No Werewolf But the Class Werewolf: Short movie reviews

The Anniversary: Bette Davis as hell-matriarch in red eyepatch shaped like a teardrop. Swings wildly from ultracamp to the sort of thing you’ll instantly recognize if you or a friend had a narcissistic parent. An example of my thing* about how “‘Realism’ only works for people whose worldviews are already accepted as realistic. The rest of us must make do with genre”–the parent’s narcissism distorts the whole family’s sense of what is real, so the most outrageous acts and statements seem acceptable. Camp horror is just your everyday life.

* I’d add a link, but Blogger is making that impossible. Growl. It’s the second post on 12/03/2003 if you care.

After Hours: Early Scorsese, New York after dark as purgatory. Not really my thing but I did like how easy it is to make penance comical: It’s an attempt to assign some kind of quasi-mathematical value to sin. How much groveling or rain-drenching or physical beating will satisfy justice? One smack is too many and a hundred isn’t enough.

Show Me Love aka Fucking Amal: Swedish baby dyke in love, from the guy who brought us the truly stellar We Are the Best! I had high hopes for this but ultimately it felt slight and paint-by-numbers. If you’re looking for a feel-good teen lesbian film (for values of “feel-good” which include e.g. bullying and suicide attempts) this is fine I guess. Amal is the name of her hometown, by the way, so the uncensored title is a howl of frustration, not a cry of sexual bravado. (Or maybe in Swedish it’s both?)

There was also an odd thing where the main character acts kind of terrible several times, but it’s as if the movie just interleaves her awfulness rather than integrating it: Unlike in WATB!, where the pubescent characters were always both lovable and terrible, Agnes is lovable and then suddenly terrible and then suddenly lovable again, with no real connection between incidents and no real consequences for her awfulness. That felt less realistic to me, even though I know that in the abstract, the description “angel then suddenly a monster, then randomly an angel again” isn’t entirely false to middle-school experience.

Rebecka Liljeberg as Agnes is wonderful, just adorable and ridiculous and luminous, and the film did hold my interest, but WATB! has a lot more depth and freshness.

Wolfen: The opening scene is one of the greatest in ’80s horror, and believe me, that is saying something. The burnt-out urban riotscape; the wolf’s-eye cam within the broken church. The wolfcam is terrific throughout the film: iridescent, shimmering like those touch-sensitive pads you could buy at Spencer’s Gifts. In fact there’s a Spencer’s Gifts aesthetic to this whole opening. The wolfcam is contrasted with technological surveillance: ancient wisdom vs modern science. The world’s whitest man confronts a sinister wind chime; black people don’t think it’s classy to do coke in front of your pets. Comedy Whiteman visits his ancestors as his lady friend bites a strand of pearls. And then a wolf attack and a pulsating severed hand!!!! GROSS AWESOME!

The rest of the movie didn’t really live up to that amazing opening, for me. You may disagree, though, since Wolfen has a lot going for it. Edward James “Adama” Olmos is excellent; the white hetero leads have good chemistry; Gregory Hines is fun. Everybody in New York is a lapsed Catholic, apparently.

And the movie wants to say something about “urban renewal” and its victims, about race and money. I felt like it didn’t quite get there. This is a very early entry in the “American Indians: actual werewolves” genre. The “wolfen” are attacking people because their home, that burnt-out condemned church and its rubble-strewn environs, is about to be redeveloped and turned into luxury apartments. They’re depraved because they’re deprived, basically. The movie has a happy ending and the wolfen go back to eating… rats? What exactly were they doing before? I felt like the movie could go in a super-dark, “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” direction, homo homini lupus and all that; or it could go to an anarchist-communitarian critique of urban renewal. Or both: The wolfen are violent, but the wolfen are right. Pack > city, the marginalized know the truth–all of that is there in the movie, but the desire for a simple ending really weakened it. We can all just get along… even when some of us are werewolves, and some of us are rich. I am not convinced!

That said, the scene in the Indian bar is haunting, and this thing is definitely worth a watch.

Caravaggio: Derek Jarman’s gorgeous, slightly brainless take on artistic creation, sexual passion, and church corruption. All the voiceover lines seemed unnecessary to me: lugubrious, not unique enough to be worth distracting us from Jarman’s glorious compositions of light and color. Great acting (there’s a scene where Tilda Swinton goes from basically normal person to full-on TILDA SWINTON WILL EAT YOUR FACE, just staring silently at the camera for six seconds, mind-blowing) and there’s some interesting stuff about how the best things about us can be turned into just another form of power over others. Art becomes another form of power, beauty becomes another form of power, pregnancy becomes another form of power, religion (not that I expect Jarman would consider that to be a good thing anyway) becomes another form of power. Nothing good is protected from the human ego. Like the Ani DiFranco lines,

Youth is beauty

Money is beauty

Hell–beauty is beauty, sometimes…

And sometimes beauty is just another way to make people do what you want; to do what they don’t want to do.

About Eve Tushnet

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