopedia of art-noise moves from the past 20 years, too much damn electric guitar trying to put the punk in the cyber (when the credits come up at the end: "Oh, of course, Sonic Youth.") Lots of topical references to anime, vidgames, and the Internet. Not so topical regurgitation of Videodrome. And geez, the pixel-bleeping of penetration shots from nasty hentai cartoons just to get an R-rating lacks a certain...courage. But then there's that scene of Sevigny lying on her stomach on a hotel bed, nude, playing an ultraviolent wireframe kungfu game. *heart melts*
One would be tempted to think this is a dot-com relic arriving late after being held up in some petty distribution tiff. The sense of indispensability and edginess it tries to give the Internet often feels tacked on. The last shot is brilliant, though, keeping the film humble and positioning it squarely in the here and now of diminished expectations. At least for me. And Connie Nielsen, the thinking dude's Jennifer Connelly, does have a lot of screen time. Even though she's really too nice to be noir. Sorry if this is breezy; I'm out.
Plamegate: Cutting Through the Crap
Josh Marshall and others are tryin' to be responsible, dancing around the conclusion we all already know:
Blowing Valerie Plame's CIA cover was the act of vindictive, small-minded people.
George Bush Jr. and Karl Rove are vindictive, small-minded people.
One thing that's clear in all this: how susceptible everyone is to BushCo's sleazy memes. Even liberal columnists keep putting the Plame affair in terms of the importance of the "sixteen words." Everyone talks as if it's the only troubling statement the Administration made in the run-up to war, and that's why Wilson's debunking of it was so critical. Crap, the speech (and Powell's speech to the UN) were full of inaccuracies, half-truths and innuendos; it wasn't just one problematic sentence. The al Qaeda link, nukes, anthrax, SCUDs: all lies to whip up the monkeymass. Here's an AP article listing all the claims about Saddam that turned out not to be true.
A few weeks back I commented on an Artforum interview with the art historian Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, a teacher of mine in college. I've been rethinking what I said about the following paragraph, on photorealist (or what he calls Hyperrealist) painting:
This insistence on the literal copy is the most caustic aspect of Hyperrealism, undoing what had been the basis of art for five hundred years: the judicious imitation, which was sought by the painter Zeuxis, who chose what was most beautiful in nature. In a word, let's call it artistic idealism. This was Hyperrealism's most decried aspect from the outset: the truly useless character of this painting. Why paint paintings of this sort when they are closest to what they are copying? From this point of view, Hyperrealism completes the modernist destruction of classical aesthetics.By "closest to what they're copying" I assumed he meant the original subject matter (and said some stuffy things about painting already doing that) but now I think he means the photo itself. Why go to all the trouble to reproduce something that's already documented, usually more accurately, by a photo? It's kind of a meaningless Dada gesture, and I suppose that's what he means about the destruction of classical aesthetics. I guess I should track down his catalog--hopefully it'll be translated.