Jan 24, 2019

Shanks




A couple years ago, I recall an ex-girlfriend and I having a merry conversation about how many holocaust stories—in their innate improbable absurdity—oftentimes resemble Grimms' Fairy Tales, as if Jews were trying to exploit the childhood fears of Germans (and whites in general) against them while injecting them with a sort of ‘reverse of blood libel’ via the shoah mythos (after all, as history surely demonstrates, world Jewry certainly knows a thing or two about blood libel accusations).  In that sense, I was somewhat intrigued when I discovered that a corny kosher conman like William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts)—a sort of poor Hebrew huckster’s Hitchcock—concluded his film directing career with a bizarre Grimm-esque filmic fairy tale. Indeed, Castle’s shockingly unforgettable and strikingly singular swansong Shanks (1974)—a film that, not all that surprisingly, was nearly impossible to find for decades until it was released on DVD by OliveFilms in 2013—is arguably the most covertly kosher fairy tale film ever made, as if the auteur was projecting his own perverted (im)moral perspective on the goyim via the timeless myths of the goyim. Indeed, hinting at heeb-on-shiksa pederasty worthy of Der Stürmer and turning the goyim into a sort of herd of morbidly mechanical cattle-cum-golems, the film might be PG-rated but it is unequivocally fucked up and a true testament to Castle’s creepy kosher psyche, which is thankfully not camouflaged by too many tasteless gimmicks. With that being said, I still find it to be Castle’s most rewarding and unforgettable film, if not for oftentimes seemingly unintentional reasons. A clever hack with an unquestionable talent for successful promotions and gimmicks that got people into theaters to watch films that very few sane people actually wanted to endure, Castle not surprisingly had his greatest hit as producer and not as an ‘auteur.’ Indeed, Rosemary's Baby (1968), which features the director-turned-producer in a Hitchcockian cameo, is undoubtedly the most noteworthy film that Castle ever worked on and he was thankfully smart enough to get fellow Israelite Roman Polanski to direct it. Of course, as a film based on a novel by fellow tribesman Ira Levin with both covert and overt Jewish satantists tricking some dumb young shiksa broad into being raped by the Devil and ultimately getting impregnated with the bastard son of Satan as a sort of anti-Mother Mary figure, Rosemary’s Baby ultimately exposed Castle’s sense of racial loyalty and playful contempt for the dumb goyim, albeit in a slightly more sinister fashion than the countless largely worthless schlock films that he actually directed.  With Shanks, Castle not only revealed certain racial hostilities, but also some rather odd, if not downright odious, personal obsessions.


Undoubtedly, it is symbolic of Castle’s talent-for-promotion-over-art and strong Judaic identity that he created publicity for a fake German play entitled Das ist nicht für Kinder (aka Not For Children) ostensibly penned by a fake aristocratic Jewish playwright named Ludwig von Herschfeld (also Castle’s invention) starring self-loathing krautess Ellen Schwanneke (who apparently fled Germany after Uncle Adolf invaded Czechoslovakia) by vandalizing the outside of Stony Creek Theatre, which he just leased from none other than Orson Welles, with painted swastikas to make it seem as if he was being attacked by bloodthirsty National Socialists. In short, not unlike some ADL lawyer, Castle had a seemingly instinctual knack for exploiting persecution for profit, albeit in a vaguely artistic fashion.  Apparently, swastika graffiti charade was a great formative experience for Castle as it taught him the power of publicity and even led to him being hired by much hated Hebraic studio head Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures where he eventually had the honor of working as an associate producer on his old pal Orson Welles' classic film noir The Lady from Shanghai (1947).  Aside from his early work in theater and brief collaboration with Welles, Castle would not dare to dabble with something resembling real art again until the very end of his career when he produced Rosemary's Baby and directed Shanks.  While I think very little of most of his work, these two films alone warrant Castle being remembered as a notable figure of American cinema.

Needless to say, Castle’s final film, which naturally features Judaic stars, deals with themes of persecution and radiates a certain (slightly hermetic) Hebraic essence. According to Castle in his own memoir Step Right Up!: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America (1976), he initially had no intention to direct Shanks and only decided to when the film’s exceedingly eccentric star Marcel Marceau—a French-Jewish mime famous for his ‘Bip the Clown’ stage persona—talked him into it. Apparently wanting total control over the production, Marceau must have seen Castle as a weak director and exploited him thusly, hence why the film seems quite different from most of the other various entries in the director’s fairly large and eclectic oeuvre (while best known for horror, the director worked in virtually every single genre while working as a for-hire studio hack before going independent in the late-1950s).  Still, the film is pure and unadulterated Castle in terms of its shameless semitic schlock factor.  Indeed, there is certainly a reason that John Waters has an eternal hard-on for Castle.  Either way, Shanks features Castle's most Jewy character as a nebbish schlemiel and pathetic putz of the super schmendrick sort as portrayed by a literal kosher clown with a wild and wiry Jewfro.


In his book Artists of the Right: Resisting Decadence (2012), kiwi political scholar and esotericist Kerry Bolton notes in regard to the metapolitical Weltanschauung of the great American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft that he, “...saw Jewish representation in the arts as responsible for what Francis Parker Yockey would call ‘culture distortion.’ New York City had been ‘completely Semiticized’ and lost to the ‘national fabric.’ The Semitic influence in literature, drama, finance, and advertising created an artificial culture and ideology ‘radically hostile to the virile American attitude.’” Undoubtedly, as both a horror fan and someone that can surely relate to Lovecraft, I must say that Shanks is a somewhat more esoteric expression of semitic culture distortion in celluloid form, so naturally it should be no surprise that it is also the sort of film that Freud might see as a mild masturbation aid due to its odd oneiric wet dream tone and focus on the complete and utter manipulation of other people as puppets. Indeed, if there is any film that more clearly depicts the stereotypical Judaic fantasy of completely controlling and manipulating the goyim like puppets, it is Castle’s curiously, if not creepily, captivating swansong. While featuring outwardly Occidental story conventions of Grimms' Fairy Tales, the film is unequivocally covertly kosher in terms of its dubious sentiments/message and (lack of) morality, which of course is one of the main (yet less obvious) reasons as to why the film is so particularly anomalous.

Aside from the film’s strong covertly kosher character, it is also a sort of aesthetically schizophrenic cinematic artifact that might be best described as seeming like what might happen if the brain-damaged bastard son of Jacques Tati and Vampira directed a playful zombie film sans blood and guts. While the film technically does not feature what is conventionally called zombies, it does include undead beings of the reanimated corpse variety and they can kill. In fact, one might assume by reading the film's promotional material that it was a pro-zombie affair as indicated by the curious description of the film as, “a new concept in the macabre in which the Good come out of the grave and the Evil are sent to fill the vacancy.” From a Hebraic horror angle, these sort of mechanized corpses certainly be seen as a twisted post-religious twist on the Jewish folklore tale of the Kabbalistic anthropomorphic ‘golem’ being (which, of course, is a story that has influenced a variety of films ranging from the German Expressionist classic The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920) directed by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener to the mostly mediocre Roddy McDowell vehicle It! (1967), among countless other examples‎).

While star Marceau attempted to make Castle promise that Shanks would not be a horror movie like most of his famous films, the film clearly straddles a refreshingly blurry line between horror and fantasy, which is undoubtedly one of its more positive attributes. In fact, it is easily the eeriest and most unsettling Castle film that I have ever seen (which I guess isn't saying much). Likewise, it is also the artiest and most idiosyncratic Castle movie that I have ever seen, as if the filmmaker just caught a Georges Franju marathon and forgot he wanted to be the hokey heeb Hitchcock for a second. In short, Shanks is something resembling art from someone I thought was incapable of art, but then again star Marceau (who notably plays two very different roles), screenwriter Ranald Graham, and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Joseph Biroc (It's a Wonderful Life, Ulzana's Raid) also made serious creative contributions to the film. Interestingly, despite not even being well known when it was released, the film’s musical score by Jewish composer Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus), which incorporates motifs that were originally commissioned for (but notoriously rejected by Stanley Kubrick) for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), was actually nominated for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score for the 47th Academy Awards in 1975. 


 Set in a world that, somewhat paradoxically, seems simultaneously anachronistic yet timeless, childish yet senile and perverse yet wholesome, Shanks is somewhat of an admirable failure that has much to interest cinephiles beyond its strange collection of collaborators. Indeed, aside from featuring elements of a trashed Kubrick score and notable performances like a very young and virile Don Calfa of The Return of the Living Dead (1985) fame as a sadistic biker bro, the film seems to be Castle’s curious attempt at making a sort of silent film, which makes sense considering it stars a famous mime in the almost-too-fitting role of a simple-minded deaf-mute. While the film does feature some sparse dialogue, the story is told with the help of simplistic silent era style title cards and the film even features a sepia tone sequence in what is arguably the most ‘darkly poetic’ moment of the entire film. While Castle reveals very little respect for the actual art of filmmaking in his memoir, it seems like he actually had fun making Shanks, as if he knew it would never be any sort of hit and simply used the opportunity to do what he always wanted to do.  Although just speculation, I cannot help but think the film was also largely inspired by Castle's nostalgia for the silent era films of his youth.  After all, in 1963 Castle took the artistic risk of directing a subpar remake of James Whale's pre-Code horror-comedy The Old Dark House (1932).  While directed by legendary gay Englishman Whale, the screenplay was actually penned by British Jewish playwright turned politician and Zionist activist Benn W. Levy, hence the kosher character of the humor that probably appealed to Castle.


As if he assumes the audience are retarded children (his lifelong career of cinematic gimmicks certainly hints at this), Shanks begins with a rather literal inter-title that reads, “William Castle PRESENTS A Grim Fairy Tale.” Of course, the film is certainly Castle’s equivalent to Curtis Harrington’s Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) in terms of its Grimm-esque adult fairy tale quality (also, both films are inhabited by quirky Judaic stars). At the very beginning of the film, deaf-mute puppeteer Malcolm Shanks (Marcel Marceau)—an expert lip reader with the spirit of a child who is surely an idiotic savant of sorts—is depicted giving a puppet show using marionettes modeled after friends and family members to happy kids while his beautiful blonde love interest Celia (Cindy Eilbacher) and an eccentric old inventor-cum-dandy named ‘Old Walker’ (also Marceau) watch on in ecstatic delight. While his sadistic sister Mrs. Barton (Jerusalem-born Belgian Jewess Tsilla Chelton, who was part of Marceau's troupe) and alcoholic brother-in-law Mr. Barton (Philippe Clay, who was also part of the troupe) see Malcolm as a loser and mock his peculiar puppeteer talents, Old Walker is so delighted with his puppet show that he takes him under his wing as a lab assistant at his rather quaint gothic mansion where he does morally dubious yet ultimately successful scientific experiments involving the use of electricity to reanimate dead animals, including frogs and chickens. Naturally, when Old Walker unexpectedly croaks, Malcolm decides to use the reanimating method on him, thereupon symbolically becoming the master of the dead master (after all, Malcolm was Old Walker's protege).  As a proud puppet-master, it is not hard for Malcolm to make the transition from fiddling with marionettes to the undead, though it is somewhat creepy how much unexpected joy it brings to his initially rather bleak and stagnant life.  Of course, Old Walker is not the only corpse that Malcolm decides to reanimate as simple bad luck among certain fearsome family members eventually provides him with an entire troupe of completely subservient undead human-puppets.



As the sole breadwinner of his decidedly dysfunctional family, Malcolm naturally comes into trouble when he dares to withhold some money from his savagely stupid dipsomaniacal brother-in-law, who is such a mean-spirited bully bastard that he smashes an Old Walker puppet that hapless protagonist was in the process of making. Luckily, Malcolm gets revenge by (somewhat unintentionally) killing Mr. Barton with a surprisingly deadly zombie chicken in what proves to be an absurdly stupid Castle-esque death scene. Thankfully, Malcolm’s luck doesn’t run out that day as his similarly abusive sister is killed in a ludicrously lackluster suburban hit-in-run accident while she is, rather ironically, attempting to prevent her reanimated husband from getting hit by a car. While Malcolm eventually buries the corpse of Old Walker out of respect for his generous mentor, he takes great joy in cavorting around town with his reanimated sister and brother-in-law while completely controlling them just as they once controlled him.  Not longer a violence dysfunctional family that trades punches and kicks for hugs and kisses, Malcolm even seems to have a lot of fun simply watching TV with his personality-less family members, which was not a privilege he was afforded when they were officially still alive. For whatever reason, Malcolm even thinks it is a good idea to flagrantly flaunt his undead family members and their odd (read: completely unnatural) body contortions to his childlike love interest Celia. Quite predictably, Celia—a seemingly underage little lass that practically radiates virginal purity and untarnished goodness—gets a little freaked out when she eventually realizes that the Bartons are literal dead meat, but she is also extremely excited about a birthday party that Malcolm has planned for her and, like women tend to do, is willing to overlook the dubious complexities of the undead family dynamic. For Celia’s present birthday, Malcolm is preparing a cute marionette modeled after her. Unfortunately, she will not live long enough to properly enjoy it. 


For her big birthday celebration, Malcolm prepares Celia a sort of lavish Victorian dinner where the guest of honor sports a beautiful white gown that was owned by Old Walker’s assumedly-long-dead wife and the zombie Bartons act as both the servants and entertainment. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the fun and games come to a swift and ugly conclusion when the mansion is quite unexpectedly invaded by a small gang of bikers led by a big buff buffoon named Goliath (Biff Manard). While the bikers initially entered the mansion in a desperate attempt to revive their leader Beethoven (Phil Adams) after he fatally crashed his motorcycle on a road nearby the estate, the outlaws soon forget their dead leader and immediately begin following the lead of Goliath as he encourages them to fulfill stereotypical negative biker stereotypes like raping, pillaging, and even killing. Indeed, despite a noble attempt made by his haggard old lady ‘Mata Hair’ (Helena Kallianiotes) to stop him, Goliath decides to rape assumed virgin Celia. Meanwhile, a biker with the somewhat fitting name ‘Einstein’ (Don Calfa) plays around with Old Walker’s experiments after Malcolm is beaten and tied up. When Malcolm eventually escapes from his bondage, he is greatly dismayed to discover Celia’s corpse lying outside in the yard. While the bikers further demonstrate their affinity for mindless sadism by playing around with the undead Bartons using Malcolm’s remote control, the vengeful protagonist opts to unearth Old Walker and uses him to execute a murderous revenge campaign against the savage biker outlaws. After zombie Old Walker strangles and drowns most of the bikers, Malcolm gets in an epic Rocky-esque fistfight with Goliath on top of the roof of the mansion that eventually results in the latter falling to his death. In a display of poetic necrophilia, Malcolm then reanimates Celia’s corpse and the two begin to dance romantically in what is a literal Danse Macabre moment. Somewhat unfortunately, the film does not end there, but instead comes full-circle and returns to the very beginning, thereupon ultimately revealing that the entire story is bogus and was nothing more than the protagonist’s sick twisted fantasy. In the end, the film concludes with a quote from the great British satirist William Makepeace Thackeray that reads: “Come... let us shut up the box and the puppets = for our play is played out.” Interestingly, while Castle certainly did not know it at the time as he “felt 1975 would be a big year” for him as a filmmaker and he certainly did not plan for Shanks to be his swansong, Thackeray’s quote ultimately proved be a fitting coda to his filmmaking career. 


 
Notably, in his memoir, Castle claims that Marcel Marceau, who was naively hoping that Shanks would “play forever,” once asked after they finished the film: “Be truthful with me, Bill. Do you think that SHANKS will be better than ROSEMARY’S BABY?” It seems that Castle had a pretty good idea of his talents (or lack thereof) as a filmmaker and was not exactly satisfied with the final result of his film as he apparently replied to Marceau by stating, “I don’t know, Marcel. You were great, but I think I might have failed you. Your world of mime and my world of horror may not mix. Only the audience will tell us.” Unfortunately, after more than four decades, the audience has spoken as Shanks is hardly considered one of Castle’s classic films, let alone any sort of horror classic or otherwise, which is rather unfortunate as, I for one, personally feel it is his most artistically merited film.  Indeed, the film is just too innately idiosyncratic for the masses, including film dork and seemingly most Castle fans.

While Stanley Kubrick was so cryptic and sensitive (?) about his actually quite stereotypical New York City Jewish intellectual background to the point where he would actively erase all Jewish traces from his source material (e.g. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)), British Jewish film scholar Nathan Abrams argues in his insightful text Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual (2018)—a book that is, somewhat ironically, arguably as incriminating as Kevin McDonald's classic The Culture of Critique (1998) in terms of exposing the hermetic motivations of Hebrews—that all of the American auteur’s films are, at the very least, covertly kosher. In fact, Abrams even argues that Kubrick actively sought to destroy all prints of his first feature Fear and Desire (1953) because the film is too overtly personal and, in turn, Jewish as is especially personified by the character Private Sidney (played by fellow Jew and future filmmaker Paul Mazursky)—a sort of implicitly Judaic stand-in for the filmmaker—who is hardly a flattering portrayal of a Hebrew soldier as he is a psychologically feeble intellectual that not only suffers from debilitating paranoia and posttraumatic stress, but he also senselessly murders a young fisherwoman (Virginia Leith) after disturbingly attempting to molest her. Undoubtedly, the titular character of Shanks will probably seem similarly disturbing to most white gentile viewers as his peculiar behavior and questionable motivations are similarly kosherly curious. Surely, it is no great irony that, whereas as a great filmmaker like Kubrick started his career with his most incriminatingly and unflatteringly kosher character, Castle concluded his career with such a character.



 While the Kubrick and Castle had next to nil in common, there is still this glaring perennial Jewish connection and it is impossible to truly understand either filmmaker without taking it into serious consideration.  In fact, just as Kubrick did with his films, Castle opted to drop any mention of Jewishness and antisemitism for his Crusades period action-adventure film The Saracen Blade (1954) despite those racially-charged elements being central themes of American negro Frank Yerby's source novel.  Incidentally, both men also married blonde Aryan women (indeed, while Kubrick curiously married the niece of great Nazi era auteur Veit Harlan, Castle married a Dutch immigrant).  Of course, all the main ingredients of Castle's swansong are completely kosher and, in my less than humble opinion, it is nearly impossible to completely appreciate the film without considering these facts.  Whether it was inspired by ancient Aryan fairy tales or not, there is no way that a goy could have ever directed a film like Shanks.  While I seriously doubt Castle would appreciate it, I cannot help think of the strangely otherworldly Judaic quality of the film and be reminded of Alfred Rosenberg words, “The life of a race does not represent logically developed philosophy nor even the unfolding of a pattern according to natural law, but rather the development of a mystical synthesis, an activity of soul, which cannot be explained rationally, nor can it be conceived through a study of cause and effect.”  Indeed, it is easy to point to perversion and control fantasies when attempting explain the implicit Jewishness of Castle's film, but it is ultimately more of a visceral metaphysical matter when it comes to such a particularly preternatural cinematic work.



Undoubtedly, Abrams’ book is not just helpful in terms of studying Kubrick semi-esoteric Jewishness, but also when it comes to Jewish films and characters in general, especially of the male persuasion. In that sense, it is no coincidence that the worst villains of Shanks are virtual a stereotype for all the things that Ashkenazi Jews have historically loathed about European gentile masculinity.  Indeed, as Abrams explains in regard to the Jewish ‘ethnical’ code of menschlikayt, it, “…rejected goyim naches, a phrase that ‘broadly describes non-Jewish activities and pursuits supposedly antithetical to a Jewish sensibility and temperament.’ Literally meaning ‘pleasure for/of the gentiles,’ […] It can therefore also be interpreted to mean a ‘preoccupation with the body, sensuality, rashness, and ruthless force,’ as manifested in such physical activities as bearing arms, horse riding, dueling, jousting, archery, wrestling, hunting, orgies, and sports in general. Denied the right to participate in such activities, Jews instead denigrated them, consequently also disparaging those very characteristic that in European culture defined a man as manly: physical strength, martial activity, competitive drive, and aggression.” While they might not be completely conscious of this while watching it, white gentile viewers will ultimately find Malcolm Shanks’ exceedingly inexplicable behavior, lack of masculinity, and almost pathological passivity to be the most ‘horrifying’ aspect of the film and not the dumb bikers, who are little more than muscular ciphers. Indeed, just as Henry Frankenstein is the true monster of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), so is the eponymous protagonist the real ‘monster’ of Castle’s film, though I seriously double Castle and Marceau—two Jewish outsiders—would agree with that as they surely highly identify with these cinematic creatures.  But then again, the film was advertised with the poster tagline, “Deliciously Grotesque.”

For better or worse, Castle is a sort of classic cult film legend. As demonstrated by his cameos in classic New Hollywood era flicks like Hal Ashby's Shampoo (1975) and John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust (1975), Castle had already even achieved the respected cult icon status among great director of the era shortly before he died even though his horror films had already become quite passé.  A couple decades later, Joe Dante would pay tribute to the filmmaker with the Castle-esque hero portrayed by John Goodman in Matinee (1993).  Castle certainly earned his star Marcel Marceau's lifelong respect, as the Hebraic frog states in the Jeffrey Schwarz doc Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007) that, “I think he was a wonderful director” and he even describes Shanks as a film where, “Everything was poetic.”  Indeed, in a sick twisted semitic way, like if Bruno Schulz had the spirit of an extroverted businessman, the film is the poetic final word of a shameless schlockmeister that one would assume didn't have a single poetic bone in his entire body.  In short, the film that manages to shatter certain stereotypes while also painfully upholding others.  While I usually would not be able to stomach Judaized Teutonic fairy tales that are blessed with everything from the baroque to bathos, Shanks reminded me that sometimes effectively eerie fantastic horror is possible via cross-cultural mongrelization.



-Ty E

Dec 26, 2018

The Conformist




By sheer happenstance, I watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s arguable magnum opus Il conformist (1970) aka The Conformist for the very first time only a couple days before the Italian auteur died. As a longtime cinephile, it might seem inexplicable that I would wait so long to watch a purported great masterpiece of cinema history, but I have always had very strong mixed feelings about Bertolucci and surely regard him as among my least favorite of the great post-WWII guido filmmakers, namely due to his idiotically expressed political views and rather ‘cosmopolitan’ international career. Indeed, it is no coincidence that, out of all the Italian filmmakers, Bertolucci made the most successful transition to Hollywood and the international English-language market, as if his own nation and culture meant very little to him aside from as a tiresome tool to express his insipid political views, thereupon making it all the more ironic that Pier Paolo Pasolini—a fellow poet that, despite being a gay Marxist, basked in his guidoness, whether it be high or lowbrow—was more or less responsible for jump-starting his career by hiring him to work as first assistant on his debut feature Accattone (1961) and then co-penning (with help from his protégé Sergio Citti) his directorial debut La commare secca (1962) aka The Grim Reaper. Quite aesthetically different from anything else that he would later direct and indubitably Pasolinian in terms of theme and gritty realist location and mostly lewd lumpenproletariat characters, The Grim Reaper is like a guido ghetto reworking of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Rashômon (1950) that reveals very little about the auteur’s political persuasion aside from a general interest in street people. It was not until I had the grand displeasure of watching his beyond bloated five-hour neo-bolshevik epic 1900 (1976) aka Novecento—a film so sinisterly stupid in its mundane Marxist agitprop and smugly contrived displays of the grotesque that it depicts a blackshirt fascist portrayed by Donald Sutherland not only gleefully killing a kitty cat by headbutting, but also bashing in the brains of a fascistic little boy that he and his overweight bitch lover just molested—that I had to write-off Bertolucci as nothing more than a petty propagandist that hypocritically utilized Hollywood cash and stars to make unintentionally cheesy commie cinematic crap, hence why it took me so long to finally take the plunge and watch The Conformist. After all, I have no problem appreciating the work of commie artists as I regard both Pasolini and Visconti as being among my favorite filmmakers, but I cannot stomach someone that is so dishonestly dehumanizing and one-dimensional in their preposterously insincere pro-prole propaganda.  Somewhat surprisingly, Bertolucci's fascist era flick is great and everything that 1900 isn't in terms of being rather nuanced, ambiguous, thoughtful, and even sometimes strikingly idiosyncratic (indeed, it is probably the only film will you find that features a surreal fascist dance party comprised of blind people).



 Luckily, despite being based on a novel by a Jewish communist by the name of Alberto Moravia—a half-heeb that had a somewhat schizophrenic genetic lineage in the sense that he had famous kosher paternal commie cousins that were murdered by Mussolini but also a fascist leader Augusto De Marsanich as a maternal uncle—The Conformist is arguably not only Bertolucci’s most aesthetically complex and  ambitious film, but also his most esoteric, otherworldly, and enigmatic to the point of seeming like a elliptical fascist nightmare of the perversely purgatorial sort where the emotional essence (as opposed to the historical facts) are depicted in a surprisingly poetic fashion. Naturally, a film of such a ambitious and ambiguous nature has invited varying, sometimes contradicting, theories and critiques from, rather unfortunately, mostly left-wing and communist sources. For example, in his classic text of turgid tediousness The Altering Eye: Contemporary International Cinema (1983), Hebraic film academic Robert Phillip Kolker made the rather dubious argument that, “THE CONFORMIST is one of a group of films, beginning with ROME, OPEN CITY and of which Visconti’s THE DAMNED is a major example, that attempt to discuss fascism as a manifestation of perverted or misaligned sexuality. One source for this is perhaps Wilhelm Reich’s THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM as well as the historical realities of Nazi experimentations, eugenics, and fascism’s obsessively male-centered ideology. Fascism is an ideology of denial and destruction, the romance of sacrifice and conquest brought to a climax in the abjuring of any human quality but the ability to kill and die. In truth it does not emerge from aberrant sexuality nor lead to it. Aberration occurs in its turning sexuality, as it turns any other human activity, into a thing to be used in a destructive way. Fascists are not degenerates […] but the cause of degeneration; yet sexual perversity remains a favored means of explaining fascism or demonstrating its effects.” While Reich was indeed a sexually abusive quack that rightly died in jail where all obscenely socially deleterious beings should, Kolker seems to have borrowed his understanding of fascism from Steven Spielberg, on top of completely ignoring the fact that, despite political persuasion, virtually all of the protagonists in Bertolucci’s films are perverts of some sort, including the leftist ones. In fact, although surely somewhat sexually sick, the titular ‘fascist’ of The Conformist suffers from an understandable affliction, most notably post-traumatic stress, as a result of shooting a queer chauffeur that attempted to molest him when he was just a wee little lad, thereupon causing him to grow up into a somewhat screwed up individual that puts a premium on normalcy as a means to compensate for both his trauma and conflicted sexuality, hence his strong desire to prove himself as a fascist spy. 


 Simultaneously sympathetic and sickening like a perennially wounded animal that will go to any self-debasing low to soothe his seemingly perennial pain, the film's unconventional antihero, Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant)—the seemingly forsaken prodigy of a junky whore mother and loony institutionalized father that once had the honor of seeing Hitler stereotypically speak in a beer hall—cannot even really be seen a true fascist as he would commit the same exact morally bankrupt betrayals for a communist regime, hence how he is able to so easily reunite with an exiled communist teacher-mentor named Professor Luca Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) that he has been hired to spy on. Not unlike Martin Ritt’s John le Carré adaptation The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)—a film that makes the Cold War seem like a Kalfka-esque nightmare where the lunatics have taken over the asylum—the film completely destroys the silly James Bond myth and depicts spies as the ultimate unscrupulous gutter-dwelling scum-bags and shifty snakes. Ultimately, the film not only reveals the antihero to be an abject failure as a fascist, but also as a spy. Indeed, when Marcello cannot gain the testicular fortitude to kill his professor pal, a real fascist named Special Agent Manganiello (Gastone Moschin)—a virtual caricature of fascistic will-to-power prowess that literally masturbates while fantasizing about executing undesirable untermenschen and is comparable to fascist politician Roberto Farinacci in terms of making Mussolini seem like a liberal eunuch by comparison due to his extreme anti-clerical and counter-kosher stances—carries out the job with the help of his shadowy underlings, but not before declaring in the presence of the pathetic protagonist, “For my money, cowards, pederasts, Jews are all the same. If it was up to me I’d line them all against the wall. Better, kill them at birth.” Of course, this short yet power piece of dialogue ends any lingering sense of doubt as to whether Marcello is a true fascist or not (in fact, in a scene where his handler cynically reveals that most fascist spies are monetary-motivated, it becomes clear that few of these fascists were ‘true believer’ types).  In short, like in any society, the characters of The Conformist naturally adapt to their political climate, which completely changes by the end of the film, thus underscoring this unfortunate yet not-all-that-surprising human tendency.


When Orson Welles stated in a 1958 interview, “All of the eloquence of film is created in the editing room,” he surely could have had Bertolucci's masterpiece in mind as it is a film that is seemingly immaculate in terms of narrative structure despite being depicted largely from the perspective of a mental defective of sorts.  With its elliptical editing that can be compared to Henry Jaglom’s much inferior debut A Safe Place (1971) and the films of the late great British auteur Nicolas Roeg (who incidentally only died a couple days before Bertolucci), The Conformist reveals a individual whose perturbed psyche acts as an ‘unreliable narrator’ of sorts.  Haunted by an exceedingly epicene homo from his childhood that he incorrectly believes he killed, Marcello has a deep all-consuming fear of his own latent sexuality and thus obtains a ‘beard’ in the form of a terribly dumb yet beauteous flapper-like wife named Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he openly admits he has next to nil sexual or emotional interest in.  Although Marcelle does fall in love with his professor’s young blonde wife Anna Quadri (Dominique Sanda), she proves to be a sexually flexible lesbian of sorts. Somewhat curiously, in two different sexually foreboding scenarios hat underscore the protagonist’s delicate mental state, Marcello randomly encounters Anna—or at least her archetypal doppelgänger—twice in semi-surreal situations before he ever officially meets her, including lying provocatively on the desk of a fascist official and lurking around a baroque brothel. Undoubtedly, aggressive bisexual Anna is a symbol of the ideal yet ultimately obtainable archetypal female for the protagonist, so naturally he plays an imperative role in her grisly and ultimately completely pointless death.

 Indeed, like a perverse tribute to Oscar Wilde’s words, “Yet each man kills the thing he loves,” Marcello not only plays a (pathetically passive) role in murdering Anna, but also ultimately his own soul, hence his eventual breakdown near the very end of the film where he randomly happens upon Pasqualino ‘Lino’ Semirama (Pierre Clémenti)—the homosexual chauffeur that he wrongly assumed he killed as a child—and has a dangerous public freakout that really underscores the antihero's morbidly conflicted mindset. Indeed, not only does Marcello project his own crimes onto a completely bewildered Lino, who has no clue who the protagonist is, and accuse him of being the “assassin” that killed Professor Quadri and his wife Anna, but he also attacks his sole friend Italo Montanari (José Quaglio)—a blind fascist radio host—and accuses him of being a “fascist” and killer. Of course, it is hinted that the protagonist secretly resents Italo throughout the film, as he reminds him of his much loathed ‘othernness.’ In fact, when Italo notes they are both “different” and thus “two of a kind,” Marcello becomes visibly annoyed. Clearly a fascist more out of necessity as a cripple than any sort of die-heard blackshirt, Italo also reveals he understands Marcello better than anyone else in the film by declaring to him, “It’s funny though, you know? Everyone would like to be different from the others, but instead you want to be the same as everyone else.” Undoubtedly, probably more lucidly than any other film that I have ever seen, The Conformist confirms C.G. Jung’s wise words, “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” 


While Marcello and his pathetically pathologically unhinged mind are the central focus of the film, there is no question that Bertolucci basks in exposing the deceptive beauty of the two female leads, especially Anna Quadri, who not only echoes Simonetta Vespucci in terms of her classic resplendent European beauty, but also some of the great divas of cinema history, including Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Indeed, as Robin Wood noted in Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (1980) edited by Richard Roud, “In the context of Bertolucci’s work, Anna becomes especially interesting: her ‘decadent’ characteristics correspond closely to the Sternberg/Ophüls/Welles side of Bertolucci’s artistic allegiances, and that side is particularly pronounced in THE CONFORMIST, the most stylistically luxuriant film he has made […] But the stylistic wager of THE CONFORMIST is only partly to be explained in terms of superfluous rhetoric: many scenes—one thinks immediately of the dance-floor sequence, but there is no shortage of possible examples—are brought off with the superb assurance of an artist completely caught up in what he is doing, so that any discrepancy between effect and meaning disappears. The film, whether despite or because of its confusions, remains among the most fascinating of the past decade.” While Anna seems to be the auteur’s ideal women in terms of pulchritude of both physique and personality, Marcello’s wife Giulia—a sort of brain-dead guidette Louise Brooks—acts as Bertolucci’s idea of a sort of dangerously passive dumb broad as her contrived good-looks mask a sort of dangerous idiocy-cum-apathy towards the sort of politics that Bertolucci despises. Both painfully bourgeois and immune to the more ugly extremes of feministic degeneration, the dark-haired Giulia is in stark contrast to the ‘liberated’ Sapphic blonde Anna.  Still, neither woman can be described as upholding any sort of fascist ideal, though Giulia eventually gives birth to a child.  As for Anna, she is senselessly destroyed by the fascist machine because she happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, which is rather fitting in a film puts a premium on the absurdity of existence, especially when it comes to human interpersonal relationships.


 Not unlike ‘fascist’ padrone played Robert De Niro in his subsequent epic 1900, the titular character of The Conformist is a mentally and sexually feeble failure that manages to betray his real sole friend in the end. While I do not know all that much about Bertolucci’s tendencies toward betrayal, I think it is safe to say simply judging by his films that the auteur was a sexually degenerate pervert with a strange mind that was certainly lacking in terms of traditional male virtues and that his fascist characters were merely (possibly unconscious) stand-ins for himself. Indeed, with these fascists characters, the filmmaker projected all his own weaknesses and flaws onto the fascist enemy while celebrating an imagined neo-bolshevik ideal like the sexually potent and heroic commie peasant organizer portrayed by Gérard Depardieu in 1900. As the son of a successful Italian poet that used his padre’s connections to ignite his filmmaking career, Bertolucci was certainly bourgeois and hardly made of the same stern stuff worthy of a Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo painting. In fact, in his classic text Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present (1983), Peter Bondanella would confirm my suspicions when he argued, “...as a coherent explanation of the birth of a Fascist, THE CONFORMIST fails just as certainly as did the theories of Wilhelm Reich in THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM (1933) or of Erich Fromm in ESCAPE FROM FREEDOM (1941), works which obviously influenced Bertolucci’s adaptation of Moravia’s novel. By placing the ultimate origin of Marcello’s conformity and his desire for normality in the realm of Marcello’s unconscious (the lingering memory of a homosexual attack), Bertolucci undermines any Marxist explanation of the rise of Italian Fascism through class struggle or middle-class repression of the working class. Paradoxically, although Bertolucci asserts in a number of interviews that Marcello embodies the middle-class origins of Italian Fascism, there is no evidence in the film to support this position. One the contrary, the only milieu ever reflected in THE CONFORMIST, that of the decadent bourgeoisie, includes not only Marcello and his family but also the anti-Fascist Quadri couple as well. Anna Quadri’s lesbianism, as well as her husband’s obvious voyeuristic pleasure in observing her sexual escapades with members of her sex, mark the anti-Fascists of the picture as members of the same decadent class to which Marcello belongs.”  Needless to say, The Conformist is not the sort of film a real (lumpen)prole would direct, especially when you compare them to the bawdy flicks of real working-class auteur Sergio Citti like Ostia (1970), Casotto (1977) aka Beach House, and Due pezzi di pane (1979) aka Happy Hoboes.  Incidentally, like with Bertolucci, Pasolini co-penned Citti's debut Ostia.


A sort of bourgeois bohemian, Bertolucci seems very much typical of left-wingers from his class and generation in that his politics seem to be largely inspired self-loathing as opposed to any sort of organic sense of solidarity with the working-class.  Of course, such seemingly self-contradictory behavior is, historically speaking, nothing new.  Indeed, as Ted Kaczynski, who spent his entire academic career surrounded by bourgeois leftist types, once rightly wrote, “Many leftists have an intense identification with the problems of groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American Indians), repellent (homosexuals), or otherwise inferior. The leftists themselves feel that these groups are inferior. They would never admit to themselves that they have such feelings, but it is precisely because they do see these groups as inferior that they identify with their problems.” Demonstrating that he is the sort of stereotypical leftist NPC that associates anything that is traditional and western as ‘fascistic,’ Bertolucci actually had the gall to state in a 1971 interview on French television, “Historical Fascism is dead, but middle class is always there, firmly in its place,” thus underscoring that, like with the weaklings of antifa today, the auteur had a sort of primal fear of a sort of imagined fascist bogeyman despite never ever actually experiencing real fascism. Of course, as Uncle Ted also wrote, “Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality. The reasons that leftists give for hating the West, etc., clearly do not correspond with their real motives. They SAY they hate the West because it is warlike, imperialistic, sexist, ethnocentric and so forth, but where these same faults appear in socialist countries or in primitive cultures, the leftist finds excuses for them, or at best he GRUDGINGLY admits that they exist; whereas he ENTHUSIASTICALLY points out (and often greatly exaggerates) these faults where they appear in Western civilization. Thus it is clear that these faults are not the leftist’s real motive for hating America and the West. He hates America and the West because they are strong and successful.”  Undoubtedly, what makes The Conformist antihero Marcello slightly more respectable than the average bourgeois degenerate (and, of course, absolutely loathsome to someone like Bertolucci) is that he opts to side with a powerful movement instead of taking the slave-morality route by identifying with a victim class.


Undoubtedly, the only reason that The Conformist manages to display any sort of empathy for Marcello due to the very fact he is an irrational failure, which Bertolucci seemed to greatly identify with (despite his later great success as a filmmaker). In fact, although eponymous protagonist of his later epic The Last Emperor (1987) is a Manchurian monarch, Bertolucci seemed to identity with this character as well for similar reasons.  Even in 1900—a film that almost rivals a Michael Bay flick in terms of its fiercely one-dimensional portrayal of villains—displays a sort of disgustingly morbid empathy for the pathetic fascist padrone played by De Niro.  As David Thomson speculated in his classic cinematic reference guide, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (1975) in regard to the scene where the ‘hero’ acts passively as his lover Anna is brutally killed, “The finale is passionate, whereas the logic of the film is to show that the man without passion is symptomatic of the modern world. In part, this may be because Bertolucci’s sympathy for the cold-hearted, isolated fascist hero was too great to deny his crucial action the elements of performance. The killing was, therefore, the crab’s dance, in response to the serpentine feminine dance earlier in the film that obliquely humiliates him. The idea of THE CONFORMIST, of this natural, unveil, but detached man, was graver and more penetrating that Bertolucci’s pleasure at cinematic expression.” In short, quite unlike his previous film Partner, which is full of distanciation and other then-vogue alienation techniques, The Conformist thankfully is not contaminated with too much Godard-inspired Brechtian bullshit and instead embraces a sort of morbid romantic melodrama that even NS auteur Viet Harlan could have appreciated, especially during the right darkly tragic climatic moments. Undoubtedly, hardcore avant-gardist like Jean-Marie Straub and Frans van de Staak would surely regard Bertolucci’s magnum opus as aesthetically ‘fascistic.’  After all, in terms of aesthetics and themes, The Conformist—a film where a man sacrifices love and feminine beauty for the good of a fascist regime—can be seen as a sort of post-WWII antifascist equivalent to Harlan's classic National Socialist melodrama Opfergang (1944).


 
It has been rightly said by various film critics, including American film scholar Millicent Marcus, that The Conformist is a sort of allegory for the triumphant rise and pathetically catastrophic fall of Italian fascism as epitomized by the film’s hero. Led by a terribly flawed chap by the name of Mussolini—a sort of failed Machiavellian Mafioso-like type that stole his ideas from much superior men like warrior-poet Gabriele D'Annunzio who proved to be a total disaster during WWII and who accomplished not much more than being Hitler’s failed guido bitch-boy—Fascist Italy largely seems like a catastrophic joke on retrospect. Undoubtedly, self-described “superfascist” Julius Evola—a ‘right-wing’ thinker that so impressed Mussolini with his somewhat quixotic racial ideas that he hired him to start a racial journal that ultimately blended Sorelianism with Aryo-Roman eugenics—would have provided intriguing (meta)political inspiration for a communist like Bertolucci, especially in terms of his critiques of modern Italians in comparison to their much nobler ancient Roman ancestors. Indeed, creating a dichotomy between the negative modern ‘Mediterranean’ type and the ancient ‘Roman’ type, Evola described the former as stereotypically (proudly) dishonest, noisy/loudmouthed, sentimental, overly defensive, extroverted and lecherous, and the latter as noble, stoic, self-critical, and introverted. Undoubtedly, the titular character of The Conformist seems to be have a less than ideal combination of traits from both groups as a sort of autistic neurotic Mediterranean nut-job. As Evola noted, “As is well known, during the Fascist era Italy attempted to start similar developments, whose most serious concern, though it was felt only by a minority, was to increasingly transform a ‘Mediterranean’ Italy into a ‘Roman’ Italy. An adequate integrating counterpart could have been the initial separation of Italy from her ‘Latin sisters’ and a reapproach to the German people, beyond the plane of mere political concerns.” Of course, as far as Europeans go, Italians and Germans have very little in common, hence the failure of this transformation, or as Evola himself reluctantly noted in the very same exact chapter of the same exact book in regard to the common perception among his countrymen, “In a previous chapter I mentioned the part played by anti-German prejudice in some patriotic Italian historiography influenced by Masonic and democratic-liberal ideology. This prejudice is also found in the cultural domain, and especially among those who cherish the myth of the Latin world […] Italians and Germans, it is claimed, will never understand each other. Our Latin civilization and mind-set stand in contrast with anything German.” It is also no coincidence that there is a scene in the film where the protagonist’s blind radio host friend Italo attempts to hype up the supposed “Prussian aspect” of Mussolini and supposed “Latin aspect” of Hitler, as it was ultimately a preposterous alliance between two very cultures. 



 Speaking of Evola, he was heavily influenced by the Austrian Jewish philosopher Otto Weininger’s classic text Geschlecht und Charakter (1903) aka Sex and Character, which, whether intentional or not (I'm going to have to assume the latter), seems to have been a bigger psychological influence on The Conformist than the sort of stereotypical anti-Occidental Judaic psychoanalysts like Freud and Reich that clearly heavily influenced Bertolucci’s lesser films like 1900. Although the film is somewhat Freudian in the sense that the protagonist is haunted by certain Oedipal conflicts that reach their peak when he takes part in the killing of a virtual ‘surrogate father’ in the form of his old professor friend, the film ultimately feels more Weininger-esque than overtly Freudian.  While I do somewhat doubt that Bertolucci ever read Weininger, the romance between lead Marcello Clerici and Anna Quadri is one of the rare cinematic examples of Weiningerian sexual compatibility. Believing that all people were to some degree ‘bisexual’ (e.g. a butch lesbian would have about 80% masculine traits/20% feminine traits), Weininger argued that people, including homosexuals, were naturally attracted to people with opposite (yet ultimately complimentary) sexual traits (for example, a male that is 90% male/10% female would most likely be attracted to a female that is 10% male/90% female).  As Weininger once wrote in regard to the tendency, “I once heard a bisexual man exlaim at the sight of a bisexually active actress with a slight hint of a beard, a deep sonorous voice, and almost no hair on her head: ‘What a gorgeous woman!’  To every man ‘woman’ means something different and yet the same; in ‘women’ every poet has celebrated something different and yet identical.”

While the film’s lead Marcello, who clearly has certain latent homosexual tendencies, is totally disgusted by his wife Giulia—a woman that is a sort of degenerate version of the archetype of the highly feminine submissive yet sexually insatiable housewife type—he virtually falls in love with the aggressive bisexual (or, possibly, even lesbian) Anna at first sight and his feelings are surely reciprocated, at least to some degree.  Indeed, despite being a deeply troubled latent homosexual, Marcello reacts to Anna because her aberrosexuality compliments his own (to the antihero's slight chagrin, Anna also demonstrates an attraction to Marcello's wife).  Of course, aside from not completely succumbing to raunchy Reichian retardation, The Conformist is nowhere near as sexually debasing as the director’s later films like 1900, which features full-frontal homosexual encounters between preteen boys and a sadomasochistic threesome of sorts involving Donald Sutherland, a fat chick, and a little boy that absurdly climaxes with the latter having his brains bashed in against a wall. Needless to say, The Conformist is not only more aesthetically ambitious than 1900, but also considerably more intellectually, psychologically, and (meta)politically nuanced. In that sense, it is no surprise that Peter Bondanella would note in his text Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present (1983) that, “With his adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s THE CONFORMIST, Bertolucci produced what is perhaps his most visually satisfying film, although many reviewers and critics question its ideological coherence.” Only really superficially ‘antifascist,’ especially compared to audaciously aberrant yet idiotic agitprop like 1900, the film’s (anti)hero just as easily could have been a commie, which is (arguably) one of the film’s messages, hence the (arguably) ironical title.



 While Bertolucci would go on to direct much bigger films with much bigger budgets, The Conformist is unquestionably his mostly aesthetically refined and most mesmerizing in terms of mise-en-scène, as if the auteur was attempting to reconcile the films of Orson Welles and Werner Schroeter for the target peasant audience of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972).  Of course, it would be virtually criminal to not mention the imperative contributions of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti to the film (in fact, I do not think it is a coincidence that both men worked on Bertolucci's greatest films).  A cultivated homosexual that also worked as an art designer on Visconti's Death in Venice (1971),  Scarfiotti arguably deserves more credit than anyone for elevating The Conformist to the level of high cinematic art.  Interestingly, the auteur once confessed in a 1972 interview with Marilyn Goldin when asked if the film was Sternbergian, “Yes, indeed. Because in [THE SPIDER’S] STRATEGY I was more influenced by life, while in THE CONFORMIST I was more influenced by movies. One could say the point of departure was cinema; and the cinema I like is Sternberg, Ophüls and Welles.” Needless to say none of these auteur filmmakers directed films for peasant audiences, as they all demonstrated the very same sort of aristocratic decadence that Bertolucci decried throughout his career. Revealing his own hypocritical Oedipal tendencies, Bertolucci actually stated in the same exact interview, “My own father was anti-Fascist, but obviously I feel that the whole bourgeoisie is my father. And Fascism was invented by the petit bourgeois […] On top of that, THE CONFORMIST is a story about me and Godard. When I gave the professor Godard’s phone number and address, I did it for a joke, but afterwards I said to myself, ‘Well, maybe all that has some significance. . . .I’m Marcello and I make Fascist movies and I want to kill Godard who's a revolutionary, who makes revolutionary movies and who was my teacher.” Aside from being admirably honest in regard to his deeply personal motivations, including his sort of cringe-worthy class self-loathing, for making the film, Bertolucci’s remark also reveals his longing to kill his own sort of surrogate cinematic father in a film that is ultimately dually (and even schizophrenically) Oedipal. In that sense, it is no surprise that the antihero lacks the strength to personally kill his own father figure and instead really just wants to destroy his own mind and soul in the end. Indeed, somehow I doubt Bertolucci would have been a card-carrying commie had he born a couple decades before during a time when Marxism was not vogue and the trains ran on time. Needless to say, Bertolucci would have probably been a sort of Italian Hans-Jürgen Syberberg in terms of critical and academic neglect had he demonstrated more of an affinity for someone like Evola instead of Antonio Gramsci, but I digress.  As to Bertolucci's reference to wanting to kill his filmic father figure Godard, it is somewhat ironic that he would choose a Moravia novel to accomplish such an admirably lofty task.  After all, not unlike Bertolucci with The Conformist, Le Mépris (1963) aka Contempt—an adaptation of Moravia's existentialist novel Il disprezzo (1954)—is oftentimes (rightly) described by critics as Godard's magnum opus.



 In his classic text The Rise and Fall of Elites: An Application of Theoretical Sociology—a classic sociopolitical text that proved to be an imperative influence on Mussolini in terms of his struggle to takeover Italy—Vilfredo Pareto noted, “It is a known fact that almost all revolutions have been the work, not of the common people, but of the aristocracy, and especially of the decayed part of the aristocracy.” Of course, the same can be said of revolutionary cinema, as Bertolucci’s one-time hero Godard, who actually came from a family of anti-Semitic Vichy supporters, was certainly not a member of the working-class yet he dedicated a good portion of his career to defecating out mostly worthless (neo)Marxist agitprop. In the same book, Pareto argues that, “Elites often become effete. They preserve a certain passive courage, but lack active courage,” which is certainly a good way to describe not only the titular character of The Conformist, but also Bertolucci himself. In fact, I would argue that in no other film does Bertolucci demonstrate that he is the politically passive-aggressive auteur par excellence, but at least in this context it works in his favor due to the antihero's conflicted psyche and incapacity to take direct decisive action. Seeing as the film concludes with it hinting that the antihero has finally ‘went over to the other side’ and embraced his latent homosexuality now that fascism is finally dead, one can interpret this as a sort of subtle confession by Bertolucci that anyone could have become a ‘fascist’ during those repressive times, including his perverted self (surely, it is no coincidence that his late era film The Dreamers (2003) is not much more than a gleefully gratuitous celebration of the sexual degeneracy of the post-WWII generation and the insipidly deleterious politics that accompanied such degeneracy).  Either way, the film (unwittingly) confirms that the post-WWII era is, by definition, degenerate.



 One of the most interesting aspects I discovered upon researching The Conformist is the divergent critiques and analyses of the film. Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting I found was by queer film theorist Parker Tyler, who argued in his book Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies (1972) in regard to Bertolucci's masterpiece that, “It is a brilliantly directed and photographed film—so stylish in performance that the crypto-fascist sex syndrome it portrays seems very true yet is so subtly woven with emotional and sexual ambiguity as to block the critic who wishes to assess the precise role played by homosexuality. The hero […] is as false a heterosexual as he is a homosexual […] Is he cowardly and treacherous because of his sex neurosis? Moravia’s antifascist purpose seems to have been to associate fascist sadism and amoralism with a particular sex complex in the male. This is embodied in a fucked-up hetero who—going by the plot line—is really homo […] Further, the director Bertolucci has contrived from all this such a smooth, flexible, fast-moving melodrama that character motivation is swept along as bright blur with incidentally piercing insights.” And, of course, this is the brilliance of a film directed by an auteur that is not typically known for being subtle—whether it be the (meta)political and/or psychosexual (notably, according to, Gideon Bachmann, Bertolucci was, “rescue[d] by [Carl] Jung” right before he made the film, which might explain the almost metaphysical essence of the film).

 From there, Taylor complains, “After due consideration, can we avoid formulating the moral that offbeat sex is schematic in being a fated part of the contagious moral vice which fascism is widely assumed to be? That, for its part, homosexuality can also be a thing of grace, a separate field of gravity, a poet’s and philosopher’s privilege and even (as in the classic pastorals) a lover’s peaceful pursuit, seems to have been inconceivable in Mussolini’s Italy. Or so THE CONFORMIST and similar movies would have us believe; even DEATH IN VENICE, whose era is the nineteenth century and whose Homeros is very young, beautiful, and untainted, makes turncoat homosexuality a symbolic disease.” Of course, it is interesting that Taylor references a film by Visconti as he conveniently forgets the auteur's classic epic melodrama The Damned (1969), reminds one in its savagely hyper homoerotic depiction of the so-called Night of the Long Knives that the NSDAP’s original paramilitary outfit, the Sturmabteilung (SA)—a group led by a subversive sod by the name of Ernst Röhm that demonstrated he was more radical than Bertolucci or any of his contemporaries when he once pridefully remarked, “Since I am an immature and wicked man, war and unrest appeal to me more than good bourgeois order. Brutality is respected, the people need wholesome fear. They want to fear someone. They want someone to frighten them and make them shudderingly submissive”—was completely led by well-known homosexuals and they certainly were not stereotypical pansy poofters, but I digress.  While Tyler certainly brings up some interesting points, he seems to ignore the fact that, contrary to the gatekeepers of the LGBT pink gestapo, ‘gay’ is not a prepackaged one-size-fits-all identity and that the film's protagonist is more a victim of childhood trauma than his sexuality.  In fact, had Marcello been more comfortable in his gayness, he might have been a fairly ferocious fascist and lived a more Edmund Heines-esque existence.



 Ultimately, The Conformist is less about homosexuality than ostensible fascistic nightmare of having to live in a society that has actual standards where everyone is expected to be guided by the same moral compass, hence why Bertolucci would once remark that the film is set, “...in the present, but it's the present dressed as the past.”  In the very last scene of the film in what seems to allude to the present and thus the so-called sexual revolution, counterculture movement, and student protest movement, the film’s protagonist is depicted with flames illuminating his face while he is literally behind bar as a completely naked street hustler lies nearby. In short, with fascism dead, Marcello can now be himself and get fucked in the ass with pride, or so Bertolucci—a supposedly heterosexual man that filled many of his films with explicit homosexual content, including of the prepubescent sort—wants you to believe. Needless to say, it is quite fitting that Bertolucci died the same year exact year that right-ring strongman Matteo Salvini—a real mensch that seems like he could by the grandson of Fascio Special Agent Manganiello—took power to repair everything that the filmmaker’s generation so zealously and thoughtlessly destroyed.  Indeed, despite what one might think of the film's aesthetic value as what is arguably one of the greatest and most important cinematic works of its era, there is no denying that it is a strangely mercurial reflection of a sick society and era that is in steady decline.

As Pareto noted long ago in regard to the paradoxically spiritually necrotic character of priveleged yet self-loathing bourgeois leftist types like Bertolucci, “Our bourgeoisie spends energy and money only to aid the enemy.  Societies to help the vicious, the incapable, and the degenerate, spring up in extraordinary numbers; and among all these societies the bourgeoisie did not have the spirit to establish one, I say a single one, to defend their own rights.  But then, do they have rights?  It seems that they do not, for they are ashamed to speak of them.  It is the owners who negate their right of ownership and donate money to the People's Universities, which teach that everything should be taken from the owners.  Viewed from a certain point, it can be said that in effect they have no rights, because they do not know how to defend them.”  Like a virtual archetypal caricature of the spiritually sick bourgeois that Pareto speaks of, Bertolucci even once confessed in a 1978 interview with Jean A. Gili in regard to his film 1900,  “Likewise I consider to be communist the feeling of guilt that I experience as a bourgeois—a feeling which, according to some conformists, makes the film appear to be manichean [...]  As for me, the fact that I have a visceral feeling about my bourgeois origins, the fact that I accept the burden of a certain type of guilt which is not directly mine but belongs to my social class and those who support that class, is also a communist idea.”  Of course, what Bertolucci's confessions reveal to me is that, not unlike modern antifa members and trust-fund gutter-punks and squatters, he was a literal social degenerate compelled by a sort of passive Todestrieb, hence why he created socially, politically, and sexually deleterious cinematic works and never had children despite being married to no less than three different women (notably, as Max Nordau highlighted in his classic text Entartung (1892) aka Degeneration, degenerate artists tend not to reproduce and thus unwittingly solve the societal problem of their own tainted bloodlines).  In that sense, I think that The Conformist, which is only superficially like Moravia's source novel, can only be adequately interpreted as a sort of semi-cryptic schizophrenic internal dialogue by Bertolucci about what it might be like to be a fascist despite being psychologically ill-equipped and lacking the intrinsic desire for self-preservation and continuing one's genetic line (while the antihero does have a child, it seems rather absurd that he and his wife are parents).  Of course, just by directing a film of such a caliber as The Conformist, Bertolucci certainly accomplished more than most people do in their lives—whether they be Evolian neo-fascists or Limousine Marxists.  Not unlike his virtual spiritual predecessors like the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who also disgraced their social backgrounds, Bertolucci managed to achieve greatness in spite of his degeneracy, henceforth demonstrating that it is probably preferable to have despoiled bourgeois or noble blood to healthy peasant blood, at least if you are an artist.



-Ty E

Nov 25, 2018

Mandy




While I certainly consider the 1980s to be one of the best decades for music and regard many films, ranging from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's swansong Querelle (1982) to Tim Hunter's River's Edge (1986), from the same era as being among my personal favorites, I have become increasingly disgusted with the entire nostalgia culture trend as is probably most popularly epitomized by the obscenely overrated Netflix series Stranger Things. A degradingly derivative, conspicuously contrived, and politically correct Spielbergian pseudo-artistic con featuring gay little racially ambiguous boys as heroes and a mostly mute baby dyke as a heroine, the preposterously popular show, not unlike the films of (sub)human turd Tarantino, indubitably reveals more about the artistic and cultural bankruptcy of our age than its actual true worth as popular entertainment. Indeed, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that, for better or worse, there is more originality, creativity, and humanity in a single episode of the original Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits than all of the episodes of Stranger Things combined, but I digress. Undoubtedly, it is a symptomatic of our spiritually sick and soulless age that people look to the Reaganite 1980s—a mostly materialistic age when most movies were mostly nothing more than mindless entertainment—as a means to calm metaphysical afflictions like Weltschmerz and Sehnsucht, but, of course, it is not all that surprising considering we live in a decidedly deracinated consumerist age where the only frame of reference for the past is in spiritually and culturally hollow Hollywood form. Personally, I find most of these nostalgia fetish pieces annoying specifically because they express virtual swooning adoration for the very same sort of lowbrow entertainment products that lead to such spiritual emptiness in the first place, as a Spielberg or George Lucas movie is surely not going to provide one with the same sort of cultural or spiritual nourishment that traditional religions, families, and societies once provided people.  In short, these frivolous filmic products are narcotizing poison disguised as the cure.

For that reason, I am able to, somewhat reluctantly, embrace the sort of ‘reactionary retrowave’ cinema of young Greco-Italian-Canadian auteur Panos Cosmatos, who does not merely fetishize the past but also critiques it in a refreshingly esoteric fashion the involves the utilization of both old school genre and experimental cinema techniques. Although Cosmatos has only directed two features, he demonstrated with his very first feature Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) an inordinate maturity in terms of both aesthetic vision and worldview. Influenced by films ranging from Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) aka Contempt to Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961) to Saul Bass's sole directorial effort Phase IV (1974) to E. Elias Merhige's Begotten (1990), Cosmatos’ directorial debut is indubitably visually alluring but what arguably makes it most interesting is its scathing anti-Boomer subtext. Indeed, as the young auteur has revealed in various interviews, the film is partly a critique of the spiritually degeneracy of the Baby Boomer generation and how they foolishly experimented with dubious forms of occultism while high on psychedelics. In his latest and greatest film, Mandy (2018), Cosmatos not only expands on his anti-Boomer sentiments, but also demonstrates a further aesthetic refinement that ultimately reveals that the auteur is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today.  Like a romance-revenge film as directed by the heterosexual godson of Kenneth Anger and Werner Schroeter, the film somehow manages to reconcile the psychedelic cinematic journey of something like Lucifer Rising (1972) with Charles Bronson/Michael Winner righteous retribution classics like The Mechanic (1972) and Death Wish (1974).



 
Notably, Cosmatos is actually the son of belated Greco-Italian filmmaker George P. Cosmatos, who of course is best known for Hollywood genre exercises, including the Sylvester Stallone vehicles Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Cobra (1986), the aquatic sci-fi-horror flick Leviathan (1989), and the celebrated Kurt Russell western Tombstone (1993). While the elder Cosmatos demonstrated a certain talent for eccentricity with the little-known ‘rat horror’ flick Of Unknown Origin (1983)—a somewhat underrated flick featuring Peter Weller in a surprisingly unforgettable performance that was one of the influences behind Mandy—the son, who clearly has different aesthetic tastes (notably, his belated mother was Swedish sculptor Birgitta Ljungberg-Cosmatos), is clearly the more idiosyncratic and experimental of the two. Indeed, it would be easy to accuse Cosmatos of nepotism but—aside from the fact that he did not direct his first feature until about half a decade after his father had died—this fat, swarthy, and goofy-looking fellow has clearly already paid his dues in terms of dedicating his life to the art of cinema and, unlike Brandon Cronenberg, he does not even seem remotely interested in parroting the auteur themes of his padre. While the film stars Mr. Meme Nicholas Cage as the lead, Mandy is clearly not the work of a simple artisan looking to support his family but an enterprising (and seemingly somewhat troubled) artiste that has a somewhat aesthetically schizophrenic affinity for both total trash and high-art. In other words, Cosmatos clearly made the film for himself, but luckily he has good enough taste to make films that appeal to slightly more people than just a marginal group of introverted autists. 



In regard to his arguable magnum opus Trouble in Mind (1985), Alan Rudolph—a protégé of Robert Altman who got his start directing obscure no-budget horror trash like Premonition (1972) and Nightmare Circus (1974) aka The Barn of the Naked Dead—once remarked, “To me, loves is always the turning point, the best hope for any future. And my favorite subject for a film.” If we are to take Rudolph’s words seriously then it is completely understandable why the protagonist of Mandy goes into full self-destructive exterminationist mode after his one-true-love is burned alive by members of a somewhat Manson Family-esque cult. Undoubtedly, Rudolph and Cosmatos’ film have very little in common yet they do share at least two imperative similarities in terms of their combination of virtual worship of romantic love in a wicked world juxtaposed with a potent palette of (oftentimes neon) colors. Just like his previous feature Beyond the Black Rainbow, the films is set in 1983 as if to hint that it is the foreboding penultimate year just before the Orwellian nightmare begins, or so one would surely assume upon watching the films. Indeed, while Mandy might share various aesthetic similarities with films from the same decade when it is set, the film is sometimes as dark and dejecting as the most miserable works of German Expressionism despite paying homage to films as dumb and benign as Friday the 13th (1980) and Phantasm II (1988).  In its sometimes gleeful recycling of popular horror flicks in an artsy fartsy fashion, Cosmatos’ film somewhat recalls shameless guido rip-off movies like Giulio Paradisi's Stridulum (1979) aka The Visitor.  Of course, unlike Paradisi, Cosmatos relatively seamless pomo film referencing is clearly more influenced by cinematic nostalgia than sheer monetary gain.

Undoubtedly, the fiercely phantasmagorical film is like a reworking of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth as meant to appeal to stupid horror fans that are not even familiar with said myth; or so one would assume if one actually believed that the average My Sweet Satan-esque metal head could stomach something even remotely like an art film. In fact, Mandy is one of the very few films that, in terms of influences and message, I would describe as a true white proletarian art film, though it is surely a cinematic work that most people seem to either love or love to hate. As for me, I was shocked that I could thoroughly enjoy a film that features stupid pointless heavy metal fonts for similarly seemingly pointless chapter title sequences, but I take what I can get.  To some degree, the film is the cinematic equivalent of junk food and the sort of flick that provides a sort of childlike escapism, yet it does provide a tinge of spiritual nourishment and righteous romantic justice that similar films are quite lacking.  In short, the film contains very little, if any, culturally syphilitic poz, which is certainly no small accomplishment considering the current cultural climate.


 
For me, the brilliance of Mandy comes in the form of the little things like an evil demonic biker gang that seems like it is the miserably misgotten spawn of the strangely iconic Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) brutally buttfucking the bikeboys of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963). Likewise, the animation feels the bastard mongrel broad of characters from the esoteric erotic Japanese animated feature Belladonna of Sadness (1973) directed by Eiichi Yamamoto and the Canadian cult sci-fi-fantasy Heavy Metal (1981). As for the beauteously foreboding forest depicted in the film, it falls somewhere between the more mystical German Heimat films and the first two The Evil Dead films. Not unlike like Philip Ridley’s comparably eerily mystical The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995), the film might be set in the American wilderness but it was actually shot in Europe (indeed, while Saxony, Germany stands in for Appalachian region of North Carolina in the former film, Cosmatos opted for somewhere in Flemish Belgium for his feature). And, not just because of the Lowland Country setting, the film echoes the wonderful neo-Gothic weirdness of Belgian auteur filmmakers like André Delvaux (One Night... a Train, Belle) and Harry Kümel (Daughters of Darkness, Malpertuis). In short, Mandy resembles some sort of marvelous Frankenstein movie monster as carefully assembled from the butchered parts of 1980s horror/slasher cinema, the Fantastique genre, the psychedelic films of Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1980s era David Lynch, Heavy Metal-esque animation, Stan Brakhage films like the Dog Star Man (1961-1964) cycle, and stupid heavy metal shit. Luckily, the film is greater than the sum of its seemingly absurdly combined hodgepodge of parts. If Nietzsche was right when he wrote, “There is one thing one has to have: either a soul that is cheerful by nature, or a soul made cheerful by work, love, art, and knowledge,” then one must assume that Cosmatos has the latter type of soul as Mandy is clearly the expression of a man that lives for art and feels obligated to express this to the world. Undoubtedly, the film is not the expression of some simple artisan that simply learned a thing or two about cinema history from film school but an autodidact and natural cinephile that makes no distinction between lowbrow cinema trash and high celluloid art, but simply ‘good’ and ‘bad’ film of all sorts.  In that sense, Cosmatos is somewhat like Nicolas Winding Refn sans the obnoxious autism.



 
In the featurette Behind the Scenes of MANDY, one of the film’s producer, Daniel Noah, remarks in regard to a central theme of the flick, “To me, this film is ultimately a romance. It is the story of love and while it is a sad story—the story of lost love—it’s also a story about when you lose someone, you still hold them in your heart. And this is a movie that we hope will provide comfort, which is a funny thing to say about a film that is such a dark journey. But it provides comfort because it speaks to people, like Panos and like us, and it says to them that they’re not alone.” Indeed, in many ways, the film, or at least the first half of it, is a simple tasteful love story of the rather wholesome sort where sex does not even really come into play, as the protagonists are depicted in a relatively normal domestic setting doing simple things that lovers tend to do like spooning each other in bed while talking about their favorite planets and watching shitty low-budget horror films together like Don Dohler's Nightbeast (1980). Indeed, it is not until the titular heroine is brutally murder by a Jesus cult that we truly realize how powerful their love is, at least for the male protagonist who carries out a savagely sadistic scorched-earth policy against the culprits. An inordinately psychedelic neo-gothic romance-revenge hybrid where there is no real redemption aside from the glorious thrill of destroying one’s enemies, Mandy cannot be described as an uplifting film yet it does somehow have a deranged triumphant spirit in the end. Surely, while watching the film I could not help but be reminded of various drunkenly lovelorn quotes by Edgar Allan Poe like, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” as the eponymous heroine's fiery demise is indeed quite the sight, as is the various consequences of said death. Likewise, when Poe wrote in his short story The Black Cat (1843), “There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man,” he could be speaking of the male protagonist. 




The story of Mandy is deceptively simple: Simple man lives a simple happy life with his beloved girlfriend; hippie Jesus cult ruins man's life by kidnapping and murdering his girlfriend; destroyed simple man then dedicates his destroyed life to vengefully destroying every single member of the hippie cult. Of course, the film is more of an aesthetic journey than a narratively complex Kubrickian tale. The male protagonist is named ‘Red Miller’ (Nicolas Cage), which is a fitting name because he is a simple man that, by the end of the film, has a totally red-face as a result of all that blood that splatters on him while passionately dispatching his enemies. Red’s beloved girlfriend is named Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) and she also has a fitting name because she is beauteous young babe that is at the height of her physical prowess and feminine fertility.  As hinted in the film, both characters come from rough traumatic backgrounds yet they have managed to find a special sort of happiness due to their strong love for one another.  Even before she is killed, it is clear that Mandy is probably the only thing keeping Red from being a miserable mess.  While the lovers live in an incredibly safe rural area called Crystal Lake in the remotest forests of the Shadow Mountains, Mandy has the grand misfortune of one day being randomly spotted while walking to work by a bleach blond hippie cult leader named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache)—a megalomaniac and charlatan that leads a motley crew called ‘Children of the New Dawn’—who immediately decides he cannot live without her, so he has his cult members kidnap her and Red. Being drugged out cult members that are mostly lacking in the physical prowess department, the Children of the New Dawn—a group of about half-a-dozen mostly bleach blond Aryan degenerates that look like they could be the family members of Stephen King fetishist and filmmaker Mick Garris—are not exactly fit for the kidnapping, so they summon a demonic biker gang called the ‘Black Skulls’ to carryout the operation. Rather curiously, the biker gang is summoned via a musical instrument called the “horns of Abraxas” and are given a large batch of hard LSD and a fat male victim—the weakest member of the cult—as payment (or “blood for blood”) for their actions.

 A somewhat hard bitch that had a traumatic upbringing (among other things, her father apparently taught her and other kids at a very young age how to mindlessly slaughter baby starlings), Mandy does not let a large dose of LSD stop her from completely humiliating and emasculating Jeremiah—an unequivocal god and legend in his own mind—when he bares both his naked body and soul to her and attempts to ply her with pathetic pseudo-poetic compliments in front of all of his followers.  While presenting himself as a virtual god in mere mortal form, Mandy literally laughs in Jeremiah's face while his flaccid pecker is hanging out in what proves to be an especially unnerving moment of the film.  Not unlike Charles Manson, Jeremiah is a failed folk musicians that, rather conveniently, inevitably found “another path. The path I have always been truly destined for” and became a cult leader, so he is doubly internally wounded when Mandy mocks both his music and authority. Needless to say, Jeremiah needs to save face and uphold his authority in front of the cult after being so ruthlessly rejected, so he opts to have Mandy burned alive after literally conferring with himself in front of a mirror like the bargain bin Narcissus that he is and stating to himself whilst crying like a little girl, “Tell me what to do.” Unfortunately for them, Jeremiah and his crazed crew fail to murder Red. Instead, they make the ultimately fatal mistake of ruthlessly taunting Red by making him watch his beloved being burned alive, but not before Jeremiah’s seemingly half-autistic right-hand man Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy) declares to him,“Take a good look, you worthless piece of human excrement. This is the tainted blade of the pale knight, straight from the abyssal layer” and then stabs him in the side with said “tainted blade.” Naturally, the only thing that Red cares about after surviving the horrific soul-crushing ordeal is pure and unadulterated bloodthirsty revenge.   Needless to say, the self-stylized quasi-Gnostic cult is no match for the most broken-hearted of backwoods bros.




In what can either be seen as either a major flaw of the film or a perversely poetic statement about the power of love, Red, who seems almost literally possessed by the Greek goddess ‘Adrestia,’ expends very little effort when it comes to systematically exterminating rather enigmatic enemies that almost seem to have magic satanic powers. Indeed, upon visiting an old negro friend named ‘Caruthers’ (Bill Duke) in his remote trailer to fetch his prized crossbow named ‘The Reaper,’ Red is informed by his comrade that the Black Skulls are ungodly beings and will probably kill him, but the friendly warning does not faze him. Indeed, as Caruthers explains in a sort of strangely poetic country colored gentlemen sort of fashion in regard to the Black Skulls, “There’s stories that there was a chapter that ran courier for a manufacturer of LSD. He took a disliking to them and cooked them up a special batch, and they have never been right in the head since. I seen them once from a distance. What you’re hunting is rabid animals and you should go in knowing that your odds ain’t that good, and you’ll probably die […] When I seen them things, they were in a world of pain. But you know what the freakiest part was? They fucking loved it.”  After visiting Caruthers, Red also opts to forge a large battle axe, thus underscoring his compulsion towards a truly visceral and brutal ‘hands on’ sort of revenge as opposed to simply gunning down his enemies with some sort of assault rifle.

Although Red is captured by the Black Skulls after crashing his car while attempting to hunt them down, he actually proves to be a formidable fighter against completely leather-clad faceless creatures that can hardly be described as human. Living in a home that more resembles the double-wide trailer of stereotypical meth-addled bikers than the ominous lair of demonic beings, the Black Skulls reveal certain idiosyncrasies despite their matching ‘infernal uniforms.’ For example, a gaunt and seemingly gay member of the group that seems to have a makeup dresser makes Red cry by stating, “You have a death wish.” Red retorts by crying “I-I don’t want. . . I don’t want to talk about that” and telling him, “You’re a vicious snow flake.” Since he is the most faggy of the group, Red does not have to waste too much energy to takeout the lanky biker even though one of his hands is initially nailed to a floor. The next biker Red encounters is a grotesquely large and fat porn addict named ‘Fuck Pig’ that seems to be a demonic couch potato of sorts. On top of destroying Fuck Pig’s living room while he is watching a porn, Red gets a couple gallons or so of the rather rotund biker’s blood on his face after murdering him. While the final biker puts somewhat more of a fight as the two battle in front of a burning car, Red has no problem decapitating the bulky Jason Voorhees-esque being, especially after the creatures taunts him by stating in regard to Mandy, “She burns. She burns. She Burns.”  Before dispatching the final biker, Red himself transforms into a demonic being of sorts after fiendishly consuming some of the Black Skulls' cocaine and LSD.  Of course, Red then makes his way to the church of the Children of the New Dawn after completely liquidating the Black Skulls brigade, but before he does he must meet a mysterious LSD chemist so that he can get directions. 




The Chemist (played by Richard Brake, who is probably best known for playing the legendary ‘Night King’ in HBO’s big (s)hit show Game of Thrones) is a Delphic hippie-guru-like figure with a pet tiger name ‘Lizzie’ and without Red even saying a single word to him, he remarks, “It’s cool, man. Jovan warrior sent forth from the eye of the storm. When it’s calm, I know it’s good. Oh, man. They wronged you. Why they gotta be like that? You exude a cosmic darkness. Can you see that? Okay. The children. North.” From there, Red heads north where he first encounters Brother Swan, who has the gall to state, “She… She burned brightly, Mandy. Don’t you think? Still, better to burn out than fade.” Since Swan has a big mouth, Red opts to underscore that fact by firmly penetrating his oral orifice with the butt of his battle axe, thereupon killing his creepy psychotic sycophantic ass in a rather brutal fashion that is something akin to deadly oral rape. From there, Red knocks the children off one by way as day turns to night until he eventually reaches their primitive church, which seems like it is located in a remote pit of hell.  Somewhat predictably, Red first encounters Jeremiah’s lead whore Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouéré)—a sort of evil and sexually insatiable Mary Magdalene figure with a disturbing million-cock-stare—who demonstrates a shocking degree of self-delusion and denial by bragging without even showing the slightest inkling of fear that she is about to be murdered, “Jeremiah says. . .I’m the most sensual lover he’s ever experienced. . .because of my sensitivity. . .and my empathy. I can anticipate my lover’s every move. I meet them. Like warm waves. . .locking. . .the rocky. . .hard shore.” As the old whore of Jeremiah who was once told by her charlatan lover that, “Everything you do is wrong,” Mother Marlene was naturally jealous of Mandy and Red killing her almost seems like a compassionate act of mercy, even if he decapitates her.

In what ultimately proves to be a grand entrance, Red scares the shit out of jerk-off Jeremiah Sand by rolling Mother Marlene’s decapitated dome into his lair. While Jeremiah commands, “Come no closer. God is in this room” and tells Red, “You’re just meat. Without a soul. Without a brain. Without anything,” the charlatan messiah soon reveals that he has nil authority by trying in vain to spare his own life by curiously offering to suck the protagonist’s prick. Indeed, it seems that the sex-obsessed sicko, like all sociopath/narcissist types, lacks the capacity to differentiate between love and sex, though he clearly sees the latter as a symbol of power. Of course, Red is not impressed with Jeremiah pansy pleadings of, “I’ll blow you, man. I’ll suck your fucking dick!,” so he crushes the cult leader’s head until eyeballs pop up with his bare hands and then sets his decapitated head on fire.  Notably, as Red is crushing Jeremiah's skull, he lets out an orgasmic yell that reveals that he has finally obtained the visceral emotional relief of killing the man that killed his one-true-love. In the end, Red erases all physical memory of the Children of the New Dawn by burning their church down and then nostalgically thinks of Mandy while driving away as if she is in the passenger seat of the car with him as he maintains a deranged expression of happiness on his absurdly blood-soaked face. As Red drives away, the planets Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the sky, which, quite notably, are the lovers’ favorite planets as revealed during a tender moment near the beginning of the film before everything went to hell.  Incidentally, in the same scene, Red jokes that he likes the Marvel comic character Galactus because he “eats planets,” which is fitting words for a man that murdered virtually every single member of a group called the Children of the New Dawn in what amounts to a sort of Gnostic Ragnarök.



 
Undoubtedly, Mandy is, in many ways, an exaggerated expression of Nietzsche’s words, “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” Personally, I have see enough men throw their lives away on women to feel a little bit agitated by certain aspects of the film, namely Red entering a perennial dark void of no return for a woman that seems like a cold cunt, though I can certainly sympathize with him. While the titular chick clearly does not deserve the inordinately brutal demise she receives, it is hard to deny that seems like a total bitch and it is probably no coincidence that her greatest outburst of emotion comes out in the form of her laughing demonically for an extended period of time at a sick sociopathic pseudo-messiah, as if she was begging for death.  Notably, a scene at the beginning of the film where Jeremiah Sand first sees Mandy bears a striking resemblance to the artwork on Black Sabbath's 1970 self-titled debut album (additionally, aside from the fact that Mandy is wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt in this scene, Cosmatos once remarked in regard to his intent with the film, “I wanted to create something like a heavy metal album cover from the ’70s”).  Of course, this is not the only moment in the film where Mandy resembles a witch.  In short, Red—a man that literally devotes his entire life to his women—is too good for Mandy, thereupon making his vengeful mass-murdering spree all the more tragic. Of course, the fact that the heroine is a bitch makes the film an all the more romantic example of masculine sacrifice as the protagonist takes virtual otherworldly risks and it is doubtful that his lover would have even done a fraction of the same things for him had the tables been turned. It seems that auteur Cosmatos has a more sympathetic view of the heroine as he stated in an interview with comingsoon.net, “I mean, it was very important to me that you actually care about Red and care about Mandy and feel something for them unless it just becomes a lot of noise signifying nothing, you know? And I really feel it’s important, even for being just an abstract film, you still sort of feel some kind of connection to what you’re watching emotionally.”

Judging by his own remarks, I can only assume that Cosmatos has a seemingly self-destructive fetish for broken women, as if he is the sort of dude that would stay with a bat-shit crazy bipolar bitch that got gang-banged by an entire underage high school football team. On the other hand, Cosmatos reveals another side of the heroine in an interview with thebrag.com that makes her seem more sympathetic where he states that she would have approved of Red’s murderous revenge campaign, remarking, “Absolutely. I think she loves all of him, so this part is definitely a true part of them. And her too: I think she would have done the same for him.” Undoubtedly a charitable (to say the least) view of women, Cosmatos also demonstrates an almost grotesque naïveté regarding womankind as if ladies have ever historically demonstrated a tendency towards sacrificing their security, let alone their lives, to avenge a male lover. In that sense, Mandy, despite being inordinately aesthetically mature, sometimes feels like wishful juvenilia, at least in an emotional sense. After all, while the filmmaker is nearly middle-aged, he is from a soft generation of man-children that were largely raised by women. I hate to say it, but I feel like Cosmatos needs to learn more about a life and the opposite sex before he makes another movie unless he decides to switch to the sort of stupid genre trash that he loves. Indeed, maybe Cosmatos should put down some of the unhealthy cinematic junk and watch some Fassbinder where he can learn more about the specific timeless peculiarities of the so-called fairer sex. 




Nietzsche once wrote, “Heavy, melancholy people grow lighter through precisely that which makes others heavy, through hatred and love, and for a while they rise to their surface.” For better or worse, the same can also be said of the film’s hero and his eponymous lover, as Red reaches his full potential as an almost godly Übermensch of retributive murder—or, more in tune with the character's mindset, ‘Galactus’—when he loses his beloved and his lover demonstrates an almost otherworldly degree of potent maniacal contempt while mocking a psycho that has just kidnapped her. While I find the statement somewhat dubious in itself, Red’s actions do confirm Georges Bataille’s words, “The unleashed desire to kill that we call war goes far beyond the realm of religious activity. Sacrifice though, while like war a suspension of the commandment not to kill, is the religious act above all others.” Indeed, Red certainly achieves a sort of spiritual transcendence underscored by the final shot of the film that he would have never achieved had he not gone on his vengeance campaign of hyper homicidal heartbreak. While the film features a number of scenes of vulgar brutality, it also carries a good timeless traditional message about the power of love, which says a lot for a film that was, according to its director, influenced by, “the weird, amorphous vibe of [Lucio Fulci’s] CONQUEST” of all films.  Additionally, I also respect Cosmatos for not being a politically correct cunt and instead having the gall to make an explicitly pro-revenge film of the artful sort in a pathetically pacifistic age of neutered nihilism.  In fact, the auteur would state in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine in regard to Mandy, “I actually think [the act of vengeance] really does help the characters. I wouldn’t want to make a movie that punished the person taking revenge, and I tend to prefer films that don’t moralize about it.”

The film also makes a mockery of commercialism as is especially expressed in an unforgettable scene where, shortly after his lover is murdered, Red becomes disturbed upon seeing a goofily perturbing TV commercial for a grotesque easy-mac-and-cheese brand called ‘Cheddar Goblin’ that involves an eponymous green monster absurdly vomiting the sub-food product onto a disturbingly overly cheery child’s head. In regard to the Cheddar Goblin scene, which provides a rare moment of comic relief in what is an otherwise largely heavy film, the great auteur Italian Ettore Scola was certainly right when he once said, “Grotesque humor is a noble and tragic way of representing contemporary problems.” In terms of aesthetic cultivation and relative lack of degeneracy, Cosmatos seems to have a lot of potential as an auteur, though one hopes he at least matures somewhat when it comes to women and cinema as boyish 1980s nostalgia only gets you so far as an artist. Indeed, maybe Cosmatos’ new buddy Nicolas Cage, who was such a big fan of E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten (1990) that he produced the auteur’s second film Shadow of the Vampire (2000), will try to convince him that the 1980s mostly sucked as indicated by rather retarded films he starred in like Vampire's Kiss (1988).

Still, both of Cosmatos' features demonstrates he is a talented filmmaker with a lot of potential that seems to artistically benefit from some sort of internal misery.  Indeed, I hate to say it, but I think that the auteur has a lot to gain from some more suffering.  In fact, Mandy was apparently largely influenced by repressed rage the auteur felt as a result of the death of his parents, especially his mother, which explains the film's complete and utter lack of erotic love.  After all, as Thomas Ligotti once noted, “Let's say it once and for all: Poe and Lovecraft—not to mention a Bruno Schulz or a Franz Kafka—were what the world at large would consider extremely disturbed individuals. And most people who are that disturbed are not able to create works of fiction. These and other names I could mention are people who are just on the cusp of total psychological derangement. Sometimes they cross over and fall into the province of 'outsider artists.' That's where the future development of horror fiction lies—in the next person who is almost too emotionally and psychologically damaged to live in the world but not too damaged to produce fiction.”  While I would not wish suffering on any one, especially not what happens to the male protagonist of Mandy, I think the greatest thing that might happen to a filmmaker like Cosmatos is to have a disastrous relationship with a soulless bitch like the titular thots from Bergman's Summer with Monika (1953) and Fassbinder's Bolwieser (1977) aka The Stationmaster's Wife.

Speaking of human misery and tragedy, it should be noted that the film's Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson died of an accidental drug overdose before the film was even released. When I discovered this shortly after watching Mandy, I even felt a bit angry at the senseless loss despite knowing very little about the musician as Jóhannsson's exceedingly ethereal musical score is nearly immaculate and certainly one of the greatest and most potent aspects of the film.  Apparently, Cosmatos took Jóhannsson's death rather hard, as he was hoping to establish a lifelong collaboration with the composer.  Considering that Cosmatos is himself no stranger to drug abuse, I think he might want to consider directing the ultimate cinematic (anti)drug trip as he certainly already has all the artistic vigor to accomplish that.



-Ty E