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by Bill Gibron

17 Jan 2008


This is the Paul Thomas Anderson that all his past films promised. This is the unbelievably talented young gun whose been accused of channeling Robert Altman for a lack of his own signature style. All reverence and referencing are now officially gone, replaced by a solid conceit which announces the 37 year old as one of his generation’s greatest. How Upton Sinclair’s mannered Oil! became this brilliant dissection of greed and God, stoked by a sensational performance by Daniel Day Lewis as wildcatter Daniel Plainview, will remain part of cinema’s creative karma. Still, all credit to a director for playing outside his contemporary comfort zone, exploring period piece precision in a way that few filmmakers have ever managed to accomplish. In concert with the amazing cinematography and storytelling, we end up with an epic so electric it threatens to destroy everything we know about the medium.

When we first meet the ambitious prospector, Plainview is trading silver for surveys and supplies. His ultimate goal is oil, and he soon strikes it rich. Hoping to interest the big companies in his land-based pipeline ideal, Plainview targets a small town. Thanks to a tip from a disgruntled member of the destitute Sunday family, the mogul gets what he wants. But it comes with a price that he may not be willing to pay. Local preacher Eli, brother of the betrayer, wants Plainview to support his fledging church. With lip service and lies, the two come to a cautious accord. But as money begins to blur the ethics of all involved, both sides start to suffer. Plainview’s young son is injured in an accident, and Sunday uses the issue to blackmail the man. Even worse, an important piece of land stands between the tycoon and his ambitious dream. As usual, Eli holds all the cards - or at least, that’s what Plainview lets him think.

When you remove the turn of the century pretext, There Will Be Blood is really nothing more than a battle between two ancient religions - Christianity and Capitalism. Both dogmas are offered in their most perverted, unsavory versions, each one championed by an icon seemingly forged directly out of the individual ideologies’ darkest heart. Plainview is the most obvious in his subversion. He may play protector and beneficiary, but the only good that will ever come out of his speculation inures to his bank account only. On the other end of the spectrum, spiritually if not in principle, is Eli Sunday. The original flim flamming man of God, this unholy holy roller wants everyone to believe in his noble, church going purpose. But again, we soon discover that there’s more to his motives than Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Indeed, between the two, Eli is more evil, since he can’t differentiate between the congregation and his own personal coffers. For Plainview, it’s always about his own pockets.

The war that Anderson sets up plays out against a blistering backdrop of the West as untamed wilderness. Forget the cowboys and their Native American enemies. Ignore the gunslingers and the main street High Noon showdowns. This is how the new frontier was won (or better still, overthrown), and it’s more cutthroat and depraved than any exchange of gunfire. By using the indomitable pioneer spirit against itself, by showing that everyone has an agenda when it comes to land, money, and the fine art of the double cross, Anderson lifts the story beyond its patient, personal components. In some ways, it’s like watching human incarnations of philosophical opposites striving for karmic control. Both men here are despicable and self-centered, but only Plainview lives up to his name. Even with his Cheshire Cat grin and down home palaver, the man is one mean SOB.

Sunday is the harder component to get a handle on, and it’s to actor Paul Dano’s credit that he never lets Day-Lewis overwhelm him. A last minute replacement on the film (apparently, Anderson was not happy with his first choice), he brings an unnerving quiet to what could have been a scenery chewing caricature. Religious fervor often brings out the worst in a performer, letting the spirit overtake any sense of subtlety. Here, Dano is all underplayed menace. He seems weak willed and self-righteous, but the minute Plainview tries to trounce him, the wily preacher shows his hidden horrors. Sunday is easily the oddest element in the film, a figure that some may mistake as minor. But in truth, he supplies the most important facets of the film - a barrier begging for our sly industrialist to confront and conquer. And it’s not an easy campaign.

Naturally, all the buzz that’s built around Day-Lewis and his work here may seem like nothing more than massive media blitzing, but for once, the hype is actually under-serving the work. The English thesp is absolutely spellbinding, so good that his mere presence in a room creates untold levels of character complexity. Some have likened his voice and manner to late filmmaking legend John Huston, but that’s not all together true. Instead, Daniel Plainview is the very essence of the self-made man, a human carved out of the various personalities and perspectives he’s gained in a world filled with business-oriented observation. He’s a master mimic and manipulator. Anderson makes this a physical as well as emotional reality by having the first act of the film play out in pantomime - no dialogue, just Day-Lewis in all his 49er regalia, endlessly toiling for that next scrap of the dream. He is building who he is as he systematically stakes his claims.

As a director, Anderson does a sensational job of assembling his story, He starts small - closed in caves and small ranch shacks. Before long, we see Plainview literally traversing the distance between his claim and the Pacific Ocean. Every so often, the plot throws our emblematic anti-hero an issue (complex son, long lost brother, obstructionist land owner) and we watch as our auteur devises interesting and insightful ways of having Plainview overcome them. By the end, he’s so indestructible, so completely devoid of inherent human kindness that a chance for reconciliation and redemption are avoided for one last game of one-upmanship. Within a design centered more on individuals than ideas, it’s amazing how deep Anderson manages to get. Add in the stellar look and texture of the film and you’ve got one mesmerizing masterpiece.

In fact, the funny thing about There Will Be Blood is that it has the kind of narrative resonance that drives a wedge into your subconscious. As you sit around, days…even months later, your mind wanders back to certain symbolic items: the burning oil rig; Plainview passed out on the floor; Eli’s ethereal services; the last line of dialogue - “I’m finished”. It all gels into the kind of monumental motion picture experience the artform has been missing for far too long. If this movie is ignored come awards time, it will merely be another sign of its lasting classicism. True cinematic greatness eventually gains critical consensus. For Anderson, Day-Lewis, and Blood, the time is clearly now.

 

by Bill Gibron

17 Jan 2008


Hype - specifically the viral, Internet marketing kind - has been under the gun recently, thanks in part to the failure in 2006 of Snakes on a Plane. Pimped and overplayed by fans who felt the title alone indicated a pure kitsch confection, the resulting benign b-movie was very good. But compared to the web-based blitzkrieg that came before, excitement and expectations were bound to clash and then be dashed. The failure forced studios to reexamine its information superhighway strategies. It didn’t stop Lost legend J.J. Abrams from embracing the concept for his latest production - the monster destroys Manhattan home movie Cloverfield. Now, after months of speculation and backwards ballyhoo, the novel genre effort has arrived - and it definitely lives up to the propaganda.

Young Rob Hawkins is leaving New York for a new job opportunity in Tokyo. On the night before his departure, younger brother Jason, best friend Hud, and various friends and family have gathered to celebrate. They include Jason’s fiancé Lily and the object of Hud’s obsessive affection, Marlena. The only person missing is Beth, Rob’s long time gal pal and secret love interest. Confused by something that happened between them weeks before, the trip to Japan has both questioning their commitment. During the festivities, an earthquake - or something like it - hits the city. Suddenly, the power goes out. In the panic, the partygoers head for the building’s roof. There, they see something horrifying. A section of Manhattan explodes into a massive fireball. Then there is a scream. It’s something big. It’s something angry. It’s something ready to destroy New York, block by block. 

Cloverfield is the first great film of 2008. It defies or exceeds the potential inherent in the premise and the approach. Those who believe they are in for another Burkittsville romp will be stunned by the surprising scope here. Somehow, within the POV ideal, TV director Matt Reeves has found a way to make events play out as epic and beyond our comprehension. There are sequences of silent terror. There are moments of big budget action set piecing. Buried in the middle is a believable story about post-modern kids, cameras and cellphones in hand, trying to make sense of some undeniably Earth shattering events. This is so much more than a mere Blair Witch Godzilla. This is a film about perspective, about how we view our world through the media’s mighty lens.

Like Cannibal Holocaust, which used torture and reprehensible atrocities to take on the glaring, unforgiving eye of the filmmaker, Reeves reinvents the giant creature category of horror to question our perverse POV fixation. During the initial chaos, when fireballs and skyscrapers are falling to the ground, one of the characters asks Hud why he’s still filming (he was assigned the job of getting taped testimonials during the party). His answer is matter of fact - “People are gonna want to see this. They’re gonna want to know how it went down.” That’s 2008 in a nutshell, a social conceit that doesn’t believe anything as reported unless there’s accompanying footage taken from an up close and personal perspective. There’s another telling moment when a band of looters pauses to watch a TV report on the attack. Though the events are happening right outside the shop, they are transfixed by how the small screen editorializes and distances them from the fray.

Much of Cloverfield functions this way. Through the lens of a handheld camcorder, the impressive beast (and the astonishing special effects used to create it) comes across as totally believable and unnerving. Even with the shaky, optically disorienting aesthetic used in both the composition and narrative construction helps sell the concept. Full on, what we see here might appear fake or forced. But captured in glimpses, viewed out of the corner of the frame or in the distance as part of another scene’s backdrop, the rampage is a revelation. Those who get queasy from such a Blair/Bourne ideal may want to pack a little Dramamine before they head to the Cineplex. But there is no cure for the impact and power the visual element brings to the standard scare tactics.

Certainly, there are references and homages everywhere. A jaunt down a dark, foreboding subway tunnel recalls Stephen King’s The Stand and moments from James Cameron’s Aliens. The battle between the military and the monster resemble any number of Kaiju experiences from the past, while the makeshift medical lab hints at other world-ending virus tales. What we don’t expect is the Brooklyn Bridge destroying melee, as well as the scramble across a pair of damaged apartment towers. Some of this material may seem sensationalized, presented for the pure art of action. And character motive is sketchy at best. But Reeves, along with Lost scribe Drew Goddard, are relying on our post-9/11 instinct of survival at any cost, and our need for familial connections, to explain the contradictions.

Indeed, the obvious references to the World Trade Center attack (massive debris clouds consuming the streets, victims covered in soot roaming aimlessly through the chaos) is a wonderful - and wise - choice. Because that was a media driven disaster, something 90% of us experienced via our television set and nothing else, it helps sell such a stylized design. Even better, the first person POV that made The Blair Witch Project such a noted novelty works much better here. Of course, this could be because Cloverfield has an actual plot. It’s not a Candid Camera “gotcha” like indie experiment. While comparisons are fair, they’re far from direct. Witch definitely wastes its haunted woods potential. This amazing movie makes the most of the caught as it happens dynamic.

It will be interesting to see how this film eventually plays on the small screen. Since it’s the kind of entertainment that requires the display of a theater to sell its scale, a move to DVD may diminish much or all of its power. But there is still enough awe-inspiring imagery and dread-building suspense here to keep fright fans happy, while those looking for something to salvage an already awful cinematic January should jump for joy. There will be split sentiments - typically along already established genre love/hate lines - over the effectiveness of this gloriously gimmicky exercise in storytelling. The best advice? Ignore the hype and experience Cloverfield for yourself. It’s the only way to gauge how valuable the pre-release You Tubing of the title actually was. Besides, you’ll get a chance to see one of the year’s biggest surprises in the process.

 

 

by Bill Gibron

16 Jan 2008


Over the last three days, SE&L has had the opportunity to champion the current canon of Giuseppe Andrews. We’ve looked at the amazing Americano Trilogy, touched on the brilliance that is the pro-animal Garbanzo Gas, and found ourselves unexpectedly moved by the sensitive short Cat Piss. But this is just the tip of the talent iceberg when it comes to the new voice in American cinema. Andrews has actually been making films for years - inconsistent reports put his first efforts as far back as 1999. The date doesn’t matter really. What’s important is the output - dozens of deranged delights that continue to redefine the focus of film and the ability for anyone with talent and moxie to make it. Many consider these works his “mainstream” efforts, since they are readily available to the public via standard DVD distributors. 

Of course, there are some maddeningly MIA titles. The long dormant Bathroom Home School Box Set from long time supporter Troma has promised intriguing titles like In Our Garden, Dad’s Chicken, Air Conditioning, Monkey, and The Date Movie. Even more frustratingly, while this special section was being prepared, Andrews’ own website announced the addition of another new film, Orzo.  So it’s almost impossible to keep up with this man’s amazing productivity. Still, over the course of the last five years, the staff at SE&L has been lucky enough to see ten other Andrews’ opuses, films so ingenious and inspiring that they actually forecast the future of the artform. In this last day discussion of the man and his muse, we will provide a brief overview of each outstanding title. Together with the previous blog pieces, both the knowledgeable and the newbie should have a fine frame of reference to begin their own Andrews’ reevaluation. Let’s being with:

Trailer Town

Where the Andrews obsession started for many. This absolutely mesmerizing movie begins with a bang and continues down a cockeyed course of craziness until its fatalistic ending with its “I’m mad, drunk, depraved and dirty as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” philosophy. Forcing arcane authenticity to the point of inventive retardation and trading cinema vérité for skin flick straightforwardness, it’s a masterpiece. Buried somewhere in the piss-soaked liquor stained souls of these decomposing denizens lives the true spirit of America, not quite dead but pretty damn close to needing life support. Featuring the fantastic Bill Nolin, Andrews’ first true superstar.



Period Piece

Everything about Period Piece is a philosophical missive about misinterpreting libido for love, pain for personal connection, and desire for dreams. There is much more here than a gross out comedy about old people talking filthy, or snuggling with dead baby pigs. As its title suggests, Period Piece is a statement about the world, today. In our era of mass marketed sex, the influence of XXX material is like an infection. Some people are drowning in the disease, and these are the men that Andrews wants to champion. After all, their needs are as valid as anyone else’s, they’re just not as pretty…or profound…or proper.



Touch Me in the Morning

Touch Me in the Morning is like a series of sharp stabs in the solar plexus, a ennui-reducing wake-up call for anyone who thinks Miramax is the cutting edge of Indie art. Uproariously funny, occasionally cruel, and inventive to a fetid fault, this initial volley in the Andrews career vault is simply outstanding. There is no other moviemaker, past or present, doing what he is doing in the newly minted digital domain. There is no pretense in his work, no attempt to tweak the world into a weird, wacky package. It’s all about people, places, and the public perspective of each.



Dribble (Found on the Best of Tromadance DVD Volume 3)

If anything, this satisfying short film matches the previous masterpieces Andrews has crafted brave beat for beat. He offers more of a narrative here, taking his main character through the trials and tribulations of being a has-been sports hero. There are scenes so profound they literally boggle the mind. There are moments so perverted you feel dirty overhearing them. Andrews loves the language of filth, and he uses words and images in carefully crafted couplets of corruption, blending the brash with the brazen and the bawdy to practically revolutionize onscreen dialogue. One of the man’s best efforts, bar none.



Who Flung Po? (Found on the Trailer Town DVD)

This seems like the film John Waters was trying to make with Polyester. Groovy, grotesque and giggle inducing, this is a funnier, more fetid take on the trailer park people Giuseppe uses to populate his films. Some of the same old faces are present in this tale of pornography and parenthood and there are several classically comic sequences. More fully realized than Trailer Town (again proving that if said film had a viable narrative, the entire enterprise would have skyrocketed into the realm of near perfect prurient parable) Who Flung Poo? is a laugh riot filled with great repeatable lines, a taboo busting storyline and some wonderfully weird characters.



Wiggly (found on the Touch Me in the Morning DVD)

Using the theme of difficult decisions, Wiggly is wonderfully weird. Vietnam Ron is the star here, playing Andrews’s dad, and as usual, he is amazing - a creepy combination of Charles Manson and scarred skeleton. He shouts his lines with a demented glee that is marvelously manic. The usual suspects also turn up throughout the film, and when we get to the fated finale, Andrews handles the meaningful moment perfectly. A great little diversion.



Ants (found on the Touch Me in the Morning DVD)

Our friendly freaked out Ron is back again, essaying the role of a mentally unstable filmmaker melting down at the merest suggestion that something he’s done doesn’t fit his ant movie’s mandates. The standout scene, however, has Andrews randomly rollerblading while an original song about the sport plays in the background. It is both ethereal and engaging, as is this entire short.



The Laundry Room (found on the Touch Me in the Morning DVD)

Perhaps the most “mundane” of Andrews’s films, this feels like two ideas crammed together. The mass-murdering marauder (our Wiggly and Ants star Ron once again) is faultlessly frightening, but there is a strange interlude where an ancillary character goes into a patented Andrews’s X-rated rap that feels out of place. While very entertaining, it’s not a true testament to this auteur’s abilities.



Jacuzzi Rooms (Found on the Period Piece DVD)

Nothing more than a simple set up – four of Andrews’ company getting smashed in a seedy hotel room – this improvised look at men out to party is strangely spellbinding. There are the typical taunts about penis size and sexual prowess, and with liquor involved, things soon turn violent. You can tell that Andrews stopped the drunken antics about halfway through and delivered typed pages filled with poems and elegies to keep the cast coherent. Such a scripted strategy really doesn’t help. If Period Piece is a representation and rejection of sex, then Jacuzzi Rooms is a debauched denunciation of booze.



Okie Dokie

A terrifying testament to the power of love, laced with farts and a fatalistic view of interpersonal relationships, Okie Dokie argues for the continued genius of this maverick moviemaker. Part personal ad come to life, part dialectic on the disconnect between men and women, it picks up where Piece left off, and ties together the various thematic ideals in the other offerings of his oeuvre, specifically Touch Me in the Morning and Trailer Town. Featuring the standard Andrews repertory company, Dokie uses interweaving stories of companionship created and relationships torn asunder to literally redefine the way in which we view romance, lust, depression, and death.

 

 

by Bill Gibron

15 Jan 2008


A few years back, when it seemed like every mainstream media outlet was jumping on the Giuseppe Andrews bandwagon, the unpredictable auteur announced the unthinkable. After working almost exclusively in the domain of the trailer park, after focusing on the residents there and the relationships he forged, he was abandoning everyone’s favorite surreal cinematic backdrop for ‘greener pastures’. Having gained his regal reputation via his doublewide workouts, leaving behind the setting for something else appeared antithetical to his overall aesthetic. More disconcerting, where would he go next, and what would this new direction look like?

Fans needn’t have worried. While recent efforts have indeed moved to motels and interesting homesteads for their locations, Andrews remains the Salem Cigarettes of the marginalized. In essence, you can take the director out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the director. Two new films - the vegan variety act Garbanzo Gas and the poignant portrait of one man’s misery, Cat Piss, proves that even when devoid of an RV vista (as in Gas), there is still enough of the filmmakers’ fascinating spirit to propel his passions forward. Indeed, as with the Americano Trilogy, these newer offerings suggest a growing confidence that is occasionally frightening to behold.

When a lucky cow wins an all expense paid weekend at a local hotel, it can’t believe its good fortune. It gets to relax, unwind, and avoid a trip to the slaughterhouse - at least for a few days. Of course, it couldn’t imagine the menagerie of madmen it would run into. Down the hall is a pair of drug addled dimwits who are desperate for something to eat. The cow becomes their main focus. Meanwhile, two different spree killers are wrecking havoc. One murders at the command of some erroneous bath linen. The other listens to a voice inside his shoe, the instructions resulting in even more dead bodies. All the while, our contented animal tries to accommodate everyone’s needs, which typically revolve around a room service meal of meat and potatoes.

Garbanzo Gas is either the most brilliant pro-vegetarian film ever made, or the most maddening deconstruction of meat’s magical allure since the Sawyer clan discovered the value in human hamburger. Centering on the mythical, mouthwatering promise of steak (and a fully dressed baked potato side dish), and using the actual source of such succulence as the pro/con catalyst, Andrews expands outward, taking on suicidal tendencies, homicidal madness, insanity, and fixation. Overflowing with the filmmaker’s trademark deranged dialogue, and incorporating a tender performance from Andrews’ staple Vietnam Ron, this well-meaning message movie is far more effective than a perverse PETA rally in reiterating the value of animal life, and the uselessness of human existence.

Every person we meet in this stunning celluloid statement is an asshole. The two tweaking lowlifes awaiting the hotel’s check-out time to literally do the same are desperate dope fiends, foaming at the mouth over vending machine chips and in-room coffee. They are so hapless and hungry that they even go down to the seashore and try to catch some fish. On the opposite end are two serial killers - one driven to his deeds by a talking towel, the other who imagines he’s mandated by a shoe promising chili cheese fries. While the premises seem laughable, the analogy is crucial. All man wants to do is kill - be it for sustenance, or to fuel some insane psychological desire. And thanks to the performance of Walt Dongo, Matt Dougal, and Tyree, we get that concept loud and lamentably clear.

On the other hand, Vietnam Ron’s quiet, considerate cow is projected as the voice of reason and accommodation. Anything these vacation interlopers want, he is more than willing to provide. Even when faced with dealing out free versions of himself (not literally), he happily obliges. It’s a brilliant casting step by Andrews. Ron is, without a doubt, a subversive superstar. But he’s also an inherently interesting actor, and a man seemingly incapable of outright anger. Sure, he’s been malevolent in the past, but it has always been a put on. Here, his genuine personality comes through, and it’s a stunning display. It makes his last act conversation with a man from the slaughterhouse all the more emotional. Any other member of the Andrews’ crew would not have worked. Garbanzo Gas needs Vietnam Ron to resonate.

And it really does work. While he avoids the standard abattoir shock treatment (no blood and guts here), Andrews uses shots of sunbathing bovine - and another one of his amazing songs - to finalize the attitude. Yet it’s a cleverly confused conceit. Because of the main characters fascination with steak and all the trimmings, because of how dedicated they are to their misguided mastication, Gas seems to suggest that, while murder, meat is pretty damn tasty. Sure, the contemplative animals argue against the senseless slaughter of same, but when recognizable archetypes scream for slabs of cow carcass, the carnivore in everyone is tantalized. Of course, as a staunch vegetarian, Andrews would argue with that assessment, but when it comes to his art, Garbanzo Gas is more intricate than a standard protest piece.

If you’re looking for simplicity, Cat Piss is the answer. Hailed as a literal return to the trailer park, it centers on Andrews’ newfound friendship with resident Wally Lavern. Under the premise that he would live with the man 24/7 and record their “relationship”, Piss provides the kind of retro-realistic view into the world of the marginalized that few films - let alone filmmakers - would ever dare discuss. As our director helps out around the decaying trailer, as Lavern has imaginary political debates with a broken TV, as flutes are practiced and cats are comforted, this is what the end of one’s days really looks like.

Equally heartbreaking and hilarious, Cat Piss calmly revises our view of Andrews’ environ. Where before, everything was scatology and sexual drive, the implied gimmickry of seeing old people prance around in the all together, here is the way things really are. Matter of fact, unexaggerated for the looming, omniscient camera, this is the very fringes of what we consider to be civilized society. Lavern is not viewed as a joke, or something to be pitied. Instead, Andrews uses his own goofball grace to turn his costar into a perturbing poster boy. It’s the kind of portrayal that we can feel - we can smell the dank air inside the trailer, taste the featureless food bought on a carefully controlled budget. If they were smart, political candidates would hire Andrews to create their pro/con economy ads. No one has a better eye for the travesties of retail existence.

Indeed, this is one of the filmmaker’s most ideological offerings, perhaps even more than Gas. Since Lavern is allowed to rant at the blank boob tube, selling sentiments that may disturb a more liberal mindset, Andrews must counter said caustic conservatism with visuals: the unhappiness on the man’s face; the docile pleasures of playing a plastic flute; the look on a friendly feline’s face. It’s the haves vs. the always have nots all over again. While Gas may have taken the trailer park out into the real world, this is the literal landscape Andrews understands best. It makes what could have been maudlin and morose into an uplifting and quite special experience.

This is true of all of Andrews work, no matter how smutty or silly. His desire to delve beyond the limits of so-called “legitimate” cinema to seek art where it is ample is commendable. Painters know that the imitation of life - any life - is better than a faked foundation. Why shouldn’t filmmakers follow the same inspiration rules? Giuseppe Andrews understands this all too well. This is why his oeuvre is so outstanding. This is why, no matter the pronouncements, he’ll never fully leave behind his trailer town roots.

Scores: Garbanzo Gas
DVD

 

Scores: Cat Piss
DVD

by Bill Gibron

14 Jan 2008


Life. Death. Love. Hate. Family. Friends. Art. Artifice. These are the stalwarts of human existence.  They are the boundaries by which we analyze and legitimize our lives. They are the personality benchmarks, the tactile reflections of our existential image. We embrace most. We avoid others - either purposefully or indirectly - and yet when it comes right down to it, the basis of every individual is figuring out how to deal with these facets and their inate eternal struggle. Media has always played a part in this dissection, from epic poems and the days of Greek theater to novels, television, and motion pictures. But no one has really captured the essence of these competing elements - until now.

Avant-godhead Giuseppe Andrews has created a near 200 minutes masterwork of pain, passion, and perversion. Labeled The Americano Trilogy, it stands as one of cinema’s greatest accounts of that humble state known as humanity. Actually, Andrews has made three amazing movies, linked thematically by their desire to delve deep into the heart of what makes us tick. Consisting of the wedding farce Golden Embers, the relationship lunacy of Holiday Weekend, and the demented death meditation Everlasting Pine, we see the same actors essaying different characters, acting out frequently incongruent plots. But taken together, these films become a perfect satiric amalgamation of everything our society sits on.

When we first meet the characters from Golden Embers, they are people in transition. One is a bride to be, hoping her ex-addict brother can stay sober long enough to walk her down the aisle. The sibling is a sexually obsessed dope fiend, desperate for any kind of psychosexual release - and lots of wacky white powder. Locked up in a hotel room, freebasing his sordid memories and many erotic needs, he slowly comes unglued. Soon, we are witnessing rampant mood swings, murderous hallucinations, and the world’s most misguided nuptials, complete with dancing.

As Giuseppe Andrews movies go, Golden Embers is almost a one man show. Miles Dougal gives an amazing, tour de force performance as a man awkwardly coming to grips with losing his baby sister. Riddled with guilt over something from his past, and replacing the loss with unspeakable acts of self-indulgence, this is a David Lynch drama on badly cut cocaine. During the course of his motor lodge madness, Dougal speaks to angels, a defiant version of himself, and various real (and imaginary) drug dealers. We see snippets of a dream, a non-nightmare of sorts where our harried hero believes his is trying to slay his sibling. Of course, this all leads back to abandonment issues, and Dougal’s desire to crawl back into the carnal comforts of the womb - any womb.

This is the first indication that Andrews can draw beyond the trailer park for his squalid slices of life. We barely visit the tornado magnets of previous epics as beach settings, backyards and other real world locales get the savant surreality treatment. As usual, the director finds freakish faces to realize his most vivid fever day dreams, and along with long time collaborators Vietnam Ron and Walt Dongo, we are introduced to Tommy Salami, Ed, and the amazing Elaine Bongos. All these new people provide a window into the fresh way Andrews is working. Even the standard scatology that comes with the territory is metered out in a far more humorous and heart-wrenching fashion. 

Because it is a middle act, the narrative driving Holiday Weekend is centered on people and how they relate to each other. A young couple quibbles over an impulsive decision to steal a coffee machine, while the victimized pair sans Sanka plays an unusual game of affection and abuse. A young man with werewolf-ism moves in with a fledgling songwriter, while elsewhere, an injured individual with Tourettes seeks council from a high priced lawyer. All the while, some elderly homosexual lovers reunite, dancing to celebrate the rekindling of their long dormant love.

Referencing Mr. Eraserhead once again, and giving us his spin on spirituality and the afterlife, Holiday Weekend is like several smart sketches that add up to one indelible portrait. We are definitely dealing with the standard relationship conceits - anger and codependency, trust and its violation, acceptance and forgiveness, and realizing that love has no prejudice, no pride, and no presumptions. In between trips to a hotel bathroom (which acts as a way station of sorts for God’s judgmental wrath) and another Dougal rant as the victim of some loose cobblestones, Andrews offers up insights into a world we all know, but dare not acknowledge. Even the more fanciful element - a man who suffers from a paranormal problem, a killer automaton - can be boiled down to issues of personal space and its disturbing violation.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this story is the coffee maker-less couple. She’s a clean freak, locked in cycles of endless scrubbing and scouring. He’s an ox like ogre, a bully bent on getting his way with his fists and a facile sense of sensitivity. Of the three amazing films, this is the best written. Andrews’ dialogue jumps off the screen, offering memorable bits like the scene where an old man declares his lust for his 80-plus year old paramour, web tech dissections, and more grade-A porn poetry. Clearly, Andrews is exploring the theme of outside manipulation - either by a so-called Supreme Being, or a deranged mad scientist who builds a remote controlled robot bent on killing. We are supposed to see that all life is driven by unseen forces, things we can’t anticipate or expect.

In makes a perfect tie-in to the final film. In Everlasting Pine, a famed composer is having problems with his wife. She’s still vital and alive, seeking occasional sexual congress from a new age Yoga guru. He, on the other hand, is moody and temperamental, lost in a world of ritualistic habits and dark obsessions. When he is commissioned by a friend to write a requiem for his dead father, the same old feelings flare up. When the cuckold learns of the price his problems have wrought, he sees only one violent way out.

Focusing on a single person once again (Vietnam Ron is spectacular as the screwed up musician) and using his plight as a frame of reference for all the other issues in the story, Andrews brings his triptych to a close in brilliant fashion. Contentment, and its lack of curative properties propel this story, as we see one man (Dongo’s yoga master) requiring sex to fill in the gaps missing in his spiritual quest, while Ron’s composer can’t abide by much except coffee and the occasional roll in the sack. Both men are viewed as masters of their domain, capable of great and glorious things. But when you remove the pretense of fame, when you take away what they’ve done in the past for what they’re responsible for now, it seems like charlatanism meshed with good old fashioned flim flam.

Andrews again fleshes out his supporting roles by including newcomer Ed (a guitar virtuoso who has collaborated with the writer/director on several of his amazing CDs) and the plain speaking Salami. It’s important to note that the filmmakers personal flame, the intriguing Marybeth Spychalski handles the main female roles in each story, and her voice of reason vibrancy matched with her uncanny ability to blend with her clearly amateur costars turn her into an instant source of audience access. Indeed, what many may wonder about the work of Giuseppe Andrews is, given its source, its structure, its star power, and its frequent bouts of strangeness, how accessible can it really be? Thanks to Spychalski, and her beau’s ability behind the typewriter, lens, and portable recording studio, the answer is self-evident. You’ll have to work a little - these are interactive films by inherent definition - but your efforts will be rewarded over and over again.

Indeed, like all his work, Andrews’ Americano Trilogy is a mesmerizing triumph. It’s not car wreck compelling or freak show undeniable. Instead, these films easily transcend their oddball obviousness to become canvases in a gallery of mankind’s many individual incarnations. We see ourselves here, even if the conversation is centering around various references to female genitalia and not how this month’s budget will get balanced. For every whiff of authenticity, Andrews tosses in awkward moments of undeniable art. It’s there when an over the hill whore strips naked and lets her sags show. It’s present in an acting performance that damns the standard torpedoes and piles on the scenery chewing splendor. It’s buried inside the insular references, and it’s lost amid incomplete line readings and on camera nerves.

Currently only available on Andrews’ personal website (www.giuseppeandrews.net) Americano masks the horrors of everyday living by turning the twisted into the tame, the grotesque into the gorgeous. There will be some small minded movie fans that look at what is accomplished here as nothing more than hackneyed home movies made by a supposedly talented Hollywood himbo and a group of his marginalized Sterno-fueled friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. In an era where ability is finally being met by machinery, Golden Embers, Holiday Weekend, and Everlasting Pine are the films the New Wave would have made had they not had state sponsored studios staring over their shoulder. They’re the true post-modern efforts the ‘70s just couldn’t touch. All revolution is part freedom, part fear. Get rid of the dread and you’ll discover the jaundiced joys awaiting you in this terrific trio.

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