[14 January 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
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.