film

LIKE A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON BY DANIEL CLOWES

I started to draw my response to this. I completed only four panels. A man walks up to me. I’m sitting reading. He asks me what I’m reading. I tell him: it’s Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron by Daniel Clowes. He then asks me what it’s about. The fourth and final panel shows my sad, frustrated face. I dream in words, rather than images. It has only recently occurred to me that this is strange. Clay Loudermilk enters what appears to be a pornographic cinema. He watches a film called Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. I see nothing, darkness, blackness, void, but I hear words. Or I sense them. The content of the film is a kind of fetishised violence. In the fifth panel, the man waits, a look of concern or perhaps impatience on his face. I am not adept at drawing facial expressions. Clay Loudermilk becomes intent on finding out more about the film. He borrows a car, sets off on a road trip. My waking life is more like a dream than anything I experience while asleep. I try to explain to the man that Clay Loudermilk goes off in search of information about the film. Like a Velvet Glove, I tell him, gives the impression of being a kind of quest. I speak to myself more often than I speak to other people. The man wants to know what I mean by ‘gives the impression.’ I tell him: the film really isn’t that important.

[a quote from the text]

The man, I have forgotten to mention, has an overly large head. It is as though his head isn’t really his head, but a false head, a joke head that he has placed over his own, ordinary-sized, head. This is most likely due to my artistic limitations. There are hints at a wider, overriding significance to the individual events. The tease of being able to pull it all together and arrive at an explanation, a satisfactory resolution. Mr. Jones, for example. As the story progresses there is the sense that you are getting closer to the truth. Mr. Jones is, I should explain, the face that is carved on Clay’s foot by the policeman. The image, henceforth, crops up multiple times. Like a Velvet Glove gives the impression of being something like a detective novel. There are clues, which may not be clues, if you understand what I mean by that. In panel number twelve the man is crying. I do not know what I have done to upset him. Perhaps it wasn’t me, however; perhaps the man is having some trouble at home; perhaps this is why he, without any encouragement, has approached a stranger and engaged him in conversation. The man is angry because he feels as though I am making fun of him with my explanation.

[an image which gives some indication as to the content and tone of the book]

It is with earnestness that I describe the plot of Like a Velvet Glove. I slowly count and recount the panels. The plot isn’t really a plot, although it gives the impression of being one. If I cared less I would say that Like a Velvet Glove is weird or surreal or something of that sort. My dreams are not my waking life. My waking life is a nightmare. He cries, terribly; his face is contorted. It is with great conviction that I state that I am not sure at all about what I am saying. I draw in the tears, which, as I am using a black biro pen, look like large ants, or bullets. There are so many striking images, I tell him. Paul, Clay’s friend, with crustaceans in his eyes, for example. These things are accepted in Clowes’ world without so much as a raised eyebrow. They are part of the ordinary fabric of this world, I tell him. The dog with no orifices. These things are, I tell him, strange only to the likes of you – I cough – and me. Even Tina, the odd fish-like young woman who lays eggs when sexually aroused, is accepted. It is possible that I am mistaken and the man is neither crying nor angry, but is, in fact, laughing. My eyesight, I have until now forgotten to disclose, is very poor.

[sometimes there is a second image here]

It may be, in fact, a woman whom Clay is seeking, an actress. Daniel Clowes did once state that Like a Velvet Glove was inspired by his dreams. Yet, while there are peculiar, and unsettling, and unexpected events, the action does move forward in a linear fashion. Accusations of meaninglessness are, I tell the man, wide of the mark. Clay has a purpose. Billings has one too. What is absent is a relatable cause. In panel thirteen or fourteen I assure the man that our lives are random and unpredictable, in both large and small scale ways. One might argue that Clay’s quest is itself a search for meaning. In one of the panels, perhaps the last panel, the truly last, I am glumly smoking a cigarette. I hold up one finger, the first finger on my left hand, and then plunge it into the hole made by my right hand. The actress may be Clay’s mother or his wife. The man laughs, or cries, or whatever. His big head shakes like a dandelion in the wind.

Clowes’ art, I say to myself, is noirish. B-movie noir. I’m embarrassed by my inability to capture, on paper, a true likeness of a dick and a vagina. My head pounds. The vagina, I must admit, is causing me greater problems than the dick. Tropical slush. Shush. The man wakes. It is possible that I nudged him. Hey, I might have said, don’t sleep. This is panel something or other. A black bordered panel; a black square with nothing inside. The people in Clowes’ world are grotesque-looking. Not only Tina the fish. Everyone, really, except Clay. Hey, I say. Something something America. Cults and conspiracy theories. Charles Manson and murder. Something something America. I don’t know. I have never been. I don’t own a TV either. Hey, mister, have you ever been to America? The man solemnly walks away. I sketch his receding figure. Hey, mister! His big head trembles, like a golfball rattling the rim of the hole.

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FILM: KILLER JOE

I think I have mentioned before that I once made an ex-girlfriend of mine turn off The Killer Inside Me. It may seem overly squeamish to some, or overly touchy, and I do appear to be in a minority with this, but I have absolutely no desire to watch a woman being beaten to death. I grew up around that stuff; I don’t want to see it re-enacted for my entertainment. I get nothing out of it; I worry about the people who do. Genuinely, I do. I once had a discussion with a friend of mine about why he watches so many torture porn movies [by which I mean things like Hostel, The Human Centipede etc]. I said to him that what he is seeing must involve some level of enjoyment or pleasure, and he denied that. Yet, it is obvious to me. If someone voluntarily holds their hand over a hot stove one would have to assume that they are enjoying the experience [or that they are mad], because if they were not enjoying it they would remove their hand. Likewise, there must be some accompanying pleasure for my friend when watching brutal, violent films, otherwise he would turn them off.

Anyway, bearing in mind that there is no pleasure involved for me in all that [and I am not, as far as I am aware, mad], it was perhaps a silly idea to put on William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. I was aware, after having glanced at a few reviews, that the film is meant to be violent and grim, that it involved a redneck [I hate that term, but, with the characterisation being especially unsubtle, it is appropriate] family who arrange for a hitman to take out their mother, and being unable to pay him use the young daughter/sister as collateral; and I was also aware that there was one scene in particular that ‘shocked’ critics and audiences, so I ought to have known better. The thing is, I love the Southern American accent; I could listen to it for hours. I am, then, drawn to anything that is set, like Killer Joe is, in Texas. I also, at least partly for the accent, have some kind of weird borderline homoerotic crush on Matthew McConaughey, the star of the film. So, basically, I could not resist.

And I didn’t entirely regret my decision. McConaughey is, as he always seems to be when I catch him in something, brilliant; again, maybe it is just the accent, but I find him, and found him here, enthrallingly charismatic. He brings a kind of evil, yet irresistible charm to Joe that means that the film, despite its many, serious flaws, is [almost] always watchable. It is occasionally funny too; laugh out loud funny, in fact. There is one scene, which was my favourite, where Joe is conversing for the first time with Dotty, the young girl who he claims as payment for his services. Dotty asks him about his job as a detective and, I think, the worst thing he has seen. Joe then tells her a story about a man who, to get back at his partner, set his genitals on fire. Was he ok? Dotty asks; and Joe replies, in a wonderfully deadpan manner, No Dotty, he set his genitals on fire. I chuckled for a good thirty seconds over that.

As well as good casting, and some noteworthy performances [Gina Gershon does the best with what she was given and Juno Temple is, miraculously, kooky without being overly irritating], the direction is smart too. I’m a big, uh, fan of The Exorcist and one of the reasons for that is Friedkin’s inventiveness as a director, and he brings that same quality to parts of Killer Joe.   I thought some of scenes were particularly eye-catching, especially the moment that Chris comes face to, er, bush with his naked-from-the-waist-down stepmother. Then, as Chris enters the house, she turns around and there are bruises on her arse. I thought that whole scene, without having to vocalise it, communicated more about the nature of the family than anything related in the plot.

Unfortunately, one of the principle problems with Killer Joe is that the rest of the film lacks that kind of subtlety, particularly in regards to the central family. I am not American, I am not from Texas, and yet I find the insistence on portraying Texans et al as no-good rednecks tiresome, predictable, and borderline offensive. Killer Joe doesn’t miss a trick; there’s pretty much the full set: the dumb, permanently beer-swilling father, the hoodlum brother, the simple-minded sister and the slutty mother-in-law who wears too much make-up. Indeed, I watched the film all the time expecting, waiting for, one of either the father or brother to show an inappropriate interest in Dotty. That doesn’t happen, but incest is about the only hick stereotype the writer[s] failed to conjure up. Maybe it is just me, but I find it hard to appreciate a film whose plot I could have devised and script I could have written myself in about twenty minutes while simultaneously picking my toenails.

The lazy characterisation of the family isn’t the only issue either; as the film progresses the flaws begin to mount up. For example, the brother readily agrees to Dotty being used as a retainer by Joe when the idea is broached. Yet, later in the film we are meant to buy that he loves his sister so much that he can’t bear to allow the situation to continue. So, like, what? Are a couple of fucks ok, but long term it’s a big no-no? What kind of ethics are those? It just made no sense. The twist, the double-cross, is thoroughly meh too. It’s as though the mental energies of all involved in the script went into the retainer idea [and it’s a good idea, at least] and everything else was tossed off with a shrug and a yawn.

And so I come to the biggest concern. No review of this film could fail to mention the fried chicken scene. It is so odd and so disturbing that I decided to actually post the scene itself, so that if you haven’t seen it you can make up your own mind. Here it is:

Now, this scene is, as far as I am concerned, pornography and that has no place in conventional cinemas. Of course, it’s a drumstick and not a cock, but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be pornography. A quick google search threw up this definition:

printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.

I would certainly argue that a woman simulating oral sex while sucking on a drumstick is sexual activity, and that the intention was to get people off. I absolutely believe that. There is no other worthwhile explanation. Oh look, I am sure some would claim that it is meant to be funny or whatever, but I don’t buy that. A woman being abused is not funny. Ever. Fuck that shit. Hang your head if that is your take on it. I also do not accept that it is meant to say something about Joe’s character, as though the audience has somehow managed to arrive at the conclusion of the film not knowing that he is a weird, violent, sadistic bastard. No, the only reason that the scene is in the film is to arouse you. Killer Joe, rightly or wrongly, thinks you’re the kind of person who might get off on this stuff.

But even if that was not the case, even if you could convince me that the scene has some other purpose, that would not make it ok. Not for me, not by a long shot. It would still be an excruciatingly long and drawn-out portrayal of sexual humiliation. I’m of the opinion that something like that is never justified, not in any film and not for any reason.

FILM: ALIENS

Whenever anyone has asked me about the idea of going back to an ex I’ve said that it’s a waste of time; I’ve always taken Morrissey’s stance and deemed it pointless to go back to the old house. Some people, girls in particular, seem incapable of moving on, never wanting to turn the page. Yet, as far as I’m concerned, going back can only ever lead to disappointment; whatever you existed at the time of the relationship is not the same you looking to return. I guess, in a way, I understand why people do it. Most people like familiarity, they find comfort in what they know [or what they think they know]. I’m not like that. I like new things, new experiences. This attitude, at least partly, explains why I feel a resistance to re-reading books or re-watching films.

A couple of days ago, however, I was with someone and we wanted to watch a movie and couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile. Then I remembered that that she had told me that she had never seen the Alien series of films. So, I suggested the second, Aliens, which, yes, I had seen before a few years ago, but, with it getting late, I was at least sure we would both enjoy it. And, y’know, I wasn’t wrong, but we enjoyed it for unexpected reasons, mainly that it is so hokey as to be fucking hilarious.

I am assuming that most people know the plot. I thought I knew the plot too, actually. Yet, I didn’t. The running time is something like 2h 10mins, and the action, by which I mean all the alien shit, the stuff that I really remembered, doesn’t kick off until well over an hour into the film. I imagine that would be frustrating for some viewers, but I found that I dug the slow build-up most of all. It’s an old trick [best utilised by Friedkin in The Exorcist] to suggest that something, some horrible presence, is out there, only to keep you waiting, for what seems like forever, for it to make its way onto the screen. Your frustration in these circumstances, or mine at least, transforms into a kind of creeping unease. I like that.

My issues with the film kicked-in around the time the marines are enlisted in order to find out what has happened to the people who had been colonising the planet LV-426 [hint: they got aliened, yo]. Anyway, these marines are like something out of Tropic Thunder. There’s a cigar-chewing black major who keeps calling his troops sweethearts, in what I think was meant to be an attempt at Full Metal Jacket style humiliation, but, instead, came across as terribly camp. There’s also a woman who could only have come out of an 80’s movie. I don’t know if you have ever seen that guy, El Vez, y’know, the Mexican Elvis, well, this girl is clearly the Latin American Rambo [Ramón?].

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Add to those two a most remarkable turn by Bill Paxton, who somehow manages to be less lifelike and believable as Private Hudson than he was as Chet in Weird Science.

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Honestly, this film is monstrously stupid. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the mother Alien, the Queen Bee. There’s a brilliant scene [and by brilliant I mean funny as fuck] where Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver [who, also, I might add, surprisingly cannot act for shit] appears to kind of silently bargain with the mother Alien. Let me explain: Ripley and a little girl have stumbled upon the queen bee plopping out eggs and there’s a kind of mexican stand-off. Then, Ripley notices that one of the, uh, worker Aliens is starting to creep closer and, through the use of non-verbal signals, Ripley essentially communicates to the mother Alien that she needs to tell her minion to back the fuck off. Which she does!! Marvellous, marvellous nonsense.

I don’t want to give the impression in this review that I think Aliens is bad, because I don’t. I’m sure at the time it was very impressive, certainly the special effects still look fine. And it is, despite its stupidity, a very entertaining film, and not just unintentionally [i.e. hilariously]; the pace is very good and I was always engaged. My problem is that I recalled it being a film of high quality, a kind of serious horror film in space, and that it most certainly ain’t.