Jun 14, 2018

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

I never thought I would say it, but recently I saw a holocaust film that I found to be rather aesthetically alluring and traditionally beautiful to the point where I watched it no less than three times in one week to make sure that I was not hallucinating. Of course, leave it to Italy—a country that has somehow managed to elevate sleazy horror, western, and action genre trash to the level of art—to be responsible for such an inordinate cinematic work that seems like it was made with more intent than to simply spread the gospel of the (anti)Occidental post-religion of holocaustianity. Indeed, Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1970) aka The Garden of the Finzi-Continis directed by Italian neorealist maestro Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D. ) is an excellent example of what happens when a real artist projects his own humanity onto the plight and suffering of an alien people that could not have done a better job on their own, but of course it was naturally produced by chosenites, including Arthur Cohn, Gianni Hecht Lucari, and Artur Brauner. The first film that the auteur directed after becoming estranged from his regular screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, De Sica's strangely delectable feature is based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Ferrarese Jew Giorgio Bassani, who notoriously loathed the film adaptation. On top of being uniquely unkosher in its direction and overall execution, the film features the patently absurd novelty of featuring highly attractive (and mostly blond) Aryans with mostly noble demeanors portraying rich spoiled Jews that are just too decadent and terminally introverted to sense the rise of fascist antisemitism. In short, the film was clearly made to cater to tendencies of a naive all-goy audience, as if it would be too much of an aesthetic risk to feature real live Jews portraying Jews (at the very least, they could have cast handsome half-heeb Vittorio Gassman). In fact, while the film features characters sporting Star of David necklaces, synagogues, and various references to the growing tide of Hitler-inspired Italian fascist antisemitism, I was never able to truly able to embrace complete suspension of disbelief and sincerely feel that I was watching a movie about the holocaust, thus underscoring De Sica’s innate dedication to humanism and cinematic art. In short, I was somehow able to rather enjoy the film in spite of its Hebraic holocaust theme. 

 Winner of various coveted awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1972 and the Golden Bear at the 21st Berlin International Film Festival in 1971, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was indubitably a comeback film of sorts for auteur Vittorio De Sica, who had not had a hit since Matrimonio all'italiana (1964) aka Marriage Italian Style and spent a number of years directing mostly worthless mainstream comedies after long abandoning his neorealist roots due to commercial success. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the film is as good as his previous masterpieces like Ladri di biciclette (1948) aka Bicycle Thieves, Miracolo a Milano (1951) aka Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D. (1952), it is arguably De Sica’s last great film, though some less kind critics were not that at all impressed, including David Thomson, who argued in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (1975), “But his work in the 1960s was slick and tasteless. The pictorial grace and the emotional severity were both abandoned in a serious of concocted comedies about sexual hypocrisy. THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS was a regeneration only in that it was a serious, literary subject that de Sica transcribed with rather hollow rectitude. He stands now as a minor director.” To Thomson’s credit, the film does seem a bit flaccid and pathos-poor when compared to the auteur’s masterpieces, but there is not denying its great enrapturing pulchritude and somewhat provocative depiction of Italian Jewry, which are certainly the main reasons I enjoyed it.  Indeed, forget the sappy sentimentalism and silly humor of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful (1997), De Sica's film thankfully never feels like a gross exercise in emotional manipulation as the Dead Sea Pedestrians are depicted with great sensitivity to character flaws, warts and all.

 It is has been speculated that the 15th-century Italian noblewoman Simonetta Vespucci—a blonde beauty that tragically died at the mere age of 22 who was regarded as the most beauteous woman in Northern Italy during her time—acted as the inspiration for a number of famous painting, probably most notably The Birth of Venus (1484-1486) by Sandro Botticelli. Undoubtedly, French fashion model turned actress Dominique Sanda was a sort of equivalent to Vespucci in terms of late-1960s/1970s European arthouse cinema as the always stunning star of such important cinematic works as Robert Bresson’s Une femme douce (1969) aka A Gentle Woman, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il conformist (1970) aka The Conformist and Novecento (1976) aka 1900, and Fred Haines’ underrated Hermann Hesse adaptation Steppenwolf (1974), among various other examples. Simply due to her sheer beauty, Sanda even manages to virtually steal the entire show in her all too brief uncredited cameo in Luchino Visconti’s late era anti-jet-set flick Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (1974) aka Conversation Piece. Undoubtedly, if Sanda demonstrated any great talent, it was portraying a deceptively elegant, slightly venomous, and strangely sophisticated cocktease, which she does to great effect in de Sica’s film as a terminally spoiled and deceptively frigid wealthy young Jewess who ultimately rejects the romantic propositions of her lifelong Judaic friend for a much more masculine and aggressive guido of the hopelessly hairy goyish commie sort.

 Indeed, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis—a film set on the eve of the Second World War in 1938 Ferrara, Italy—is the beauteously bittersweet story of a young lovelorn Jewish writer the faces the dually degrading experience of being repeatedly rejected by the woman he loves while he and his people face discrimination from the increasingly counter-kosher government fascist government. Oftentimes feeling more like a strangely warm dystopian romance as directed by the wop grandpa of John Hughes than the typical Spielbergian celluloid shoah showcase, the film ultimately succeeds where most holocaust movies fail in that the Jewish characters, who are all conspicuously flawed, do not seem like an exotic ‘other’ that the viewer is expected to virtually worship in a mystical fashion. On top of successfully humanizing the eternal Hebrew, the film thankfully does not dwell on depicting dagos as dastardly demons worthy of eternal damnation, but I guess one should not expect anything less from a filmmaker that got his start during the fascist era. If the film has a villain, it is not an individual but instead collective fear and apathy, which of course are universal emotions. 

 Naturally, as a (quite regrettably) college-educated American, virtually every true blue Israelite that I have ever encountered was relatively rich and spoiled. Indeed, the denigrative weaponized label “white privilege” that is oftentimes used by Judaic cultural Marxist types that pretend to be white like Tim Wise, Noel Ignatiev, and their spiritually castrated shabbos goy lackeys would certainly be an apt description for the average American Jew. While the characters in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis are also plagued with an inordinate degree of kosher privilege, they are not nearly as repellent or loathsome as the various American tribesmen that I have had the grand misfortune of meeting. For example, instead of shitting on European culture, these characters mostly embrace it to the point where some of them, including the male protagonist’s father, are fascist party members. Of course, these characters represent the last generation of true European Jewry before the holocaust and mass immigration of Jews to the United States. In that sense, the film acts as a virtual collective epitaph for European Jewry, most specifically Italian Jewry, hence why the film concludes with a dreamlike montage of all the characters that have perished.  Actually set in Europa instead of some annoyingly fake Hollywood, the film also radiates a certain authenticity despite its very specific stylization and cast of aesthetically gifted Aryans portraying rather rich Red Sea Pedestrians.  In fact, even auteur De Sica felt the film was too beautiful, or as he stated in an interview with Charles Thomas Samuels, “That's right.  The second half shouldn't be so beautiful.  I should have made it grey or reversed THE LAST JUDGEMENT and made the first part color and the second black and white.  That's a good idea.  I wanted to achieve effects like those in Huston's REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, but my cameraman was incapable.”  Apparently De Sica was unable to completely realize his entire aesthetic vision due to a lack of time and money, thereupon resulting in the most glaringly gorgeous holocaust film ever made.  Needless to say, such a film would never be made today.

 After beginning with an immediately strikingly blood-warm autumnal opening credit sequence that sets the film’s aesthetic tone of diffused delectability and soft-focus melancholy, the viewer encounters a couple bourgeois tennis dorks in all-white on bicycles as they approach gates of the large estate of the wealthy Jewish Finzi-Contini family, with one of the friends half-jokingly declaring that, “…the Finzi-Continis never leave their kingdom.” When the group finally enters the estate, they are greeted with an otherworldly Edenic paradise of sorts, though communist Malnate (Fabio Testi)—a masculine goy boy that boasts to his Judaic comrade in regard to his fetish for class warfare, “But the middle class I don’t care for. They’re all of them more or less fascists. Except for you Jews…understandably…considering—but at least the works at my place…are almost all antifascist”—acts less than impressed. A friend of the family’s sole son Alberto (Helmut Berger)—a sickly and painfully introverted blond chap who doesn’t like leaving home because, as he states, “I always felt I was being spied on…envied”—Malnate soon develops a romantic interest upon meeting his pal’s sole sister Micòl (Dominique Sanda), who is somewhat rightly described by a Hebraic comrade as, “Very beautiful: tall, blond…but unpredictable.” To make matters more romantically complicated, the film’s Jewish protagonist Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio) falls in love with Micòl, who also happens to be his childhood friend as both are members of respected local Jewish families. While Micòl gives Giorgio the perfect opportunity to fuck her in her family’s automobile as her nipples can be seen through her wet white shirt after the two seek shelter from the rain, it is ultimately the notably more masculine Malnate that manages to mate with her right before being drafted into the Italian army and being killed in combat in Russia. Although Giorgio fails miserably in terms of attempting to get his virginal shylock cock wet by dipping into Micòl’s premium grade kosher cunt, he is the only one of his tennis friends to survive the ordeal and escape Italy before being herded into a cramped cattle car.  Undoubtedly, the great irony of Giorgio's young life is that, despite succumbing to a crippling degree of lovelorn dejection, he will live on while the woman that he believes he loves will die and eventually become nothing more to him than a fading bittersweet memory of unrequited love during a chaotic war torn period in what is ultimately a sort of Jewish Götterdämmerung.

 Although pathologically preoccupied due to being terribly lovesick, Giorgio seems to be one of the only characters in the film that is acutely aware that an ominous fate awaits the Jews. Indeed, even Giorgio father’s (Romolo Valli)—a fascist supporter with ties to the local government—seems to be in denial about the situation as demonstrated by his preposterous attempts to rationalize anti-Jewish laws. When Giorgio accuses his padre of having a “pet mania” and believing that, “That our Mussolini is better than Hitler…our fascism better than Nazism!,” his father replies, “Well, it’s true!,” and then subsequently argues without even the slightest hint of irony that it is ok that they are, “Third-class, if you will, but still a citizen who can….enjoy his basic rights.” The only other Jew that seems totally horrified by the anti-kosher climate of Italy is Micòl’s insufferably introverted Alberto, who seems to be so deeply metaphysically plagued by the growing counter-kosherism in the air that he eventually becomes terribly sick and eventually dies of the antisemitic storm, or so the film makes it seem. Aside from repeatedly dispassionately rebuffing Giorgio’s various meek and largely pathetic romantic advances, Micòl cannot even be bothered to say goodbye to her brother Alberto, who she seems to have incestuous feelings for, when he is on his deathbed.

Although she declares to Giorgio before a failed half-hearted attempt at seducing him, “I like to feel I’m a woman,” Micòl’s words are clearly those of wishful thinking as she is such a hopelessly spoiled brat that she cannot be bothered to suffer the grand indignity of stepping outside the innately internal fantasy realm she has created on her family estate, hence why it becomes all the more disturbing yet strangely fitting when the goombah Gestapo finally arrives at her less than humble abode to take her and her family away.  A clear victim of bourgeois decadence and the apathy it inspires, Micòl does not bother to even attempt to put up a fight when her black-clad persecutors arrive. Indeed, she seems like she would agree with Rimbaud's words, “I found I could extinguish all human hope from my soul.” Undoubtedly, Micòl seems to suffer from a certain unspoken self-loathing due to her particularly privileged background, which explains her disgust for a fellow wealthy Jew like Giorgio and sexual interest in a good masculine guido gentile like Malnate. In fact, she more or less expresses as much when Giorgio declares he loves her and Micòl angrily responds, “But I don’t love you! Lovers have a drive to overwhelm one another. But the way we are, alike as two drops of water…how could we ever overwhelm or tear each other to pieces? It would be like making love with a brother. Like with Alberto. You and I are not normal people. For the two of us…what counts more than the possession of things—how shall I put it?—is the remembrance of things…the memory of things.”  Of course, the brutal irony is that if Micòl had hooked up with Giorgio and fled Italy with him, she would not have joined the supposed six million in the Endlösung

 To some extent, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is a ‘message’ film and Vittorio De Sica manages to more or less outline most of its central themes in a single scene at the end where protagonist Giorgio’s father—a man that seems to realize his life is over—reconciles with his son and gives him the following fatherly words of advice,“If I may say so…as families go, the Finzi-Continis are not for us. They’re not our sort. They’re different. They don’t even seem Jewish. Micol—Maybe that’s what attracted you to her. That she’s superior to you socially. It’ll pass. You’ll get over it. And a lot sooner than you think. I can imagine what you’re feeling now. Yet, in a way, I rather envy you. In life, in order to understand…to really understand the world…you must die at least once. So it’s better to die young, when there’s still time left…to recover and live again. When you’re old, it’s much worse. Why is that? There’s no time to start over from zero. And our generation has made so many, many mistakes. A few months and it will seem as if none of this had ever happened to you. You may even end up being glad. You’ll feel richer, one might say. More mature.” As if he predicted the future (or was committing a sort of passive suicide), Giorgio’s father is rounded up by the fascists just like the Finzi-Continis, though he manages to send his family away to safety.  Although a Jewish fascist that supported a political party that persecuted his own people, Giorgio’s father ultimately comes off in the end as seeming like the most honorable character in the entire film.

 While surely entertaining and aesthetically delectable to a certain degree, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis cannot be fully appreciated without a certain understanding of the history of Italian Jewry and its relationship to Italian fascism, which is a bit more complicated and dubious than that of German Jewry to the Third Reich. For example, Giorgio’s father—a man that seems to be just as proud of being Italian as he is Jewish—seems to be symbolic of the Turin banker Ettore Ovazza, who was not only a diehard fascist from the very beginning, but he also bankrolled Mussolini and his movement. Not unlike Giorgio’s father, Ovazza seemed to have been at least partially in denial when it came to growing fascist antisemitism, which he and his family ultimately paid for with their lives with after the Schutzstaffel caught up with them in late-1943 near the Swiss border. As depicted in the rather flaccid and banal TV miniseries Benito: The Rise and Fall of Mussolini (1993) starring Antonio Banderas as the eponymous lead, Mussolini was the sexual and political protégé of communist Jewess Margherita Sarfatti, who acted as an imperative propaganda adviser of the National Fascist Party as well as Il Duce’s biographer. Notably, fascist General and war hero Italo Balbo, who was from Ferrara just like the characters in the film, was strongly opposed to anti-Jewish laws due to his own favorable personal experiences with the long assimilated Ferrarese Jews. Although the film makes it seem as if every single Italian Jew was rounded up and exterminated in a concentration camp, only ninety-six of Ferrara's 300 Jews were actually deported, hence how the film’s source writer Giorgio Bassani was able to survive the war despite being an active resistance fighter.  Of course, considering their oftentimes similar phenotypic traits, especially in the south, it was probably easier for Jews to hide among Italians than among Germans. As far as Hebraic guidos and tennis are concerned, Trieste-born Jewish tennis star Uberto De Morpurgo—a somewhat handsome fellow of aristocratic stock that would certainly be at home with the characters of De Sica's film—was named Italian Commissioner of Tennis by Benito Mussolini in 1929.

 Due to their pathetic passivity and seeming complete and utter disinterest in even leaving home, the titular family of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis almost seems to long for death, as if they have been waiting their entire lives for a one-way ticket to Auschwitz. Notably, this seems especially true of the young intellectual Alberto, who has the luxury of kicking the bucket before ever getting into nazi hands and thus dying a slightly more dignified death. Indeed, thinking about Alberto, I could not help but reminded of the tragic Italian Jewish philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter, who killed himself by shooting himself with a pistol only hours after completing his sole book Persuasion and Rhetoric—a doctoral thesis that, not unlike American Jew Mitchell Heisman's Suicide Note (2010), reads like a hermetic philosophical suicide note—at the mere age of 23 in 1910. Like his Viennese Jewish counterpart Otto Weininger, who killed himself at the same exact age on the same exact month almost seven years before, Michelstaedter was, despite being descended from rabbis, a totally deracinated irreligious Jew that had adopted a completely Occidental cultural and intellectual perspective as a student of Plato and Aristotle. Although just speculation, but I think Michelstaedter was probably like how Oswald Spengler described Weininger in that he was a sort of post-religious Jewish mystic of late religious consciousness destroyed in the agony of a sort of schizophrenic Magian dualism as a result of being a racial/spiritual alien with a carefully cultivated European sensibility.

As Daniela Bini noted in Carlo Michelstaedter and the Failure of Language (1992), “Twelve years after his death his close friend Vladimiro Arangio Ruiz developed an interpretation along a more philosophical line. In speaking of Carlo’s suicide Arangio Ruiz used the very words Carlo himself had written in his autobiographical pages: that he had died ‘for overwhelming abundance of life.’ He emphasized the great demands Carlo had made upon himself, that he had elevated his own being to a height and expected from himself a perfection that cannot exist in human life. He was made of the same stuff of which heroes and saints are made. In this view emphasis was also placed on Carlo’s youth, when idealism reigns uncompromised.” Of course, it can also be argued that the film’s titular family—decadent intellectuals that are even looked at as virtual aristocrats by other Jews due to their wealth and lack of stereotypical Jewish characteristics—also succumbed to ‘overwhelming abundance of life,’ as their bloated opulence and detachment from the struggle of life and survival leads to accepting a horrific fate that is right in front of their faces. Quite notably, both Weininger and Michelstaedter were a major intellectual influence on self-described ‘superfascist’ Julius Evola, who received financial backing from Mussolini to start a racialist journal entitled Sangue e Spirito aka Blood and Spirit that featured a distinctly ‘Roman’ (as opposed to German) view of race that blended Sorelianism with a Mussolinian eugenic ideal. Somewhat ironically, despite his influence on Evola and other fascist thinkers, Michelstaedter’s entire family, including his mother and elder sister, died in the holocaust.  Of course, had Michelstaedter not killed himself, he probably would have also ended up at Auschwitz.

 At the beginning of his magnum opus Persuasion and Rhetoric, Michelstaedter arguably provides another insight into the titular family of the film when he writes, “Nor is any life ever satisfied to live in any present, for insofar as it is life it continues, and it continues into the future to the degree that it lacks life. If it were to possess itself completely here and now and be in want of nothing—if it awaited nothing in the future—it would not continue: it would cease to be life. So many things attract us in the future, but in vain do we want to possess them in the present.” Throughout the family, most of the members of the Finzi-Contini family seem to be living completely in the present, as if they, quite unlike protagonist Giorgio, have nil interest in a future and have thus accepted a sort foreboding self-obliteration via passive contentment that ironically leads to their deaths. While Michelstaedter certainly could have not predicated the holocaust, it as if he understood the sort of hopelessly fragile Jewish bourgeois mindset that would make its implementation possible. Not unlike Czar Nicholas II of Russia, who was executed under the command of Jewish Bolshevik thug Yakov Yurovsky, the Finzi-Contini family is simply too spoiled, weak, and out of touch with reality to deal with a glaring threat that would ultimately completely engulf them.  Of course, the sort of self-slaughter committed by Michelstaedter is certainly more honorable than being another statistic in the shoah, as it at least demonstrates a certain will power.

 While Vittorio De Sica was not exactly a politically correct guy in some respects (when asked in an interview why he did not develop a scene of homoerotic love in his film Shoeshine (1946), he simply replied, “Because it revolted me”), he did seem to suffer from a certain ethno-masochism when it came to fascism, or as he stated in an interview with Charles Thomas Samuels featured in Vittorio De Sica: Contemporary Perspectives in regard to The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, “After the disaster of SUNFLOWER I wanted to make a true De Sica film, made just as I wanted it. I accepted this subject because I intimately feel the Jewish problem. I myself feel shame because we are guilty of the death of millions of Jews. Why were they killed? Because a criminal, a lunatic wanted that. But the Italian Fascists are also guilty. So am I. I wasn’t a fascist, but I belong to the country that collaborated with Hitler. I wanted, out of conscience, to make this film, and I am glad I made it.” Judging simply by his comments, De Sica—a mensch that freely admitted that he was inspired to direct the ‘fascist’ film La porta del cielo (1945) aka The Gates of Heaven because, “it was a film made only to save me from the Fascists”—seems to have failed in his artistic intentions with the film. Indeed, instead of being the stereotypical holocaust agitprop piece, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is a film that dares to reveal Jewish-fascist collaboration and at least partly blame the Jews for their own downfall. On top of that, the film—a sort of contra Shoah (1985) in virtually every way imaginable—is just too patently aesthetically pulchritudinous, seraphic, and luscious to inspire the doom and gloom of gas chambers and dubious things like Herr Doktor Joseph Mengele’s supposed twin fetish.  Of course, exploiting the holocaust and the Third Reich for monetary and/or aesthetic reasons is a great legacy of Italian cinema history as demonstrated by everything from guido arthouse films like Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974) to Corrado Farina's comic book adaptation Baba Yaga (1973) to the the countless films of the mostly worthless Nazisploitation (sub)genre like Sergio Garrone's SS Experiment Camp (1976).

For me, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is less a melodrama about the holocaust than a sort of celluloid death poem for European Jewry; or, more specifically a thoroughly Europeanized Jewry that no longer exists but once produced people like Michelstaedter, Weininger, Karl Kraus, Edmund Husserl, and Egon Friedell, among others.  Indeed, I am far from a philosemite, but I think the film does pay respectable tribute to European Jewry, even if it fails in its holocaust agenda.  As to why the film was superior to many of the filmmaker's many previous artistic failures, De Sica probably said it best when he stated in an interview, “I am happy that I made it because it brought me back to my old noble intentions.  Because, you see, I have been ruined by lack of money.  All my good films, which I financed by myself, made nothing.  Only my bad films made money.  Money has been my ruin.”

-Ty E

May 28, 2018

That Most Important Thing: Love

After a recent one-man Andrzej Żuławski marathon, I came to the somewhat ironical conclusion that the director’s (arguably) most accessible and aesthetically conventional film, L'important c'est d'aimer (1975) aka That Most Important Thing: Love aka The Main Thing Is to Love aka Nachtblende—a love story for the terminally lovesick and romantically nihilistic based on the novel La Nuit américaine by the film’s frog co-screenwriter Christopher Frank—is also one of his greatest and most immaculate accomplishments as an artist. Of course, like many of the director’s cinematic works, including his most popular and well known feature Possession (1981), the French-Italian-German coproduction deals with the timeless Żuławskian theme of ‘love as pain’ and the rather romantic notion of true love being a grave metaphysical affliction that can bring death and self-destruction, among other less than desirable things. Indeed, the sort of love depicted in a Żuławski flick is more deleteriously addictive and all-consuming in the poetic sense than the way poet and cine-magician Jean Cocteau described the eponymous narcotic in his classic text Opium: Diary of a Cure (1930). Of course, being a Żuławski flick, it is a cinematic work that practically redefines the romance film as it feels more fierce, frantic, violent, and fast-paced than the latest Hollywood action film, albeit non-retarded and packed with almost painfully penetrating pathos.  Additionally, only in Żuławski's film does the random anecdote, which is not even depicted onscreen, of a pathetic commie intellectual reciting Rimbaud as his last words on his deathbed become one of many so memorable moments, as if the auteur was able to fit three or four films into one.  Depicting a bizarre love triangle between a wash-up Austrian sexploitation actress, her exceedingly emasculated and perennially unemployed beta-male frog husband, and a French alpha-male photographer protagonist that is determined to make her his beloved, That Most Important Thing: Love is also a film about how women, including old and used up ones, can completely destroy men without even the slightest bit of effort or concern for the forsaken fellows that suffered the misfortune of falling in love with them. In short, the film brings a certain poetic truth to Friedrich Nieztche’s oftentimes quoted words, “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” Unfortunately for the film’s male protagonist and the goofy guy he cuckolds, the heroine—played by Austrian diva Romy Schneider in a performance that would rightly earn her a ‘frog Oscar’ (aka César Award)—is too much of a sad solipsistic emotional mess of a woman to be too concerned with the fact that she is tearing up the souls of the two men that matter the most to her in life. 

 Admittedly, it felt somewhat like kismet when I recently watched That Most Important Thing: Love for the first time as I had a somewhat recent romantic experience that is, at least superficially, comparable to that of the protagonist. Indeed, I began a brief yet somewhat passionate romance with a girl that found herself unable to breakup with her longtime cuckold fiancé despite her completely sexless and largely pathetic relationship with him, as she could not break an old routine with a loser that she openly admitted that she was completely sexually disgusted with.  Incidentally, this same girl bears a superficial resemblance to Romy Schneider.  Needless to say, after watching the film and experiencing something similar firsthand, I have resolved to never ever again deal with a damaged dame that lacks the strength and decisiveness to stick with one man.  In the film, Schneider’s character—an ex-whore of sorts that makes a living flaunting her flesh in disreputable Jean Rollin-esque art-horror-erotica—feels obligated to stay completely faithful to her husband despite the fact that they have nil sex life and he is a weak and pathetic unemployed man that collects Hollywood publicity shots like some old queen-ish antique dealer. In short, the heroine—a woman that is clearly well past her prime in terms of pulchritude—finds herself practically creaming her pants at first sight when she meets the masculine alpha-male photographer protagonist played by Italian stallion Fabio Testi (who apparently was some sort of macho male bimbo in real-life), who makes the iconic character played by David Hemmings in Michelangelo Antonioni’s counterculture classic Blow-Up (1966) seem like a sapless Brit prick bitch pussy by comparison. Although a dark love story, it is also a film about broken people where no character is unforgettable but virtually every single one seems to have been either forgotten, disposed of, and/or beaten down by society. Set in a largely dark and dreary Parisian underworld inhabited by overly intellectual communist cuckolds, puritanical black market pornographers, megalomaniacal theater faggots, impotent cinephiles, childish gangsters, and other losers and freaks, That Most Important Thing: Love ultimately makes love seem like a painfully rare and important thing that demands great sacrifice due to the ugliness, failure, and stupidity that seems to consume most of humanity; or so one discover in the unforgettably zany Żuławskian realm. 

 In a somewhat incriminating interview included as an extra feature of the Mondo Vision DVD of That Most Important Thing: Love, Żuławski states, “It’s true that I’m more gripped by the characters who are perhaps good people at heart, but who end up going down a slippery slope, and don’t ever manage to fit into society.” Indeed, every single character in the film is a misfit of sorts that is connection to a group of misfits, including pornographers, theater poofs, and gangsters, yet Żuławski somehow manages to give most of these individuals a certain degree of humanity. Undoubtedly, the film’s tall, dark, and handsome protagonist, Servais Mont (Fabio Testi of Vittorio de Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970))—a two-time war veteran and stoic yet not exactly sophisticated alpha-male of sorts—is the most seemingly normal of these characters and he is a fairly lonely guy with a drug addict bum for a father who makes his living taking pornographic photos involving such unsavory things as homo miscegenation involving muscular negroes and Brit tranny freaks with Isaac Asimov fetishes. At the very beginning of the film, Servais sneaks into a porno shoot to take bootleg photos of its female star Nadine Chevalier (Romy Schneider) straddling a bloodly corpse, but he is instantly taken aback when the failed actress stares directly at him and states to him while sobbing with a certain inordinate emotive intensity, “No photos please. I’m an actress, I do good stuff. I only do this to… to eat.” While Servais manages to escape from the film set with the snapshots after getting in a brawl with a couple film crew members and being kicked out of the production, he immediately becomes obsessed with Nadine to the point where he wastes no time in finding out where she lives and then randomly shows up there unannounced. Luckily for Servais, Nadine seems to be just as interested in him, but unfortunately she has certain moral obligations to her unemployed beta-boy husband Jacques Chevalier (musician turned actor Jacques Dutronc in his second acting role) and has also adopted a sort of self-stylized Puritanism as an assumed psychological defense mechanism due to her decidedly debasing career as an exploitation slut.  A childless c grade actress that lies multiple times to Servais by claiming she is only 30 even though she is clearly about a decade older and thus has very little sexual market value left to any man that is serious about having children, Nadine is clearly at a miserable place in her life, so naturally the handsome protagonist is very tempting to her.  Unfortunately, Nadine's husband is a serious obstacle, at least until he becomes seriously suicidal.

 While poor old Jacques is a seemingly impotent loser that cannot even bear to fuck his wife even when she is literally on her knees begging for it while repeatedly declaring “Fuck me!,” he certainly understands Nadine as indicated by his remark to Servais in regard to her seeming hypocritical occupation as a porn star, “Nadine does them but doesn’t like them because she’s a puritan. Understand that? She’s done everything and showed everything and is getting more and more puritanical. She discovered she had principles. Now, you can strip her of her pants, but not her principles. She couldn’t explain her principles. They’re just there…like rails and Nadine sticks to them even if they burn her feet like right now.” Of course, Jacques’ passive-aggressively expressed words reveal why Nadine is initially hesitant to engage in carnal passions with Servais despite their clear strong mutual attraction for one another. As a man that begrudgingly snaps shots of orgies for an elderly effete gangster he despises named ‘Mazelli’ (Claude Dauphin)—a reluctant pornographer that also happens to be a prissy little prude—Servais certainly has more in common with Nadine than a mere mutual attraction, as they are both individuals that really loathe their jobs because they are forced to routinely debase themselves just to get a paycheck. Two seemingly innately moral people that have been degraded by the demands and influences of a degenerate demonic world inhabited by freaks, faggots, and fucks-ups, Nadine and Servais seem like they could be soul mates in some ideal alternate universe, but they are ultimately trapped in a living nightmare of isolation, morbid melancholy, and just plain bad luck. Like her husband Jacques, who apparently acquired her love and affection by saving her from a self-destructive life of hedonism and whoredom, Servais wants to be Nadine’s own personal savior and decides to put himself in a precarious situation to accomplish that goal by borrowing a bunch of money from his much hated gangster ‘boss’ Marzelli so that he can financially back a play and thus secure his would-be-ladylove the prestigious lead female role of Lady Anne in an avant-garde theatrical production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Indeed, somewhat ironically, Servais gets sucked further into the slimy subterranean realm of pornography so that he can rescue Nadine, who initially has no clue that he is even responsible for getting her the role. 

On top of going into great debt and virtually selling his soul to a boss that he absolutely loathes, Servais also makes some other sacrifices to get Nadine the role in Richard III, including befriending a theater troupe of flaming fag degenerates that include an absurdly arrogant German aristocrat named Karl-Heinz Zimmer (Klaus Kinski) and his cross-dressing director pal named Laurent Messala (Guy Mairesse). In fact, despite the fact that he is clearly a rampantly heterosexual frog buck, Servais even attempts to convince Nadine that he is an old friend of queen Messala so that he has an excuse to hang around the rehearsals for Richard III and thus spend time with her. Of course, as a man with a criminal drug addict father (Roger Blin) that longs after mulattoes, Servais is not too picky with who he hangs out with, though he certainly has somewhat curious friends in general. To his minor discredit, the protagonist, who his own flaws and annoying idiosyncrasies, also has no problem cuckolding his best friend Raymond Lapade (Michel Robin)—an unhinged Marxist dork and all-around failed intellectual that, somewhat ironically, gives him romance advice and inspires his quest to get Nadine to play the lead in Richard III—even though he does not seem particularly fond of his beauteous wife Luce (Nicoletta Machiavelli) and quickly forgets about fucking her when Nadine enters the picture.  In fact, pussy does not seem to be something that is particularly hard for Servais to acquire as he also sleeps with a hot Vietnamese whore (Hong Kong model Sin May Zao), but all these fuck-buddies disappear when he falls in love Nadine.  When it comes down to it, Servais is ultimately a loner that does not seem particularly fond of his friends or fuck-buddies, thereupon making it all the more apparent that his obsessive love for Nadine is real and not simply some form of misguided infatuation.

Aside from also wanting to be her savior, Nadine’s pathetic husband Jacques is more or less the complete opposite of Servais in practically every way imaginable. Indeed, while Servais is tall, strong, stoic, hardworking, and seemingly humorless, Jacques is a short goofy cinephile that seems to be allergic to work and incessantly acts like a clown to the point where he literally sports clown make-up at one point in the film. While Jacques is completely financially supported by his wife, who cinematically peddles her puss for a living in trashy films with titles like Nymphocula, Servais is willing to go into extreme debt with an unsavory gangster he hates in the hope that he can simply make his seemingly perennially dejected would-be-lover happy.  In that sense, Servais is certainly the more ideal lover for Nadine, who has been forced to take on the sexually inverted role of breadwinner. While Jacques is a pathetically laughable loser that lives his life like it is one big joke because he seems to be quite conscious that he is a joke, he is certainly no moron and almost immediately realizes that Servais will soon replace him. Notably, in an attempt to rationalize her sad and pathetic marriage to an unemployed film dork, Nadine describes her dubious relationship with Jacques as follows to Servais, “I’m neither a victim nor a prisoner. My life is what it is even if you don’t think it adds up to much. About the ghost in my last play, six years ago. I married him and I love him.” Rather unfortunately for him and his wife, Jacques also refuses to fuck Nadine and it is hinted that he is all but completely impotent despite his worship of manly fictional heroes like Zorro and the Italian silent era cinema hero Maciste created by proto-fascist hero Gabriele d'Annunzio and Giovanni Pastrone. Of course, it is obvious that Jacques lives in a fantasy world of cinema and superheroes because he needs to escape from his own miserable unmanly existence, hence his boyish reverence of Zorro and Maciste.  In short, Servais is the man that Jacques never was and everyone in the bizarre love triangle seems to be painfully aware of this, though the protagonist would never be so arrogant as to actually state this.

 Needless to say, Nadine is the only thing that Jacques has to live for, so naturally suicide becomes the only serious viable option when he poses to lose her. Indeed, when Nadine realizes that Servais must truly love her after he turns down her pussy when she offers it to him as payment after learning that he secretly funded the Richard III project so that she would secure the lead female role, Jacques also comes to the cold realization that his wife is hopelessly in love with a strong and protective man and she will be moving on. Right before killing himself, Jacques finally drops the pathetic clown routine and confronts Nadine in regard to her true feelings for him, stating, “You know what the lousiest thing is? The most disgusting. Pity. Because it’s terminal. I know what you think of me. Of all my bullshit. There’s a word for it. I found it in my leather bound and gilded dictionary. Contempt.” Jacques also tells Nadine, “I can do anything for you except… live,” so naturally he must die and he does so by intentionally overdosing on drugs in the bathroom of the very same restaurant where they had the intense post-breakup conversation only minutes before. In a sick and pathetically passive-aggressive twist, Jacques sets it up so that his replacement Servais is the first to discover his corpse in what is ultimately a most loathsomely craven attempt at revenge. While staring at Jacques' corpse at the morgue, Servais becomes emotionally erratic for the first time in the film, declares in front of Nadine, “What a jerk!” and then proceeds to scream in his ladylove’s face after she physically attacks him, “Why did he do it? He should have done it before! Before he met you! Why did he do it? He should have done it before knowing you! Do you understand?” 

 Love kills, or so one certainly learns at the end of the ultimately somewhat bitterly brutally titled That Most Important Thing: Love, which concludes with Jacques successfully committing suicide and Servais being beaten within an inch of his life by a motley crew of gangsters at the behest of his (ex)boss Marzelli. While Nadine finally tells Servais that she loves him and caresses his badly brutalized body, it remains to be seen whether or not the male protagonist survives the ordeal, though one can certainly see the two being happily married if he does; or at least as happy as two outcasts can be. For better or worse, Servais ultimately proved his dedication and paid a hefty price to be with Nadine, who initially let her sentimentalism for a spiritually castrated cinephile blind her from a very great future. On the other hand, the innate irrationality of heterosexual love seems completely sane when compared to the almost otherworldly narcissism and all-around megalomaniacal madness of the homosexual characters in the film, namely the kraut queen Karl-Heinz Zimmer as personified by the one and only Klaus Kinski. Indeed, after discovering that his play is a critical bomb, Karl-Heinz needs to repair his ego and thus decides to brutally beat a couple boorish heterosexual men and then, despite his fagdom, proceeds to take home said boorish heterosexual men’s women and fuck them in a threesome. Notably, before beating up the men under the dubious pretense of one of them touching his coat, Karl-Heinz states to them with a sort of exceedingly eloquent understated rage, “My overcoat, sir. You touched it […] I paid a lot for this overcoat! Since I’m a well-bred homosexual, I care a lot for my things. Silence. I don’t like your type. You touched me with your proletarian fingers.” Undoubtedly, as the film reveal, homosexual insanity makes lovelorn lunacy seem rather tame by comparison, especially in regard to Teutonic dick-downing dandies. 

 While That Most Important Thing: Love depicts female protagonist Nadine in a relatively favorable light, I cannot help but think of her husband’s suicide and be reminded of the H.L. Mencken quote, “No matter how much a woman loved a man, it would still give her a glow to see him commit suicide for her.” Indeed, as the popularity of websites and apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Tinder demonstrate, female narcissism and solipsism knows no bounds. Taking this into consideration, one cannot help but speculate Żuławski and source writer/co-screenwriter Christopher Frank’s intent as to why the fierce fag played by Kinski randomly declares, “Philosophically speaking, if you don’t count St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval period was a catastrophe but we owe it a certain conception of women’s dignity.” Of course, with his later film Possession, which could also be called That Most Insane Thing: Love, Żuławski would reveal a more cynical view of love and especially marriage. Additionally, in an interview included with the Mondo Vision Blu-ray release of the filmmaker’s somewhat neglected feature La note bleue (1991) aka The Blue Note—a film that depicts with an almost annoying degree of artistic license the bitter end of the romantic relationship between Polish composer Frédéric Chopin and pseudonymous French novelist George Sand— Żuławski concludes in regard to the real-life protagonist of his film, “After this day depicted. . .filmed. . . in LA NOTE BLEUE, he never wrote any kind of new music. He went through Europe, went to Scotland, went to England, went to…—while adding some notes here and retracting some notes there—and he died, which means for me only one thing; if you’re in a profound, real love relationship with somebody, be this somebody good or bad, you’ll die of it.” Naturally, Żuławski’s remark seems somewhat curious when one considers that he seems to have been fueled by the romantic ideal of ‘Liebestod,’ but then again maybe he never ever really experienced a “profound, real love relationship,” though I sincerely doubt it. After all, the auteur was in a long-term artistically fruitful romance with singular French beauty Sophie Marceau and one can only assumed he suffered greatly at some point in that relationship, hence the increasingly romantically nihilistic nature of his films. While That Most Important Thing: Love is indubitably a dark romance that concludes in a fittingly unsettling fashion, it ultimately seems like a sentimental rom-com when compared to the bloody bacchanalian brutality and Yandere insanity of Żuławski’s later Polish feature Szamanka (1996) aka She-Shaman.

Notably, Żuławski would state of the importance of That Most Important Thing: Love in the context of his entire filmmaking career, “It’s a film that has stayed very close to me, because of its humanity. The final feelings it leaves me with are very human, and not artificial.” Undoubtedly, the film features the auteur’s warmest and most sympathetic female character and not the sort of demonically possessed sort of bitches in his later works like Possession and Szamanka. Indeed, the film is ‘humanistic’ in the best sense of the word as a cinematic work where the scab of lovesick humanity is ruthlessly ripped off and the open wound is allowed to freely bleed into the viewer’s soul. After all, even when Nadine declares to Servais, “You see, you were right. A woman can always be bought. Whatever they say,” one cannot help but respect the vulnerability in her honesty and I say that as someone that finds poetry in the words of Otto Weininger.  Rather embarrassingly, I am not really familiar with much of Romy Schneider's work, but she certainly reveals in Żuławski's film that she was the height of feminine elegance and the sort of actress that seems painfully nonexistent nowadays.  While Schneider's character Nadine might be a porno whore that is certainly long past her peak in terms of pulchritude and fertility, I think it is safe to say that many men, including myself, long to be with a women of such bargain bin diva divinity.

Romantic intrigues aside, the film also carries a very important message about the tragedy of true individuality in a socially oppressive world were both literal and figurative serfdom and whoredom seems to be the norm.  Indeed, while his eccentric entourage of eclectic goons are brutally beating Servais to a bloody pulp at the end of the film, villain Marzelli exposes his own personal Weltanschauung and declares to the protagonist, “You know kid, normally people like us don’t exist. I know it but I’m the only one. Each morning when I see myself, I say: ‘this is not real.’ So, since we don’t exist we must find a way to be accepted, right? That’s what you’re doing now. You’re accepting.” Considering Marzelli's words, one can only come to the conclusion that That Most Important Thing: Love is a film about accepting the fact that life sucks and then you die, but if you're lucky you might snag a Romy Schneider-tier babe at some point during your miserable existence.

-Ty E

May 5, 2018

Cutter's Way

I have to confess that, nowadays, there are very few films that I can truly relate to in terms of sheer nihilism, pessimism, and cynicism, especially in regard to the Reaganite 1980s when Spielberg was king and the promotion of collective fantastic infantilization was the name of the game among the neo-Vaudevillian shysters, hucksters, and culture-distorters in Tinseltown. Don’t get me wrong, the 1980s produced some great dark films including David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and Tim Hunter’s River's Edge (1986), but I think Ivan Passer’s Cutter's Way (1981) aka Cutter and Bone—a film based on the 1976 novel of the latter name by Newton Thornburg—is the only cinematic work of its era that goes all the way in terms of pure and adulterated cultural pessimism in regard to the state of the United States and its increasingly disenfranchised white working-class majority. Of course, the film has more in common with the aesthetically and culturally subversive films of the American New Wave of the late-1960s and 1970s than most films of its era. Indeed, as Charles Taylor explained in his rather readable yet hopelessly boomer-esque book Opening Wednesday at a Theater Or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American '70s (2017), “WINTER KILLS also calls up the closing days of a decade that has proven to be the richest period in American moviemaking. There were still remarkable movies being made, and wonderful poplar movies that were yet to come, like E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But, more and more, daring and gusty pictures went unseen. Two years later Jeff Bridges would star in another of them, Ivan Passer’s CUTTER’S WAY, and would see it, like WINTER KILLS, yanked from theaters after a week (in this case because United Artists was still reeling from the disaster of HEAVEN’S GATE—which Bridges also appeared in—the previous month.)

 In terms of its cynical conspiracy theme, Passer’s film certainly has much in common with a number of great 1970s flicks ranging from Francis Ford Coppola’s Antonioni-esque The Conversation (1974) to Arthur Penn’s decidedly dark post-Watergate neo-noir Night Moves (1975) to John Schlesinger’s post-shoah Judaic thriller Marathon Man (1976), yet it manages to transcends all of these films in terms of both aesthetic and metaphysical prowess. Like a distillation of the darkest and most nihilistic elements of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) and Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980) and featuring a miserable ménage à trios that really demystifies such socially sick romantic arrangements as reflected in such absurd bourgeois cinematic depictions ranging from François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) to Oliver Stone’s Savages (2012), Cutter's Way is indubitably one of the oh-so rare idiosyncratic neo-noir flicks that manages to rival the great classic film noir masterpieces like Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950) and Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) in terms of depicting the worst of the worst of the particular American zeitgeist that they represent.

 While he would eventually degenerate into a for-hire hack that would helm forgettable TV movies, Czech auteur Passer originally received international critical acclaim for his association with the Czech New Wave and directing Intimní osvětlení (1965) aka Intimate Lighting and co-penning the classic early Miloš Forman flicks Lásky jedné plavovlásky (1965) aka Loves of a Blonde and Hoří, má panenko (1967) aka The Firemen's Ball. After defecting to the West with the aid of sleazy guido producer Carlo Ponti following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Passer made his way to the United States and made his American debut with the rather gritty and nihilistic ghetto black-comedy Born to Win (1971) aka Addict aka Scraping Bottom starring alpha-Jew George Segal as a superlatively sleazy Hebraic junky and hobo that lives to lie, cheat, and steal so that he can get his next big fix in between attempting evade the cops and other dangerous gutter-dwelling scum. Based on a story by Hebraic playwright David Scott Milton—a consciously kosher writer that also penned mundane screenplays for fellow chosenites like Peter Bogdanovich, Sidney Pollack, and Irvin Kershner—the film is notable for featuring one of the most shameless and morally bankrupt Jewish characters since the Third Reich era films of Veit Harlan. In short, the ironically titled film, which features a fairly early young Robert De Niro in a small role, is like a Jewish and more cynical equivalent to Paul Morrissey’s Trash (1970) in terms of depiction of the virtual purgatorial lifestyle of an east coast dope fiend. While Passer indubitably has an uneven and inconsistent oeuvre, Born to Win is undoubtedly part of the same cinematic lineage as Cutter’s Way as a film that seems to take savagely sardonic delight in ruthlessly murdering what is left of the great myth that is the American dream. Notably, Passer rightly regards both of these films as his greatest achievements as a filmmaker, or as he described in a 2016 interview with Film Comment, “I don’t have a favorite. I like BORN TO WIN, but I think its blend of European and American sensibilities disoriented many critics at the time. It’s now considered one of my best films. Maybe CUTTER’S WAY, which is perhaps my most American film. It is a damaging account of a nation that has lost its final illusions in the Vietnam War and of a society eaten away by corruption.”

In some ways, to describe Cutter’s Way as anti-American would be a gross understatement but, at the same time, it is also, despite its Slavic director, shamelessly American, at least in terms of depicting everything that is uniquely ugly about the considerably bastardized nation. Indeed, H.L. Mencken might as well have been writing a sort of philosophical synopsis for the film when he wrote in his essay The Libido for the Ugly (1926), “Here is something that the psychologists have so far neglected: the love of ugliness for its own sake, the lust to make the world intolerable. Its habitat is the United States. Out of the melting pot emerges a race which hates beauty as it hates truth.” A film that only contains pulchritude in its potent putridity and understatedly morbid melancholia, the film depicts a metaphysically sick, culturally and racially deracinated, and morosely materialistic coastal microcosm where the technically physical beautiful are downright ugly due to their attitudes and personalities and where every sunny beach is despoiled due to its loathsome inhabitants. A sad and pathetic yet undeniably darkly humorous film depicting a failed dime store gigolo and his unhinged crippled Vietnam War veteran pal playing virtual Russian Roulette with their own lives by trying to prove that a powerful local cutthroat capitalist was responsible for the brutal rape and murder of a local teenage cheerleader, Cutter’s Way is a true antihero’s tale where true justice seems all but totally obsolete, as the society it depicts is so innately and irrevocably corrupt that there is no hope for the common man to prevail, at least in any big or meaningful way. As for love and romance, they are nothing but a distant memory as the characters are too sick and internally wounded, drunk, and impenetrable to act on their own conflicted emotions. As the end of the film ultimately demonstrates, only death and revenge can provide these pathetic lost souls with any real sense of personal catharsis. A sort of West Coast buddy flick equivalent to Taxi Driver (1976), albeit with protagonists that are slightly more sane and sympathetic, the film will almost unequivocally be regarded as a masterpiece by any serious cinephile that is willing to see American for what it really is; a cultural and spiritual void that is beyond redemption. In fact, despite their glaring flaws, the characters are almost too sympathetic as they force the viewer to confront their own most shameful and unflattering flaws, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses; or at least their own personal capacity for said flaws, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. After watching the film, one should certainly reconsider Arthur Schopenhauer’s words, “The most effective consolation in every misfortune and every affliction is to observe others who are more unfortunate than we: and everyone can do this. But what does that say for the condition of the whole?

While Cutter’s Way is certainly, to some extent, an allegory for the disillusionment many Americans felt as a result of the Vietnam War, assassination of JFK, and failure of the so-called Civil Rights movement, among other things, it transcends these themes and acts as a sort of exercise in Sehnsucht, angst, and a specifically American 20th-century form of Mal du siècle. Depicting a rather pathetic situation were two best friends love the same perennially doped up dipsomaniac dame, who also seems to love both of them yet is similarly hopeless in expressing said love, the film ultimately presents an unapologetically forlorn world where love is not enough to establish permanent solid interpersonal bonds and perpetual misery seems more desirable to happiness because the latter only seems like a sick joke due to its scarcity and lack of longevity. While Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) is a rootless wanderer that cannot commit to anything aside from lacklusterly boning old blonde bourgeois bitches for a couple shekels (not unlike Joe Buck of Midnight Cowboy (1969), he is also somewhat bashful when it comes to asking for payment for his sensual services), his best friend Alex Cutter (John Heard)—a sardonically disgruntled Vietnam War veteran that is missing a couple limps and sports of an eye patch that fittingly makes him look like a pirate-cum-biker—has more or less declared total war against the entire world as a man that is plagued with fuchsteufelswild. Although Cutter is married to her, Bone clearly loves the female protagonist Maureen ‘Mo’ Cutter (Lisa Eichhorn) and the three live together like one supremely fucked unhappy (anti)family where nil children naturally are roaming around (after all, degenerates tend not to reproduce, or so once wrote early Zionist leader Max Nordau in his infamous text Entartung (1892) aka Degeneration). While both Cutter and Mo seem to be longing for death to some degree, Bone is just too damn passive, cowardly, and infuriately indecisive to embrace something of such patent permanence, so it is only fitting that both of the former die in the end while the latter finally gains some degree of testicular fortitude. As Cutter complains in regard to attempting to get Bone involved in something important, “It’s like trying to seduce a eunuch.”

While they all seem to be alcoholics to some degree, Cutter is a belligerent drunk and his wife Mo seems to be slowly but surely drinking herself into death in between taking bong hits. Undoubtedly, in some alternate reality where they both were not so screwed up, Bone and Mo seem like they could make the perfect loving couple. Of course, Mo is a supremely bitter bitch as demonstrated by her welcoming remark to Bone, “ …you’re home awfully early, aren’t you? Couldn’t you find a matron with a taste for gutter squalor?” In fact, Mo has no problem rubbing it into Bone’s face that she is married to his best friend Cutter as demonstrated by her gleefully savage remark, “Really must be tough playing second fiddle to a one-eyed cripple.” Indeed, while Cutter might be a cripple that seems to suffer from a perpetual state of fahne, he’s certainly got more swag and machismo than his best pal, who at least partly owes his lack of masculine prowess to the fact that he went to college instead of the Vietnam War. On the other hand, had Cutter not been physically and emotionally crippled in the war, it would not be hard to imagine him as the ultimate pussy-magnet alpha-male, but instead he is a self-destructively bitter and resentful quasi-suicidal renegade that lives life in the most miserable and misanthropic, albeit charismatic, fashion imaginable.  As pathetic as they are all, the trio needs each other, so naturally things begin to fall apart when one of them dies.

Although more focused on character development, mood, and atmosphere, Cutter’s Way centers around Cutter and Bone’s somewhat misguided yet nonetheless respectable mission to expose a local capitalist hotshot named J. J. Cord (Stephen Elliott) for the brutal rape and murder of a beauteous blonde high school cheerleader; or, more accurately, the film focuses on the eponymous antihero's attempt to get his pathologically passive male prostitute pal involved in the exposing of said local capitalist hotshot.  The trouble starts when Bone is arrested after he unwittingly witnesses the dumping of the teenage girl’s corpse into a back alley dumpster during a nasty rainy night. While Bone—a man that epitomizes the antithesis to Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power—initially wants nothing to do with the murder mystery, Cutter and the dead girl’s older sister Valerian Duran (Ann Dusenberry) make it their mission to get involved and force the hapless man hooker to tag along. Indeed, as is fitting for a film set in a nihilistic post-Vietnam War America, the friends develop a degree of obsession and paranoia that rivals some of the most single-minded investigations into the JFK assassination conspiracy. Despite seeing Cord at a local parade and being initially completely convinced that he is the same killer that he saw before, Bone later tries to reject or contradict any of Cutter’s arguments as to why the tycoon is their man. In fact, they even find a newspaper article where Cord more or less sadistically brags about his sinister deeds, stating in a creepily cryptic fashion, “I like to pickup hitchhikers. Especially young ones. I like their input.” Of course, as demonstrated by the fact that semen is found in the dead girl’s mouth, Cord is actually the one that likes giving input.

When the group conspires to create a “pretend blackmail plan” to see if Cord will reveal his guilt by actually paying the money, Mo, who wants nothing to do with the entire charade, ruthlessly rebukes the group for even considering getting involved in such potentially dangerous criminal activity. Indeed, aside from sarcastically telling Valerie to, “get fucked, sweetie,” Mo gets so exceedingly enraged with her hubby Cutter that she even mocks him for being a cripple, stating with the sort of rage that one can only expect from an agitated female lover, “You’re not some saint avenging the sins of the earth, you know, Alex. And if you are, what am I doing here? Oh, I know. I’m like your [missing] leg. Your leg! Sending messages to your brain and there’s nothing there anymore.” Needless to say, Bone is not too happy when his ladylove is smacked by Cutter due to her rather rude verbal indiscretions. Rather ironically, it is ultimately Mo that is the first victim of the group’s dubious detective work, as she dies in a rather horrific fashion after someone burns their house down. To make matters more morosely emotional, Mo cheats on Cutter and sleeps with Bone the very same night she is killed. In fact, while having sex, Mo even breaks down crying and says to Bone “I love you,” but the pathetic gigolo ultimately lets her down in the end. While Mo makes a rather emotional plea for Bone to stay the night with her and he obliges, he later secretly slips outside and abandons her not long after she falls asleep, thus unwittingly saving his own life in the process.  Of course, as someone that is as hopelessly miserable as Mo, it almost seems fitting that she dies, especially during an emotional night where she actually reveals her loving tender side but is ultimately betrayed by the very same weak man that she lovingly confides in.  Naturally, Cutter is enraged when Bone admits that he had sex with Mo by meekly confessing in a half-hearted fashion, “That night I left . . . She was pretty depressed, you know, things got kind of heavy.” Not surprisingly, Mo’s horrendous death makes Cutter and even Bone all the more determined to bring Cord to justice. Unfortunately, two perennial fuck-ups make for a poor match against a seemingly all-powerful tycoon that seems to practically own all of Santa Barbara, but luckily Cutter is on a suicide mission and thus willing to go all the way lest he fail the memory of his beloved self-described “wifey.”

During their intense investigation, Cutter and Bone discover that Cord has a long history of murdering people and getting away with it. For example, the father of Cutter’s friend-cum-boss George Swanson (Arthur Rosenberg) was apparently killed by Cord a number of decades before over a business deal. As a means to both covertly control and keep tabs on George, Cord paid for his college education and set him up as the boss of a boat shop, which Bone also incidentally works at. Despite the fact that George is totally petrified of his tycoon boss, Cutter goes ahead and steals an invitation for a big party at Cord’s house so that he and Bone can sneak in and confront the supposed killer. True to his pathetically passive nature, Bone attempts to talk Cutter out of even going to the party, stating, “Alex, what’s this gonna prove? It’s not like it’s gonna change anything. It’s not gonna bring her back. It’s not gonna take away our guilt. It’s not gonna make you whole again, you know that. Nothing’s ever gonna do that,” but the hardcore headcase vet merely responds by suggestively placing a pistol in his suit jacket and saying “I, uh… I gotta go, I go.” Needless to say, not unlike the antihero of Sam Peckinpah’s final masterpiece Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), Cutter is on a suicide mission of sorts as he has lost his beloved and has nothing left to lose. Assumedly out of a sense of obligation to both his best friend and dead lover, Bone reluctantly decides to join Cutter at the party, which proves to be a true shit show. Indeed, not long after joining the party, Bone is captured and beat up by Cord’s bodyguards while Cutter rides around the large property on a stolen horse like a deranged bloodlusting berserker high on mushrooms.

 Upon meeting and talking with Cord, Bone encounters a seemingly reasonable man who states he is willing to discuss with Cutter the supposed “fantasy” that he has created in his head, stating, “I understand he’s a veteran. Well, I’ve been in the war. I know what it does to some men. I’m willing to talk to your friend if you think it will do any good. Do you think it will do any good?” Not long after, Cutter fittingly crashes the horse he is riding through Cord’s office window and receives a fatal wound via a broken piece of glass in the process. While holding Cutter as he is dying in his arms, Bone stares at Cord and states with a certain visceral intensity, “It was you,” to which the tycoon shockingly and quite mockingly replies with a certain sickly self-assured arrogance, “What if it was?,” and then proceeds to put on the same sunglasses that he wore the night the Duran girl was murdered. In a symbolic act where the two broken ‘half-men’ become one full whole as men in their dual vengeance against the man that killed the woman they both loved, Bone wraps his hand around Cutter’s hand and pulls the trigger of the gun that his lifeless metacarpus is caressing in what is ultimately a fittingly ambiguous ending.

While Cutter’s Way concludes on a somewhat ambiguous note with Bone shooting Cord, auter Passer shot a sort of epilogue for the film that he never used, or as he explained in a July 15, 1981 interview featured in The Soho News with Jonathan Rosenbaum when asked if it was possible that the protagonist could get away with killing the rich tycoon, “Actually, I shot what happens after that. He walks out of this huge mansion, and it’s just before sunset; and he goes faster and faster and finally begins to run through the trees. And there’s a scene on his sailboat, which he lives on. he’s sailing out of the harbor, and he hears a laugh that sounds like Cutter’s laugh. He stops and looks at where it came from, and he sees there are a few sailors on a small cutter. And one of them looks like Cutter; he’s drinking a beer. And he laughs again. At that moment, Bone almost hits the coast and the Coast Guard; he almost brushes against this huge boat. But he avoids the accident, and soon gets on the open sea, and sails away. They very much wanted this ending, but it took away something. You know, this film is about pulling a trigger — what it takes — and we felt, the writer, producer, and I, that this would be just a tag that would dissipate the emotional impact of that last shot, and so we pleaded with them, and they finally agreed.” While I find this potential ending intriguing, I am glad that Passer went the more arthouse route and left the film the way it is. After all, if I have any serious complaints about Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, it is that I think it should have concluded right after Travis Bickle’s bloody shootout and not with the somewhat absurd revelation that the deranged antihero has been hailed as a local hero.

While it could certainly be argued that the film has elements that can interpreted as everything from a quasi-Marxist critique of the evils of capitalist oligarchs to a pessimistic Buchanian Paleoconservative portrait of the social, cultural, and racial decline of the United States in an age where both sides of the pseudo-dichotomous American political system support globalization and disfranchisement of white lumpenproles, there is no doubt that Cutter’s Way would never be made in Hollywood today simply because of its many moments of darkly humorous (and simply delightful) racial insensitivity. For example, early on in the film in his very first scene, Cutter pisses off a group of negroes at a bar after loudly stating in regard to a colored friend, “And last but certainly least, is Rastus, the court nigger.” Instead of cucking out and denying he said the word, Cutter takes things a little further and remarks to the group of angry negroes that are surrounding him, “What? Do I detect some tension? Oh. Come now, gentlemen. It’s a simple matter of semantics. What are we white, well-intentioned liberals supposed to call you cats these days, huh? Blacks? Coloreds? Negroes? Darkies?,” thereupon eloquently mocking the legacy of so-called civil rights movement, racial equality, and white liberal ethno-masochistic do-gooder bullshit in the process. Of course, it would not be a proper California film without Cutter making some rather scathing remarks in regard to so-called Hispanics and their American injun brothers. Indeed, while enjoying the sights and sounds of a multicultural Mission of Santa Barbara parade, Cutter declares during a moment of great exuberance with unrivaled dipsomaniacal eloquence, “Look, our glorious past, the Mission of Santa Barbara. Happy padres, happy Indians. The blessings of the white man. Wiped out in less than 200 years by disease and forced labor. You can still get one to clean up your kitchen or you know, park your car. They died with Christ’s blessing. Happy corpses, each and every one.” A natural comedian that knows how to correlate miscegenation with bestiality without even literally saying it, Cutter attempts to squash his wife’s worries by telling her when she asks him what he has been doing all night, “Minding my own business. Doing a little research. Oh, and I conducted a modest sociological experiment. Picked up several hitchhikers. Yeah. An Afro-American homosexual and two mestizas with a domesticated simian. Black cat and the two mez chicks weren’t bad, but don’t ever orgy with a pet monkey. The little fuckers bite.” As his rather hilarious remarks and domestic violence against crazy women demonstrates, Cutter is, for better or worse, unequivocally the Jim Goad of disgruntled Vietnam War veterans.

Maybe it is the physical appearance of the characters, but to me Cutter’s Way acts as a sort of unhinged cinematic requiem-cum-Ragnarök to American working-class whites—the real people that built America—that had their lives destroyed as a result of the largely Judaic and bourgeois counterculture movement, which introduced this forsaken (and clearly unwitting) generation to hard drugs, pacifism, miscegenation, negrophilia, and other garbage that the same sort of kosher culture-distorters peddled in the Weimar Republic. Indeed, when I see the characters of the film, I am reminded of my mother’s hippie junky brother who had his skull crushed in a car wreck and the various uncles my ex-girlfriend had that either committed suicide or overdosed on heroin.  Probably for different reasons than he intended them, the film bleeds Austrian mischling Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s words, “The weariness of long-forgotten peoples hangs heavy on my eyelids.” Of course, it is only fitting that Cutter’s Way was an abject commercial failure as it was created in the same Hollywood that got wealthy romanticizing hippie hedonism with films like Easy Rider (1969), which is a deceptively culturally corrosive cinematic work that probably inspired more unintentional drug overdoses and hick-hating than any other. While the villain of the film is obviously supposed to be some sort of stereotypical rich WASP villain—a group that was already in steady decline at the time that was being rapidly replaced by members of the chosen tribe—I think it would be more historically accurate to seem him as a sort of Bert Schneider figure or, at the very least, one of the Sackler brothers of Purdue Pharma infamy. As Emil Cioran once wrote in his classic text A Short History of Decay (1949), “A nation dies when it no longer has the strength to invent new gods, new myths, new absurdities; its idols blur and vanish; it seeks them elsewhere, and feels alone before unknown monsters. This too is decadence. But if one of these monsters prevails, another world sets itself in motion, crude, dim, intolerant, until it exhausts its god and emancipates itself from him; for man is free—and sterile—only in the interval when the gods die; slave—and creative—only in the interval when, as tyrants, they flourish.” Undoubtedly, the Christian god is dead in the world of Cutter’s Way but an “unknown monster’ certainly seems to be a hidden ominous force that encourages a sort of collective nihilism where love is an impossibility, passivity a virtue, sex and drug addiction the driving force in life, and procreation a sin. Needless to say, it is no coincidence that when people like the eponymous protagonist of Passer’s film were losing limbs and their minds in the Vietnam War, the Bert Schneiders of the world were calling these drafted soldiers “baby killers” while sitting back and smoking weed, banging shiksa sluts, aiding and abetting Black Panther Party killers like Huey P. Newton, and producing commie agitprop trash like Hearts and Minds (1974).

Notably, Cutter’s Way is infamous for being the victim of internal politics at United Artists, which just suffered the virtual studio-sinking blockbuster bomb of Michael Cimino’s epic in auteur egotism Heaven's Gate (1980) also starring Jeff Bridges (in fact, somewhat ironically, the studio apparently finally agreed to fund the film after Bridges got on board because they liked him due to his dailies from Cimino’s film). Although championed by various prominent film reviewers, UA spent virtual nil on advertising and promotion for the film, though, as a result of various positive reviews, the studio eventually decided to re-release it in 1981 under its United Artists Classics division and enter it into various film festivals under a new name (indeed, Cutter and Bone was later changed to the current title). Not unsurprisingly, auteur Passer, who seems to regard it as his greatest film, was left exceedingly embittered by the entire ordeal and stated in an article entitled ‘Passer's Way’ featured in the July/August 1981 edition of Film Comment magazine, “You can assassinate movies as you can assassinate people. I think UA murdered the film. Or at least they tried to murder it.” Featuring deceptively warm and intoxicating cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth (Altered States, Blade Runner) and a characteristically idiosyncratically resplendent score by deranged musical genius Jack Nitzsche (Cruising, Starman), Cutter’s Way is probably the most criminally underrated project for every single artist involved in it, not least of all actors John Heard and Lisa Eichhorn. Of course, to quote the titular antihero of the film, “Great art demands a great audience, you know what I mean?,” hence the film's failure in the early 1980s when Star Wars twaddle and mindless Spielbergian fantasy was vogue.

While Cutter's Way is a positively and patently pessimistic flick set in a world where heroes are non-existent and virtually everything about life seems worthless, it does have one very important message in regard to the need to take a stand in life despite it seemingly pointless and futile.  Indeed, as Oswald Spengler once wrote in his classic short text Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (1932), “We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.”  Indeed, the eponymous antihero of Cutter's Way might have been a deranged drunkard and aggressively nihilistic shithead, but he at least died with something resembling honor, which is something that cannot be said of most people from the dreaded baby boomer generation. In short, forget emotionally counterfeit bourgeois bullshit like Hebraic hack Lawrence ‘Star Wars’ Kasdan's The Big Chill (1983), Cutter's Way is the ultimate ‘feel-bad’ boomer film as it does the seemingly impossible by redeeming the boomers, at least the forgotten white working-class ones. 

-Ty E