Random film musings

Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, 1971)

Men are machines. We are engines screaming down the hot asphalt, expressionless. We smell of octane, and rust with age, and we’re fueled by all the spit and blood of every man before us that tried to mold us into something strong, fast, and unrelenting. We flex our muscles with every engine rev, and our steely eyed glares cut through the night. We are not of flesh, but of steel and grease, made for one moment to rise, then fall, and then laid to rest in a quiet, grassy yard.

Perhaps that isn’t the essence of Monte Hellman’s meditative road film, but in each sad eyed, far off stare of The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and The Driver (James Taylor) one can’t help but feel a sense of detachment. These two men, machines, are more in tune with the sound of the screaming engine, and the hiss of the road under the tires then they are with any human kind. Even the Girl (Laurie Bird) aching to belong to something, and blindly pawing for love, can’t warm the flesh that binds the machine.

Then there is the character of G.T.O (Warren Oates). He is a rusted machine, clinging to his final coughing breaths of exhaust as he limps down the road. With each tale he spins you get a sense of a man searching for his humanity, so much so that he makes a mockery of it. He wants his moment in the sun. He wants to hear the engine howl one last vicious song, and then slump into the waiting arms of something he will never understand.

Does The Driver see this fate in the end of the film? There is a brief moment when he sees several old neglected cars behind a barn. Does he look off at the cars and read their rusted epitaphs and wonder “is it too late?”

– James Merolla


Time Regained (Ruiz, 1999)

What are dreams but memories sent through the twists of our brains? We relive our events through the emotion that seeps through the images that flash before our sleeping eyes. Sometimes they are potent enough to leave a residual fog when we wake.

It is in this space, where dreams become entangled with memories, that director Raoul Ruiz chose to place his film, Time Regained. With it he forfeits any real notion of storytelling, and instead drifts from moment to moment as frantically, and nostalgically as the dying mind of our main character, Marcel Proust, can move. What Proust, and we the viewer, witness is the unfolding fragments of his unfinished novel. In his final grasps at life, the novel takes on a stream of consciousness autobiographical tone, but nothing is ever definitive, scenes dreamily fall into one another, and characters float in and out of each others lives like slowly moving clouds.

Because of the fragmented, stream of consciousness nature of the film, there are moments where Proust momentarily fixates on characters (people) from his past. This adds a richness to each character, and scene that is never abandoned in the drifting style. When Proust’s memory wanders, the characters, and all of their flaws and triumphs travel with him. And it is apparent early on that through these people Proust measured and observed his life.

The object for Ruiz is to capture the fleetingness of life, and memory, and how closely related memory is to dreams. There is an effortless surrealism that paints our memories as they fade. Soon, we begin to wonder if it is the moment in time we remember, or just the memory itself, as it bends, fades, disappears, and reappears in shockingly vivid color.

Ruiz makes sure that every scene has a dreamy headed feel by always keeping his camera moving. It meanders like the minds eye through the pages of Proust’s faded memory. And in no scene is this style more powerful than the concert scene. It is the emotional zenith of the film as we watch Proust, overwhelmed with the creeping phantom that it his mortality, and his past. It is both the most humanly grounded scene, and possibly the most surreal, as the crowd surrounding Proust seems to sway, and rotate around him.

It is extremely rare for a film to be such a deep well of human experience and emotion, and find itself so detached from notions of reality, but Raoul Ruiz straddles the line brilliantly. The emotion is the surrealism.

– James Merolla


Amarcord (Fellini, 1973)

Remember all your clumsy poets with fluttering hearts, your whimsy in red dresses, and the music of your click clacking heals. You mourned with the stone faced lovers, bored and unwanting, waiting under gray skies for the flood of passion, so long overdue. You can still smell the grass you picked from your hair after you tumbled with the maniacs. They were doomed to the long-held beliefs of their poison tongued fathers, and their fathers before them, their wrists held bare in their ill-fitted clothes. Remember the frustrated air escaping your lungs as you slumped into your grandmother’s favorite chair, feeling the years of habit climb you like ivy. You long for Sunday afternoons, and the lingering smells of your family in the purple light of dusk, the uneven sidewalks of your town, and the names that come to you now by accident accompanied by faces blurred by the clouds of age. Remember the laughter that splashed the walls and flooded the shoes of the careless dancers. It made your makeup streak, and it tore your dress, but it mattered little, because no one held a mirror to your beauty within the comfort of home.

Twin Peaks (David Lynch and Mark Frost, 1990-1991)

She rested her head on his shoulder as the car drifted down the lonely night path. She thought of the many different ways she dreamed of this moment, listening to the fuzzy tones on the radio. She never asked where they were going, and occasionally she’d look up at his stern face fixed to the road, and she’d smile at the display he put on for her.

“You know exactly what I like.” She’d whisper, and he’d let a smile crack his cheeks.

She named him Dean, and he gave up arguing. He saw that they together were the perfect ripples to distort their reflections. They were the beasts in bird’s clothing that fluttered wounded from their restless bedroom windows. And he swelled his chest with pride while she tightened her grip on his arm. He was Dean, the greasy rebel who made women bloom in the breeze of his walking by.

No one knew Dean, but she did. She, the girl wearing the wicked smile and saddle shoes, floating from one breath to the next, peeling the frustrated lust of men off her fingers like bubble gum. Oh, her careless heart spun with the speckles of a mirror ball while everyone danced with her in the spotlight of their minds. But, no one in that town moved her like Dean could, that quiet boy that never smiled.

She closed her eyes and saw her past in flames. It started at the wretched white picket fence, and reached across the yard to the crooked apple tree that cast haunted shadows on her walls, and mother and father, showing no emotion, even as they burned.

They were a cannon ball barreling down the road, glowing hot, waiting to explode. The dreams of sparks they saw, the charred earth they’d leave behind, a black epitaph of their love. One more dance was all they needed, one more dance to sway, and to lose a little more of themselves in this clouded reality.

She buried her face against his jacket and smelled the leather. She smiled again, that wicked smile. He finally looked at her.

“This is something beautiful.” She said. “It will live forever on this stretch of road, the ghosts of our love.”

The Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1975)

You’ve shaped your life through pinhole eyes, and hid the bitter wince of foul solitude, wasting in your languid pity, claiming you were the righteous. You beat your fist with such conviction that your hands are now callused abrasions, digits once used to count when a child, have turned to gnarly hooks of age and loss.

And what were you so certain of? I can’t recall. Your smile, still bearing a crack of youth, is all-knowing, but your sharp ideals eroded long ago. That wry look is just a mask of memories for the one you love. You are only a testament to her lost innocence and fading beauty, a faulty remnant of who she once was, and a romantic optimism rusted.

There you smile, before the dark abandonment of winter. It’s not the heightened being promised by the solemn stained glass faces. It is the weightlessness of release. It is the careless laugh at the pain as it scurries like a lamb, while you leave behind the bitter clench of convictions for another fool with thoughts of immortality.

Something written for someone else.


Love Exposure (Sono, 2008)

I fitted my fingers with rings that turn my skin green when I sweat, but will anyone notice? My eyes are still wide and curious, but my thoughts smell of rusted pennies freed of their value and shining in the gutter. I’ve cluttered my head with lily-white confusion  and scattered silk dropped like lazy snow flakes. This is romance that quietly storms inside of me, but a stallion I am not, I am not built of buffed steel and riveted nerves. My hair won’t stay in one place, and my smile is obnoxious. I am a field mouse skipping in the dust, doing my best impression of a rat. And what might you find if you found me out? Would you swallow me whole? (oh, to feel you) Would you forget yourself, and let my clumsy feet scuff your shoes in an awkward dance? ( oh, to touch you) Would you cradle me in your arms and dab your laughing tears with my lily-white silk? (oh, to hold you) Would you shrug in indifference, feeling nothing at all? (oh, to lose you)

You can find me whenever you like. I am the one wearing a particular sort of gloom, and a smile built from all of life’s perfect absurdities.

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