Friday, December 16, 2005

Godot Arrives

I watched James Fotopoulos' Back Against the Wall (2002), then went online and read comparisons between his work and that of the two Davids of sexual anxiety and body dread, Cronenberg and Lynch. It is a more or less apt comparison, especially as I consider the nervous stasis of Eraserhead, the intermittent teeth-gnashing of Videodrome, the grainy peek at the truly, deeply gnarly in The Elephant Man and The Brood, and the sudden screeching hysterics of Rabid (or They Came from Within) and Twin Peaks--except Fotopolous, at least for now, seems dedicated to minimalism. I write "seems" because, according to what I've been reading of his work, each film has become increasingly expansive, in terms of camera movment, scene shifts, character development, and subject matter. I am tempted to think he just needs more money--and is getting it, little by little; and the films he makes show it--but I suspect budgetary restraints are not the only ones he suffers under.

At the core of Back Against the Wall is a frustrating dogmatism--or maybe it's just me who was frustrated, waiting for something to fulfill the Harold Pinteresque mood of menace, some last straw to thumb its nose at its Samuel Beckett stubbornness and finally break those backs against the wall, including the "lingerie model" and her dyspeptic first boyfriend (J. Hoberman in The Village Voice calls him "a grim slab of middle-aged beef jerky"; now that's writing); followed by his girlie-club-owning replacement, a kind of low-rent Paul Giamatti; and in his turn replaced by the first boyfriend's neckless buddy (when I saw him I thought of Sydney Lassick, Cheswick from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, except without a personality, and not as good-looking). Well, there were some payoffs to all the interminable, flatly geometric scenes (in his description Hoberman evokes Edward Hopper; close, but Fotopoulos ignores the sadly unrealized potential for life in Hopper's compositions), the sudden bursts of sound and light, and the occasional beating. But despite the blood and sickness, the methodically repetitive cursing, and general atmosphere of slow boil, I found myself impatient and empty.

OK, I got it: That may be the point. And I'm glad to write about a movie like this, because as I keep going the thing comes to life, sort of, and rises like a remembered dream. I had watched The Polar Express the night before, where, as in 3-D movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon, you can spot those IMAX "experiences" comin' right atcha. It was often exciting, but nothing about it remains like the burned-in images of Back Against the Wall. I'll write about The Polar Express elsewhere, but for now I'll note that its best feature is the use of Christmas oldies at the North Pole. Everywhere you go, Perry Como and Company waft in the background, a kitschy-poignant reminder that some things want to last, no matter how much life tells them otherwise. I thought of that while watching Fotopoulos' movie, because I think he too hears distant music, only his is made of dirges that root his characters in stiff clay. I think I forgive him for making me fidget; entropy can do that to you.

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