Friday, April 20, 2007

181. The Friday Club 5: Snake Pit

This week it's existential dentistry, as we peer into the mouth of madness. I'm really not trying to be insensitive, given the week's events; I just want the comfort of metaphor--which is problematic, since great metaphors intensify the blow, not soften it. Still, better it happens in Karloff's head than anyone else's.

Monday The King Is Alive (2001)
People stranded among the dunes decide to while away the time by putting on a production of King Lear in this Dogme venture. And, believe it or not, things spin out of control. Sounds fine; as I've mentioned elsewhere--or thought it, or just bothered my wife and friends with it, or whatever--King Lear is my "favorite" Shakespeare play, just like Raging Bull is my "favorite" Scorsese picture. Besides, I have an affection for movies set amid sandy wastes--The Flight of the Phoenix, Sahara, and the mysterioso Woman in the Dunes, all scooping out a big hole in the desert in which to pit character against character, and all against the landscape itself. As Howard Hughes says in The Aviator, the desert is "clean"; problem is, once you crawl inside and scrub that big bowl, the sides get so smooth you can't climb out. Hence the blasted mind on the equally blasted heath.

Tuesday Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
I liked parts of Flight Plan, especially the ones that remind me of Bunny Lake Is Missing: the woman who insists her child is missing, to everyone's growing suspicion. Otto Preminger directs Carol Lynley and Lawrence Olivier in a mystery that seems to occur almost entirely in people's heads. I think I've seen this one, but the subject matter is so fraught with ambiguity that my impressions of it have sunk (in a nice way) to hints and whispers.

Wednesday Spider (2003)
I know I have seen this one before: once, and by myself, in the dark. Not a good idea. David Cronenberg cooly observes schizophrenia from the inside. Restrained, you might be surprised to hear--for Cronenberg--but still the definition of "impenetrable gloom."

Thursday Straight Jacket (1964)
What a relief after Spider this will be. Joan Crawford, looking more and more like Mr. Sardonicus, returns from the booby-hatch and resumes her ax-wielding ways--or does she?

Friday Vernon, Florida (1981)
Early Errol Morris, solid evidence of a career-long fascination with the "thin line(s)" between the truth and the lies we tell--and each other. And he does this through the cracked lens of eccentrics--both small-town, as in Vernon, Florida--and big-time--as with Robert McNamara in The Fog of War--who've "handled brains," but whose own lie unattended, while grit gets in the folds until strange pearls form. Crazy, man.

Saturday The Devil Commands (2003)
He most certainly does, at least for Boris Karloff to once again suffer from monomania, this time to reclaim his wife from beyond the grave. Electro-spiritually. I hope there's a Tesla coil.

Sunday Bubble (2003)
Steven Soderbergh is boss: He Ratpacks it with George and Julia and Brad, then genre-busts--The Limey, The Good German--then, as with Bubble, slips into chilly experimental waters. Small-town doll factory workers engage in obsession and murder. All on location with non-professionals, proving that antic dispositions know no bounds.

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