When news gets too much, I go to the movies.
I'd heard Marc Maron interview Phil Tippett a month or two back. Never heard of the guy before. He made the creatures in Star Wars, Robocop, so many others. He talked about the movie he'd worked on for thirty years. He funded it with all the mainstream stuff. Got students to do the grunt work. Put it away awhile, then start up again. Now it's ready.
I see it at the Music Box on a Monday afternoon.
Jesus Christ. If this is the last movie ever made it would be a fitting coda for our dying civilization. There are echoes of Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, Jiri Trnka, and Lynch's Eraserhead, but it has its own frequency. The thirty years' labor shows. As the nameless soldiers descend subfloor through subfloor to worse and worse levels of hell, it's not unlike tree rounds, time-travel through sediment. But are they going into the past or future? There's no talking or titles to help the viewer along. Each has to navigate this apocalypse on their own.
The only recognizable human on screen is the great director Alex Cox—go see Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Highway Patrolman, and Walker, if you don't know his movies. He was in town for a screening of Walker a few years back and I made a sketch. That was at the Music Box too. In Mad God, he's a sort of evil scientist, sending the poor toy/automoton soldiers into the depths on incomprehensible suicide missions. Perfect ironic casting to make a guy whose whole career's about championing the powerless and oppressed a despotic monster.
Watching this thing is sort of like if Bosch and Arcimboldo and Grünewald got together and made a movie. You can almost smell the bodily fluids dribbling out of these nightmarish creatures as they're beheaded, quartered, and snuffed out in ways few ever imagined. It would all be impossibly grim if it weren't so obvious how much joy and care went into making this thing go. In any case, reading a news headline these days is so much darker and more hopeless than anything in Tippett's universe.
Afterwards, I decide to stay because they're showing Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm. The last time I saw it was almost thirty-five years ago at the Coolidge. I remember my coworker, John Kumpf, put up mind altering 70mm stereo on the marquee. I went out there after he was done and took a picture. I enjoy those widescreen shots of the desert and appreciate the over-the-top homoeroticism, but an hour or so is enough. Alec Guinness's blue-eyed Prince Faisal is very silly. This weirdly nostalgic colonialist fantasy is too close to this country's current backwards dream for me to sit through and enjoy. If movies are for escape, this is not any kind of way out.
Tippett's lumpy, oozing phantasmagoria is a lot more comforting.