THE BAD BATCH

There’s something intrinsically engrossing happening to my brain when watching Ana Lily Amirpour’s THE BAD BATCH. It has imagination, it has desert, it has a dystopian world equipped with an underlying realization that this could be a slight futuristic foretelling of a crumbling civilization gone severely wonky. Is this what happens when resources of our planet plateau and society has to decide who really gets to live vs survive? I know I’m projecting way the hell out there but I can’t help it. At least the desert people know how to let loose with that funky music and Keanu Reeves being the dream and all. If we do by chance end up in an apocalypse I want Keanu on my team. Come on those Elvis-chic sunglasses, the white suit, and a suave mustache, gives his character all the appeal and hot edge to survive.

First off, I have a particular attachment to films that take place in the desert, ranging from MAD MAX, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, STARGATE, and of course ZABRISKIE POINT so it wasn’t difficult for me to say no to this misfit of a film. Which brings me to my second interest; the outcast factor. Having a bunch of misfits exiled to the desert for no particular reason other than they’re different, damaged, broken, obscure, and severely flawed by society’s standards has me captivated. Do we really need a reason to comprehend the why here? Not really. It’s a dystopian world where apparently rationality has been tossed aside for something that sounds like discrimination, a familiar and unfortunate piece of fabric in our American culture. It would be interesting to see what this glorious immaculate society looked like but I have a feeling it would have driven us away from our present story here, or perhaps its intentionally left open ended because having a franchise of THE BAD BATCH would be favorable. Just saying!

Plot wise THE BAD BATCH might be considered too dry for some, thin and perhaps aimless, but then I think maybe that’s the point. To be a wanderer of the desert can be a fairly desolate journey within itself and maybe nothing insane happens (okay other than cannibalism- channeling that Donner party-vibe) which is grotesquely cool specifically how Amirpour selectively chooses some key camera angles. The whole opening sequence is setting the foundation and above all has a great hook. Our main protagonist Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is thrown into a new world where she’s literally running for her life by two people in a golf cart. Eventually she comes across a surge of characters that include Miami Man (Jason Moma), The Screamer (Giovanni Ribisi), The Dream (Keanu Reeves), Hermit (Jim Carrey) and Maria (Yolanda Ross) all with precise names which make them sound like some obscure Justice League. I love it. All infused with this dusty, western somewhat somber aesthetic which oddly enough made me think of ZABRISKIE POINT, a wonderfully undervalued Michelangelo Antonioni film that has an element of desolate chaos, mainly due to the counterculture at the time yet there’s some relatable factor in there.

Aside from the plot line, the film nails a vast undertaking in the mise en scène department; visually radiant with strident sunlight casting its presence on their handcrafted village known as “Comfort”, some intriguing, yet upbeat and sometimes humorous music, makeshift props designed and utilized out of leftovers, severely brain-fried characters walking around with shopping carts, and carrying pet bunnies and let’s not forget the laundry basket backpacks to forage for unwanted goodies all in order to survive. The brilliance is in the details. The creativity is in the details. And there were parts were I kept thinking about the infamous outdoor Noah Purifoy museum where he made art out of scraps of any kind of material left unwanted. His wonderful artwork still remains nestled in the desert somewhere, I definitely recommend inquisitive, artsy- soul hunters to check it out.

As a viewer, my mind was left pondering which is fine because I equate watching this film to looking at a Rothko painting and making my own assertions about what it means to me. This is how I approach a film that doesn’t fill every hole or unanswered question, and that’s okay I don’t need to be spoon fed every detail of the plot. I do like to use my mind every once in a while. For instance, I wonder why a certain character decides to only saw off one arm and a leg instead of just killing the person. My theory? She’s rationing her food supply. Things are scarce, makes sense to me.

There are so many distinct elements such as the comical signage where we see a stop sign except it says “GO” instead of “STOP” or the “Doctor accepts walk ins” followed by the “Gun Repair” sign next to it. The positioning is funny. This is what society looks like when law and order is averted, I imagine. Then of course there is the trippy dance-glow party, tethered to some ceremonious drug taking, as well as a slow motion sequence of body builders doing their lifting exercises, all convey an odd sense of purpose, structure, and empathy. Or perhaps this is how I imagine Burning Man to be like?

In all seriousness, what do all of these misfits have in common? A reason to live? Empathy to some extent. Take for example when Arlen is rolling around on a skateboard to escape from being eaten until she’s exhausted while about to be pecking food for the circling ravens until miraculously Hermit pushing his shopping cart comes to her rescue or when Arlen purchases a bunny for the kid “Honey” to have, it’s endearing. It’s these simple acts of compassion that signify something in this twisted world where everybody is out for themselves. You know lending a helping hand can be benefitial!

Despite their shitty situation and the crummy cards, they’ve been dealt, all highlights a purpose to make some sense out of this weird mess. Yeah life is messy we can’t plan every detail and are just left to roll with the punches and that’s precisely what these characters are grabbling with whatever’s thrown their way. I love how Giovanni Ribisi’s character “The Screamer” says, “You have to figure it out for yourself.” Meaning find your own damn reason to live and don’t forget it! I can only presume this might be the reason why The Dream has a cult like following of pregnant women, for they are biologically carrying the dream. I guess that parallels a kind of token of hope for future batches of living beings, keeping their existence intact and all. I mean why else would you have a child unless of course birth control was unavailable then again that just makes it sound like a careless accident. I’m going to attempt to keep the train of thought in the vein of optimism.

In my mind, the desert is home to me and no I don’t live in an abandoned airplane or some ransacked shed, I’m meaning in the sense of being enamored by the vast, naked, beauty such spatial land can inhibit even if careless fools discard their garbage tainting its fierce existence. Shame on them. Have you ever gazed into the night sky in the middle of the desert seeing how pockets of light unfurl, all the while contemplating your existence on a speck of a planet? No didn’t think so, you were too busy complaining about having zero Wifi access! The desert is magic people. It’s dirty, it’s tough, and summer time is a murderous storm of fire breathing down your neck incessantly reminding you of its rigorous nature. Too deep?

Anyways… to summarize…

Ana Lily Amirpour stays true to her style giving us an atmospheric soiree into another shady yet similar world just as she gave us in A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, which is a tremendous film. I don’t really care the plot was ambiguous, or the dialogue was slim, you don’t need to overdo it to capture a story. Less is more is always a key ingredient to these kinds of films and I think images speak for itself in many ways. It’s about taping into something graver aside from atmosphere, it has some thought provoking moments, where sometimes a little introspection is needed and often times doesn’t bode well on screen which usually drives the wrong audience mad. There are several instances where we see our characters just being silent, contemplating, not necessarily lunging into some impulse. They think then act, not just react. Part of what makes the film immensely striking is the weight it sways around in keeping you in the dark just as much as the characters are left to their own devices. What’s the key reason they’re known as the bad batch? Inequality. Inequality is such a huge embedded theme and it translates on screen in a very cunning way, yet no one is rebelling or angry as hell, they simply carry on accepting the way they are. Society as a whole discarded them like trash because they don’t meet some criteria to participate and have rights all for being different.

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"We blew it" EASY RIDER

If there’s one thing I love about America, it’s exploring the vast landscape through no other means than road tripping. I’ve driven several thousands of miles, solo and it’s the most liberating feeling. From Oregon to Indiana and even train tripping along the east coast to see Virginia and New York, and what other film can I attribute my immense nostalgia to such a feeling? The 1969 guerilla film classic none other and there’s no way in hell rebooting the magic that is EASY RIDER. In fact, it was so revolutionary it sparked the New Hollywood period of filmmaking. Think about all the films that came after or even prior to it such as HELL’S ANGELS (1966) which also starred Peter Fonda. What a time to be a filmmaker!

For all intensive purposes this film is built from a symbolic fortitude which leaves little room for scarce dialogue, extraordinary emphasis on music, and intoxicating imagery. Nonetheless, it’s a road trip story, where two buddies Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) make the mega score and are going to ride their way deep into a paradisiacal sunset. The undertone in this gem of a film rides heavily in a subdued warm, rare slice of reality that most viewers become overwhelmed paralleling this yearning for such an adventure. Or at least, I was. I miss road tripping places. America in all her pockets of civilizations are in fact scattered across deserts, prairies, mountains, and lustrous communes where hippies welcome the riders into their custom way of life in the land of the free. Everyone has their modus of operandi for living a good life, and even though it may seem similar on the surfaces there are differences which makes this so damn profound. The riders, nonetheless have their own significance for doing what they’re doing; rejecting the system, be fearless, live free all bundled together like some enchanting recipe for wishful thinking.

It’s even hinted in the tagline, “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.” If only America knew how to co-exist with everyone’s competing ideologies without violence, discrimination, and reckless politics. If only we can go back to the “greater good of all people” mantra instead of building off of self-interest, antisocial, filter-bubble somewhat induced, “it’s all about me, fend for yourself” mantra and perhaps this is the price of freedom?

It goes without saying, EASY RIDER is a time capsule for it’s time period as Dennis Hopper has stated while editing the film, he would be listening to the radio which would spark the idea to incorporate found music as the final score. Simplistic genius. This is probably why “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf is so mind-blowingly iconic. It’s the ultimate road trip song when travelling across this star-spangled promise of a land.

Everywhere can’t be the same and that’s what makes this country such an interesting environment, the clashing of religion, sex, politics, and culture all living among each other regardless of what region, ethnicity, and sex we’re still to this day trying to find a way to co-exist with each other. It is the continuous struggle we bare upon our backs and one wonders how we’re going to end up in the end or how future generations will look at the past few decades. There’s on intriguing piece of dialogue Wyatt says to Billy that most theorize as a foreshadowing meaning behind, “we blew it” falls on their self-serving shoulders. It foretells the jaw-dropping ending, that’s a given, but my guess is it resides around the fact that these two riders’ adventure is a prodigy of one’s own pursuit of happiness disregarding all the consequences for their actions. For instance, the character of George Hansen (Jack Nicholson), buys into the riders’ adventure, tagging along with them to New Orleans and what happens to his character? He never makes it to New Orleans to join in on the party of paradise. Isn’t that compelling? So the riders party on on his behalf splurging on the remains of his money. It’s tragic, but also another big foretelling of our rider’s journey all because of intolerance from a small town of people that are on one hand intrigued yet want nothing to do with them. You have the teenage girls on one side of the diner along with the older, white male cohort on the other side all ready to slug them to hell. While the riders sit waiting to for a freaking menu and are being ignored. What a contrast!

So going back to the tagline, in piecing together meaning behind this entire adventure is conflicting because the spectrum of this film goes from peace, love, fear, and hate just as the sporadic nature of climate, it’s constantly changing and that change is pretty jarring. So, in a way America is constantly changing, it has to, it’s the only way forward otherwise if we go backwards we’re doomed to repeat history.

EASY RIDER will remain an iconic classic for it’s assertion and disillusioned take on the American Dream, however, its power is simply reflecting a somewhat distorted reflection and perhaps philosophical representation into the different lifestyles we cultivate. I’ll always admire the insane montage of the acid-tripping graveyard scene as a spectator never as one to partake in such a crazy idea. Mind altering drugs scare the hell out of me. But given the footage was shot on a 16mm Bolex just makes my heart skip a beat and that’s total bliss to me.

Happy 4th of July! Don’t let ignorance shoot you down, stay safe, be kind, celebrate, and enjoy the glorious sunshine along with the spirit of comradery most barbeques bring together. And finally reflect on what liberty really means. Cheers!