Friday, December 12, 2008


The answer to the riddle of Mister Lonely can be found in the post-game interview section of the special features that you may access with your DVD player remote control. In it, director Harmony Korine tells of dreams he kept having of parachute-less skydiving nuns that would hit the ground unscathed coupled with recurring visions of Michael Jackson dancing in the streets of Paris. Korine wanted to stretch together a movie from these two parts but he didn't know how to connect them. So he and his brother Avi got together and wrote a nonsense script about a commune in France where celebrity impersonators could collectively be themselves being someone else.

But trouble lies in that reveal. True absurdists keep their intentions close to their chest. Part of the pleasure in swallowing a film like Inland Empire or The Phantom of Liberty is in the tilted-head stare a David Lynch or Luis Bunuel will give afterwards when asked "What was that supposed to mean?" (One of my favorite director interview books is still Objects of Desire : Conversations with Luis Bunuel. It's frustrating and addictive and, to me, offers some of the greatest lessons in how to enjoy that man's work.) Now, I've never bought into the claim that directors such as Lynch and Bunuel float above meaning in their work, but they'd never give you a road map either. (True, Lynch did include crib notes for the Mulholland Dr. DVD, but I took that as a goof in and of itself.)

I don't mean to put Harmony Korine in the same class as Lynch, Bunuel, or even his hero - and Mister Lonely co-star - Werner Herzog, nor do I think Korine is anywhere near carving out an unique aesthetic beauty the way each of the aforementioned have (hold Herzog's whacked-out undertaking Heart of Glass up to anything Korine's done and you'll notice the gap), but I think theirs is the path that Korine wants to travel down.

Yes, there is beauty in Mister Lonely's best moments: an extended shot of a nun soaring through the atmosphere on a dirt bike; Diego Luna's denouement journey back to his apartment to the sounds of Iris DeMent's wonderful "My Life". But these moments are merely specks on the canvas of a nearly two hour trek. Mister Lonely is mostly nothing but schoolboy daydreams brought to life for the reason that Korine knows somebody that knows somebody. Would this film have been made were it not for Herzog, Samantha Morton, Diego Luna, Denis Lavant, and Leos Carax being on board?

Mister Lonely has built up a critical reputation as the film that will introduce you to a "sweeter, gentler" Harmony Korine. You know, no more dead-dogs-and-cats-posing-for-the-camera type of thang. But there was one scene in particular that burned me. Perhaps it was handled with the utmost professionalism, but I'm skeptical at this point that we weren't witness to some borderline exploitation.

The scene in question takes place in a nursing home. "Michael Jackson" (Diego Luna) is sent there by his agent to entertain the elderly. Luna's performance is sincere, but you get the feeling that behind that camera Korine may be playing the dishonorable opportunist. His cuts to stroke victims and senile residents clapping and singing along with "Michael" appear to be at their expense. I wouldn't say that Korine is mocking them, but it came off like he was using their contortions - a product of their disabilities - as just another part of his production design. It's debatable, and I'm not arguing that the disabled should be off-limits (Late Bloomer, a Japanese film where an actor with cerebral palsy plays a madman, is testament to that), it's just that I sensed a bit of Borat-style chicanery going on. I hope that wasn't the case.


Marilyn said...

Oh to return to an age when we didn't worry about stereotyping and sensitivity in our films! I'm somewhat serious about that, by the way. This came up earlier in a discussion we were having somewhere about whether showing African Americans (blacks, negroes, people of color) eating fried chicken was offensive if that is what they eat. The poor filmmaker may want to shoot a truthful scene but knows he or she will be criticized for it. I'm not saying your senses were wrong, Fox, but your antipathy for the whole of the film may be coloring your judgment in this case. I haven't seen the film - and likely won't (can't stand these jejeune attempts at profundity through scrambled reality) - but I sense a bit of bias...hee hee.

Fox said...

If I remember correctly - and I really mean that b/c my brain is mush right now - I thought I agreed with you about the annoyance of oversensitivity in our criticisms of film and art.

My point was that of course it's fine to show blacks eating fried chicken, but the finer point was that there is context, and that context is what drives the filmmakers intentions. I fight against political-correctness and oversensitivity whenever I can, but that doesn't mean insensitivities things can't exist. I know that you know that... I guess I'm just trying to defend myself in some way.

And now to relate that to Mister Lonely. If "Michael Jackson" goes to a nursing home should they show old people, senile people, stroke victims? Well, of course! But, to me, Korine's context is not just to show these people as a reality of an everyday setting but to use them people as ornaments.

Marilyn said...

I'll have to take your word for it that this is one of those "over the line" cases. I guess I've got a particular bee in my bonnet about this right now because of a review I read of Black Orpheus that seemed concerned with nothing other than the alleged stereotyping. It is such a great film, and if a new crop of critics who are being taken seriously pick it apart for what they see as insensitivity, it may be lost to future generations.

Fox said...

Aren't you the one that just got irked over the director of The Hellstrom Chronicle using "Mankind" instead of "Humankind?

Marilyn said...

Yes, it's totally not the same, and you know it, you sly Fox.

BTW, did you see Bill's Marilyn Monday? I can't pull that up on my computer screen at work!

Fox said...

Wait... is it NSFW?!? B/c I wouldn't be able to pull it up on mine either.

I haven't seen Black Orpheus, but I hear what you're saying. It's like in John Ford's Judge Priest. I've read lots of negative things about the way blacks are treated in that film... same for Elia Kazan's Pinky. But 1.) the critics should have some perspective, and 2.) while the depiction of blacks in those films may seem derogatory today, back then it wasn't. To wipe away a whole film for that is ridiculous. Especially for the fact that these characters - while sometimes caricatures - are still portrayed in a positive light.

Fox said...

UPDATE: Yeah, Bill has Bettie Page bending over today for Marilyn Monday. Seems kind of disrespectful of you, no? :)

Marilyn said...

No, I think he's portraying my attitude of "kiss my ass". It's just kind of a bad picture - she has much better ones out there.

BTW, Facets had a VHS/DVD sale this Saturday and among my purchases was a Bettie Page DVD. Investment purposes only, of course.

Soiled Sinema said...

Harmony's mother side of the family were Trotskyites. Leon Trotsky was responsible for a lot deaths with his subversive and completely deranged dreams of permanent international revolution. I don't know if this had any affect on influencing Mister Lonely though :)

Fox said...

Soiled -

Man... I don't know what Trotsky's intentions were with his "permanent international revolution", but if some type of eugenics/cleansing were involved (like I said, I'm reaching here b/c I'm not a Trotsky aficianodo) then it would be eerie to tie it to that scene in the nursing home where the elderly are portrayed - through my eyes at least - as kind of disposable.

Again, I know I'm reaching here (and sound looney), especially in trying to tie eugenics and cleansing to Mister Lonely b/c his mother as a Trotskyite, who I don't even know if he had opinions on eugenics, but...

Love these little things you always know Soiled. You do some serious digging into people's lives and it's very interesting to frame them around a person's art. Well done.