Nov 30, 2015

A Safe Place

Although it might sound like something straight of a dystopian sci-fi flick, there are actually special rooms (or other special designated area) called ‘safe spaces’ on some college campuses where certain mental cripples that are usually female and/or non-white can go to indulge in happy things like ice cream and footage of puppies if they free ‘triggered’ by something that hurts their super special feelings like a so-called ‘microaggression.’ Indeed, if a mulatto tranny freak gets freaked out because a mean evil white boy in his class questions how someone can be a woman if they have a cock and Y chromosome, they can seek sanctuary in a safe place where pesky things like facts and reality will not hurt them. Long before society became completely spiritually and socially castrated and safe places became a sad and pathetic reality, Hebraic hipster auteur filmmaker Henry Jaglom (Tracks, Venice/Venice)—a sort of failed Woody Allen type, albeit slightly less neurotic and more Zionistic—made his directorial debut with what might be best described as the cinematic equivalent of such outstandingly absurd anti-reality rooms. A complete and utter commercial and critical bomb upon its less than auspicious release, Jaglom’s highly personalized first feature A Safe Place (1971) was made during the New Hollywood (aka ‘American New Wave’) era when auteurist cinema had become vogue in America as a result of the unexpected big commercial success of works like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969).  Produced by wealthy dope-addled Judaic (pseudo)bohemians Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner’s production company BBS Productions (which was previously called Raybert Productions before Blauner joined and was responsible for creating both the successful situation comedy The Monkees and the initially imaginary band of the same name), both Jaglom’s film and Jack Nicholson’s rarely-seen quasi-arthouse flick Drive, He Said (1971) would mark a sort of turning point for the fairly lucrative company, which had great success with its previous works like Easy Rider (which Jaglom played a role in reediting), Five Easy Pieces (1970), and The Last Picture Show (1971). According to Jaglom, BBS head Schneider sobbed upon first seeing A Safe Place and told the filmmaker that he had absolutely no clue what the film was about and felt it would be an abject failure at the box offices but opted to release it anyway since he was a rare producer of his time who was committed to the artistic freedom of the auteur. A conspicuously convoluted and incessantly fragmented doped-out psychodrama that centers around a decidedly dumb and equally morally retarded blonde woman-child that lives in a pathetic fantasy realm that revolves around her nostalgia for her seemingly largely imagined childhood, Jaglom’s film follows in the post-WWII Jewish American male tradition of Philip Roth, Norman Mahler, and Woody Allen in that it groveling fetishizes the tall, blonde Aryan Shiksa. 

 Based on a play by Jaglom that he originally performed in NYC in 1964 with his then-girlfriend Karen Black in the lead role and himself portraying a character that would eventually be played by Jack Nicholson for the silver-screen, A Safe Place was mainly aesthetically influenced by both improvisational theater and European arthouse films by Fellini, Godard, John Schlesinger, Ingmar Bergman, etc., among various others. Thematically speaking, the film was mostly influenced by Jaglom’s desire to stay a perennial child, or as the auteur stated himself in the Criterion Collection featurette Henry Jaglom Finds ‘A Safe Place’ (2010), “I had the character I wanted to explore, which was this amalgam, as I said, of a lot of women I had known and parts of myself…and this resistance to growing up, which was very endemic to […] that period. A lot of us did not want to grow up in the 60s, you know, when I wrote it. By the time I made it in 1971, I still did not want to grow up and I was still, like, not understanding what that was about […] and there was a death attraction. A kind of, sort of romance of suicide. A lot of aspects of the popular culture, which I was […] certainly a part of. And ummm, in A SAFE PLACE I just really wanted to tell the truth emotionally up onscreen. There was no question for me that what I had to try to do was make films that, in my sense of things, told the emotional truth about life as I perceived it and I still don’t want to grow up. Absolutely, the Peter Pan thing is profound […] Luckily, I haven’t had to grow up and that’s kind of the amazing thing about this and I think Anaïs Nin had a whole lot to do with that.” Indeed, Jaglom’s debut is a proudly masturbatory film culled from a whopping fifty hours of seemingly randomly shot footage that depicts infantile young adults doing infantile things, with the brain-dead blonde lead being exceedingly upset about the fact that she believes that she was able to fly as a child yet no longer remembers how to do it. Featuring the novelty of a rather bloated and broken Orson Welles in a role that Jaglom gave him a color TV to do as a sort of phantom magician with a grating Eastern European Yiddish Jewish accent who pops in and out of the protagonist’s life throughout the entire film, A Safe Place is like a cross between Ambrose Bierce’s classic short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1890), Federico Fellini’s psychedelic classic Juliet of the Spirits (1965), and Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin (1966), albeit nowhere near as ambitious and spectacular as it sounds. Directed by the proud great-great-great-great-great-grandson of German Jewish Haskala philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, Jaglom's debut is a work that is ultimately quite typical of the sort of neurotic racial schizophrenia that many contemporary Judaic men suffer from as a film that simultaneously celebrates Hebraic kultur and the singular beauty of blonde Nordic women. In that sense, A Safe Place is like a hippie art fag equivalent to Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid (1972).

 At the very beginning of the film, Orson Welles gives a good indication of the film’s helically oriented narrative structure by slowly stating in a quasi-poetic fashion, “Last night…in my sleep…I dreamed…that I was sleeping.  And dreaming in that sleep…that I had awakened…I feel asleep.” Welles portrays an imaginary character that Jaglom hilariously described as a “lapsed wander rabbi” who tells Hasidic stories “that have no meaning” that were written by an eccentric Orthodox rabbi named Nachman of Breslov and who is also a failed magician of sorts whose sole trick is making things, including money and a silver ball, levitate.  For whatever reason, Welles, who acts as a sort of paternal figure (Haglom has hinted that he is actually her father), watches over protagonist Susan aka ‘Noah’ (Tuesday Weld of Frank Perry’s Play It As It Lays (1972) and Richard Brooks’ Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)) as she makes stupid decision after decision in her patently pathetic life of mindless self-indulgence, self-destructive hedonism, and delusional nostalgia worship. Protagonist Noah—a character named after Noah's Ark that auteur Jaglom has described as being “1/3 Tuesday, 1/3 Karen [Black], and 1/3 me”—lives in a perpetual dream realm of sappy sentimentalism and careless sensuality where she does everything she can to block out the less than happy events from her waste of a life. At the beginning of the film, a somewhat Jew-y dork named Fred Sapier (Phil Proctor, who is best known for his voice roles in Pixar films like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, etc.) bumps into Noah and more or less immediately decides to dedicate his life to her, thereupon eventually becoming a pathetic cuckold in the process. Unquestionably, Fred is what hippies would call a ‘square’ but because he is completely infatuated with Noah and her plastic pulchritude, he decides to make a valiant attempt at adopting her bohemian way of life by hanging out with drugged-out naked degenerates that babble on about nothing. Unbeknownst to poor Fred, Noah’s troubled heart is owned by a suave and stoic player named Mitch (Jack Nicholson in a largely improvised role where he more or less plays himself) who swings by the protagonist’s apartment anytime he feels like fucking her, even though he is apparently in love with a chick named Rita (which was apparently the name of the girl that Nicholson was dating in real-life at that time). Needless to say, heartbreak is a malignant metaphysical affliction that virtually every single character in the film seems to suffer from to some degree or another. 

 Throughout the film, protagonist Noah and her hippie friends are incessantly depicted doing childish friends like riding rocking horses and merry-go-rounds, holding broken baby dolls (undoubtedly symbolic of their traumatic childhoods and arrested development), and lying around naked while doing nothing like over indulged babies that are happy to play in their own feces and vomit. As she tells to a somewhat baffled Fred, Noah demands that her television be on at all times, even though she has the sound turned off, as if she needs a constant state of both constant stimulation and escapism. Noah also shows Fred a special wooden box where you apparently put something that “means something very special to you” and then you make a wish “for something that you really need to happen,” thus reflecting the lead heroine’s completely childish wishful thinking, as if she is afraid of taking actual action in her life and making things happen through work and determination. For what might be described as their first date, Fred takes Noah to a natural history museum that makes the protagonist somewhat upset and inspires her to complain, “They’re not natural. [It is] supposed to be the Museum of Natural History. Well, there’s nothing natural about it. All those space things and switches. You know, when I was a little girl, we used to go there all the time on school trips. It was all natural then.” Needless to say, Fred is somewhat confused when Noah states in all seriousness, “When I was a child, I flew. I know it sounds crazy, but I did. I did fly. I just can’t remember how.” At this point, Noah becomes considerably upset and complains, “sometimes it hurts” because “if I could just remember it, then I’d be able to fly again.” Of course, when Fred questions if she really had the ability to fly, Noah becomes fairly hysterical and begins sobbing like an irrational child that hates the fact that reality does not conform to her wishes. Naturally, poor cuck Fred is hopelessly pussy-struck and thus reduces himself to dealing with the increasingly nonsensical behavior of a grown woman that acts like an emotionally erratic retarded child with ADHD, but of course it is only a matter of time before a woman as beautiful as Noah gets with a man that does more than just act like a passive doormat. 

 When her ‘dream lover’ Mitch randomly shows up on her roof and asks while smirking in a knowing fashion, “Well, is it alright – is it all right that I came at this – this time?,” Noah replies like a naïve schoolgirl with wet panties, “Yes, it’s more than all right,” even though she is in a relationship with Fred. Since he knows that she worships his cock, Mitch has no problem insulting Noah and telling her that he misses her because, as he states to the philistine protagonist in a less than flattering way, “’re very simpleminded. Do you know why I like simpleminded because? Because it’s real easy to make them do whatever you want them to.” Indeed, it is quite apparent that Mitch can get Noah to do whatever ever he wants, including fucking him on the roof even though she is in a relationship with Freddy boy, who walks in on the two while they are spooning yet does not have the testicular fortitude to confront his girlfriend about the fact that she is blatantly cheating on him with another man. While Fred hangs out with some naked hippies that are discussing “psychic self-defense” and rapist hobos, alpha-mensch Mitch plows Noah’s pussy in a montage sequence that really epitomizes the moral bankruptcy and degeneracy of the counterculture generation. Meanwhile, lapsed rebbe magician Orson Welles attempts a magic trick where he tries in vain to make Mitch disappear, as if he is Noah's bargain bin guardian angel and knows that she is on the brink of destroying her relatively ‘healthy’ relationship with Fred. 

 While playing a mere secondary role, a fairly Aryan-looking Jewess with blonde curls named Gwen Welles (real name Gwen Goldberg) ultimately upstages the lead as a drug-addled hippie named ‘Bari.’ A real-life junky that died in 1993 at the fairly premature age of 42 as a result of anal cancer that she refused to get properly treated (incidentally, her younger sister died of colon cancer a decade later), Welles still managed to acquire a somewhat eclectic variety of film roles ranging from the eponymous lead of Roger Vadim’s Hellé (1972) to a cute no-talent country singer that gets an audience's attention by doing a striptease in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975). In A Safe Place, Welles gives a totally improvised and considerably impassioned yet somewhat degrading performance where she recalls being stalked by a number of dirty old men and eventually hints while sobbing that she was once date raped after swallowing one-too-many sleeping pills. Indeed, while sincerely crying to her hippie comrades as a lone tear drips down her fairly adorable face, Welles declares, “I mean, I felt completely apart from anything that doesn’t resemble – doesn’t resemble being miserable,” thereupon unwitting foretelling the tragic course her life would ultimately take. Dyke filmmaker Donna Deitch would ultimately document Welles' final days in the doc Angel on My Shoulder (1998) where the deathly ill actress does not even vaguely resemble her former self. 

 At a certain point in the film, Fred takes Noah to a fancy apartment (which was actually owned Jaglom’s wealthy parents) that is filled with various authentic degenerate quasi-Expressionistic paintings that was apparently the male protagonist’s childhood home (thus hinting that pussy Fred is indeed a stand-in for Jaglom). Not surprisingly, Noah decides to hid in a closest (which was, rather revealingly, actually Jaglom’s own mother’s closest) and ultimately gives a clue as to why she is such a dysfunctional young dame. Indeed, after proclaiming to Fred, “Some people have a light that seems to come out of the center of their eyes. There’s – There’s something that’s so alive in them. You know, it’s a quality of hopefulness, of love. People who can love have those lights. You’ve got them. Little lights that are always on, sparkling and warm,” Noah proceeds to describe in a decidedly depression fashion how she has dead eyes. Naturally when Noah states, “In some people…In – In my father, the iris…has a milkiness to it. And they’re flat. There’s no light. They look, um – They look glazed over and dead. I’m terrified that…I’m all dead in my eyes, like my father. That I inherited an – [nervously laughs] inability to love,” it becomes obvious that she has a dubious relationship with her daddy and that he might have done something to her that completely destroyed her inside, hence her current childlike state. 

 When Nicholson’s character Mitch stops by for what he proudly describes as a “late nighttime drop-in” at Noah’s apartment, it ultimately ushers in the beginning of the end of the protagonist’s fairly prosaic relationship with sad pathetic beta-bitch Fred. Indeed, as soon as Mitch shows up, Noah immediately attempts to get Fred to leave so that she can have enough privacy to be meticulously defiled by her dream lover. While Noah eventually convinces Fred to go in a back room and stay there, the cuckolded boyfriend is more than aware of what is happening and decides to barge back in under the pretense of sharing some fine wine with his less than faithful girlfriend and her super suave fuck-buddy. Of course, this totally annoys Noah, who is discernibly horny for marvelous Mitch’s man meat and cannot tolerate being cunt-blocked, so she firmly tells Fred to leave immediately. Like many men in such a situation, Mitch becomes somewhat uneasy and complains to Noah, “I can’t do this…I can’t do this…I can’t do this. I feel bad about this person coming in and out like this. You know, I mean, I just – I identify with the position, you know?,” but the horny heroine reassures him by stating, “Maybe sometimes you should just take what you want when it’s there.”  Indeed, even when her fuck-buddy Mitch demonstrates that he has a large enough of a heart and conscience to attempt to dissuade her from cheating on her beau and ultimately destroying her relationship, Noah cannot help but cheat on Fred in a most overtly emasculating and ultimately soul-destroying fashion.  Of course, Mitch cannot turn down free premium pussy, no matter how awkward the situation gets.  As for poor pathetic cuckold Fred, he decides to grab all the meaningful mementos that he has collected during his relationship with Noah and then proceeds to burn them in a fireplace in a scenario that seems like it was stolen from a similar scene in Dimitri Kirsanoff's masterful silent short Brumes d'automne (1929) aka Autumn Mists starring Nadia Sibirskaïa. Upon exiting the apartment in a pathetically melodramatic fashion, Fred resentfully shouts to Noah and Mitch “I’m leaving” and “you’ve won,” but they barely acknowledge his presence because they are in the middle of a heated pre-fuck foreplay session. After Fred slams the door like a pathetic sore loser, Noah celebrates by declaring “We won” and then she and Mitch proceed to laugh while continuing to make out. 

 In an unintentionally hilarious montage sequence towards the end of the film, Fred is featured looking directly at the camera and crying in regard to his bitter breakup with Noah, “These feelings are like…f-feelings of love […] It’s like the confusion of love, you know? Does love hurt, or is it something that makes you feel happy? Well, I guess it’s somewhere right in between, just kind of on a tightrope.” Of course, it is nearly impossible for any self-respecting man to have sympathy for a character that is as weak and ineffectual as dumb fuck cuck Fred, who ultimately loses Noah because he is a pathetic bore and pedantic pansy who acted in a groveling manner towards the heroine during their entire terribly mismatched (non)romance. In the end, Fred seems to make a desperate attempt to get back Noah by randomly swinging by her apartment, but she is nowhere to be found (indeed, as the film hints in the end, she has probably already committed suicide).  Meanwhile, Noah is depicted sobbing in a bubble bath and when Orson Welles tells her to “disappear,” she cries “no.” In a scene that hits that Noah was molested by her father, she states while sitting in the bathtub, “He loved me as a little girl. I could tell, when the lights came on, when he looked at me.”  Of course, at this point in the film, there is no question that Noah—a perennial little girl that lacks the capacity to love or have a serious meaningful relationship—has become the way she is as a result of some serious daddy issues that she never resolved, hence her love of escapism and various imagined childhood memories, which she seems to have created as a self-defense mechanism to block her real memories out. After some children yell “Time to go now!” and Orson Welles proceeds to levitate a ball, Noah proceeds to commit suicide in her bathtub by swallowing some unmentioned substance in what is undoubtedly the most soft and flowery self-slaughter sequence in cinema history. After overdosing on whatever fatal cocktail that she decided to off herself with, Noah is depicted as a little girl in the bathtub juxtaposed with her adult self declaring, “I remember.”  Indeed, as one ultimately learns from A Safe Place, spoiled girls with serious daddy issues make for terrible girlfriends and tend to be attracted to shitty men.  Naturally, the so-called sexual liberation movement gave such damaged dames as Noah a virtual license to speed up their inevitable self-destruction.

 Despite my less than positive opinion of the film, I find it absolutely amazing that a cinematic like A Safe Place was ever made in Hollywood, as it is so anti-linear and thematically degenerate that it ultimately makes Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) seem like George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) by comparison. After watching the film, I was not surprised to learn that Jaglom has described his fan base as being, “70-80% women and mostly women who are interested in examining the lives of women.” Indeed, Jaglom (as well as his much more successful fellow Hebraic contemporary Woody Allen) undoubtedly proves that Viennese philosopher Otto Weininger was certainly on to something when he theorized in his magnum opus Geschlecht und Charakter (1903) aka Sex and Character that Jewishness and femininity are one and the same. Notably, Weininger was certainly prophetic when it came to foreseeing the collective moral and cultural degeneration of the Occident, especially in regard to the zeitgeist depicted in A Safe Place, as reflected in his words, “Our age is not only the most Jewish, but also the most effeminate of all ages . . . an age of the most credulous anarchism, an age without any appreciation of the state and law . . . an age of the shallowest of all imaginable interpretations of history (historical materialism), an age of capitalism and Marxism, an age for which history, life, science, everything, has become nothing but economics and technology; an age that has declared genius to be a form of madness, but which no longer has one great artist or one great philosopher; an age that is most devoid of originality, but which chase most frantically after originality; an age that has replaced the idea of virginity with the cult of the demivierge. This age also has the distinction of being the first to have not only affirmed and worshipped sexual intercourse, but to have practically made it a duty, not as a way of achieving oblivion, as the Romans and Greeks did in their bacchanals, but in order to find itself and to give its own dreariness a meaning.”  Of course, all the sex depicted in A Safe Place is completely soulless and meaningless, not to mention oftentimes downright self-destructive, thus the film ironically ultimately criticizes the very same counterculture movement and hippie chick type that it attempts to glorify, thereupon underscoring the innate nihilism of that particularly pathetic zeitgeist.  Indeed, while I find Jaglom to be a particularly repugnant fellow, I can at least respect the fact that he acknowledges that he and his entire generation suffered from Puer aeternus, with his debut film arguably being the most blatant and literal example of this in cinema history, albeit from the curious perspective of a woman as opposed to a man like the filmmaker (who, as I mentioned before, claims that the character is partially based off of himself).

 Aside from his second feature Tracks (1977) starring Dennis Hopper as a deranged Vietnam War veteran, virtually every single one of Jaglom’s films focus on women and specifically women themed issues, with Eating (1991) centering around female food obsession, Babyfever (1994) focusing on child-craving chicks that are struggling with their biological clocks, and Going Shopping (2005) depicting the feminine vice of jovially wasting tons of time and money of worthless junk. Of course, I guess that it what one should expect from a man who once stated in regard to his mother’s disturbingly gynocentric influence on him, “I had this very enormous influence of femininity in my childhood and I was allowed to be a girl to some extent, which boys weren’t. She gave my access. I’m sure that’s why I am so connected to women. She never said you can’t cross this line, so I got to try on the new lipsticks and be the girl in the family.” Going back to Weininger, Jaglom’s oeuvre indubitably demonstrates that the Austrian philosopher was right when he wrote, “No men who really think deeply about women retain a high opinion of them.” Naturally, considering Jaglom’s films present women in a realistic and, in turn, rather unflattering fashion, it should be no surprise that feminists tend to either love or loathe his work (notably, lecherous quasi-feminist Anaïs Nin was one of the few vocal supporters of Jaglom's debut when it was released and even actively promoted it by penning a rave review and showing it to women on college campuses).  Personally, I found A Safe Place to be a singularly torturous experience due to the fact that I not only felt a bit of Fremdscham as a result of seeing a rather bloated and broken Orson Welles being reduced to portraying a babbling kosher clown with a terribly phony Yiddish accent, but also because I had to be reminded that countless Jewish men like Jaglom have a peculiar propensity to prey on Aryan (anti)goddesses with serious daddy issues that no sane or self-respecting white man would ever dare tolerate.  Indeed, while Jaglom once proudly stated, “I'm a Jew because of Hitler. More than anything, anti-Semites try to make you not a Jew. So self-respect requires you to be a Jew,” he has demonstrated with both his films and actions that he has a curious case of racial schizophrenia (in fact, he has only married and reproduced with goy gals with traditional Nordic features), but then again that is just one of the many reasons why he is one of the most innately Jewish filmmakers of his generation.  Aside from validating Weininger's theories on Jewishness and femininity, A Safe Place also demonstrates that even the most women film oriented gay Aryan filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder seem fairly macho when compared to heterosexual Hebrews like Jaglom.

-Ty E

Nov 27, 2015

Brussels by Night

If Western Europe ever had its own sort of equivalent to William Friedkin during the 1980s, it was almost certainly Flemish auteur Marc Didden (Sailors Don't Cry, Mannen maken plannen aka A Man Needs a Plan), who made the eponymous metropolis featured in his debut feature Brussels by Night (1983) seem like a deathly dreary dystopian hellhole where beauteous blondes are either miscegenating whores or sullen spinsters, married Arab fathers cannot keep their hands off said miscegenating blonde whores, predatory barmaids throw themselves at broken men, and musicians sing melancholy covers of crappy American pop songs in broken English, among other things. Based on a script that was co-written by Belgian cult auteur Dominique Deruddere who went on to direct the Bukowskian masterpiece Crazy Love (1987) aka Love Is a Dog from Hell (which Didden co-penned), the film might be best described as the all the darker and more nihilistic Belgian answer to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) as a gritty and visceral piece of unhinged urban cinema where social alienation, pathological paranoia, anhedonia, race hate, senseless acts of violence, death fixations, and self-loathing are just some of the problems that plague the hopelessly angst-ridden antihero, who was portrayed by one of the greatest and most eclectic Flemish actors of his era. Indeed, as a man that got his start starring in the early films of Belgian master auteur André Delvaux, including portraying the happy-go-lucky young man ‘Val’ in Un soir, un train (1968) aka One Night... a Train, and who later appeared in the great contemporary cult flick Ex Drummer (2007) directed by Koen Mortier, François Beukelaers can certainly be considered a sort of Brando or Pacino of Belgian cinema and his performance in Brussels by Night offers ample reason as he portrays one of the most unsettlingly emotionally constipated characters I have ever seen as a uniquely repugnant yet sometimes strangely charming chap that is fed up with life and the world who you just cannot help but somewhat empathize with, at least for about the first hour or so of the film. While Belgium has a grand tradition of dark and dreary cinema as indicated by everything from Delvaux's morbidly phantasmagorical debut masterpiece De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen (1966) aka The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short to anarchic art-shockers like Roland Lethem's La fée sanguinaire (1969) aka The Bloodthirsty Fairy to Thierry Zéno's fiercely fucked feces-filled arthouse affair Vase de noces (1974) aka Wedding Through aka The Pig Fucking Movie to sardonic dystopian cult trash like Rob Van Eyck's The Afterman (1985), Didden’s film took the malignant melancholy and dejecting despair to a new and more serious extreme, albeit in a surprisingly accessible way as if the film was made distinctly to depress as many as people as possible as opposed to just merely appealing to Bergman and Antonioni fans. 

 Directed by a young ex-journalist who was heavily influenced by the “no future” attitude of punk, the existentialist novels of Italian-Jewish writer Alberto Moravia (whose works have been adapted by Vittorio de Sica, Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci, etc.), and especially the largely forgotten French flick Extérieur, nuit (1980) aka Exterior Night directed by Jacques Bral, Brussels by Night is a film that ultimately makes it seem quite fitting that Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis cheated on his wife with a Belgian music journalist not long before he killed himself. Notably, the only filmmaking experience that Didden had before directing the film was as a sailor extra in Harry Kümel’s misunderstood fantastique genre masterpiece Malpertuis (1971) and collaborating on the fairly unknown Belgian punk documentary Gisteren zal ik pogo dansen (1978) aka Yesterday I’ll Pogo. Incidentally, Didden would later take a screenwriting course that was taught Kümel which would act as the genesis for Brussels by Night as the filmmaker would write the film's screenplay for the class, which won a national prize for ‘best screenplay’ in 1980 and ultimately led the way for him to get the opportunity to direct the film. Of course, being a novice filmmaker, Didden naturally needed guidance and ultimately hired Dominique Deruddere to act as a sort of assistant auteur (in fact, Deruddere would state in the documentary The Brussels by Night Archives regarding his contribution to the film, “Here I was responsible for a large part of the visuality because Marc was very inexperienced. He knew what he wanted but did not how to do it technically. While I knew more about how to do it. But not everything. I still don’t.”). A piece of rather unpleasant ‘nihilist noir’ that combines the nocturnal urban entertainment value of Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) with the glacial emotions and physical violence of a Michael Haneke flick, Didden's flick is notable for being a rare cinematic work that manages to make misanthropy, cultural cynicism, collective alienation, and self-destruction palatable to the sort of pop culture philistine that thinks that Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest filmmakers that has ever lived. The increasingly foreboding story of a middle-aged married Flemish truck driver who considers committing suicide but instead abruptly decides to travel to Brussels where he runs into an old retired friend and randomly starts a troubled quasi-romance with a hot yet slutty blonde bartender who is also banging a racially sensitive Arab that the protagonist naturally grows to deeply loathe and resent, Brussels by Night is, if nothing else, one of the best ‘feel-bad’ flicks I have ever seen, even if I cannot really call it a masterpiece. 

 At the very beginning of the film, the viewer gets more than just a mere hint that there is something not quite right about antihero Max (François Beukelaers) because he is initially portrayed playing a rather heated game of one-man Russian roulette where he seems both simultaneously heavily relieved and considerably depressed when a bullet does not go through his brain after he intensely pulls the trigger of a gun that he has shoved in his mouth. Instead of offing himself, Max ultimately decides to use his decision to give up on life as an excuse to catch a train to Brussels where a fat old bourgeois bitch questions the fact that he is riding in the first class section, as if he is a stupid lowly prole who does not deserve to be among the rich and rather rotund. Upon arriving at the Brussels trains station, Max demonstrates his short temper and propensity for violence by kicking and ultimately smashing the glass display case of a cigarette vending machine in front of various strangers after the machine steals his money. Upon getting a taxi that is driven by a sarcastic slob, Max disobeys the cabbie by smoking and then eventually randomly jumping out of the car in the middle of a busy tunnel. From there, Max heads to a mall where he runs up an escalator that is going in the opposite direction and then attempts to call his wife on a public payphone. Indeed, throughout the film, Max tries in vain to get in touch with his beloved wifey, but not until the end of the film does the viewer realize why she will not pick up.  Like most things in his personal life, Max is fairly evasive when it comes to discussing his somewhat mysterious spouse, so it is only fitting that he eventually hooks up with a slutty chick who has no qualms about sleeping with strange married men.  Unfortunately, starting lurid love affairs with lecherous ladies oftentimes causes hostility between the various men that dare to fuck such women, or so Max learns after falling for a Flemish ice queen who seems to get a sick kick out of pitting men against one another.

 While randomly walking the streets of Brussels, Max’s old short and pudgy friend Louie (Michiel Mentens) spots him, yells his name, and then somewhat insults him by stating, “What are you doing here? I didn’t know you knew how to get to Brussels.” As he explains to Max, Louie is now retired and lives with his beautiful blonde spinster daughter Josephine (Nellie Rosiers), who apparently cannot find a single decent marriageable man in the entire city. Naturally, Max follows Louie back to his flat where the two shoot the shit. When Max explains the he and his wife do not have any children, Louie asks him, “You have been married for six years and you still haven’t talked to your wife about children. Max, are you sure you are right in the head?,” to which the protagonist somewhat absurdly replies in a humorously unwitting quasi-autistic fashion, “We haven’t discussed it yet,” as if having children is a banal business transaction that is about as important as deciding on a restaurant to eat at. After half-jokingly asking Max “Are you sure you are right in the head?,” Louie expresses his sadness in regard to the fact that no man wants to marry his nearly middle-aged barren daughter, complaining, “A good girl but can’t find a husband. Actually, her name is Josephine-Charlotte, like the princess.” Indeed, it seems the most of the women in the film have a hard time finding decent men, but then again most of them are portrayed as lecherous whores that believe they will eventually become a famous actress and will fuck a guy for a beer.  Before taking a brief nap at Louie's apartment, Max stares at his friend's daughter Josephine-Charlotte as if he has a deep desire to defile her seemingly virginal body, though he controls himself and does not actually act on his instincts.

 After going to a bar with Louie and getting terribly annoyed with a hot yet whorish barmaid who attempts to get him to buy her a beer, Max states to the classless chick, “I’ll give you a new mug, if you like” and then goes to another taproom that is completely empty where he drinks by himself while the fairly attractive female bartender reads a book. Although initially somewhat rude and emotionally apathetic towards the bartender, Alice (Ingrid De Vos of Chantal Akerman’s Toute une nuit (1982) and Hans Herbots’ De Behandeling (2014) aka The Treatment), Max warms up to her when she states to him, “And don’t drink too much. I can see you are sad,” as if he appreciates the fact that someone has finally taken notice and interest in his glaring misery.  When an effeminate Moroccan Arab named Abdel (Amid Chakir of Didden's Istanbul (1985) and Crazy Love (1987)) eventually shows up at the bar, he less than sincerely states to Alice regarding the protagonist, “...if he’s your friend he’s my friend, too.” As becomes quite apparent as the film progresses, brown boy Abdel is in love with Alice and Max will soon by waging a very personal war against him for the bartender’s heart in what might be best described as a hate-based bizarre love triangle of the increasingly racially-charged sort. When Max temporarily leaves the bar to once again try to call his wife, Alice reveals her somewhat morbid mindset by stating to Abdel regarding the protagonist, “I like him. I like unhappy people. They make me happy. I like drama.” While Alice agrees to close the bar early so that the three virtual strangers can hangout at a more hip bar, Max ruins their plans to attempting to attack a doorman, so they all head back to Abdel’s apartment and eat Moroccan food. When Abdel tries to be superficially friendly with the protagonist by asking him where he is from, Max firmly states “nowhere” in a somewhat agitated fashion and then abruptly decides to leave when he gets annoyed after the over curious Arab asks him too many stupid questions, though he demands that Alice come with him. As one expect, Max and Alice proceed to have sex, with the former forcing the latter to foot the bill at a sleazy old hotel that is run by a sleazy gay old man. While the carnal session turns out ideal, Alice jokingly complains that Max should not have said “A double, please” in French while cuming inside of her. Although the two share a fairly happy and intimate orgasmic night together, this is ultimately the closest Max will ever get to Alice, as the antihero’s deteriorating sanity and paranoia only becomes all the more debilitating as the film progresses. 

A sort of bargain bin femme fatale who exploits the vulnerabilities and emotions of men for seemingly no reason at all aside from possibly as a means to pass the boredom, Alice ultimately begins playing Max and Abdel against one another in a classically female passive-aggressive fashion as if she is not even completely in control of her emotionally manipulative behavior. Indeed, shortly after Max leaves her apartment, Abdel shows up and rightly accuses her of fucking the protagonist. While Alice does not deny it, she complains to Abdel that she “doesn’t like jealous men” and then attempts to comfort the jealous Arab by stating to him, “I like him…But I like you more.” Meanwhile, Max meets up with his friend/co-employee Jules (Fred Van Kuyk) at a café and the two discuss their problems with work and women. After berating Max for abruptly quitting his driving job by simply abandoning the position, Jules tells him he is not cut out for such employment, stating, “You think too much. You’re not suitable for the work we do.” When Jules confesses that his wife is having an affair with “cheesemonger” and Max tells him that he should not allow himself to be cuckolded, his friend brags that he is currently carrying on an affair with a pair of perky twins.  Rather revealingly, Max also hints at his growing hatred for Abdel by randomly asking Jules if his wife is fucking a Moroccan, as if Brussels was already flooded with as many third world aliens as it is today. Later that night, Max and Jules meet up with Abdel and Alice at the latter’s sister’s 21st birthday party where racial tensions ultimately reach a boiling point. Indeed, when a somewhat dorky four-eyed blonde sits beside Abdel and reveals that she is the typical naive liberal-brainwashed white moron by stating to him in Dutch, “I don’t think us white people should feel superior to you. I think there are far too many prejudices. People like you are first and foremost people. With the same faults and feelings, etc.,” Max jovially lies to the French-speaking Arab and says, “She’d like to give you a blow job.” When Max gets the DJ at the party to play “La Mamba” and then proceeds to passionately kiss Alice while dancing with her, Abdel gets extremely jealous, grabs the dorky white girl with glasses, and begins aggressively kissing her, thus predictably resulting in the ostensibly liberal-minded girl pushing him away and a random party guest punching the Arab in the face for daring to defile a shy Aryan chick. After agreeing to leave Jules behind as a “souvenir,” the three head to a café where Max yells at Abdel for stupidly kissing a random white girl in a room full of white people. Playing the pathetic victim, Abdel irrationally takes out his shame and feelings of rejection on Alice by stating to her, “You’re as big a slut as the rest” and then running out of the building like an upset little girl. Of course, Alice chases Abdel and Max slowly follows behind, only to be disheartened when he sees his love interest curiously sharing an extra intimate moment with the super sensitive camel jockey who just called her a slut. While they all agree to take a day trip to Ronquières Inclined Plane in central Belgium the next day, it is quite obvious that it is only a matter of time before Max and Abdel violently butt heads.

 Upon doing some personal research by questioning random people around the city, Max discovers that his nemesis Abdel is a married father and decides to confront Abdel about this fact, stating, “I’ve been asking around. You’ve got a wife and child in Morocco yet you’re living it up here…With Alice. You and Alice, I don’t think much of that.” Needless to say, Abdel is not too happy when Max reminds him of the fact he has a family back home, as he is now living the ultimate third world dream of living a first world lifestyle that involves premium Europid pussy. On top of that, Max begins openly referring to Abdel as “wog” and “Mustafa,” so naturally the Arab decides to give up on pretending to befriend the protagonist and instead begins acting all moody and broody. Ultimately, Max picks up Alice, Abdel, and Louie in a Jaguar that he has just stolen and they head to Ronquières Inclined Plane in the Walloon municipality of Ittre for a scenic day trip where everything goes wrong and them some as the protagonist’s pathological jealousy, rage, and paranoia reaches murderous proportions. Demonstrating some slight schizophrenic qualities that are quite fitting in a nation that is divided by both language and culture, Max is depicted at one point in the film complaining to Alice in regard to people in general, “I want them all to leave me alone. To stop staring at me on the street and to shut up on the radio. So that I can be myself.” While she curiously only adds to his rage by leading him on and fueling his jealousy, Alice is absolutely convinced that Max will eventually explode as indicated by her remark to Abdel in regard to the protagonist, “I think he’s very unhappy. His problem is that he doesn’t say anything. One day it’ll come out and then we’ll be surprised.” Upon arriving in Ittre, Max gets so enraged while taking a photo of Alice and Abdel that he smashes Louie’s prized camera and then runs away. Not long after, Max emotionally manipulates Alice by pretending he is dead just because he wants to see her reaction. When the four head to a tourist site, a tour guide asks their nationality and Max responds, “Three Flemings and an Arab,” though he jokes that he is “...the Arab.” Of course, the fleeting moments of comic relief pretty much ends there.

At one point during their day trip, Max forces Alice to get into his car so they can “talk” and then demands that she tells him whether or not she believes in capital punishment. Needless to say, Max is fairly agitated by Alice’s stubborn apathy when it comes to answering his questions, though he eventually gets her to state regarding capital punishment that she believes, “In some circumstances, yes. If it happened in cold blood, yes.” When Max asks her what she thinks, “If a madman murdered a madwoman. Or another madman,” Alice naturally begins to become somewhat unsettled as she realize that the protagonist is trying to hint to something her. Meanwhile, Abdel becomes increasingly agitated and states to Louie regarding Max, “I should’ve punched him in the face right away. He’s going too far. They deal with it differently in Morocco.” Clearly, Abdel is quite jealous of Max as he does not want him stealing his precious white whore from him. When Alice subsequently gets out of Max’s car and tells Abdel that she is no longer interested in being the concubine of a gutter sheik, the lovelorn towelhead becomes enraged and states to her, “It’s because of Max you don’t want me anymore.” Not surprisingly, when Abdel demands that Alice tell him what Max had said about him earlier that day and she states, “He said he wasn’t jealous [of] a wog,” the angry Arab slaps her so hard that she falls to the ground. Naturally, Max is not going to tolerate some swarthy wog hitting the woman he is starting to fall in love with, so he gets out of his Jaguar and starts effortlessly beating the shit out of Abdel while Louie holds Alice back. Of course, being a man with a less than sound of mind that is involved in a heated brawl with his untermensch romantic rival, Max ultimately opts to brutally murder Abdel by simply picking him up and swiftly throwing him over the railing from what is no less than a three-story drop. While Louie attempts to get Alice to lie to the cops about Max's actions by stating, “Wipe your eyes before you see the commissioner […] It was an accident. He didn’t mean it. He wasn’t himself,” she is an erratic woman that feels guilty about her coffee-colored fuckboy’s violent death and decides to tell the police everything, stating to a detective in regard to Max, “No, it wasn’t an accident. I am sure of that. I know him too well for that. I know what he is capable of.” When the cop questions how she can know Max so well if she only just met him a couple days before, Alice defends her position by stating, “A lot has happened since Thursday. And I’ve talked to him a lot. About everything. About life…About death…About everything.” Ultimately it is revealed that Abdel is not the first person that Max killed, hence what incited him to attempt suicide at the beginning of the film.

After Brussels by Night became a cult hit that somewhat revolutionized Belgian cinema in terms of its brutal content and fairly nihilistic ‘messge’ (or lack thereof), auteur Marc Didden subsequently had the opportunity to direct what was his closest thing to a mainstream international film production. Indeed, Istanbul (1985) is notable for starring eccentric Hollywood actor Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dune) as a deranged pedophiliac drifter who accidentally ends up in Belgian where he hooks up with a cynical loser portrayed by Crazy Love director Dominique Deruddere and ultimately goes on a road trip that involves attempting to get enough money to travel the titular Turkish city by agreeing to kidnap the fairly young daughter of a distraught father played François Beukelaers whose wife left him for a shady young Italian restaurant owner. While Didden's second feature is certainly worth checking out, it unfortunately oftentimes feels rather contrived, overly goofy, and quite Hollywood-esque, and of course ultimately lacks the uncompromisingly visceral and nihilistic essence of his decidedly dejecting yet nonetheless endlessly enthralling debut. Aside from Istanbul, Didden also worked on a freeform stage adaptation of Jean-Luc Goard’s Pierrot le Fou (1965) entitled Re-Make/Re-Model (1983) that was directed by Brussels by Night lead François Beukelaers, thus reflecting the somewhat unconventional working relationship between the auteur and actor. Of course, Beukelaers is just as much responsible for the film’s potency as Didden, whose performance is just as an imperative ingredient to Brussels by Night as that of Marlon Brando in László Benedek’s The Wild One (1953), Robert De Niro in Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), and Christoph Waltz in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), among countless other examples.

A work that somehow manages to combine the haunting the nightlife paintings of Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux and films of his namesake André Delvaux with a (post)punk spirit that is comparable to the cinematic works of No Wave filmmakers like Amos Poe and Vivienne Dick while also attempting to be accessible to mainstream viewers, Brussels by Night was fittingly dedicated to two famous figures that died under dubious deaths, including French-speaking pop journalist Bert Bertrand (who committed suicide in 1983 while staying in NYC) and tragic Hollywood star Natalie Wood (whose two-time husband Robert Wagner was suspected of playing a role in her somewhat bizarre drowning). Not surprisingly, in the doc The Brussels by Night Archives, Didden’s ex-boss Guy Mortier, who was the editor-in-chief of HUMO magazine, would describe the antihero of the film being somewhat like the filmmaker, stating, “People have speculated about to what extent the main character Max is Marc Didden. It’s certainly an aspect of Marc. The Marc Didden who wants to hit all those he detests and who wants to destroy everything. But there is also a very different Marc Didden. Someone who also wants to hit everyone and destroy everything.” Featuring grating Belgian covers of popular American pop songs like “Piece of My Heart” and a malignantly somber Brussels where beauteous blondes become sullen spinsters and miscegenation and familicide seem more common than genuine love and affection, Brussels by Night ultimately reveals a spiritually necrotic Belgium that seems to be on the verge of collective suicide, so it should be no surprise that the indigenous population birth rate of the country has been in steady decline for decades while the Muslim Arab populations has been growing at a absolutely revolting rate (while around 23% of the nation's population is of non-Belgian origin, around 70% of Brussels is of non-Belgian origin, with about 36% being Muslim Arabs and negroes).  Although completely different types of films, Brussels by Night makes a great double feature with Ex Drummer as it demonstrates that the lowland nation has only become all the more degenerate and nihilistic over the past two decades.  In terms of brutal yet stylish European flicks with teeth and a fiercely foreboding atmosphere, Didden's flick also makes for an excellent double feature with the Austrian serial killer flick Angst (1983) aka Fear directed by Gerald Kargl.  Indeed, if you want to see a rare 1980s European flick with testicular fortitude that does not wallow in pretentious art faggotry and makes most of Scorsese's post-Taxi Driver films seem like goofy big budget Guidosploitation pieces and virtually all of Tarantino's films seem like autistic exercises in superficially stylized fanboy masturbation, Brussels by Night makes for a somewhat surprisingly worthwhile cinematic work that demonstrates that anti-romantic race-hate in a noir-ish form can make for an endearing experience if senseless death and destruction is involved.

-Ty E