Pulp Fiction has three narratives, four if you count the Jules and Vincent passages as two separate ones, which I think I do, so four. They are relatively familiar to most, but in the interest of putting it out there, there is a narrative that opens and closes the movie where two lovers decide to rob a diner, and run into two hit men (Jules and Vincent) on the downside of story number two. One of the hit men has a “moment of clarity” and decides to change his life, a decision that impacts the outcome of the ensuing standoff. The second story shows the same two hit men earlier in the day retrieving a briefcase which was destined for their boss, Marcellus Wallace. They execute all of the people involved except one, who they accidentally blow all over the back of their car, requiring them to pull into a friend’s garage, and call for help from a “cleaner.” The third story is about Vincent, who picks up Marcellus’ wife to take her to a diner at his boss’ behest and has a troublingly great time, until she accidentally ODs on his heroin, and he has to seek help to revive her. The fourth story is about a boxer who does not throw a fight that Marcellus set him up to throw, and needs to retrieve an important family heirloom before he leaves town (although they will surely kill him if he is caught, and they are surely watching his apartment) . He winds up killing Vincent and is placed in a position to decide whether to save Marcellus, who wants him dead, from a fate worse than death.
These four stories are intertwined, and told out of chronological order. Various cues make it relatively easy to figure what order things really happened in, but the question is why cut the movie this way, except for the fact that it’s cool. The obvious answer is that, although fun, the individual stories have an ebb and flow that make them work better as a movie if they’re presented out of order. In other words, it is dramatically more satisfying to begin and end with the diner scene (which provides the movie with its resolution) while, if presented in order, this scene would occur closer to the beginning of the movie (the order of the movie would be get the briefcase/clean the car, diner scene, date with Mia Wallace, then the boxing story). Thus, the movie could be structured this way for purely dramatic reasons.
However, the structure works for the movie in another significant way. The participants are all confined to the movie - trapped there. The movie, like the LA. of the movie, and like “the life” all of the gangsters, is a timeline that feeds back into itself, and we can watch the movie not only considering what happens chronologically, but whether the characters escape which, in some ways, is everyone’s primary concern (getting out or doing anything to stay in). Butch “loses his LA privileges” and bikes away from LA, and out of the movie. He escapes LA, but not the story - he is seen again (chronologically earlier), taking a bribe from Marcellus, and looked down on by Vincent. Thus, he has escaped the town but he will always be the man who took that money and receives contempt from people who kill for a living. Hence, he gets out but does not completely escape the LA story. When Jules delivers his speech renouncing the path that he is on, however, he walks out of the diner, and the movie. Though out of order for others, the film is a complete arc for him (all of his scenes are in order). But, most interestingly, Vincent dies and is reborn when the movie is watched in order. He has learned nothing from his cycle in the movie, and is doomed to repeat his actions. He cannot escape the story, Hollywood, and all the other things that this is a metaphor for.
So how does this enrich the other themes of the movie? The first thing is that you have to recognize that this is a story, and that the storyteller is concerned with how the stories of the characters play out as stories. They are all trapped in a movie version of Los Angeles, acting out the prescribed roles, but some demonstrate a wish to get out of their story paradigm. The title is Pulp Fiction, the simplest form of exploitation - everyone is supposed to act true to type… cliche.But some start to evidence awareness, to be more.
Again, this is cowardice talking, but any movie about Los Angeles is about the movie industry and about stories, and any movie starring actors is also about the actors as well as the roles. Bruce Willis plays Butch, a tough guy (action star) who gets paid off by the bosses (studio heads), who longs for a more traditional role, a more honorable image of himself, and makes a decision to go against what is expected of him (making Mortal Thoughts instead of Die Hard 3, perhaps). His story is a fantasy of the bankable star doing the thing he loves, gaining respect for it, and getting honorably exiled from having to sell out for a paycheck again (interesting, but in reality making this movie basically ensured that the “Wallaces” of the industry would take him back in and make him fight quite a lot more).
Samuel L. Jackson is story is about a black actor walking away from exploitative roles (again, didn’t really work out). John Travolta, presciently enough, is about a guy whose career keeps dying because and how much shit he does (he dies on a toilet), but he just can’t get off the merry go round. Uma Thurmond is the actress who is aging, doesn’t get the attention, makes a film that makes her feel good but bombs big, and has to adjust to her reality.
But in order to put the whole movie in the perspective of “movie about movies,” though, we have to look at what is motivating everyone in this thing. And by that I mean that core McGuffin of the movie, the briefcase. I also mean other things (escape, honor, kindness), but let’s focus on the briefcase.
The idea that the briefcase is a McGuffin only and means nothing specific works, but is too cute to be satisfying. This theory would suggest that it doesn’t matter what’s in the briefcase, the point is that a movie about a bunch of Los Angelenos of course would revolve around the pursuit of a thing that entices pursuit doesn’t matter. But take this slightly further, and you could also say that the pursuit of the briefcase is basically ambition of the Hollywood type, and does it does not really matter what’s in it. Everyone is after it, whenever it is, so we could just call its success in general to give it a name. I think that’s fine, but the color of the emanating light is gold and, like the green light on the pier in Gatsby, I think the color probably should be addressed.
Gold in this context probably means four things. The first thing is money, real money, not money of day to day commerce but gold. This slides into the second meaning, which is success/power. These things are all equivalent in LA terms, but it is better to consider them together rather than think that there are literally gold bars in the case. The third thing is value - gold is the color of abstract value. Gold is valuable less for concrete reasons, than because it has been decided as a collective lie that gold, rare as it is, is valuable. So the color represents value, but one that has been determined by a culture. The fourth thing, of course, is that gold is the color of an Oscar, the ultimate Hollywood symbol of merit with gigantic quotation marks around the word. All of these things run together without firm partitions - in Hollywood money is success is power is perceived value is awards.
So, attempting to put this together with the plot (abstraction is best) the “man” owns the success of the business, but it has been stolen by a bunch of punk ass kids, who are rendered casualties to prop up the current system. This could mean the studio system (Wallace is Weinstein - the studio is supposed to buy and sell the power, and if these independent filmmaking kids need to be casualties then so be it). This is also a comment on capitalism in general, of course, and privilege and the 1%.
So the story of Pulp Fiction is the story of Hollywood, and Jules leaves clean, Butch leaves town but does not escape his past, and the rest are trapped.
The story of Pulp Fiction is also the story of living under capitalism. The top people control everything, the people on the treadmill scramble, and it is only the few who think to step off. But treadmill is wrong - it’s more like rush hour.
The structure of the movie is like the geography of Los Angeles is like the experience of Hollywood is like living in capitalism. You’re trapped in a network that feeds back into itself and the hardest thing to do is to opt out. These are all characters who began by trying to operate within the system without being eaten alive, with some adjusting to their position in the system with greater realization of who they are, a few escaping, and many trapped repeating the same patterns. It’s no wonder that Vincent is the central character - he is the one that represents the majority of people, chewed up day in, day out, promised advancement. He does not learn, he takes his opiate, and soldiers on and dies, cycling forever.
I wish there was a quiz you can take which would tell you which Pulp Fiction character you were. I’d like to be Jules, but I suspect that I’m Bonnie, which is not really so bad.
NOTE: Butch’s father’s heirloom is a stopped watch, suggesting that he needs to recover something of the past. One thing that you will not have a problem finding are articles reverencing and Quentin Tarantino’s obsession with older movies. I find it interesting that there is a separation between the officer returning the watch, who says racist things that would not be out of place in the type of old movies that QT might reference and the watch itself, something mechanical that is better, begat of this earlier age. This seems to me to be an explicit exaltation of filmmaking of prior generations, while denouncing or brushing aside the filmmakers as people. He exalts that which is passed down, but cares not for the father. They delivered these wonderful things to us through their diseased asses.
I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about theme in isolation before on this blog. The definition of theme is one of my favorite things to think about because a Google search of “what is theme -windows _95” will bring up 10 entries that give completely different definitions, some of which are directly contradictory (” the theme is the meaning or moral of the story” ” theme is distinct from the meaning or moral of the story”), yet it is clearly my favorite part of experiencing any kind of text. I suspect that there is at least a bifurcation in what people mean when they say the word theme between general subjects that are addressed ( such as “bullying” or “divorce” or “aging” or “class”) and what deeper ideas are interrogated . So I am not going to be using any specific operating definition of theme in order to express the ones I’m talking about. Suffice it to say that these are topics/questions that I am looking at the film to say something about in some way, and are more refined field-of-study kind of things.
Let me start by looking at the movie in terms of my favorite themes. I don’t personally believe it’s cheating for me to choose my tools before going in since I know the tools will work (I tend to close read using whatever the text suggests, but am undeniably more attracted to works that explore themes I like) and coming at it from my angle seems like the most honest approach. So, my favorite themes, and how they relate:
1. Civilization is built on unbelievable violence and suffering, a history which haunts us; law and order, while desirable, are based on violence, force, and someone being big enough to crush opposition. Hearing that Deadwood was originally supposed to be about the Praetorian and guard in Rome made me realize this one was so important to me, and is central to my appreciation of Kubrick (it’s my big point of entrance into the Shining), is the central theme of, enriches, or is the secret key to some of my favorite novels such as Moby Dick (especially in its Biblical hooks), Blood Meridian, and 2666. Tarantino is not very good with this theme. Pulp Fiction has some of this, but this is weak - this argument that could be made for any movie that has criminals with some sort of code/organizational structure. Tarantino does not seem like the best filmmaker to explore this theme as other preoccupations of his seem to get in the way (the nature of the way he addresses race, for instance). This is an early film of his, and there is still some subtlety here, but his later movies seem increasingly pro individual righteous violence, anti-systemic control of any kind. Here there is an attempt to position black gangster bosses with white henchmen to, at least a little, suggest that the fear of black violence is the fear of an alternative power system which must run on violence and death as all systems must (especially the state itself).
2. Geography recapitulates psychology/search for meaning. This is interesting in that it may not be technically a theme, but it is best approached and analyzed along with theme. It is almost more of a mode of imagery and metaphor as a broad technique, where the physical world acts as an analogue for an attempt to find meaning internally. This is especially prevalent in quest narratives, but is very interesting when it is present outside of that context. This combined with theme number one is what so fascinates me about 2666, and this alone (with various psychological overlays) is enough to drive House of Leaves (which I liked quite a bit more than many people who I’ve seen brush it off). Since Pulp Fiction is an LA movie, it is always going to carry some amount of psychogeoraphy, but I think it winds up being a significant facet of the movie structure that it reflects the city. There is the importance of cars/motorcycles, living in the sticks, and getting out. The revelation occurs in a diner, the center of commerce which is never robbed (we are told). Long walks mirror each other, outside laying over inside where chattering people get lost. Insides are deceptive and dangerous places, especially water closets. The decent into the basement of a pawn shop in a strip mall (wow! banal moneylender evil!) where Marcellus faces his greatest fear (powerlessness to overcome America’s white past) and Butch must descend to face his choice of traditional value over self. The death in the bathroom, reading a magazine.
3. Capitalism, man. This is tied to number one, but is really its own distinct theme set. One reason I was so dismissive of theme number one is that I don’t think there’s anything I could argue for in the movie that wouldn’t more or less fit here if you do a little equivalency of types of violence dance. Is keeping a guy in a dead end job, bitter and unfulfilled, violence? Marx thought so. I think there is some significant stuff here, and I’ll talk about it some next post.
4. The work is a <blank> so it is really about <blank>s. In this case, it is a movie so it is really about movies. This theme is the last refuge of cowards in that it is an argument that can always, unfailingly be made in any context at any time. This is the case, however, because it is pretty much true all the time. I believe it is true here also, and this is the most compelling of these themes. In my opinion.
5. Themes I’m not touching here, except in passing with less contact than would transfer ebola: gender, race (see above), queerness (oh jeez, not a great movie for that), and class (which the movie, outside of basic Marxist stuff, has a lot to say – see the Wolf sequence). Ones that I wish I would touch on, but don’t: free will, Christian themes especially forgiveness and charity (how often is help needed and gotten from people in robes, one who looks like Jesus), and identity.
So, I guess Pulp Fiction came out 20 years ago this week. I saw a Grantland piece about it on Monday, was too busy during the week to really think about anything, but knew I wanted to write something on it. This is partially because it was kind of a liminal event for me, or at least the beginning of a transitional phase. Before Pulp Fiction I was primarily a fan of movies. That’s all kinds of movies - mainstream, independent, comedy, drama, foreign, old, new, cheap, expensive, prestige, genre, whenever. I saw movies mainly as a fan, and tried to watch everything. This is not to say I wasn’t on some level cynical about things, but it was more of the “Ghostbusters 2 sucks so bad… Ghostbusters 1 was so much better” kind of cynicism (incidentally, that statement is factually incorrect. Ghostbusters 2 is a way better movie, but that would require a different post). Before this time I experienced movies. Afterward, I borded them like a vessel.
In some ways Pulp Fiction occurring at this time was a bit of an epiphenomenon. I had a baby the following year ( I was already raising an older child, but he was adopted that was the first infant experience), I entered the clinical part of medical school, started medical training soon after, and moved away from the 90 mile radius of where I was born. However, I think there is something to say about the movie being involved specifically moving me into a new phase of digesting movies. At the same time that I became unable to watch every movie that comes out I developed a tendency to subject every movie to surgery in attempt to analyze it without killing the patient. Incidentally, the other end of this transitional phase was a weekend when my wife (who was always more selective about movies than me) was out of town, and I decided to catch up on movies that she did not like/would not watch, and I rented three movies and all of them sucked (the one I specifically remember is Buffalo 66’) which essentially stopped me from attempting massive catch up marathons on any kind of a regular basis.
I spent October of 1995 doing a clinical externship at Duke. I saw Se7en and The Usual Suspects that month, Clyde Bruckman’s final repose aired. I was staying with two semi-retired sisters who habitually put up students who were doing rotations at Duke (they were a hoot). One was still teaching English at the university, and all I had available to do that month was try to impress the people in the Pathology department, see movies in cheap theaters (I was broke), watch the 1 or 2 hours of TV during the entire month I could get the sisters to agree to, and read stuff that was lying around the house. There were New Yorker magazines everywhere and my love for that great upper middlebrow institution originates from that month. However, there were also student papers stacked on every surface and I grabbed and read one on racial egalitarianism in Pulp Fiction. Now, I always found these types of papers very entertaining. I like reading, and my junior year of high school taught me how to write pretty well. But, as I noted, my attitude towards the arts in general was one of fan excitement and delight (even the classics) and when someone said something probing, it seemed like fun wankery to me.
That paper was the first time I remember reading something of this type that I thought was, well, true as well as being entertaining. I still look at critical studies as being entertainment, just a more rarefied form of entertainment, and I don’t think engaging with works in this way is any better than just enjoying watching Die Hard because it is a cool movie ( I don’t really believe in that Maslow’s pyramid post I wrote as a value judgment), but I guess Pulp Fiction is tied up in me realizing that engaging with the material in that way gives me more ways to enjoy things, especially when the jadedness of having seen the same kind of thing 100 times sets in.
Now, there’s a lot to say about race in pulp fiction, especially given Tarantino’s later work and the fact that all the power structures in the movie are headed by black people, but the movie’s 4 narratives terminate in “he/she’ll never find out what we did” (x2), “I’m walking away from the power structure itself,” and , best of all, ” ultimate Black Power figure is saved from being humiliated by most negative iteration of southern/civil war redneck by another white guy who finds his inner Asian honor code” ( !?!). So, not quite worked out the kinks? But I’ll leave that for somebody else. I think I would rather talk about what the Grantland article sidesteps almost consciously, which is the structure; specifically what it have to do with the movie’s themes.
Please note that beside that one article, I have not read any criticism of any depth of Pulp Fiction ever, so I’m sure that, though my angle of tackling this will probably be somewhat unique, that I will say a lot of stuff that has been said before. Presumably, my house will be made of Legos that you’ve seen before but you won’t have seen my Lego house.
My long-standing, one-sided feud with Neail Gaiman and his twee-goth masterpiece Sandman, are well-documented, so I won’t go into it here, but Sandman is, basically, the Radiohead of comics.
Also, anything Geoff Johns has ever done. I just don’t relate to it in any fashion whatsoever. It might have something to do with having not read a non-Frank Miller-written DC comic until I was well into my 20s, or it might be just that I’m too big of a snob, but I do not get the guy’s appeal in the least. Same with the other “Weird Jeff,” Jeph Loeb. I mean, people swear by Long Halloween and (ugh) Hush, but you literally could not pay me to read either of those.
I think Garth Ennis is overrated. I mean, bless you if you like his stuff, but I tried and … nope. It’s not for me. Hitman is okay, I guess, but I read the first two trades and didn’t feel any sort of burning desire to see the thing through to the end.
I’m also not really on the “white cartoonist bemoans his life” train, ie. indie sacred cows Chris Ware and Dan Clowes. Their styles are fantastic, but it’s in service of some dull bullshit that doesn’t interest me in the least. Same with Seth, though Wimbledon Green is some A++ stuff. (I haven’t read the sequel, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, but it’s on my Wish List.)
Come to think of it, Kevin Huizenga’s really the only cartoonist doing that sort of thing that is at all interesting. And he’s not really doing autobio stuff so much as magical realist, quasi-autobio stories. Anders Nielsen’s in the same boat, I guess, but some of his stuff is a little too up its own ass.
This just in: Dylan hates everything. I approve.
I never got Pogo, Krazy Kat, or those early (comic sized) Mad “Magazines.” Explains why I don’t revere the underground artists, and have a whole slice of Alan Moore’s work that I think is stupid and pointless.
The “related” refers to the fact that I read Dynamite’s Gold Key books with the valiant books do to my baroque system of reading and filing.
Delinquents #2 - the great statesman John Byrne one said “good art can save bad writing but good writing can’t save bad art.” But he never said anything about meh writing and meh art equaling less than the sum of its parts. The new Valiant started off pretty well, with Harbinger the only of the initial books that I thought was subpar. Archer and Armstrong was a pretty decently funny comic, hamstrung a little by a bit of an everyone-agrees-with-me,-right lazyness in its satire/politics (you could predict that whe it started critiquing religion, it would immediately get clumsy). Quantum and Woody, even without Priest, was a pretty fun book. But then time marched on and entropy set in. The more the universe started to intertwine, the less good the books became (the only character that ever seemed to add rather than take away in a crossover was Ninjak, which may have something to do with the fact that he does not have his own book). So putting Archer and Armstrong and Quantum and Woody together in one comic , despite the fact that they are relatively well matched comedic teams, didn’t really hold much promise for me.
The story in this first arc is not that bad (hoboquest!) and the execution, both in terms of writing and art, are OK. However, the mix is somehow worse than the ingredients. Kano is a fine enough draughtsman, but has some issues in the storytelling department. Check out the panel counts per page - page 1 , 10 panels; page 2, 13 panels; page three, 11 panels. This has to have the highest panel count per page of any comic I have ever read. When you hear the score of a football game is 8 to 13 , you can’t help but wonder who screwed up, and those panel counts beg the question of whether the script called for this. The pages are dense and don’t pace on the page, and the positioning of elements within the panels is not that great, (although there’s often not a lot of real estate to work with). And as fine as the overall story is (maybe Van Lente’s story only credit and Asmus’ doing the writing is why?), within a given scene there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t quite hold together. So, as much as all the work is decent in isolation, the whole thing feels like a mess together.
Magnus #6 - Dynamite’s Gold Key books also came off the blocks pretty well, and I have liked this comic from the first. The art is serviceable, but the storytelling is pretty good, and the robots look cool, which is kind of the important part. I’m enjoying this book in parallel with Valiant’s Rai book, which is also very good, so it becomes difficult for me to completely separate the fact that these are two different universes at this point. This is a travel issue, where Magnus has discussions with a companion, as they move towards a confrontation point , and the whole thing is handled pretty well. Van Lente is a writer who sort of crept up on me: I didn’t realize I liked him until I sort of put the books he was on side by side and realized that a tendency to like them.
Solar #5 - This is the one book of Dynamite’s Gold Key books that I have not liked. The arts is inconsistent , and appears rushed in some areas (though the alien physiology work is not bad). I also don’t get why there has been such an uptick in the number of Firestorm-like ” I’m being followed around by a ghost mentor” comics. I feel as if Solar has always been a problem character for me, with the exception of the Barry Windsor-Smith backups in the first 10 issues of the Valiant series. BWS, when he writes and draws, is one of those artists that seems to bring a lot of apparent substance to what, when you examine it, is a relatively threadbare story. I think he probably worked his magic on the character in a way that is not really reachievable without assigning someone else who can kind of do similar things (if I keep these reviews going long enough today, I might get to two more examples of this kind of cartoonist - David Lapham and Juan Jose Ryp).
Unity #11 - An ongoing Unity book is a huge mistake. I lost concentration during the beginning of the issue, and it really didn’t understand anything about why the heist that was going on was taking place. The first arc of this comic wasn’t terribly bad because the relative focus on X-O acted as a narrative backbone, but as far as I’m concerned this has no reason to exist at this point. Also, there is a main artist and 5 or 6 other artists credited. The artist is different panel to panel on the page! The thing looks like a mess.
I finally got a chance to see Raid 2 last night. I had had a couple of false starts due to the presence of the kids, but I managed to clear the time. I loved Raid: Redemption, and had heard a lot of “the second one’s different and I didn’t like it as much” talk, which was useful as an expectation diluent. After the first half of the movie, I had basically the same opinion as the people I’d read – it might be a better movie-movie than the first one, but I liked the fist a lot better. The first half had a lot of good character work, but precious little fighting, kind of the speed of Drug War, a movie I liked OK but was ultimately disappointed by (though I don’t really know enough about the current status of the drug trade in Asia to understand it as a political document of which it was probably a lot better example).
But the second half was a different matter. This movie was the opposite of Kill Bill, a movie whose simple throughline/fast paced first half allows for an interesting psotictal downshifting that leads to a build-up of emotional content. There is a certain type of structure in action films that works this way, where all of the meeting with the goddess or atonement with the father stuff gets pushed to the end (kind of) making the real climax spiritual/emotional/intellectual. The “fight your way to the room where you will face the real test… some old (white) guy who realizes the thing you don’t that will either turn you into what you are fighting against, or prompt enlightenment. These moments vary from interestingly weird (Snowpiercer) to satisfying (Kill Bill) to Hunh? (Matrix 2). But I think, if you are going to do this, superhero comics work best because you can fight and have the cosmic discussion at the same time, especially in Starlin (see: Warlock vs. Magus).
What Raid 2 does is, in my mind, better – it takes the time to establish all the stakes so that the mostly-fighting last half is the emotional catharsis. The few (or even just one) words in the pause between beatdown scenes carries so much weight in this momentum-enhanced setting. So after its second half, I like it better than the first one because the first half paid off so completely in allowing the second to clear any exposition out of its way.
Another reason it works so well is that while the first Raid rips off walled city of Kowloon movies, the second rips off countless things, and combines them in a way that makes them sing. So, minimal spoilers ahead (it’s hard to spoil this kind of movie – you know where it is going – but you may want to be surprised at some of the specifics I’ll mention).
First, everyone cites the Departed (and Infernal Affairs, though I actually think the movie rips more from the Departed than the original) as a source for this, which is true, but I was surprised how much Godfather there was in it. Notwithstanding the betrayal within the family, here is an old crime boss trying to make peace after the eruption of bloodshed, a son not happy with it, and a spree of montage revenge set loose once the old man is dead. This is re-contextualized, but pretty hard to get past. The capitalism-destroys-honor theme is a major one in both films. Both movies have a scene with a guy slapping another guy repeatedly and absurdly.
The movie did a good job subsuming its video game influences. There are a lot of mini-boss to the final boss progressions in film nowadays, but this one earns it both through earlier character work and letting the minibosses have their own fights from which they emerge victorious against large groups of people who are not the hero. This represents a bad case of the inverse ninja effect - the hero fights a large group and can win, but so do the villains. So when these characters meet one on one, (or two on one) it heightens the stakes. The aluminum bat mini-boss is a total video game character, a flurry of action when fighting, bat butterflying everywhere, but slumped and dragging the bat if he has to move 10 feet to the next enemy. He is a live action character with a walk cycle. Oh, and and he carries his weapon like Pyramidhead.
There is the sensory deprived/locked in/shut off (deaf, essentially mute, emotionless affect, wearing sunglasses) female assassin in a pseudo schoolgirl outfit which comes from, like, everywhere, but which made me think most strongly of Frank Miller (and other Marvel Frank Miller-derived) comics (though Japanese movies have a lot of this – one, called Chocolate, is about an autistic girl who goes on a revenge spree that was sold here as “she is a special needs girl” – flurry of action - “who has a special need” - flurry of action - “ to kick some ass”). She wields two hammers (take that, Oldboy).
There was a Kubrick-like framing in a lot of the scenes (medium longs in interesting spaces with the characters center frame, lots of center framing in general, etc). There were longer takes with action happening only in a small part of the frame, often off center, which reminded me of some 70’s horror (e.g. Texas Chainsaw – is there a scarier scene than the murder with the camera pullling way back so you can barely see what is going on?). The visual style was varied, and pretty interesting (the fight in the mud was terrific).
This movie rips off so much, and is so good. If the beginning seems slow, stick with it… it’s worth it.
I wanted to talk about the Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me deleted scenes, especially given this excellent write-up that, as I approve of, talks is less about the scenes themselves than their effect on Peak’s place in the world, and what late Lynch is about. This is tumblr, though, and I felt like it would be sweet for me to encapsulate my own “Lynch history” first in order to contextualize this stuff personally.
My first Lynch movie was the Elephant Man, which was big talk in the gifted sector of my high-knifing-ratio, interrogation room having, cart driving/truncheon wielding discipline officer presided over middle school. I saw it on Channel M, a pre-cable cable premium channel, and remember it purely as social capital (I would sometimes lie about having seen movies or TV to increase my cred, but I saw this one… really!). I later saw Dune and, like the rest of my generation, was meh on it despite getting 3 versions of the comic adaptation by Sienkiewicz (2 issue limited series, Marvel Super Special magazine, and the Pengiun book) and being really taken by several scenes, which we would re-enact or quote (the Sting-Kyle fight - “I WILL kill him!”). I read the book later, but would sort of pretend I read it before (“there was no Catholic Orange Bible? I was shocked!”). I really had no Lynch awareness except that he was the guy who did Dune after passing on Jedi.
I saw Blue Velvet my Freshmen year in college, I think at the University theater for 1 buck (the same theater where I saw Prince: Sign ‘O’ the Times in an audience that did not sit down, but kept on jammin’) and, amazingly, have the same opinion I do now – a few scenes ranking in the top 10 of all 80’s movie scenes, a harrowing descent of a last bit (OK almost half) that is not entirely pleasant but impossible to dismiss, and an overall movie that does not completely work. I saw it 1987, at least twice in the 90’s, and 3 months ago, and I had the same feeling each time. I have a feeling a smart person could edit Blue Velvet and Straight Story together and make a better movie than either.
I saw Eraserhead on a 19 inch Zenith really, really drunk. I was never a guy who hated pretentiousness – I defended it a lot, argued that Joyce wasn’t a complete waste of time in high school English, settled in on Moby Dick as my favorite book in 8th grade – but I found Eraserhead, above all, funny. The Issac Asimov chick (as I called her for 20 years) send me into unrecoverable gales of laughter when she tap danced over raining embryos. I have very positive experiences of this movie, but maybe not the ones that are appropriate to the tone of the work.
I saw Twin Peaks first during that great lost period in life people seem to have where the naive caterpillar has to form an asshole chrysalis to become something more. You wouldn’t want to go back to the caterpillar but man, the cocoon was really embarrassing. I watched the Twin Peaks Pilot more concerned with a girl on my lap I barely knew, with my future wife in the room. So my first watch of the whole show is kind of a blur of transition, with a lot of missing episodes.
I had two Lynch conversion events. The first was seeing Wild at Heart in 1990 at the Canal Place at the end of Canal Street in sweet home New Orleans (they had flip up desks including lefty ones in the seats). This is when the Lynch thing first completely connected for me. People deride this movie, and I would defend it to this day as a better Lynch movie than Blue Velvet, though it doesn’t match the peak scene (“candy colored clown they call the sandman…”). It is way more quotable, other than Hopper has better performances, and is a less simplistic narrative. I need to talk about this more in a later post, but Blue Velvet is the Rocky Horror Picture show if Janet stayed behind, and Brad found Frankenfurter had a woman in coercive sexual slavery, while Wild at Heart is about the velocity of youth and the nature of the relationship to the world when the momentum starts to fade. I pick the later.
This locked me into focus on Lynch as one of the five or so things I could afford to be fixated on at one time. The second conversion was more life changing. I guess I’ll bump this to a second post.