we can't stop here - this is blog country! : bruiser, inside, gonzo: the life and work of hunter s. thompson

Do not fuck with Beatrice Dalle, yo. No, don't, dude. Don't.

Bruiser (2000.) - Originally touted as a comeback film of sorts for George Romero, who at the time hadn't directed a film since 1993's The Dark Half, a middling adaptation of an even worse Stephen King story, Bruiser would turn out to be considerably less (indeed, America's Best Horror Filmmaker wouldn't get his sea legs back until the prescient, po-mo Land of the Dead in 2005): in essence, the flick's a "Tales From the Darkside" script stretched thin over an hour and a half, with little of the entertainment value and a surprisingly garbled mish mash of politics and comment, which is generally where Romero excels. Jason Flemyng plays Henry Creedlow, a put-upon ad exec at a skin mag called Bruiser, lorded over by perverted tyrant Henry Styles (Peter Stomare, who plays Styles like Larry Flynt meets Bugs Bunny). After one particularly humiliating night, Creedlow wakes up the following morning with a disturbing, ghostly white visage instead of a face, finding himself suddenly far more aware of his true circumstances, and completely liberated from the norms he'd gripped so tightly to before.

Bruiser is a good idea, but it's simply never fleshed out in any satisfying way, and Romero doesn't take any of the opportunities the story presents to surprise us or really make it interesting. Ostensibly, Bruiser's part of the serio-horrific tradition that Romero has toyed with to some success in Monkey Shines (1988), but with heavy reliance on the suspension of disbelief, shitty heavy metal soundtrack, and party scenes which are supposed to look decadent but come across like "Melrose Place," it's a turn away from big ideas and real people. This plastic, soft-core-cable-phoniness permeates the film to the point of distraction - it just doesn't have the raw edginess that generally marks Romero's work. Bruiser's no Springsteen, all Mellencamp.

Inside ("À l'intérieur") (2007.) - Atmospheric, relentless, and grim from the very start, Inside could easily be mistaken by many viewers outside of Europe as merely an effective, hyper-violent thriller that utilizes primal fears of motherhood and vulnerability - a young, widowed pregnant woman, alone on Christmas Eve (when another, rather important child was born some time ago), stalked by a mysterious, merciless stranger, another woman (Betty Blue's Beatrice Dalle dressed to kill in black corset, long Victorian skirt, and combat boots) who plainly wants the widow's still-unborn child - as its working base. However, the heart of the film contains so much more, and it's this ambition and clarity of vision which elevates the film to the status of a minor horror classic: the real story Inside is telling is about pull and tug of racial oppression and violence that have unfortunately characterized the "inside" of the country of liberty, fraternity, and equality over the last decade or so, culminating in the riots that burned up in the Paris suburbs in 2005. As Inside slowly, bloodily unwinds, the ethnically vague Dalle goes from Freudian monster to a Foucaltian one, a political-metaphor-in-Pinhead-drag whose ugly, brutal actions scream out that the personal dishonesty and disinterest of the Parisian power structure (crucially, the young widow is a photojournalist, her friend and guardian a bored magazine editor) simply don't deserve France's future - in her own mad and broken way, she cares enough to do violence on its behalf.

I have no idea if the Dimension Extreme disc carries any background on the Franco-Arab situation, though producers of future releases may be wise to include some theory or commentary tracks with a solid background to give the movie more context - Inside's big flaw is that the film's subtle politics are drowned in all that Grand Guignol. It battered this hardy viewer, overwhelming me to the point that the person I was watching the movie with had to point out the passionate plea that forms the subtext.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson. (2008.) - Documentary director Alex Gibney's latest offering represents an odd choice. Gibney had managed to wring a powerful and symbolic story of what happens when standards and communities yield to rapacious, wounded egos, politics, and greed in a personal fave, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), and walk back the tale of one man's murder at the hands of soldiers in Afghanistan into an indictment of the emerging paradigm of a "global war on terror" in the Oscar-winning Taxi to The Dark Side (2007); HST, who seems to live in most people's heads these days as a drug-addled Johnny Depp, doesn't seem like much of a story in this respect. But if there was any director who could uncover the real Hunter, it would have to be Gibney, yes?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. While Gibney correctly, entertainingly identifies the defining role eating, breathing, and writing politics had for Hunter, and we may have a bigger sense of the work of Hunter Thompson, we come away with very little of his life at the end of the flick. One gets the idea Gibney was trying to redefine Hunter away from what HST called "the drug book," but then why lean so much on footage from the movie about the drug book? What about the formative experiences - the Free Speech movement in Berkley, friendships with Allen Ginsberg, the peak highs and terrible lows - which had to have contrasted so well with HST's appetites for motorcycles, drugs, and music - of freelancing, "in the middle 60s?" What about a fuller, more real sense of Sandy Thompson, who had been Hunter's rock? What's this "American Dream" people in the movie keep yammering on about - if it existed for the Doc, what was that for him? What about his own political ambitions after the fateful McGovern campaign of 1972? And finally, what about Hunter's own goals for himself - alternately loathing and promoting the persona of the Gonzo journalist, while always, always, brooding over his desire to be a "real" writer, a "man of letters," like his hero F. Scott Fitzgerald?

It's insane to expect to distill a man or woman's life into two hours, or even two and a half, and Gibney must be given credit for the fine job he does identifying the major political events of Hunter's life, and just how much of an impact they had for him personally and as a writer. But I kept thinking of another recent doc on another complex and controversial writer, John Dullagan's 2003 film, Bukowski: Born into This, which managed to connect audiences to a bigger picture - that, like every single one of us, Hank was a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people, and that the writer's life, especially one so scrutinized, is never an easy one to track; Dullagan, aware of all of these competing personages, gave viewers a sense of that complexity, that Buk "wasn't just."

Hunter Thompson wasn't just the drug book guy or the political guy or the anti-social gun guy. He was all of those things, and because of this he was a whole lot more. Gibney's Thompson is certainly smarter, more passionately involved than what a lot of people may assume today, but the guy we see in this film isn't any more real.


nervenet said...

Sounds like Inside mines some of the same things that come up in La Haine, (though obviously in a different way). Might make a good double feature.

Dex said...

i didn't think about that! yah - that would be a VERY interesting double feature...