The best, most shocking movie attack on aspirational middle class American white people ever made, "PSYCHO" enjoyed it's Fiftieth Birthday this summer. Alright, it's been fleeced for ideas for half a century, but "PSYCHO" will remain perverse and eerie, if no longer shocking or scary, forever. It's still full of dementia, kicked off by the film's low-rent, Arizona-to-California horizontal rip off that ends in a genteel, slow motion collision at the deathly vertical of the Bates family home. Visit Norman, the self-educated, somehow East Coast-imprint scarecrow Hamlet, riding out the last of the family wealth, incarnated incongruously in a dust bowl location only miles, it is made clear, from the still-sinister Bakersfield, California. In "PSYCHO", preserved eternally, is the existential wasteland of 1960 Caucasoid class programming, with Marion's dream destination, her "private island", Sam's debt-ridden hardware store, revealed to be plain yet vaguely menacing, invigorated only by an old lady moralizing about painless pest executions, framed by a fan of clawed garden rakes reaching up into the background. Everything's evil, and it's beautiful. And again, the cinema question is asked once more: "is 'PSYCHO' noir?"
Norman's not alone. Everybody's crazy in this movie. Crazy like Pat Hitchcock, as the newly married secretary who joyously admits to being high on tranquilizers on her wedding day; like Marion, who throws her life away for 40,000 dollars, not much to run away with even then; the sheriff's wife, who suggests stopping by for dinner and a filing of a missing persons report. They're all psycho. Except for Arbogast.
They say the ground floor of the house is Norman's ego, upstairs is Mother, his superego, and the cellar is his id. You decide.
That thing Anthony Perkins does with his eyes remains far out to this day. He isn't crossing them; one eye is going one way, then the other eye wanders independently the other way, then he snaps both eyes back to normal, to Norman, to his rotting post-grad routine.
The brand new Blu-Ray release of this killing blow to 1950's-era economic and social control devices is supposed to be insane, one of the best Blu-Rays of all time. Got to have to take a look into this Blu-Ray techknowledge. For "PSYCHO".
The location - a scorched, downtown industrial park surrounded by chain link fences and a nightmarish, Great Gatsby-style all-seeing billboard of the chief creep from that upcoming Facebook movie - was a dystopian joke. Limited shade led to the comic sight of skinny rock fans collecting under a thin, dead strip of tree for relief. The advertised description of food trucks was misleading...nothing much worth buying and eating (excepting the excellent brownies provided by a tentful of vegan women for a reasonable price of I think three dollars). The event quickly became known in long lines as the WTF Fest, not the FYeah Fest. Sadly, an ATM machine stationed alone on a plot of ashen grass like the monolith from '2001' said it all. Later on, thick clouds of golden dust rising into the air at sundown from the stack heel boot tracks of thousands provided some environmental beauty. Were it not for the exceptional bill - 7 Seconds returned with vengeance, assorted bands in the daytime were routinely excellent, with Sleep finally providing a power surge strong enough to reboot the people's cooked and mistreated operating systems - all would have been lost.
Professional specter and peripatetic cut-up king Brion Gysin gets The New Museum of Contemporary Art treatment this month in New York. His chaos-fueled workings may reap new shreds of relevance during the anarchic birth process of our next aeon. The exhibition's catalog conveniently doubles as a build-your-own Dream Machine. No turntable on these premises, though. Luckily, there is a digital version of Gysin's psychedelic hearth ready to go online:
I was broke and answered an ad off Craigslist looking for bartenders at an art gallery, The Ace Gallery. I must have still had a car at that time, because driving to the gallery to drop off a printed resume was part of this memory, and in recollection, getting over to Wilshire and LaBrea was no big deal. Something like four months later they called and asked me to bartend at an opening the next evening. Foul tempered, desperate but not interested, I said, 'Which show?' They said, 'It's a Dennis Hopper retrospective'. I said, 'Sure - what time?' I was asked to set up a bar, inside what could have doubled for a big coat room in the fairly gigantic Ace Gallery. Beer, wine, some champagne, soda, water. No mixed drinks. Which was good, because I would have needed a book for that. When I got there, Dennis Hopper was already in the gallery, a distant figure in the next room, walking with a journalist from hot Brit rag The Guardian, taking the writer on a tour, their heels breaking on the stone floor in the still brightly lit art cavern. The two were checking out DH's billboard size expansions of pics from his William Blake-caliber youth. Giant scale blow-ups of photos, alongside superhuge, Ruscha-flat painted versions of his more famous shots and some other, heretofore unseen-by-me experimental stuff that had 1960's L.A. cred written all over it. 'That one I, you know, took a shot of at...' DH drawled as I ripped open clear plastic bulk covering those little water bottles galleries have. A red curtain, a heavy one, hung closed next to me, but I could still hear them. The awed but neutral Brit made phonetic utterances of interest and pleasure at the huge surfaces before him. Lots of familiar images: Dennis was everywhere. He got it all, in supreme black and white. Jane Fonda with her hair blowing in beach wind, posing with a bow and arrow, in a bikini. Martin Luther King - a subject not here presented in this Land Of The Giants-scale show as some NPR-authorized cryo-deacon, but instead for what MLK really is: a subversive artist of some renown. There was a colossal reproduction of that shot of the quiffed early biker and his mama that was used on The Smiths' 73rd Greatest Hits compilation. 'And here's where I'll be judged the most tonight: the bar'. The curtain was whipped back and there they were, and I froze there, like a thief who was putting things in order instead of taking them. 'Hi!' DH said. It was the two of them, the skinny Brit, and DH, movie star in scale, small, jazzed out: cool jazz, so chill. I didn't have a panic attack. It was a cinema attack. Before me at that moment was a snowy owl Frank Booth with a goatee, the somehow simian psychopath of 'Apocalypse Now', Feck, the blank Byron of the '50's, peripheral in 'Cool Hand Luke', yes, dammit, 'Easy Rider'...the all-American artist-maniac, forty years of gale force madness. I said 'hi' back, but remained floored. Plus, I had shit to do. The joint was going to be packed. Some server troops showed up. It got dark and Dennis returned with his slim, glam wife, the two soon the center of an instantaneous living wave of all ages manifesting itself in the blink of an eye. Classy older ladies with swirled white hair, the aforementioned Ed Ruscha, slinky chicks, lucky rockers, the Viggo, Talisa Soto and husband, others more. Soto is known for pulling off a worthy portrayal of Vampirella, enjoying a home forever in the movie cosmos right here:
Yeah, the list went on. It got hot. Real hot. We rationed the beverages after the champagne and wine ran out. The old ladies were handed cups of cold beer as first priority, passed through the curtain, to provide some moisture, since the water and soda were gone, too. As the party surged and roared, we proletariat art workers were also forced to drink sips of beer for moisture. I handled the tasks at hand like a pro as always, but my imagination wandered away. Like Woody Allen's Zelig, Dennis Hopper traveled through many different social realms, meeting many different people. Dennis Hopper knew Marjorie Cameron. Seriously, Marjorie Cameron, the former Mrs. Jack Parsons, the still-mysterious Wormwood witch of Hollywood legend, who met Dennis Hopper on his first or second film, Curtis Harrington's 'Night Tide', in which Cameron played a Greek-speaking priestess of a downright vulvar oceanic order (shot in Venice Beach):
At the end of the night, the gallery owner asked me to come back the next afternoon. Dennis Hopper would be providing a tour for a small group of patrons of the gallery, and they would need a bartender. I showed up and set up a bar by myself in the middle of the gallery, but nobody wanted anything. My presence was unaddressed and therefore ghostly. I watched as Dennis Hopper walked a group of maybe four old ladies - each appearing as if beamed in from a more innocent, starched decade - through the gallery, humbly sharing anecdotes about the time and place of the photos, how he came to meet various artists, polite tales of his weird journey. The ladies' attentions seemed to drift off; after a while, it seemed as though they weren't really listening. I couldn't believe it. A private tour with Dennis Hopper, and they were fading. I didn't care what I was supposed to be doing there, and tuned in to the history lesson instead. After that job, I saw Dennis Hopper one last time, from the audience of the last time 'Night Tide' director Harrington appeared alive in public (he died a few days later), at The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood in 2007, where 'Night Tide' was shown as part of some festival, introduced by Dennis Hopper. After the screening, I got into it, waving my arm around in the back rows during Q+A, angling to pepper the talk with the subject of Cameron and Parsons, but it didn't happen. The blonde accompanying me was entertained by my sticky passions for Los Angeles mysticism; it was pretty funny. Harrington actually gasped for breath from his seat on the stage a few times, fighting to stay alive, so close to death was he that I recall the audience itself gasping once or twice along with him. Throughout, standing next to the dying Harrington, Dennis Hopper was avuncular, Zen, a total star.
Some in Los Angeles cleanse their intestines with the same fascination the Japanese reserve for fibre optic camera ear cleaning. More revelatory is the ritualistic gutting of storage lockers: the adept sits, ceremonially drinking from a Big Gulp goblet, legs splayed on the floor of a concrete mausoleum of almost abandoned material remnants, going through old cardboard boxes, their torn, damp walls opening outward like those eggs in "Alien". The photos I dug up charted a Richter scale of dukha, as well as moments of casual, dopey transcendence, cast with human strays that entered and exited this existence in unknown trajectories, posing inside drug store prints haunted with shafts of supernatural southern California light. Some drawings, unfinished or ripped or forgotten about, reappeared and got saved.
"The year was 1975. It was 3am in Barney's Beanery, one of the oldest restaurants in Los Angeles, and the 64-year-old filmmaker Nicholas Ray was sitting on his own at the bar. The director of Rebel Without A Cause, Bigger Than Life and Johnny Guitar may have been revered in Europe ('The cinema is Nicholas Ray,' Jean-Luc Godard famously said of him), but back home in the US in the mid-Seventies, his reputation didn't count for much.
That night in Barney's, the new owner was threatening to throw him in jail because he didn't have the funds to pay a $13 bar tab. In the end, he had to be bailed out by an editor friend of his, Frank Mazzola, a one-time LA gang leader who had worked on Rebel Without A Cause.
'He called me,' Mazzola recalls. 'When I picked him up, I actually had $13 in my pocket. The guy said $13.37 or he goes to jail. I said: "This is Nick Ray who kept this place alive for years." He still said $13.37 or he goes to jail. I didn't have 37 more cents and the guy was serious. Luckily, there was a gal who was a sheriff in West Hollywood who threw 37 cents on the table.'
The Hollywood-area gloom of Nicholas Ray's "In A Lonely Place" acts as a narcotic ether from which his cast of characters half-heartedly wander, eventually wandering back into it as irreparable, spectral figures. Humphrey Bogart's amused self-hatred, his WWII-induced antipathy to human feeling, in addition to his steady stream of numbing drinks, allow for a career as a bitter Hollywood screenwriter, divorced from his discipline and ambitions as an artist. Unlike his tragic actor friend who he funds and lubricates, Bogart's Dixon Steele has not yet succumbed to alcoholic dementia; he sees his career, clearly, for what it is: a waste of talent. It is Steele's hair-trigger temper, which leads police to suspect him of the murder of a coat check girl bewitched by celebrity (the true audience for Steele's Hollywood output), that has nevertheless served him for some time as a protective device for his wounded integrity; still, he feels compelled to change. Yet by surrendering his fits of rage to the love of a broken starlet terrified of his murderous potential, Steele unwittingly initiates his own further descent into Hollywood's still darker pits of self-annihilation.
Female counterpart Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame) is almost as alienated as her true love. Crushed by an attempt at entertainment industry prostitution, the starlet carefully attempts to feel something just one more time with Bogart's murder suspect writer. A masseuse character, Laurel Grey's only confidante and an Easter Island monolith of arch lesbianism, condemns the wounded actress's trust of the notorious Dixon Steele during a menacing rubdown, one of the movie's nightmarish noir highlights. Laurel Grey is deceiving herself too; by believing Dixon Steele can transcend his fits of fury, she is convincing herself she can find true love in Hollywood. She can't.
Despite the virtuoso boozing and smoking, self-delusion is the addictive substance of "In A Lonely Place". Nicholas Ray spells it out in the dinner scene in which Humphrey Bogart recasts his old WWII buddy (now a cop on his tail) and his wife as murderer and victim in a recreation of the movie's crime. Bogart's expert narrative account of the killing hypnotizes his old pal until his arm closes around the throat of his loving wife. It seems that, guided by some creative suggestion, people in Hollywood can believe they are capable of anything. Except love.
In the case of Bogart's Dixon Steele, he convinces himself briefly he is capable of a traditional marital coupling. He isn't. It is this final self-deceit that sends him further into the oil slick black palm trees of his never-ending Hollywood night.
As a result of scoring a press pass to the first ever Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, I enjoyed a choppy print of "In A Lonely Place" on a large screen at The Mann 6 on Hollywood Boulevard. Humphrey Bogart's sepulchral presence and leering, cadaveresque grin projected wall-size resonate as transgressive brilliance in this era of shiny android movie men.
After Bogart staggers through the archway of his apartment complex into the cosmic despair that is his fate, I returned underground to the Los Angeles Metro system, where a haggard woman arranged a half-dozen crusty stuffed animals on a row of seats beside a well-coordinated wheeled load of her earthly belongings. She ordered, to nobody and everybody, "Don't kiss me! Or spit on me! Or kiss me! Or spit on me! Or kiss me!"
Supersonic salvo suppliers Earth appeared live at The Echoplex last night, in predictably unpredictable icy April air. Fashionable pharmaceutical grass suggested itself in dark doorways that led to The Echoplex's famous rear entry; clearly, Spaceland talent personnel were keenly aware of day and date, and booked accordingly. While Dylan Carlson's steady, brooding modulations of yogic clarity soothed and cleansed, it was opening act Wolves In The Throne Room that surprised with their own wounded and wounding black metal brutality. All that was required for this reporter was to lean against a wall of the now-swanky Echoplex during their set to feel to full effect The Wolves' chakra-aligning high voltage vibration. As our planet shivers and expunges its way into a heretofore unknown, welcome, parallel reality, this double bill of mystic magi delivered what was needed most: a restoration of the holiness of a sustained metal moment.
In meteorological news, the strange cloud formations continue, new bulbous clots daily, making gentle transitions into new shapes, waiting for examination in the mornings when I exit through the gate. Japanese mushroom cumulus by any definition, they sit up there, setting new tones. Below us, hot molten syrup churns, self-luminating liquid metal deep beneath the surface of the earth roils to a climax, the vibrating flatulence of a new, muscular planet. The nets of oppression groan as old knots ache to keep the wild mammals in motionless positions. Farewell, Earth One: FARE WELL!