12 April 2006

Love Isn't Stronger than Death: Films I Hate, Part 1

A friend of mine wanted me to make a list of films that everyone (specifically, he) should see before he dies... and that's a big ol' can of worms. I don't even think I have the authority to make such subjectively objective claims. So instead of making a list of films that tickle my fancy, I'm going to be compiling a list of films that do the very opposite: films that make the thought of slurping up a bowl of a Japanese woman's fresh vomit appealing (thank you, Audition, for that image). Better yet, just to truly express my distaste, films that would make me want to do that while Starr Jones gives me a rim-job. Here are two films to soldify that image in your head. More to come!

Ken Park - dir. Larry Clark, Edward Lachman - 2002 - USA/Netherlands/France

The progression of Larry Clark's films is disturbing. He entered the film world with Kids, an "important" film about New York teens spreading HIV all over the place. Despite all its controversy, Kids is hardly the shock-fest Entertainment Tonight wanted you to believe. It was a "wake-up" call with mostly simulated sex between real New York teens (though over half of the cast has gone on to make other films). We'll skip over his Drugstore Cowboy remake, Another Day in Paradise, as Melanie Griffith grosses me out, but then, he brought us the "shocking" true life tale of a bunch of Florida teenagers who brutally murdered their friend in Bully. Instead of being a made-for-Lifetime drama showing bored mothers the shit their kids are up to (preferably starring Cadance Cameron and Tracey Gold), he cast a bunch of Hollywood slutfaces (Bijou Phillips, Brad Renfro, Rachel Minor aka Macaulay Culkin's ex-wife), creating what felt more like his soft-porno exposé of the rich and fucked-up, intercutting the real-life drama with unnecessary and vulgar close-ups of Bijou Phillips crotch as she exits a car and "introspective" shots of Rachel Minor lying about her room and pissing, all in the full nude. This isn't even to mention the creepy homosexual subplot involving the bully (Nick Stahl), gay porno, and his best friend (Renfro). Bully didn't make the cut for the very reason that Clark followed up Bully with an even more deplorable, even more salacious, even more painful film... and, here we come to Ken Park.

What's the next logical step after simulated teenage sex and softcore "kinky" sex? Well, unsimulated teenage sex, of course. And better than that, his Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine had taken a brief break from shooting heroin to pen the screenplay. We've got teenage girls giving head to teenage boys, a teenage boy going down like a kitten to his bowl on his girlfriend's mother, another teenage boy masturbating to climax to the grunts of tennis players as he strangles himself with his grandmother's belt. Boy, these American teens are dirty! It's somewhat telling that Ken Park has reached just about every country in the world, except the United States. While in Paris, some friends of mine attended a screening of it (against my wishes) during an "American Teens Gone Wild" marathon, which also included the remarkably awful Thirteen, which followed in an argument with two Frenchmen who claimed Ken Park to be a minor masterpiece. I'm still not sure we saw the same film. Instead of Kids, Bully, or Ken Park being parables, Clark, with his cinema-vérité style, presents his tales as a hard reality. He, probably unintentionally, takes us away from that reality with Ken Park's shitty production qualities (my friends swear a boom-mic can be seen in at least two shots), but I couldn't leave the film without thinking that this was indeed how he wanted the world to see American teenagers. Granted, this view is no worse than something like She's All That, but, c'mon, this is what those Europeans want. The French obviously bought into this depiction of small-town American teenagers, ignoring the cold fact that Larry Clark is simply a provacateur: to some, a smut-peddler, but to me, a preverse fetishist. And I can deal with fetishes. I can sit through Bruce La Bruce's skin-head obsession, David Cronenberg's fascination with clinical gore, David Lynch and Luis Buñuel's female duality mania. And, maybe (though probably not), I'd be able to deal with Clark's fixation on teenage sexuality if he didn't try to pretend that he doesn't have this fixation. He blankets this unhealthy obsession with a scary pretense of frightening "wake-up calls" to Americans. Ken Park, however, feels so much less of a wake-up call as Larry Clark flinging his hands up and just showing us the horrors of American teens, one hand on the camera... the other on his dick.

Boxing Helena - dir. Jennifer Chambers Lynch - 1991 - USA

Oh, Madonna. It's truly scary to think of how many bad movies Madonna could have made. In addition to being considered for the lead in this heap of shit, Madonna had the oppertunity to add more turkey's to her Thanksgiving feast of a film resumé. She turned down the role that later went to Gina Gershon in Showgirls (though her in that film might have been truly astonishing), the Sharon Stone role in Casino (fuck you, Scorsese fans, this film sucks), the Michelle Pfeiffer role in The Fabulous Baker Boys, and even the Meryl Streep role in Music of the Heart. It'd be considered good career moves on Madonna's part, if she hadn't actually chosen to be in Body of Evidence, Shanghai Surprise, The Next Best Thing, and Girl 6; it's strange to think that her two best roles were in Desperately Seeking Susan and one of Abel Ferrara's lesser films, Dangerous Game. But, really, Madonna turning the lead down was only the first of a series of disastors that surrounded David Lynch's daughter Jennifer's film debut. Kim Basinger also backed out of the project, resulting in a high-profile law-suit in which the makers of Boxing Helena probably cleaned up the production costs. Eventually, Helena became Sherilyn Fenn, one of Lynch's daddy's sultry muses, a decision that probably killed her career.

Now any red-blooded male who ever watched Twin Peaks had fantasies of kidnapping Fenn (or, specifically, Audrey Horne) and locking her up at their place. They probably wouldn't have done what Julian Sands does here, which is tie her up and then cut off her limbs, but you get the picture... it's a male fantasy. One could write for hours about the silliness of Boxing Helena on just about every front, but there's worse problems here. Ms. Lynch, who is shockingly directing another film this year after a welcome thirteen year hiatus, must think we're pretty fucking stupid. On the Internet Movie Database, she's quoted as saying that Boxing Helena is "a metaphor and a comedy." Oh, really? What could a man's sexual fantasy about kidnapping a woman he can't have and then cutting off her limbs represent? Get your thinking caps on, kids. And, not only does Ms. Lynch use painfully obvious "metaphors" here, but she lets us know just how fantasy-oriented the film is by ending the film with Sands waking up from a dream! I get it now! When I was a teenager who dreamed of being Sherilyn Fenn's personal slave, I dismissed the ending of Boxing Helena as Lynch's insufficiency to really wrap up her film by including that awful television cop-out (omigod, J.R. wasn't really shot! Roseanne never really won the lottery!). Now, I see it as Lynch's inability to execute subtlty. I don't blame someone for not trusting their audience... did you see how much money Big Momma's House 2 made? But, in helping her viewer solve the "intricate" puzzle that is Boxing Helena, Lynch turns out to be even more stupid than her audience.


Eric Dienstfrey said...

I really have no interest in seeing Ken Park since I didn't find the girls that attractive. Helena was a bit of a dissapointment.

I also have a friend who made a list of the films she wants to see before she died. It's an absurd list, considering she only watches about ten minutes of a movie at a time, then forgets she even borrowed it from me. Your friend isn't Liz is it?

reassurance said...

I love that unattractive girls is the reason why you won't see Ken Park. I thought everyone secretly finds Amanda Plummer sexy. No, the list was for my friend Chris.