Wednesday, February 15, 2017

WRONG REEL EPISODE #231: ABEL FERRARA



Check me out on the latest episode of Wrong Reel alongside Chris Funderberg to discuss the work of PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite Abel Ferrara.

enjoy...


Also, dont forget to check out all the Abel Ferrara-related material on this very site...

Friday, February 10, 2017

THE CINEMA OF TERRY ZWIGOFF TOLD THROUGH IMAGES & STILLS



Mr. Nobody. Real life, fake lotus
Break focus. Way too normal to take notice
Women and rage. Sugar, salt, cinnamon, sage
The city throbs. Endless shitty jobs and minimum wage
It’s nonsense. Flashy patterns, polka dots and gold checkers
Cold efforts. Avid collector of old records
Mostly poor. Little things you have to look closely for
I hate kids and standing in line at the grocery store
I’m divorced. Exile enforced. New fears
A few beers. I haven’t had sex in over two years
I've tried to trust. It’s useless. I wallow in my disgust
Why discuss it? No car, I ride the bus
Steel doesn't decide to rust it just does
Words written out with your finger where the dust was
Cliché. He-say she-say. So funny
Forgot to laugh. Go study. Call me Mr. Nobody
-Buck 65


Terry Zwigoff's cinema branches off to many different topics, themes & avenues but that verse from Buck 65's song; "Mr Nobody" - highlighted by the lyrics in bold - have always reminded me of the characters in Zwigoff's quirky universe. Seymour (Ghost World) & Bob Crumb (Crumb) are in fact avid collectors of old records. And there's a strong chance that those old collectible records include music by Howard Armstrong (the subject of Louie Bluie).
I'm almost certain Seymour & his depressed roommate (reminiscent of Bob Crumb's brother) hadn't had sex in quite some time leading up to the events in Ghost World. Willie (Bad Santa) & Seymour definitely hate little kids, and riding the bus is a minor theme/subplot in Ghost World. Bob Crumb's brother definitely wallows in disgust as does Jim Broadbent's character in Art School Confidential. You see what I mean?

There's dark comedy and then there's tragic/depressive comedy which is a label I'd certainly slap on the large majority of Terry Zwigoff's work. There's tons of awkwardly unique comedic moments in all the films covered in this entry but depression & melancholic thoughts are also very prevalent throughout...

Mr. Zwigoff hasn't directed a film in over a decade (although rumor has it he's working on a made-for-television movie at the moment) so use this latest cinema of... entry as a refresher on the career of a filmmaker that hasn't really made waves in a while but has a unique body of work worthy of being dissected & rediscovered.

enjoy...


ART APPRECIATION
Terry is an avid collector/reader of comics/graphic novels (prior to directing Crumb he was already close friends with cartoonist/documentary subject Bob Crumb). This aspect of his life shines through in just about everyone of his films (Bad Santa being the exception). The characters/subjects in his films are either actually artists (Bob Crumb, Enid in Ghost World, Jerome in Art School Confidential, Howard Armstrong in Louie Bluie) or fans of (mature/more adult-themed) comics (various characters in Ghost World & Crumb).
Louie Bluie
Louie Bluie
Crumb
Crumb
Ghost World
Ghost World
Art School Confidential
Art School Confidential

If you look at this collection of images below you'll see that art often plays the background (almost like wallpaper) in a lot of shots in his films...

Art in the background of Zwigoff's films...



MUSIC APPRECIATION
Terry Zwigoff has the same appreciation for certain specific genres of music (mostly blues, swing, old jazz, ragtime, and just about any form of music that's commonly played on an old-timey record player). He even had a lesser known career as a musician (he was in a group, along with friend/cartoonist Bob Crumb, called The Cheap Suit Sudoneers). 
Artwork for Zwigoff's band; The Cheap Suit Sudoneers
Louie Bluie
Crumb
Ghost World


CRITICISM OF THE ART WORLD
But his appreciation for comics & music doesn't transfer to all artforms. Zwigoff is quite critical of the "high art" world and he doesn't really try to hide that in his work...
Howard Armstrong criticizes a piece of modern art in Louie Bluie
A pretentious art teacher praising a pretentious piece of student art in Ghost World
A parody of art house cinema in Ghost World
the sensitive art school filmmaker sells out and becomes a major studio filmmaker in Art School Confidential
making fun of the modern art creation process in Art School Confidential


This art appreciation (and sometimes criticism) brings about an under-appreciated quality in Terry Zwigoff's universe...



ZWIGOFF'S UNINTENTIONAL COLOR PALETTE
For such a seemingly gloomy & grumpy guy, Zwigoff's films are pretty colorful (much like his cinematic cousin/peer Todd Solondz) which offers an interesting contrast. This is probably a subconscious touch possibly brought on by his love of comics.
Depression, wallowing in sorrow, dark thoughts aren't often associated with colors like bright orange, loud yellow & fire truck red but Terry Zwigoff makes it all work somehow...
Art School Confidential
Art School Confidential
Bad Santa
Crumb
Ghost World
Ghost World
Ghost World




RECURRING SHOT: SELF REFLECTION
Terry Zwigoff isn't the kind of director known for a "signature shot" like Kubrick, Lynch or Spike Lee but he does often include a scene of self-reflection (I know that isn't very unique but it should still be noted)
self reflection...





VARIOUS RANDOM VISUAL SIMILARITIES...
Ghost World
Ghost World/Rite & Sue & Bob Too
Louie Bluie/Malcolm X
Bad Santa/Trading Places




DEPRESSION
As I stated in my introduction, depression plays a major part in the Terry Zwigoff universe. His characters are full of anger, annoyance, cynicism & hatred for themselves and some of the people around them (note the quotes in the images below)
Ghost World
Ghost World
Crumb
Art School Confidential
Art School Confidential


naturally the depression in Zwigoff's work brings about miserable people (some of which are deserving of sympathy while others aren't)...


UNLIKABLE/MISERABLE CHARACTERS
Terry Zwigoff may be pretty vocal about what he hates but he isn't above poking fun at/criticizing himself and his own world of sometimes lonely miserable record collecting comic book community (many of the characters below have shades of Zwigoff's own personality). Even Willie from Bad Santa fits in perfectly as he's a mean-spirited miserable human being (he may not collect records or read comics but you could easy take Willie out of Bad Santa and place him Ghost World or Art School Confidential without any hiccups).
Crumb
Bad Santa
Ghost World
Ghost World
Art School Confidential




THE WORLD ACCORDING TO TERRY ZWIGOFF
To further emphasize Zwigoff's willingness to criticize & poke fun at himself, he often puts bookish, introverted, awkward, shy and/or "nerdy" characters that are reflections of his own personality & style...
Art School Confidential
Ghost World
Ghost World
Bad Santa




DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES
Dysfunctional families aren't just relegated to abuse, misery & depression (which is still something seen/heard loud & clear in Crumb). It should be noted that Robert Crumb's brothers completely steal the show even though the documentary wasn't even really supposed to be about them.

Miscommunication (or no communication at all) and neglect (Bad Santa) are also red flags of Dysfunction. Enid & her father barely speak in Ghost World, and when they do speak it's cold & unfamiliar. And while it's supposed to be humorous, Herman (Bad Santa) is still under the supervision (...neglect) of his mentally unstable grandmother which causes him to find a male role model in the form of a mean-spirited criminal like Willie.
Ghost World
Crumb
Crumb
Bad Santa




QUIRKY/AWKWARD HUMOR
To be completely honest - the unique humor in Zwigoff's films are really mostly highlighted in Ghost World. Sometimes no one even needs to say anything. You can just look at some of the characters in the movie and laugh. The way he captures hilarious details and funny real life situations always makes me laugh.

Take this quick exchange from Ghost World...

Masterpiece Video Clerk: Hello, welcome to Masterpiece Video. How may I help you this afternoon, sir?
Masterpiece Video Customer: I'm looking for a copy of 8 1/2.
Masterpiece Video Clerk: Is that a new release, sir?
Masterpiece Video Customer: No, it's the classic Italian film.
Masterpiece Video Clerk: Yes, sir. I'll just check that on the computer for you, sir...Yes, here it is. 9 1/2 Weeks with Mickey Rourke. That would be in the Erotic Drama section.
Masterpiece Video Customer: No, not 9 1/2, 8 1/2. The Fellini film?

During the heyday of Blockbuster & Hollywood Video, I know a lot of you have had a similar conversation with a clueless video store employee. And please note - I'm sure you've had issues with movies that aren't even as "obscure" as a Fellini movie. In fact, in college I almost caused an entire Blockbuster to shut down, just for asking if they had a copy of Raging Bull ("HUH?! WHATS THAT?!).
Ghost World
Ghost World
Ghost World
Bad Santa
Bad Santa
Art School Confidential




(LIGHT) RACIAL COMMENTARY/ISSUES CONCERNING RACE
Like a lot of specific older White males obsessed with old records, graphic novels, khaki pants, button down shirts & old Laurel & Hardy movies - the idea of minstrels, black face & the soulful lively blues lovin' old Black man is a complicated and sometimes strange obsession. Some of the characters/subjects in Zwigoff's films are the types of older/middle-aged White males to hang an image of a Black face minstrel character in their apartment for everyone to see not because they're racist or want to be provocative, but because to them it represents history. While that is in fact very true and shouldn't be tucked under a rug or forgotten - Black face imagery doesn't hold the same significance/history to a White person as it does a Black person, but I don't think people like Bob Crumb & and certain characters from Ghost World fully understand that.

But there is a flipside to that...

Throughout time it has been mostly White people to express anger towards Crumb's racially questionable drawings more than actual people of color. 
In Ghost World there's a scene of a room full of White people about to riot over a Black face image being hung up in an art gallery. Without even asking about the context or history behind the image they panic and immediately ask for it to be taken down. I am by no means a conservative or a politically right person, but that kind of sometimes silly behavior is specific to annoying White liberals. I'm willing to bet that if the characters in Ghost World saw Howard Armstrong's art (seen all throughout Louie Bluie), without knowing Armstrong himself was black, they would immediately call it racist...
Crumb
Ghost World
Louie Bluie





AN APPRECIATION FOR THE FEMALE BODY
Terry Zwigoff is certainly not the first director to highlight curvy, full-figured, voluptuous or "realistic" female bodies. Everyone from Russ Meyer & Roger Corman to Bruno Dumont have brought realistic leading ladies to the forefront long before Terry Zwigoff made his first fiction film (Ghost World).

There's a section in Crumb that delves in to his (sometimes problematic) depiction of curvy women but that mild fascination didn't start (or stop) there...

Similar to Bob Crumb, any piece of art drawn by Howard Armstrong shows round & curvy women in tantalizing positions.
And you would have to be blind if you didn't notice Thora Birch damn near bursting through just about every article of clothing she wears in Ghost World.
And while Lauren Graham isn't exactly a prototypical Bob Crumb woman or Ghost World-era Thora Birch, her body type still isn't petite (and that isn't a criticism)
Crumb
Crumb
Louie Bluie
Ghost World
Bad Santa
Bad Santa





EROTICISM/SEXUAL PERVERSIONS
It is my belief that the sexually driven work & personalities of Zwigoff's early documentary subjects rubbed off on his later fictional work (see the previous category).
Cleavage, hints & implications of raunchy sex & erotic art are all prevalent in the fictional films of Terry Zwigoff and I truly think that is due to his personal relationship with Howard Armstrong & Robert Crumb who are both very sexually driven...
Louie Bluie
Crumb
Crumb
Ghost World
Ghost World
Art School Confidential
Bad Santa
Bad Santa


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