Dec 24, 2019

Blast of Silence

While I recently felt a certain degree of long buried nostalgia upon re-watching the classic Xmas TV movie special Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)—an inordinately cute, clever, and shockingly kindhearted production courtesy of none other than great muppet auteur Jim Henson—as it is one of my earliest film memories and something I probably have no seen in well over twenty years, I would be lying if I tried to pass it off as reflecting my current mentality or how I feel about the so-called holiday season. Surely, it is keeping with my current cynicism that I was not at all that surprised to just learn that the film’s 1971 source children’s book of the same name was penned by chosenite Russell Hoban (which explains the film's somewhat grating ‘class consciousness’) and mischling hack Frank Oz had to taint the film with his voice, but I digress. Feeling like I might be able tap into a smidgen of Xmas spirit with a quasi-arthouse slasher featuring a bunch of Warhol Superstars in the quite fitting roles of mental patients, I decided to re-watch Theodore Gershuny’s Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972), but it reminded me more of hokey Halloween hijinks than jingle bells and red-nosed reindeer. Hell, I even gave Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984) a re-watch after two decades or so, but I was distracted by its odd neo-Orientalism and the fact that the recent PSYOP-like emergence of ‘Baby Yoda’—a sad unintentional symbol of Werner Herzog's strange newfound Hollywood whore status (though, to be fair, the Bavarian auteur started heading into this direction with his soullessly sentimental Spielberg-esque shoah shit show Invincible (2001))—has forever tainted the memory of the film in my mind. Indeed, I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, but the only film that could get me into the Christmas spirit—or, more specifically, the anti-Christmas spirit—is the nasty little neo-noir Blast of Silence (1961) directed by one-anti-hit-wonder Allen Baron who also acted as the film’s writer and antihero.

Despite being a relatively obscure figure that was mainly involved in doing completely irrelevant hack directing for popular (and not so popular) TV shows including The Brady Bunch, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Charlie's Angels, and The Love Boat, Baron was recently a casualty of the yeast-infected Me Too campaign at the ancient age of 91 after being exposed by his former personal assistant Anna Dey who not only accused him of doing disgusting things like throwing cum-rags at her, but also curiously accused him of the following in a July 2018 lawsuit: “Baron is a person of Jewish faith and expressly discussed his disdain for [Dey’s] Christian religion.” Of course, any non-pozzed thinking person that has seen Blast of Silence will see this as no big surprise as the film is devoutly anti-Christmas in a sort of marvelously mean-spirited and misanthropic fashion as if the writer-director fantasizes about a sort of semitic (anti)Santa Claus using his magical Kabbalah-charged sleigh with evil Golem-like Reindeer to drop a nuke on happy Christmas carolers. Indeed, Baron’s debut feature offers the viewer the opportunity of spending Christmastide with a half-crazed coldblooded hitman killer of the absurdly alienated and perverted sort who glorifies solitude and ultimately achieves a perennial sort of solitariness with his much-warranted grisly demise. In short, there is no doubt in your mind that Baron absolutely loathes Jesus Christ's b-day and the great joy, happiness, and spirituality associated with it, thus making the film a must-see film for ‘spiritual Ebenezer Scrooge’ types. Like a more morbidly mental Melville movie for sleazy American philistines created years after the release of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) when film noir had already more or less died, the film is no immaculate masterpiece yet it manages to bleed alienation, despair, and a certain hardboiled nihilistic fervor that makes this film an apt experience for those less than jolly beings that can’t get into the Christmas spirit but don’t necessarily want to blow their brains out.  Whereas sadistic sod gutter auteur Andy Milligan's proto-slasher Seeds (1968) offers the ultimate depiction of family dysfunction where hate epitomizes the holidays, Blast of Silence wallows in a lethal sort of loneliness where murder is merry, at least for the absurdly aberrant antihero.

 Aside from obvious racial and cultural reasons, I have always been counter-kosher for largely aesthetic reasons because I cannot stand the innate artificiality and overall phoniness that plagues Judaic artists, especially filmmakers ranging from Mel Brooks to Steven Spielberg to Darren Aronofsky to J.J. Abrams. Indeed, as Ludwig Wittgenstein noted in a more articulate fashion, to be kosher is to be cosmopolitan and, in turn, completely culturally bankrupt which leads to soullessly ‘universalizing’ the art of the people of their host nation, hence the oftentimes obnoxious Judaic propensity towards satire and parody where an artistic model is manipulated and subverted for (at least partly) comedic (but more often subversive) ends. Over the years, I have realized that the Hebraic filmmakers that I actually do like, quite unlike softboys like Spielberg or Abrams, tend to come from rougher backgrounds where their art comes from the rather organic source of the streets. Indeed, even in their big budgets films, the street smarts of tough jews like William Friedkin and Michael Mann is quite apparent (whereas Spielberg's films reek of a certain insipid suburban soullessness and sapless artificiality).  Before switching to artless Zionist propaganda, streetwise semite Peter Emmanuel Goldman almost made the desperation and nihilism of gutter-dwelling counterculture types seem cool in underrated films like Echoes of Silence (1965) and Wheel of Ashes (1968) in between whoring himself out for sexploitation trash like The Sensualist (1966). Indeed, it is hard to imagine that early Martin Scorsese flicks, especially his first feature Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), would exist were it not for Goldman’s largely unknown influence. Similarly, Actors Studio co-founder Jack Garfein—a supposed shoah survivor that had a certain glaring contempt for white America—demonstrated with his two fictional features The Strange One (1957) and Something Wild (1961) a certain singularly scathing depiction of human psychology and abnormal behavior that makes the films of John Cassavetes seem like sentimental children’s films by comparison. Needless to say, Baron does for film noir with Blast of Silence what Goldman did for underground arthouse cinema and Garfein did for adult drama in terms of bringing a certain uncompromising vehemence and viscerality to the medium. As to the defining trait of Baron’s first and only worthwhile feature—a film that makes The Lady from Shanghai (1947) seem quite campy and Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947) seem humanistic by comparison—it is its pure and unadulterated venom as if the filmmaker needed to create it lest he commit a mass murder spree. 

 Just judging by the opening scene of Blast of Silence, one might suspect it would be more fitting for the film to have the Cioranian title The Trouble with Being Born as a nasty and nihilistic virtual antinatalist film noir where the strangely angsty antihero ‘Baby boy Frankie Bono’ (writer-director Allen Baron)—a covert wop character that is, somewhat believably, portrayed by a Jew—immediately begins narrating his great displeasure with being born juxtaposed with a train emerging from a pitch black tunnel like a bastard baby being violently blasted out of its mother's monstrous womb.  Indeed, as Frankie narrates (by way of blacklisted kosher card-carrying commie Lionel Stander), “Remembering, out of the black silence…you were born in pain […] You were born with hate and anger built in.” Needless to say, Frankie will also die in pain with his hatred and anger still intact as if it was a fate he instinctively understood all along. A deranged hitman that, unfortunately for him considering the particularly perturbed state of his psyche, largely lives in his own mind as highlighted by the film’s exceedingly effective and superlatively sleazy narrated ‘internal monologue’ (notably, celebrated screenwriter Waldo Salt of Midnight Cowboy fame wrote the narration under the pseudonym ‘Mel Davenport’) where fucked Frankie boy practically seems like his head might explode at any moment. Indeed, Frankie is a virtual ticking time bomb, but some other gentlemen do him the honor of extinguishing him before he can explode on his own in what ultimately proves to be a pathetic end to a patently pathetic life.

A resentful ex-orphan that seemingly spent his entire childhood in an orphanage and thus never received critical things like love and affection as a childhood, Frankie naturally has mixed emotions about traveling all the way from Cleveland to his hometown in Manhattan to execute a hit on a mid-level goombah gangster. As Frankie gloats to himself in a self-deluding manner upon first arriving via train while suavely sucking on a cigarette, “You’re alone. But you don’t mind that. You’re a loner. That’s the way it should be. You’ve always been alone. By now it’s your trademark. You like it that way.” Unfortunately for Frankie, he won’t be alone for long as he bumps into some old childhood friends by mere chance, including an old love interest, thus leaving him vulnerable and warping his plans in an ultimately rather pathetic scenario that underscores the angst-ridden antihero’s incapacity to completely connect with other people on any meaningful level. In that sense, it is surely fitting that splenetic psycho Frankie meets a miserable end on a cold and rainy day in a scenario that hardly inspires lachrymose in the viewer.  Like a rabid dog that is begging to be put down, Frankie's somewhat predictable yet nonetheless delicious demise ultimately acts as a source of solace for the viewer.  In short, Frankie is a sick animal and his great suffering finally ends when he is put down.

 Although Frankie would certainly agree with Baron’s racial kinsman Heinrich Heine words, “Sleep is good, death is better but of course, the best thing would to have never been born at all,” his boastful street philosophy of misanthropy and self-isolation are clearly the defensive psychological tools of a forsaken literal and figurative bastard that has no good reason to be happy about life as a poorly socialized lapsed orphan that is ill-equipped to deal with life, hence why he has dedicated his career to taking the lives of others as if he is unwittingly offering his victims the sweet sort of death that his sick self-destructive subconscious is driving him towards. Before executing his murder contracts, Frankie likes to channel all of his internalized hatred into these forsaken fellows. Indeed, when first mentioning his target Troiano (Peter Clune), Frankie states while practically dripping vile, “You know the type. Second-string syndicate boss with too much ambition…and a mustache to hide the fact he has lips like a woman…the kind of race you hate.” While stalking Troiano, Frankie also rationalizes the murder he is about to carryout by hatefully stating of his target, “He runs the girls and the dope and the books and the numbers. There’s a guy you could really learn to hate.” Although not his initial intention, Troiano is not the first scumbag that Frankie wastes as he impulsively yet still rather sneakily brutally beats and strangles to death an ‘old friend’ named ‘Big Ralph (Larry Tucker)—a fiercely foul and seemingly fecally unsound fat fuck that owns multiple pet street rats—that dares to attempt rip him off for a “thirty-eight with a silencer” after already agreeing to a contract. Indeed, while being a contract killer is technically Frankie’s job, one certainly gets the sense that he simply chose the career as an opportunistic outlet for his overwhelming bloodlust. Needless to say, a woman also helps inspire Frankie’s homicidal rage after temporarily softening his cold black heart during a moment of weakness that clearly contributes to his demise. 

 While incessantly complaining about his need for solitude, Frankie somewhat changes his tune upon being reunited with an old female friend named Lori (Molly McCarthy)—a hot dame that is able to have a rare ataraxic effect on the seemingly impenetrable antihero—and instantly falls for her. When Lori invites Frankie over for Christmas out of what seems to be nothing more than an altruistic sense of pity, he more or less attempts to rape her, but not before going on an insane rant that exposes him as a perturbingly pathetic whack-job that cannot even hold a conversation with a woman without it ending in disaster of the mutually embarrassing sort. Undoubtedly, Lori is right when she recommends that Frankie get a girlfriend as it would at least warm his seemingly half-rotten heart and give him a temporary relief from his hate-ridden psychosis, but he seems to be too hopelessly socially alienated and emotionally retarded to maintain any sort of sane love interest. Aside from killing Big Ralph, Frankie also makes the mistake of attempting to renege on his contract and is immediately threatened by the guy that hired him with the carefully expressed words, “All right. Now listen careful, Cleveland. Item one: For just thinkin’ what you just said…you’re in real trouble…and they’re gonna hear about this call. Item two: You made a contract with us, so you’ll do the job and you’ll do it right. Then we’ll listen to your problems. You’ve got till New Year’s Eve. And remember, you’re in trouble now.” While Frankie manages to commit the contract hit on Troiano with a certain savagely sadistic gusto that involves shooting the mobster while he is carrying a plush panda for his mistress and then kicking over his corpse while on the way out the door, he does not manage to escape from NYC alive as the men that hired him decide to assumedly cover their tracks by executing him. Indeed, despite being clearly threatened over the phone by the mobster that hired him, Frankie does not think twice about meeting him at a secluded pier outside the city where he is jumped by two hoods that, rather fittingly, look just like him. After being shot by the two doppelgängers and failing from a pier into the sea, Frankie tries in vain to climb out of the water by grasping for mud as the two killers continue to blast him into silence, or as the now-dead-narrator states at the very end of the film, “’God moves in mysterious ways,’ they said. Maybe he is on your side, the way it all worked out. Remembering other Christmases…wishing for something, something important, something special. And this is it, baby boy Frankie Bono. You’re alone now. All alone. The scream is dead. There’s no pain. You’re home again. Back in the cold, black silence.” 

 For whatever reason, I recently decided to re-watch Dan Gilroy’s somewhat overrated Nightcrawler (2014)—a film that seems to have made with the objective of petrifying tech industry dorks and other spiritually neutered types—and was amazed at how much more unlikable Jake Gyllenhaal’s exceedingly effete sociopathic ‘gutter capitalist’ character is compared to the crazed contract killer of Blast of Silence. Indeed, while Allen Baron’s film is a singularly dark and nihilistic neo-noir that ends in a fittingly dejecting fashion, there’s at least a certain underlying humanity to the proceedings whereas good goy Gilroy’s film is almost as sterilely cynical as its sociopathic antihero as if it is a (pseudo)arthouse film made specifically to remind long-suffering office bureaucrats that they might not actually be autistic automatons after all despite all evidence to the contrary. In short, Baron’s film is sympathetic towards its aberrant antihero to the extent that, unlike Gyllenhaal’s stone cold yet sapless character, he wants to love and fuck just like anyone else despite his comments to the contrary.  Additionally, Hebraic hack Ariel Vromen’s superlatively shallow hitman flick The Iceman (2012) seems like an insipidly stylized piece of shit by comparison despite feeble attempts at pathos and poignancy. In short, most contemporary film villains, especially in neo-noir, are unsympathetic garbage that are rarely worthy of even being described as caricatures as they lack more substance than a Looney Tunes cartoon character and Baron’s film—where an exceedingly erratic ex-orphan expounds on his perturbing primitive prole philosophy in a manner worthy of Panzram—arguably underscores this better than any films of its era.  While English auteur John Boorman's masterful Point Blank (1967) is certainly the superior tragic hitman flick in almost every regard, Baron’s dementedly daring directorial debut is certainly on another level in terms of tapping into the almost-evil essence of a damned dude that lives for death and personifies the Christian phrase: “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

 Despite being an irreligious film with an anti-Christmas spirit as directed by a racially conscious Jew, Blast of Silence ultimately has a certain strange spiritual dimension if we listen to Emil Cioran, or as the Franco-Romanian philosopher once wrote in a piece entitled ‘Annihilation by Deliverance’ featured in his classic book A Short History of Decay (1949): “A doctrine of salvation has meaning only if we start from the equation ‘existence equals suffering.’ It is neither a sudden realization, nor a series of reasonings which lead us to this equation, but the unconscious elaboration of our every moment, the contribution of all our experiences, minute or crucial. When we carry germs of disappointments and a kind of thirst to see them develop, the desire that the world should undermine our hopes at each step multiplies the voluptuous verifications of the disease. The arguments come later; the doctrine is constructed: there still remains only the danger of ‘wisdom.’ But, supposed we do not want to be free of suffering nor to conquer our contradictions and conflicts—what if we prefer the nuances of the incomplete and an affective dialectic to the evenness of sublime impasse? Salvation ends everything; and ends us. Who, once saved, dares still call himself alive? We really live only by the temptation of irreligiosity. Salvation haunts only assassins and saints, those who have killed or transcended the creature; the rest wallow—dead drunk—in imperfection.” Indeed, in his own sick sad way, Baby boy Frankie Bono—the most lonely of god’s losers and a virtual spiritual brother to Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver (1975) fame—achieves salvation and, in turn, total transcendence in the end. Speaking of Scorsese, the famous guido filmmaker apparently once described Blast of Silence as, “my favorite New York City movie,” which says a lot considering the filmmaker once directed a cocaine-fueled musical entitled New York, New York (1977) and later a slightly better film entitled Gangs of New York (2002).  Additionally, the camera operator for Baron’s film, Erich Kollmar, acted as the cinematographer of Scorsese’s mentor John Cassavetes’ jazzy debut feature Shadows (1958). 

 As a film that makes the grittiest of Sam Fuller flicks seem about as hardcore as a transman's neo-penis and features a fiercely foreboding fatalism that might inspire suicide in less psychologically sound viewers, Blast of Silence—a minor masterpiece of misery and misanthropy where hate manages to effortlessly metastasize as the film progresses—is probably the ultimate anti-Xmas trip and a fittingly aesthetically abrasive testament to the soul-sucking power of solitude, especially when you are a lonely individual during what is supposedly the happiest time of the year. In short, Black Christmas (1974) seems like director Bob Clark’s later Fellini-esque classic A Christmas Story (1983) when compared to the stark and dark spiritual decrepitude that engulfs Baron’s virtual cinematic bomb. Considering that Baron spent the rest of his career being a for-hire hack that only managed to direct a couple mostly worthless films, including the uncharacteristically anti-cosmopolitan Foxfire Light (1982) where a rich city slut is tamed by a Southern rancher, one can only assume that Blast of Silence is the filmmaker’s sole auteur work and a true reflection of his seemingly twisted soul.  Aside from apparently bragging about various dubious sexual conquests, including scamming his way into then-Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett’s panties, the July 2018 lawsuit filed against him by his ex-assistant alleges that, “Baron also claimed to have forced numerous Cuban women to have sexual intercourse with him in exchange for roles in the 1959 movie CUBAN REBEL GIRLS.”  Needless to say, for better or worse, the recent allegations against Baron only add to the creep factor of Blast of Silence where the completely socially sick antihero seems to absurdly believe that dancing with a girl somehow immediately leads to aggressively trying to fuck them.

 While I don’t really believe in New Year's resolutions and can never deny the raw aesthetic power of Blast of Silence, I think my goal for next year is to make sure that I have no desire to watch the film ever again, at least not during the Christmas season. Indeed, I am perfectly fine with making Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) my reliable Christmastime favorite lest I succumb to a ‘schism of the heart,’ or as Cioran once so pitilessly described, “We are doomed to perdition each time life does not reveal itself as a miracle, each time the moment no longer moans in a supernatural shudder […] And it is not the miracle which determines tradition and our substance, but the void of a universe frustrated of its flames, engulfed in its own absences, exclusive object of our rumination: a lonely universe before a lonely heart, each predestined to disjoin and to exasperate each other in the antithesis. When the solitude is intensified to the point of constituting not so much our datum as our sole faith, we cease to be integral with the whole: heretics of existence, we are banished from the community of the living, whose sole virtue is to wait, gasping, for something which is not death. But we, emancipated from the fascination of such waiting, rejected from the ecumenicity of illusion—we are the most heretical sect of all, for our soul itself is born in heresy.” In fact, I think I am going to spend Christmas day re-watching Ronald Neame’s classic Charles Dickens adaptation Scrooge (1970) starring British screen legends Albert Finney and Alec Guinness and just try be grateful that my ancestors derive from the Western European countryside instead of dreary Eastern European shtetls which clearly provided a sort of atavistic spiritual influence on a film like Blast of Silence where man is completely deracinated and an abstracted slave that is no longer in tune with nature.

Needless to say, re-watching Carroll Ballard's Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1986)—a near-masterpiece of sight and sound that is like the 1980s Christmas equivalent of classic Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger productions like The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)—helped to cleanse my soul after watching Baron's gleefully seedy celluloid bomb and it also reminded that the right film can help even the most Scrooge-esque of individuals find some small glimmer of the yuletide spirit.  Indeed, despite the virtually malefic message a film like Blast of Silence might communicate, it is important to remember that the world is not a shtetl and that Christmas can even be enjoyed be spiritually and/or seasonally sick niggas that, despite hating Hollywood in general, can still enjoy Clive Donner's Dickens adaptation A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott without succumbing to the figurative wizard of poz that is hollyweird.  Still, I have more faith in someone that prefers Baron's film to fiercely phony crypto-kosher Christmas crap like mischling hack Jon Favreau's Elf (2003)—a radically retarded film that was written, directed, and largely starring members of the tribe—where Santa Claus is portrayed by Ed Asner who, not coincidentally, could easily pass for Baron's brother.  After all, there is something innately sinister about a world where Will Ferrell is considered funny and Blast of Silence—an inordinately metaphysically aggressive film that acts like acid on the psyche in terms of completely wiping away what might have previously been on your mind—acts a sort of ideally corrosive antidote to such mesmerizingly moronic crypto-anti-Xmas insipidity.  After all, better a Christmastide cynic than a buffoonish shabbos goy fairy like Ferrell.

-Ty E

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