August 2006November 2006 


2 posts from September 2006

Sep 19 2006
Unfunny Face Comments (2)


LookerMaybe I'm feeling guilty about panning one of my favorite guilty pleasures (Brian De Palma) for his latest movie, but I've been thinking about perhaps my all-time greatest guilty pleasure, a movie he didn't direct—but may as well have: Looker. The writer who mentioned the idea that we're all slaves to the music and films and, in general, the pop culture that we're exposed to up until about our twenties was on to something. Isn't this why every generation pines for what happened 20 years earlier? It can't be that the artistic and resonant content of the ’70s was superior to that of the ’60s, and yet all you fortysomethings probably feel that way. The thirtysomethings think the ’80s hung the moon. They didn't. But for us, they did.

200pxlooker_1981_frI think one of the reasons I am somewhat more tolerant of cheesy sci-fi and horror movies today is thanks to my early exposure to several examples of that genre in my teens. They were impossible to avoid because they were aired ad nauseum on baby cable channels like Marquee (anyone remember it?) and HBO. Saturn 3, Sunburn, Time After Time, Outland, The Eyes Of Laura Mars (even better than Mommie Dearest)...and Looker. This 1981 flick was written and directed by Michael Crichton, whose work didn't do anything for me before or after. But I think the best worst movies are written and directed by the same person—it's kind of like genetic codes, how the craziest attributes can pop up when the parents share the exact same elusive traits. Camp is a recessive gene.

TranceIn Looker, Albert Finney plays a frazzled plastic surgeon, the very picture of an overripe, post-’70s key-swapper—he's even got the right name: Dr. Larry Roberts. Models are coming to him requesting practically microscopic "improvements" to their already lovely bodies and faces. Flawless? Only on the surface. The changes to their flawful selves are imperceptible to the naked eye, but have been carefully calibrated by a mysterious Big Bad Corporation called Digital Matrix in order to engage people optically at a level never before achieved. Is it any surprise that the evil-doers are working in advertising?

Models come and models go—in fact, more than one of his patients turns up dead. When the fetching Cindy (Susan Dey in a performance that wavers between hypnotic and somnambulant) seeks Dr. Larry's help, they embark on a private campaign to discover the truth, putting themselves at great risk and dodging a spooky optical gun that paralyzes its victims, causing them to lose time—and often their lives.

All about models, Looker—not coincidentally close to "Hooker" and a very dated term even in 1981—takes perverse pleasure in parading half- or undressed babes before the camera, only to cruelly snuff them out. One model takes a bizarrely beautiful dive over a balcony after being stunned and twisted in her own drapes. She doesn't fall, cue screams as camera lingers on night air—she falls and the camera lustfully follows her descent, capturing her sickening head-over-heels impact on the roof of a car. Is it because so often cars are sold with nubile bodies stretched atop them?

SueartA lot of people don't care for Looker. I don't blame them. I love the achingly blunt theme song, long the subject of frustrated movie-soundtrack collectors' newsgroups, by Sue Saad. "She's a looker...with a beautiful face...she's got it all, yeah, she's got it made." (Ending with "always on displaaay..." it was remade winningly by Kim Carnes on her thematically similar Voyeur album.) I love one quintessentially ’80s model who poses with her feathery hair early on because when I saw it, when I was very young, I was living vicariously through her amoralilty—sexual, desired, willing to do whatever for money, willing to go under the knife for it. I love it for the high-concept lunacy that an ad firm would ever get away with forcing models to get surgery that has no noticeable results except their eventual murder. I love seeing Susan Dey get naked and scanned head to toe. I love the wild concept that models could be digitally recorded and never need to work again, because commercials could be made with computerized facsimiles.


At the time Looker was tanking at the box office, this last idea was farfetched. Many negative takes on the movie revolve around the stupidity of that concept. But even by the time the film saw its first VHS video release in 1982, the sleeve quoted Crichton as saying, "That's what we thought. Then we found a company in Texas that is doing just that. The difference is that their computer models are not nearly as animated as ours. But how long before they catch up to our movie?"

Jetson_eep2_copySeen the new Gap commercials? Audrey Hepburn is shown in a famous scene from Funny Face before dancing into an all-new ad for Gap's skinny black pant. She's dancing to AC/DC's "Back In Black." Everyone signed off on this disturbing(ly creative?) "Keep It Simple" campaign—Gap is making, by their own estimation, a "generous" donation to Audrey Hepburn's Children's Fund. I'm sure the kids will love their I don't recall Audrey Hepburn doing too many ads while she was alive. The one I do recall was Blackglama, a far cry from The Gap. Was she too elitist or too sincere to be The Gap's spokesperson? Argue it. But one thing you can't argue is that she's been dead for 13 and a half years, so any pant she'd be wearing would be a really, really skinny pant. Seriously, though, she didn't consent to be in the ad, and it feels like there should be more to consider in these things than paying the guardians of a person's literal image.

What's next? Ronald Reagan campaign ads praising George W. Bush? A new JonBenet Ramsey movie in which the theory that the parents did it is played out with the actual parents' likenesses? Hardcore porn starring...everyone who's ever been filmed?

Now that one of the most laughable elements of Looker is definitely doable, it's probably time to watch it again—maybe the optical stun-gun is coming to Target next. Luckily, timing as perfect as an eyejob on a perfect 10, Looker is being released on DVD for the first time on January 30, 2007.


Sep 11 2006
Art Imitates Life Comments (0)

Img_0986_1As a kid, it was said I would grow up to be a famous writer. But in high school, I wanted to become an artist. I had technical ability and could copy photographs realistically, but my art preacher converted us to abstraction and I pursued it with the conviction of a new convert. I began drawing loosely interpretable items straight from my brain, allowing sexually revealing (I wasn't out as gay yet) and personally downright exhibitionistic forms to choke the pages of my sketchbooks. I specialized in minutely detailed, sometimes nonsensically geometric designs, starting out in black-and-white and graduating to lurid color. It was my desire to attend an art school, but I was dissuaded. I continued to draw—my feelings and attention to myself. I used what talent I had (which is arguable) to express and invite. Gradually, with no goalposts in sight since I was going to school for writing, my drawing tapered off. My last major spurt of creativity in that realm was around ’92 to ’94.

On September 11th, 2001, I worked at 462 Broadway. In retrospect, I certainly wasn't close enough to the World Trade Center to have been in mortal danger, but this was not obvious at the time. My memory of the day was that the evening before, I'd met for dinner with a business associate and a rock group I was covering. At least one of them and the associate and I had discussed getting TKTS tickets to a Broadway show, and the thought was that I might do the dirty work. I remember contemplating whether to buy the tickets at the Times Square or the World Trade Center location; I was more familiar with the former, and it was a straight shot on the subway, but I was far closer to the latter. The friends never got back to me and I never got further in my plans.

That morning, I was working when I heard a commotion. The receptionist (and apparently many of the others on my floor) had heard a loud buzzing and some had looked out the window in time to witness the first plane hitting the WTC. I hadn't heard the buzzing, lost in industry, but the gaping hole in the tower was plain to all of us. It was so close and yet so distant, it was hard to know what to make of it except that I instantly wondered if the people in that area of the building could possibly be saved. We saw tiny dots that could have been people at the windows, and news reports conjectured a small plane had collided with the towers. I recalled stories of this happening to the Empire State Building a million years ago, like shortly after it was erected, but it seemed unbelievable that with the technology of the day it could happen by accident again. We hoped it was an accident, but some realists were already saying the T word.

View1As events unfolded, I watched with everyone else from a large window at the back of the building. The window was like a giant screen, and the smoking tower looked for all the world like a fake backdrop in a movie, except very crisply real. The day, as everyone will tell you, was one of the most supernaturally gorgeous September days you could want, so the sky was electric blue, throwing the tragic situation into stark relief. Against all odds, I had my camera with me, and took some panoramic photos, reproduced here.

People started worrying about acquaintances, and soon enough the news began to belch horrible rumors, all later confirmed to be true, about the Pentagon. When the second plane hit the other tower, it was not from an angle that could be seen from our vantage point, and yet I knew something had occurred because the giant pane of glass shook with a muffled sort of pressurized pop. I assumed something in the blazing fire had exploded. Hearing it was another plane confirmed everyone's fears. I remember saying that the planes had to have been hijacked and the pilots killed because no pilot under any amount of duress would willingly fly into a building, even at gunpoint.

I called my mother to reassure her—I was shocked she hadn't called me already since she worries when she hears about bad weather in the New York area. She was calm, which made me fear people outside the city didn't quite know the horror of what was probably happening despite the wall-to-wall worldwide news coverage. I cried a bit as I told her I was okay. I reached my partner, who was similarly cool, calm and collected, but I urged him to take off immediately, thinking that the place where he worked—a cultural landmark—might be a target.

View2_4I didn't see the first tower fall, and when told of it by a friend I said, "Maybe just part of it fell, right?" It seemed hard to imagine the whole thing going. I'd been to the top a year or so previously, gotten my picture taken there, pressed myself up against the glass and assessed what a terrible drop it would be. I watched the second tower and when it appeared to shift I called out that it was going. Then it went. It looked like a planned implosion that you see on the news all the time, or in action movies. At that moment, we were conjecturing a good 20,000 people may have perished in the past several minutes and wondered just how concerted the attacks were, never guessing it would come down to less than a dozen guys armed with rudimentary weapons, flight-school diplomas and the intimidation-factor advantage of doing something for the first time.

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