Monday, January 19, 2009

ON DVD: TOWELHEAD

From watching American Beauty, one would've probably guessed that Alan Ball was a bitter man. Eight years on, however, the contempt inside that film's screenwriter has only swelled. "What's it like being you?" David Thewlis' Johnny iconically asks Uwen Bremner in Mike Leigh's Naked, and I'd like to lean in on a lonely street corner, myself, and lob Mr. Ball that exact same question. Immature ain't a strong enough word to describe this fifty-one year old who still seems hung up on mommy & daddy issues. Yet Ball doesn't present them in a confessional, self-reflective Ingmar Bergman way, but in that egocentric modern hipster way that's part Augusten Burroughs "admire-my-pitiful-upbringing" and part Paul Haggis "fuck-the-world" philosophizing.

Why Alan Ball chose a thirteen year-old girl to be his spit-bucket surrogate in his latest film, Towelhead, is a mystery, but one thing it reveals for certain is that Ball is some kind of sick suburban-sadist. Jasira (Summer Bashil), is a preteen Lebanese-American girl living with her divorced mother. The first sound & image we get of Jasira is of her having her pubes shaved by her mother's scumbag boyfriend. The mother then blames the incident on Jasira's precociousness, not her boyfriend's perversions, and thus ships Jasira off to live with her father in Houston. Towelhead is already a zero star film at this point, and we've still got one hundred minutes to go.

Critics who stand-up for this kind of tripe typically use the excuse of "black humor" to defend it. Yet, these are the same people who will defend sadist-horror as having Bush-era political relevance. The thing is, saying that, doesn't it mean it is. There's a timidness behind these arguments and you can sense it on the face of the words. Mainstream critics are reluctant to simply admit they get pleasure from these exhibitions of punishment, so they'll cover it up in fanciful wordplay, keeping their fantasies in the closet.

The fantasies being played out in an Alan Ball film are the destruction and annihilation of a social-class, most specifically, of suburbia. It's a kind of acceptable, agreeable, and fashionable fascism for the set who'll claim that "violence is never the answer". It's interesting, then, when these same people, who admire films like American Beauty or Towelhead, act offended upon seeing something blatant and direct like Pasolini's Salo. Perhaps it's because Salo, at its heart, exposes and blasts these social & cultural-sophisticates for what they are.

Though the actress who plays Jasira, Summer Bishil, was eighteen-to-nineteen years old during the production of Towelhead, it's objectionable what she was put through for the film, not only as a young woman, but as a human being. Jasira is raped, has her pubes shaved (twice), gets molested (twice), is sexually humiliated, beaten, called countless slurs, spit on, and more. But what mostly creeps one out is the way Ball films Bishil in the most sexually suggestive moments.

Using Larry Clark-style cocktease close ups and innocent, seductive lighting (look at the way he lets the color bounce off Bishil's face in the above still) Ball perplexedly aims to attain a mood of eroticism for scenes that are nothing but rotten. No, I don't think Ball is personally getting off on this, but it does bring to mind the way fellow filmmaker Gus Van Sant chooses to shoot savagery in beautiful ways. It's as if these two director's visual acumen are totally separated from their understanding of the language in an image. Don't call them brave, don't call them challenging, don't call them rebellious... call them Shitheads.

6 comments:

bill r. said...

The thing is, saying that, doesn't it mean it is.

It also doesn't mean, even if those things exist in a film, that the film is any good.

I hate Alan Ball, and doubt I'll see this, but why he chose a thirteen year-old girl to be his surrogate here is probably because it's based on a novel.

Fox said...

Good point Bill. I had forgot about that. I doubt I'll ever read the book, but I wonder how much he kept in/left out, because it has a very definite American Beauty vibe to it.

Still, I also wonder if Ball perhaps read the book and thought that Jasira would make a good vessel for his whiny ways.

Egbert said...

I saw a lot of useful material in this post!
car dealerships in buffalo ny | lax limo service | shipping boxes

Nigel said...

Pretty helpful data, thanks so much for this article.
disco clothes | green leggings | size of business card

cialis said...

Manitoba, we achat cialis here chose a recipe rooted in peasant culture. The beet leaf holopchi recipe depicts the ability of people to take the most male-pilule.com modest of ingredients and make them into something entirely delicious.

Anonymous said...

Brokersring.com - Learn how to turn $500 into $5,000 in a month!

[url=http://www.brokersring.com/]Make Money Online[/url] - The Secret Reveled with Binary Option

Binary Options is the way to [url=http://www.brokersring.com/]make money[/url] securely online