Dreams Are All You Have
Child psychologist Melanie Klein once proposed a phase in children's very early lives when, unable to love both parents equally, they subconsciously create a phantom 'third parent', a whole amalgam of mum and dad, which both absolves them from any guilt of betrayal and is something they can love as they wish to, without complexity. Where this effigy manifests itself (for repair and a rehearsal to communicate) might be as an imaginary friend, or in toys, or simply in dreams.
Robert Craig Knievel was born October 17, 1938 in Butte, Montana. He bought, crashed and blew up his first motorcycle at 13.
After a period of safe-cracking, insurance policy sales fraud (pooling signatories at the local asylum to secure his quota) and down-home bike dealership (arm wrestling won a hundred dollars off), in 1965, he created the 'Evel' Knievel stunt group (a nickname gained the 'e' to avoid upsetting 'the religious'). Clearing walls of fire, snakes, lions, awkward lines of cars, Knievel recognised that his true challenge was to become a household, world wide, name. In a time of archetypes and original men, there seemed no reason why he should not sport patriotism, become an Elvis on wheels.
In 1967 he announced his intention to jump the eighteen Italianate, classically inspired fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on a Triumph Bonneville 650. And on December 31st - despite clearing them - his landing proved too short for balance, and the subsequent disaster was caught on tape (John Derek for ABC Wide World Of Sports. For those inclined, as fascinating as the Zapruder footage. 'Frame 60 he knows. Coming past the fountain, you know he knows.')
Knieval was in a deep coma while his name went world wide. Dreams in comas have been described as 'fantastic, drug-fueled, epic releases of pure ego'. Some claim that, upon recovery, their nocturnal patternings are unsettling - 'too vivid'. Others claim aspects of second sight. One things seems likely - in a coma, dreams are all you have.
In excess of 300 million dollars worth of Knievel toys were sold by Ideal in the 1970 and 80s, outselling GI Joe and Barbie combined. A limited run of 1000 'Evel At Caesars' toys were manufactured.
It's A Wonderful Life
Toys play less of a role in 'Bad Santa' than you might think. While the main placement seemed to be Stoli vodka (count four), the line of kids waiting to sit on Willie Stokes' knee rarely get a chance to begin listing before being grossly insulted. Another safe-cracker who lives off an annual heist (the seasonal takings in the malls he Santas for), the chief drivers in Stokes' life ('booze, bullshit and buttfucking') appear to have solidified around him as his companion and constant. Too gruff to be rumbled as the manchild he is, Stokes is scatological to the point it loses meaning, in an existential stasis to the point to autism, shooting someone else's gun at the ocean, in very male dreams.
The cartooned relentlessness of his self-destruction (when not pissing himself and comatose, he is regurgitating in alleys or kicking his own reindeers to a plaster bone-yard) takes the cyclical nature of a new comedy show catchphrase - it's not funny until you realise there's no escape from it - then it becomes the sort of hypnosis, each grope or whiskey choke a click of the hypnotist's fingers. Suddenly, it becomes pre-hilarious, the set-up, a moral black canvas upon which to smear plot twists or the touching.
The root of Stokes' powerlessness (and toylessness) is displayed more than explored, and when it is, in the opening voiceover, only couch-based origins are forthcoming (parental distance and a crack on the back of the neck). Shadowed by a pesky but dumb store owner and a shrewd mall security officer, women are his part-redemption in the shape of a Santa fetishist, Lauren Graham. A playmate but, given so little to identify her beyond the backseat or the Jacuzzi, more the toy. Things not people - forgetting birthdays - de-peopling sex - ideal in structure: for better or worse these remain where men try to rise above.
With so many scriptlines feeling workshopped, clockworked or tick-list satisfactory, we tend to look for something else to make a film rise above. The more explored relationship, between Stokes and 'the Kid', is where Bad Santa almost does it. His eight year old stalker (Brett Kelly) is both a polar opposite (a naive inability to let his self-image be affected by bullies, mocking his weight is just something that people do) and reflection (the persistance of his devotion to Stokes is as unshakeable as Stokes' is to his self-contempt). His refusal to believe in a world without magic is never over-sold as a metaphor for higher faith.
Neither tenderness nor the ebb and flow of social intercourse, offered as the cure for self-wilderness, appears to make impact. Something is at stake, but the relentless intercourse about him is that of moral versus professional duty and the nature of exchange, which turns the viewer off just as much. Deheroed, devillained and never a bearer-of-the-word (unless the word is 'bullshit'), we too understand Stokes' distaste for the carthorse, cashpoint and biggest-kid-of-all that can be male reality.
The birth of magic in this world is very subtle. When Stokes pulls part and eats the Kids advent calendar, he is forced to witness his own lack of consideration for others. The dawn of remorse only comes when, at the point where Stokes is ready to carbon monoxide himself with a hose and car exhaust (again 'just something he is doing') he notices the Kid has finally succumbed to a black eye, and emerges to bash his bullies off a tree.
Hard-boiled goes soft and then raw at the film's resolve, when we neither care whether Stokes cleans up his act nor shoos-in the heist, but that he can remember the colour of the stuffed toy the Kid wanted for Christmas ('pink or purple elephant?') To remember would be proof of a break through the self-focus (neither macho nor attic stuffed with abstract models but a curious blend of the two: the dark methodology is forever 'bullshit') and actually care.
Bullet-ridden, chilled, Belmondoed down the garden path towards his Long Home, Stokes last action is a few existential pushes of the elephant towards the Kids door.
1971: both femurs are snapped clearing 13 Pepsi trucks in Washington.
1972: Cow Palace, San Francisco. Broken back and concussion.
1975: Wembley Stadium, 13 double decker buses. Despite a smashed pelvis, he manages to reach a microphone to announce that he is retiring.
Nothing Hurt And Only Lesbians Were Predatory
If pitch is a problem for Bad Santa, a better film postered as Dumb And Dumber, Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason, the Top Shop to Bad Santa's Globe Alone, needs less introduction. Scattered queen of her ilk: essentially frosty UK films with fags and four letter words as levellers.
'I've been the world's biggest fool.' Everyperson Bridge announces at a plot corner - she has dumped the wrong guy and for the wrong reasons. Class gap and not 'sticking up for her'. An answer to whether this was genuine ignorance or the world's means to teach her to stand on her own two feet is possibly her unspoken quest.
Central female characters will often be pushed into representing Women, which is a problem, and the benefit of Jones and Zelwegger's performance is her own ability to re-intensify herself in different ways to avoid doing precisely that. As ever, she is defined by her romantic choices rather than her moral ones. Essentially a cypher, the question we ask is if what she desires is not a man but a sense of 'normality' so pastoral she actually vanishes (and where the heck did she get such a fruity definition of normality). Worlds, real worlds and other worlds, bubblegum, angles and intensities, are the questions raised, in a world where nothing really hurts and only lesbians are predatory.
Bridge's choice of worlds is the same as her first excursion - a gimpish, if successful, lawyer (the world is Law Society serge, grave presentations and deserving the best) where Bridge remains a somewhat failed trophy, and a plank-faced cad and John Currin fan who fucks ladyboys. In fact, Daniel Cleaver fucks everything, which is democratic of him. Roughly, the decision of whether Jones seeks a playmate or a toy has been made for her. She's territory. Never having lived a woman's life ('he loves me for me' she says, like that would be news), I can't say how many truly feel this dissipated and if life's choices really feel so limited.
Be My Enemy, It's Easier That Way
Pistols perpendicular for ten
paces, the wind and sun should be equally divided between duellists. Each will
be permitted their surgeon and three friends. Firing will be regulated - a misfire
will constitute a shot, also a non-cock - and will continue till one or both
parties are disabled or dead.
BJ's rivals come to blows outside the Serpentine, more a jacket-swinging cat fight than anything serious. It's an ancient contest, between he who seeks an egalitarian playmate and he who moulds his plaything. It's all in their heads (then again, so is love) but it's also not, for the more the other feels dissected, analysed and on a critical platform the less they will think lovingly. Duellised, it's about intellectual territory too. What's a girl to do? Dialogue is straight outta the 'take that, you shitting bloody bastard' school.
Three boys - Karl, Jason and myself - are climbing upwards across a muddy forest wall, clinging to and stepping onto trees that fold across one another to hoist ourselves further on the incline. At the top, we pass a stretch of grass leading to a hard-to-find spot where the local river waterfalls across some rocks. It's a pretty area.
Below, we can see the derelict car we passed twenty minutes previously. Hidden in the corner of the field, itself lost within surrounding fields, the vehicle is disfigured with bullet holes, and we are unsure if a farmer is using it for target practice, or the puncturings have been the work of a more purposeful brigade.
Wait. There is a fourth climber. We forget that he is even there. Darryn, straggling. Darryn, the youngest, still a child, and a worrier. 'Where are we?' He is a distant emploring, for he has never roamed this far from home before. We've been walking for what feels like hours and Karl is impatient with him and tells him that we're almost certainly lost. 'We've probably walked to, like, Germany or something.' He says, and Darryn begins to sob.
I bring a cheap 8mm camera and three minutes of Agfa film from my bag - a twelfth birthday present. Karl has a Swiss army knife, Jason some heavy ketchup. We pretend to stab one another to death. Look ma, no hands.
I went to a poetry reading recently. At closure, the audience were asked if they had any questions. Reflective silence gave way, and eventually someone threw a poser of the kind of theoretic complexity it was sure to sweat a head or two. It concerned a question considered by Apollinaire, I think, about ideals. Boiled down: does the word 'flower' need anything added to it? Doesn't detail, like saying a 'ruby-coloured flower', subtract from the mystery, rather than add to the readers pleasure? Isn't the most poetic flower the most underdescribed?
Without detail, each flower we picture might be our generic flower, possibly our ideal, our fundamental flower, and a poet can chose to use details or leave them aside if they wish to urge us towards finding something socially and privately describing an utterly trusted baseline.
It's A Wrap
The State Department bounty for Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, twenty five smacks, would almost certainly defundamentalise the hundred or so men a day buying 'Soldiers Of God' beheading compendiums (sleeved as the glimmering hits of a busty Arab pop star) at the Baghdad square called the Thieves' Market, seventy five cents a pop. Al Zarqawi, a lone wolf (with an artificial leg, some report), would be an impractical knifeman and may not even have been at the beheadings. Described as sombre and not bright, someone disguised by mask but announcing his name (which fits) mc'ed the Nick Berg beheading but had a yellow ring, presumably gold, which Muslim men are banned from wearing, and certainly fundamentalists. Voice analysis is contradictory. Whatever, even by implication or double-bluff, Zarqawi seems accepted as the remote auteur of the acts, most likely an audience-broadener for pan-Islamist stirrings. While the US bomb anyone even caught smiling in Iraq, the Zarqawi banners double for body wraps.
Flowers are possibly far from a hostage's mind, although fundamentalism might be. They're not out to win: they work for both sides - neither stupid enough to be blind to the resolve they build against them, but nor are they smart enough to test the end to their endgame. They are enthralled by flight, the overdone sense of something stirring. The love of the chiselled and fixed, where fluidity represents confusion and a mixed signal. Neither playmate nor plaything, women are stripped of the modest power they have and from the ability to be either. An ancient game they play, the stirrers, and against a rival lurking in the tunnels of their own mystery train.
Choo Choo Choose Me!
If everything is flow, and the successful (and the successful parts of ourselves) find it is, rivals and fundamentalists are bad dancers, self-defeating wall-flowers explaining why the mistrusted Mashed Potato does not make cartesian common sense. Men on the film of their lives, forever framed by an all-seeing eye.
Firth and Grant did not pull guns ('the equaliser') or cluster bombs. No-one won. The campery of their toying around sows the seeds of a methodology as subtle as the difference between a series and a sequence, the build of intensity is about bringing now to the table, about time. Men on film slaying rivalry and All Knowledge, bumming with a methodology or hoisting up the pistol that finally drained. In real life, thankfully, we can reverse polarity, find knowledge and a baseline that comes the degree of social learning we can expand to accept, rather than sticking to a script. God a fundamental flower, and undescribed.
1996: concussion with fractured arms at a failed comeback practice over a shark tank. A cameramen loses an eye.
After a highly publicised baseball bat assault on a biographer, public affection for Evel Knievel fades. 'I broke his arms so he couldn't write.'
1998: a collapse in
a golf course bunker requires a hip replacement, then cracks a rib slipping
in his bathroom.
Diagnosed with the nasty hepatitis C ('the veins in my throat literally exploded'), the nineties also saw Knievel do community service for guns and knives found in his car.