Day By Day

Monday, July 30, 2007

Movie Madness

I seem to be on a movie tear lately -- at least I've been thinking a lot about film.

Life has conspired to force this on me.

Just a couple of weeks ago I spent some time talking with a friend of mine who used to be a screenwriter arguing about films and reminiscing about our early days of movie madness when we spent far too much of our young lives sitting in darkness staring at images on a screen.

Then I saw a documentary produced by another old friend and that led me to read some articles about his work.

Then my wife, in a fit of enthusiasm, volunteered me to speak to a local book club on the subject of an old horror film, "Walter Wanger's Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Wanger's classic was recently remade starring Nicole Kidman. Portions of the remake were filmed in our neighborhood and some of our friends appear in it as extras. They wanted me to show the original as a lead-in to a mass attendance at the new version.

That invitation has led to other invitations to speak on other films and my wife is prodding me to accept them.

Then we went to a BSO concert up at Oregon Ridge, and the program was..., "Movie Themes" [heavy on Harry Potter and Star Wars].

Then Laszlo Kovacs and Ingmar Bergman died.

Then I read about the death of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan and irresistibly my mind turned to a film analogy.

One of the most haunting sequences ever to appear in film is in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." That film, as you all know, chronicles the activities of a seedy celebrity journalist (and his sidekick, Papparazzo [yes, that's where the name comes from]) in mid-twentieth century Rome.

The journalist, Marcello (brilliantly played by Marcello Mastroianni), was once a writer of some promise, but he had allowed himself to be seduced into the pointless round of debauchery that celebrities and their hangers-on confused with the good life.

Always Marcello is reminded of the man he might have been by association with his former mentor, Steiner (played by Alain Cuny). Steiner is a true intellectual, internationally celebrated and renowned, surrounded by friends among the intelligentsia, wealthy, sophisticated, blessed with a beautiful wife and children -- his existence a living rebuke of the shabby celebrity culture in which Marcello wallows. Steiner is living the true "good life," or so it seems.

At one point in the film Marcello, despairing of his condition, hoping to rescue some meaning from his pointless existence, goes to Steiner for advice. When he arrives at Steiner's apartment he finds it filled with police. Steiner, his idol, has killed his beautiful children and committed suicide.

That scene hit me with tremendous shock that still reverberates today. I was just a kid -- starting college, away from home for the first time, intoxicated by the world of art and ideas opening before me -- and Federico Fellini, then and now my favorite film-maker, was telling me that the path on which I was embarking led to madness. For the first time I understood existential angst.

I was reminded of that episode from my youth while reading about the deaths of Duncan and Blake. "Who are these people," you ask. Well,

From the LA Times:
Blake, 35, was well on his way to bona fide star status with museums including Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collecting his work. Blake took part in three consecutive Whitney Biennial exhibitions from 2000 to 2004.

"He was a pioneer in so many ways," Kinz said. "His works weren't film and they weren't paintings. It wasn't computer art; it wasn't animation. And though it was painterly fine art, it was a hybrid of many things. In the future, I think he'll be considered a first explorer in a new territory of art making."
Duncan, 40, the daughter of an art teacher, grew up near Detroit and graduated from the University of Michigan after writing a thesis titled "Electric Fairy Tales: CD-ROMs and Literature." Romance bloomed when Blake began creating art for Duncan's independently produced discs, and the two collaborated with artist Karen Kilimnik on "A History of Glamour," a short animated "mockumentary" about a girl from the Midwest who becomes the sensation of a Warhol-like big-city art scene, then sours on the glittery life.

Blake and Duncan moved together from New York to Los Angeles for what they expected to be a brief stay while the artist worked on the abstract film sequences for "Punch-Drunk Love," director Paul Thomas Anderson's 2002 giddy romantic comedy.

Duncan had sold a script called "Alice Underground" to Fox Searchlight, about two teenage girls whose kidnapping of a rock star boosts his fame, Variety reported in 2001. In 2005, she began a blog called The Wit of the Staircase that quickly became a must-read among literary-minded Angeleno web logs.
Read the whole article here.

Apparently these golden children, the toast of the arts establishment, committed suicide. In the weeks before their death they complained that they were being stalked by Scientologists. Just as in Fellini's film -- intellectual celebrity had led to madness and death.

Francois Truffaut once reportedly said that "film fans are very sick people." I must keep that quote in mind as people try to draw me back into the mad, delusional world of film studies.

I just flashed on Al Pacino in Godfather Three complaining that "Everytime I think I'm out, they drag me back in!"

I can't stop relating life to film.... That's scary and pathetic.

Now I'm afraid..., very afraid [as Geena Davis said in The Fly remake].