Pressentimentos, figuras, apariçoes, desenhan, no ar, as suas formas incendidas…
As árvores falam, no ermo, e a noite parece ouvir as árvores…
extáticos vultos montanhosos esculpem a face da distância,
marejada de estrelas.
Há rastos de almas na paisagem…
Teixeira de Pascoaes
Lois Patiño’s films exist less in the realm traditional filmic interventions and more in the tradition of landscape painting and photography. He relies on structuralist methodology – forefronting film and video apparatuses, lenses and filters; unmotivated zooms and/or “still” shots from stationary cameras; manipulation of film and/or digital information through exposure (or under-exposure) and selective manipulation. In short, making the viewer manifestly aware of the ways and means of production. But with his magnificently composed and downright luscious shots, he adds a mysticism and reverie to his films that draw directly from German Romanticism. Countering the anti-human, anti-artist, anti-creative impulses of structuralism, Patiño brings a welcoming – and sometimes counter-intuitive – human element to his filmwork that puts his films within a tradition (think Caspar David Friedrich, Michael Snow, James Benning) that he’s working through with intellectual and filmic rigor.
Noite sem distância (Night Without Distance) begins with a poem by Portuguese modern mystic poet, Teixeira de Pascoaes. It concludes with the line, “There are trails of souls in the landscape.” Here begins Patiño’s document/fiction of a night in the Gerês Mountains that straddle the border of Portugal and Galicia. Historically this a place where the economies of small villages exist because of smuggling. Patiño follows a nocturnal smuggling operation. There is almost no action. There is the sound of wind and water and whispering voices. It is all shown in negative, with stunningly unreal and intense colors. It is profoundly evocative.
The first challenge of Noite sem distância is distinguishing the people, the lone hidden smugglers standing stock still, some with rifles, hiding among rocks and trees, keeping their silence, among the landscapes, lightly animated by shivering leaves in the constant wind and the sounds of nighttime noises. A series of shots highlight the players in this silent drama, each in their position for the task at hand. A hushed conversation or two from unmoving figures, break up the night for brief seconds, only to return to stillness. A sheet (a flag?) flapping in the wind, two women nearby, in front of a stone wall signals the border of the village. The village is a asleep apart from a couple of dogs, sheep and men standing, watchful, intent. The action, if that what you can call it moves down to a river, down to the Portugal side, where men wait quietly. Somewhere along the way we see the loot, signifying bags of stuff, hidden in a crevice in some rocks. But in negativland, the bags are clearly visible, glowing with power and value. In a moment, there’s movement. From the river up to the village. Signals are passed from flashlight to flashlight from lookout positions scattered throughout this landscape. In the village, men leave their positions. Mission accomplished. The women push take down the sheet. Back to stillness. A long shot of rock-strewn hillside suddenly becomes animated by figures coming out from their hiding places and moving slowly up the mountain. To black. The blackness of the screen.
The landscape hides the living and its ghosts. The night, like in the Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, reveals its mysteries only to those attuned to it, which the negative eye of Patiño’s camera has special privileges. Not only commerce, but history, takes place at night. Patiño’s image of the lives of smugglers is not only romantic, harking back to simpler lives more attuned to nature that those of contemporary city folk, but also lives mundane, fixed in patterns, clinical. Perhaps another bit of romanticism about the need for those things in contemporary life. Patiño’s very austere post-whatever film hides a bit of a sentimentalist and reveals a lot of a romantic.
I originally made my 2015 10 best list for Senses of the Cinema World Poll, which I sent to them in mid-December. Since then, I saw a couple of other films that rocked my world. So my ten and a half best turned into a dozen +.
I fell down the rabbit hole of el otro cine Español this year – a recent flowering of new cinema talent in Spain. Many of these filmmakers are still struggling to get their films made and seen, but what else is new? La lucha continua. But what an amazing bunch of talent! Five and a half of my favorite films from this year came from this crew. The rest include some amazing docs – Patricio Guzmán’s gloriously moving El botón de nácar, a continued exploration of the national trauma of the Pinochet years and their effect on his homeland; Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ chilling – and dare I say, inspirational – chronicle of Edward Snowden’s release of classified documents; Sean McAllister’s A Syrian Love Story, which gave a human dimension to the tragedy of what’s happening in Syria; and Todo comenzó por el fin, in which Luis Ospina opened up a whole world of cinema history I knew nothing about – Caliwood, the Colombian film movement of the late 70s and 80s centered in Cali. And then there was Boyhood, Rick Linklater’s masterpiece, which didn’t hit the screens in Tokyo until this year.
Auteurs working in Sci Fi seem to be a recurring theme on my list this year. Even Dead Slow Ahead, Bugarach and Timbuktu seemed to show visions of alternative universes. Perhaps this genre is a new form of neo-realism – at least in the hands of folks like Llansó, de Sosa, Garland and Caballero.
Crumbs (Miguel Llansó, 2015)
Miguel Llansó’s quirky film came out of left field – a post-apocalyptic journey, shot in Ethiopia, done in Amharic, featuring the most unlikely of heroes (beautifully enacted by Daniel Tadesse). It’s a world of shrines to Michael Jordan, space age Tuetonic Nazi horsemen, an ill-spirited Santa, where the detritus of our civilization becomes the talismans of the future. Beyond that, it’s a world of wonder and surprises, where the connections between people and the world we inhabit is infused with mystery and in the end, love.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Rick Linklater’s 12-year project reaffirms essentially cinema’s main intention – documenting time. Time passing. Lives happening. History. His low drama spectacle catches growing up and growing older in the very faces of his amazing cast.
Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015)
Alex Garland essay on what makes one human pulls from the essential myths and stories of our collective humanity. From Prometheus to Aristotle to Shakespeare’s Tempest to Walter Benjamin, Ex Machina builds a set of arguments and conundrums that question much of what we know and feel about humanness. As exemplified by the very human Ava, its a brave new world we are entering.
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014)
Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu reminds me of Mosen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar. Both show the absurdity, the duplicity and the horror of what happens when you get power-hungry fundamentalists pushing their insane agendas on the world. Sissako’s vignettes of lives in these extreme times highlights the chains of tragedies that come of this all too prevalent insanity.
Sueñan los Androides – Androiden Träumen (Androids Dream, Ion de Sosa, 2015)
Ion de Sosa’s take on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep rivals Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in taking great source material and coming up with a completely different interpretations. de Sosa brings Dick’s vision of the future and grounds it in contemporary reality. The question of what makes us human still is at the film’s heart. But here replicants is us and the so-called human is the monster.
La distancia (The Distance, Sergio Caballero, 2014) / Ancha es Castilla (Sergio Caballero, 2014)
Sergio Caballero’s La distancia, an odd Tarkovskian vision of a trio of paranormally-powered dwarves doing a Mission Impossible mission, somehow makes perfect sense. Adding a Joseph Bueys-like artist going mad, trapped in a nuclear installation for decades is just a bit of icing on the cake. Anche es Catilla, is an inspired and hilarious short films that goes to the extremes of cine-povera. Animated (if that what you can call it) trash heaps and the most obvious and low-budget of effects are a perfect antidote to CGI-laden crap that passes for cinema these days.
El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button, Patricio Guzmán, 2015)
Patricio Guzman continues his inspired and inspiring excavation of the tragedy of Pinochet’s destruction of Chilean democracy and life. In El botón de nácar, Guzman connects the tragedy of colonization and the extermination of Chile’s native people to the methodical terror and fascism of the Pinochet regime.
Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce, 2015)
Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead takes the viewer on a ride on the tanker, Fair Lady, through a certain present and future of the world. Hauntingly beautiful, the film highlights stark, empty places that become a chilling metaphor for the future of humanity – and how that humanity feebly asserts itself against a relentless and unfathomable trajectory.
Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, 2014)
The how of how Edward Snowden broke open the depth of the U.S. surveillance state is shown in all it’s planning an improvisation in a real-life thriller reminiscent of 70s era Alan Pakula.
Bugarach (Sergi Cameron, Ventura Durall, Salvador Sunyer, 2014)
I thought Bugarach was pure fiction until about 3/4 of the way through when I realized it was all true. The media circus and the mass hysteria that happened there in 2012, when some New Age cultists decided that this little town in southern France would be saved from the upcoming apocalypse is distilled by Sergi Cameron, Ventura Durall and Salvador Sunyer into an amazing portrait of a place and all the characters involved in this strange and wonderous event.
A Syrian Love Story (Sean McAllister, 2015)
Sean McAllister humanizes the tragedy of contemporary Syria in A Syrian Love Story by focusing on his friends, Amer Douad and Ragda Hassan and how their relationship is torn apart by the tides of history. Their adorable kids take much of the brunt of the goings on, but show amazing resilience.
Todo comenzó por el fin (It All Started at the End, Luis Ospina, 2015)
Luis Ospina documents Caliwood, a short but important film movement of Columbian cinema. Being a part of the whole thing – the sex, the drugs, the fervor – he has a personal interest in documenting his many amazing and amazingly self-destructive friends who built their own film movement. Todo comenzó por el fin is a bit like Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, but the names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty.
Chilean filmmaker, Patricio Guzmán has put together, brilliantly, a pair of documentaries, Nostalgia for the Light and The Pearl Button, that attempt to resolve a tragedy, the great rift that tore his nation apart, leaving unhealed wounds – the US-backed military coup by Augusto Pinochet in 1973. The coup ripped up the foundations of a socialist democracy, replacing it with a state of right-wing terror. Thousands of people were jailed, tortured and disappeared. The history, legacy and the absence of those disappeared lie at the heart of these two profound and heart-breaking documentaries. Nostalgia for the Light takes place in Chile’s Atacama Desert, where super-telescopes scan the ultra-clear night skies in search of meanings to and answers of the Universe. It’s also the place where Pinochet set up a prison camp, where countless people disappeared. It’s also the place where mothers, sisters and wives of these disappeared now traverse the barren expanses of sand in search of a bone fragment of any evidence of what happened to their loved ones. Guzman documents these impassioned women on their “fool’s errand” as they wander the desert. The Pearl Button, his follow up to Nostalgia for the Light, takes place in a world of nearly constant inclemency, facing the Pacific – Chile’s southern Patagonia. Here also, Pinochet disappeared his state’s victims by taking still-living persons, binding iron rails to them, helicoptering them over the ocean and dumping them. Guzmán reenacts these painful procedures to devastating effect. Guzmán explores these dark years of contemporary Chilean history, countering it with an equally dark side of Chile’s older colonial past – the eradication of Patagonia’s indigenous tribes. Their rich heritage, illustrated by the amazing turn-of-the century photographs of Martin Gusinde was pretty much wiped out by genocide, disease and faux assimilation. Guzmán also interviews some older natives, who speak in the ancient tongues of their forefathers – perhaps the last recordings on film of their disappearing languages. He connects this continuum of disappearance through the images of two pearl buttons. One was the payment given to an indigenous Patagonian to go to England to be prodded, studied and displayed. He finally returned to find his people almost gone. The other button was a piece of evidence, found amid the barnacles and encrustations on a piece of rail found in the ocean – proof that a person was attached to it. From the cosmos to the oceans, from the stark landscapes of Atacama to the lush forests of Patagonia, Guzmán paints stunning images of beautiful and impassive natural places and forces, contrasting them with the terrible cruelty of humanity – and the stubborn goodness and intent of those who care. He offers few answers and asks many questions, but his search for a bit of understanding and truth testify to the human race’s better intentions.
Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2015
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey to the Shore starts off with an interesting premise. Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu), three-years widowed and still grieving, gets an unexpected visit from her dead husband, Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano). He promises to take her on a journey to the “beautiful places” he’s been on the long road back from where he died to her. The idea of not only the living reconciling with loss, but the dead themselves as active participants in reconciling with the afterlife is rife with possibility. Too bad Kurosawa sinks the whole thing in maudlin sentimentality, Ozu-esque two-shots that evoke parody, a maudlin and overbearing soundtrack and a general lack of urgency and direction in this overlong exercise in pop mysticism. Fukatsu, a genuinely fine actress, gets little to work with here and Asano’s perpetual blank slate helps him drift through, but Kurosawa’s muddled direction of a meandering and pandering script make this slog a challenge to get through. And these “beautiful places” that Yusuke takes his wife to may only be beautiful in the eyes of the director.
Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2015.
One thing all films have in common is the power to take perception elsewhere… memory becomes a wilderness of elsewheres.
– Robert Smithson / A Cinematic Atopia
The elsewheres of Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead are the high seas, inhuman ports of call, the industrial corridors, engine rooms and vast metal cargo holds of the bulk carrier freighter Fair Lady. Echoey deep creaks, the ping of radar, wind battering metal and the dull low thrum of engines turning. This ship is taking me elsewhere. Into that sort of limbo, where men keep busy watching and waiting. Nothing much to do. Always ready. When a problem does happen you only got one bucket to move a ton of grain. There’s always the horizon. Steady. Disconcerting. This boat is traveling on a horizon of its own. You just can’t see it from where you stand on the deck or from the porthole of the galley. The horizon’s always elsewhere. Out there.
Out there. Somewhere in some cinematic future now. With a history of films that fit into some cinematic future past. I think of Waterworld. That big old tanker filled with not just the detritus, but the waste of humanity. A floating pen of criminality, plying the high seas of a flooded planet. Who ever thought Kevin Costner would be so prescient? Or the big metaphor of Mohammad Rasoulof’s Iron Island. Spaceship Earth becomes lifeboat Earth. A place where the survivors cannibalize the very craft on which they struggle and are simultaneously coddled and exploited by Captain Nemat, the man in control.
There’s a whole history of ship bound cinema. All those Atlantic crossings, romantic, farcical (the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business), tragic (Titanic, the Negulesco version) blend into one giant escape of jilted lovers leaving from New York to Europe on luxury liners and immigrants coming to the New World, tired, hungry and poor to become American success stories.
But the numbing and awesome reality of absurd commerce and the monstrousness of the world of capital is where Dead Slow Ahead lives. Gigantic cranes dump gigantic shovelfuls of coal under glaring lights. The huge hulk of the Fair Lady is the main character in the first act (?) of Dead Slow Ahead. All cold and metal. Impassive in her fairness. The few humans scuttling about in her iron chambers stare impassively at the horizon or do some sorts of unexplained activities, sweating and servicing her in some perfunctorily erotic way.
The only real drama is when water comes charging into a hold, threatening the cargo of wheat. When it’s contained, the drama ends, the work begins. One bucket. A huge puddle of still water. And a pile of wheat, huge by most means, dwarfed by the scale of the hold it’s in. Sisyphus on the waves. The absurdity of the task, of the work itself, is undercut by the cold impassive metal beauty and scale of the surroundings.
By the third act, the men become players, or rather, pawns in the relentless trajectory of wherever this ship is going. It’s constantly moving, but seemingly going nowhere.
The men call wives and mothers. Disembodies voices not knowing what to say, remembering yeah, Happy New Year, I love you, I miss you. The still steel ribbing, the bulkheads, silently witnessing their barely human interactions. These men seem stuck in this oppressive world. They’re trying to express just a little bit of their diminishing humanity. The connection stops. The phone goes dead.
All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?
But for the workers (or are they passengers?) of this Fair Lady, there is no escape, no fantasizing about some loverly elsewheres. There’s only the continuing movement, the endless duties, the long distance longing that fills up their existences as the ship of the world continues in its relentless and unstoppable journey.
This is number three of a trio of essays inspired by the work of César Velasco Broca.
Avant Pétalos Grillados / 2006
Avant Pétalos Grillados opens up to shots of a man’s oversized thighs, veined like leaves being measured. A quick cut to an old castle – is this the place where Jesus holed up in L’age d’or? Cut back cleaved back and pinioned arms, puffed up to near bursting being measured. The measurements are dutifully recorded into a notebook. A close-up of a sewing machine shows hands beginning the process of making a garment for this strangely perverted example of the male anatomy.
The body in question belongs to Silvio Samuel Saviour, a record-breaking Nigerian/Spanish bodybuilder. He’s in jail now. Has been since 2011. For beating up his girlfriend. Whether through steroid rage or because of anger management issues has not been determined. However, this part of his story is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems that about a year before he began shacking up with his girlfriend, he had split with his wife. Again, whatever issues they had between them will probably always remain murky, but one thing is known. He claimed he was being poisoned by her. With strychnine in his food.
I can’t help but think of my favorite ode to the drug by the Pacific Northwest garage band, The Sonics.
Some folks like water
Some folks like wine
But I like the taste
Of straight strychnine
You may think it’s funny
That I like this stuff
But once you’ve tried it
You can’t get enough
Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you
If you listen to what I say
You’ll try strychnine some day
Make you jump, it’ll make you shout
It’ll even knock you out
Knock you out indeed. Apparently what Silvio did to his girlfriend. And then he beat her some more. And the monster has been put away for 5 years.
The Sonics (who may have invented the rock and roll trope of letting out a scream before the guitar solo), however, are on a roll, late in their career, with a new album and feted shows. Apart from playing great tunes that inspired the likes of Iggy Pop and punk rock in general, their name alone brought a vision of a noisy future. Postmodern, tribalist, coming from the stinky, dirty, shithole that was Tacoma. They brought home something more real and visceral than the traditional image of some modernist utopia. They infiltrated the airwaves and came pounding out of cheap transistor radios while the windows rattled from the booms of supersonic airplanes from local biz, Boeing. Two ways of breaking the sound barrier.
When thinking of whatever a modernist utopia may be, there’s the Miesian box. The image of a future designed by technocrats and architects. That’s where Avant Pétalos Grillados moves next. After a shortcut to a phone booth. A small Miesian communications box. It will soon be covered with alien slop – negating the man, the caller and the clean frame and glass architecture, now pretty much absent from our hand-held device colonized environment.
But soon we’re in a clean modern building. An old-fashioned phone rings. Remember that sound? Hands are busy at work, typing on a braille typewriter. An attractive woman (Bárbara Ming O’Costalls) reads out loud. We can’t hear her. Is this what she’s saying? One of her own poems?
Tengo frío en el pecho y me dolía
mucho el corazón esta mañana.
He pedido que cierren la ventana
para que no me vean los pájaros
But nobody’s listening. There’s a clean-lined modernist roomful of blind people, all with headphones. I like to imagine they’re listening to the Sonics. But they aren’t even reacting. A bell tolls. A radio broadcasts an un-understandable announcement. Perhaps a warning of the insect-headed, crustacean-clawed alien that’s been sighted skulking by, carrying a baby. Bárbara, seeing it from the window, freaks out. The blind workers take no notice in their safe confines. Modernism means blindness and deafness to the world outside. The alien, dressed in a lumberjack grunge plaid shirt tosses the baby from the building. Modernism equals death.
Later, back at the phone booth, it’s night time. It’s time when aliens roam the streets. An unsuspecting body builder calls. The molten alien slop engulfs the booth.
Cut to a suited Silvo, carrying a bucket of paint through a modernist plaza. It’s all concrete and serial architecture. He’s on his way to an ambush, where a shotgun-toting redneck alien will take him down, spilling the bucket, turning him white-faced. Red necks and white faces. White slop versus the black slop. Predators and prey?
He’s dumped into the trunk of a Seat, where he delivered to the aliens’ lair via a stop at some factory ruins. What will become of these works, ye mighty! This is where utopia leads. Ruins. They go deeper into a blasted landscape to a tower. This is where the spiral leads. A laundry room. Full of dead naked men. A lab-coated bug-monster dips out some slop to drip onto muscled flesh. Others press and iron garments. The ones made for these obsolete bodies? One of them uses a mangle. My mom had one of those, which she used to press sheets. Does anyone press sheets anymore? The monsters are just more cogs in the machine, workin’ for the man, whoever that man may be.
The film ends with an artist – you can tell because he has a white smock with pencils in the pocket – staring at a white plaster bust of a bearded man. The alien slop pours down like a waterfall on him. He takes a breath when his ordeal is over.
As do we, when our ten minutes of Avant Pétalos Grillados is over. The long dystopia of the modern dream – cool, clean-lined spaces, industry and technology as what will save the world. Yes, let’s throw the baby off the roof. Let’s let the aliens take over. Let’s inhabit the ready-made ruins. Let’s listen to the Sonics. And take a deep breath. It still ain’t over.
This is number two of a trio of essays inspired by the work of César Velasco Broca.
Kinky Hoodoo Voodoo (Saturno Al Final Del Verano) / 2004
If you were to reduce César Velasco Broca’s Kinki Hoodoo Voodoo to its essence, it’s basically – if you get caught looking, not even doing, the aliens are going to get you. In a short 7 or so minutes, Velasco Broca manages to conflate alien malefaction with prepubescent sexual angst at the archetypical locus of where a lot of this stuff happens – summer camp.
Los niños envuelven con esmero cajas de cerillas en verano.
The children carefully wrapped boxes of matches in summer.
I myself never made it to summer camp. It was out of the realm of my class and my parents’ experience. Mom, a somewhat refined, savvy and misplaced Russian émigré, spent much of her displaced youth in the hinterlands of Manchuria. Dad, with his brood of 8 other siblings, grew up poor, himself displaced by the dustbowl to the hinterlands of the Willamette valley. Though he himself was an outdoorsman, the idea of a hoity-toity camp full of pampered rich kids was no place for his own son. Roughing it was the only way to camp.
Camp or no camp, the image of being with a bunch of boys, carefully, and dare I say rather ineptly, wrapping boxes of matches gets to the simple confused heart of boy sexuality. Don’t get yourself burned! This absurd and obscene job drives the sad victim of our story to a simple and shameful act of foot fetishism. It may not make any sense, but what does when things get a little too hot.
My experience of those years of what-the-fuck-is-going-on-sexually is relegated to darker recesses of my memory and the boys’ shower room at North Mercer Jr. High.
The first time I remember stripping naked in from of a bunch of other boys and there was Grant, a little man of 12 years with a handlebar mustache, mutton chop sideburns and mass of dark pubic hair framing his member and me, pink pudgster, not even close to being a man, wondering what the hell I was doing there and if I should really be in BOYS PE, while the relatively hairless PE coach, Mr. Averill wandered around in only his sky-blue gym shorts, a pair of cartoonish bluebirds tattooed on his chest, one above each nipple, carrying a sawed-off plastic baseball bat, which he used to mete out punishments – “grab your ankles” and whoosh of air turned into stinging red welt on tender boy buttock – strutted around the showers, checking us out.
El chico corre hacia el campamento como llamado por un rayo magnético.
The boy runs to the camp as if called by a magnetic ray.
In the movie, the boy runs away, mysteriously pulled by a “magnetic ray.” Right. Call it the call of the wild, call it hormones, call it nasty and dirty, but it drives him straight to his bunk, where his eyes flutter in some un-understandable (derstandable?) ecstasy. He gets drawn again, this time literally lifted from his mattress (through the wonders of trick photography) to a tarped-off shower stall, where he is compelled to take a peak. And what a peak it is! A beautiful, sexy woman, scrubbing away. Back when sex was still clean! All the other boys push past him as he continues to look on. Man! He doesn’t even get any. He goes into epileptic ecstasy eye-flutter once again.
Me, I never had much of inkling, little inkling that I was, how truly strange, mysterious and terrifying sex could be until my brother snuck me into a double-bill of Bergman’s Persona and The Passion of Anna, when I was 13. Before then the highlights of my filmic sexual experience had been the Fantastic Voyage, Journey to the Center of the Earth, the Flubber films and Jerry Lewis comedies – all of them certainly coloring my interpretation of what exactly Liv Ullmann was doing up there on the big screen and doing to my pre-adolescent nucleus accumbens.
Acaso es mía esta comunión?
Perhaps this communion is mine?
Your communion? No it’s not, you little twerp. You missed out on the act and now all you get is the guilt. So, here come the aliens. They’ve come to take you away. Somewhere along the way, one of these aliens of your desire dies, with white cum coming out of his chest, his penis head cracking. That’s what’s gonna happen to you! You come, you die. Didn’t anybody tell you?
Yeah sex and death is a bit too easy. There’s been a whole lot of too much written about it. It’s sex and fear. Fear of death. Fear of messing up. Fear of adulthood. Fear of aliens. Remember what Bunuel said. “Sex without sin is like an egg without salt.”
In those years, I was into Marvel comic books and sci-fi. I had put my childhood fascination with Famous Monsters of Filmland into the stuff that kids do. I remember a bunch of us kids took a bicycle trip one summer around the Olympic Peninsula with Fran Call, the very butch girls’ PE teacher at North Mercer. It was the first of long-distance bicycle trips that she organized for students under the rubric of “the cyclemates.” It culminated with a cross-country trip a few years after our inaugural run, which ended in a photo opportunity with Richard Nixon in the oval office for those lucky kids.
On this trip, there I was, a pink-flabbed pimply-faced fatty and there was Jody! Me, stupid, inept, ugly and full of fear and wonder. She, beautiful and still is. There were other beautiful girls on the trip, too.
On our first rest stop we hit a general store in Humptulips where I found slightly used copies of Carlos Casaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan and Philip Jose Farmer’s Flesh. Flesh chronicles the adventures of astronaut Peter Stagg, who gets antlers grafted to his head and becomes a super-hunk and sexual slave for a civilization of Amazon women. Pretty good stuff for getting a kid pretty mixed up as to what this sex stuff is all about.
And there I was with a mess of beautiful Amazons, led by a queen-dyke. I was over the moon.
On the final leg of our trip, we stopped at a motel somewhere near the Docewallips River – I think it was called the Hamahama Lodge – where we watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. July 20, 1969.
Haz como yo: piensa en algo blanco.
Do like me: think of something white.
The punishment for thinking bad thoughts is being put into a cocoon, suspended from a tree with all the other bad boys. To get through this metamorphic ordeal you’re cautioned to think of something white. Fact is, you probably will get through it, turn into something fairly functional, and if you’re really good, maybe you’ll be able to make movies about the whole ordeal.
Snow, bunny rabbits, paper, milk, cum, doves, potatoes, daisies, polar bears, the moon.
Mientras tanto, cincuenta años antes.
Meanwhile, fifty years earlier.
Meanwhile, fifty years earlier I was 10 years old. The aliens didn’t first appear then, but perhaps that’s when I became cognizant of them. César, did you make this film just for me? Or did you hit that nerve, that monkey gland, that limbic cortex wherein lies that morass of images, connections, history, memory, pleasures, fears of us all? The interface of a particular onscreen world with one’s unscreened life is where the best of films exist. Those films caught in ecstasy through fluttering eyes and etched indelibly on the back of one’s mind.
Click this link for some great storyboards for Kinky Hoodoo Voodoo by Mariano Espinosa.