File Under Sacred Music: Movie Notes

File Under Sacred Music: Movie Notes September 12, 2016

Daisies: A mid-’60s Czech feminist romp, and incredibly enjoyable from the first frame to the last. The costumes and set designs are all about childlike fun; the overall ethos is, “Eat dessert first!”

Victor Morton points out the way this film is women’s lib, not women’s rights, and like all purely liberatory gestures it can’t be justified–and Daisies itself acknowledges that! It cheerfully admits that it’s unsustainable and gratuitous, utopian in the fullest sense, a Candyland and not a collective. I loved the end titles. I loved the glee.

I hesitate to throw theory onto this souffle, but Daisies reminded me so strongly of Riot Grrrl, and specifically of the imagery of childhood that RG deployed. The pigtails and playground chants. Girlhood as escape from womanhood: escape from the unchosen demands of the body, the longing for men or for children. On the one hand this is just, “Feminism is the radical belief that women are men”–helping women achieve a man’s irresponsibility, instead of pushing men to take on a woman’s duty to children and community. On the other hand everybody wishes she could hopscotch her way back into Eden. (On the third hand Riot Grrrl was the first place a lot of teens and young women could be open about their experience of child abuse, so that’s the other reason there was so much imagery of childhood.) Anyway not to ride all of my hobbyhorses at once, but Daisies is almost a counterpoint to The Fits, a gorgeous but much more serious movie about that longing to remain forever untouched.

But yes, in summary: I had a blast.

I saw this at Suns Cinema, DC’s new independent theater/bar, for $5. A totally pleasant experience and one I’d recommend.

The Cramps Live at Napa State Mental Hospital: In 1978 the officials at Napa State, who had brought other musical acts to entertain the patients before, brought in the psychobilly punk band the Cramps. You can watch the concert here (and find out where this post gets its title here).

It’s a great concert–and also a great portrayal of leveling. The lead singer, Lux Interior, shakes and yowls, almost indistinguishable from the patients who occasionally grab the mic. There’s a great moment where two women from the hospital are tussling over the microphone, and after one of them has had her turn, Lux (“Mr. Interior”?) wrests it away with basically the exact same shrugging, truculent attitude as the patients.

Lux’s affect this whole time is naive and amoral–there isn’t the disclaimering and politicizing that you’d get from some moral punk like Ian MacKaye (no offense, you know I’m right). It’s performative solidarity, the naivete is part of the shtik, but that doesn’t make it shallow or fake. There’s an exchange where Lux, sitting on the stage, asks one of the women, “What do you think of the Cramps so far, baby?”

She says, “Yeah, I got a cramp!”

“I got ’em too,” Lux says ruefully, “and I can’t do anything with them either.”

In any community or institution in which we attempt to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy we should take Mr. Interior as our model. In his rueful whine we hear the authentic note of service to others.

Also, note the Foucauldian fable of the Cramps Concert Escapee. (Link via Jesse Walker.)

Casino: I put this off because three hours of Scorsese sounded like more Scorsese than necessary. But no! I was riveted pretty much the whole time.

The core of this Las Vegas gangster tale is the romance between Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro in a series of increasingly-glorious suits) and Ginger (Sharon Stone, occasionally in both toucan beachwear and a three-tone chinchilla fur). They’re both fantastic and Ginger is so, so great, from her first appearance as a hustler causing chaos on the floor. The marriage proposal scene was when the movie won me over: Rothstein, begging, submitting that maybe “when there’s mutual respect” a man and a woman can make a marriage he’ll be grateful for and she’ll eventually be reconciled to. And Ginger staring at him in awe and horror, not knowing if she should pity him or milk him like a cow. Oh, I was swept away, I was so sold on them as a couple.

Unfortunately Ginger turns out to be the movie’s weak point. She’s great when she’s on top, she’s great when she’s toppling (It’s certain that fine women eat/A crazy salad with their meat…), she’s great when she hits bottom and suddenly Rothstein has the upper hand… but she hits that bottom around the two-hour mark and just stays there, shambling, descending into cartoon villainy, screeching, shambling some more. Realistic? but boring.

What would have made the movie entirely great, and the fact that they didn’t do this really should make you angry, is giving Ginger a voiceover. The two main men and even at least one utterly random man get these noirish, retrospective voiceovers, perhaps from beyond the grave, voices speaking from the aftermath. If Ginger could speak in that knowing, shipwrecked voice of experience, the scenes of her degradation would lose their one-note repetitive slackness.

As a reviewer I guess I should say that this is a very gutter-crawling Scorsese. Grisly violence, gross sordid sexuality, lots of Jew-baiting, child abuse and domestic violence. For three hours. You’ll know if that’s something you’re down for.

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