Archive | July 2018

A Lawless Street

(Check out my previous Western film review here: Dead Man)

I’m on something of a Randolph Scott kick right now. This will be the first of eight reviews of films in which he starred.

1955’s A Lawless Street was one of the last films directed by the great American B-movie auteur Joseph H. Lewis who is typically better known for his film noir works like Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955), but also worked on a number of Westerns throughout his career as a filmmaker in the 1940s and 50s. For the most part, these works are traditional Westerns with, as was typical for the time, very little in the way of genre manipulation. And although Lewis is known as something of a pulp auteur, his Westerns do not tend to incorporate the same pulpy atmosphere, street talk, and nihilistic approach to morals as his other pictures. As such, A Lawless Street is as good a place as any to broach the subject of the Trad Western, which I have mentioned time and again throughout these past three months in Western film review after review without really elaborating on its generic tendencies and conventions through the use of a specific example to drive the point home.

In A Lawless Street, Randolph Scott plays Calem Ware, a Marshall for a small town in the nation’s frontier called Medicine Bend. Before his time as a lawman, Ware made his way through the West as many cowboys of legend did: gunfighting and making a reputation for himself as a more of a legend than a mere man. Over time, his legend became too immense, too much to handle, and too much for an ageing man like Ware to continue giving a damn about keeping up. Moreover, he fell in love with a beautiful young singer named Tally Dickinson (Angela Lansbury) who disapproved of Ware’s ways and would only settle down with him if he were really willing to put his past behind him and settle down himself. Ware, being a little stubborn and trying to compromise with Tally, decided to become a lawman, a Marshal for a small frontier town where his skills as a gunslinger could prove beneficial to a community of people, and wherein he could potentially lead a life of domesticity without foregoing the occasional bit of excitement.

At least, this is what Ware had hoped he would be able to achieve. Instead, his stature as an infamous cowboy and one-time outlaw has made him something of the town’s biggest tourist attraction, and the primary tourists are young gunslingers who wish to make a name for themselves by dispatching the legendary Calem Ware. Consequently, Ware, in addition to keeping the peace between regular townsfolk, has to on take part in a shootout on occasion, which has led Tally to believe he is unreliable and will never settle down. She leaves to hit the road and continue touring as a singer throughout the West and Ware is left behind to run a town and fight young gunhands as he grows increasingly older and more disillusioned by the year.

Years pass, and the old gunslinger becomes the symbol of Law and Order in Medicine Bend: the primeval force who, through multiple confrontations with the forces of chaos, finally managed to bring order to this wild, primordial space. His gunhand is still quick and his legend precedes him in such a way that the man serves as the signifier of an omnipotent, though benevolent archetype akin to that of a god, the arbiter of good through the proxies of society, civilization, law, and honor. So when the forces of evil, of chaos emerge once more and threaten to take over the town, to overwhelm the goodness he has brought to it, Ware takes offense to the situation. He straps on his holster and once more goes forth into the town to dispatch these men through reason, brute force, or the cold, irrefutable strength of a bullet.

The first is a man named Dingo Bryant who has heard of Ware’s legend and seems to be one of those primordial chaos beast exorcised by Ware long ago, though unfortunately spared death at the time of their past conflict. Dingo enters town and everyone knows a confrontation is bound to occur. So when the Marshal is being shaved by the barber, Dingo enters the parlor to gun down the man representing law and order, in cold blood. Dingo is shown to be a criminal at heart, with no honor and semblance of justice. Because of this designation, Lewis has his metaphysical agent of good, Calem Ware, holding a gun in his lap, underneath the shaving apron. He has been waiting for Dingo, indeed has almost trapped him into this scenario, and he only knew to do so and knew that Dingo would act in the manner he did, because Ware himself was once the same type of figure: a lone wolf in a nihilistic frontier. But he has changed, has decided to make an oasis in this desert as if a Nietzschian ubermensch who recognizes the lack of morality, of civility, and of honor in the world, and has decided to respond by constructing his own moral code to protect the weak.

The second man is Dooley.  A friend of Dingo’s, Dooley is a rogue through and through. however, he has a bit more honor within him than did his deceased pal. He will not fight with a gun and instead dukes it out with the inestimable Marshal in hand to hand combat. And despite being taller and much heavier, and stronger than Ware, as well as significantly younger and more able-bodied, he is bested by the more skilled, experienced older man. The next day, Dingo’s mother pays a visit to Ware and chastises him not only for killing her son, but for taking away and incarcerating the only other person who was helping to keep up her ranch: Dooley. Ware takes the verbal brow-beating like a champ, and benevolently decides to speak with Dooley about his responsibilities to the woman, about how his life can have meaning through the kindness he could bestow upon this woman. Dooley leaves impressed by Ware’s moral convictions and uprightness, and eventually becomes a better person for the experience.

The third man is one Harley Baskam, another outlaw like Dingo who has it in for the old man and wishes to make a name for himself in the West by decommissioning the old Wyatt Earp type of lawman. This time, he seems to succeed. Baskam ambushes the old man, pulls his gun on him, and shoots him in the head. Luckily, an old physician is present. The man, seeing that Ware has merely been grazed by a bullet along the top of skull, and could potentially pull through and live to fight another day, pleads with Baskam not to shoot a dead again just for the hell of it as it would diminish Baskam’s reputation in town and might lead to unneeded animosity between himself and the townsfolk. Baskam agrees, and for much of the remainder of the film, the ‘dead man’ recovers.

After an allotted time, like a sacrificial son of the law, Ware regains consciousness within the makeshift hospital housed in the back of the town’s prison (a place no one has visited since Ware’s death, except the physician). He emerges and revenges himself upon Baskam as well as those who plotted Ware’s demise alongside Baskam in the hopes of making the town an open territory for boozing, whoring, and gambling. The now Christ-like Ware has become a hero once more, but instead of taking upon himself once more the helm of protector of this town, he departs the scene with his loved one, Tally, who has returned to the town on her singing circuit, and he leaves behind his gun. The God ascended to purify a land, betrayed by his own people, only to save them with the assistance of a few select disciples, who then departs forever to leave the remaining job in the hands of those disciples.

The analogue to a particular metaphysical process and to particular figures should be obvious at this point, as should be the gist of the Trad Western: Good vs. Evil, Evil seems to prevail, Good returns to purify the land, and the Good figure, usually disillusioned, though trusting his people to keep the peace, departs and leaves them on their own. The first few elements are pure religious metaphysics of a Western tradition known pretty well to those that Westerns were marketed toward. The final touch is a bit of existential malaise at the lived reality of life as a hellhole in which there seems to never be any guiding hand, any watcher working to ensure things go right. That is, as far as I can decipher it, the generic formulation of the Trad Western.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Seven Men from Now]

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The Big O II: Act 15- Negotiations with the Dead

(Act 14: Roger the Wanderer)

Roger Smith once again has a day off from Negotiating and de facto work as a P.I. (a job more traditionally in line with the show’s film noir and German expressionist aesthetic style). Whenever such a rare occasion comes about, Roger makes the most of it by sleeping in well past noon. And Dorothy makes a habit of awakening him by playing the loudest, most abrasive compositions she can muster on the piano downstairs in order to awaken him. Luckily, this time her playing rouses Roger at a proper time: when a potential customer comes by to inquire about a job.

The prospective customer is one Kelly Fitzgerald, the spouse of one Roscoe Fitzgerald, a Paradigm City Senator. She tells Roger that she believes her husband is in danger from an assassin who previously (in Act 10: Winter Night Phantom) killed many of his fellow Senators and threatens to do so now as well. Roger assures her that the Military Police (and specifically Dan Dastun) took care of that assassin ages ago and as such, she has nothing to fear. And then, Kelly Fitzgerald cryptically tells Roger that her husband was actually killed well after that incident, and the question becomes: well… why and how should one protect a dead man?

Roger and Dorothy accompany the old woman back to her mansion wherein they find a massive library. Kelly tells the pair (who will surprisingly mirror her own relationship to that of her ‘dead’ husband) that the ‘kids’ who were killed by the assassin a few weeks ago were all alter egos, proxies for her husband’s fellow Senators. That the memories implanted by Gordon Rosewater into these young, twenty-somethings were culled from the minds of the Senators of the city who had previously been killed by the foreign assassin. Roger again informs Kelly that if Roscoe’s proxy individual is still out there, he or she should still be safe as Roger himself made sure that the assassin, R.D., was put out of commission.

And then for the final reveal: within the library is Roscoe Fitzgerald, who appears very much alive and not dead as his wife had previously explained. His presence is inexplicable and, until the very denouement of the episode, Kelly’s disclosure about his death will remain so. The man explains that he wishes to know more about the android who committed the aforementioned murders of the Senator’s proxy memory data banks. He wants to know, more specifically, whether she awakened by her own volition or if she was awakened by someone else with the purpose of erasing the memories housed in her targets. And the more that Roger and Dorothy think about the subject, the more they wish to know the answer to this query as well. As such, the two leave the parlor and presence of the Fitzgerald’s, and head down to the Speakeasy where they learn from the informer, The Big Ear, that there are very few people who could have designed such an android as R.D. in the modern time, and that she may have been the product of some earlier pre-Event era in which humans lived alongside androids and their presence was common. Thinking this possibility merely plausible, Roger presses for more information and learns that the only man Big Ear knows who might have been able to construct such and android was Dr. Wayneright, Dorothy’s creator: the man who somehow managed to retain or regain enough memories of the past to create numerous androids and Megadeuses.

So, Roger and Dorothy leave and head toward Wayneright’s dilapidated mansion. Along the way, roger wonders why Dorothy and R.D. appeared so similar, ultimately coming to no conclusion in his musings. Though we, the viewers, know that Wayneright must have constructed both of them at some point. Inside the mansion, Roger and Dorothy find a room encased in copper plating, which Dorothy believes was installed to prevent something from entering it. As they continue down the corridors, they eventually find his lab wherein eyeballs and other synthetic organs lay about in a disheveled mess of tools and materials for the construction of androids. As Dorothy approaches the machine on which she was most likely assembled, the very wellspring and ground of her being, a program initiates and works through her, which triggers a large Megadeus to awaken (like the Archetype before it) elsewhere in the city.

Next, a huge magnet pulls Dorothy to the ceiling above and another android is sent from elsewhere in the lab to attack Roger. He narrowly avoids being killed by the mechanism before Angel appears, inscrutably in her red R.D.-like red cloak and hood, to plug the android with about a dozen holes from her pistol. The ensuing conversation reveals that Roger knows about Angel’s identity as a foreigner. After turning off the magnet, retrieving Dorothy from the ceiling, and driving off toward the city to face the Megadeus, Angel reveals that she knows about Roger’s identity as the Dominus of the Big O Megadeus, which is unsettling to Roger but also allows him to call upon Big O rather than mull about waiting for an opportunity to sneak off to his veritable ‘phone booth’ to pilot Big O.

Meanwhile, Dorothy reveals that she found a CD-rom inside of Wayneright’s lab. She assesses it with her head scanner and learns that they were tricked by the Fitzgerald’s. They cannot be on a mission to protect the memory proxy of Roscoe as there never was a memory proxy for Roscoe. He never even lost his memories from before The Event, and as such, viewer musings that Roger may be the proxy child become unfounded, and his own identity is once again obscured, in the dark.

As Big O rises from the Paradigm’s depths, the Military Police’s chief Dan Dastun is, at first, overjoyed to find backup. His own forces have hitherto been absolutely useless in impeding the forward progress of the newly appeared Megadeus Glinda (Glinda and Dorothy- a sign of head series’ writer Chiaki J. Konaka’s affinity for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). In the next breath, however, Dastun laments his constant inability to defend the city and the very necessity thereby of Big O, who always destroys quite a bit in the process of defending the city in Dastun’s stead. As for Big O, he and Roger initially have a hard time battling Glinda as this Megadeus is just as agile as The Archetype, and also wields a sword with which it effectively hacks through Big O’s defenses. As always, Big O pull out one final offensive move, this time a large laser gatling gun mechanism on his wrist, to destroy his foe.

Finally, the episode ends with a meditation on what it means to be human (the same core question from The Big O’s greatest stylistic and thematic predecessor Blade Runner): What does it mean to be human? It is revealed that Roscoe is, like Dorothy, merely a very human-like android. The Senator is extremely life-like to such a degree that it is more than apparent that there is no existential difference between himself and a human being. As he reflects on his past (‘Memories are eternal. Or is that a fantasy robots shouldn’t indulge in, Roger Smith?’), Roscoe hands over a disc to Dorothy, presumably containing his memories of the past, and most importantly those with information before The Event.

But just as quickly a gunshot rains down and decapitates the Senator. On a building aft, reclines the form of a mime-like android assassin that Angel refers to as Alan Gabriel. He extends a plastic arm that recovers the disc from Dorothy. As he retreats, Dastun attempts to shoot the assassin, but misses completely due to the vast distance separating the two. Angel has, seemingly, been fired and replaced by Alex Rosewater at Paradigm Corp., Kelly Fitzgerald’s fears that an assassin would kill her husband have proved prescient, and Dorothy and Roger are back to square one in their search for information about the past. But at least, through the example of Roscoe and Kelly, Roger and Dorothy may finally be realizing that there is, indeed, a way forward for the two of them in this world.

 

Cast in the Name of God,

Cody Ward

[Act 16: Day of the Advent]

The Big O II: Act 14- Roger the Wanderer

(Act 13: R.D.)

The Big O was initially planned as a 26-episode, one-season anime by Studio Sunrise. However, low viewership of the show in Japan pushed the networks to request it be wrapped up in only 13 episodes instead to make way for the next show. Luckily, The Big O as a pastiche of Western film noir, comics, and science fiction films (as well as Japanese Tokusatsu and Mecha shows) was very popular abroad and had a positive critical reaction and viewership internationally. As a result, Studio Sunrise was able to fund a second, 13-episode season after the show’s initial cancellation with the help of Bandai Visual and Cartoon Network who wanted the show to continue airing to market toys and to fill their Toonami slots with high-quality shows, respectively.

Act 14 begins where 13 left off as Roger and Dorothy stand inside of Big O’s cockpit, ready to take on the three foreign Megadeuses rising from the waves out at sea and heading toward Paradigm. As an aside, the names of the three Megadeuses are all French in origin and derive from historical persons: Robespierre, the architect of the Reign of Terror; Carnot, the Father of Thermodynamics; and Fouche, a general of Napoleon. Although the Megadeuses are associated with the Foreign Peoples leading an insurrection against the city of Paradigm, they’re namesakes are not easy to interpret as purely revolutionary persons. Carnot’s appearance may be relevant insofar as without his work, such technological marvels as the advanced engines that power the Megadeuses may have been impossible to build. And as for Robespierre and Fouche, they were arguably anti-revolutionary. Whereas Robespierre’s will to ideological purity sabotaged the French Revolution’s success, figures like Fouche made sure that the later reign of Napoleon lasted as long as it did.

As the battle commences and Big O takes heavy damage from his three opponents, the voices and monologues of all of the major players in this struggle are heard throughout the city. The informant called Big Ear asks aloud, ‘Who is it exactly who came to the conclusion that there is no one outside of Paradigm City, Mr. Negotiator?’ Beside him in the Speakeasy is a huge stack of newspapers, which no one else in the series ever seems to be reading, and is almost never even shown in possession of. The reason for this will become apparent in a future episode that reveals just how the Big Ear collects his information.

As Roger fights on and rejects the notion that people are ruled by their memories, we see Schwarzwald below the city, sitting at a desk and typing up a manifesto in which he claims that ‘it’s not just the citizens who lost their memories of forty years ago. The foreigners who came here searching for fragments of memories have lost them as well.’ Again, Schwarzwald, the one-time newspaper turned philosophical warrior has sought out truths about the nature of Paradigm that have proved too taboo for others to investigate, and he once again confirms the existence of foreigners outside of the city.

In what appears to be either a flashback or a flash-forward sequence, Dastun asks Roger if Big O was already waiting for him after he resigned from the Military Police, pointing to the fact that at some indefinite time, Dastun became, or will become, fully aware that Roger is the pilot of the Big O Megadeus. Meanwhile, Gordon Rosewater stands in his field and continues to claim that the existence of machines through the use of which man can harness the power of gods is absurd, and that the events attested to within his own book Metropolis never occurred. All the while, Roger becomes increasingly confused and questions his identity consistently: ‘Who the hell am I? Who am I?’ The answer comes in the form of a vision of Norman who claims that he was probably always the butler of Roger and that Roger most likely piloted Big O even before everyone’s memories were wiped out forty years prior.

And then everything comes to a head as Dastun reflects back on Winter Night Phantom and the fact that these three Foreign Megadeuses presence means that there are Foreign Peoples as well. Fouche collaborates with his fellow Megadeuses to use an electrical attack so powerful that it breaches Big O’s outer shell and shocks even the dominus within. Roger feels the pain in addition to the existential pangs of not knowing who he really is. Then, a the cockpit seems to be full of tomatoes, artificial tomatoes symbolizing the genetic engineering of Gordon Rosewater, and the possibility that Roger himself might be a product of genetic engineering like the tomatoes. One of the children created by Gordon Rosewater and injected with memories of forty years prior. The EQ line on Big O’s radar flatlines and Roger passes out.

When he comes to, Roger is disheveled, asleep on the ground within a busy subway tunnel. He washes his face in an adjacent restroom and realizes that he is not dressed as nicely as usual and that his face is now sporting five o’clock shadow. The streets above are filled with happy people basking in the sun of a Paradigm City without Domes that has seemingly never been subject to the ecological/mechanical catastrophes of the past that rendered the world unlivable without such protections. In the Speakeasy, Big Ear is absent and his mansion is now an ACME Bank owned and operated by none other than the Mr. Beck, who is a criminal, and not an entrepreneur and businessman, in Roger’s own timestream. Furthermore, Roger’s watch is missing and he cannot contact Big O.

That night he wanders the city and finds himself outside of the Nightingale Club. Dorothy and her father enter, but this Dorothy is oddly emotive, as if a real girl. What’s more, she has a boyfriend who greets her at the door. An alleyway in which he stands turns into a vaudeville stage on which Roger performs the meeting with Norman in his own timestream for an audience of one who, though obscured by shadow, appears to be himself. It becomes apparent here that Roger is playing out some sort of psychodrama in his own head and has not been transported to a different place. The literal Cartesian Theater act reveals that a mere year ago, Roger happened upon the Mansion after leaving the Military Police. Norman insisted that Roger was the master he had been waiting for for the past forty years since The Event wiped out his memories of everything beyond his job as a butler at this home and as a mechanic of Big O. Roger was confused at first, but when he first met Big O he had an immediate affinity with the machine and knew they were destined to fight alongside one another.

Roger shifts once more to a park bench whereupon he is reading comic in the newspaper that displays Roger Smith as a superhero mecha dominus and it becomes obvious to him that he has been playing a role rather than really being Roger Smith, that he may be a random man with no connection to the one truly destined to pilot Big O (despite the fact that he can do so naturally as if destined). He next finds himself within a theater wherein he watches Winter Night Phantom and watches down-row as a young girl does likewise, a girl with a red balloon. This seen segues into one in which Angel picks him up and asks why he was afraid to awaken it (seemingly referring to Big O). Roger takes some time to explicate this message and eventually comes to the conclusion that is a cryptic one pertaining to his fear of awakening unpleasant memories, of going back to the wellspring of his being.

Then and there, Roger decides to fight the fear in his heart and to get to the bottom of the whole host of existential and ontological questions he has about himself and his world, respectively. He decides to fight. And in this moment, he meets the ‘real’ Dorothy in his dream who concludes that Roger really is himself, and is not merely playing a role, and this despite the fact that it seems that Roger may in fact actually only be doing exactly that: playing the role of Roger Smith. But his acceptance of such a fact would be to wallow in pity and defeat, and the only truly freeing action is to reject the truth in this instance and return to consciousness back in the simulated reality of Paradigm City wherein he can face his demons, destroy the three Megadeuses threatening to destroy his adopted city, and force a reaction in the world around him to his own brazen actions. And he does just that.

 

Cast in the Name of God,

Cody Ward

[Act 15: Negotiations with the Dead]

Perfect Blue

The acclaimed anime director Satoshi Kon’s short career began in 1984, at the age 21 when he published a manga called Toriko while still at University. In the following years, Kon established himself through his work as a manga-ka on a handful of other works before becoming Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga and animation assistant, which led to work on the classic manga Akira, a 1991 live-action Otomo film, and as an art director on Otomo’s segment Magnetic Rose from the 1995 anime anthology film Memories. In a relatively short period, he became an animator with a strong track record and vetting by an industry god, which subsequently gave Kon the opportunity to launch a career as a director of anime.

In 1997, Studio Madhouse’s famed founding producer Masao Maruyama (amongst others) took a chance on Kon and gave this opportunity to direct his first animated work. Surprisingly, this was no small gamble either, as Kon was given the chance to helm a feature-length project of his choosing. For this first work, Kon decided to adapt a psychological thriller by author Yoshikazu Takeuchi entitled Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis. The project was an arthouse film the like of which had never hitherto graced the medium of animation, and was heavily inspired by the works of Western cinema that made up the majority of influences on the young Kon (and as fate would have it, Perfect Blue would influence Western filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky in turn). Having his mentor, Katsuhiro Otomo’s, name attached to the project as ‘Special Supervisor’ helped the film reach a wide international audience, and from then on, Kon enjoyed near carte blanche in his artistic endeavors.

As for the story itself, Perfect Blue details the life of a young pop idol named Mima Kirigoe who is a member of the struggling bubblegum trio CHAM! But Mima, as the de facto leader of the group has unusually good looks and a talent for a acting, which could prove a much more lucrative option and bring her the mainstream fame she desires. Mima’s agent convinces her overprotective manager Rumi to allow Mima to perform in one final farewell CHAM! show before splitting to act in a low-budget, but high profile television series called Double Bind, which will hopefully lead to big-budget feature work in the coming years and eventually establish Mima as a movie star.

Shortly after taking on the job as an actress on the network, Mima learns of the presence of an obsessive stalker within her life who has apparently been tracking her every move and posting under her identity online at a mysterious site known as Mima’s Room. She begins to grow paranoid, and when the series’ writer decides to add a rape scene and a striptease for Mima to act out in the show Double Bind, Mima begins to view herself as impure, dirty, and as a sell-out who has destroyed her previously untarnished, innocent persona as the lead singer of CHAM!. She begins to grow paranoid that her every move is being watched and analyzed by a mysterious figure and eventually finds it hard to distinguish between reality and fiction, often finding herself viscerally experiencing the events of the TV series as if they are really happening to her.

As Mima’s sanity begins to unravel, the series’ writer is found dead, and a few days later, the series’ photographer who further scandalized her public image through a nude photoshoot is similarly found murdered. Mima’s constant blackouts and losses of time, as well as the discovery of a bloodied shirt within her closet all convince her that she may be the culprit, although unknowingly and unconsciously. The scenario and event of Perfect Blue are often called Hitchcockian, but rarely, if ever, have the thriller maestro’s films been this head-trippy and disorienting. No, Perfect Blue is a thriller more in line with the seventies and eighties works of American auteur Brian De Palma whose stories are more often based on real psychiatric disorders like what will be revealed to be Mima’s case of folie a deux wherein her psychosis has no real biological basis and is instead tied to the psychosis of a close member of her inner circle who is causing all of her paranoia and committing the murders.

Many a postmodern analysis has been made of this anime, and unlike many of those productions that have received such in-depth scrutiny, Perfect Blue is one of the few that deserves or even calls us to review it in such a manner. Often the plot of the TV series within the film, Double Bind, intersects with the events of the ‘reality’ of the situation. Just as Mima performs her striptease scene and is then brutally stripped of her clothing, after which rape is simulated, she is later accosted by the supposed murderer at large and attacked in much the same manner, though the reality of this second encounter is called into question as only moments later, the crew on set appears and begins to clap for her ‘performance.’ The second sequence ends in Mima grasping a hammer and using it to kill her would-be rapist, and although this event seems to be a mere scene from the show, it is later revealed that boy she hit is actually dead.

In Double Bind, Mima kills a man who attacks her, seemingly without cause, and as she experiences the encounter, Mima’s distorted, paranoid vision sees her attacker as the photographer who exploited her in the aforementioned photoshoot. As also stated, this man is later killed with the same weapon, an ice pick, as his daydream proxy was ‘killed’ in the series.

Most disturbingly of all, when Mima learns the identity of the true murderer, she manages to get the person institutionalized. In her later years as a famous actress, she occasionally visits the murderer, who is out of her mind, but medicated and watched after as to ensure that she will never again become a hazard to society or to Mima. When Mima leaves the premises, a duo of nurses wonder if she really is THE Mima, movie star and one-time pop idol, though they decide that the real Mima would not visit such a place as this, and must thereby be a fake Mima, a lookalike. In the last sequence of the film, Mima glares into the mirror of her car and stares into the eyes of the viewers, of the voyeurs who have been watching these events unfold for the past hour and a half. She responds to the nurses’ queries, but addresses the answer to us: ‘No. I’m real.’

In the English dub of Perfect Blue, one would think nothing of this remark as it merely tells us that Mima really is herself once again and that her crisis of identity has been concluded with the incarceration of the murderer who threatened to subsume that very identity within her own. However, in the original Japanese language track, the voice speaking is not that of Mima, but of the one who is supposed to be inside the sanitarium. The implication being that an identity shift has occurred and someone has quite literally taken over the identity of another. If this were true, however, one would expect this Mima to have gone back to her career as a pop idol (for reasons that will be apparent to anyone who has seen the film) rather than remain or continue in her current career as an actress, which has apparently flourished as she is immediately recognized as a movie actress by the nurses.

Again and again, Perfect Blue reveals itself as something of a paradox in which the actions, times, settings, and actors in this animated teleplay are, time and again, mottled and confused. We as viewer-voyeurs are not privy to certainty in the knowledge of whether Mima is experiencing reality, dream, or is acting within the TV series within the film, at any one point. Often, time is dragged out and at others it elapses at such a quick pace as to complicate the viewer’s ability to ‘follow’ events temporally. And although these approaches to narrative and metanarrative call for postmodern analysis at times, they might also merely be by-products of a story told by an unreliable narrator, by Mima as she is experiencing the events told therein whilst in the grips of a psychosis so aggressive as to render her experience inscrutable and confounding to one on the outside of that experience. Or even more compelling, Kon may have depicted the events of Perfect Blue in such a manner as to make the audience just as uneasy and paranoid as Mima herself. In such a case, the paradoxes that emerge from the narrative are part of the experience of stepping into the mind of one afflicted.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Millennium Actress]

Spicy City

(Check out my previous Bakshi review: Cool and The Crazy)

After the completion of his first live-action feature film in 1994, Bakshi went back to creating one-off animations for various companies starting with two short films for the Hanna-Barbera series What a Cartoon!. The animations were called Malcolm and Melvin and Babe! He Calls Me!, which followed a clown named Melvin who is also the biggest loser in the world. He meets a cockroach who plays a mean saxophone and the two team up to take the world by storm as Melvin books gigs and hooks chicks, as Malcolm plays sax from within Melvin’s mouth, making sure to keep himself hidden.

The What a Cartoon! series was really important culturally as it gave many animators their first chance to a break their own beloved properties in pilot form. Some shows that emerged from this series include The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, and Courage the Cowardly Dog. The quality of Bakshi’s shorts for the series was such that they could have been picked up for a long-running series of their own. However, Hanna-Barbera heavily edited Bakshi’s original cuts for his episodes of the series, and despite how good they turned out, he felt that Hanna-Barbera disrespected as an artist and butchered his original vision for the works behind his back.

two years later, Bakshi finally found a home for the kind of adult-oriented transgressive cartoons that he was known for making: HBO. They hired Bakshi to create six episodes of a series that would become the first animated series targeted specifically toward an adult audience (which beat South Park to air by a month). Bakshi assembled a team of animators and collaborators to write and create a Sci-fi film noir, or cyberpunk, animation series called Spicy City with a world visually similar to the dystopian, Metropolis and Blade Runner inspired one from his 1992 mixed media live-action-animation film Cool WorldAnd unlike dozens of his past endeavors, he actually managed to exert the amount of creative control he desired to finally, once again, create what amounts to one of his final top-form works.

As on Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, ten years prior, Bakshi split up the work of direction and gave each team creative freedom as long as the scripts were good and the animation was of the same style as the series. The three units that resulted from this process were headed by directors John Kafka, Ennio Torresan Jr., and Bakshi himself, and I feel that all three of these men created compelling work.

As for Kafka, he directed the first episode ‘Love Is a Download’ in which an attractive young woman with an abusive, gangster boyfriend retreats into the digital world to escape her troubles as a geisha avatar. There, she falls in love with a boxer avatar who, in real life, is a morbidly obese, one-armed, ex-military veteran who now works as a cybersecurity detective. Although the episode becomes a bit conventional toward its end, it was a good solid start for the series as it displayed all of the main influences on Spicy City including the spinners, smog, modernist architecture, and Vangelis-like chimes of Blade Runner, as well as a film noir look, technology influenced by the aforementioned film, and a dystopian city straight out of Metropolis. 

Kafka’s second episode of the series was its final one, episode six, ‘Raven’s Revenge’ wherein the Elvira-Jessica Rabbit-like host of the series learns that she was not born, but manufactured by a giant global corporation called ATC and run by a man named Corbin who has created a virus to kill all ‘undesirables’ such as carnie mutants within the city and living beneath the city in its sewer system. Raven is a host for this virus and has spread it to a core group of inhabitants of Spicy City unknowingly. A man named Bird appears, who seemingly has ties to the giant Tyrell-like organization, and whisks away Raven and her Siamese twin ‘mutant’ friend to infiltrate the corporation and administer the cure to the world before its too late.

The second director, Ennio Torresan Jr., directed episodes three and four of the series, the first of which, entitled ‘Tears of a Clone’, is maybe the most emotionally affecting of the bunch. In this work, a rich elderly man’s young girlfriend runs away from home and attempts to leave him. But her beauty is of such a high caliber that she is taken off of the streets by human traffickers who sell her to a subterranean organization that creates clones of women, presumably for sexual purposes. The old man hires a private detective named Mr. Lowe and his robot partner (pictured above) to track down the girl. But the trip proves too difficult, and instead of bringing back Melissa, Lowe brings the old man a clone of the girl. The transhumanist message seems to be that a perfect clone will be the exact same person, but in this case, without the baggage of knowledge about the old man and Melissa’s failed relationship. The old man recognizes that Melissa may not be the original girl he came to know and love (and he suspects that she may be a clone, rather than merely brain-damaged into losing her memory as Lowe suggests), and yet he takes her in. But back at the corporation, the original Melissa remains a slave to the organization who will clone her until she is of no more use to them, and then will probably dispose of her as one more useless hunk of meat. Talk about dystopian, this episode would fit comfortably within the Black Mirror film series if live-action.

Ennio’s second contribution to the series was ‘An eye for an Eye,’ the tale of a hardened cop named Ernie who works to take down a corrupt fellow officer who works under deep cover and often brutally exploits her seemingly heartfelt relationships with down and out types in the city merely to make a quick buck on the side throughout their associations. Ernie turns over evidence on the woman, but even his police chief and the local judge are being blackmailed by this black viper police officer. It takes the death of Ernie’s own wife at his corrupt partner’s own hand to finally put her away for good, onto the prison colony of Alpha-Centauri where she is later subjected to death by dissection, and her organs are distributed to the world. In death, this femme fatale is, for the first time, an actual benefit to society.

finally, Bakshi himself directed episodes two and five of the series. The first of these two, ‘Mano’s Hands’ is the least effective of any of those within the anthology. a young bongo player’s hands are cut off by a jealous thug, one is later destroyed, and the other makes friends with the thug and eventually runs away with him into the sunset (to give him handjo…. Uh, I’ll stop there). It’s just an awful concept and it isn’t executed in a particularly compelling manner either. The second one, ‘Sex Drive,’ is, however, a great episode. A young police officer named Lolita is investigating the mysterious disappearance of prostitutes in the city just as a mechanical prostitute named Virus finds herself out of business with the advent of competition from virtual prostitutes who have the added benefit of being completely clean, unemotional, and thereby impossible to track by men’s wives. The company behind the creation and distribution of virtual prostitutes, M & G, has apparently created these women by collecting prostitutes and scanning their brains online for use as ‘programs’ in the virtual sex pods. Together, the two girls figure this out and bring down the company, free the prostitutes, then set up a legitimate prostitution business with real girls from atop the same headquarters that the immoral bastards of M & G once occupied. The episode has the added benefit of being extremely erotic, and if you think that sounds weird of me, just go watch it first.

Spicy City was a successful show for HBO and they ordered a second season of the show, but on one condition: that Bakshi fire his current writer’s team and instead hire on a professional team of writers from L.A. He refused and the projected second season was later cancelled. In retrospect, Bakshi probably could have found interesting writers with whom he would have gelled for a second season of productions, but his hard-headedness, his loyalty to his friends and to the teams he assembles, and his general need to get his own way are things that make him Ralph Bakshi, the imitable animator and director whose career has produced visionary work and pushed the medium of animation farther than almost anyone else, historically speaking, both technically (through rotoscoping and mixed-media approaches to the art) and topically (as the creator of the first R and X-rated Animated films that reflected life in urban America and served as social and political documents as well as works of entertainment).

But the story doesn’t end quite here. There is one more major production to discuss within the career of Bakshi, as well as the need to mention many more failed attempts at picking up his career in the twenty-one years that have passed between Spicy City and this, the moment of this review’s publication.

 

Cody Ward

[Concluded here: Last Days of Coney Island]

The Big O: Act 13- R.D.

(Act 12: Enemy Is Another Big!)

The Nightingale Club. A figure lurks in the shadows, appearing visually identical to R. Dorothy Wayneright, though dressed in a red cape and hood. The figure kills one of the girls working at the club and writes a message in lipstick on the mirror in the girl’s dressing room, a message that seemingly only Dorothy would know the meaning of: ‘Cast In The Name Of God, Ye Not Guilty!’ The question and response written out by a Megadeus within its cockpit to only its true Megadeus (a negative answer, and the subsequent expulsion of the false Dominus would be prompted by ‘Ye Guilty.’).

Roger Smith learns of the incident from Dan Dastun and tracks down more information on the event through his informant The Big Ear at the city’s Speak Easy club. He learns that the woman who was murdered claimed to have regained memories of the past, pre-Event information from more than 40 years ago. However, the girl was barely 20 years old at the time, and thereby the recovery of such memories seems impossible.

The killer, known as R.D., takes down a Taxi Driver next and has been linked to one more previous murder through her Megadeus-tied M.O. message in each case. Dastun calls in Roger for questioning (which may suggest that Dastun knows about, or highly suspects, Roger’s identity as the pilot of the Megadeus) and finds that he knew only one of the victims: the dancer at Nightingale called Ellen Weight. She had previously contacted Roger to help her out of some predicament, but was killed before he could meet her and settle the details.

In this episode’s constantly shifting spatial logic, Roger next visits Norman in the underground where he is working on repairing Big O. He asks the old man, ‘Have you ever thought about the fact that you can keep the Megadeus in perfect condition like this?’ Instead of answering directly, Norman asks Roger if he wonders why he is able to pilot the machine so effectively, only to receive an answer in the negative. Norman responds likewise to Roger’s first question: ‘Right. Then neither do I.’ The conversation is over between the two at this point, and Roger sulks off elsewhere the ponder the question of why he is such an effective pilot of Big O despite not even being born before The Event of 40 years ago, and thereby bracketed from all knowledge before it, including information regarding the piloting of such machines. At the beginning of the series, his policy was to never go digging into the past lest he cause more trouble than need be. But now, Roger Smith is so curious about his past that he is willing to break his own rules and begin searching for the truth. This curiosity seems to have developed through his connection with Schwarzwald.

Then, the episode fasts forward to the end confrontation between R.D. and Roger in the subway beneath the city. This will occur on multiple occasions and in each instance Roger will awaken to find he has dreamt these occurrences that will later come to fruition. Memories of the future seem to corroborate the belief that Roger has lived this timestream on multiple occasions, that the world of Paradigm is a infinite time loop, and that the memories of other people in the city might be similar in nature, like deja vu, rather than being memories from before The Event, which may have never happened in the first place. As for the episode of deja vu at hand, R.D. stands opposite Roger in a  subway and calls to him in an obscure fashion: ‘That’s right. you should know too… You want to know?’ The meaning of which remains enigmatic even by the episode (and first season’s denouement). A fire fills the space and Roger’s visions transport him to a library wherein a book is burning, and then to a city where flying Big Duo Megadeuses scorch the Earth below, as Big O’s and an as yet unknown white Megadeus (Big Fau) destroy all in sight from the ground. A group of children with shaved heads are shown watching the carnage and as the vision zooms in toward one particular child, a young boy, it reveals a barcode hidden within his retina: and android. Roger awakens in bed, stands up, and peers outside his window to find Dorothy standing on the balcony looking out over the city, in the rain, and without an umbrella.

Another man, a porter at a hotel, is killed by R.D., bringing up the death toll to 4 people, all seemingly disconnected from one another. Dastun seems to suspect Roger of the murders and asks his deputy whether Roger Smith was present in the hotel during the murder. Apparently he was there for some reason or other, and at this point, the viewer begins to get the unsettling suspicion that during Roger’s blackouts, something may be happening without his conscious knowledge. Roger meanwhile visits Big Ear once again and finds that the only connection between the four victims is that all supposedly began to have memories of the past, despite none being old enough for this to make any sense. His suspicion should be, by this point, whether he himself may be one amongst their number, another person whose visions are actually memories of the past as well.

He decides to visit the apartment of Ellen Weight. There, he finds a photograph of a building that he immediately recognizes, and which triggers memories of those five bald children once again. He visits the building and realizes that he has been inside before once he enters its premises. Moreover, the library within, its shelves devoid of all texts, is the selfsame as that from his visions from the prior day. Angel appears, in a red cape and hood, and tells Roger that he shouldn’t go digging any deeper, that her warning is one from Alex Rosewater and the heads of the city who are concerned that he isn’t ‘utilizing the Megadeus appropriately.’ She references how Schwarzwald uses his own Megadeus to try to destroy Paradigm and wonders aloud what Roger’s purposes are. Then, she leaves just as suddenly as she appeared, and Roger realizes that not only has he been a pawn of Paradigm insofar as he has unquestionably used the Megadeus to protect the city and prevent memories from awakening, but that the visions he has been having may be memories of his own, that the child android may be himself.

He seems to realize all of this, though he refuses to bring the realization to the conscious level and instead registers it all through another vision of flames. He awakens beneath he city, in a subway standing across from R.D. once more in another flash-forward sequence. She speaks: ‘That’s right. You already knew…. Me? I am…’ then she cuts her sentence short and smiles. Roger awakens within the library and finds a book on a nearby shelf titled Metropolis (cementing that celluloid text as an inspirational one on The Big O). Inside of the book is a library card with the names of all four victims (Ellen Weight, Mathew Brown, Larry Flannis, Nancy Bolton) of R.D. inside, with a fifth and final name: R.D. Does this signify that R.D. has found the book before Roger (and before Angel who presumably left it behind for Roger to find)? Does it mean that R.D. is a target, and the culprit of these murders? That Roger really is the assassin?

Roger needs answers, and to this end he returns home to gather some supplies for what may turn into a lengthy trip. Whilst at the mansion, he asks Norman about the whereabouts of Dorothy, who has only seen on the one occasion in the past week. Roger hasn’t seen her around either, which piques Roger’s suspicions as the woman in his visions looks so much like Dorothy. He leaves for Aislebury, a farming district of Paradigm, to track down the author of the text Metropolis, which recounts the same events from the past as in Roger’s memories: the city being destroyed by roving machines, all of the books being burned, and child androids watching as it all happens. This is the first half of the book is complete, and the second half is blank, and Roger has tracked its author Gordon Rosewater down to find out more information about why this is.

The ruler of the Police State known as Paradigm, and the CEO of Paradigm Corp., Alex Rosewater learns from Angel, his personal assistant going by the name Patricia Lovejoy (seemingly to infiltrate the company as a spy without Rosewater’s knowledge), of Roger’s whereabouts. She thinks it may not be a good idea to let Roger visit Alex’s father, but he simply responds that it won’t make any difference as ‘the awakening is already well under way.’ It seems Alex Rosewater has set some plan into motion, which he believes to be in such an advanced stage as to be impossible to halt.

And at the farm, Roger meets Gordon Rosewater who has become an old man, a seemingly senile man who speaks often in metaphor and very rarely in a forthright manner. Roger feels an immediate affinity for the old man who he seems familiar with. He explains to Gordon that his book recounts the tale of him implanting memories into children 1 years ago, and that four of these kids have grown into adulthood now and began to ‘remember’ these memories (presumably of what occurred before The Event), which led to their deaths at the hand of an at-large assassin. The man begins to talk about the tomatoes he currently farms on his land, how they are made synthetically to taste like real, organic tomatoes, and that over multiple trial runs they might eventually become just like the original thing. This seems to lead to conclusion that Gordon Rosewater created the children too, as stated in his incomplete book, to mold human beings into authentic copies of some previous original lifeforms, and that he intends to do once more in the future.

However, Gordon also claims that everything in the book is a lie, that the events therein are absurd: ‘The world destroyed by a cataclysm, giant robots running amok over the Earth, the power of the creator wielded by the hand of man.’ The problem with his dismissal is that such giant robots do indeed exist, that much of the world surrounding Paradigm has been destroyed, and that Roger, as a man (of sorts) does indeed control the power of a God as the pilot of Big O, as the Dominus of a Megadeus. The old man’s senility is expressed here as it seems that the book really did recount events from the past and that Gordon Rosewater has either forgotten these events, or more mysteriously yet, retreated into madness to avoid having to think about the atrocities he may have had a hand in starting. Gordon tells Roger, as the latter makes way to leave the farm and continue his investigation elsewhere, that he must ‘find the answer to your question in yourself. You can do it. No, you should be able to do it.’

The next frame of the episode shows Roger heading back into Paradigm proper, a sprawling Metropolis, a dystopian world akin to the 2019 Los Angeles’ of Blade Runner. Roger follows a lead to an address where he finds R.D. far ahead, entering the mansion before he himself. He follows a subterranean passageway and eventually comes face to face with R.D. who explains that despite the fact that androids are not supposed to be able to harm people, she has never had this built-in limiter, that she awoke with a desire, with a need, and with a program that told her track down those who remembered their pasts. In this way, R.D. performs a function similar to that given to Roger Smith by Paradigm (need I say, programmed into Roger Smith): to prevent memories from surfacing and thereby, to maintain order within the city.

R.D. tells Roger that she is merely following programming orders, that she is doing as commanded and acting according to her nature. Then, to drive home the point that Roger too is some form of android, she asks Roger who commands him. Roger refuses the implication, and grasping toward his own freedom, claims that he remains uncommanded. She asks why he pilots the Megadeus then, the ‘sacred chariot of Mankind. Those who pilot them are intended to be commanded. If you admit that you are not, then you must perish.’ And it seems that Schwarzwald’s final thoughts on the Megadeuses has been confirmed. That they do indeed do the commanding. But roger is no mere slave and has somehow managed to find his own way toward freedom, a path that Big O sympathizes with, which has led the Megadeus to act according to the will of its Dominus rather than commanding the Dominus, subtly, and acting in accordance with the will of Paradigm.

At this point, Roger has seen R.D. close enough to identify her as R. Dorothy, even though she calls herself Red Destiny. The psychological impact of such a betrayal is troubling and confusing to Roger who has always known Dorothy to break her programming in the past rather than harm him. She raises her pistol and clips Roger’s arm. As the two begin the subterranean chase between cat and mouse, Roger calls Big O, but hi signal is jammed and no information can exit this subway access tunnel. And as all seems lost and Roger stands within range of the psychotic rogue android, Big O miraculously rises from beneath the ground, crushing R.D. in the process. The real Dorothy emerges from the cockpit and explains that she was helping Norman renovate the Megadeus when it began to move on its own. The psychic connection between Roger and Big O has grown strong, and neither seems to be the total master in this mutual relationship between two electronic peers.

But more pressing concerns than those existential questions burning at the back of Roger’s mind appear immediately. In the ocean beside Paradigm, three foreign Megadeuses have appeared and threaten to destroy the city. Roger, Dorothy, and Big O emerge from beneath he city to protect it, even though this may be a programmed response to the danger. Dastun mobilizes his troops and looks on fondly at Big O as it heads toward the opposing Megadeuses. Angel looks on from the sidelines, holding a red balloon as a visual signifier linking her to the mysterious foreign terrorist in Winter Night Phantom. She complains that ‘it’s too soon. If the power is released now, you’ll ruin everything. Can’t you see that?’ And it becomes obvious that these Megadeuses are being piloted by co-conspirators of Angel’s who are working to take down the city from the outside just as she does so from within as a spy.

Finally, Roger’s monologue, and what would have been the final word from our protagonist if The Big O was not popular enough in the West to spawn a 2nd season (it was barely watched at all in its home market of Japan): ‘We have choices. Some of us like to stand in the rain without an umbrella. that’s what it means to be free!.’ Dorothy at his side, the umbrella references her proclivity to stand in the rain without one, just as R.D. explained that if it rained, it would be her natural reaction to cover herself with an umbrella. Whereas R.D. was programmed and had no free will, Roger, Big O, and Dorothy are persons (albeit constructed ones) with a sufficient complexity as to be truly free. And if this episode became the ending of The Big O, their paradoxical decision to protect the city they live within despite it being a programmed response they have dismissed and then re-signed onto, would have been one of the most radical choices ever made in anime history, or in sci-fi history for that matter.

 

Cast in the Name of God,

Cody Ward

[Act 14: Roger the Wanderer]

Dead Man

(Catch my previous Western film review here: Little Big Man)

Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 Western is an unconventional film by most standards. Set in a surreal, rather than in a mythical, West, an accountant named William Blake (Johnny Depp)- who may or may not be the reincarnation of the great British Romantic poet, painter, and mystic William Blake- travels aboard a train from his home in Cleveland, Ohio to some odd town out West called Machine. Prefaced with a quote by the transgressive and psychedelic Belgian poet Henri Michaux- ‘It is preferable not to travel with a dead man.’- the film opens in media res, as it were, along this young man’s journey to Machine where he has been promised a job by the town’s Metal Works.

The Train Fireman (played by one of the oddest of American actors, Crispin Glover) is the first person on the trip to speak to Blake. He asks why the young man is leaving Cleveland to come out to ‘hell’ and learns of Blake’s past misfortunes (losing both parents, having a marriage engagement fall through, and receiving the job offer). The Fireman tells Blake that Machine is the ‘end of the line’, the last station on the train’s trip before heading backward along the tracks and along the country to Cleveland. This also signifies and foreshadows Machine as the veritable end of the line for the unfortunate Blake. Before his arrival in Machine, an odd scenario occurs in which all of the hunters and trappers aboard the train see a herd of Buffalo in an adjacent field. All of the men onboard rush toward the windows of the train and begin gunning down the beasts, and for no obvious reason as retrieving them would be very difficult, if not nearly impossible given how far away the next train stop is from their current position.

The result of this opening coda is to make apparent the mindless brutality of America’s imperious Westward expansion throughout the 19th century, and to connect it staunchly with the motif of industrialization through the figure of the train and of the smog and grime covered Fireman aboard who works as a stoker of the engine’s unending gluttonous ingress. The soul-crushing nature of industry with the machine as a signifier of this anomic force comes into contact with the brutality of the hunters through their contiguity, and as such, begins to drive home the point, either consciously or no, that the two are linked. And as will be seen on multiple occasions throughout the film, the things that America was replacing, displacing, and destroying in its conquest for Western expansion tended to be far more beautiful, civilized, and deserving of existence than what the white colonists brought to bring in their place.

All of this becomes visually apparent in the very next sequence of the film as Blake enters Machine and finds its streets lined with coffins, the skulls of dead animals (and of a few humans), gunslingers mulling about threateningly like coiled cobras, and even a man receiving oral sex from a prostitute in an alley way. This sight, and the monstrous Metal Works down the street (whose mundane horror is expressed in every bit a Kafka-esque manner as the forlorn dystopian hell of David Lynch’s Eraserhead), are later juxtaposed with the clean, relatively tranquil, and rule-bound life of the Native American settlement Blake is whisked away to in the scenes before the film’s denouement.

When Blake enters the office of the Metal Work’s owner, he finds that the man, John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum in his final film role before his death in 1997), is ornery and unpredictable, and worse yet, that he has decided to hire on a different accountant as it took two months in total for the letter to reach Blake, for Blake to respond to it, and for him to make the long trip to Machine. From here, the story begins in earnest as Blake meets an ex-prostitute, spends the night with her, awakens to find her ex-lover (played by Gabriel Byrne) walking in on the scene, and then watches as he kills the woman. Blake takes two shots at the man before a third connects, and as it turns out, kills the man who is later identified as Charlie Dickinson: the son of the owner of Machine’s Metal Works.

As Blake goes on the run, the elder Dickinson hires a trio of gunslingers; Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen), Conway Twill, and Johnny ‘The Kid’ Pickett; to track down Blake and bring back his head. Blake has what proves to be a serendipitous meeting with a rogue Native American man named Nobody (a nickname he prefers to the one given him by his people from whom he is an outcast: ‘He Who Talks Loudly, Saying Nothing’) who removes a bullet from the young man’s leg and later, attempts to remove one from the area next to his heart. But the bullet is lodged too deeply within and cannot be removed. As such, Blake is a dead man walking. Nobody is Western educated and knows of the powerful spiritual insight of the poet William Blake. He aides the young would-be incarnation of the poet by leading him through a vision quest and awakening him to his destiny to write poetry with the blood of white men, not through the use of the pen, but with the pistol (the metaphorical sword): Something that Blake suddenly becomes very good at using once at death’s door and unceremoniously parted with his glasses by Nobody, who later pawns them off in exchange for tobacco.

Dead Man is formally a synthesis Western, and I do mean this in the most traditional Hegelian sense. The traditional Western is a narrative of good vs. evil, of the triumph of good in the end, and those films typically trade in metaphors and symbols linking it to basic Christianity (and I do mean basic as opposed to something like awakened, or scholarly Christianity, or at the very least Christianity fostered by an appreciation of poetic literature in the OT canon like Job or Proverbs). The Revisionist Western of the 60s and 70s American counterculture, of the New Hollywood filmmakers, tended toward total dismissal of anything like a moral structure in the world, saw the plains of our Westward expansion as ones in which nihilistic borderline sociopaths and psychopaths fought it out in a moral vacuum without the oppressive regime of law and order to stop them. It was, considered within that generic formulation, a world with no god and no need of morality for mere social cohesion, and as such, everything was permitted.

The genius of Jim Jarmusch’s Western is that it classically sublimates the nihilism of Revisionist Westerns by affirming a more nuanced and esoteric spiritual tradition drawn partially from Native American religion and partially from Christian Mysticism like that propounded by his protagonist’s namesake. It is a Mystical Western that exchanges good and evil entirely for moral ambiguity, moral precepts for enigmatic fables and mysteries, Christian symbolic structure (and anti-structure, which is still hopelessly knotted up with Christian structural motifs) with a world religion based on no organizational principles. And in denying the trad Western’s metaphysics as well as brute nihilism (which is just as soul-crushing as industrialization and modernity, and thereby demonstrates Revisionism’s inability to break out from the deep structures binding it at a very basic level), Dead Man becomes a Western text within which I am more at home than almost any other I have seen.

Rounded out by great performances by those named above as well as John Hurt, Billy Bob Thornton, and Iggy Pop; carrying shades of psychedelic and surreal motifs that make it one of the foremost examples of the Acid Western genre; including a spare guitar score by none other than the great Americana minstrel Neil Young; and being shot in a beautiful monochrome black and white cinematographic style ala the late Robby Muller (whose other work with Jarmusch includes such classics as Mystery Train and Ghost Dog), Dead Man is a  virtuoso performance by Jim Jarmusch as director-composer of this work. And although not my favorite Jarmusch film, I find it hard not to admit that it is his best.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: A Lawless Street]

 

The Big O: Act 12- Enemy Is Another Big!

(Act 11: Daemonseed)

Although there have been hints of Paradigm’s coincident identifiaction with an earlier New York City, Act 12 confirms this. The episode opens onto a large airfield, which Roger Smith refers to as JFK Mark, or John F. Kennedy International Airport. A large, bandaged Megadeus stands atop some sort of structure in the now-defunct airfield at the outer edges of Paradigm’s current boundaries,and as it begins to move, Dastun and the Military Police observe it and plot what would no doubt be a failed attempt to stop it from entering the city and attacking its targets. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as we have no clue what would have happened if this Megadeus and its pilot Schwarzwald succeeded in attacking Paradigm Corp. and revealing the truth of the world to the city), Big O arrives and prevents the Megadeus from attacking Paradigm, for now.

‘There isn’t anyone who exactly knows what did happen 40 years ago. The only thing that seems to have been left behind is the fear that whatever it was may have completely changed the world,’ Roger muses. This is a pretty just fear as a world seems to have existed well before The Event in which foreign lands and peoples existed, in which there was a world economy and Paradigm was an economic and cultural hub of part of that world. Many of the technologies of Paradigm are reminiscent of 1940s and 50s real-world tech, although there are also various modern technologies and future technologies such as compact discs, androids, and mecha.

Inside of Paradigm, the only two languages universally known are English (presumably the language spoken by everyone there, though hard to confirm as this is the veritable ‘air that its denizens breathe’ and is thereby not named) and German (as Dastun, Roger, and Angel all know the meaning of the German name Schwarzwald and seem well versed in the language). One is tempted to interpret this to mean something along the lines of WWII ending in a manner different than in the real world, such as the U.S. supporting the Nazis in WWII, The Event being coincident with some largescale nuclear and mecha based war, and the simulation of reality that is our world (at least in Big O) being eventually taken aback and traumatized by the triumph of evil over good in this run of the simulation. This would explain why the French are recognized at outsiders and political enemies of the state whose existence is hidden by the dystopian Police State of Paradigm governed by the (Tyrell or Wallace-like) Paradigm Corp.  Add to this the stylish import of film noir and the hard dramatic lines of the Megadeuses, which trace their artistic lineages back to German expressionism and at least potentially an SS fashion sense, and this theory becomes more and more apparent every time you see the series.

But I digress, and Roger continues: ‘No, there is one other thing: the Megadeuses. They left us a technology that surpasses any other in the world.’ As if the greatest scientists on the planet trained under the conditions of war by the Nazis were never members of a beaten state, and were never consequently head-hunted by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in the race to technological achievement. As if they won the war, continued being funded and working together, and eventually created designs for marvelous works of destruction and of great beauty using not only funding from their mother country, but from their ally in the burgeoning economy of the U.S.

The episode flashes back to Roger taking a job for Alex Rosewater personally. In the past, the Paradigm Press reporter Michael Seebach refused to accept his severance check from Roger Smith and instead attempted to burn the man alive within his old home whilst Roger was investigating the disappeared reporter. Seebach took on the new persona of Schwarzwald and could not accept the payout as it would be a a tacit recognition of his previous identity and an affront to his new mask as the ‘Black Forest’ philosopher archetype whose goal is to bring truth to the city of Paradigm, by force if necessary. Because Roger failed to deliver the severance check, but nonetheless received payment from Paradigm for services rendered, he takes Rosewater’s new job, which is to deliver a second severance payout. This time, the job is a matter of professional respectability, of proving he can finish a job that he takes on.

The following day, Roger tracks Schwarzwald to JFK Mark, just on Paradigm’s outer limits, bordering the desert wasteland (symbolizing, like T.S. Eliot’s fable, the moral vacuum and instantiated reality of nihilism post-World War II) and finds his mark. Schwarzwald claims to have uncovered some great truth about the city, something new that all of Paradigm’s citizens should be made to hear. He attacks Big O and it is soon apparent that the bandaged Megadeus is much more than your typical modern Megadeus. Big O launches a series of missiles at the beast, which burn off its outer garments, revealing a Megadeus of the Big type below: Big Duo! After Big O launches all of its arsenal at the enemy Big, and has nothing left to throw at it, Big Duo stands still, unfazed and unscathed. It emits a cloud of smoke and suddenly disappears, not beneath the ground, but seemingly into thin air, or above the clouds (which may the source of Schwarzwald’s discovery, but more on that later).

As Roger broods at his mansion on his inability to have any effect on Big Duo, angel calls and reveals that as an assistant to Alex Rosewater, under the pseudonym of Patricia Lovejoy, she has learned the whereabouts of Schwarzwald. This puzzles Roger as he believes that Rosewater only knows about the persona of Seebach, but now realizes that Rosewater knows more than he’s letting on, which partially explains the extremely large sum of money listed on Seebach’s severance check. Roger follows the lead to a masquerade party in the city later that night. When he arrives, he is immediately admitted without the need for an invitation, and is given a mask to wear, which he foregoes donning. Those within the room are acting lasciviously, and showing themselves to be lecherous, gluttonous, and debauched people with seemingly little of redeeming quality.

And also within the party, Roger finds The Jester: a figure of deep mythic significance who is reportedly the only figure who can tell the truth to the King at all times. However, this figure is ultimately comedic and quite mad, and thereby escapes retribution through supposed insanity, and symbolically represents the link between madness and the search for truth: a Nietzschian figure who may have inadvertently gone mad through the sheer impossibility of staring into the void of meaning. This masked figure is Schwarzwald, a man who is himself masked already and appears externally as the philosophical warrior who has been burned, quite literally, through his search for the truth. Who has flown too close to the sun, far above the clouds, and thereby learned of the reality of the situation in Paradigm.

As Roger looks around, disgusted at the display of his fellow Paradigm citizens, The Jester explains that he is ‘observing the corrupt reality of the city he’s trying to protect.’ Roger feigns ignorance, always wishing to hide his own persona as the dark knight, as the Dominus of the Big O Megadeus. But no truth stays hidden from Schwarzwald. After being presented his severance pay from ‘The Negotiator’, he burns it and exclaims: ‘No! It is this corrupt city that will burn. These false skies called domes that are ineffectual and useless in this world. It cannot continue. Everyone must be made aware of the truth and experience what happened 40 years ago. And that’s what I’m going to do: Make them aware of it. With Big Duo!.’

Like veterans of an immoral war, the denizens of Paradigm are traumatized by their past to such a degree that they find it easier to forget their past entirely, lest they lash out in episodes of violence and destroy their world entirely. The evil was of such a high degree that it became metaphysical evil in nature, and the trauma translated to a cultural trauma and to an ontological state of forgetfulness in the population of Paradigm. The job of the philosophical warrior, of The Jester, is to make the world aware of this evil, to awaken them to their evil and to the truth no matter how painful. To drive them from The Cave, by force if necessary, and force a state change within them in the hopes that the truth will move them beyond their current ahistorical existence and toward progress, change, and a prophesied new world.

At the party, everyone’s heads begin to hurt as the drugged food and drink takes effect. Their masques immolate and begin to burn their faces as the club itself becomes engulfed in flame. Roger and The Jester escape the room, though all those within burn to death or jump to their deaths from the open windows of the room (pre-figuring the Event of our own time as Americans, these Paradigm citizens like our citizens merely collateral damage in the horrific plans of a terrorist group to awaken American society to its own hypocrisy and Imperialism, to strike fear in its heart and force a change to the status quo of bureaucratized, capitalist-driven subjugation of the world for the mere gain of a few robber-barons with a Middle Eastern policy founded on the lies of religion and an eschatology that dismisses the suffering of the world’s dregs at the hands of the so-called chosen nation). And like certain historical figures of our own time, Schwarzwald descends to the Earth in his machine, Big Duo, seemingly chosen by the forces of history to expose the lies of a nation-state, and like the Dominus of Big O, Schwarzwald too is deemed ‘Ye Not Guilty.’ Divinely ordained in his mission, pre-figuring the coming of a new age, and fighting to force a larger metaphysical gambit.

Roger calls upon Big O, but is informed by Norman that there has not been enough time to replace the mecha’s ammunition. As such, when the battle begins, Big O is pulverized and beaten back time and again by his overpowered bomber opponent who not only has the same capabilities, but has the ability to fly. As Big Duo launches two missiles directly at Big O, he uses a chain mechanism to pull himself into the air and hang from the support beams of the domes’ false sky. Though Big O avoids taking damage, much of the city is destroyed as a result. when Big O descends, he lands atop Big Duo and pummels it into oblivion, piston punching its skull case into nonexistence, and ripping off on of its arms.

As a final action, Big Duo stands on its own without Schwarzwald piloting it any longer. Despite being decapitated and severely wounded, Big Duo walks out of the crater and attempts to approach Paradigm HQ, reaching out to grasp it before expiring. Schwarzwald wonders aloud whether the Big Megadeuses need masters at all, or if they choose their masters. He wonder whether they are controlled by a Dominus or if it the Megadeus itself that pulls the strings, and the Dominus are mere instruments for the Megadeuses. And he departs the scene, never to be seen again. Off to the desert wastelands surrounding Paradigm to reflect on his inability to bring the truth to the world for now. Though his spectral presence will forever be a force to be reckoned with in the city of Paradigm.

 

Cast in the Name of God,

Cody Ward

[Act 13: R.D.]

Little Big Man

Little Big Man, released in 1970, was director Arthur Penn’s ninth film in a career that began in 1958. Throughout the 1970s, his career as a director would continue to flourish for a time before steeply declining in the early 80s. The result being that Arthur Penn would only direct another nine films after Little Big Man over the course of the remaining 32 years of his career. Of the 18 feature films he directed in the course of that career, all seem worth watching and interesting in their own rights. But only two are absolutely necessary for any self-respecting film buff or critic of American filmography to study.

The first of these two films is 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. A hyperviolent tale of a nihilistic and amoral lovers on the run, the film was heavily inspired the French New Wave’s brazen approach the filmmaking and established Penn, for a time, as first and foremost amongst the auteurs of American cinema. More importantly, the film is often considered to be the first in a series of rogue films by American auteurs that would come to comprise the American New Wave, or the New Hollywood Movement, and would bring the counterculture and its concerns to the forefront of American pop culture through the films of other directors like Mike Nichols, Sam Peckinpah, George A. Romero, Dennis Hopper, and Walter Hill amongst many, many others.

The second is Little Big Man, which is one of the first Revisionist Westerns to infuse irreverence and comedy with the nihilism and moral relativity typically at home within this sub-genre of the American Western. It stars Dustin Hoffman as a 121-year old man named Jack Crabb, and likewise known by his Cheyenne Indian name Little Big Man, who is being interviewed by a presumptuous young newspaper man who has pegged the old timer as a problematic Native American hating, stalwart racist and wishes merely to write a thinkpiece on changing attitudes to Native American sovereignty over their lands over the ages. The young man has another coming, however, as Crabb exhorts him for labeling Crabb before even hearing his story or gaining his perspective on the past of which he apparently played a large part.

Although there was a historical Jack Crabb and a Little Big Man, the film fuses the two personages and present their stories in a wildly inaccurate, albeit extremely interesting manner as a Picaresque tale of a roguish young man born into difficult circumstances who overcomes the hand dealt him by the world through his cunning and wit, as well as a fair bit of luck. Jack Crabb of Little Big Man was born a white man to a group of settlers heading West in mid-1850s. Along the way, a group of Pawnee Indians attacked their stagecoach group and killed everyone in sight. However, Jack and his sister hid out underneath a toppled cart and were eventually found by a group of peaceful Cheyenne Indians who took them in. His sister quickly ran off into the night first chance she got, leaving her brother behind in the process, but Jack remained with the Cheyenne and grew up to be a promising young warrior.

As fate would have it, his group was attacked by a marauding legion of American soldiers and Jack, instead of being killed, pretended to be a white man sympathetic with America and its cause, instead of a boy raised by the Cheyenne. Through absolutely unbelievable machinations, which are obviously the construction of Jack Crabb’s imagination rather than mere recounting of historical truth, he makes his way through the home of a preacher, consorts with the man’s wife, becomes a travelling salesmen of snake oil, suffers tarring and feathering for selling faulty products to townsfolk, joins up and leaves General Custer’s men on numerous occasions, meets back up with and lives with the Cheyenne many times, makes friends with Wild Bill Hickok, marries a Swedish woman who is abducted by Cheyenne, eventually marries four Cheyenne women simultaneously, and finally leads Custer to his doom at the Battle of Little bighorn.

Although a comedy, the film is often relatively somber, especially when portraying the loss of land and life experienced by Native American peoples throughout the 1800s, ad the constant breaking of promises and legally binding treaties by the U.S. Military that pushed Native Americans farther and farther West and into increasingly smaller tracts of land. Although a nihilistic picture that recognizes the fact that there is no ontological basis for morality within this world, and that there is no god to save us or to reign in our evil, Little Big Man remains steadfastly hopeful that the natural feeling of outrage, in all properly socialized people, regarding injustice could prevent people from harming one another and disrupting each other’s ways of life when avoidable. And although a Picaresque text wherein our hero subverts the evil of the American Military by leading Custer directly into his own death and defeat, it is also a traumatic text wherein this same hero may in fact be lying about his involvement as a way to overcompensate for his inability at the time to have any effect whatsoever in making the world a better place for his people by blood (the whites who became increasingly bloodthirsty and morally corrupted throughout this period) or by upbringing (the Native Americans who lost much land and many lives that can never be returned).

Little Big Man in this manner was Arthur Penn’s attempt to personally come to terms with what America was doing in Vietnam at the time. Another immoral war fought for no purpose except to ‘contain’ communism (meaning to subvert the political structures of another people who were increasingly choosing it for themselves of their volition as the more moral option) and thereby ‘protect’ American business interests (meaning open more foreign markets to the possibility of buying useless American goods that they could just produce on their own for far cheaper and with less attendant consequences of continuing to help prop up the imperialist American war machine). It was a time when the average citizen, and even the average artist (like a filmmaker), felt helpless in the face of the evils of the world (then brought on specifically by the evils of American Empire).

And what was worse, WWII and the writers and philosophers speaking about that time rung home the absolute truth that there was no god, that there was no basis for morality in metaphysics, that we were just children left alone to govern this planet by ourselves, and that we were really doing a shit job of it. And every filmmaker and artist and writer and politician with any ounce of humanity recognized all of this and screamed out from the core of their beings for all of this to stop, but they had no effect. All their screaming and fighting and production of materials to combat the dark impulses within the human heart and all to no avail. The result was traumatic and the war was ongoing in 1970, and no primal scream seemed then to have the strength to end it. The result was that all those with a kernel of humanity in their hearts felt impotent in the face of the war machine, just as Little Big Man felt impotent in the face of 19th century Manifest Destiny.

But the film was prescient, and all those who opposed Vietnam and American Empire felt vindicated when Nixon pulled us out and when the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops took Saigon and claimed Giai phong mien Nam, thong nhat dat nuoc. And they started building these narratives of self-importance, of how their particular protest had the most decisive effect on the decision, and how they were right there man. Right there fighting when it mattered. Right there pushing the sycophantic president toward his final decision to end the war. And like Little Big Man, they needed these narratives to prove to themselves that they did have power, that they did have strength, that they did fight hard enough, even though they did not. And none had the truly decisive power of a Gavrilo Princip or a Mahatma Gandhi to single-handedly ignite the tensions or douse the flames, when it mattered, and when millions of lives could have been saved. Because if they didn’t have these stories, the myth of human will as power would be extinguished, as would all hope of a future for a civilization based on mere brute strength and might is right real politics.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Dead Man]

The Big O: Act 11- Daemonseed

(Act 10: Winter Night Phantom)

The inner city domes are littered with decorations for the upcoming Heaven’s Day celebration. The holiday is a time (presumably December 25th) when the citizens of Paradigm City celebrate its founding with festive lights and the social practice of gift giving as the city delivers care packages to its citizens, and lovers exchange gifts with each other. In a couture shop downtown in one of the city’s nicer domes, Dorothy buys a black tie for Roger as a gift for Heaven’s Day. she does so not explicitly as a sign of affection, of her love for Roger (though this is the underlying message of he gift), but as a thank you for Roger taking her in and housing her through the past weeks and months.

When she next meets up with Roger in the public square, she asks him if she is excited about the upcoming holiday only to learn that he has an open animosity toward it. As he walks back along toward a lower level of the street and enters a nearly full elevator, he asks a hesitant Dorothy to get in. And when she does so, the weight sensor on the elevator goes off and halts the machine’s progress. As an android, she weighs more than the average person and as such, must leave the elevator and take the stairs. Roger follows her and apologizes to her for his lack of foresight in this matter, for forgetting about her predicament. The emotional effect is that of a relationship’s repartee, and ebb and flow.

Next, they pass a sax player in the city square whose music Roger particularly enjoys. He tips the young man handsomely and tells him that he’s sure to become the ‘next big star.’ Later that night, at dinner, Dorothy mentions that lover’s exchange gifts on Heaven’s Day, which is quickly approaching, and asks Roger if he is purchasing a gift for anyone. At this point, the focus of Roger’s anger toward the holiday makes itself known and he explains that as an ex-member of Paradigm’s Military Police, he has forsaken Paradigm and all it stands for. To celebrate Heaven’s Day would likewise be to celebrate the founding a city he reviles, not for its people, but for the dystopian business that runs it: Paradigm Corp. Dorothy, obviously hurt once again by Roger’s lack of foresight (she wasn’t asking for a political commentary, but instead hinting at her desire for Roger to exchange a gift with her), she leaves the room and departs for the night.

Elsewhere, the young saxophone player, named Oliver, turns up at home for the night after a long day of working for the city’s trash pickup corps and busking in the streets. His beautiful, blind girlfriend Laura greets him joyfully when he arrives home. He promises to buy her a gift for Heaven’s Day this year (if he can get the money, which is difficult for a day laborer in Paradigm’s economy), but she protests and says that this is not necessary and that his presence at home for the day will be enough. The relationship between these two characters will mirror Roger and Dorothy’s own throughout the episode and sets the stage for some truly transhuman, liberating material in the future as series creator Konaka sets the two up as a Rachel-Deckard couple of sorts. And back at the mansion, Norman presses the issue with Roger, telling him (falsely) that Heaven’s Day is also the day when Dorothy was activated by her ‘father’. He also chides Roger for not buying Dorothy anything nice to wear and allowing her to remain constantly clothed in her business-like attire: ‘she is a lady after all.’ As such, Roger leaves immediately and buys a dress for Dorothy (which just so happens to be the same dress Oliver has been eyeing for Laura, but could in no way afford).

The following morning, Roger receives a message and a job offer from Paradigm Corp.’s head honcho, Alex Rosewater. Once the two meet, Rosewater reveals that he has received a postcard from a man claiming that ‘in 7 days, the world will be reborn.’ The message was received five days prior, and if the threat therein is more than a hoax, some vent will occur in just two more days, one Heaven’s Day Eve. Even though Roger generally avoids jobs from Paradigm Corp. and its subsidiaries, he takes this job, which might threaten the lives of civilians. He also asks Rosewater for his recommendation for a good tailor (to alter Dorothy’s dress).

That same morning, in the wee hours,  Oliver meets a man dressed as Santa Claus (though no one in the city knows who such a figure might be since The Event) who passes along an odd emerald egg to him. The man says he is leaving the world and laughs to himself as he exclaims that ‘all the people in this city are suffocating.’

Roger meets up with Dan Dastun later that day and explains the current case to him. Dastun, however, has already been on the case for some time now and reveals that the suspect is a mad scientist (the selfsame man who gave Oliver the egg, and who is shown clothed normally in a photo held by Dastun) who has disappeared, leaving trail of his departure behind, and only documents and papers showing that the man ‘advocated fir nature restoration’ and apparently reacquired his memories from more than 40 years ago. After a full day of wandering the city for more clues, nothing turns up, and Roger meets with Dastun once more. Dastun has been given orders not to investigate outside of the domes, though Roger suspects that this is the only way to catch their would-be perp. Dastun has however found some new evidence: there was a second message to Rosewater, which Roger nor Dastun was not privy to. A letter that talked of the end of the world and was part of a larger text, part of some ;book of revelations.’

Now, we know the significance of such a text as the biblical Book of Revelations (a late 1st century text authored by an unknown prophet): the one and only piece of Apocalyptic literature within the Christian New Testament canon. The connection to Heaven’s Day, which is later revealed by the only one who remembers (Alex Rosewater) as a day whose significance is ‘the day God’s son was born’, should alert us to the possibility that the series chronology is heading toward an end-times event.

As the episode continues, Dorothy finds that within the sax case of Oliver, there is a postcard identical to the one sent to Alex Rosewater. Together, Roger and Dorothy visit Oliver at his home to inquire further into this coincidence. Oliver makes small talk and tells the two that they seem ‘to make a good couple,’ which Roger denies. Oliver tells Roger that he’s not being very kind and Dorothy merely responds that she’s ‘used to it.’ When Roger changes the subject to the postcard, Oliver reveals that all homes around there have one and that it is somehow connected to a a group of old citizens around the block who visit an old decrepit building (a church, in fact) every once in a while to sing songs. None of these figures know the meaning of their words and ‘don’t know what they’re praising,’ but they continue to do so nonetheless. And everything seems to be pointing us toward a neatly tucked away little Christian parable rife for explicating within The Big O.

Before Roger and Dorothy drive off into the night, Oliver tries to sell the emerald egg to Roger who immediately believe it is something valuable that Oliver stole. He chides the young man for ‘taking the easy way out’ (crime) and refuses to buy it. Then he explains a few of his most important rules to Dorothy: ‘ If you want to live a happy life in this city, leave memories alone when they pop up.’ This seems to be his reaction to the hymn-singers who are actively chasing after memories of a time before The Event through the action of singing. He next explains that ‘you have to use your pent-up energy to fight through the harshness of reality.’ And he seems to be applying it toward Oliver, who plays his sax tenaciously despite not being particularly talented. When asked directly about Oliver’s ability, Dorothy concurs that Oliver has no talent as a musician. Nonetheless, his pent-up aggression and energy, his desperation and hopeless search for meaning through the notes on his musical organ is his way of fighting through the harshness of reality, even if the impossibility of success is a foregone conclusion.

Finally, Heaven’s Day Eve arrives. As Roger visits Dastun once more and the two begin patrolling the domes together like in old times, Dorothy makes a trip down to Oliver’s place and visits with Laura. She asks the girl why Oliver loves her and is told that love just seems to happen, but that their love works so well because she is ‘really easy to fool.’ Something that is necessary for Oliver once in a while as he lies to stay out late and play his sax: something that Laura understands is a primal need for him, and she tacitly accepts. Just then, in the town square, the Daemonseed emerald egg erupts and begins to sprout roots and limbs of a gigantic tree. Oliver tries to escape it, but is pulled far up into the air and almost loses his saxophone in the process. Luckily, he is able to reach out and prevent it from falling. In the process, however, he begins to fall too. But instead of plummeting to his death, Roger calls upon Big O and saves the young man before beginning a battle with monstrous mutant plant being that destroys streets, cars, and buildings as it expands outward. Blood-like fluid seeps out of the wounds rent by Big O’s constant barrages of lasers and missiles, as well as his onslaught of physical melee damage.

All looks hopeless for a moment as Big O is wrapped up in a tight knot of vines and then the plant stops growing. Dorothy, who ran in that direction as soon as the city began to shake (with Laura in tow), reveals to Roger that the seed was only programmed to grow this large, to break out of the dome’s upper ceiling, and then to stop growing entirely. What’s more, the tree is festooned with Christmas decorations and the mad scientist who created it seemingly only did so to bring back some sense of reverence to this once-religious holiday. After Big O descends, Roger reunites with Dorothy at the same moment that Laura and Oliver do the same. Roger tells Dorothy happy birthday only to find that her birthday isn’t even in the same month. The two awkwardly begin to exchange gifts and then, as Dorothy dons her new dress, and Roger his tie, Oliver begins to play Jingle Bells on his sax, and the mood changes. And love is felt between the two, is palpable in the air, in the mise-en-scene, and the viewer becomes trapped as a voyeur within the sequence. At once happy for those figures he or she has been viewing for so long and simultaneously recognizing this as a fictional narrative.

And for this reviewer, sad that such an emotional event will never come to pass for himself, that the reality of life and of his own personality is such that the chase is out of the question, and that the chase is a necessary first step toward making it even remotely possible for a beautiful amorous event to occur. Is fame the only way?

 

Cast in the Name of God,

Cody Ward

[Act 12: Enemy Is Another Big!]

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