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The Point of the Pivot January 11, 2013

Posted by Mark Folse in film, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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I sat up late watching the movie Magnolia, fighting sleep but desperately attentive to the complicated plot, the interweaving of so many stories. It was so easy to miss something, something small and terribly significant.

Tom Cruise plays the role of the promoter of Seduce and Destroy, a misogynist self-improvement program for the trivialization and seduction of women. His stage presence is as mesmerizing as it repulsive, the serpent behind the snake oil, grabbing an imaginary ass from behind and working it as he speaks. The men in the audience hoot in delight. At the lunch break, he goes to a hotel room for a television interview, peels off his shirt to reveal a perfectly sculpted body. He drops his pants all the way down to his ankles as an assistant hands him a towel but he merely dabs at himself, stands their in his bulging briefs. The reporter is a woman and she calmly stares at him as he turns somersaults and rattles off about his success with women, his irresistible ability to seduce.

When he finally settles into the chair, she tells him he has missed a button putting on his shirt, and at that small and razor-edged maternal correction he slumps back in his chair, crosses his fingers on this chest. Two adversaries face each other. Not long into the interview comes the question, tearing apart his marketing mythos, his falsified biography, the carefully constructed and confident illusion of the master huckster. She shreds the nonexistent degree in psychology, pulls down the images of his imaginary family, holds up before him the small boy who cared for his dying mother after his father abandoned them.

Cruise freezes, refuses to speak, staring at her with burning intensity. Seconds drag by like hours in the long shot. It is then I notice the blemish , the bump on his cheek carefully blended by makeup into his skin, the smallest flaw in his curly-locked Herculean projection of perfection, the tiniest detail of theatrical composition of both the character and auteur Paul Thomas Anderson in over two hours of film. Following this moment the carefully constructed lives of all the characters begin to fall apart, their own masks striped away and their flaws revealed, and they begin to align themselves into a new coherence.

Perhaps it was not intentional but simply a blemish but in these days of digital production and over a hundred years perfecting film makeup I don’t think so.

The tiniest thing in the film’s complex web of interlocking plots, the point of the pivot, the detail of a master storyteller, something you can’t help but notice but miss the significance of until two days later staring at oneself in the mirror, a moment that the writer for the printed page would have to handle even more carefully than the director orchestrated his shot. This tiny, quickly forgotten bit of craft about which the entire story resolves is the signature of the master obscuring his hand among the actions of his puppets.

Baudelaire’s Ear December 10, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, film, movie, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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“Its the same story the crow told me/Its the only one you know” — Robert Hunter for the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band

It is not the eyes that read “monsters” instead of “mothers” in the email subject line but some part of the brain that takes over at moments, the subconscious peeking into the light of day. You’ve opened a door somewhere you do not know how to close, or rather out of that door that hasn’t closed quite right since childhood—an ill-fitted cabinet that opens every time you close another—something darker sometimes comes.

Often the misreadings or mishearings arecomic. You still play them for laughs with your son. In the case of hearing you often understood what was said; the creature inside just chose to play its tricks for laughs. Lately it is a different sort of comedy team: ladies and gentlemen, appearing for the first time at The Brain, the stage sensation of The Other Side Coyote and Crow, trickster and messenger, the greatest practitioners of the art of pointed and painful message comedy since Penn and Teller.

You would not close this door if you could. The words that tumble out are something like a muse: “something like” because it is not the mythic Greek creature of the Romantics, the whisper of birds in Wordsworth’s ear, but closer to the taloned thing perched on Baudelaire’s shoulder, murmuring darkly in his ear. You would not make Van Gogh’s mistake. You wish to listen. You want the mad sun of Arles, to turn your twisted ear to hear the words so you might assemble them into some form, a scaffolding in search of teleological order like the sets of Synechdoche, N.Y.

To return to a recurring character here, Federico Fellini (because of his willingness to perceive and listen and ultimately confront the madness of the world), you would build the mad gantry from 8½ (to which Synechdoche is clearly an homage), the director character attempting to assemble some sense in his confused life, to pay any price to reach for the heavens. Guido Anselmi does not fail but discovers in the ending that the only escape is into the mad Bacchanal carnival of the final dance, not out of but into life, like Marcello Rubini leaving both monster and innocence behind on the beach. Somewhere in that act is the promise of his novel realized: out of the senselessness bordering on madness of life not an answer but a story.

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