Thursday, December 14, 2006

143. Halloween Roundup (12):
Round and Round

In an ecstatic moment of combined hyper-self-awareness and displaced cultural identification, David Lynch swooned like a lady with the vapors and woke up in Uzumaki/Spiral (2000), onetime music video director Higuchinsky's manga-inspired debut, dedicated to sliming--literally--the shiny veneer of small-town life, while mourning its demise, as slippery to the touch as a swatch of blue velvet. I watched this one last year, and it seems destined to become a regular at the Roundup. Like Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead, Uzumaki lives in its own world, even though we recognize almost every individual object from our waking life--even the ubiquitous spirals that herald the town's lurching transformation into, I kid you not, giant snails. Wandering its streets, catching out of the corner of spinning eyes spirals along walkways, in the clouds, on the water's surface, we come upon the secret town, the one that turns and turns. But more than that, this dream vibrates with its manga origins, as full of sudden exclamations and blackouts as snail-slow approaches toward terror and sickening revelation.

The humor of this film lies in its willingness to be absurd (the spiral-coiffed high school girls are a hoot); but of course in the best of the absurd lies revelation, true visions almost impossible to describe, as clear as they may be right there before you. A childhood friend of mine once told us about a dream he had: One by one, his seven brothers and sisters start disappearing. Eventually, he makes his way to where all dreams show their secrets, the basement, and sees his mother standing triumphantly over an open washing machine. He looks in, and, as he described it to us, saw a kind of oatmeal slopping to the brim: his siblings, mashed into domestic annihilation down there. Like Jack Torrance's dream in The Shining, the parent "corrects" and goes mad.

At one point in Uzumaki, a man obsessed with spirals finds himself unable to resist the interior of his washing machine. He is discovered by his son's girlfriend, wrapped like a meaty beachtowel round and round the wringer's curl, his face staring, his tongue suddenly popping out of his mouth in a curl, a spiral within a spiral within a spiral. Not the thin gruel of my friend's dream, but a turnaround, if you will forgive the term, in which the parent's obsession punishes the parent--again, "corrects" his shape into the inevitable spiral. Even the smoke rising from the man's cremation assumes the same shape, snaking down into a resevoir--the town's drinking water?--weather and geography combined to force the dream into what's left of the rational day, darkening the skies and leaving us with a "widening gyre" as solid as a snail's shell, as pervasive as any teen culture trend--which it seems for a while, until it rights itself as a full-tilt possession, making everyone's head spin.

For better or worse, this is why movies like this matter so much to me. I may be viewing them in my cozy armchair, but first someone dreamed them in the cellar, and had a hard time of it, as giddy as it sometimes may appear. Turnabout, as always, may be fair play, but, at least in Uzumaki, remains a dirty job for all of us.

I've always promised myself that this blog would not descend too far into cutesy self-reference (and I don't want to know how wrong I am about this), but searching for images to use for this posting, I was led to a Japanese site devoted to Pugs--and realized with horror that we own a dog, Frank, with an uzumaki growing out of him.

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