Aug 6, 2013
It has been some time since lapsed Calvinist screenwriter turned audacious auteur Paul Schrader—the man who penned classics like Taxi Driver (1976) directed by Martin Scorsese and directed classics like Hardcore (1979) and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)—directed a film that got some notable attention, be it negative or positive, but with his recent work The Canyons (2013), he has certainly grabbed some headlines, if not due to the no-budget work’s dubiously degenerate stars and almost unanimous critical scorn among professional film critics and fans alike. Starring the smoked out slut and media molested Disney child star turned raunchy train wreck Lindsay Lohan and ‘sexually versatile’ Hebraic porn star James Deen, The Canyons is a film that upon even a superficial glance one assumes is a tremendously trashy tabloid-worthy celluloid sleaze, which is no surprise considering director Paul Schrader has always had his ‘genius in the gutter’ as the metaphysically miserable mind behind American Gigolo (1980), The Comfort of Strangers (1990), and Light Sleeper (1992). Also starring in The Canyons is ancestrally cursed Jewess Amanda Brooks, whose ‘trust fund stoner’ brother was not only convicted of murdering his girlfriend this year, but whose psychopathic pervert father is Joseph Brooks—the seemingly sappy sentimentalist yet ultimately psychopathic Academy Award-winning songwriter behind the emotionally phony hit song “You Light Up My Life” and a serial rapist who was to be tried in the state Supreme Court for Manhattan on no less than 91 counts of rape, sexual abuse, criminal sexual act, assault, and other charges, but committed suicide so he would not have to deal with his demonically degenerate deeds. Undoubtedly, the lead antagonistic of The Canyons as played by gay-for-pay debauchee James Deen is not that unlike Joseph Brooks in his sexually predatory and ultimately psychopathic behavior, just as Lindsay Lohan’s onscreen character is not that far off from her real-life persona as a lecherous lady who could be described as ‘damaged goods,’ thus one has to admit that Schrader’s film is certainly an unflattering example of art reflecting life and vice versa. Penned by overrated quasi-nihilist novelist Bret Easton Ellis (The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho), who bashed Schrader’s film before it was even released, stating, “The film is so languorous. It's an hour 30, and it seems like it's three hours long. I saw this as a pranky noirish thriller, but Schrader turned it into, well, a Schrader film,” The Canyons is, indeed, pure Paul Schrader, which was surely to the corrupting celluloid work's benefit as a rare flick from 2013 that is reflective of America, as well as Hollywood's, all-encompassing moral, cultural, and aesthetic decline. Essentially, the The Canyons is the superlatively sordid story of a young trust fund kid psychopath who produces movies to “keep his father off his back,” who starts a personal war with a struggling actor who is secretly screwing his prostitute-like girlfriend and who is a sort of psychopath-in-progress who has yet to learn what it takes to live, survive, and strive in Los Angeles. A no-budget piece of ‘psychological horror porn’ shot on a mere $250,000 utilizing some of the most unsavory ‘actors’/porn stars/socialites in Hollywood, The Canyons is not a suavely stylized Schrader-esque celluloid sleaze that lives and breathes the paradoxically sickening Hollywood sunlight, but a radically cinematically reflective work and an indictment of the Hollywood film industry itself, portraying a young producer as the most pernicious and perverted of manipulators who runs and 'directs' the show ‘behind the scenes’ and depicting a young actor as the mostly unholy of whores, who is willing to both literally and figuratively screw anyone, male or female, to get his way. Opening with a number of allegorical shots of various dilapidated, rundown, and closed movie theaters, The Canyons is also a work that portrays the Hollywood studio system as a sort of bankrupt bordello of sorts, run by lunatic libertine pimps (i.e. producers) and occupied by soulless prostitutes (i.e. actors) whose sole goal is to be the most high profile and wealthy sluts in the world.
In the first couple moments of The Canyons, one is introduced to the four lead characters, couples Tara (Lindsay Lohan) and Christian (James Dean) and Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Gina (Amanda Brooks), who are on a double date with one another at an upscale bar so the men, one an actor (Ryan) and another a producer (Christian) who landed the actor a job for an upcoming slasher flick he is producing, can meet each other for the first time, thus sparking the beginning of the end for both men's mutually exploitative relationships. Gina is something like a production assistant on a ‘low-budget slasher flick’ produced by tyrannical trust fund brat Christian, who is only involved with the film to keep his father off his back and pretend he has a semblance of a job. As a favor to her from Christian, who has nil interest in the film and does not even plan to be around for the work’s production, Gina has managed to get her boyfriend Ryan, a fellow that somewhat misleadingly describes himself as a “more conventional guy,” the lead role for the slasher flick. Unbeknownst to Christian and Gina, Ryan and Tara were once lovers and have rekindled their flame after meeting one another again by happenstance on pre-production for the film. Unfortunately for Ryan, his ex-lover Tara is a virtual sex slave of pretty boy psychopath Christian, who essentially forces her to have sex with strangers he meets on the internet, as he gets off to dominating her and loves 'directing it' on his cellphone. Not unsurprisingly, Christian has hired a goofy wigger 'private detective' to tail Tara wherever she goes, so he eventually learns of his girlfriend’s affair with Ryan. Naturally, Christian starts a war with Ryan that involves the ostensibly heterosexual actor allowing another producer (a gay kraut who Christian asks him to blackmail sexually) to suck his cock so he can ‘keep the part’ in the slasher flick, hacking into his facebook, cellphone, and bank account (where he drains his money). Meanwhile, Ryan learns that a girl he used to date named Cynthia (Tenille Houston) is also a mutual ex-girlfriend of Christian who he still screws. Ryan convinces Cynthia to tell Tara a sob story about how supposedly when she dated Christian, who she lovingly describes as a "sick little boy," he secretly put roofies in her drink and allowed a bunch of guys to ‘run a train on her’ while she was passed out, thus landing her in the emergency room at UCLA. Paranoid about the fact she has serially cheated on him with Ryan and his purported drugging of his ex-girlfriend, Tara begins to consider leaving Christian for good, but she also starts her own quasi-femme fatale-like ‘psychological war’ against her rich lunatic lover beforehand to ‘soften him up,’ including coercing the wealthy and wanton psychopath to experiment with his bi-curious side by allowing another man to blow him during one of their ‘swinger nights’ with random people they met on the internet. When Christian goes to his mandatory weekly counseling session (his father will ‘pull his trust fund’ if he does not go) with his therapist Dr. Campbell (symbolically played by queer auteur Gus Van Sant, a filmmaker who 'crossed the line' between the independent New Queer Cinema world and horribly hokey Hollywood blockbusters), he less than proudly admits regarding his brief and ultimately dis-empowering flirtation with faggotry, “Usually, I’m the one in control. Last night I wasn’t. None of it seemed real. Not when that guy was sucking my dick or when Tara tried to get him to fuck me. Which didn’t happen, FYI. There were certain things that Tara and the other girl wanted us to do, and I don’t even know why I care. Just some dumb kids on the internet I’ll never see again. Just…didn’t feel like I wasn’t in control. I felt objectified. The way the two of them just watched and told us what to do. Doesn’t usually go down like that. Usually I’m the one directing the scene….It made me feel like an actor.” Of course, Christian ultimately finds a way to become the “one directing the scene” again and it involves him killing a certain girl in coldblood who both he and Ryan used to date. In the end, Tara finally gets away from Christian, Ryan loses everything important to him yet develops a new found sense of sociopathy, and Christian is still at the top of his game, graduating on to becoming a calculating coldblooded killer opposed to being a mere calculating cock on coke.
While a sickeningly sleazy ‘erotic thriller’ featuring some of the most innately reprehensible, unredeemable, and revolting ‘pretty cool people’ characters in recent film history, The Canyons is more importantly, an unpretentious and far from preachy indictment of the contemporary American zeitgeist, where loveless and aberrant sex, mindless materialism, less than fufilling hedonism, callous careerism, and fraudulent and mutually exploitative ‘romantic’ relationships, are just the name of the game, especially in an unwaveringly soulless and culturally hollow place like Hollywood, a decidedly degenerate dream-factory that, rather unfortunately, infects the rest of the world with its metaphysical maladies. As director Paul Schrader stated in a recent interview with Film Comment Magazine regarding the film, “..we’re making art out of the remains of our empire. The junk that’s left over. And this idea of a film that was crowdfunded, cast online, with one actor from a celebrity culture, one actor from adult-film culture, a writer and director who have gotten beat up in the past—felt like a post-Empire thing,” and, indeed, as a work featuring a child star turned disastrous diva and a small and frail boyish Jew porn star in the lead roles as directed by a lapsed Calvinist who did not see his first film until he was almost an adult yet would go on to become one of the most controversial and politically incorrect American screenwriters/directors of his decidedly degenerate generation, The Canyons is indubitably the superficially seductive and scandalous yet also nicely nuanced and anything but naïve piece of apocalyptic celluloid that is bound to go over the head of most viewers, especially those quick to condemn it due to its starcrossed stars and almost nonexistent budget. As Lindsay Lohan’s character rhetorically asks the character played by Amanda Brooks, “Ok, tell me something…Do you really like movies?…Really, really like movies? When’s the last time you went to see a movie in the theater? A movie that you really thought meant something to you?,” thus demonstrating not only the decline of cinema quality in Hollywood and as a “favorite American pastime,” but also how films are now made in general in the internet age with Schrader’s The Canyons being a curious product of this trend as a work funded by the ‘crowd funding’ internet tool of Kickstarter and largely making its premiere on the online video-on-demand on sites like YouTube.com. Screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis also further confirmed the 'postmodern' form of film production regarding The Canyons by remarking “Using social media as a way to help build a film is really like riding the wave into the future,” which is further confirmed by the film's producer Braxton Pope, who proudly stated regarding the film, “Nothing about this film was orchestrated in a traditional way. We wanted to actively embrace all the digital and social media tools at our disposal and give the film real cinematic value – ‘The Canyons’ is the result of a forward thinking experiment with a terrific cast.” While certainly no masterpiece, The Canyons is reasonably ‘penetrating’ proof that director Paul Schrader has been to keep up with the times in terms of his cinematic subversiveness, that Lindsay Lohan is actually a capable actor when in the right sort of film, and that porn stars like James Deen have their place in mainstream films, albeit supremely sleazy ones that are better funded by the fans than put in the hands of solely monetary and propaganda motivated psychopathic Hollywood producers like antagonist Christian as played by James Deen. As stated by Deen's character,“Nobody has a private life anymore” as a result of the internet, social networking sites, and whatnot, but at least now American movies are not totally monopolized by the Hebraic hands in Hollywood as demonstrated with the production of The Canyons, a work that proves that Paul Schrader is not only an audacious auteur but also a postmodern alchemist who is able to turn cultural shit (e.g. James Deen, Lindsay Lohan, Bret Easton Ellis) into cheap celluloid gold.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:04 PM
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