Monday, September 01, 2014

Mater Roma

Eros and Thanatos by Melinda Selmys
Book Review by John Demetry

“You mean fruitless squabbling and vain speculation? Well, I’m in.” Fear not (but be afraid). Melinda Selmys’ bifurcated full-length fiction foray into the genres of the philosophical dialogue (Eros) and Greek Tragedy (Thanatos) proves both fruitful and humbling. Eros and Thanatos fulfills the visionary hope in Selmys’ nonfiction Catholic theology in Sexual Authenticity, its sequel More Reflections, and Slave of Two Masters.

Selmys’ reinvigoration of classical forms in Eros and Thanatos features three modern-day Canadian brothers perversely raised in the manner of Roman paganism. In the style of the Symposium, they debate sexual morality and the morality of vengeance according to their particular philosophical bents. This exchange defines each perspective while illustrating Selmys’ page-turning immediacy:

Germanicus (the stoic): What I’m saying is it’s better to suffer evil than to do it.

Juvenal (the Nietzchean heavy metal rock star): I’m not talking about doing evil. I’m talking about putting things right. I’m talking about justice.

Catullus (the Catholic-curious aesthete): You don’t have authority over life and death Juvenal, and if you seize it you will not find peace.

Selmys’ cliffhanger approach ends each scene leaving reader baited for the next—which then unveils wilder set pieces for each discourse. She creates suspense because the abstract is the personal. Example: when Germanicus’ stoic exterior cracks to reveal his essential—dependent—nature, he baldly states the ramifications of the brothers’ philosophical dialogue on the fate of “my mother.”

Hence, Selmys gets beneath her characters’ stances to vulnerability and desire—innovating the philosophical dialogue mode that usually reduces its characters to superficial placards (instead, on the back cover of the book, Selmys presents the brothers as comely role-playing game avatars—genius!). Through this complex authenticity, Eros and Thanatos reveals the contemporary truth in her dramatic conceit of three brothers suckled at the teet of Roman Paganism.

Post-Christian modernity, rather than progressing toward its more fashionable names of Enlightenment and Humanism, reverts to idolatry. Selmys dramatizes this paradigmatic shift compassionately through Catullus’ identification of Germanicus’ “idol” of “temperance” and Germanicus’ rejoinder that “Eros happens to be the idol that you [Catallus] serve.” Selmys expresses, therefore, in sympathetic—individual—terms the culture’s prevailing Puritanism and Gnosticism.

Since the two brothers pinpoint these false idols of self-mastery, Juvenal (of course) weeds out their common seed: Power.

Juvenal frames Germanicus’ “virtue” in terms of “privilege” and closeted Catullus’ desire for “acceptance” in terms of “control;” through him, Selmys deconstructs post-Christian hegemony. Other participants in the various debates that structure Eros and Thanatos introduce the semiotic basis of power (“propaganda uses truth to tell a lie”), most persuasively when Selmys, as always, returns to the exploited human dimension as one character explains:

Anything else is an act of violence because it takes something which is intimately connected to the personality of the individual and tries to turn it into an object of intellectual appropriation.

Thus, Selmys maps out the philosophical terrain surrounding—without ever explicitly mentioning—the divisive issues of the era: gay marriage and abortion.

Yet, through the dialectical discourses of Eros and Thanatos, Selmys achieves unexpected—and, frankly, shocking—(catholic) synthesis: a profound social vision. She inverts Juvenal’s Nietzchean protest to Christian dogma: “I could never accept the damnation of anyone I love.” Consequently, the cathartic narrative and imagery of Eros and Thanatos aim toward radical reconciliation—visionary representations of self-giving love in disarmingly modern terms—including vernacular Heavy Metal spectacle.

With Eros and Thanatos, Selmys pits the Aeschylus-style Chorus of Vultures’ desire for “Iron-Age torture porn” with another character’s recognition of heavy metal as “man’s final option” given popular form. Unloosing her glistening descriptive arsenal—perfected in horror short stories—Selmys describes Heaven as a “bath tub.”

Well, I’m in.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Making Leni Riefenstahl Proud

Review by John Demetry

With its delirious images of male athleticism--combining dance with underwater shots of choreographed swimming--Julián Hernández's short film NUBES FLOTANTES (WANDERING CLOUDS) would make Leni Riefenstahl proud. Hernandez continues to master a new film language, challenging gay people to extend desire into radical compassion. DO NOT MISS IT!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Top 10 Richard X Songs

Top 10 Richard X Songs

by John Demetry

Get pumped for Pop! giants and gay icons Erasure’s The Violet Flame (due September 23). It’s their unexpected collaboration with notoriously picky genius producer Richard X.

Pet Shop Boys, you got served!

While the likes of Stuart Price chew straw, Richard X pours creamy smoothness over synths and guitars—carried along by the choo-choo chug of his beats. He bottles that sound on his remix of “I Feel Better” by Hot Chip.

It’s one of ten (ok, 11) tracks in the below selection. This list introduces listeners to the range—one song per artist—of Richard X’s distinctive noise, but also the unheralded revolution in his “black melodies.”

His work with male artists (Christophe Willem, Steve Mason, The Sound of Arrows, and Will Young) adds a new sound to the lexicon of masculine delicacy. Meanwhile, his partnerships with female artists (Sarah Cracknell-fronted Saint Etienne, Rachel Stevens, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and his muse Annie) balance diva self-consciousness with outsider yearning. Ellis-Bextor’s disco siren-call on the sublime “Starlight” sums it up: “We are one!”

Yet the full potential of this radical consciousness reveals itself in collaboration with pioneers. The gay political challenge—alternately an attestation to AIDS-era faith and a scary portent of repression—in Richard X and Pet Shop Boys’ “Fugitive” hits post-9/11 consciousness like the g-force of a plane in takeoff.

Dear Erasure and Richard X: Top that!

Top 10 Richard X Songs

3. “Starlight”—Sophie Ellis-Bextor

4. “Silent Valentine”—Will Young

5. “Longest Ever Dream”—The Sound of Arrows

6. “L’amour me gagne”—Christophe Willem

7. “Dj”—Saint Etienne

8. “Am I Just a Man” —Steve Mason

9. “Nothing in Common”—Rachel Stevens

10. “Mixed Emotions”—Annie

Bonus Track:
11. “Commotion”—Hundred in the Hands

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Happy Anniversary!

I Say I Say I Say by Erasure
Album Review by Armond White
(originally published in Rolling Stone (697))

   The little girls understand when Andy Bell sings, "Like a knight in shining armor, you came over." On eight albums, Bell has defined himself through smoky-voiced human longing or high-pitched expectation. Teammate Vince Clarke underscored Bell's daring with wizardly keyboard melodies that sounded like lone synth musings or a hellbent pop orchestra.

On I Say, I Say, I Say, Erasure continue their adventurous pursuit of unabashed romantic expression. They restore all meanings to the word gay.
The first single, "Always," proclaims:

"Always/I wanna be you/And make believe with you/And live in harmony, harmony/Oh, love." 

When Bell repeats harmony over Clarke's neo-Mozart pulsing, he justifies the exuberant personal outpouring with angelic musical ardor. The lack of embarrassment is a radiant, liberating force that shines across music culture's demographics. It suits a wider audience than teen-age girls.

Erasure's elaborate, precise songcraft makes for great pop (the 1992 collection of their redoubtable hits was appropriately titled Pop!). I Say, I Say, I Say puts the British duo back on that unerring track after their previous release, the inevitable yet uneven Abba-esque EP. The uptempo gems "I Love Saturday" and "Run to the Sun" and the ballads "Take Me Back," "Miracle" and "Man in the Moon" show a range fit for dancing or swooning, every track as splendid as pop should be. (RS 697)


Monday, April 28, 2014

A Living Provocation

The Jewish Cardinal
Capsule Review (rough draft) by John Demetry

"I am a living provocation to reflect on Christ and the Gospel!" declares Jean-Marie Lustiger (Laurent Lucas) in The Jewish Cardinal. He radically explicates his identity after the Catholic press mischaracterizes him as a "convert" from Judaism in the announcements of his appointment as Bishop of Orleans by John Paul II. Rising to the ranks of Cardinal and trusted adviser of the Pope, Lustiger becomes embroiled in the torrent of identity politics--the fall of Communism and the rise of Holocaust denial--even as he embodies the wounded hope of Christian faith (which he encountered in the King of Love as a 14-year-old persecuted Polish Jew during WWII). Directed by Ilan Duran Cohen with French fluidity, fleetness and complexity, The Jewish Cardinal explores the meaning of Lustiger's identity "provocation" by evoking both Catholic compassion and Jewish ecumenicism in characterizations by, respectively, Pascal Greggory and Bruno Todeschini--icons together again after the epochal Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (1999). Finally, Aurelien Recoing's charismatic and savvy Pope John Paul II ends his screen time with a gesture--containing the entire mystery and burden of human history in a teardrop--that can only be called: saintly. Don't miss its limited run at Cinema Village.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ozon's Masterpiece

The opening shot of Francois Ozon's YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL announces the fulfillment of the auteur's Hitchcock & Rohmer perspective on sex and mortality; it demolishes STRANGER BY THE LAKE; it bests Lynch, it owes a debt to Davies, and it shakes hands with Solondz; in short: it's Ozon's masterpiece.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Misogyny as Arachnophobia

The opening sequence's gold-and-onyx lighting and oblique angles afford a maybe-great filmmaker's sense of immanence to the containment of male ambivalence toward female Difference in underground spectacle, but then the rest of Denis Villeneuve's well-acted, well-shot Toronto-set ENEMY fails to make the leap from misogyny to empathy represented by Kafka, Lynch, Araki, Bertolucci, Rudolph.

American Liebestod

Raymond De Felitta's ROB THE MOB and its stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda make the most delirious liebestod since Alex Cox's SID AND NANCY; love story and cultural critique spin along an axis of Oedipal trauma (crime instead of punk is the American difference).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pillar of Fire

Journey to the West
Tweet-sized Review by John Demetry

Stephen Chow applies the visionary ecumenical Buddhism from his Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, and CJ7 to the new JOURNEY TO THE WEST: extending his reach from the classic Chinese tale of the Monkey King to contemporary global pop lore (Spielberg's Jaws and E.T.); example: the darnedest image of covenential love since the pillar of fire.

"I believe in America"

A Whole Lott More
Tweet-sized Review by John Demetry

"I believe in America": so opens Victor Buhler's A WHOLE LOTT MORE, answering THE GODFATHER's despair over capitalism and power with uncanny human interaction and empathic revelation--Buhler's documentary gift: Kevin's brother's loving caress, Kevin's tour of an art gallery (the Italian Renaissance and the surrealists seen afresh), Wanda's hilariously recognizable then universally moving visit to her parents' grave, and TJ's essential dream ("I want to be a father"); each of them engender--then demonstrate--the imaginative identification required to realize new social-economic possibilities. It's the best documentary since ... Buhler's RIKER'S HIGH.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Operatic Cinema

Prediction: There won't be a better American movie this year than Noam Murro/Zack Snyder's visionary operaticism in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE--the sword-thrust of politics powered by muscle forged in tragedy. It's the most delirious and intense sequel narrative since INFERNAL AFFAIRS III and the deepest sequel enrichment since THE GODFATHER PART II and III.

One of my many choice lines: "You fight harder than you fuck." If you value your manhood, you won't miss 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Its densely layered narrative--identifying the prime motivations of its epic characters--gives intensity to operatically rendered political-military maneuvers. It's a great amazing astounding staggering film.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

R.I.P. Alain Resnais
by John Demetry

With his last three movies released in the US, Alain Resnais continued to push himself and the medium forward--achieving this era's peak cinematographic visions with d.p. Eric Gautier: the Joycean AIDS-era lament of PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES; the cinemascope surrealism--where desires meet--of WILD GRASS; the emotional extravaganza of YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET. Apparently there's more to come. RIP Alain Resnais. One of the last masters.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Grandiose Sense of Cinema

Grandiose Sense of Cinema
Me and You

As its closing night movie, Me and You brings a grandiose sense of cinema to the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center.

“He has a grandiose sense of self,” one character explains the anti-social behavior of 14-year-old Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You. Rumours have it that Bertolucci originally considered making a 3D movie of this chamber piece—primarily set during the weeklong basement hideaway of Lorenzo and his estranged older half-sister Olivia (Teo Falco). Movies such as The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), The Conformist (1971), The Sheltering Sky (1990), and Little Buddha (1994) make 3D redundant—and insufficient—to Bertolucci’s unparalleled ability to make depth of field pop like a storybook. 
Bertolucci and cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti achieve tactile emotions without 3D gimmicks. “Normal means normal. So nothing,” Lorenzo describes his (lack of) feeling to a therapist in the opening of Me and You. Immediately afterward, Lorenzo goes spiraling down a vertiginous staircase shot at extreme low-angle punctuated by a signature perspectival shift to follow Lorenzo out the door. Such existential perceptiveness—and delirious expressiveness—matches that of silent films.
Yet Bertolucci fills the soundtrack with pop music. The sequence features the diegetic (ear bud) sound of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Bertolucci’s lyrical, rhythmic images cry for Lorenzo, who turns inward from the world through the music on his mp3 player. A long lens during the “Boys Don’t Cry” sequence captures Lorenzo oblivious in the foreground while a woman in the background loses control of her leashed dogs.
Lorenzo is not normal. Filled with misdirected feeling, he asks his mother inappropriate (sexual) questions and explodes into tantrums when she treats him like a child. At the center of these passions is a longing, visualized in a low-angle point-of-view shot of Lorenzo’s dream of mother and absent father dancing on a glass rooftop. The sequence reminds of Bertolucci’s Luna (1979) with its movie theatre ceiling that opens up to the moon and stars when its young protagonist, motivated by Oedipal desires for a missing father and self-absorbed mother, loses his virginity during a heroin high.
Anti-social Lorenzo finds interacting with people so difficult that he spends time at the pet shop observing the animals in their aquariums and cages—in a sequence more amazing than anything in Avatar (2009). So a class trip to a ski resort gives his mother hope for his son’s social future. It’s an uncanny memory out of the adolescent collective unconscious made piquant by an image of the enthusiastic mother seen and heard through the slats of light of a two-toned frosted glass door.
Lorenzo takes advantage of the class trip to plan a week of privacy—just him and his iPod, ant farm, and favorite junk food—in the storage room of his parents’ apartment building. Then Olivia shows up. As made riveting by Antinori and Falco, this brother-and-sister pair works through their family’s pain to discover untapped capacity for compassion.
Bertolucci evokes compassion through intense magnification. Indeed, another eye-popping trope includes Lorenzo scrutinizing with a magnifying glass the ant farm—and then his sister as she kicks heroin. “They put me in a box,” Olivia complains when she locates a valuable item in her father and stepmother’s storage.
The effects of the broken family reflect in Lorenzo’s discovery of Olivia’s photography—through which she creates the illusion of her head dislocated or of her body endowed with ambisexual appendages. Then, the story that reveals the reason for Olivia’s estrangement from her father’s new family shocks even Lorenzo. These familial insights fill with primal, dream-like suspense a mesmerizing late-night raid (for food) into the parents’ apartment.
The focused space and timeframe of Me and You ultimately magnifies the essence of love. Olivia’s junky withdrawals bring out the worst in her—physical and emotional frailty. Yet that vulnerability ultimately draws out Lorenzo’s tenderness: “I’m sorry I made you cry.”
Significantly, these two sibling oddities bond over “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola,” Mogol's translation of David Bowie. Bertolucci reveals—as if for the first time—the deep yearning of “Space Oddity.” Doing so restores pop expression to the communal space. It provides an alternative to Lorenzo’s escapism that makes manifest Internet, high-tech solipsism. After a decade, Bertolucci triumphantly returns to cinema his grandiose sense of the Other.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

3D Meaning vs. Nihilism

Auteur: Paul W.S. Anderson's volcanic POMPEII imagery--such as the gladiator coliseum heaving to the Earth's groans--expresses a nihilistic culture: like the zombie hordes in RESIDENT EVIL, the Frankenstein mask in DEATH RACE, the flying grim reaper battle ship in THREE MUSKETEERS. Now, his most radical vision of hope defeats death with 3D (sculptural) rendering of love.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Kevin Costner & the Eiffel Tower: An American in Paris

It's over. Film culture is rotten. Film criticism is dead. It's laughable that these folks don't recognize Besson/Costner/McG's extraordinary investigation--and clarification!--of THE SEARCHERS masculine myth amidst multi-culti contemporary France--Kevin Costner and the Eiffel Tower! 3 DAYS TO KILL is the first great film of 2014. John Wayne and John Ford would be proud--but nothing will be MORE breathtaking in movies this year than the climax of the final shoot-out.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Nicholas Braun: Chinless Hero

Date and Switch
by John Demetry

The break-up/make-up montages that open and close DATE AND SWITCH are pretty wonderful. is my favorite chinless actor. PROM is a great movie. DATE AND SWITCH is like a very funny footnote with a special insight.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Binge or the Ballot

The Binge or the Ballot
House of Cards
by John Demetry

At the 2010 New York Film Critics Circle Award, Tony Kushner presented an award to David Fincher’s The Social Network. Kushner answered NYFCC chairperson Armond White’s challenged to explain why The Social Network matters by claiming the film fulfills Bertoldt Brecht’s call for a dramatic art that addressed its time, with that which is new, in order to snap spectators out of complacency. Bona fides: Kushner, who teaches Brecht in universities, made intellectual romance of Brechtian nostalgia with the AIDS-era play Angels in America

Kushner got it wrong. 

The Social Network combines television narrative--courtesy screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing)--with Fincher’s tv-commercial aesthetic. Nothing could be cornier--more old-fashioned and less Brechtian--than the combination of mawkishness and misanthropy of The Social Network. Now, Fincher’s Netflix streaming series House of Cards makes audiences complacent to power by sentimentalizing political corruption just as The Social Network encourages audiences to accept capitalism’s exploitation of technological change. 

Material differences: House of Cards constitutes the first “television” series produced by Internet streaming giant Netflix. As such, rather than restricted to the tv medium’s serial format (and commercial breaks), the full second season of House of Cards dropped on Netflix on Valentine’s Day. It encourages the new social phenomenon of “binging”--watching an entire tv season in one marathon sitting--without opportunity for reflection. 

Such social practice threatens Democracy: The Binge or the Ballot. 

"One heartbeat from the presidency and not a single vote cast in my name. Democracy is so overrated,” a conspiratorial aside from Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey as Congressional whip appointed to Vice President in the beginning of Season 2). Breaking the fourth wall--a trope compared by reviewers to Shakespeare’s Richard III--also makes for hackneyed Brecht. Television is not theater. Contrast this to the way Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (the 1946 film that recently played at Film Forum) applied delirious, Brechtian film style to Shakespearean character motivation--heightening awareness of the spiritual toll of power and greed. The House of Cards combination of sentimentality and cynicism lulls audiences into a passive resignation to the “ruthless pragmatism” of despotism. 

That phrase--the quality Underwood seeks in his allies--uncannily recalls President Obama’s pining for the “ruthlessly efficient” political machinations of House of Cards to be made a reality. In fact, the POTUS twitter account called for “No spoilers” of HoC Season 2. Such cultural norms spoil critical thinking in favor of sensationalist excitation. Spoiler alert: it’s time to resist.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

3D Weekend

Nurse 3D
by John Demetry

"There no cure for the married cock. Except me.": NURSE 3D has lots of 3D T&A--even Corbin Bleu's T&A! Yay!  But only Boris Kodjoe's T! Boo! 

The Lego Movie 3D
by John Demetry

"Where's my pants?": THE LEGO MOVIE has lots of 3D full-frontal Lego action. lol