Archive for February, 2010

You Have Been Selected

Congratulations (place Government Work Program ID number here)! You have been selected in an extremely important and highly rewarding mission that will lift the spirits of this country while at the same time forwarding our government’s encroachment into outer space. If you are reading/inhaling this Informational Pamphlet /Nasal Insertion Pill (IPNIP) you are already on your way to Mars, strapped in your Gravitational Fun Chair and no doubt preparing for the task which awaits you. As you read/inhale this pamphlet, please, feel free to consume one (1) delicious Mutton Shake, compliments of the folks at Goodtime™ Mutton Shakes.

As you are well aware, the Earth and the Moon are no longer able to sustain the rate of growth in both population and industry that we have promoted over the last century. Since becoming the focus of a furious media blitzkrieg back in 2004, the Red Planet of Mars has been viewed as the next great suburban frontier, and, subsequently, the government has diverted billions of dollars from many useless public service programs to fund FLUMP’s (formerly NASA) excursion into the cosmos. To this end the American government, along with other coalition forces including the Mega Country™ Russia-Europe, recently incorporated America Part 2 (formerly Canada) and Cuba, have sent terraforming teams to Mars in order to establish an initial operational foothold. It is now the proud task of selected civilian/military government contractors and thousands of manual labor workers to build a massive infrastructure which will include a multitude of Terrestrial Housing Developments, Emotion Dumping Receptacles and McDonalds. You may be wondering, “What about robots? Why can’t they do this job? What’s wrong with them?” Firstly, that’s too many questions and secondly the notion that robots would be able to fulfill these posts by this time is the stuff of science fiction and popular fancy. Robots are designed for civil service employment, low-level management positions, and as dealers in casinos, not manual labor. Put that idea out of your mind. By the way, we can read your thoughts, so we’ll know if you really put that idea out of your mind.

Who then will be building this mammoth infrastructure on Mars if not robots?

That is where you, (place Government Work Program ID number here) come in. Thankfully the repeal of child labor laws in 2012, AKA Ross Perot’s Second Coming, means that no child will be left behind in his/her usefulness to our program. You can now join our government in charting the next great chapter in this nation’s history: American Colonial Usurpation, Phase 3 AKA I Can’t Believe It’s Not Earth. You will work along side prisoners, unskilled immigrants, animal/food hybrids, reality show contestants and other such individuals without regular employment/self-worth, in creating hospitable living conditions on Mars. Be advised, (place Government Work Program ID number here) this will be a difficult undertaking. You must overcome your size, your need for constant attention and nurturing and any residual attachment to your parents that you might have. You must understand your weaknesses and systematically neutralize them. Just think: human children can fit into spaces fully grown adult humans cannot; deep ground holes, sewer lines, duct work, air vents; use this to your advantage! Do not be discouraged by the fact that you have tiny limbs, or that your immune system has not completely developed, or that the recently discovered Martian Flesh-Eating Virus, which wiped out the first wave of development teams, has mutated into at least five other strains that we know about. Be emboldened by the knowledge that your diligence and hard work will pave the way for your fellow citizens to enjoy a more spacious, Mass Produced Entertainment-filled life on Mars.

Upon your arrival at the Martian Labor Corps base of operations, you will receive the following:

1.) Two (2) Meta-Terrain Oxygen Masks, with internal time release Strawberry Bubblegum Air Freshening Devices®, for work and leisure.

2.) Your choice of one (1) of the following Animated Nasal Insertion Videos:

a.) “Barney and the Martian Flesh-Eating Virus”, b.) “Popeye vs. the Old-Timey Martian Flesh-Eating Virus”, c.) “You’re Not My Martian Flesh-Eating Virus”, d.) “The Effects of the Martian Flesh-Eating Virus on the Human Anatomy and You”.

3.) One (1) Location Identifying Micro Pin, AKA/FYI “Monkey On Your Back”, that will be embedded at the top of your brain stem.

4.) One (1) Digital Music Nasal Insertion Disk of John Philip Souza’s greatest hits.

Any questions you might have after the disintegration of this Informational Pamphlet/ Nasal Insertion Pill, please direct to your nearest Ground-Level Field Supervisor. If you cannot locate one, one will find you. And don’t pick your nose. It’s disgusting. Remember, we can read your thoughts. We heard that. No, you’re a jerkhead-fart-brain.

In closing, if you are ever unsure of your own value in this vital operation, simply recall the words of expert marksman/child actor, Gary Coleman Clone 3, officially endorsed spokesperson for the Martian Labor Corps, “Whatcha talkin’ ’bout (place Government Work Program ID number here)?”

Good luck, and on behalf of President Arnold Schwarzenegger Clone 2, thank you.

Stewart Redgrave, Government Work Program ID Number: 98911132-2137888-12 Operations Manager, Martian Labor Corps

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Paris, Texas (1984)

Director: Wim Wenders

It was Harry Dean Stanton’s face. That’s what struck you immediately. It was rugged and blank as the landscape that surrounded it. He was a nowhere man who comes out of nowhere, the American desert, desolate and isolated, wearing a worn baseball cap and a pin stripped suit that is dusty and ravaged by the sun. Who is he? Where did he come from?

This is the iconic image that opens Wim Wender’s devastatingly gorgeous film, Paris, Texas. The mystery slowly unravels from these opening frames centers around that nowhere man. It is a movie about a deep sadness that reveals its tragedy a bit at a time; just as Travis, the main character played by Harry Dean Stanton, learns of his past life, so do we. We begin at nothing, like Travis, and in this way the film feels more intimate; we sense an emotional wreckage somewhere behind him, but we are not yet privy to it. Wenders is careful not to trump up the ensuing scenes with needless drama.  Nothing feels manufactured. Paris, Texas is a quiet, slow-moving film that focuses on the characters, the landscape, a certain corner of America.

Paris, Texas opens just south of the Mexican border, then moves to Los Angeles, then back to Texas, to Huston specifically. The result is a trajectory that details places that have emerged from deserts, some like the border-land that the film opens in, to the built-up, urbanized deserts of Los Angeles and Huston. Wim Wenders has made “road movies” before; Alice in the Cities (1974), The Wrong Move (1976) Kings of the Road (1976) (known collectively as “The Road Movie Trilogy”),  but Paris, Texas is really only a partial road movie, the journey of the main characters is not really the driving force, so to speak, behind the story (there is some similarity here to Alice in the Cities, a film in which a man helps a little girl find her grandmother as they travel Germany together). Wenders is more concerned with the aftermath of a tragedy; the journey is important in that it provides momentum, it provides movement. Indeed, most of the action does take place going from on city to another, on the highway. But these places are merely signposts, reminders of Travis’ downfall and rebirth. Even the Paris, Texas of the title is not actually referring to the city; Paris is actually a vacant lot, only seen in a photograph, its existence almost ghost-like.

The screenplay, by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard (Buried Child, True West), focuses on themes he has been illuminating his entire writing career: alienation, anger, the ties of family; his are characters that are marginalized by society or circumstance. 

At the start of the film Travis wanders out of the desert and collapses at a gas station. His brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell) is summoned to a hospital where he finds Travis a shell of his former self, essentially a mute. After some difficulty, Walt eventually takes Travis back to LA where Walt lives with his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) and Travis’ son, Hunter (Kit Carson). Hunter and Travis are essentially strangers to one another. We learn about them and their past as they do; Travis and his wife Jane (Natassja Kinski) were once happily married, but their marriage was destroyed by Travis’ drinking. Travis essentially disappears from their lives, and when Jane can no longer take care of Hunter, she leaves him with Walt and Anne. Wenders reveals quiet moments between Hunter and Travis; sitting at the dinner table with his brother and his wife; watching an old Super-8 home movie of better times when Travis and Jane Hunter were happy and a family. It is in in these small, tender vignettes that we see the memories of his former life begin to flood back to Travis.

Eventually Travis makes the decision to reunite Hunter with his mother, and they begin the journey to Huston, wherein the “road movie” aspect of the film emerges. During the trip, Travis and Hunter learn more about one another as they pass through wide-open desert landscapes. There are many long takes of conversations, simple master shots and two shots that showcase Wenders love of composition, of the frame. Like American director Jim Jarmusch, and their idol, Japanese filmmaker, Yasujirō Ozu, theirs is a cinema of quiet observation, of the “common man” and how they interact with the environment around them.

Soon, the pair arrives in Huston to find Jane employed as a sex worker. Jane is not a prostitute per se; she only talks to men through a phone in an adjoining booth which is separated by a large piece of glass. So begins the final act of the film; these last scenes are some of the most engrossing of them film, and also somewhat of a turning point in the structure of Paris, Texas. Upon first viewing, there seemed to be a decided distinction between where Wenders ends and Shepard begins. By that I mean that for most of movie, like many Wenders films, the dialogue is minimal or non-existent, any exposition is done through a purely visual/musical aesthetic. But in the last 45 minutes, half-hour of the film, especially in the scene with Travis and Jane talking to one another through the phone in Jane’s booth, it becomes more like a Shepard play; staccato-like dialogue, simple staging between few characters. The change seems jarring, but upon repeated viewings it makes sense. It feels like the entire movie is leading up to this conversation; Travis has remained quiet, sometimes completely mute, and then, finally, they both to get to tell their own stories. In Travis’ monologue he reveals his side of the story in third-person, seemingly detached from the events that transpired previously, but it all makes sense, given the painful memories, when we finally discover how Travis ended up alone, wandering the desert. It is heartbreaking and intimate, as he clutches the phone, bathed in the green light of the booth, he reveals to his estranged wife the depths of his sorrow, of his regret. Jane’s monologue is just as revealing, and finally the film comes into full view, the circumstance of the dissolution of their relationship fully realized in their own words.

These scenes are as minimal and bare as the rest of the movie; in the end Travis and Jane find their voice, a voice which had previously been swallowed up by the vastness of their surroundings, the vastness of their grief. Of course, much of this is owed to the performances of Harry Dean Stanton and Natassja Kinski, indeed the entire cast. Harry Dean Stanton is the type of character actor that is hard to forget. Even when his roles are small, like the down-on-luck-father in Pretty in Pink, or the hapless boyfriend in Wild at Heart, the mark he makes is undeniable. In Paris, Texas he commands the film; he gives a pure performance. Shepard’s broken character of Travis is made even more real because Stanton already looks like an everyman, there is nothing to say that he is a movie star, and consequently we, as an audience, fall into this movie due in a large part to Harry Dean Stanton’s stalwart performance.

Longtime collaborator, cinematographer Robby Müller (the cinematographer on many of Jarmusch’s most notable films) pulls Wenders’ vision into clear, stark view; there are long takes of vast, open landscapes, and more intimate moments, which again rely more on careful compositions and master shots.

Ry Cooder’s score is just as iconic as the images that Wenders and Müller forge; the strains of a slide guitar emerging from the background in the opening shots of the film are as stark and minimal as the rest of the film and provides the perfect backdrop to a movie about the American southwest; it is as mythical as the landscape.

And it is that mythos of the American southwest, of the American west in gerneal, that Paris, Texas evokes so well.  It is an America not only of myth, of the cinema—shot through Wenders outsider perspective—but also an America of bracing reality, the reality that is ingrained in most of Sam Shepard’s written work. And because of this, it is a credit to both Wenders and Shepard that they have made a film that is so unified, that evokes so many similar feelings, so many shared experiences, and yet is so intimate and specific. There are no gimmicks here, no high-end visual effects; it is the kind of story—like the gas stations and motels in the film—that seems to be slowly vanishing, falling indelibly into the past.

Last month Criterion released Paris, Texas with a newly restored, high-definition digital transfer which was supervised and approved by director Wim Wenders, along with audio commentary and a 1990 documentry on Wenders and his films.

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Isabella Rossellini and David Lynch


 Diane Keaton and Woody Allen (Tony Roberts in background)


Samuel Fuller and Constance Towers 


Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst



Catherine Deneuve and Luis Buñuel


Anita Ekberg and Federico Fellini


JeanLuc Godard and Anna Karina


 Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly



Madonna and Susan Seidelman


Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar


Edwige Fenech and Eli Roth


Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe


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The Bunker

I killed him, finally.

The nerve to do so had emerged inside me and I promptly took advantage of it: I raised the pistol and squeezed the trigger just like he taught me. Samson smiled mightily, let out a sputtering moan and fell to the ground of the bunker. I was surprised there wasn’t more blood. In the movies there is always blood, abundant amounts of it spilled everywhere, a menace of red. I killed him and he lay there with that particular face, the one he always brandished, the “what the hell are you looking at?” face.

I knelt beside Samson and did thing that priests do with eyes. But his eyes wouldn’t stay closed. I raised the pistol again and blew his face off. This time there was blood. This time it was just like in the movies only more so.

The portable TV was looping footage of the conflict again, the outside world on the verge, chaos teasing its way into the periphery. Then a quick cut to a newscaster—oily-faced and running-mouthed—analyzed the footage, which now looped in the background. He was joined by three other commentators in various locales, all appearing in boxes of different sizes on the screen. The reception was becoming poor, words dropping out, faces falling into static.

In here it was just me and Samson, and what was left of him. The bunker was stocked with an abundance of provisions: cans of food, TV dinners, dirty magazines, gallons of water, and boxes of ammo. This was how Hitler spent his final days, he and Eva Braun, holed up inside some underground fortress awaiting the end; perhaps watching home movies, playing cards, eating tea cakes. I tried to imagine Hitler eating tea cakes and watching home movies. I tried to imagine what kind of home movies I would have if any actually existed. Summers at the lake. Holidays. Birthdays. Those things belonged to other people. They even belonged to people like Hitler. But not me. And not Samson.

We had a pact, Samson and I.

He was to go first and then it would be my turn.

I began to perform the various Breathing Procedures that I had learned from the manual. There were many, several pages long, all of which had to be done in order for maximize effect—pages 23-30 of the Manual to be specific. We didn’t have a copy of the manual in the bunker, so I had to pull from memory. I inhaled and exhaled: various, subtle ways breathing, conducted over and over again. I sat near Samson’s corpse, cradling the pistol in my hands as if it were a small animal, working my jaw wordlessly as the air came and went. I was modeling myself after fig.3a on page 24.

My turn.

My turn to use the pistol on myself.

That was the deal which had been struck. The world falling apart outside, we decided to carry out The Plan, the one Samson had proposed to me in Salty’s Bar three months ago, after the AA meeting which was down the street from the bar. Samson was a blunt force of a man, forged of character that went out of fashion in 60s. He used to have momentum; it propelled his sturdy body through the world. Once, he had been a teacher of Russian literature; Dostoevsky was his favorite. That was before the allegations of sex with a student, the assault on a fellow professor, before the all-night drinking binges consumed him in vast quantities.

Now he bent forward in constant pain; now he shuffled along; now he forgot things. He no longer quoted Dostoevsky. He could barely remember what he had for dinner the previous night. Momentum had escaped him, it had canceled him out. How long had I known him, really? Even I had forgotten.


There was The Plan.

He had whispered it to me through whiskey-stained breath while we were bent over the bar at Salty’s.

My response: Was there a manual?

Did The Plan have a manual?

Everything these days came with a manual. Samson simply smiled and punched me in the mouth.

Too many questions, Samson said.

My instinct was to punch him back, harder, to break his neck perhaps. But what was the point? Samson was beyond reason, he moved through the world masking his true motives, allowing only what was necessary to be revealed. The plan was certainly one of those motives. Who was I to question him? Samson patted me on the back, like a child that had done his best but had come up short. He bought me another beer. I massaged my jaw and drained my third beer from the glass. Later that night, at his trailer, he showed me the pistol that he kept under his pillow.

I’ll show you how to use it. It’ll come naturally, you’ll see. It’s easy, he said.

Easy?, I said, as if any of this would be easy.

In my mind I was on page 26 of the Breathing Techniques section, and I was feeling calmer, even though I was attempting to acquiesce the best way of killing myself: I put the gun to my temple, aimed it straight at my forehead, I shoved it in my mouth. I was shaking a bit and my palms were slick so I removed all of the bullets from the chamber and tried various gun positions again. There was no sense in accidently shooting myself. It really should be done on purpose.

The fluorescent lights in the bunker flickered erratically.

Hours passed.

I was mentally on page 29 of the manual.

I reloaded the pistol but was still having trouble fulfilling my end of the deal. Did Samson not realize, when it came down to it, brass tax and all of that, I was really a coward? I hauled myself up from the floor and paced around as I finished the Breathing Procedures section of the manual. Someone on the TV was screaming, although it was hard to discern who as the reception had dissolved into a constant charge of static.

I lingered for awhile in the sallow light of the bunker trying to ascertain why Samson had chosen me for the pact when he could have chosen anyone else. I had forged a pathetic life for myself and yet he wanted me for his partner in death.


The TV went dead.

Then the lights in the bunker cut out.

I heard screaming, but this time it was from outside, a din shriller, more immediate than anything the TV could produce. In the blackness I wasn’t sure that Samson’s corpse was scuttling its way across the floor towards me. Ready to burrow into my neck. To relieve my entrails of their housing.

My breathing was shallow. My throat constricted.

I had strayed from the manual. I stuffed the pistol in my trouser’s belt and in the darkness felt my way along the wall to the ladder, knocking over cans and pots and pans. I closed my eyes, even though there was nothing to see. I climbed up the metal ladder to the hatch of the bunker. Everything was Technicolor in my head: deep and lurid colors that held aggression and violence and death. I had killed Samson and that was enough for now.

I unlocked and lifted the hatch, wondering what was next. I looked up into the sky expecting an answer of sorts.

There was nothing but smeared, deadened blue.

I leaned out and listened for an ending.

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Italian version of the The Last Stand of the Unstoppable Daisy Black (1969) poster.

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