Multiple Maniacs (John Waters, 1970)



A classic Dreamland production that somehow had managed to pass me by, Multiple Maniacs may just be Waters’ true masterpiece. Unlike Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble, where Divine’s characters are driven by perhaps overly-cartoonish grandiose ambitions of infamy and depravity, Maniacs‘ incarnation of Lady Divine has her pettiness and hyperbole balance one another out to the point that her motivations seem typically, dare I say, reasonable?

Early enough in Waters’ career for his influences still to shine through, the spectator is able – encouraged, even, to pick up on references to Jack Smith, Buñuel, Pasolini; the cinematography’s roaming imperfections, in relation to sporadic yet vital use of post-production overhead narration allows the aesthetic to range from genuine vérité to a semi-neorealist Flaming Creatures. Consequently perhaps, although Multiple Maniacs clearly intends to shock, disturb and disgust, its portrayal of sexuality borders at times on the legitimately erotic.

Coming closest therefore to addressing the Dreamlanders’ actual desires, it is unsurprising that Maniacs effectively represents their actual principles, too, before they become refracted into different characters in later films. At the heart of Multiple Maniacs‘ philosophy is the celebration of family, however alternative it may be, and, accordingly, that the greatest sin of all is betrayal. Pink Flamingos addresses the same issues of protection of an alternative family structure, but the threatening forces are external tribalist animosity. Polyester recognises the internal threat of betrayal, but within a bourgeois heteronormative nuclear family. Multiple Maniacs‘ power stems in many ways from its reflection on the need for unity within queer social relations, to such an extent that its prolonged jump-cut sequence between Divine and Mink’s “rosary job” and Jesus, first feeding the “5000,” and then being given the kiss of death by Judas, and his inevitable crucifixion, cannot be interpreted purely as simple sacrilege. Instead, this is Waters himself engaging with the parabolic.

Considering the motley crew of reprobates involved in this and practically all productions of Waters’, Multiple Maniacs is the perfect love letter to what was to come.



Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2015)


Still pretty hot on the tails of his previous, similarly named revenge subversion, Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is a triumph of his increasingly signature style of adding mumblecore sensibilities to genre-flick settings and, in so doing, establishing a surprising synthesis that eschews the navel-gazing of one and the repetition of the other. I’m reminded of the myriad youtube parodies of West Anderson’s instantly recognisable style, applying it to the tropes of pornography and horror – there’s a brilliant fake trailer for, I believe You’re Next as directed by Anderson – were Saulnier not already rapidly establishing himself as an auteur in his own right, one could easily describe Green Room in terms of premise, execution and success, as “Straw Dogs, as directed by Richard Linklater.”

Hardcore band The Ain’t Rights’s tour of the Pacific Northwest comes disastrously a-cropper and they find themselves the hapless opening act for a neo-Nazi skinhead club. (Sidenote: the person who books the gig describes them as “far right, well, technically far left,” which might actually imply the members adhere to a violent wing of the perpetually embarrassing and 99.9% of the time just as racist National-Anarchism movement. However, there are Swastikas abound, so it clearly has, at the very least devolved into full-blown neo-Nazism, whatever the original intentions allegedly were. It’s in no way relevant to the plot, but it did get me thinking, nonetheless.) Following a set that starts off defiantly bumpy due to a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ anthemic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!” the band stumble upon a grisly murder scene in the eponymous green room and quickly find themselves barricaded, fending off attacks from the nastiest members of the movement, not to mention their bloodthirsty attack dogs, all led by the silver-tongued and scheming Darcy (Patrick Stewart).

True dialectical materialism demands both thesis and antithesis to be at a climactic stage of development for the synthesis, andGreen Room is absolutely no exception – the film is a masterful balancing act of bloodiness and gore which extracted a fair few gasps from my fellow audience members, and a genuinely humanist attitude, spending time and energy on establishing inner conflicts and contradictions in even the most minor of characters, allowing for motives to “justify” everyone’s actions to a point of sense, but never having it be so clear-cut to a point of 2-dimensionality. Thus, this world of brutal violence is immediate and inherent, purely for the reasons that the writing, direction, editing, acting, even the mise-en-scène (“performance” not in fact being a simple synonym for acting, but the cumulative effect of all formal elements onto acting) contribute to a holistic reality that all individuals congregate towards a singular ideology for largely personal reasons. Whilst in most slashers, the actual motivations of the killer/s are irrelevant if they known at all, these motivations become the driving force, in some cases bringing enemies together and splitting allies apart. Such character complexity within a horror on the most primary level allows the increase of pathos to make every death be felt by the spectator and count all the more. On the secondary level, it defines trope expectation and allows even the most abhorrent of bad guy ideology (and Nazism is nothing if not that) to remain at the very least a sign of a consistent integrity which, if and when broken by some of the antagonists for individualist ulterior motives, deepens certainly the narrative evil and, arguably, the moral evil itself.

Add to this all an amazing punk soundtrack – my personal favourite being Bad Brains’ “Right Brigade” over the end credits – not to mention a wonderful original score, and stellar acting across the board, and Green Room truly becomes yet another vital milestone in the apparent international horror golden age the 2010s are swiftly becoming.

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)


The “charming psychopath” trope is truly one of the tropiest out there, and yet we never really see it. Usually you can divide them between your Dexter Morgans – who are much less “charming” than they are “awkward,” a little bumbling, convincing all around that they are totally harmless anoraks, despite their ripped abs and blood on their shirt – and your Hannibal Lecters, whose definition of charm seems to be “hang your class privilege over absolutely everyone’s head and intimidate people into sucking up to you, even when you’ve killed people making less than minimum wage for being uncouth.” Nightcrawler‘s Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) finally, more than any other character I can recall, embodies the charming psychopath.

The main thing about them of course, is that the charm is studied, mimetic – forced, even – and, through its inorganic nature, will always eventually run its course for the people around the performer, much like a TV show that’s been on too long, relying on re-runs and unimpressive updates. (Did someone say The Simpsons?) Thus, whilst Gyllenhaal’s performance is absolutely stellar, it absolutely relies upon the support of the increasing unease on the faces of Rick (Riz Ahmed) and Nina (Rene Russo) to establish Lou’s relationship with the outside world.

Without a doubt, Nightcrawler‘s gritty sideways look the rubbernecking industry does owe something to Network but, frankly, I refuse to compare them: it’s uninspired and boring and there have been plenty of other journalistic satires over the years. What Nightcralwer does, to my mind pretty uniquely, is keep the narrative located almost entirely through Lou’s nocturnal eyes. This means – and praise God – none of those catatonically dull shots of people in diners asking the waitress to “turn it up,” or toast falling out of businessmen’s mouths at the breakfast table. Instead, Nightcrawler follows the stringer business as a business of the most objectivist: subjects are subjects of interests, human beings are human capital, even and especially in death.

I was, apparently mistakenly, under the impression before I watched it that Nightcrawler was based on the true story of Wallace Souza, a Brazilian anchor who ordered killings to ensure he could report on them before anyone else, including cops, could reach the crime scene. Thus, especially in the light of the film’s opening, in which Lou attacks, possibly kills, a security guard to steal scrap metal and a nice watch, I was waiting for his pursuits to escalate to straight-up committing murders. That his actions remain – arguably, and for the length of the film – just below that didn’t actually disappoint me; rather, it allowed Lou to be the icon of journalism bending the rules right up to breaking point, but not necessarily over it. That said, the ending and final image could have been a little more enigmatic.

As is the modern LA noir way, the film glows in the naturally unnatural lighting of the city, which – following Inherent Vice  arguably is becoming just as much cinematographer Robert Elswit’s signature as it is Nicolas Winding Refns’. However, just as Lou’s neoliberal loquaciousness stands in opposition to The Driver’s near-mute levels of laconism, the neon incandescence of Drive remains unchallenged by Nightcrawler, whose atmosphere still rests on the surrounding natural beauty, and all the human treachery hidden within. My – possibly only – complaint about Drive has always been that there just isn’t enough driving, which contributes to a slight skewing of the film’s climax. Nightcrawler successfully delivers the driving I felt Drive held out on me, which makes me desperately want to watch these two, back-to-back, at my earliest possible convenience.

I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Nightcrawler quite as much as I did, and maybe a second viewing will lower my rating, but it’s left me a very satisfied customer today.



Hard to Be a God (Alexei German, 2013)


“God…If you exist…Please stop me.”

It was impossible, in the days leading up to seeing Hard to Be a God, not to think of it in terms of Tarkovsky. Sharing authors with Stalker, and a setting not unlike Andrei Rublev, I assumed I’d be on similar ground. Five minutes in, however, it became clear we were walking through a profoundly distinct territory.

Hard to Be a God is no Tarkovsky film. It is nastier, uglier, squelchier, more unforgiving, more visceral and with an entirely different philosophy of humanity as it perceives a world made of mud, shit, piss, and blood. Concepts of human dignity are met with undying cynicism, as we would expect better from animals than we see from these people (being not from Earth, their status as “human beings” falls into a degree of pedantic uncertainty, as well as a moral one).

We follow the stumbling journey of the scientist known mistakenly as Don Rumata, believed to be the son of a pagan god, navigating through the city of Arkanar, rendered a pogrom in a pigsty by a culture of brutal suppression of anything that gives the slightest nod towards Renaissance, as he engages in the strangest, adulterous relationship with this code of ethics that, above all, precludes him from interfering violently with the practices of this unnamed planet’s deranged inhabitants, eventually breaking it fully.

As primitivists, who drown letter-writers in latrines, clash with zealots who lacquer hanged men, opposing factions mirror and seem to blend into one another. Major political shifts seem to take place, invisibly within ellipses, and throwaway lines relating to incomplete abstracts seem to repeat endlessly. This world seems devoid of linearity, and we as spectators and Rumata too seem to feel trapped in a state of defeatist, relentless perpetuity – an inescapable present tense of brutal squalor.

Hard to Be a God offers not a satisfying story, but a deeply astute insight into just how unsatisfying it may be for God to oversee and interact with us, after all. This film is a direct line to the ultimate thankless task that perhaps warrants more comparisons to the sisyphean angst of Woman of the Dunes or the woefully determined reparative violence of The Virgin Spring than the earnest spiritualism of the better known master of Russian cinema. This is a film very much worth watching, just don’t expect to leave happy.