Thursday, July 26, 2007

Delicious Noisettes Hazel Nut Spread/Mailer Vs. Mailer

Best fucking British band in ages, certainly, along with Jeremy Warmsley, giving hope once again for a creative resurgence/kick in the nuts to a moribund UK music scene, Noisettes Shingai Shoniwa, Jamie and Dan came to Brooklyn last Friday night (Studio B precisely) and beat the sonic shit out of the seemingly sedated bobos who stood there more or less sheep-like (what is it about New York audiences anyway that makes them so unforgivingly dull and passive), true, some stood with mouths ajar, agog at the spectacle of three skinny Brit kids doing it the way it should be done (to death, in other words)...the response was warm and cheering at the end but not quite matching the energy level emitted by this non-stop exploding nebula/nutella neutrino/constellation of stars--if there was any justice in the whirl Noisettes should have been headlining...but I digress...from the opening clarion call of "Don't Give Up" (with its revved-up roots in Mingus' "Boogie Stop Shuffle" and Bird's "Now's the Time"), Caroline, Shaista, Richard and I traipsing out to Greenpoint were knocked out by their high NRG performance, which verged into free jazz improv territory (more please) in the coda of "Scratch Your Name Into the Fabric of This World", best damn anthemic rabble-rouser to drop on a lackluster scene where the so-called standard bearers are well uh don't want to name names here but I hold in my hand a list of 57 commmmmmmm-unists...didn't catch 'em next day at the Coney Island Siren Fest unjfortunately but hey y'know as good as the New York Dolls and MIA are the Noisettes more than command a stage, they own it when they play...see them soon as humanly possible...

Went up to the Walter Reade on Sunday for the start of the Norman Mailer "The Mistress and the Muse" film retrospective (good title), thoroughly enjoyed the over-the-top verging on cheese spectacle of late-80's Norman directed "Tough Guys Don't Dance" (rampant coke snorting and pot consumption abounding in a winterized P-town, loving references to Screw Magazine and Isabella Rosselini's substantial womanly hips, suburban wife-swapping with a Tammy Faye and Jim Baker- type couple, swipes at freeze-dried America/late capitalism gone to hell, decapitation, sleaze-ball biker studs, ghosts of dead hookers returning to haunt pretty boy Ryan O'Neal, ironic score in places by Angelo Badalamenti reminiscent of Russ Meyer/Roger Ebert type sarcasm in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" --but hopelessly askew--I mean, "Land of Hope and Glory" as a sardonic commentary on the current American gilded age? Wrong country, team Norman!) reminiscent at times of John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye" for sheer rococco/ florid dialogue, narrative, and unconsciously camp performances...really an enjoyable laugh in the dark, definitely in its own weird universe, I'd like to see it again soon!

...then out shuffled Norman (on two walking sticks, yet--one of which he raised and brandished at the nearly full house before taking his seat, his way of saying hello I guess) looking pretty dessicated but feisty still, ears like two radar stations poking out despite his own references to incipient deafness--still--definitely compos mentis...and he and Kent Jones and a couple of Norm's retainers fielded questions for an hour or so that shed not much light at all on the film we'd just sat through but roamed discursively through bits and pieces of his career with occasional revelations (Jean-Luc Godard "the third most thoroughly unpleasant person" he'd ever met; Ronald Reagan being #1 on his list--too bad, as I'd just caught a screening of "King's Row" at the weekly filmclub soiree my downstairs neighbor the film critic Bruce Kingsley has been holding in his flat, a film whose high point is the eternally chipper Reagan's heartfelt "Where's the rest of me?" peroration after a sadistic doctor has amputated his legs--good film, and after that I was actually starting to like the Gipper)...Norman also revealed that--like Isaac Bashevis Singer, though he didn't make the analogy--he thoroughly believes in the supernatural--alright!!

Once upon a time--back in junior high school, fer chrissakes-- Norman was my intellectual hero, a pugnacious literary Jewish punk/rebellious icon/flamboyant loudmouth with a fine palpable charisma/aura of brilliance turning up to bait the rabble live on tv Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett's shows... mad provocative existential insights into life as lived in these here United States--armed with an obsessive male/female anal rape idee fixe as lovingly delineated respectively in his short story "The Time of Her Time" and novel " An American Dream", both on the cutting edge of psycho-sexual whatsis... beautifully turned phrases about what it meant to be alive in the 60's in an encroaching culture of deadness/plasticity (a Zappa precusor)-- who then unfortunately slipped severely in my humble estimation a few years post "The Armies of the Night"-- especially after the Jack Henry Abbot fiasco (Abbot resembling nothing so much as one of his rage-filled Rojack-like characters summoned up from hell to walk the earth), which occurred just about the time I'd moved to Manhattan...

Now, after seeing him in the flesh, I was starting to like him and his (under the bluster) fundamental boyish charm...his Hitler book is apparently filled with devils and demons and imps, much like Singer's "Satan in Goray" and shorter fiction, and as someone who's waded fascinated through all of Ian Kershaw's recent 2 volume Hitler biography as well as Allan Bullock's seminal work and Joachim Fest's revisionist tome--Ron Rosenbaum's "Explaining Hitler" is the best read of all of them by far, btw-- I am duty bound now to peruse Norman's between-two-worlds take on der Schickelgruber)...

Anyway they then screened "Maidstone", which I'd seen up at Pennebaker's offices in 1977 when I first moved to NYC and a friend (Gopal Sukhu) who worked there arranged some marathon after-hours screenings...I'd read the redacted script culled from the dialogue which came out in paperback after the film's aborted release--I really liked it then, especially after vewing his momentous, neigh titanic performance in "Town Bloody Hall"--Norman vs. The Feminists-- which boasts the great lesbian wrestling scene with my friend and neighbor former Village Voice dance critic Jill Johnston. and Norman's uncomfortable chastising thereof as Jill and her femme paramour roll around making out on the stage of Town Hall : "Jill, a LADY, Jill!"...essentially an improvised home movie with a flimsy running-for-president/CIA sponsored assassination subtext/pretext...but... I love Norman's larger than life character strutting and preening throughout, same with "Beyond the Law" which I brought up to Yale in 1973 as a director of the Yale Film Society (this is the best of Mailer's films in my estimation, with another good improvised zinger at the end,the Irish-cop impersonating Mailer accosting police detective Buzz Farbar in a bar: "Tell me me boy--have you been toolin' me wife?")...

So last night I went over to Anthology Film Archives to catch the missing link (for me anyway) in the holy trinity of Norman's early films, the legendary "Wild 90"--well, I wasn't exactly totally disappointed, wasn't all that thrilled either--superb performance by apparently Actor Studio habituee Norman, a real brute force of nature here, playing an Italian gangster holed up in an NYC loft with his buddies, muttering/spewing untranslatable inarticulate imprecations,invective and primal grunts, Whitman's barbaric yawp unbound--whispering, howling, baying at the moon, barking on all fours at Jose Torres' dog in a drunken rictus of passion..and...couldn't understand one word of dialogue (well, was famously forewarned by all the reviews of this film over the years)... Anthology's echoic sound sytem didn't much help either (an ongoing problem there, come on Jonas! I'll play a benefit for ya)...Norman's then-wife Beverly Bentley looks incredible too, big hair sixties style and thick mascarred lashes...but back to the sound... at the end, the sound man/culprit is revealed in the credits to be none other than "Robert Neuwirth"--my friend Bobby, painter/singer/songwriter/cultural catalyst/star of Pennebaker's Dylan doc "Don't Look Back"!--

and then, as an aperitif, in a strange, Chris Marker-like repetitive time-slip/trope, seeing as Norman was a no-show although billed to make an appearance in person last night (Alec Baldwin was there with a female friend, though, and left 5 minutes after the film started) (he'd make a superb Mailer if they ever do a biopic come to think of it) the Anthology guys elected to screen a clip that Jonas Mekas himself had filmed of Norman introducing the same damn film at Anthology, only 15 years earlier, the last time it'd been screened in NYC (I think Norman looks better now than he did 15 years ago) this weird double shot of my baby's love Norman mentions the poor sound quality in passing in his introductory remarks to the Anthology audience (a few more souls 15 years ago then were there last night)... and says: "this guy Bob Newhart (sic) had never done sound before, we kept asking him as we filmed how it sounded, and he just kept smiling and nodding his head..."

I actually rang Neuwirth after the screening to quiz him about this, straight from the horse's mouth as it were--and he chuckled and said in his defense he'd done several other docs for Pennebaker in that period all of which had excellent sound, blamed the poor sound on Norman and co.'s lurching around the room randomly in a collective drunken stupor throughout the 2 day shoot (really hard to follow such action with a boom mic), and also Norman's total lack of actual film acting experience, with his subsequent dialogue delivery ranging completely unexpectedly from a whisper to a scream in the space of seconds (very very hard to adjust sound levels on the fly like that)...the capper/definitive last word belongs to Neuwirth: "Had the sound been of crystalline quality, it really wouldn't have made much difference at all." :-)

Post-script--one epiphany I had while watching "Maidstone" again--and then "Wild 90" last night--was an unexamined Dylan/Mailer connection (particularly with the Neuwirth behind-the-scenes presence in Norman's first ever film)--methinks intuitively that Norman might well have engaged Pennebaker's services after the stunning triumph of Pennebaker's "Don't Look Back", which succeeded in enshrining Dylan as the hippest guy in New York...and Norman wanting a piece of Dylan's mojo, and a piece of his star-making machinery, even down to later adopting some of Dylan's patented headgear from "Don't Look Back" in "Maidstone" (the Huck Finn cap--albeit in leather--and the top hat)...I mean, he even sings in "Maidstone" (sort of), to his (here, ex-wife) Beverly Bentley again (he's a bluesman--stormin' Norman was actually featured singing "Alimony Blues" a few years ago on an album of singing literati as part of the PEN fundraising album "Stranger than Fiction")...

to adopt Norman's own paranoid mindset on "Maidstone"--could Bob Neuwirth have been a mole planted by Dylan in Mailer's camp to subvert the sound on Mailer's first foray into cinema-- as a kind of pre-emptive strike, as payback for Mailer having the cojones to co-opt "Dylan's director"??

Nahhhh...just teasing :-).. I love ya Bob (both Bob's)...

...and you too, Norman ("General Marijuana")--

The world would be a much, much duller place without your own particular brand of intellectual mishegas (pace Lenny Bruce doing Pontius Pilate addressing Jesus: "Jew--I like you! You've got BULLSHIT that doesn't quit!")



ps. forgot to mention that the end of "Wild 90" has a sequence where Norman playfully feigns hitting Beverly Bentley in the head with an actual astonishing correlative to the famous last sequence of "Maidstone" where Rip Torn, (breaking the fourth wall of imposed reality now that the film is--in Mailer's mind at least-- officially over, dragging him unwillingly back into the filmic reality of Norman T. Kingsley, the film director/would-be presidential aspirant he;d been playing), actually hammers Norman in the head with a hammer, drawing blood, while a freaked-out Beverly Bentley screams in the background (Rip later tells his furious victim, who responds by nearly biting his ear off, that he actually pulled his punch with the hammer because of his years spent as a trained actor!)...a mind-blowing example of Life imitating Art imitating Art imitating Life.


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