Bright Lights Film Journal

The Termites of Plainview


Hey gang, Erich here. Sorry I haven’t written any entries of late, but things have been rough, what with our new baby recently brought home from the hospital (which means no sleep for the missus or myself), and the move to the country and the job change and blah blah, anyhoo.

Ah hah! April fools in advance. None of the above. No kids, no moves, just edgy city living, right in the meat of things, George, which is where I got to be.

It just seems that’s the way so many blogs start out these days–the family announcement sheathed in pop culture itemizing– don’t it? I got nothing against rugrats, as long as you keep ’em on the west side.

Since my reason for not blogging more recently stems from doing lots of Big Thinking and Writing about THERE WILL BE BLOOD– a film free of romance and so refreshing in its jaundiced expression of “family values,” I figured it was somehow fitting to do a fraudulent family man opener. In reality I’m a happily divorced parent of one black dog only and if I had any property in Coyote Hills, or in this case, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, it’s long since been sold along with my milkshake and drilling rights. And I’m fine with that! I do my own drilling now, into the forehead of the American mindset, going for the stark black venom that lies south of the soul, where archetypal shadows walk tall and tentacled Lovecraftian behemoths plot their repressed returns. And I drink it up!

The few critics who dismiss THERE WILL BE BLOOD as undeserving of its hype–due to story weaknesses or hammy acting, usually–tend to be the ones who are “trying” to be different, and so would pay less respect to the fearless soul searchers and kamikaze love hipsters like Welles and Godard, Gondry, Ray, Hawks, Baumbach and Martel. These critics prefer the “workmanlike” precision of the best mappers – the Coen Brothers, Kubrick, Spielberg, Hitchcock, Payne–those who perfect the lines and feel out new fissures in the rock that the explorers have excavated, that Manny Farber’s termites have eaten through. For fans of the mappers, the gaping plot holes, inconsistencies of style and meaning and haphazard story construction of the explorers–the ungodly mess, in short–can be unforgivable. For we lovers of the explorers, any story holes can be stepped over without the smallest break in our stride if it leads us ever deeper into the cinematic danger zone, Where celluloid burns wild and out of control. There’s some that try to control it, quench it, put it out, and there’s some that go wild-eyed and giggling, cooing and giggling like the late beloved Richard Widmark. A unique example to discuss of a mapper in explorer’s clothing would be John Huston. His films tend to be adaptations of classic “explorer” works: Under the Volcano is a fine example of Huston being too busy getting period details of 1933 Mexico down, polishing up the quaint old cars and setting his actors to staggering just so, that he misses the thrust of Lowry’s novel, which is as an apocalyptic mirage of one man’s drunken dying soul bleeding into those around him and its reflection in the tide of fascism and blah blah. One mustn’t put modern in with the classical, or must one?

A “classic” example of the explorer vs. mapper would be Welles’ cinematic MACBETH vs. Olivier’s HAMLET. Olivier’s film is a stunning masterwork with each line of text lovingly orated. There’s plenty of deep focus expressionism for those who like that sort of thing, but not enough to drown the bard in Ophelia’s bathwater, so to speak. Welles’ MACBETH on the other hand is a roaring, sweaty delirious fever dream-catastrophe.

Welles plays Macbeth like someone just waking up in the drunk tank after a three-day crystal meth blackout. Soldiers cast in hand-me-downs from Republic studios old serials seem to drip down from their weird cavern pathways onto him, like expressionist maggots from a Polanski skyway, and he squirms in horror at the sight of them. He bellows great lungfulls of melodious brougue, staggering drunk and hallucinating. He chews so much scenery he gets woozy and seems about to fall over into the witches’ bubbling pot at any second, but I’ll order ham on welles over hamlet olivier anyday. There’s mad genius power with Welles; his is the termite art that never stops to count the receipts or weigh the meanings but rather plunges reckless through the walls until all is black and sweet childless silence.