Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In Defense of Utter Garbage and Other Thoughts

PSYCHOPLASMICS could have been a podcast. If, y’know, had I the time, equipment, money or even the slightest idea at all of how to begin making one of those.  Or maybe even a YouTube channel, except we run into the same problems, and between you and me, folks, I don’t think YouTube needs yet another goof on there rattling on about movies and how great he thinks DARK SOULS is. I know a couple of guys who do that already and I don’t really want to be barging in on their turf, anyway. Still, it had to exist in some form. It was an itch that needed to be scratched and saying “no” to it was not an option. So, I looked into setting up something on blogspot, was pleased to discover that I was already signed up as part of my g-mail account, and then a little miffed to find that I had been beaten to the name THE CATHODE RAY MISSION. Fortunately, David Cronenberg movies have plenty of other weird, catchy sounding names and terminology to swipe.

Well, that covers the “how” this blog came about but maybe you’re curious about the “why?” Most likely not, but this is my little corner of the internet, so I’m going to tell you anyway. Simple: I was checking twitter one day a few weeks ago and ran across some friends talking about a certain Stallone movie, you know the one, and this prompted me to dig out my copy, snagged years ago out of a discount bin. When it was over I was amazed and pretty baffled by what I watched. I mentioned in my first post that COBRA never takes itself less than one hundred percent seriously and I think that grim straight-faced tone is major reason why I don’t remember that movie being nearly that batshit insane the last time I watched it. I went and made some comments about this on twitter, but it turns out that wasn’t enough. I found that I had more that I wanted to say and it wouldn’t leave me alone. So, couple weeks ago, while I was helping my sister out with watching her kid during the day, I swiped her laptop and started hammering on that COBRA review. It took about three or four attempts before I could get it to where I deemed it acceptable and I stayed up so late finish it up and polish it a couple of nights that the amount of sleep could be considered a glorified nap but it was worth it, I think. Could’ve been better, sure; it always can. I think it’s a little long and scattershot; the result of me trying to work in every single comment I could think of and rewriting big chunks of it right up to the morning I posted it. Still, I think it a makes fun little read. More importantly to me, people responded to it. They thought it was a fun little read. They liked the observations I made and they enjoyed talking with me about it. That is a kick, right there. That’s what makes all the time and effort I put into that worthwhile and that’s why I’m going to keep on doing it. Because when I’m struggling with writing something and I think that I don’t know what I’m doing and wasting my time, I have something I can point at and tell myself, “Calm down, you panicky git. People like this. Write more for them.”

And yes, this is all due to COBRA. Not JAWS, which is my favorite movie of all time. Or something by Peckinpah, who is my favorite director. Or anything by Kurosawa, Kubrick, Bergman, Melville, Leone, Coppola, Kobayashi, or Scorsese. The movie that made me want to take up writing about movies for the first time in years; to actually give serious consideration to seeing if I could make something out of my writing, was a friggin’ Stallone shoot-‘em-up from the producers that gave us THE AMERICAN NINJA series, a stack of Chuck Norris movies, and competing films about the lambada.

 Really, though, what’s so wrong with that?  Why not COBRA? (Why *not* Zoidberg?) There's this mindset, probably been around as long as we’ve had the arts and entertainment but has become more visible to me with the advent of stuff like YouTube or sites like Cracked.com or Buzzfeed or social media in general. Two of them, really, though they’re connected. One is the whole idea that movies are some kind of math problem. That if you point out all the mistakes, the goofs, all the plot holes, how this would not work in real life etc. etc. and do it as loudly and with much snark and profanity as possible, you’ve “solved” the movie. What “solving” it gets you I can’t tell. That you can notice a mistake? Show what a smartass you can be? Nothing wrong with that, I guess. There are probably places you can put that to better use. This is everywhere, too. “Honest” movie trailers, “Everything Wrong With…” videos, “How It Should Have Ended,” 248 PLOT HOLES YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED BECAUSE YOU WERE ACTUALLY ENJOYING THE MOVIE, on and on and on. Like they’re all hoping to be the one who discovers the next “You know that if Indiana Jones wasn’t in RAIDERS it would have ended the same way?” Then there’s this whole idea of liking things “ironically.” That it’s okay to like this dumb movie but you have to do it at a remove. That you’re not really enjoying this stupid thing, you’re enjoying saying “Look at how stupid this is! Isn’t this stupid?” This is why we have three SHARKNADO movies. Three of them. Contemplate that on the Tree of Woe.

(Note: "This Guy Will Not Shut Up About CONAN / THE TERMINATOR / ROBOCOP" was also a possible title for this blog. Reviewing them here would likely be superfluous because of how often I'll refer back to them.)

To quote one Crow T. Robot, these approaches need to get a stepladder so they can jump off my butt. Both of them come from the same source, which I think is the absolute worst thing to happen to discussion of any form of art: this smug need to prove how much smarter you are than what you constantly consume. I hate that so much for one simple reason: it’s all about detachment. It’s all about unwillingness to come at something at its level and see what it was aiming for, how it fits together and how it ticks. Why would you do that? It adds nothing to the experience. You don't win a prize by doing this.
Let me tell you why I watch movies. I don't throw on The DOLLARS trilogy because they’re full of realistic gun battles and a historically accurate depiction of Civil War-era America. For me, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS is that close up on The Man With No Name’s face. Seeing his hat brim come up and that look in his eyes and knowing he’s done joking about those goons apologizing to his mule and things are about to set off. Or in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, when Tuco’s lies to save face over his disastrous reunion with his brother and Blondie, knowing he’s lying, smiles and hands him a cigar. It's that feeling you get in JAWS when you hear Chief Brody yell in victory when he finally blows up ole Bruce. (God, if winning by the skin of your teeth has a sound…) It’s Robocop turning to the OCP President and telling him that his name is Murphy. Monument Valley in all its glory in a John Ford western. When the music really kicks in during the truck chase in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. They're about how striking this person or this place or this camera motion looks. They’re about the ghost of a smile on a face, the light of greed in a person's eyes, a touch between two people, colors, sounds, rhythms…and yeah, sometimes, it’s simply “that blowed up real good.”  You cannot boil this down to some formula because what is exchanged between the screen and the audience is unique for each individual. Somebody can see something truly beautiful and life affirming in a cheap MAD MAX knock-off out of Italy as much as someone else can in an “important” movie from an “important” filmmaker. There is no distance between the two.
Which brings us back to COBRA. COBRA is trash. It’s a bad movie. Here’s the thing, though, whether or not something is “bad” does not determine whether or not it’s entertaining or interesting. It does not mean that there is nothing worth saying about it. People who are a lot smarter than me and have written more about art than I probably ever will have emphasized that and y’ know what? I’ve seen it proven time and time again. It’s going to be the unspoken mantra of this blog. I’ll take it one step further. As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t engage with a trashy movie, I don’t believe you’ll be able to with a legitimately great one. Need proof? Scroll back a couple entries. DIRTY HARRY is a good movie. COBRA takes all the wrong lessons from it to a ridiculous extreme. By talking about what the latter does in handling the same subject matter helps underline how the former handled it more than if I was talking about it alone. Had I not spent all that time working my brain to piece together what appeals to me about COBRA and all its lurid, fascist nonsense, I either could not articulate why I loved THE APARTMENT so much or I would have had a much harder time doing it.  You know what’s something I’m considering writing about for this blog? M.D. GEIST. Have you people seen M.D. GEIST? There’s a reason it’s called “The second worst anime ever made.” And yet you can look at M.D. GEIST and use it talk about the anime industry at the time it was made or parse out what was going on with the American anime fandom that made that it successful enough to get a sequel produced for the Americans despite it being unappealingly awful in everyway. You can say something about Albert Pyun movies, for crying out loud, even if it’s only “how can this guy keep screwing up what should be at least watchable via the bizarre concept alone?” To discuss any form of art and make no effort to understand the hows and whys of it is insulting and lazy and I will not contribute to that.

So this is what you are going to get with PSYCHOPLASMICS. Doesn’t matter if it’s a blockbuster or this obscure, bizarre curio that no one else has ever heard of, if it gets its hooks in me, I’m going to write about it. NINJA III: THE DOMINATION has as much pull around here as THE WILD BUNCH or Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS. Know what? I may end up not writing only about movies here. You may see a video game wind up on here, or a novel, or a Hellboy comic or some crazy manga or a grocery list if clicks with me. Sometimes I won’t even talk about the whole movie or I could be talking about an entire category of movies that appeals to me. Already one of each is kicking around in my head. In the near future there’s going to be a post about why I love the opening to the Tommy Lee Jones movie BLACK MOON RISING so much and another about knock-offs of Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO. I hope. Remember the words of Al Swearengen, that announcing your plans is a good way to make God laugh, and let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Furthermore, you are going to get a lot of writing about “me” here. I’m not the most social guy in the world. I’m quiet and difficult to get close to (unless you’re a dog) and internalize a lot of things. I’m constantly worrying that this makes me come off as more off-putting than I really am and talking about it is a struggle. But I’m finding that with writing about something that I love, the movies, makes it easier to put these things into words. I’ll admit, I was terrified wondering what reaction you all might have to some of the stuff I wrote in that post about THE APARTMENT. That I was letting you see me bleed too much, that I was being maudlin and embarrassing myself. Turns out that my fears were unfounded. There was no reaction and people still liked what I wrote. But the important thing is, I was able to talk about things that have been nesting in my gut for years in a space with people I trust and now that’s out of there. If that’s what it takes, I’ll be maudlin and embarrass myself if I have to. (But not too often.) Even if my writing just stays this thing I do for fun and never opens up a way to a more professional gig, I’m already convinced that this will be good for me in the long run. Fingers crossed, though. I think I might actually have a knack for it and would love to see how I’d do with a good editor around to keep me in line. God forbid, I might even post something original here. (That’s not going to happen any time soon, you can breathe a sigh of relief.)

One more thing before I go and that’s to give credit to where credit is due. To my crew from the old Stomp Tokyo B-Movie Message Board and associates, PSYCHOPLASMICS would not exist at all without you. Those boards were where I got the first taste of people being interested in what I have to say about anything and as the years have gone on, you’ve affected me even more. Not just the writing that some of you have done, though that is a big factor, but knowing you and being friends with you have influenced and helped me in ways that I can’t list, not only with talking about movies but with life. At the very least, if it weren’t for you guys I wouldn’t have even considered in a million years seeing a lot of films that I love to death now. So, Gavin, Zack, Travis, Tim, Other Tim, Dave, Other Dave, Chad, Other Chad, (I’ll let ya’ll fight over who is who) Mike, Jessica and Scott, Sean, Lisa, Freeman, Amelia, Bryan, and so many others I could name…you are my audience and this whole project is for you guys as much as it is for me. Hope that it’s around for a long time. For the rest of you, welcome aboard and please click on my friends’ links up there in the corner, which you can now see because I changed the template and got rid of that damn pop-up sidebar. Give ‘em a read. <Subotai>It’s the good stuff.</Subotai>

Oh, and I’m coming to B-Fest someday. Count on it. Don’t know how, don’t know when, but you knuckleheads aren’t going to be able to hide from me forever. I’ll crate myself up and get myself shipped to Chicago if I have to. I’ll hitch a ride on the wing and scare the crap out of William Shatner if that’s what it takes.

Ok, one more thing. That whole deal about how RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK would have ended the same way if you took Indy out of the story? Shut up. Enough of that nonsense. Try to actually imagine a version of RAIDERS that doesn’t have Indiana Jones in it. That’s a version where Marion gets killed, there’s no Sallah, no Captain Katanga, probably no Nazi accidentally Sieg-Hiel-ing a monkey, certainly wouldn’t have the greatest action sequences put on film. It’d be nothing but us hanging out with Nazis and this French jerk who then die horribly. All pointing out that proves is that there could be a take on RAIDERS that nobody would want to watch. Stop it.

A Little Something Extra:
”Automatic System Habit” by Garbage, because some days we need to hear Shirley Manson going on about how she wants to be “your dirty little secret.” We call those days every day.

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