Archive for John Dillinger

Tijuana Bible Bashers

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2009 by dcairns

paris_01Tijuana Bibles, for those not in the know, were little tiny small-press comic book pamphlets of a pornographic nature, popular particularly in the ’30s. They generally featured caricatures of figures from popular culture, movie stars and so on, making them the depression-era version of today’s slash fiction.

History is silent on this, but I’m pretty sure they were produced by the state, like the prole pornography in 1984, only with the purpose of turning the nation off sex, thereby reducing the excess population. Warning: what follows is not pleasant. In the interests of taste, I’m not reproducing any of the full on erection and penetration images, since Shadowplay is a blog intended for family entertainment, and in the interests of sanity I’m not going to show you the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy or Popeye engaged in risque byplay — some things are sacred, or, viewed from another angle, nauseating.

But how about this?

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It’s a catchy title, I’ll grant you. And if you’re wondering if the anonymous author is going to explore the rhyming potential of the lead character’s name and species, I can answer that question. He is. This is also the only Tijuana Bible I’ve perused to feature male-on-male action (drake-on-drake, to be precise), with a plot that basically has a horny Donald D (with Pluto as pimp) test the limits of his heterosexuality with a dragged-up ladydrake, establishing beyond doubt that performing anal sex and receiving oral sex are fine, but performing oral would make him a queer. I’m glad that’s all straightened out.

And aren’t you glad I’m presenting this in synopsis, rather than in blow-by-blow panel reproduction? Trust me, the image of a rampant Donald with outsized humanoid member is one that would haunt you to your collective mausoleums.

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Ingrid Bergman. I never knew she was a sort of human bust, truncated at the ribcage, and mounted on a brick. I guess all her walking and gesturing was done by stand-ins. It’s Hollywood’s best-kept secret. This is the story of how “Reberto” Rossellini makes Ingrid a star — in stag films. It’s the kind of ironic twist of fate one would never see coming, but for the fact that this is a Tijuana Bible and therefore it’s the only thing that can possibly happen.

1_c_charlie01The idea of a ventriloquist act becoming a smash hit on the radio sounds like a surreal joke, and not even a very good one, but it actually happened. The idea of the dummy, possessed of an animating consciousness of his own, being fitted with a vast phallus hewn from oak, and going forth to test it on living human beings, sounds like something from Michael Redgrave’s deepest, gin-sodden nightmares. Fortunately it never happened, except in this literary effort by ‘Feelma Box.’ Perhaps related to Edgar Box, the pseudonym used by Gore Vidal when writing crime novels? Do pseudonyms have families? Do monocled dummies have a chance with Carole Lombard?

I’d like to think the answer to both questions is “no,” but this T.B. says different.

1 (165)Don’t know who Evelyn is meant to be, but the girl under the car is Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and the dapper chap with the gun is John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). What follows could have made an entertaining DVD extra for Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES, except for the disturbingly horrid artwork and even more appalling dialogue. In the world of the T.B., you’ll want to know, a large (or “brutal”, or sometimes “butal”) penis, is known colloquially as a “kidney disturber.” Ain’t that sweet. Excuse me while I disinfect my eyes and rub Germolene on my soul.

1 (193)A South Sea idyll with Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall. What could be nicer, more innocent, more… oh. The dialogue isn’t exactly Mankiewicz, is it? Or at least, not prime Mankiewicz. What else do we have to torture you with? Oh yeah.

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Inevitably: Jean Harlot. Sometimes the stars would be identified by spoofy nom-de-guerres, like Mae Breast, or Sylvia Kidney. This was clearly not to avoid lawsuits, since the T.B. merchandisers were strictly under-the-counter operators anyway, nor was it to protect the innocent, since these guys inhabit a mindset where such a thing cannot exist — innocence would appear as a black inky nebula upon the page, an unknowable nothingness into which smut vanishes as if into a deep well — but simply to show off the riotous glee in language of these unsung Voltaires of the funnybook.

1_c_stalin02I particularly like how this guy spells “commuist” in a funny way, for no reason. And then does it again, like he really believes that’s how you spell it. You would only get that kind of genius in the kind of author who thinks the world really wants a pornographic comic book starring frickin’ STALIN.

Tijuana Bibles open, as they say, a window onto history, through which we can see that history is a foetid heap of rutting morons. In honour of those nameless, giftless artists, and their important work sterilizing a great nation, I’m opening my doors to similar works, starring the movie gods and goddesses of today. My only rule is that any submissions should be the kind of thing that such stars might reasonably be expected to chuckle over, rather than stare at, glassy-eyed with terror. I know you Shadowplayers are a talented bunch, let’s see your fan-fic!

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They’re Young, They’re in Love, and They Bore People

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2009 by dcairns

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Johnny Depp fulfills a lifelong ambition by having his name printed laterally across the shaft of his penis.

Sometimes I wish I were just an ordinary audience member (not that I’m removed from that by anything other than conceit and a WordPress account), so I could look at Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES and just say “Blah… what a tedious film.” For in many ways that would be the correct response, and such is the film’s deadening aspect that one does wonder if any critical analysis can produce anything worthwhile from this flat spectacle.

Johnny Depp is John Dillinger, celebrity bank robber, who says things like “You can either be a live coward or a dead hero,” and “I like baseball, fast cars, whisky and you,” which is nice. But Depp is somewhat muted, the way he was in THE NINTH GATE: an actor dedicated to flamboyance, he’s at sea in Mann’s world of low-talking hard men. And Mann is at sea with the showbiz side of Dillinger. He’s a stranger to gusto.

Here’s one problem: how is this film different from HEAT? If you like HEAT, I guess you won’t care, but for me, both films are long, unexciting films about low-affect thugs who talk a lot about how professional they are, and then act like idiots. In HEAT, DeNiro decides to kill a guy who’s threatening him with exposure, so he attacks the guy very publicly in a car park, using only blunt instruments, such as his fists and wits. One of those situations where I always think, “If a witness shows up and spoils things, I’ll be annoyed. And if a witness doesn’t show up and spoil things, I’ll STILL be annoyed.”

A witness shows up. DeNiro stops kicking the guy, acts innocent (he doesn’t quite rolls his eyes up and hang his mouth open like Harpo Marx looking innocent, but it’s similar) and when the witness (I think maybe a COP CAR) drives off, he gets set to resume the beating, but his prey has somehow crawled off and vanished. Even though he was right there.

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Christian Bale lost 63 pounds, and then put them on again, to play Special Agent Melvin Purvis.

In PUBLIC ENEMIES it’s the Bureau of Investigation guys who do the stupid stuff, disobeying direct orders and getting killed, repeatedly letting Dillinger go by — Christian Bayle’s college-boy agents let him down continuously. So he gets some veterans from Texas, and the ignores their advice. Dillinger escapes again. It’s one of these combat-hardened vets who actually plugs Dillinger at the end, and he’s one of the few good characters in the film: Stephen Lang is steely-eyed and magnetic, and his character is actually competent, amid an ocean of assholes.

Mann could have used the factual catalogue of blunders to poke fun of the formative FBI, or he could have used the scenes of torture and reckless trigger-happy public endangerment to condemn them, but he doesn’t seem to want to say anything. I felt like yelling through the film at him, using it as some kind of Hi-Def ear-trumpet, quoting Graham Crowden in IF… — “Do You Have An OPINION???”

All this might pass if the film had an appealing aesthetic, but I struggled, I really did, to find anything worthwhile about it. Mann has spoken about how he tested the digital cameras for a lark, and found that on film, his test scene looked like a movie set in the ’30s, whereas on digital it looked like he’d gone back in time and was IN the ’30s. Which sounds nice, but it doesn’t play that to me. To me it looks like a YouTube video in fancy dress. Digital has advanced to a point where you often need expertise to tell it from film, but Mann succeeds in making it look fuzzy and dead.

(Full disclosure: my local gigaplex, the Vue Ocean Terminal, underlights its projectors, has disfigured screens, and lets light spill onto the screen from the exit. So the film wasn’t looking its best. But I still think this is one that’ll look better on DVD.)

Mann juggles oddball angles looking up under machine guns at faces, uses handheld shots to create a sick-making motion blur whenever he can, and cuts things into what Roman Polanski has called “that fruit-salad style…” The art deco locations are often dazzling, but the camera is never in synch with their cool splendor.

The “great romance” aspect of the film, not really borne out by history, is shot dead execution-style by the limp playing of Depp and Marion Cotillard (all her concentration is going on not sound too French) and by Mann’s total disinterest in women, which also results in the pathetic wastage of Lilli Taylor. Since Mann, like Cotillard’s character, is completely unconcerned with any moral view of what Dillinger does for a living, you’d think he’d have more identification with her.

(Roger Corman, in BLOODY MAMA and THE ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, both of which I saw recently, is likewise uninterested in preaching or taking sides, but he IS ripping the veil from off the American capitalist dream. You can’t accuse him of not having a point of view. All Mann has is a viewfinder, generally aimed up at somebody from under their armpit.)

Thing about MM is, he has lots of ideas, but they generally work better in his head than on the screen: the jump-cuts in MANHUNTER, the long-lens confusion of LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Of course, nobody with Mann’s sense and budget could make this movie without hitting some good points: the phone-tapping room, a constellation of little glowing lights; and Dillinger’s last night with his girl, in a barren moonscape lit by chill morgue-rays — such moments suggest that a ’30s digital movie COULD look beautiful.

And Dillinger’s sly visit to the offices where his case is being investigated — which I assume to be at least partly poetic license, since we never see him tell anyone about it, so how would the screenwriters know it happened? — is a nicely mythic and romantic moment, like Dillinger’s last words… a few moments of this kind impress, late in the day.

Oh, there’s another impressive actor in the thing: Peter Gerety as Dillinger’s lawyer. I wonder if his dialogue in court is straight from the historical record, because he sure talks better than anybody else in this film. Maybe such able thesps as Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff, Marion Cotillard and Giovanni Ribisi make such little impact because of the weedy dialogue, which is devoid of all period zing (in the zingiest slangiest era in American history!), stranding the cast in a neutral zone of slow, emphatic delivery. (I know pastiche is the last thing on Mann’s mind, but folks in ’30s flicks talk FAST, and that would be a wonderful thing to offer modern audiences.)

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Got home and slung an authentic 1930s crime-flick, THE BEAST OF THE CITY, in the old Panasonic, and within minutes was exulting in lines like ~

Cop: Mind if I ask you some questions?
Jean Harlow: Sure, if you don’t ask them in Yiddish.

And ~

Jean Harlow (embracing cop): Are you going to reform me?

Cop: What for?

EVERY line in that film seemed to sparkle and crackle with lust, malice and wanton throwaway wit. By contrast, the verbiage emanating at snail-speed from the kissers of Mann’s barely-dramatis personae cuts about as much mustard as a hash-slinger with hooks for hands. See?

Still, Mann’s usual stumbling-block is music — I recall with rising nausea the synth-pop atrocities of MANHUNTER, the smorgasbord of ethnic stylings in THE INSIDER (“The most heterosexual movie ever made! It’s nothing but angry men shouting into HUGE PHONES!” – Ben Halligan) and the somnolent Tangerine Dream drones of THIEF. Here he does about as badly as you could do in a rich musical decade, but not half as badly as he normally does. The bluesy humming is actually quite nice, although it’s diluted with lots of other effects which don’t mesh into a whole, and every time the radio is on its Billie Holliday, which is fine but limited.

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As in ALI, Man shows an interest in resurrecting history but never illuminates it. Dillinger appears to have escaped from prison in Indiana by carving a gun from a bar of soap, blackening it with shoe-polish, and holding up the guards. Woody Allen parodied this in his first film, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, where Allen’s home-made side-arm dissolves into a lather during a rainstorm. But Mann includes the incident without explaining the fake gun at all. (An alternative theory, from cult author Robert Anton Wilson: Dillinger meditated real hard, and teleported out of his cell. I’d watch THAT movie. Twice!)

Likewise he shows a judge taunting J. Edgar Hoover for never actually arresting anyone, without showing the punchline, which is included in Larry Cohen’s THE PRIVATE FILES OF J EDGAR HOOVER: Hoover stage-managed an arrest and turned up to snap the cuffs into place, a troupe of tame news cameramen in tow. Mann exposes himself as a filmmaker with no sense of humour — or storytelling.

A closing title tells us that (predictably dead-eyed) Christian Bayle’s real-life character resigned from the Bureau a year after Dillinger’s death, and killed himself in 1960. And I wondered, why tell us that? The movie hasn’t done anything to explain such actions, we barely even know this guy, so what’s the point of telling us?