Jan 24, 2018

Naked Tango




While Paul Schrader is, at least to some extent, a failed filmmaker in the sense that very few of his films have been monetarily successful and, more importantly, he oftentimes fails when it comes to translating his screenplays into fully realized films (indeed, it is no coincidence that he is best known for his screenplay for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver), his older and lesser known brother Leonard, who only managed to direct a single feature during his somewhat sad life, is indubitably an artistic failure that was never able to reach anywhere near his full artistic potential.  Although surely no masterpiece, Leonard's sole feature Naked Tango (1990) is undoubtedly a intriguing film worthy of reexamination and a cinematic work that reveals that the auteur had the potential to be just as subversive and innovative of a filmmaker as his much better known younger brother. Probably best remembered among cinephiles and film historians for penning the Academy Award nominated screenplay for the poof prison flick Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) directed by Argentine-born Brazilian Jew Héctor Babenco and based on a novel by Argentine novelist Manuel Puig (whose work played a crucial influence on Naked Tango), Leonard—a draft-dodger that spent most of his life living and working in Japan after fleeing there in a successful attempt to avoid the Vietnam War—is undoubtedly a depressing example of misspent intellect and artistic talent.

To anyone that is familiar with the somewhat sleazy but highly entertaining book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1998) by Peter Biskind, it is easy to understand why the elder Schrader, who died under dubious circumstances in 2006, is all but forgotten yet his younger brother Paul has managed to direct a new film every year or two ever since his debut feature Blue Collar (1978) about forty years ago. Indeed, as Paul, who managed to snag the sole credit for their first Hollywood collaboration—the screenplay for Sydney Pollack's somewhat uneven The Yakuza (1974)—confessed in the book, “I had always treated Leonard badly. Taking sole screenwriting credit on THE YAKUZA wasn’t very nice. Treating him as an employee wasn’t very nice. Throughout all that, he had one thing that I didn’t have, which was Japan. And then came MISHIMA, and I stole Japan from him.” Apparently, The Yakuza credit and Japan were not the only things that Paul stole from his brother, or as Biskind somewhat questionably argued, “Ironically, his best film as a director was his first, BLUE COLLAR, which he more or less disavowed. Says Leonard, ‘My brother finds BLUE COLLAR embarrassing. One reason is, he hadn’t yet developed his polish-jewel CAT PEOPLE style. The other is, he didn’t write it.’ Meaning, of course, that Leonard wrote it.” Of course, the brothers, who both spent their younger years fetishizing the virtues of suicide and even had a number of paternal uncles and cousins commit suicide, have a number of things in common, namely their obsession with sex and death and especially a seemingly seamless combination of the two.  Notably, nearly a decade before directing his first feature, Schrader acted as co-director of the unintentionally entertaining and unquestionably exploitative leftist agitprop doc The Killing of America (1982) co-directed by Sheldon Renan. More or less a glorified snuff film featuring various pieces of classic true crime stock-footage, the somewhat deluded documentary now seems like a sick piece of leftist moral posturing when compare to the director's uniquely unhinged sadomasochistic melodrama Naked Tango. Like many of his brother’s cinematic works, Leonard’s film wallows in sex and death, but also dance, which is ultimately depicted as the height of orgasmic embrace and an activity that is driven largely by sheer sexual magnetism. 




 Featuring suicide, rape, murder, prostitution, homosexuality, Jewish organized crime, flapper fetishism, abattoirs, oedipal gangsters, and a delightfully dichotomous combination of high and low kultur that manages to combine the Symbolist paintings of Teutonic maestro Frank von Stuck with the gritty film noir sleaze of Howard Hawks' pre-Code guido gangster classic Scarface (1932), Naked Tango is undoubtedly an ambitious failure of sorts, but it is also a preternaturally engulfing failure and arguably one of the most elegant ‘bad movies’ ever made. An unintentional experiment in high-camp excess that attempts to juggle elements of film noir and classic melodrama and pays homage to both the short career of Latin heartthrob Rudolph Valentino and and the surreal sadomasochism of late era Luis Buñuel (indeed, Fernando Rey does not star in the film as a cuckolded judge for no reason), Schrader’s film certainly deserves comparisons to a number of subversive arthouse ‘mad love’ themed films, including Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972), Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974), Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s swansong Querelle (1982), and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and Wild at Heart (1990). In terms of its mongrelized cultural pedigree and dubious execution, the film also has much in common with the similarly flawed yet nonetheless underrated Orphic Belgian-Dutch-French co-production Mascara (1987) directed by Patrick Conrad and starring Charlotte Rampling and Michael Sarrazin. Undoubtedly, like Mascara, Naked Tango is what Manny Farber would have described as ‘termite art’ as a cinematic work that, for better or worse, attempts to exterminate pre-existing boundaries, exhibits undeniable artistic audaciousness, and wallows in economy of expression, among other things. In terms of being a somewhat arthouse-ish psychosexual thriller set in a culturally confused Buenos Aires, Argentina that makes various overt cinephiliac references to classic Hollywood movies, Schrader’s film also has some somewhat superficial similarities with the homoerotic Argentine-British film Apartment Zero (1988) starring Colin Firth and Hart Bochner. Despite its somewhat glaring artsy fartsy qualities, Schrader’s flick might be best summed up as a carefully culturally marinated combination of G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929), Dirty Dancing (1987), and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), albeit sans any sort of tangible commercial appeal. 



 Aside from an extremely rare out-of-print VHS, Naked Tango has, somewhat curiously, never been released in the United States in any other home media format. Although just speculation, I can only assume that the film was at least partially buried by its mainstream Hollywood distributor due to its less than flattering depiction of Jews and Jewish history. Indeed, the film is based on the real-life Jewish organized group Zwi Migdal and their international trafficking of young Jewesses from the shtetls of Eastern Europe for sexual slavery during a relatively long period that began in the 1860s and did not end until 1939 after an ex-prostitute named Raquel Liberman started a campaign that ultimately led to their downfall. Somewhat shockingly, the film does not feature a single redeemable Judaic character and instead is full of grotesque Jewish caricatures, namely a cowardly and craven young pimp with an obscene Oedipus complex and his similarly malevolent money-grubbing madam mommy. Incidentally, the film was produced by Jewish producer David Weisman—a protégé of Otto Preminger—who previously produced Paul Morrissey less than philo-semitic mafia satire Spike of Bensonhurst (1988). Notably, Schrader and Weisman previously had a quite monetarily and critically fruitful collaboration with Kiss of the Spider Woman, which seems to be a little bit too polished when compared to the visceral elegance of Naked Tango. Of course, Schrader only acted as a screenwriter on the previous film, but it seems that Weisman somehow expected the first-time-auteur to recapture the same success, albeit with a less than semitically sensitive twist. Naturally, a film about Jewish sex slavery would not be complete without a voluptuous seductive Jewess like Mathilda May of Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985) fame and her supple Khazar milkers (while I typically find Jewesses to be innately grotesque, May is a half-breed and it seems her Swedish genes have done her well in both the titty and derriere department).

It should also be noted that various mainstream film critics criticized Naked Tango when it was released due to its less than philo-semitic approach to depicting history.  For exampled, assumed chosenite Ralph Novak complained in his September 16, 1991 review for People magazine that, “Great emphasis is placed on Morales’s Jewishness, for no clear reason.”  Of course, Novak is either being willingly ignorant and/or he did not do his homework, as the film is based on a well-known real-life kosher crime syndicate.  Additionally, the Jewish pimp played by Esai Morales hardly seems like a Jewish caricature in terms of physical appearance and certainly does not resemble a cunning gremlin like infamous real-life mobster Meyer Lansky.  In short, Naked Tango is probably too aesthetically flattering when it comes to depicting Judaic pimps and gangsters.  It seems that film specialists and academics are also unaware that it exists, as it does not get a single reference in Russell Campbell's book Marked Women: Prostitutes and Prostitution in the Cinema (2006), which has been marketed as being the definitive text on the representation of female prostitution in cinema history. Incidentally, the book, which covers everything from New German Cinema to retro Swedish pornography, does dedicate a number of pages to Taxi Driver, which of course Schrader's brother Paul is famous for penning.



 Admittedly, while I don’t know shit about any form of dancing or ballet, I do have a certain inexplicable fondness for a number of idiosyncratic dance and ballet flicks, including (but certainly not limited to), Max Reichmann’s experimental Das Blumenwunder (1926) aka Miracle of Flowers, Swiss auteur Daniel Schmid’s debut feature Heute nacht oder nie (1972) aka Tonight or Never, Ingmar Bergman's somewhat obscure avant-garde short De fördömda kvinnornas dans (1976) aka The Condemned Women Dance, the sod serial killer oriented Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men (1989) and other Physical Theatre Company DV8 production related films, Rosa von Praunheim’s bizarre neo-Expressionist Anita Berber biopic Anita: Tänze des Lasters (1987) aka Anita: Dances of Vice, and even total senseless trash like Lucio Fulci’s dance-giallo Murder Rock (1984) aka Slashdance and mercurial guido auteur Peter Del Monte’s abortive arthouse neo-fairytale Etoile (1988) aka Ballet starring a rather young and nubile Jennifer Connelly. Indeed, I also regard the ‘danse macabre’ scene in Belgian master auteur André Delvaux’s Un soir, un train (1968) aka One Night... A Train as being among one of the most startlingly haunting scenes in cinema history. While I personally find tango music to be rather aesthetically disagreeable, it is an innate and imperative ingredient in what is ultimately a mostly delectable, yet sometimes bittersweet, cinematic cuisine that manages to combine an eclectic collection of ingredients, including Jewish gangsters, cabaret, proto-fascist aesthetics, Expressionism, Franz von Stuck, Rudolph Valentino worship, flapper sluts, and the perils of elegant excess, among other things. An erotic arthouse flick disguised as a trashy quasi-musical with a somewhat hermetic period setting, Naked Tango is arguably a grand artistic failure but it also indubitably the dead serious expression of a sick failed artist’s wounded soul, thereupon making it a quite apt first (and last) feature for Schrader.   Indeed, while Schrader may have only been able to direct one feature film during his life, he at least has never directed anything as hopelessly embarrassing as the incoherent shabbos goy tier shoah shit show Adam Resurrected (2008) or the totally worthless Nicholas Cage vehicle The Dying of the Light (2014) like his younger brother.  Additionally, Mathilda May makes for a much more appealing prostitute than Richard Gere in Schrader's somewhat uneven Bressonian crime-romance American Gigolo (1980).



 While the film’s young and beauteous heroine Stephanie (Mathilda May) might be quite easy on the eyes, it is somewhat hard to sympathize with her plight as she is, quite simply, a spoiled little bitch that dares to wallow in self-pity because she made the obvious mistake of marrying an old fart simply because he was a rich and respected judge. Indeed, Stephanie socially cuckolds her husband Juez Torres (Fernando Rey)—a man that seems to genuinely care for his wife despite having nothing in common with her—at the beginning of the film while they are vacationing on a cruise by dancing with a handsome young waiter, who initially mistakes her spouse for her father. While her husband purports to be a legendary tango dancer and she herself loves to tango, Stephanie is clearly disgusted at the thought of any sort of physical contact with Juez; be it sexual or otherwise. When Juez dares to berate her for her rather obnoxious quasi-slutty public behavior by declaring, “Stop making a scene. You’re acting worse than a whore,” she throws a rather childish fit, storms out of the dance hall and then heads to the deck of a ship where she is somewhat shocked to witness a beautiful nubile young girl stripping off all of her clothes and then committing suicide by jumping overboard. Clearly not the sort of person to miss the opportunity to exploit a good tragedy, Stephanie immediately decides to fake her own death and trades places with the mysterious dead girl by stealing her clothes and then leaving her own items at the scene of the glorious suicidal plunge. Upon discovering the dead girl’s journal, Stephanie discovers that the deceased was a a Jewish mail-order bride from Poland and that she is traveling to Buenos Aires to wed a kosher chap. Unfortunately for Stephanie, her mysterious husband-to-be is actually a sly pimp and gangster named Zico Borenstein (Esai Morales) that runs a stylish whorehouse with his obscenely overbearing and equally morally bankrupt mother (Cipe Lincovsky).  In short, Stephanie unwittingly goes from riches-to-rags, though she ultimately also goes from being a dishonest whore that married for money to becoming an honest enslaved pussy-peddler that does not even get to keep the money that her she actually earned via whoredom.



 Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, Zico—a fairly young man whose counterfeit suaveness is only rivaled by his well hidden cowardice—acts like quite the prim and pristine gentleman and even provides Stephanie with a very expensive diamond ring. Although he intends to turn her into a servile sex slave that makes him cash with her gash, Zico also talks up the local neighborhood, even bragging in regard to his corrupt little ghetto, “You’re going to be very happy here. It’s so much better than the old country. We are very proud of our Jewish community. Before we go back, I’ll introduce you to our kosher butcher, the grocer, the banker, the doctor . . . everyone with money. I mean, everyone important. You’ll be surprised at how fast they make you feel at home.”  Notably, Stephanie makes no attempt to pretend she is Jewish and Zico does not seem to suspect that she is a duplicitous shiksa that has her own dubious agenda, thus somewhat ironically making them the perfect couple as far as deceptive behavior and morally bankruptcy are concerned. Also, somewhat ironically, it is ultimately a man that initially displays nil interest in fucking her that makes her feel the most comfortable in her own pearly pale skin. Of course, as woman that married an old fart that she has no physical or emotional chemistry with, Stephanie certainly sees it as beneath her to peddler her pussy at the behest of a kosher nostra gangster for a mere couple of shekels that she will not even be able to keep herself. Luckily, Stephanie will at least finally meet a mensch that eventually falls head over heels in love with her in his own preternatural yet highly flattering fashion, thus naturally reaffirming her regret in regard to getting stuck in a loveless marriage. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Naked Tango—a film where two somewhat unhinged weirdos with sadomasochistic tendencies discover the ecstatic highs and crushing lows of visceral mad love—does not have a happy ending, at least not in the conventional sense.  In short, the (anti)heroine discovers that raw passion always has a hefty price, even when you're a busty little bitch that could have virtually any man you want.



 When Stephanie first meets her great love ‘Cholo’ (Vincent D'Onofrio)—a pathologically cryptic yet hyper hip tango maestro that is high on his own idiosyncratic brand of swag—she is wielding two knives and is fully prepared to defend herself, as she has just stabbed her (pseudo)husband Zico and a grotesquely obese jeweler named Bertoni (played by famous Yiddish actor Zero Mostel’s fairly unknown son Josh Mostel). Indeed, on their wedding night, Zico attempted to consummate the marriage by forcing a completely unwitting Stephanie to smoke the lard ass jeweler’s seemingly ungodly awful choad. Of course, Stephanie, who had no idea that her husband was a pernicious pimp, naturally resisted and thus was forced to stab both Zico and Bertoni in the process. Proving to be the only man that can control Stephanie, Cholo literally grabs her by the pussy and the lifts her up in the air, though he is in for somewhat of a shock when he immediately develops a completely electric erotic attraction while she is attempting to stab him, as if he can immediately sense, like an ancient vampire, a fellow unhinged tango fanatic. Although practically worshiped by virtually every single woman (and even some men) in the area, Cholo loathes sex and seems to see tango dancing as a substitute that is much purer and authentic than actual coitus. Indeed, as a flaming fag hairdresser named Gastón (Patricio Bisso) states in regard to Cholo’s preternatural proclivities, “We’d all give our long lost cherries to sleep with him but he sleeps with horses. He’s never given any girl a second look.”  With Stephanie, Cholo gives her a whole lot more than a second look and he ultimately pays the greatest price for it.

While Zico attempts to coerce Cholo into killing Stephanie since she is a witness-cum-perpetrator in the murder of the mafia-connected jeweler Bertoni and thus can get them in trouble with a ruthless outfit of Italian gangsters known as the ‘Black Hand,’ he cannot break his almost immediately self-destructive obsession with her and instead immediately proceeds to focus on transforming her into a sort of designer whore of his dreams. Indeed, after forcing her to get a dark black Louise Brooks-esque flapper hairdo and to take the exotic whore name ‘Alba,’ Cholo—a suave and romantic yet seemingly sociopathic sicko that commits violence and murder with a certain unrivaled finesse that is comparable to his tango moves—cannot stop his rather deleterious obsession with making love with Stephanie via tango. On top of refusing to shove his almost mythical member in her clearly warm and ready snatch, Cholo also curiously forces Stephanie to wear a blindfold while they dance. In fact, Cholo is such an obsessive lunatic that he also has his own personal three-person tango band that he also forces to wear blindfolds, as if these almost phantom-like elderly musicians, who act as a sort of Greek chorus for the film, are too lowly and aesthetically handicapped to appreciate his perversely penetrating phantasmagoric dance moves. 




 As a result of her role in the death of mob-connected lardo jeweler Bertoni, Stephanie’s life is threatened by both yid pimp Zico and the Black Hand mobsters, so it is a good thing that Cholo becomes absolutely infatuated with her.  Indeed, while best buds with Zico and an associate of sorts with the goombah gangsters of the Black Hand, Cholo does not have to think twice about going to war with both just to defend Stephanie. In fact, after saving her from some somewhat intellectually disadvantaged guido gangsters, Cholo declares to Stephanie, who he has personally rechristened ‘Alba,’ in an almost sinisterly sensual fashion, “I’m sorry. This won’t happen again. Don’t worry, Alba. I’d never let anyone else kill you.” Instead of killing Stephanie, Cholo forces her to do the tango blindfolded sans clothing. While Stephanie is also a tango fanatic of sorts, she much rather have Cholo’s cock and practically begs him for it repeatedly but, unfortunately for her, he sees sex as sickening.  A somewhat paradoxical chap that radiates a certain alluring degree of machismo and androgyny, Cholo is clearly the man of Stephanie's dreams, at least as far as sheer sex appeal is concerned.

When Stephanie cries to Choko while lying naked in pimp Zico’s bed, “I don’t know what sex with you is,” he replies, “Yes, you do. All sex is the same. It just leaves you more sad. The beauty you’re born with does not count. The only thing that counts is the beauty you make.”  If Cholo was an intellectual, one can certainly imagine him saying something in the vein of Georges Bataille like, “Nudity is only death, and the most tender kisses have the after-taste of the rat.”  Incidentally, Stephanie's eventual premature death while involve her nudity.  As Stephanie learns, real beauty to Cholo is doing the tango in a blood-drenched abattoir while sticking a dagger under your lover’s throat. Of course, Stephanie never gives up on attempting to coerce Cholo into jumping her bones, which he eventually does after murdering some pathetic wop gangster. Needless to say, Cholo does not shy away from pounding Stephanie’s puss while her buxom bare ass is sitting on broken glass. In short, the fact that Jewish and guido gangsters are trying to kill them only adds more passion to Stephanie and Cholo’s quite literally lethally lurid love affair. Unfortunately, being a woman, Stephanie still has strong survival instincts and an insatiable thirst for material things, so she eventually betrays Cholo and goes back to her wealthy judge husband, but not before burning a building down and quite selfishly risking the lives of many innocent people in the process, thus underscoring her sense of quasi-sociopathic greed and self-worship. Naturally, Cholo refuses to let Stephanie go and she cannot deny her undying love for the twisted tango maestro, so it is not long before they are reunited.  Needless to say, the lovers are doomed.



 In the spirit of classic European ‘impossible love’ myths like Tristan and Iseult and Orpheus and Eurydice and film reworkings of such perennial stories like the Jean Cocteau-penned Vichy era classic L'Éternel retour (1943) aka The Eternal Return directed Jean Delannoy, Naked Tango naturally concludes in a tragically romantic fashion with the leads being completely destroyed because of their quite impossible forbidden love. Indeed, when Stephanie decides to once again betray her husband and choose Cholo over him, he finally loses his patience and opts to killer her in what can only be described as a crime of cuck passion. Of course, when the judge shoots Stephanie, Cholo immediately retaliates and does so by suavely and quite effortlessly throwing a knife through the old fart's swarthy decrepit Latin neck. In the end, the judge’s henchman—corrupt local Prussian-esque cops that shoot first and ask questions later—unleash a storm of bullets on Cholo and Stephanie as they quite literally take their last dance together. As a symbolic act of both true love and heroic defiance, Cholo uses his last couple moments alive to raise Stephanie lifeless body in the air as if he is trying to vain to send her off to heaven while his feet are just beginning to feel the warmth of the pits of hell.  As individuals that were clearly not built for marriage or kids that indubitably reached the zenith of their love for another, Stephanie and Cholo could not have left this world together in a more appropriate fashion.  Luckily, Cholo manages to execute Zico as revenge for his betrayal shortly before his own death.  Quite symbolically considering the neurotic maternal spirit of Ashkenazi Jewry, Zico's mother seems to be the only one that survives the blood bath and now she can keep all of the whorehouse money for herself instead of splitting it with her pimp son.



 As history certainly demonstrates from Samson’s harlot of Gaza to Heidi ‘Hollywood Madam’ Fleiss, Jews and prostitution go together like peas and carrots, yet Naked Tango is probably the only film that dares to take a fearless and less than politically incorrect approach to the subject. Notably, in her book Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany (1995), Maria Tatar noted in regard to the literary tradition of Jews and prostitution, “Jews came to be linked not only with the perpetrators of sexual murder, but with the victims as well. Like the prostitute, the Jew is seen to represent a serious threat to the moral, fiscal, and sexual economy of the social body. As Sander Gilman has pointed out, both prostitutes and Jews have been liked by what is seen to be a sexualized relation to capital—they have ‘but one interest, the conversion of sex into money or money into sex.’ Unable to find value in transcendent spiritual matters, their interests remain fixed on the material and financial. More important, prostitutes and Jews, because of their spiritual corruption, are considered carriers of sexually transmitted diseases, a view clearly articulated in Hitler’s MEIN KAMPF.” Ironically and somewhat cynically, the protagonists of the film, especially female lead Stephanie, are ultimately destroyed as a result of abandoning material consumption for visceral true love. Interestingly, the leads are ultimately victims of greed and treachery of a Jewish pimp in a film that, quite unintentionally, lends authority to Uncle Adolf's words, “Particularly with regard to syphilis, the attitude of those who guide the nation and the state can only be described as total capitulation […] The cause lies primarily in the prostitution of love […] This Jewification of the spiritual life and mammonization of the mating instinct will sooner or later destroy all of our descendants.” Of course, the protagonists die before they can even produce descendants despite their eventual abandoning of both literal and spiritual prostitution.  Indeed, were it not such a debauched film, Schrader's debut feature could be mistaken as an homage to the classic high-camp melodramas of National Socialist auteur Veit Harlan.  Naturally, the fact that it was directed by a lifelong leftist and draft-dodger that previously directed liberal anti-American agitprop makes Naked Tango seem like an all the more inexplicable cinematic work, so it is really no big surprise that has been tragically consigned to the celluloid dustbin of history.



While Naked Tango certainly seems a little bit culturally mongrelized due to its glaring international cast and mostly pleasantly preternatural period setting that oftentimes more resembles Weimar Berlin than Buenos Aires in terms of aesthetic spirit, the film is indubitably deeply rooted in both cultural and social history and reflects Schrader's sagely understanding of art, cinema, and literature as indicated by the film's use aesthetic influences ranging from Manuel Puig to German Expressionism. Indeed, aside from being inspired by the real-life Jewish sex slavery outfit Zwi Migdal, the film follows in the tradition of certain forgotten Jewish art, or as explained at the Jewish Virtual Library, “Yiddish literature of the early 20th century contains a number of powerful portrayals of the social and personal costs of widespread prostitution including Sholem Asch’s GOD OF VENGEANCE and Perets Hirschbein’s MIRIAM. A 1908 performance of the latter in Buenos Aires led to a bloody public riot.” Of course, the almost gothic-like Jewish ghetto setting seems to be largely window dressing for Schrader’s eclectic aesthetic obsessions. After all, I doubt many Hebraic whorehouses have stained glass windows modeled after some of Franz von Stuck’s greatest paintings, including Die Sünde (1893) aka The Sin and Sphinx (1904).  Somewhat ironically considering the film's degenerate Jewish setting, von Stuck was apparently apparently Adolf Hitler's favorite painter.  Notably, when Aryan Christ Jung wrote in his book Symbols of Transformation (1956) in regard to von Stuck's paintings, “The mixture of anxiety and lust is perfectly expressed in the sultry atmosphere of these pictures,” he certainly could have also been describing Schrader's film.

In a January 07, 1990 interview with John M. Wilson at the Los Angeles Times in regard to the production of the film, Schrader demonstrated he was personally obsessed with romance, arguing, “For me, the essence of romance, for all its high-octane fuel, is for romance to burn itself out. In the ashes of romance can grow a more mature, a different kind of love. The more chance you have to take romance all the way to the end, the more chance you have to be ready for the next phase. Most of us only have the courage to take it halfway.” Of course, the lovers in the film go all the way in terms of their love and pay the ultimate price for it, but as Schrader stated in the same interview, “Most romances keep the element of death hidden under the table. I wanted to put it square in the middle of the table.”



It seems that Schrader, who apparently liked the emotional of security of knowing that he was always sleeping with a loaded weapon under his pillow and thus could kill himself at any time, was a somewhat tragic self-destructive individual who was a slave of the Todestrieb. While putting together Naked Tango in the editing room, Schrader even expressed a certain irrational excitement in regard to the artistic uncertainty of his film, stating, “This is why I love it—every choice, every step, every moment is crucial. I love to be in that position, where I can win or lose, because it means that what I'm doing counts.”  Judging simply by his statement, it makes one wonder whether or not Schrader was attempting to sabotage his own career by making a film about rather unsavory Jewish pimps and gangsters while working in the hyper Hebraic realm of Hollywood. Of course, despite his brother Paul ultimately directing the film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)—a somewhat experimental biopic of the great Japanese novelist and neo-fascist Yukio Mishima—was ultimately Schrader's brainchild and an expression of his own romantic and self-destructive tendencies.  Knowing this, I can only assume that Leonard was the more subversive and intelligent of the two brothers, but sadly it seems he was an underachiever that was too antisocial and just plain mentally ill to establish a filmmaking career that was extensive as his own little bro.  It seems that Schrader was also somewhat lazy, as he spent the majority of his life as ‘script doctor’ which, to quote the failed auteur, allowed him to obtain, “big money for a short amount of work.”  Unfortunately, Naked Tango was ultimately such a huge failure that it is all but totally unknown in Schrader’s own homeland and currently unavailable in any home media format, though it seems to have developed some minor success in Europe and Argentina.

Still, I doubt that Schrader would have ever been capable of developing any sort of big mainstream success.  Indeed, as a strange introverted intellectual that seemed to suffer posttraumatic success as a result of strict and totally movie-less Dutch Calvinist upbringing, the failed auteur probably did not relate to most people.  Additionally, I am not surprised that the man that directed Naked Tango also once candidly confessed, “I would be sitting alone in some room at three o'clock in the morning with a loaded gun, thinking about blowing my brains out.  It was not, ‘I'm having a bad day, I wanted to kill myself’; no, the desire, the need, felt as real as a fucking table. I want to do this, and I never want to do this. I'm three seconds away from it, and I'm three million years away from it. I felt the fever of two things inside me fighting. I was breaking out in a sweat, my temperature was going up from the intensity of it. Sometimes I would just stare at the wall, trying to quiet the heat down, but sometimes the heat kept building, and that's when I was looking for the gun. Triggered by something physical, like I couldn't sleep. I found out that if I stuck the barrel in my mouth, like some infant's pacifier, I could fall asleep. It worked for two or three weeks, and all of a sudden, it didn't work. I'd been sucking on an empty gun. I knew if I loaded the sonofabitch, I was gonna sleep tonight.” While Schrader was apparently not a fag since he was married to a Jap chick, somehow it seems fitting that his real-life, as demonstrated by the above quote, sometimes resembled a scene out of Jean Genet's sole film Un chant d'amour (1950) aka A Song of Love.



-Ty E

4 comments:

Scott Is NOT A Professional said...

Ty, that Leonard Schrader quote at the end jumped out at me instantly. I see you're also a fan of Peter Biskind's '70s New Hollywood deconstruction Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. I bought it on its first printing back in '98 and, despite its (((typical))) over-focus on the coke-fueled debauchery of the time, it only cemented my fascination with that Altamont-to-Jimmy Carter stretch of American cinema that nearly everyone since has recognized as an honest-to-God golden era.

Your review brings to mind an anecdote from my hazy L.A. days: I used to fuck a chick who claimed to have had Leonard Schrader as one of her teachers in some writing class at either the American Film Institute or UCLA or... wherever. (I genuinely forget where it was, though she did work for AFI at the time I was balls-deeping her, so that likely narrows it down.) She said she'd occasionally given him rides home after class and he very much lived up to the neglected-artist-in-the-shadow-of-his-more-successful-brother portrait that Biskind painted. She mentioned that he was in pretty poor health toward the end. Funny enough, this same chick happened to know a guy who was married to one of Sam Peckinpah's daughters — and, yes, she most certainly knew of my Peckinpah obsession. (I think I may have had her read a rough draft of my original Straw Dogs review.)

I'd always made it a point in the back of my mind to track down anything that Leonard might have had anything to do with — that is, aside from Paul's directorial debut, Blue Collar, which Leonard co-wrote, and which I'd already seen and ritually re-watched like a freeze-frame of Mathilda May's Sephardic milkers in my childhood VHS copy of Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce.

As Naked Tango is apparently rarer and harder to find than a halfway decent white woman in post-feminist America, I have yet to see this film. I must rectify this. Surely, someone somewhere is willing to part with a worn-out Bush I-era artifact for a small chunk of my weekly paycheck...

Ty E said...

Scott Is NOT A Professional:

Indeed, Biskind's book is fun, though sometimes for all the wrong reasons. He gives himself away by gleefully describing Robert Towne (real name Robert Schwartz) as having "along with the Talmudic slope of his shoulders gave him a rabbinical cast he could never entirely shake."

Speaking of Biskind, did you read his book "Down and Dirty Pictures"? It contains a rather incriminating portrait of Harvey Weinstein and his psychotic semitic behavior. Needless to say, I wasn't shocked with the recent metoo scandal BS.

I see you have gotten quite good when it comes to the JQ. Although I did know May was half-Sephardic, I'm kind of addicted to the phrase "Khazar Milkers."

Btw, you can actually find "Naked Tango" in its entirety on YT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DD9Zz1LpEas

Scott Is NOT A Professional said...

Ty -

Thanks for the link. You'd think, with all the full-length movies I've actually watched on YouTube, it would occur to me to check there for hard-to-find titles.

Yes, come to think of it, Biskind never really missed a chance to outline the classically Jewish self-hatred of the Chosen Ones he was describing in Easy Riders: whether mentioning that Steven Spielberg felt like an alien from "Planet Israel" while growing up amongst the goyim of Arizona, describing an executive (Frank Yablans of Paramount?) looking into the mirror and bemoaning his homely Semitic appearance, or mentioning William Friedkin's loathing of Israel while shooting scenes there for Sorcerer.

Biskind did much of this while describing Weinstein in Down and Dirty Pictures as well; given how much more powerful Weinstein was at the time, I was somewhat surprised that the book was allowed to go out as it did. How vile was Biskind's portrait of Harvey the Horrible? I recall reading passages about Weinstein's treatment of filmmakers and his shelving of their work to a girlfriend I had at the time — a girl who, like myself in those days, wasn't terribly invested in the JQ. Her instant response: "Jeeeezus Christ! And they wonder why people don't want to deal with them..."

Re: those "milkers" — hands down, the Tribe's single greatest contribution to humanity. (Or at least to horny young men.) I started writing a review of Lifeforce a couple of years back and got about four paragraphs into it before I realized I hadn't discussed anything other than Mathilda May's pendulous-yet-perky kosherbags.

DIONYSOS ANDRONIS said...

IN ORDER TO GO IN THE OPPOSITE WAY THAN JEAN GENET (from the last phrase of your article TyE)AND EVEN IF I LOVE HIS FILM "Un chant d'amour", I WANT TO PRESENT YOU THE FOLLOWING HOMOPHOBIC NOVEL:
_________________________________________________________________________

Richard Roudier
"Le Glaive et la Charrue"
éditions Identitor, Nîmes, 2e édition 2013, 202 pages

Cet essai politique autobiographique pourrait être lu comme un roman aussi. Richard Roudier est un ancien combattant de la mouvance identitaire.
En nous racontant ses souvenirs personnels avec un humour discret et pourtant fort l'écrivain nous tire l'attention jusqu'à la dernière page. Les slogans de son entourage nous accompagnent tout au long de son parcours : il identifie le beau militant Fabrice Robert (du Bloc Identitaire) par le biais d'autres commentateurs à "la Reine d'Angleterre (op.cit.page 109).
L'ouvrage fait la critique des deux Le Pen (père et fille) et de leur "monothéisme d'état" (op.cit.page 133) qui est un argument ambigu pour valoriser les anciennes tactiques du Bloc Identitaire, pour lesquelles Roudiet avait milité dans le passé : "laboratoire d'idées, centrale d'agitation, pôle de formation, actions de rue" (op.cit.page 138). Il nous dresse une liste de mauvais résultats obtenus par "le caractère importé, donc non-européen, de l'islam"(op.cit.page 145).
En faisant aussi une synthèse de citations importantes des écrivains de la "Nouvelle Droite" comme Guillaume Faye ou Alain De Benoist il termine avec une remarque originale, même si elle se base sur les termes anciens : "Délaissons la charrue, sortons le glaive" La grande conjuration des ruptures nous attend" (op.cit.page 202). C'est peut-être une nouvelle solution contre la "franco-arabie" (op cit.page 142) archaïque.
écrit par Dionysos ANDRONIS