Rambling through Exploitation Films: TERMINAL ISLAND (1973)

I’ve seen an array of exploitation films throughout the years and I have to confess this one was the most beautifully disastrous of train wrecks accumulated by the habitual components of blood, sex, violence, and nudity. TERMINAL ISLAND (1973) “Where we dump our human garbage” directed by female director Stephanie Rothman is a whale of a time accompanied by a soft inkling like undertone of feminism and a plethora of other social problems. I mean imagine going back to the cave dweller days except now there are knives, bombs, and guns and the survival of the fittest maintain their power over the weak. But wait there’s more to this; cue 70’s music at every interval which to some may be seen as absolutely corny but to this eye of the beholder it was downright amusing. I seriously love movies made from the 70s because it seemed like such a magical time to be on the frontier of cultivating creativity.

The opening sequence sets the premise for this jolly low budget film where a news room is sensationalizing the story of the most dangerous criminals condemned to Terminal Island with a series of their mug shots while almost subliminally trying to glamorize it. Terminal Island was created for all the first degree murderers who are legally presumed dead and are dumped on an island with other convicts forging a way to survive.

It’s literally a prison within a prison! There’s meaning behind the sex, violence, and nudity from a feminist and societal construct; the overriding theme is power. How do we conjure up power when we’re stripped down to the bare essentials? With very little dignity in tact we unleash the beast within and survival instincts kick in to high gear. It’s no different when sociopaths, cold blooded killers are grouped together. There’s a hierarchy and you guessed it women are at the bottom of the totem pole yet again used strictly as sex slaves, the cleaners, the food preparers and ultimately the creature that must serve man. How offensive am I right? Come now women are more than that.

TERMINAL ISLAND is kind of a smorgasbord of LORD OF THE FLIES (1954/1990) and borderlines on the precipice of BATTLE ROAYLE (2000) except we include women and are very conscious of the fact that these are the scum buckets of humanity. There’s no hiding that shock factor and it makes it confusing to identify with any of these characters except for our leading lady and most of all the women characters. They’re the true warriors here, escaping the animalistic nature of men and defying being degraded as a piece of property used as sex slaves. Of course it doesn’t help their clothes are deliberately exposing they’re sexiness.

I mean what if this was an enormous abstraction for a dysfunctional world stripped down to its animalistic tendencies? If you remove society, government, laws, and capitalism what are you ultimately left with? People. People who have to maintain some kind of power to illicit purpose and function in life. Just like with evolution there has to be a pecking order. Do we naturally succumb to this or are we just wired this way? You be the follower and I be the leader.

Our leading lady and protagonist enters the scene and is the driving force that shakes down the patriarchy. Thank goodness! Our newest addition Carmen, (played by Ena Hartman) to the coldblooded posse is going to stand her ground and kick some ass. She’s a sassy not-going-take-shit from any man however, when she arrives at the base camp of the island she’s immediately knocked to the ground by a man named Monk telling her to kiss his ass and to be on her knees before he’s finished talking. Ouch! Typical, here we go patriarchal society ruling the roost even among convicts. Anyways, there’s a shot where Monk literally has his boot smashing Carmen’s fact into the dirt. Ouch! It’s pretty disheartening and uncomfortable to watch but I’m still rooting for Carmen despite all the obstacles she’s up against. She eventually teams up with a second group on the island who aren’t has savage and demeaning but are also willing to undermine the primary group. So there we go we have division among criminals but again this is a different world.

Despite, all the offensive patriarchal mush and the weird color of blood, there are other attributes that highlight some artistry here, for instance the cinematography and since it’s on actual film it wins all the points. There are some decent shots of the sunset along the coast line as well as a man’s floating body intertwined in some seaweed who apparently died in the process of escaping the island. There’s also the dark contrast specifically on Tom Selleck’s face in the beginning where’s he’s on the beach welcoming Carmen. You can’t see his eyes because the direction of the sun and the shadows cast along his face. It’s still a pretty cool shot with the use of natural light and Tom Selleck before he becomes Magnum.

At last what I find most intriguing about this film is Stephanie Rothman’s ability to handle this zany and challenging material. The Hollywood system fails women and in a way failed Stephanie Rothman who wasn’t necessarily gung-ho about making exploitation films but beneath that she cleverly sought a way to adhere social issues resonating throughout the 60s-70s; war, feminism, social justice, civil rights all of which still resonate today. Rothman commented on her work later in life stating, “A Stephanie Rothman film deals with questions of self-determination. My characters try to forge a humane and rational way of coming to terms with the vicissitudes of existence. My films are not always about succeeding but they are always concerned with fighting the good fight.”

I think what I personally identify with is Rothman’s approach of making exploitation films was her use of comedy as she’s been quoted in saying, “Visual style and comic invention were my personal salvation or… the “special opportunity” to escape what troubled me about the exploitation genre.” I mean it makes sense you have to use some form of levity especially when all the seriousness in class, race, sexism, and politics are screaming down our necks. Perhaps, some days levity is our only hope. Every once in awhile you have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture because at the end of the day we’re all different human beings nothing more nothing less. But ridiculing each other for those differences is just absolute garbage. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to draw the line between reality and fantasy but instead fused the two together which is how we achieve the problem of distortion.

I hope someday Stephanie Rothman gets the opportunity to truly make the film she wants to make without some sleazy studio dictating the terms, and not just for Stephanie but for all filmmakers regardless of sex, orientation, race, and class. I don’t necessarily believe creativity should be considered worthy based on capital gain but on the artistic expressive freedom for all to share and discuss openly eliminating the confines of consumerism and competition.

Rambling through Exploitation Films: TERMINAL ISLAND (1973)

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I’ve seen an array of exploitation films throughout the years and I have to confess this one was the most beautifully disastrous of train wrecks accumulated by the habitual components of blood, sex, violence, and nudity. TERMINAL ISLAND (1973) “Where we dump our human garbage” directed by female director Stephanie Rothman is a whale of a time accompanied by a soft inkling like undertone of feminism and a plethora of other social problems. I mean imagine going back to the cave dweller days except now there are knives, bombs, and guns and the survival of the fittest maintain their power over the weak. But wait there’s more to this; cue 70’s music at every interval which to some may be seen as absolutely corny but to this eye of the beholder it was downright amusing. I seriously love movies made from the 70s because it seemed like such a magical time to be on the frontier of cultivating creativity.
The opening sequence sets the premise for this jolly low budget film where a news room is sensationalizing the story of the most dangerous criminals condemned to Terminal Island with a series of their mug shots while almost subliminally trying to glamorize it. Terminal Island was created for all the first degree murderers who are legally presumed dead and are dumped on an island with other convicts forging a way to survive.
It’s literally a prison within a prison! There’s meaning behind the sex, violence, and nudity from a feminist and societal construct; the overriding theme is power. How do we conjure up power when we’re stripped down to the bare essentials? With very little dignity in tact we unleash the beast within and survival instincts kick in to high gear. It’s no different when sociopaths, cold blooded killers are grouped together. There’s a hierarchy and you guessed it women are at the bottom of the totem pole yet again used strictly as sex slaves, the cleaners, the food preparers and ultimately the creature that must serve man. How offensive am I right? Come now women are more than that.
TERMINAL ISLAND is kind of a smorgasbord of LORD OF THE FLIES (1954/1990) and borderlines on the precipice of BATTLE ROAYLE (2000) except we include women and are very conscious of the fact that these are the scum buckets of humanity. There’s no hiding that shock factor and it makes it confusing to identify with any of these characters except for our leading lady and most of all the women characters. They’re the true warriors here, escaping the animalistic nature of men and defying being degraded as a piece of property used as sex slaves. Of course it doesn’t help their clothes are deliberately exposing they’re sexiness.
I mean what if this was an enormous abstraction for a dysfunctional world stripped down to its animalistic tendencies? If you remove society, government, laws, and capitalism what are you ultimately left with? People. People who have to maintain some kind of power to illicit purpose and function in life. Just like with evolution there has to be a pecking order. Do we naturally succumb to this or are we just wired this way? You be the follower and I be the leader.
Our leading lady and protagonist enters the scene and is the driving force that shakes down the patriarchy. Thank goodness!  Our newest addition Carmen, (played by Ena Hartman) to the coldblooded posse is going to stand her ground and kick some ass.  She’s a sassy not-going-take-shit from any man however, when she arrives at the base camp of the island she’s immediately knocked to the ground by a man named Monk telling her to kiss his ass and to be on her knees before he’s finished talking. Ouch! Typical, here we go patriarchal society ruling the roost even among convicts. Anyways, there’s a shot where Monk literally has his boot smashing Carmen’s fact into the dirt. Ouch! It’s pretty disheartening and uncomfortable to watch but I’m still rooting for Carmen despite all the obstacles she’s up against. She eventually teams up with a second group on the island who aren’t has savage and demeaning but are also willing to undermine the primary group. So there we go we have division among criminals but again this is a different world.
Despite, all the offensive patriarchal mush and the weird color of blood, there are other attributes that highlight some artistry here, for instance the cinematography and since it’s on actual film it wins all the points. There are some decent shots of the sunset along the coast line as well as a man’s floating body intertwined in some seaweed who apparently died in the process of escaping the island. There’s also the dark contrast specifically on Tom Selleck’s face in the beginning where’s he’s on the beach welcoming Carmen. You can’t see his eyes because the direction of the sun and the shadows cast along his face. It’s still a pretty cool shot with the use of natural light and Tom Selleck before he becomes Magnum.
At last what I find most intriguing about this film is Stephanie Rothman’s ability to handle this zany and challenging material. The Hollywood system fails women and in a way failed Stephanie Rothman who wasn’t necessarily gung-ho about making exploitation films but beneath that she cleverly sought a way to adhere social issues resonating throughout the 60s-70s; war, feminism, social justice, civil rights all of which still resonate today. Rothman commented on her work later in life stating, “A Stephanie Rothman film deals with questions of self-determination. My characters try to forge a humane and rational way of coming to terms with the vicissitudes of existence. My films are not always about succeeding but they are always concerned with fighting the good fight.”
I think what I personally identify with is Rothman’s approach of making exploitation films was her use of comedy as she’s been quoted in saying, “Visual style and comic invention were my personal salvation or… the “special opportunity” to escape what troubled me about the exploitation genre.”  I mean it makes sense you have to use some form of levity especially when all the seriousness in class, race, sexism, and politics are screaming down our necks.  Perhaps, some days levity is our only hope. Every once in awhile you have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture because at the end of the day we’re all different human beings nothing more nothing less. But ridiculing each other for those differences is just absolute garbage. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to draw the line between reality and fantasy but instead fused the two together which is how we achieve the problem of distortion.
I hope someday Stephanie Rothman gets the opportunity to truly make the film she wants to make without some sleazy studio dictating the terms, and not just for Stephanie but for all filmmakers regardless of sex, orientation, race, and class. I don’t necessarily believe creativity should be considered worthy based on capital gain but on the artistic expressive freedom for all to share and discuss openly eliminating the confines of consumerism and competition.

 

A Bold, Little, Indie Film: REMEDY

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REMEDY (2013) was directed by Cheyenne Picardo which was inspired from her experiences as a pro-domme and pro-sub in an NYC dungeon. This low budget indie project has the feel of a documentary style narrative and when reading up on the film, a Sony PMW-EX3s camera was used on the project which is also commonly used on reality T.V. shows and documentaries.
Peering into the world of a professional dominatrix and unmasking the realities that unfold is fairly spellbinding not in the sense of kinky sex fetishes but in the emotional toll that develops within Remedy our main protagonist played by Kira Davies.

This isn’t a romance story by any means but it’s the world of BDSM which is seriously complex in the depth of honesty, sensitivity accompanied by stylistic visuals of the underbelly into the psyche’s darkest fantasies. There’s nothing severely agonizing like tying a man’s balls together but, instead this is given to us from a character’s dialogue which was fairly humorous. It almost reminded me of being at Knott’s Scary Farm wandering through the creepy mazes of horror, you never really knew what was around the next corner. Similarly, in Remedy’s case she never knew exactly what fantasy she’d be walking into whenever a new paying customer came knocking at her door. We get that image of her throughout the film walking down a mysteriously dim lit hallway almost as if it were some ceremonious voyage into the beyond. It’s partially terrifying especially when she in some of her experiences is the sub and not the dom. Which I didn’t realize was an option as I assumed it was strictly about a dominatrix being a dominatrix.

In the beginning as Remedy in one of her earliest sessions of being a dom, she attempts to tie her sub but instead her sub teaches her which brings an endearing moment to the screen. Instead, being frustrated and mortified she’s open to letting the sub teach her how to correctly tie a person’s wrists together. It was touching human moment.

Later on, there’s a scene where a businessman enters the dungeon who pays to be the dom and Remedy becomes his sub. It begins with her being stripped down to her underwear where he commands her to dance slowly while calling her a cheap whore. Ouch! But remember he’s the dom and this is a fantasy people! You can see the turmoil and uncertainty on Remedy’s face. You could sense her fear when the business man chains her up by the wrists and begins to flog her across the back by doing so with an air of suspense. Now, if you compared this scene to the Fifty Shades of Grey moment where Anastasia gets flogged relentlessly by Christian, this one takes the cake strictly from an authentic and apprehensive standpoint. As a viewer my nerves were jarred simply by the torture which some might be repulsed by however, I was encompassed by the close proximity slightly transfixed into a bed of claustrophobia. I get it’s only a movie, but the tonal atmosphere of the scene was beyond persuasive. Then I remember this is a dungeon and the primal use is to convince you there is no escape which I believe enhances the sensation for most paying patrons.

In all honesty I was fascinated by Picardo’s depiction of BSDM and sweetly contented by her approach because it’s a genuine experience not necessarily a story that doesn’t need the fixings of a major Hollywood narrative where it’s exhausting in it’s predictability. This is that little film clothed with tenacity cradled by force in being seen and understood for what it is and not what’s perceived to be. It’s not easy to dispel the emotions that go behind what these doms and subs go through and as the tagline reads, “Pain is Money”.  Yes, it’s a job that people legally get paid to do and just like any other job there’s some unpleasantness that come with it’s territory.

There’s a certain elegance that garnishes and brings this film to life gathering all the elements of its mise-én-scene; from the timing of the music, lighting, obscure camera angles, with the assortment of unusual props such as the whip and condoms used for gloves creates a profound atmospheric milieu. To top it off with a stellar performance by Kira Davies which happens to be her first feature film is the heart of the journey simply based on a dare she became enlightened by the allure BSDM’s fierce culture of strange fetishes while maintaining a certain sanity remaining true to herself. I not only praise Picardo for achieving the consummation of creating a film but for remaining true to her daring vision and subject as a filmmaker something that French director Catherine Breillat earns as well. What can I say? I have an inquisitive soul in the realm of masochistic tendencies as I’m fascinated by the dichotomy of pleasure and pain.

A Bold, Little, Indie Film: REMEDY

REMEDY (2013) was directed by Cheyenne Picardo which was inspired from her experiences as a pro-domme and pro-sub in an NYC dungeon. This low budget indie project has the feel of a documentary style narrative and when reading up on the film, a Sony PMW-EX3s camera was used on the project which is also commonly used on reality T.V. shows and documentaries.

Peering into the world of a professional dominatrix and unmasking the realities that unfold is fairly spellbinding not in the sense of kinky sex fetishes but in the emotional toll that develops within Remedy our main protagonist played by Kira Davies.

This isn’t a romance story by any means but it’s the world of BDSM which is seriously complex in the depth of honesty, sensitivity accompanied by stylistic visuals of the underbelly into the psyche’s darkest fantasies. There’s nothing severely agonizing like tying a man’s balls together but, instead this is given to us from a character’s dialogue which was fairly humorous. It almost reminded me of being at Knott’s Scary Farm wandering through the creepy mazes of horror, you never really knew what was around the next corner. Similarly, in Remedy’s case she never knew exactly what fantasy she’d be walking into whenever a new paying customer came knocking at her door. We get that image of her throughout the film walking down a mysteriously dim lit hallway almost as if it were some ceremonious voyage into the beyond. It’s partially terrifying especially when she in some of her experiences is the sub and not the dom. Which I didn’t realize was an option as I assumed it was strictly about a dominatrix being a dominatrix.

In the beginning as Remedy in one of her earliest sessions of being a dom, she attempts to tie her sub but instead her sub teaches her which brings an endearing moment to the screen. Instead, being frustrated and mortified she’s open to letting the sub teach her how to correctly tie a person’s wrists together. It was touching human moment.

Later on, there’s a scene where a businessman enters the dungeon who pays to be the dom and Remedy becomes his sub. It begins with her being stripped down to her underwear where he commands her to dance slowly while calling her a cheap whore. Ouch! But remember he’s the dom and this is a fantasy people! You can see the turmoil and uncertainty on Remedy’s face. You could sense her fear when the business man chains her up by the wrists and begins to flog her across the back by doing so with an air of suspense. Now, if you compared this scene to the Fifty Shades of Grey moment where Anastasia gets flogged relentlessly by Christian, this one takes the cake strictly from an authentic and apprehensive standpoint. As a viewer my nerves were jarred simply by the torture which some might be repulsed by however, I was encompassed by the close proximity slightly transfixed into a bed of claustrophobia. I get it’s only a movie, but the tonal atmosphere of the scene was beyond persuasive. Then I remember this is a dungeon and the primal use is to convince you there is no escape which I believe enhances the sensation for most paying patrons.

In all honesty I was fascinated by Picardo’s depiction of BSDM and sweetly contented by her approach because it’s a genuine experience not necessarily a story that doesn’t need the fixings of a major Hollywood narrative where it’s exhausting in it’s predictability. This is that little film clothed with tenacity cradled by force in being seen and understood for what it is and not what’s perceived to be. It’s not easy to dispel the emotions that go behind what these doms and subs go through and as the tagline reads, “Pain is Money”. Yes, it’s a job that people legally get paid to do and just like any other job there’s some unpleasantness that come with it’s territory.

There’s a certain elegance that garnishes and brings this film to life gathering all the elements of its mise-én-scene; from the timing of the music, lighting, obscure camera angles, with the assortment of unusual props such as the whip and condoms used for gloves creates a profound atmospheric milieu. To top it off with a stellar performance by Kira Davies which happens to be her first feature film is the heart of the journey simply based on a dare she became enlightened by the allure BSDM’s fierce culture of strange fetishes while maintaining a certain sanity remaining true to herself. I not only praise Picardo for achieving the consummation of creating a film but for remaining true to her daring vision and subject as a filmmaker something that French director Catherine Breillat earns as well. What can I say? I have an inquisitive soul in the realm of masochistic tendencies as I’m fascinated by the dichotomy of pleasure and pain.

Absurdism At It’s Finest: ELVIS & NIXON

In ELVIS & NIXON (2016) directed by Liza Johnson and produced by Amazon Studios tells the story of the iconic picture and meeting that took place between the notable duo. The film is an hour and 25 minutes but could probably be cut down to 40-60 minutes as the heart and meat of the film is in the last 20 minutes where Elvis and Nixon actually meet and the rest is just built up around minor character’s trivial drama. This probably could have been better achieved as an actual theatrical play than movie as the story relies heavily on the actor’s performances.  As much as I enjoy seeing archival footage from the 70s it’s crucial to stick with the style of the times for authenticity purposes. However, there were some awesome exterior archival footage of Washington D.C. and Los Angeles possibly in 8/16mm format which really brought a warmth to my heart. Film is alive!
Elvis_&_Nixon_poster
My favorite scene is where Elvis shoots his television set apparently disturbed by the news of all the violence going on in the world. He shoots the thing three times and then sets off for the airport while still carrying his gun hoping to catch the next flight to Los Angeles at 4 in the morning. The opening has great gusto not with just the dazzling opening credits streamed along the hip music of Sam and Dave’s, “Hold On I’m Coming” really sets the tone and atmosphere for the film. Also in the opening shot of Nixon (Kevin Spacey) we see the back of his head in the Oval Office discussing his schedule with advisors and as he turns to face the camera it pulls back. When we’re introduced to Elvis (Michael Shannon) it’s similar but with the opposite camera movement. Elvis is sitting in his T.V. room at Graceland where we also get the back of his head but instead of the camera pulling back it pushes in. It’s an interesting dichotomy between the two characters as they’re alike but also very different personality wise.
As of late, I’ve been on a Michael Shannon kick, and as far as the casting well, it’s kind of an abysmal train wreck so much it was half the entertainment. I’m conflicted on whether or not I liked Shannon in the role of Elvis mostly because he looks noting like Elvis but let’s not get caught up in the details. As an interpretation of him, Shannon had this strange, inconspicuousness vibe thing going on where on one hand left intrigued me but on the other gave me the creeps. Nonetheless, I respect and took to the fact Shannon recognized the pathos within Elvis in his monologue about his identity that was actually deeply insightful. Kevin Spacey does a decent job playing the role of Nixon, however, I kept confusing him with his Frank Underwood character from House of Cards. Silliness aside, Kevin Spacey can get away with playing just about anyone.
From a historical context, if this event wasn’t recorded or documented with the exception of the photo then I can understand why the filmmaker has to conjure up some feasible entertainment behind the iconic meeting. And when the two collide it’s almost like they’re trying to emulate a pissing contest in terms of who has the biggest influence, prestige, and distinction. For instance, the two compare the square footage of their properties and both have the same type of moon rock given to them by astronaut Buzz Aldrin. It’s just surface chat, until Elvis attempts to clarify his true purpose for being there.  America is a mess, with drugs corrupting kids, and anti-American organizations running amuck all the while enlisting the help of Elvis, but in all actuality he receives an honorary undercover government badge (more prestige) which gives him permission to fulfill his quest on making America great again. Couldn’t resist. If only Elvis were still alive to see how America turned out? Ughh! Okay rolling into a totally different tangent.
 Where was I? Oh, yes two icons chit chatting about the splendor of having power an exercising that power to do “good” which is the equivalent of two superheroes enjoying an afternoon of sunshine and tea. There’s no major conflict to this narrative and when it is mentioned it’s vaguely tossed aside like something not indispensable for something shiny and materialistic. If I had to guess the real conflict here is Elvis’s mere observations on how the America dream is gradually transforming or at least is on the precipice of becoming a breeding ground for scandal, corruption, and inequality. I’m going to take an egotistical dip here and quote my own tweet from earlier last year that, “The American dream was interrupted by corruption.” Just my humble opinion and given this was the 70s, the age of innocence has long past transpired and gaining traction into global corruption, basically married the birth of conspiracy theories. Boy, I legitimately love studying history. Okay, going into another tangent again. Whoops.
Liza Johnson is an American female director, who’s fairly unfamiliar to me however, she presents a wholesome satire rather than just a parody. In an interview she stated, “There’s no denying that there’s an absurdism to the clash of style between these two men. We all really liked the way that the project acknowledges the absurdism of that situation.” I like that. I like that a lot, in fact as I can imagine having complete and utter fun with that concept especially when it fuses personality and history in the medium of cinema.

 

Absurdism At It's Finest: ELVIS & NIXON

In ELVIS & NIXON (2016) directed by Liza Johnson and produced by Amazon Studios tells the story of the iconic picture and meeting that took place between the notable duo. The film is an hour and 25 minutes but could probably be cut down to 40-60 minutes as the heart and meat of the film is in the last 20 minutes where Elvis and Nixon actually meet and the rest is just built up around minor character’s trivial drama. This probably could have been better achieved as an actual theatrical play than movie as the story relies heavily on the actor’s performances. As much as I enjoy seeing archival footage from the 70s it’s crucial to stick with the style of the times for authenticity purposes. However, there were some awesome exterior archival footage of Washington D.C. and Los Angeles possibly in 8/16mm format which really brought a warmth to my heart. Film is alive!

My favorite scene is where Elvis shoots his television set apparently disturbed by the news of all the violence going on in the world. He shoots the thing three times and then sets off for the airport while still carrying his gun hoping to catch the next flight to Los Angeles at 4 in the morning. The opening has great gusto not with just the dazzling opening credits streamed along the hip music of Sam and Dave’s, “Hold On I’m Coming” really sets the tone and atmosphere for the film. Also in the opening shot of Nixon (Kevin Spacey) we see the back of his head in the Oval Office discussing his schedule with advisors and as he turns to face the camera it pulls back. When we’re introduced to Elvis (Michael Shannon) it’s similar but with the opposite camera movement. Elvis is sitting in his T.V. room at Graceland where we also get the back of his head but instead of the camera pulling back it pushes in. It’s an interesting dichotomy between the two characters as they’re alike but also very different personality wise.

As of late, I’ve been on a Michael Shannon kick, and as far as the casting well, it’s kind of an abysmal train wreck so much it was half the entertainment. I’m conflicted on whether or not I liked Shannon in the role of Elvis mostly because he looks noting like Elvis but let’s not get caught up in the details. As an interpretation of him, Shannon had this strange, inconspicuousness vibe thing going on where on one hand left intrigued me but on the other gave me the creeps. Nonetheless, I respect and took to the fact Shannon recognized the pathos within Elvis in his monologue about his identity that was actually deeply insightful. Kevin Spacey does a decent job playing the role of Nixon, however, I kept confusing him with his Frank Underwood character from House of Cards. Silliness aside, Kevin Spacey can get away with playing just about anyone.

From a historical context, if this event wasn’t recorded or documented with the exception of the photo then I can understand why the filmmaker has to conjure up some feasible entertainment behind the iconic meeting. And when the two collide it’s almost like they’re trying to emulate a pissing contest in terms of who has the biggest influence, prestige, and distinction. For instance, the two compare the square footage of their properties and both have the same type of moon rock given to them by astronaut Buzz Aldrin. It’s just surface chat, until Elvis attempts to clarify his true purpose for being there. America is a mess, with drugs corrupting kids, and anti-American organizations running amuck all the while enlisting the help of Elvis, but in all actuality he receives an honorary undercover government badge (more prestige) which gives him permission to fulfill his quest on making America great again. Couldn’t resist. If only Elvis were still alive to see how America turned out? Ughh! Okay rolling into a totally different tangent.

Where was I? Oh, yes two icons chit chatting about the splendor of having power an exercising that power to do “good” which is the equivalent of two superheroes enjoying an afternoon of sunshine and tea. There’s no major conflict to this narrative and when it is mentioned it’s vaguely tossed aside like something not indispensable for something shiny and materialistic. If I had to guess the real conflict here is Elvis’s mere observations on how the America dream is gradually transforming or at least is on the precipice of becoming a breeding ground for scandal, corruption, and inequality. I’m going to take an egotistical dip here and quote my own tweet from earlier last year that, “The American dream was interrupted by corruption.” Just my humble opinion and given this was the 70s, the age of innocence has long past transpired and gaining traction into global corruption, basically married the birth of conspiracy theories. Boy, I legitimately love studying history. Okay, going into another tangent again. Whoops.

Liza Johnson is an American female director, who’s fairly unfamiliar to me however, she presents a wholesome satire rather than just a parody. In an interview she stated, “There’s no denying that there’s an absurdism to the clash of style between these two men. We all really liked the way that the project acknowledges the absurdism of that situation.” I like that. I like that a lot, in fact as I can imagine having complete and utter fun with that concept especially when it fuses personality and history in the medium of cinema.

Time Travel: JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME and LA JETÈE

Can you imagine reliving the last year of your life through a series of events and moments within a minute of time? Sounds bizarre and unimaginable but that’s the beauty and mystery behind the concept of time and in Alain Resnais’s 1968 film JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME (I Love You, I Love You)
CMOLKUBWIAE2FIS (1)
It’s a choppy escapade where the main character (Claude Rich) travels throughout some strange, defining moments in his life paralleling a relationship with his former girlfriend. The pacing is like undergoing a bout of whiplash but following the narrative is half the fun. It’s like peeking into a surreal layer of a person’s life and trying to stitch pieces of it’s intensity back together again. Yes, this does sound like that movie ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND however, this was made several decades prior and in my opinion exquisitely refined.
If there’s any two genres combined in a film that I love, it’s in science fiction and romance. After a failed suicide attempt, Claude Ridder (played by Claude Rich) is approached by scientists who express serious interest in using him as a test subject for their baked potato looking time machine. No seriously the time machine looks like funky looking baked potato. The scientists have used test rats in their experiments however, rats cannot talk so in using their first human test subject Claude has nothing to lose or perhaps nothing to live for since the death of his girlfriend which is the one subject that resurfaces over and over again. This is where Claude brings his past into the present sandwiched between a love/hate relationship with Catrine (played by Olga Georges-Picot). As Claude’s traveling through these moments, he simultaneously is brought back to consciousness for a brief period then travels on which worries the scientists monitoring the experiment. He goes beyond the minute into something deeper, perhaps more troubling given the calamity of Claude’s life which we learn in the hints behind his suicide given in snippets of an unchronological sequence. It’s wild and genius and absolutely heartbreaking when he explains to an unknown character of how Catrine died.
The sequence finishes at the moment Claude proclaims suicide and what’s intriguing to me is Resnais’s choice of music which happens to be a snippet of Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso”. My favorite jazz musician! Why does he choose Thelonious? Why? I love it even though I can’t fathom a hypothesis to the reason.
This was my first Resnais film, a rather peculiar yet prominent in its philosophical pureness. Personally, I feel like this film anoints the notion I should always be in the moment versus floating into some abstract thought of over analyzing something that is or isn’t. The past is an interesting thing to analyze because so many of us often reflect on the things we wish we could have change. I think it’s an intrinsic thing on most of us but what’s also intriguing is Resnais’s representation of time as if its fractions of a puzzle to a picture we can’t quite see. It’s an incredible analogy for how life unfolds itself because no one can predict the future nor live their life fully planned out.
 images copyIn tying the theme of time travel, I have to make a brief mention of another French director Chris Marker’s 1962 LA JETÈE which oozes of vividly enriching black and white stills of a man also used as an instrument for time travel in a post apocalyptic world where radioactivity has destroyed everything except the victors and other survivors hanging out while living underground. What I found apparent in both of Resnais and Marker’s films was the chorus soundtrack all eluding to an eeriness we can’t quite avoid. It’s as if this shadow of a memory lingering in the subconscious whether its fear, guilt, desire, it’s presence always manifests in someway.
Aside from the soundtrack there’s the quest to reconnect to the past as it’s stated in the opening of LA JETÈE, “This is a story of a man marked by an image of his childhood.” Similarly, in JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME Claude’s memory of Catrine smiling on her death bed is the image that marks him which leads me to suspect his purpose for attempting suicide. Even after Catrine’s passing he’s free to live on, but he can’t. He loved her despite her inability to be happy. It’s tragic just as the time traveler in LA JETÈE trying to return to a moment in time marked also by a woman’s face in her reaction to an outcome that cannot be altered. LA JETÈE was released in 1963, prior to Resnais’s film, however it’s deeply apocalyptic and stark but also playful in it’s picturesque stills while the pacing is demonstrated by a voice over narrating in its entirety. I think it’s safe to say LA JETÈE opened the doors and inspired an array of science fiction films such as 12 MONKEYS and perhaps even PRIMER.
Both of these films are masterpieces in their own way that shine a poetic thread about how time is relative and the experiences that shape a person’s life. No matter how we try to study time, we’re often caught in a realm of contemplation. The could haves, should haves, and would haves will always haunt us to an extent until that funny realization hits you maybe it doesn’t matter. Or in other words as Alan Watts said, “The future is a concept, it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as tomorrow. There will never be, because TIME is always NOW.”