Monday, February 23, 2009

Origins Of The Subversive Impulse 1.

THE blinding acid-yellow, toontown-font, Grove Press paperback edition of Naked Lunch was the first "thing" that I "knew" was evil when I was an adolescent. In fact, it was so evil that I couldn't even consider buying it; if I was brazen enough to read Burroughs I'd have to find something less flagrant and still be extra-careful about owning it. So I found Exterminator! and read it many nights in secret as I listened to another piece of contraband, Red Hot Chili Pepper's Blood Sugar Sex Magic on my headphones. All of these artifacts I hid beneath a desk's false bottom inside a cardboard box I called "my rage box", a place that also included "other things." That was all many awkward moons ago and it wasn't until I was a young man of twenty that I read Naked Lunch cover-to-cover for the first time. I found it beautifully-written, dense with visions that I wish I had invented, but, for the most part, by then I was inured  to its forbidden revelations. 

BUT even before that first reading, I had watched the movie Naked Lunch by David Cronenberg. I think I was seventeen or eighteen. And it sort of haunted me for a long while afterwards. I began to confuse then the promises of that evil yellow cover with what the movie actually managed to get away with showing on the big screen. 

I haven't talked much about movies here (except for my Walken top-ten.) It is too daunting for me as a writer to keep pace with all the things I have to read (for the betterment of my writing), to really provide any provocative or legitmate commentary on movies and directors. What I can offer are interesting intersections between words and film, between textual narrativity and cinematic storytelling-- or at least I can describe the visual stuff that generates the same excitement as good books. 

But generally movies drift just underneath my radar and before I know it I haven't seen any of the films that everyone's talking about. Even The Dark Knight. The one movie I really wanted to see came and went so fast it's almost as if Sweden doesn't exist: Let The Right One In. (And now I really want to see Waltz With Bashir and apparently it was robbed of an Oscar.)

I did see Tarsem's The Fall last year and I still have mixed feelings about it. Mixed as in, I didn't love it, but I respected its visual grandiosity as well as the cloying yet poignant pairing between the cute-as-hell little Romanian girl and the charismatic yet tortured Lee Pace, and I'm betting I will like it a lot more on a second, more vigilant viewing. My first thought: eye-candy for geography and costume connoisseurs. And it is especially hard not to be moved by the locations that Tarsem uses for the more jaw-dropping sequences. The trailer gave me high hopes initially. It looked like some surreal, art-deco Western, almost like The Holy Mountain--which I never got a chance to finish watching. (I think one reason why I don't go to a lot of movies is I feel that the trailers will always let me down. I hope that's not the case with Inglorious Basterds.) So as usual for the last couple years, I didn't see any of the movies nominated for this year's Oscars, not out of snooty snobbish elitism but from the combined efforts of thrift and sloth. Yet I recently watched and enjoyed Fritz Lang's noir Scarlet Street not once but twice on DVD. And before that a whole slew of movies that Katy and I've rented, some of which I might discuss more at length later. And very soon, maybe even tonight, I'm going to watch My Best Fiend for the first time.

AND not soon enough, I will have my second, mature viewing of Naked Lunch and relive all those promises of revolt from a bygone era. 

Cronenberg, a man heavily influenced by both Vladimir Nabokov and William S. Burroughs has had a significant influence on me, and I think on a lot of writers. I think of him when I write about the more jarring disjunctions between men and women. What my "more mature" writing seems to express are forms of hysteria, more bodily than not, that cause disorientation, obsession and a sense of lostness

Hysteria, or visceral terror, or venereal horror are the provinces of most of the Cronenberg films I've seen (The Brood, M. Butterfly, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Crash, Naked Lunch, Spider, Eastern Promises.) Keep in mind that I have still yet to see Rabid, Shivers, The Fly or Scanners. Add some dark comedy, satirical send-ups of psychology, B-movie gore and an unremitting sense of unease and you've got a Cronenberg on your hands.

Today, I think of Naked Lunch especially because it has come to inhabit a critical part of a short story I've been working on, a story stemming from a chance sighting I had years ago of a young woman on a beach who was reading the acrid-yellow, pop-art-font edition of Naked Lunch, all while smoking a clove cigarette in the scalding San Diego light.

The image struck me for some reason; I was young and impressionable still, guilty of seeing subversion everywhere or wanting to see it. And today I'm writing a short story about it, and awaiting eagerly for my second viewing of the movie. And yeah the trailer is fantastic. 
"I thought you said you were finished with weird things...."  

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