I had a whole post ready where we delved into the culmination of Kiarostami’s Koker trilogy and ideas of cinema-within-the-world, and the first reader recommendation. But then, with a swooping thunder the cluster munitions strike that is alcoholism landed too close to home. I will spare the details; while the house’s door is — though hinges may be damaged — always open, there are back rooms neither of us want you to enter.
Save to say that continuing with the previous path/post felt like fleeing the scene of an accident, to put smile on face at a fancy dinner, while the cyclist lying off the embankment may still be breathing, or may not. No, instead what was called for was a Ryan Gosling/O’Neil-style handbrake manoeuvre, 180° turn, a forceful shift into gear, and acceleration back to what needs to be dealt with.
Alcoholism. And so, buckle up as we do just that, via the abstraction of cinema!
The films I’m watching this week…
Leaving Las Vegas
(Mike Figgis, 1995)
Where else? There aren’t the words to convey the gasping hollow of loss that is Leaving Las Vegas — loss of hope, of love, of dignity. Director Mike Figgis said he felt the story was about two characters who were born outside their time. Seeing it makes every Nic Cage meme feel like a tone-deaf gaucherie. I’ve watched this film many times, and each time it hits a little harder. As a teenager I read the novel. The bio of author John O’Brien states simply that it is his first novel, it is semi-autobiographical, and that he took his own life before the film adaptation began.
I can honestly say that Leaving Las Vegas has stopped me from suicide. Not because it’s a cautionary tale, neither is it structured as a tragedy — our protagonist decides to drink himself to death, and performs that task — but seeing the nonjudgemental playing out of a man’s total self-destruction is, I think at times, the escape valve I’ve needed. It is a story for which a real person sacrificed themselves, and through that, the catharsis can keep some of us living.
The Spectacular Now
(James Ponsoldt, 2013)
What I love so much about The Spectacular Now is that it is emphatically not about celebrating living in the now — rather that the importance of this moment is that it’s tethered to the next, to its ancestors, and to untold descendants. The film introduced us to the luminosity that is Shailene Woodley, and to the next Harrison Ford chin scar that is Miles Teller, and while we get the cheesy bookending device of a college admission essay
V.O. the film is more about that you’re lucky in life if you get a do-over, blessed if you get another, that broken bones may heal, but really it just kinda comes down to the look on the face of that person when you see each other again. You too are racing out on the desert plains at night.
(Henry Koster, 1950)
A little while ago I heeded a recommendation for an episode of podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed in which the host, author/screenwriter John Green, reviews the traditional song “Auld Lang Syne” (which you should know at least from the NYE scene at the end of When Harry Met Sally). Although the word “review” is ostensible to say the least; it is instead his imperfect attempt to merely articulate the power and beauty of a centuries-old song that holds equal weight at new year’s eve and graduation celebrations as it does funerals and battlefields — a song that is about the passing of time itself, and our place within it. The host:
And I think about the many broad seas that have roared between me and the past — seas of neglect, seas of time, seas of death. I’ll never speak again to many of the people who loved me into this moment, just as you will never speak to many of the people who loved you into your now. And so we raise a glass to them — and hope that perhaps somewhere, they are raising a glass to us.
It is a beautiful piece of spoken-word.
But it’s not Sally’s fake orgasm or even Jimmy Stewart’s turn in It’s a Wonderful Life that we’re talking about this week, but the next episode selection I made from the Anthropocene archive: in which John Green reviews Harvey (and velociraptors).
Recounting a time in his life when depression had him particularly pinned between its rock-like weight and the kitchen floor, he, like many of us have, needed to raise hands in public surrender, and be escorted off to whatever shelter was available. It was at this time he received a note from his boss: “Now, more than ever, watch Harvey.”
Harvey is about a drunk, Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend is a 6′3½″ tall invisible rabbit, and is unrelated to Donnie Darko. When I mention the film to people, the sense of recognition — a twinkle in eye, a shift in voice like the slight tilt back of a chair — is not just for the film, but also — and this is either a recognition that they’re sure of, or sure they’ll never admit to — of the eponymous giant rabbit. Despite not being visible in a single frame of the film, they too saw Harvey.
So, just as I heard the film quoted in the Anthropocene, and just as I’m sure John Green had had it quoted to him beforehand, I’m going to do as our hero offers — and I beg that you notice in this scene, just this one moment, within a film that has been thus far shot uniformly in the traditional Hollywood convention, a flutter of celestial light graces the wall behind Jimmy Stewart as he imparts to us:
Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” — she always called me Elwood — “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me.
Without having seen the film it is of course impossible to convey the weight of that single earnest moment. Things like these can only be caught in reflections or periphery, so I’ll leave the response again to John Green:
In the winter of 2001 there was perhaps no human alive on Earth who needed to hear those words more than I did. I don’t believe in epiphanies, I’ve never had a blinding-light awakening that lasted more than a few days, but I will tell you this: I have never felt as hopeless since watching Harvey as I did just before I watched it.
Now, more than ever, see Harvey.
That which remains in mind…
The arresting 360° single-shot reveal of Wind (short, 1996).
That every found-footage horror/disaster film pales in comparison to the abject disjointed nightmare of Purple Sea (2020).
Is Stillwater (2021), more than any other film, the defining story of US foreign policy?
Did Christian Bale win an Oscar for his brilliant portray of Dick Cheney in Vice (2018), and how could we possibly find such information?
Is Low’s new album HEY WHAT the widescreen score to the pandemic?