Friday, May 14, 2010

What a Way to Make a Living

What makes a person think that wearing one of those "The Man/The Legend" shirts would be a good idea? As with any article of clothing, this piece represents the end-product of a complex process. Dude has to procure the shirt in the first place, either by straight-up buying it or by getting it from a like-minded friend. He's got to get home, put it in the drawer, not throw it away or donate it when the drawer gets full and it's time to thin the shirt herd, and ultimately make the decision to wear the shirt out-of-doors and on his person. Through all these decisions he aligns himself with the shirt's philosophy and thinks, "it's a good idea to wear this. To have an arrow pointing upwards with the caption 'The Man' contrasted by a southward arrow reading 'The Legend'. That is a good idea. I want to comment publicly on the size of my penis and its importance to society, and I want to broadcast this comment from my chest." The actual size of this guy's penis is immaterial; the fact that his mental process leads him on this tasteless path is the true issue at hand here. So to speak.

Anyway, there's a really sleazy dude in the porn documentary 9 to 5: Days in Porn who wears one of these shirts, as well as one that reads "Mountain Do Me" atop the logo of the popular mountain people breakfast beverage. A gargoyle in sweatpants and Spencer's t-shirts, Mark Spiegler is an agent of many prominent pornstars. With his Bluetooth gadget he makes appointments and negotiates fees. He is a pimp in the pre-"the sex industry is funny!" vein. Vincent Gallo would describe his body type as being that of a slave trader, I think. Spiegler's entire aura is one of corruption and scum; tellingly, his most reprehensible-seeming acts involve displays of generosity. In fact, few of the men in this movie come off very positively. But 9 to 5 is certainly no hit piece. These fellows are assholes by themselves, not because of editing or soundtrack. I was really down with this film's sense of even-handedness.

This dude Otto is def way worse than the guy with the shirt. He's some crazy, Libertarian, "Death Valley '69" mix of Tommy Wiseau and Keith Carradine in Nashville. He's manipulative and dismissive and belittling to his wife, Audrey, who is also a porn performer. He's even mean to his dog! Goodness! Audrey's submissiveness and lack of confidence stand in total contrast to the film's strongest characters, women who in their relationships with both men and the adult industry are far more self-assured and well-adjusted. Belladonna, especially, totally rocks the house. She be down with all sorts of heavy shit that weirds me out, but even when easing a baseball bat into another woman's anal cavity she's chillin'. Her relationship with her nerd husband is eminently stable and downright heartwarming compared to the imbalance of Otto and Audrey.

Being able to assess these characters in an almost personal way shows the strengths of 9 to 5. It knows how to back off, to show rather than to tell. It's as impartial as a documentary can be. It's also blocked really well, with director Jens Hoffman cannily avoiding showing penetration without desxualizing the film. He does a really great job in portraying the sex acts that compose pornography without being skeezy, shooting with such deftness that 9 to 5 is probably the least titillating porn documentary ever made. And this is to the film's credit; in the porn world, sex is nothing but labor. It takes many forms and elicits various responses but is ultimately a capitalist mechanism. A German performer profiled in the film takes this concept to its extreme, designating her body as a site of labor in transitioning from porn to prostitution without reticence. Functioning as an exchange of goods/services for capital, she sees the two as essentially the same thing.

In its refusal to either condemn pornography or outrightly praise it, 9 to 5 takes a very interesting look at a subject whose divisive nature typically demands a specific stance. But by taking a clinical, objective look at the industry and the extreme acts that help grant that industry's reputation we see the pornography business as just another institution. It's just another job, albeit one that includes phrases like “double anal” and “milk enema” (still trying to figure that one out) more frequently than “board meeting” and “expense account”. And there's a scene where two of the dudes sing "Nazi Punks Fuck Off". Cool. I was down!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Circle of Iron

Yooooooouuuuu.... so I have been writing reviews for recently. Here is my write-up of the David Carradine picture Circle of Iron. Carradine plays four different dudes in this movie, including a guy in a horrible half-monkey/half-man costume. The film gets a lot of comparisons to Zardoz, which is especially accurate in that the bulk of both films' budgets seem to have been spent on ridic amounts of cocaine. You get the vibe that the night before shooting the writers went, "Oh geeze, we've done nothing but inhale this booger sugar for four weeks and haven't written anything! Uhh... let's make it about a dude who searches for a book or something! And then do more blow!"Not so much a vibe as a daydream, perhaps, but whatevs.

Looking like a cross between Conan the Barbarian and super-ripped Uruguayan striker Diego ForlĪ¬n, Cord (Jeff Cooper) seems more comfortable as one of the grizzled arm-wrestlers in Over the Top than as a man apparently seeking the source of ultimate knowledge. Yet as the main character in Circle of Iron he is required to synthesize these two personas, kicking ass and braving the elements in a quest for enlightenment. Or something like that. In dealing with self-discovery, Circle of Iron tackles a subject that is extremely difficult to portray cinematically. How do you show somebody who has achieved enlightenment? Do they suddenly glow? Is there hair where there was no hair before? And, apart from trying to illustrate an unseen sensation, what does enlightenment even mean? The object of Cord’s journey is murky at best, but the film does its best, for the most part, to include a nice amount of high kicks and martial arts showdowns to compensate.

A lot of Circle of Iron is pretty enjoyable, albeit in very strange ways, like when Cord meets a man in the desert played by Eli Wallach in one of those weird Orson-Welles-in- Transformers: The Movie end-of-career roles. Dude is trying to destroy his penis by slowly dissolving the bottom half of his body in a barrel of oil and he and Cord have a nice, casual conversation about castration. It’s like watching two ascetics shoot the shit after finding themselves seated next to each other on the train. When Cord remarks that the dude’s weiner is “no bigger than a pimple”, his tone is definitely one of admiration. I hope they exchanged numbers. But cool moments like this vanish once Cord starts following his blind teacher (David Carradine in one of his four roles in the movie). We get a notable absence of butt-kicking as Circle of Iron ramps up Carradine’s New Age platitudes and Pure Moods soundtrack. Once Cord makes it to the island to receive the sacred book from depressed monk Christopher Lee, I had kind of forgotten what movie I was watching.

Circle of Iron’s schizophrenia is perhaps unavoidable, as evinced by the film’s two names. Originally titled The Silent Flute, it oscillates wildly between the fantasy fighting-fest you’d expect from a movie called Circle of Iron and the schmaltzy wimp-o-rama suggested by The Silent Flute, producing an intermittently fun zensploitation picture. For the first twenty minutes or so, the film delivers the goods and has practically everything you could want in a movie: really shitty kung fu, gnarly ‘staches, killer monkeys and a path to enlightenment that apparently involves cruising for dudes in fur boots. And I should mention how horrible, if bizarrely endearing, the kung fu is; Carradine’s blind wushu is even lazier than Chris Mitchum’s in Ricco: The Mean Machine, the previous standard-holder for awful fisticuffs. But then the picture gets bogged down in a bunch of flute-y crap and the fighting ceases. What had seemed like an endlessly promising premise (a fighting tournament filled with Village People look-alikes!!!) and in the last half-hour somehow becomes a jokeless buddy picture with illusions of spiritual depth. Circle of Iron, we hardly knew ye.