Jul 19, 2014

Wild Palms

 With the somewhat surprising, albeit rather brief, success of David Lynch’s cult serial drama Twin Peaks (1990-1991), a number of good, bad, and just plain ugly TV shows popped up during the early 1990s attempting to emulate the quirkiness, wild idiosyncrasies, and rampantly heterosexual campiness of the labyrinthine murder mystery, including the long-running Hebraic humored CBS series Northern Exposure (1990-1995), as well as the satirical horror-themed children’s show Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992). Unquestionably, one of the more inventive, esoteric, pleasantly peculiar, and somewhat shockingly underrated and unknown of these pseudo-Lynchian series is the five-hour dystopian mini-series Wild Palms (1993) which, somewhat undeservedly, has been referred to as 'Twin Palms' by certain reviewers ever since its rather anti-climatic release over two decades ago. Until rather recently, I had no idea the show ever existed and had it not been for my girlfriend’s obsession with a certain Danish musician named Loke Rahbek, who is probably best known for his work with the ‘synthpop’ group Lust For Youth and who recently released an album entitled The Wild Palms in tribute to the show for his solo project Croatian Amor, I would probably never have discovered it, let alone dedicated my time to it, as a miniseries starring James Belushi and Kim Cattrall and executive produced by Hollywood com-symp conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone is not something that I would typically find appetizing. Instead of paying cold hard cash for his latest album, Rahbek requires that his fans send a totally nude ‘selfie’ of themselves, with the seemingly debauched Dane’s patently preposterous reasoning being, “When you share your work with someone, it can be like showing your own skin – you are stripping naked,” but I digress, and should mention that Belushi had no idea what Wild Palms was about during the shooting of the work despite being the star and Stone had very little, if any, role in the creative aspects of the show (though, he does appear in a small cameo role as himself).  In fact, the mini-series was deemed so confusing by the executives at ABC that they opted to release a companion book entitled The Wild Palms Reader featuring background information and various tidbits/trivia about the characters, including a timeline, with decidedly deranged British tranny musician Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) of all people even contributing writings to the book.

 Admittedly, Wild Palms is a conspicuously convoluted major mess of ideas and recycled pastiche aesthetics that attempts to do too much in too little time, yet it is a strangely charming and compulsively curious convoluted mess that is rather critical of the same spiritually putrid place and people that it is about. A sort of ‘sunny cyber-neo-noir’ set in the now-no-longer-future year of 2007, Wild Palms is based on the comic strip of the same name by novelist/screenwriter Bruce Wagner (who penned the highly underrated 1989 satirical black comedy Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills directed by Paul Bartel), who once somewhat aptly described his insanely idiosyncratic brainchild as, “a sort of surreal diary […] a tone poem,” that deals with the still highly relevant themes like cyberspace (in fact, William Gibson, the sci-fi novelist who coined the word “cyberspace” in his 1982 novelette Burning Chrome, has a brief yet humorous cameo in the series), globalization, virtual reality, media manipulation, political and spiritual conspiracies, technocratic authoritarianism, trendy and powerful crackpot pseudo-religions/cults (i.e. scientology), and somewhat cryptically and unbelievably, the Jewish domination of not just Hollywood, but the media and politics in general. Indeed, as a work where the main L. Ron Hubbard-esque villain brags about his Jewish background and with virtually every other character featured in the series being ambiguously (they have traditionally Judaic surnames) or unambiguously Jewish (among other things, the character named Chickie Levitt played by ½ Jew Brad Dourif prays for the Jewish Kaddish), Wild Palms dares to expose the truth regarding the American postmodern plutocracy, albeit in an exceedingly esoteric way. Featuring a score by Japanese New Age composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, John Maybury's Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon) and countless references to film (i.e. Rebel Without a Cause, Alphaville, Seconds, Marathon Man, etc.) and literature (i.e. W. B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Sun Tzu, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Nathanael West, Ray Bradbury), Wild Palms is a work that is just too hermetically cultivated, fast paced, spastically edited, and morally ambiguous to have ever appealed to even a marginal  fraction of the general populous. The mystery-and-intrigue-ridden tale of an ostensibly happily married patent lawyer and family man who finds himself entangled in a series of mazes-inside-mazes and dreams-within-dreams after coming back into contact with an old lover and being hired by an evil TV corporation owned by a raving mad megalomaniac sci-fi writer turned religious leader turned presidential candidate of Jewish/Japanese extraction, Wild Palms is a work that only begins to make sense the more it progresses as a ludicrously labyrinthine piece of celluloid eccentricity that certainly pays off for those that dare to completely engulf themselves in neo-noirsh madness. Depicting a semi-surreal ‘occult war’ between a group of so-called ‘good guys’ called ‘The Friends’ (I would describe them as being ‘agathokakological’) and their supposedly ‘evil’ enemies ‘The Fathers,’ the mini-series demonstrates that the battle for world domination is no longer secluded to the physical realm, but virtual reality as well. 

Divided into five episodes (with the pilot being about 90 minutes and the rest of the episodes being about 45 minutes), Wild Palms begins with the seemingly clueless protagonist Harry Wyckoff (as played by an admittedly clueless James Belushi) having a midnight nightmare about seeing a random rhinoceros—a symbolic reference to Greek-Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco’s 1959 play Rhinoceros, which is an allegorical play about the transformation of the inhabitants of a small French town into rhinos that criticizes the rise of conformist/collectivist movements like communism, fascism, and National Socialism—in his empty backyard swimming pool. After staring at the rhino, Harry says to himself, “So this is how it begins” and wakes up to what is ultimately the beginning of a real-life nightmare set in 2007 Los Angeles. Harry is more or less happy with his intolerably whiny yet reasonably supportive wife named Grace (Dana Delany) who owns a chic clothing boutique and two young children named Coty (Ben Savage) and Deirdre (Monica Mikala), but after being approached by his sullen yet statuesque femme fatale ex-girlfriend Paige Katz (played by a black-haired and almost beautiful Kim Cattrall) about helping her to locate her long lost son, who was purportedly kidnapped many years ago, he will ultimately lose some of his loved ones and discovers that others are not really who he thought they were. Paige puts Harry into contact with media mogul/religious leader/aspiring president Tony Kreutzer (played by Robert Loggia who, quite notably, later appeared as a similarly crazed character in David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway) who, aside from being the owner of the lawyer’s rival company Wild Palms Group and the warped bastard son of a murdered Jewish tailor and a woman of Japanese extraction who perished in an American concentration camp (Kreutzer makes reference to the FDR-approved Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for Japs being rounded up and sent to so-called 'relocation camps'), is a powerful senator, the leader of ‘The Fathers’, and the exceedingly egomaniacal figurehead/godhead/high priest of the so-called Church of Synthiotics (which is modeled after Scientology and practices the technique of “Synthiotics” as opposed to the “Dianetics” technique of second-rate sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard’s pseudo-church). Unbeknownst to Harry, his mega-bitch stepmother Josie Ito (Angie Dickinson) is Tony’s sister, as well as one of the ‘Old Generals’ of the Fathers, whose ex-husband is Friends leader Eli Levitt (David Warner) and whose arch nemesis is an semi-ambiguously gay artist named Tully Woiwode (Nick Mancuso) who, on top of being described as the “Schnabel of the West Coast” and “The Merchant of Venice,” is also another top leader of the Friends. 

 While Harry’s daughter Deirdre is a mute, his son Coty is an evil little asshole with a sinister face that only a psychopathic Israeli settler could love and when the lethally loony lad becomes the star of a the ‘first holographic TV show’, Church Windows, he begins to plot for world domination, as the ‘Synthiotic heir’ of  his real biological padre Tony Kreutzer’s empire. Indeed, as Wild Palms reveals as it progresses, Coty is not really Harry’s son, but they are both closely related via Mr. Kreutzer, though it is not revealed until the end of the series how. Indeed, many decades ago, the Fathers started a pernicious program where they kidnap the progeny of their enemies and put them in Father foster homes so as to destroy their villains families and make them their spiritual slaves, with Harry’s femme fatale lover Paige being the product of such of an experiment as the daughter of a Friends journalist that was maliciously murdered by the killer Kreutzer crew. Unbeknownst to Harry, his black best friend Tommy Lazlo (Ernie Hudson) is a member of the Friends, the buttbuddy of artist Tully Woiwode (indeed, art fag Tully has a thing for dark meat), and assumed kidnapper of Paige’s lost son, among countless other deceits that have gone completely over the head of the rather naive patents lawyer.  After Tommy is arrested for the kidnapping of Paige's son, he is forced by the prison guards to take a highly addictive neo-psychedelic man-made drug called 'mimezine', which is used to enhance the experience of watching holographic television. While Harry begins to become rich and famous after agreeing to work for Tony Kreutzer, his wife Grace, who suspects Coty is not her real son and knows her hubby is carrying on an affair with his old lover Paige, begins to lose her mind and even attempts to commit suicide. On top of that, Harry learns that Coty is not really his son, but the progeny of Mr. Kreutzer and Paige. Ultimately, Coty moves in with with his real father Kreutzer and, despite being a prepubescent child, becomes the most ruthless leader of the Church of Synthiotics and develops a fetish for goofy white yuppie ship captain uniforms. It is also revealed that Harry’s mother-in-law Josie is really Mr. Kreutzer’s sister. While a majorly murderous and radically ridiculous bitch, Josie has a weakness for Friends leader Eli Levitt, who is the father of Harry’s wife Grace and genius cripple Chickie Levitt (Brad Dourif). Chickie was crippled and left for dead by the Fathers twenty years ago, but he went on to become the “Einstein of Virtual Reality” and the hardwire architect of the GO chip, which Kreutzer wants to get a hold of because it will enable him to become a “living hologram” and ultimately obtain seemingly infinite power. 

 When Harry slowly but surely begins to realize his boss Tony Kreutzer, who eventually marries Paige, is an exceedingly evil prick who plans to be the uncontested Führer of both reality and virtual reality, he begins to commit himself to working with the Friends—the so-called “shock troops of reality”—so the fiendish Fathers decide to kidnap his wife Grace and daughter Deirdre. Ultimately, Josie murder’s her own daughter (and Harry’s wife) Grace and Harry is framed for the crime via digitally manipulated footage of his wife’s death via strangulation. Meanwhile, Harry learns that a seemingly homeless twink-in-training named Peter (Aaron Michael Metchik), who has tattoos all over his chest and is a junior member of the Friends, is his real son (he and Coty were switched at birth). After ‘officially’ joining the Friends, Harry breaks into Kreutzer’s TV station and broadcasts footage of Josie strangling Grace to death. Meanwhile, neo-hippie revolutionaries begin waging guerilla warfare against the Fathers and their corporate entities.  Most of the Friends, as well as various other social rejects, live in an urban trash-filled underground realm called 'Wilderzone' that Tully Woiwode reigns over  While Friends leader Eli Levitt is executed after he is betrayed by ‘blind artist’ Woiwode (Josie blinds him by gouging his eyes and he eventually returns the favor) and the Fathers release more doctored videos of the Friends committing imaginary crimes, the revolution against Mr. Kreutzer and his empire of cyber-evil is already well underway. Indeed, although virtually every major member of the Friends is murdered and Mr. Kreutzer eventually manages to obtain the “Go chip,” the ‘good guys’ more or less triumph in the end. Before Mr. Kreutzer dissolves into nothingness after having the Go chip, which had been altered by members of the Friends, implanted in his body, he reveals that he is the Darth Vader of L.A. by telling Harry that he is his biological father, thus making Josie his aunt, Coty his ½ brother, deceased wife Grace his cousin(!), and Paige his mother-in-law. With his once seemingly indomitable father and most of his followers dead, micro-megalomaniac Coty finds his pseudo-spiritual technocratic empire in literal and figurative flames. Indeed, even the wild palm trees get scorched.  Assumedly, Harry, Paige, Peter, and Deirdre live happily ever after.

 A sort of purposefully aesthetically and dramatically plastic cyber-noir epic steeped in ancient Japanese mysticism, pathological postmodern aesthetic pastiche, Hollywood history, and western literary allusions contained within an intentionally superficial-looking dystopian L.A. of the near-future where reality is blurred in a fashion that falls in somewhere between the “rabbit holes” of Lewis Carroll, the radical reality-distorting quasi-erotic virtual realm of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), the post-industrial/post-cultural/post-national sci-fi of Blade Runner (1982) and the novels of Philip K. Dick (especially his work The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), which also features a world where virtual reality TV is enhanced by a sort of cyber-psychedelic drug), Wild Palms certainly makes for a fairly consistently wild, whimsical, and wayward cinematic world to get lost in for five hours or so, even if it sometimes seems like it was edited in a nonsensical fashion not all that different from William S. Burroughs “cut-up” technique. Undoubtedly, one of the most provocative and shocking aspects of the miniseries is that the villains, The Fathers, and their rivals, The Friends, are portrayed as almost exclusively Judaic, thus making it a rare mainstream Hollywood production that deals with reality as opposed to an insulting fantasy realm featuring imaginary blue-eyed WASP devils preying on poor morally immaculate minorities (though, negro Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson is portrayed as a Christ-like martyr of sorts who gets hooked on a sort of blue cyber-crack that he is forced to take against his will). Also, I don't know about everyone else, but it was quite a therapeutic experience to see the Hebraic pube-headed dork of Boy Meets World (1993-2000) and Little Monsters (1989), Ben Savage, being portrayed as, well, a little monster that is ultimately more unsettling in his sinisterness than Ralph Fiennes’ absurdly over-the-top portrayal of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List (1993). 

 With reasonably decent directing by the likes of Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Zero Dark Thirty), Keith Gordon (The Chocolate War, Mother Night), Peter Hewitt (Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?) and Phil Joanou (State of Grace, Heaven's Prisoners) and featuring an almost impenetrable tangled web of metaphysical, cyber, and political conspiracies that have at least some basis in reality/virtual reality, Wild Palms is certainly the most intricate and original project that Oliver Stone has ever gotten involved with, but of course, he had next to nil creative involvement with the mini-series. A work of meta-TV where a character remarks, “Nobody watches movies anymore…only TV,” while watching Rebel Without a Cause (1955) in a completely empty movie theater, the mini-series was made at a time when television was in a sort of Golden Age of creativity, but of course, nowadays the entertainment world more resembles the anti-reality realm of soulless pseudo-sentimentality as broadcasted by Wild Palms villain Tony Kreutzer’s aesthetically and spiritually malevolent media empire. An absurdly neglected show that is most certainly past ripe for a cult following, the mini-series arguably comes closer than any other American film or TV series in terms of depicting the eclectic evil and racial/spiritual character of Los Angeles. Also, as my girlfriend has noted, the show has some of the coolest character names in the history of television. After all, who does not love repeatedly hearing a name like “Tully Woiwode” repeated over and over again by kosher conspirators and their equally kosher enemies?! As a show where the main villain compares eternity to a cyst, Wild Palms is a rare piece of mainstream celluloid cancer that, whether intentional or not, eats away at the main malignant tumor that is Hollywood. Featuring a suicidal Japanese-American Star Trek fan who hilariously claims that his “grandpa liberated Dachau” and a Nordic-like stand-up comedian shouting, “Sieg Heil! Sieg Hologram! Sieg Mimecom!” in rebellion against an ultra-evil Jewish media mogul/messiah, Wild Palms also makes for a pleasantly preposterous mockery of the postmodern pandemonium that is American society, especially the totally fictional yet largely believed America that has been dreamed up by the culture-distorters of Tinseltown.  In terms of predicting the future just as all decent science fiction works do to some degree, the mini-series concludes with the mad messianic antagonist Tony Kreutzer, who is also mixed race (even if his archetypical Guido gangster appearance says otherwise), running for president in 2008, which is, incidentally, the same year that mulatto cultural marxist messiah Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency.  With that being said, one could argue that Wild Palms makes the future seems a little bit less dystopian than it actually turned out to be.  After all, despite being set in the late-2000s, the mini-series does not feature a single crotch-grabbing mestizo, meth-addled wigger, exceedingly effete Indian computer programmer, or blonde-wig-adorned 6-foot-tall tranny.

-Ty E

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