St. Elmo’s Fire
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Joel Schumacher and Carl Kurlander
Starring Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, etc.
110 minutes, Columbia Pictures, 1985.

***

Here’s a shit-show where everyone is loathsome, young, priveliged, and without any entertaining qualities. This is a significant movie for the way it is shoddily chopped together from lazy cinematography, rife with plot elements that are unpredictable because they are so completely out-of-place and unreasonable, supporting characters whom are introduced clumsily and then abandoned without any real reason except to advance a zany plot idea, and starring loathsome actors whose impressions feel like they left MDMA-sized holes in your brain. I think St. Elmo’s Fire refers to the rapidly spreading rash they all contract from sleeping with each other.

Today’s film equivalent, the canon of Sofia Coppola or the CV of Michael Cera, is considered brilliant (by the idiocracy) because such films frame this substance-less or meandering, melancholy-lite narrative within a well-produced project. As an early progenitor of this style, St. Elmo’s Fire seems to have no redeeming qualities, much like earlier flick, The Big Chill.

The Big Chill is worth mentioning because it was the first stupid, nostalgic, commercially-successful friendship movie I can think of that has no real resonance for anyone except people who are similarly vanilla flavored. The first “those were the days/we were young/fondness for youth” types of things. I agree, there is something ephemeral and seemingly magically touching about getting old. Kind of like how good techno or house music has an endearing melancholy to it (because it makes you think of casual sex!). But these movies really can’t capture that at all. They end up looking like a re-enactment of someone else’s lame Facebook photos.

There is a supreme irony to the nostalgia flavor in these movies, given how self-centered the characters are: to celebrate their nostalgia goes beyond distaste. St. Elmo’s Fire is a very similar movie to The Big Chill, simply made about 10 years later, and geared toward an accelerated, more saturated commercial market (I have no facts to back this up but it sounds good to me!). If you made the same movie today it would just be a Youtube video of your Facebook photo albums, with pop music that has been ravaged by the merciless audio-mastering standards of the modern audio industry.

Part of the reason common movies CULTURE suck(s) so much now is ‘coz it’s ALL nostalgia. It’s all hipster-consumerism (which looks like it could be an anagram for hippie-communism, right?! but naw…). People fondly remember shit they liked when they were younger, which amounted to things. People no longer yearn for their homeland in the same way as people in classic stories, because in ages past there wasn’t the same intense commercialism driving everyone’s memories. If you think about it, that is a business’ grand slam: to embed itself into your fond emotional memories. Hence we have a generation of boring businessmen and women stuffing the pop culture of the 60s/70s/80s/90s down our throats because they are nostalgic for it or can find emotionally needy customers who are.

By the way, this movie is supposed to take place in Georgetown (Washington, DC) but it is worth noting that there are no significant shots indicating this is in fact the city they are in. I would actually wager they filmed this in Boston or Philadelphia or some such place. And also, Rob Lowe is an intolerable little shit.

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Antichrist
Directed and written by Lars Von Trier
Starring Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg
2009, Zentropa, 104 minutes

***

Lars Von Trier puts on his Haneke-helmet, and winks at Ingmar Bergman’s Vargtimmen and Persona in the rear-view mirror, giving his own charming little nightmare production a critical spin on modern western psychology as religion (plus how people, mostly males, continually fuck up the earth in trying to understand it when there’s nothing to understand).

I have to admire that the movie was able to take something graphically sexual, and remove it from being sexually intoxicating or in any way erotic or enticing. Furthermore it did so via building up the sexual tension and increasing the power of sexuality on the main characters. The theater I went to was an indie, liberal theater in a city known for its liberal social scenes, and yet even this place came with a warning that tickets were not going to be refunded because viewers were offended by the pornographic imagery therein.

The sexual intimacy in the beginning is portrayed as a poetic, romantic act — a beautiful affair of the sensual world, the animal kingdom’s complimentary embrace to the tranquil snowy paradise taking place outside. But the couple’s sexual encounters become progressively more animated, vivid, tangible, strange and finally disgusting. However, the passion itself is expansive, as emotional heights and tension improve the dynamic of the sexual act, and make it more powerful, until it is likened to an occult force of exaggerated natural drives.

The path of love is fraught with negative emotions and the error of mainstream, puritanical religious thinking is to assume that sex is bad because it suggests sex — which is exciting and dangerous, when the error is actually that sex is questionable because people see it as something beautiful to begin with. Nature’s laws are raw and callous and sexual desire is the beast of burden.

Although Eve was created out of Adam’s limb in the western biblical creation story, is that an idealized male narrative, absolved of responsibility? The Antichrist figure — the intentional weaver of illusion who brings stark malicious truths, exposes that man specifically creates woman as a vessel for his desire. Woman is the Victorian “angel in the house”, a symbol for male romantic illusions of linear purpose, which are nothing but a self-made path through existence. But as a charming CGI fox sez* 2 Dafoe, da antichrist in question: Chaos reigns! Linear desire is somehow illogical! And true dat, fox, for what could be more bullshit than the belief that some kind of male-imposed illusory narrative can overwhelm the eye of the tempest? Existence is a black hole, brah!

And this is all a good time to be had in the theater! In the modern urban garden of eden where man and woman are being reborn into new social roles (being pulled together, inverted, combined) what is sacred and inspires awe? Lush, gorgeous aesthetics and depictions of idealized domestic retreat (think resort advertisements and New Agers — the whole movie is set in a deceivingly romantic getaway, which as is the traditional horror motif, quickly becomes dangerously isolated for all its rustic splendor), sexual intercourse and offspring, and Freudian-Jungian psychology. Freudian psychology is properly expressed to be dead, quite literally, in the film, and the rest plays out to the Jungian stereotypes, a la the visions of divine messengers and the breathing visualization/hypnosis exercises Dafoe keeps tossing out to his beloved (Jung is still pretty hip, or so I’ve heard from my crazy friends who have psychiatrists that double as meditation teachers). I should also add that the couple from the movie kept me thinking of how relevant the whole deal was to the yuppie/yoga types I see everywhere near the theater in my city, who are getting ready to raise a family with a partner.

Ah, raising a family! In some ways, isn’t it a malicious act — an abuse of power — to have a child? To have a little being to mold to your whim (to say nothing of the impending environmental calamity or social decay taking place in the world). And that’s the symbolism I saw in that opening scene before it was put in context to the rest of the film: the self-absorbed pleasures of parents who create offspring to fulfill a personal need that is bequeathed to their child, as it climbs through pain, grief and despair to fling open the doors to the world, which is revealed to be a beautiful but cold, callous place, where you’ll likely fall before you fly. Death comes from life.

But hey, we haven’t even talked about The Road yet. Oh boy oh boy ohboyohboyohboy….

***

In other news… Ann Hornaday reviewed this one and tried to set it straight for us in The Washington Post: “Von Trier fails to elevate torture porn”

“A horror film tricked out in the trappings of psycho-sexual dynamics and exegetical musings, this latest provocation from Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier qualifies as torture porn for art-house fans.”

Exegeminal what-now? *drool* Durr…. I like movies!

Hornaday’s review may be readable and way less insane in-depth, but her description sounds lazy or inaccurate to me. With regards to the above quote: that’s sort of what Haneke did with his Funny Games remake a couple years back, mocking the viewer in the classic Clockwork fashion and also deliberately emulating the actual sad state of modern Hollywood “horror” flicks; an industry that now relies on shitty horror/action remakes by music video directors, and torture porn scripted by video store clerks. Pop culture totalitarianism: you give the companies the power to enslave you.

While calling it “torture porn for art-house fans” might describe the tale’s aesthetic quality to the layman (it is gorgeous, has a lot of brilliantly crafted haunting scenes taken from the landscape and various abstract tricks — and there is hard-to-watch brutality at certain segments) but is actually an incorrect assessment. What Hornaday diagnoses as torture porn has always been a staple of art-house or cult fans, but as a separate genre entirely. Torture porn actually refers to lucrative mainstream perversions of cult and art-house cinema, like giallo or sexploitation films. Torture porn doesn’t actually have an artistic foundation; it is mired in more nihilistic sexual catharsis than sexual repulsion (and making ze moneys!). The fundamental aspect of Von Trier’s film is how it subverts that — it builds up the sexual elements and tension until sex becomes disgusting and is identified as the causal drive of the brutality in question. Putting Hanneke and Von Trier (and hell, even Argento) in the same camp as Roth and Tarantino is the same thing as mistaking love for lust, or integrity and substance for the medium they manifest through. They have similar aesthetic manifestations, but they ain’t the same.

@ IMDb

______

* I couldn’t help but laugh at that scene, not because of its over-emphasis, but because I simultaneously heard the Gecko muse that “greed is good” a la Wall Street. I can’t wait for Wall Street 2! Sike.

A pretty good write-up of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds at Taki’s Mag:

“Put another way, if one were to imagine the ultimate anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi propaganda film about how the Second World War was marked by distinguished German officers being terrorized by a band of Jewish maniacs, would it look much different than Inglourious Basterds?”
–Richard Spencer in Holocaust Revisionism

As a friend pointed out, by branding this whole genre of snuff-action-horror its own genre (“torture porn”), Tarantino, Eli Roth and co. are being intentionally subversive  and manipulative, guaranteeing their films a critical legitimacy that is undeserved (ironic hate speech is beyond criticism!). The popularity of their flicks signal a worrisome trend on the cultural and ethical Richter scale, while simultaneously delivering what is a necessary cathartic experience for the mainstream movie-going public (pop culture) at the present time.

Tarantino’s movies were once clever dialog and characters, spliced with catchy tunes and lesser-known pop and film references. Everything he’s done in this century, “following the box-office failure of Jackie Brown, his sole effort at non-ultra-violence,” have been 90+ minute elaborations of the cop/ear torture scene from Reservoir Dogs, or the “gimp” scene from Pulp Fiction. How Clockwork Orange lolz.