Jan 1, 2016

Star Suburb: La banlieue des étoiles

Even as a little kid who enjoyed little kid things like action figures, I used Star Wars and its middle school mythos as a sort of unconscious personal litmus test to decide whether or not a person was lame, banal, and/or otherwise annoying. Although I had yet to see any of the films as a young kid because I was absolutely repelled by what little I did know about them and did not want to endure a movie with a retard-sounding hairy dog-man and a green midget alien with big ears that resembled a cross between an elderly shtetl bum and a giant booger, I became painfully aware at an early age that the bigger the Star Wars fan, the more likely person was completely insufferable and/or autistic. When I finally got around to seeing Lucas’ first film in the franchise after being forced to watch it in a high school film class (!), I was somewhat shocked that it was not nearly as horrendous as I expected it to be, though I was equally surprised that such a decidedly derivative, hokey, and somewhat sloppy piece of seemingly asexual pseudo-spiritual celluloid had become so absurdly popular, at least until I realized that it owed a good portion of its fame to strategic merchandising, which Lucas would indubitably become the grand Dark Lord of the Sith of as a man that sired a virtual consumer religion with its own gods and pseudo-biblical tales and parables, thereupon turning an entire generation of American youth into materialistic zombies that worshiped Luke Skywalker as their Christ and could use Darth Vader as an excuse to hate their more masculine fathers (not surprisingly, as detailed in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (1998) by Peter Biskind, Lucas loathed his father, who once described his son as a “scrawny little devil”). The intentional sellout picture of a failed avant-garde filmmaker who once gleefully stated, “Emotionally involving the audience is easy. Anybody can do it blindfolded, get a little kitten and have some guy wring its neck,” Star Wars is cinema as a calculated consumer good and a work that, aside from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), has done more than any other film to destroy American cinema and turn it into an industry that produces feature-length commercials for a seemingly endless array of autism-inducing consumer products ranging from children's underwear to Band-Aids to diapers. Indeed, as Paul Schrader—a true auteur filmmaker that is one of the very filmmakers of his generation to never completely sellout and give up on making personal films—once stated regarding the film and its decidedly deleterious effect on the auteur oriented New Hollywood movement, “STAR WARS was the film that ate the heart and the soul of Hollywood. It created the big budget comic book mentality.”  Undoubtedly, there are many reasons to hate the film, including its black-and-white cardboard morality, idiotically idealistic and delusional emphasis on the perennial triumph of good over evil, conspicuously castrated view of love and sexuality, beta-boy father complex themes, and cinematically sacrilegious fan-boy jerk-off nods to much superior works ranging from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) to Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958), but arguably the most heinous and unforgivable thing about Star Wars it is that it peddles feel-good lies to children and sets them up for psychological defeat and/or disappoint once they realize that life is not nearly as simple or magical as the film(s) so shamelessly depicts. 

 Of course, the franchise only got all the more phony and irredeemable when it was Judaized after being sold to Disney, with Hebraic hack J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) being the most radically retarded and anti-reality one yet as a soulless and sapless social justice warrior orgy where a singularly vapid all-competent-ingénue is the most immaculate and powerful person in the entire universe despite having nil training or personal experience and a burly black brother with a bad case of prognathism is naturally said all-competent-ingénue’s right-hand negro man (interestingly, Lucas has gone on to describe to bash the new film and its creators and describe kosher culture-distorters Bob Iger and Abrams as “white slavers,” thereupon potentially alluding to Jewry's long tradition of slave-trading, including in contemporary Israel where Eastern Europe girls are a great unkosher delicacy). Of course, when I recently happened upon a sort of low-budget arthouse-ish anti-Star Wars, I naturally found myself completely embracing it, even if it is French. Indeed, the French dystopian sci-fi short Star Suburb: La banlieue des étoiles (1983) directed by one-time auteur Stéphane Drouot tells the sad yet sardonic and socially scathing tale of a teenage girl that lives in a French orbital suburb in outerspace who, after flipping through an American magazine, fantasizes that she is a glamorous Princess Leia-like figure, only for her to suffer a catastrophic mental meltdown after he dreams are squashed when reality sets in.  Notably, I discovered the film by accident after doing some research on Gaspar Noé and reading that it was one of his favorite films. In fact, Noé and his wife, arthouse filmmaker Lucile Hadžihalilović (La Bouche de Jean-Pierre, Innocence), were good friends with Drouot until his death in early 2012. Needless to say, as the same man that also introduced me to the criminally underrated Austrian serial killer flick Angst (1983) directed by Gerald Kargl and who regards Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as his all-time favorite film, I knew I could trust Noé’s opinion on the film. Described by a Cahiers du cinéma writer as being like “ERASERHEAD and STAR WARS,” Star Suburb was amazingly shot entirely in Drouot's apartment, with the auteur's then-girlfriend Sophie Herr (who also acted as a set designer) acting as a driving force of the production (the fact that Drouot only completely one film hints that she should have probably stayed with her).  Despite his girlfriend's imperative influence, the film is indubitably a true auteur piece as a work that was written, directed, art directed, set decorated, and shot by Monsieur Drouot.  Directed by a tragic momma's boy who never knew his father and strange social recluse who spent a good portion of his sad and pathetic life getting drunk and high in his apartment, Star Suburb not surprisingly depicts a fairly forlorn looking and highly introverted teenage girl that suffers from insomnia who ultimately breaks down in a fairly tragic way when he dreams are irrevocably shattered.

 A film that earned its an auteur a coveted César Award—the French equivalent to an Oscar—for “Best Short Film – Fiction” (Meilleur court-métrage de fiction) in 1984 and various other awards, Star Suburb unequivocally demonstrated that Drouot was a talented young filmmaker with a distinct vision who had the capacity to bring a darker and more socially perceptive layer to the then-quite-vogue Cinéma du look movement. Notably, the filmmakers associated with the movement, including Jean-Jacques Beineix, Luc Besson and Leos Carax, were heavily aesthetically influenced by late era New Hollywood works, especially Francis Ford Coppola's super glossy and technically ambitious style-over-substance pieces One from the Heart (1982) and Rumble Fish (1983), so it is only fitting that Drouot would choose Stars Wars—a work that was more or less responsible for destroying the integrity of the American New Wave—as a film to ruthlessly deconstruct and smash to pieces. Indeed, Star Suburb is a somewhat covertly iconoclastic work that uses Star Wars imagery and motifs to savagely attack the sinister nature of Lucas-esque advertising and merchandising. In short, not only does Drouot’s short demystify the fantasy and pageantry of the Lucasian celluloid universe, but it also reveals in a rather extreme way that Hollywood style advertising and merchandising instills highly deleterious dreams and expectations in young people that can only lead to them eventually encountering abject disappoint, or worse.  A simultaneously cynical and pessimistic yet warm and empathetic work, Drouot's film is a short but sweet 27-minute coming-of-age sci-fi piece where the future looks like a fairly gloomy place, even for cutesy teenage girls.

 Opening with a shoot of a desolate moon-like planet and then panning to a decidedly dystopian vision of a series of large cold and clinical looking neo-suburban housing blocks that are numbered and divided by nationality, the film then zooms in on the French quarters where a light is flickering in an almost throbbing fashion from one of the building’s windows. From there, the viewer enters inside the window where a little frog girl named Mireille (Caroline Appéré, who is probably best known for her small role as a cashier in George Sluizer’s Spoorloos (1988) aka The Vanishing) is rudely awakened by her growling pet mutant cat, which looks like the progeny of a rabid gremlin raping a kitty. While the protagonist lives in what is supposed to be a sort of futuristic suburb as indicated by the film’s title, it seems more like a sterile hole-in-the-wall space-ghetto, as Mireille shares a conspicuously cramped room with multiple brothers (at least one of whom has large elf ears, thus hinting that humans have bred with extraterrestrials) that seems even smaller than a train car. When a light blinking all of the colors of the rainbow begins beaming into her room, Mireille stares at it while in a seemingly hypnotized state and then proceeds to exit her room and investigate.  As indicated by the large black circles under her eyes, Mireille is an insomniac and she has a very tragic and melancholic essence about her that makes you immediately feel for her, as it is almost a tragic sight to see a cute girl that is so young and pure yet so sullen and wounded. After exiting her room, a large book flips open as if begging to be read, but Mireille does not take the hint and instead shuts it and sticks it back on a bookshelf. As the somewhat pretty yet pedomorphic teenage protagonist will soon demonstrate, she is only interested in reading magazine advertisements, as it provides her with a much needed source of escapism from a life that she seems to completely loathe. Indeed, after examining the water and pressure gauges of her suburban spacecraft, Mireille heads to the kitchen where she grabs a can of Coca-Cola style soda and a grotesque looking Oreo-cookie-colored burger that is wrapped in McDonalds-like packaging. Naturally, as a fast food addict, Mireille is also a loyal fan of trashy magazines that are full of sleazy suggestive advertising. While she lives in outerspace in a spaceship, Mireille’s mind dwells in the idiotic imaginary fantasy realm of yellow press magazines, thus demonstrating that there is truly no escape from the pernicious influence of Hebraic mind-raper Edward Bernays. 

 While mindlessly chowing down on her less than organic looking burger, Mireille looks like she is in complete ecstasy as she carefully flips through a glamour magazine that features the headline: “Lydia’s Wedding with Prince Xan.” As is quite clear to anyone watching the film, Countess Lydia is a Princess Leia clone and Prince Xan is a sort of boyishly blond Luke Skywalker man-boy figure, albeit somewhat more aristocratic and unquestioning less obnoxious looking. Acting as if she has never seen any advertisements before, Mireille stares in fawning admiration at generic fast food, cigarette and lipstick ads. Undoubtedly, Mireille seems most impressed with an advertisement featuring Countess Lydia promoting futuristic IKEA-esque furniture that somewhat looks like the kaleidoscopic furnishings that were typical of 1970s French fuck flicks like Paul Vecchiali’s erotic thriller Change Pas de Main (1975) aka Don't Change Hands and to a lesser extent Didier Philippe-Gérard’s The Kinky Ladies of Bourbon Street (1976) aka Mes nuits avec... Alice, Pénélope, Arnold, Maud et Richard. Notably, a makeup ad for a company called “Royal” advertises its red lipstick as the, “Greatest Creation For Women.”  Rather pathetically, Mireille seems to completely believe the hype of the puffery-plagued advertising. 

 When a bunch of colorful lights begin beaming into the spaceship, Mireille becomes so petrified that she turns off the lights in the kitchen and briefly hides under a table. Upon investigating by looking out of a window, Mireille spots a dark red spaceship with “RK2” written on it and then proceeds to refer to her magazine, thereupon confirming her suspicions that it is a popular radio station that describes itself as the, “best radio in the galaxy.” Naturally, Mireille then decides to turn on a radio to listen to RK2 where an English-language DJ with an American accent named Tobby reveals they are holding a “lightning window game” for “5,000 tokens.”  Indeed, the only thing that Mireille has to do to win the prize is turn on her light while the RK2 spaceship is hovering outside of her home. Naturally completely convinced that she will win the prize, Mireille then begins falling into a deep daydream that is indubitably the centerpiece of the film where she imagines that she is Countess Lydia and that she is literally inside the phony worlds featured in the advertisements that she admired in the magazine. Towards the end of the exceedingly ethereal and solacing yet nonetheless tacky dream-sequence, Mireille joins Prince Xan on his throne where he proceeds to gracefully put a wedding ring on her finger while members of the paparazzi snaps photographs of them. When the Prince Xan has a hard time placing the ring on Mireille’s finger, the film then abruptly cuts back to reality and the female protagonist then proceeds to attempt to claim her prize. While Mireille manages to flash her lights in front of the RK2 spaccraft, she must also contact Tobby via telephone before she can officially win the prize, which ultimately proves to be an impossible task.  Indeed, it seems that no one in Mireille's neo-lumpenprole family paid the phone bill.

 Unfortunately, when Mireille attempts to phone RK2, she is quite distressed to discover that her phone line is down. Extremely upset that she might lose the prize, Mireille runs to her elderly overweight godmother’s room and hysterically screams to her about how she won a radio contest, but cannot claim her prize because the phone line is down.  Rather annoyed at being so rudely awakened at such a late hour, Mireille's godmother does not even pay attention to what the emotionally intemperate teen has to say and instead simply tries to fall back to sleep. Needless to say, Mireille completely breaks down when Tobby eventually announces that a woman named Mrs. Gloz from the Spanish building is the winner of the prize, thus completely destroying the protagonist's rather preposterous dreams about becoming an opulent and glamorous space princess. After announcing that Mrs. Gloz is the winner of the prize, Tobby quite fittingly plays a song entitled “The Chance of My Life” while Mireille sobs hysterically and then proceeds to hatefully scream the winner’s name. In the end, Mireille pours a bowl of milk for her pet mutant kitty cat and then assumedly kills herself via electrocuting herself by putting an electric object that resembles a tiny lightsaber into a pot of water.  Notably, in keeping in tune with the film's fairly potent light motif, the light flickers and then goes out after Mireille makes her seemingly successful attempt at self-slaughter.  In a cute and lighthearted yet nonetheless vaguely haunting twist before Mireille’s fairly melodramatic final act, the protagonist’s godmother’s husband is revealed to be a grotesque space alien that somewhat resembles the asexual extraterrestrial humanoid portrayed by Academy Award-winning negro Louis Gossett, Jr. in Wolfgang Petersen's Enemy Mine (1985).  Unlike the lame crypto-commie message of inter-species harmony in Petersen's film, it is quite obvious while watching Star Suburb that Drouot saw America as a completely negative influence on France.

 While winning a César Award and apparently beginning production on various more ambitious film projects, Stéphane Drouot never completed a single other film after Star Suburb and instead lead a considerably sad and pathetic life of perpetual stagnation that ended on January 22, 2012 when he died of complications relating to AIDS. Indeed, instead of pursuing a notable filmmaking career, Drouot contracted gay cancer and apparently spent much of his life battling alcoholism and drug addiction, among other problems. The sad thing is that, not unlike the female protagonist of Star Suburb, Drouot apparently began living in a fantasy world as a recluse with big dreams (including various failed projects, like an unfinished film entitled Johanna B.) but no means or drive to realize them.  As a born bastard that never knew his father, Drouot also suffered from extreme Oedipal issues and apparently completely deteriorated after he mother died.  If it were not for his young fan Gaspar Noé, who gave him cameo roles and ‘honorary’ credits in virtually all of his early films, Drouot would literally have no other film credits after his debut short. Aside from providing him with a ‘film adviser’ credit for his featurette Carne (1991) and a ‘special thanks’ credit for his first feature Seul contre tous (1998) aka I Stand Alone, Noé also provided Drouot with a cameo role at the beginning of Irréversible (2002) where Philippe ‘The Butcher’ Nahon has a drunken pseudo-philosophical conversation with him about incest.  Admittedly, before even knowing anything about him, I assumed Drouot was some sort of real-life AIDS-ridden doper when I first saw this scene and I would have never suspected that he was ever an obscure cult filmmaker, but that just goes to show how bad a man can degenerate if he succumbs to defeat and drifts through life like a forsaken ghost.  Of course, knowing this makes Star Suburb seem all the more haunting and prophetic, especially in regard to Drouot's atrocious fate.

 Undoubtedly, if you need unequivocal proof that Drouot was not very sound of mind, Noé’s minimalistic documentary short Intoxication (2002) is a must-see. Arguably the most seemingly pointless and uneventful film in Noé’s entire oeuvre as a glaringly hastily assembled piece of painfully candid celluloid that would surely only interest fans of Star Suburb, the doc is nothing more than a single 5-minute master shot of Drouot, who resembles a deranged yet harmless and completely incapacitated junky hobo and whose apartment is cluttered with trash, staring at the ground while mumbling and taking AIDS medication. Intoxication is more or less a somewhat incoherent and longwinded stream-of-consciousness rant where Drouot attempts to explain why he has never made any other of films, stating, “…I’m taking this medication, a product that allows me to live with being HIV-positive, or with similar types of things […] 12 years ago, I directed a film thanks to an unbelievable producer, who, I was going to say ‘also’, died of AIDS, something that affected the completion of a complex production that lasted three years, a relationship that I wasn’t able to establish with other producers, who were too quick to let me know that, since I had only directed two actors in that film, two actresses, I couldn’t be responsible for a group of 40 characters and therefore couldn’t make the films I was assigned to work on.” Arguably the most bizarre thing Drouot states, especially considering his previous sci-fi short, is how he thinks he would be good at directing films with, “the obsessive vision of a woman who’s 50 or 60 years old, or in the style of Chantal Akerman or of a few other directors, or women directors.” Of course, then again, there is a sort of feminine essence to Star Suburb and I would not be surprised if the female protagonist—a seemingly melancholic dame with insomnia who literally loses all hope in life in a matter of mere minutes—was a sort of transexualized stand-in for the auteur.   It is also interesting that Drouot mentions Akerman, as they both had extremely close yet troubled relationships with their mothers to the point where they more or less lost the will to live after their progenitor died.

 Somewhat not surprisingly, upon doing research on Star Suburb, I could not find a single English language article or review on the film.  Additionally, French-language writings on the film are also fairly scarce. Notably, one of the French comments about the filmmaker that that stuck up in my mind loosely translates as follows, “Stephane Drouot is one of the geniuses of France, like Rimbaud, Artaud, Baudelaire. The great poets, visionaries, artists are doomed to death today more than ever. He understood very quickly. His film is morally and politically an act of war against the annihilation of individuality by a totalitarian society already well established.” Indeed, while I somewhat doubt that Drouot was an artistic heir of Rimbaud, a certain poetic sadness and hopelessness does permeate throughout Star Suburb that is quite fitting when one considers how the filmmaker lived the rest of his fairly lamentable life.  Of course, to attack Star Wars in a retarded age where people look at the film franchise as a religion that is not to be questioned, Drouot also proved to be quite the iconoclast.  Indeed, thankfully Star Suburb makes Mel Brooks' Spaceballs (1987) seem like a mindlessly masturbatory homage to Star Wars by comparison.  Brought up in Americanized post-WWII France when ancient frog poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire certainly could not compete with the frighteningly fraudulent fantasies of George Lucas, Drouot meticulously and obsessively assembled a film that feels like a haunting cry of desperation and disillusionment from an artist trapped in an absurdly artless age of cultural deracination, American cultural hegemony, and mass infantilization.  Surely, the great irony of Drouot's films is that, were it not for its cynical references to Star Wars, probably no one would remember it today.  Another great irony of the film is that Caroline Appéré makes for a much sexier Princess Leia than Carrie Fisher did, but I guess it would be unfair to compare American mischlings to French femmes.  With its venomously bittersweet combination of pop chic aesthetics with a decidedly dejecting tone and patently pessimistic themes, Star Suburb is ultimately like the cinematic equivalent of a cyanide capsule wrapped in a Godiva chocolate bar wrapper. While Lucas' failed debut feature THX 1138 (1971) depicts a dystopian future where sex is illegal and everyone wears the same exact mundane uniform, little did he realize that he would help give birth to a very real nightmare involving masses of virginal middle-aged men that live in their parents' basement who wear t-shirts and collect toys based on a film that he made specifically for kids.  Of course, Star Suburb depicts an even darker side to Lucas' legacy and, for that reason alone, I find it considerably more intriguing than any of the frog sci-fi flicks that were ever directed by punk avant-gardist F.J. Ossang or multicultural-friendly wimp Luc Besson.  While it might be going too far to say that Drouot died for the sins of George Lucas, the failed French auteur ultimately did something more interesting by poetically exposing the cultural and cinematic sins of Star Wars, which is like the AIDS of world cinema, albeit more deceptive and less treatable.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I actually enjoyed the original Star Wars acting for what type of movie it was. As a kid I had seen Blade Runner on VHS before I saw Star Wars. That movie got me interested in Sci Fi and I remember it was also intriguing to see Harrison Ford again in a Sci Fi movie when I saw Star Wars. While the plot may have been a simple good vs bad guy movie I don't see the anti macho aspect as much as Ty E does. Han Solo had some cool aspects and even did things in the movie that probably would be considered rape today. Even Luke Skywalker is not what I would think of as a weak man. Now lets compare that to the Star Wars was just released. George Lucas is 100% right, the movie has been taken over by slavers and I think we all know their ethnicity. If you cant guess just watch the movie and see how they portray the men. The male characters in the recent movie are total losers. Even the colored guy is shown as stupid and dependent on that girl. The villain is even a loser. I don't think there is one strong male character in the entire movie. Even if one could argue Han Solo had something left in him (which he didn't) they killed him off anyway. In closing I did not dislike Star Wars originally as it seems Ty E did but that makes it all more terrible with this current sellout to Disney and their handlers. I will not be supporting the franchise anymore.