(”Last Year at Marienbad” is briefly mentioned in this.)
While I certainly consider the 1980s to be one of the best decades for music and regard many films, ranging from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's swansong Querelle (1982) to Tim Hunter's River's Edge (1986), from the same era as being among my personal favorites, I have become increasingly disgusted with the entire nostalgia culture trend as is probably most popularly epitomized by the obscenely overrated Netflix series Stranger Things. A degradingly derivative, conspicuously contrived, and politically correct Spielbergian pseudo-artistic con featuring gay little racially ambiguous boys as heroes and a mostly mute baby dyke as a heroine, the preposterously popular show, not unlike the films of (sub)human turd Tarantino, indubitably reveals more about the artistic and cultural bankruptcy of our age than its actual true worth as popular entertainment. Indeed, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that, for better or worse, there is more originality, creativity, and humanity in a single episode of the original Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits than all of the episodes of Stranger Things combined, but I digress. Undoubtedly, it is a symptomatic of our spiritually sick and soulless age that people look to the Reaganite 1980s—a mostly materialistic age when most movies were mostly nothing more than mindless entertainment—as a means to calm metaphysical afflictions like Weltschmerz and Sehnsucht, but, of course, it is not all that surprising considering we live in a decidedly deracinated consumerist age where the only frame of reference for the past is in spiritually and culturally hollow Hollywood form. Personally, I find most of these nostalgia fetish pieces annoying specifically because they express virtual swooning adoration for the very same sort of lowbrow entertainment products that lead to such spiritual emptiness in the first place, as a Spielberg or George Lucas movie is surely not going to provide one with the same sort of cultural or spiritual nourishment that traditional religions, families, and societies once provided people. In short, these frivolous filmic products are narcotizing poison disguised as the cure.
For that reason, I am able to, somewhat reluctantly, embrace the sort of ‘reactionary retrowave’ cinema of young Greco-Italian-Canadian auteur Panos Cosmatos, who does not merely fetishize the past but also critiques it in a refreshingly esoteric fashion the involves the utilization of both old school genre and experimental cinema techniques. Although Cosmatos has only directed two features, he demonstrated with his very first feature Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) an inordinate maturity in terms of both aesthetic vision and worldview. Influenced by films ranging from Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) aka Contempt to Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961) to Saul Bass's sole directorial effort Phase IV (1974) to E. Elias Merhige's Begotten (1990), Cosmatos’ directorial debut is indubitably visually alluring but what arguably makes it most interesting is its scathing anti-Boomer subtext. Indeed, as the young auteur has revealed in various interviews, the film is partly a critique of the spiritually degeneracy of the Baby Boomer generation and how they foolishly experimented with dubious forms of occultism while high on psychedelics. In his latest and greatest film, Mandy (2018), Cosmatos not only expands on his anti-Boomer sentiments, but also demonstrates a further aesthetic refinement that ultimately reveals that the auteur is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. Like a romance-revenge film as directed by the heterosexual godson of Kenneth Anger and Werner Schroeter, the film somehow manages to reconcile the psychedelic cinematic journey of something like Lucifer Rising (1972) with Charles Bronson/Michael Winner righteous retribution classics like The Mechanic (1972) and Death Wish (1974).
Notably, Cosmatos is actually the son of belated Greco-Italian filmmaker George P. Cosmatos, who of course is best known for Hollywood genre exercises, including the Sylvester Stallone vehicles Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Cobra (1986), the aquatic sci-fi-horror flick Leviathan (1989), and the celebrated Kurt Russell western Tombstone (1993). While the elder Cosmatos demonstrated a certain talent for eccentricity with the little-known ‘rat horror’ flick Of Unknown Origin (1983)—a somewhat underrated flick featuring Peter Weller in a surprisingly unforgettable performance that was one of the influences behind Mandy—the son, who clearly has different aesthetic tastes (notably, his belated mother was Swedish sculptor Birgitta Ljungberg-Cosmatos), is clearly the more idiosyncratic and experimental of the two. Indeed, it would be easy to accuse Cosmatos of nepotism but—aside from the fact that he did not direct his first feature until about half a decade after his father had died—this fat, swarthy, and goofy-looking fellow has clearly already paid his dues in terms of dedicating his life to the art of cinema and, unlike Brandon Cronenberg, he does not even seem remotely interested in parroting the auteur themes of his padre. While the film stars Mr. Meme Nicholas Cage as the lead, Mandy is clearly not the work of a simple artisan looking to support his family but an enterprising (and seemingly somewhat troubled) artiste that has a somewhat aesthetically schizophrenic affinity for both total trash and high-art. In other words, Cosmatos clearly made the film for himself, but luckily he has good enough taste to make films that appeal to slightly more people than just a marginal group of introverted autists.
In regard to his arguable magnum opus Trouble in Mind (1985), Alan Rudolph—a protégé of Robert Altman who got his start directing obscure no-budget horror trash like Premonition (1972) and Nightmare Circus (1974) aka The Barn of the Naked Dead—once remarked, “To me, loves is always the turning point, the best hope for any future. And my favorite subject for a film.” If we are to take Rudolph’s words seriously then it is completely understandable why the protagonist of Mandy goes into full self-destructive exterminationist mode after his one-true-love is burned alive by members of a somewhat Manson Family-esque cult. Undoubtedly, Rudolph and Cosmatos’ film have very little in common yet they do share at least two imperative similarities in terms of their combination of virtual worship of romantic love in a wicked world juxtaposed with a potent palette of (oftentimes neon) colors. Just like his previous feature Beyond the Black Rainbow, the films is set in 1983 as if to hint that it is the foreboding penultimate year just before the Orwellian nightmare begins, or so one would surely assume upon watching the films. Indeed, while Mandy might share various aesthetic similarities with films from the same decade when it is set, the film is sometimes as dark and dejecting as the most miserable works of German Expressionism despite paying homage to films as dumb and benign as Friday the 13th (1980) and Phantasm II (1988). In its sometimes gleeful recycling of popular horror flicks in an artsy fartsy fashion, Cosmatos’ film somewhat recalls shameless guido rip-off movies like Giulio Paradisi's Stridulum (1979) aka The Visitor. Of course, unlike Paradisi, Cosmatos relatively seamless pomo film referencing is clearly more influenced by cinematic nostalgia than sheer monetary gain.
Undoubtedly, the fiercely phantasmagorical film is like a reworking of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth as meant to appeal to stupid horror fans that are not even familiar with said myth; or so one would assume if one actually believed that the average My Sweet Satan-esque metal head could stomach something even remotely like an art film. In fact, Mandy is one of the very few films that, in terms of influences and message, I would describe as a true white proletarian art film, though it is surely a cinematic work that most people seem to either love or love to hate. As for me, I was shocked that I could thoroughly enjoy a film that features stupid pointless heavy metal fonts for similarly seemingly pointless chapter title sequences, but I take what I can get. To some degree, the film is the cinematic equivalent of junk food and the sort of flick that provides a sort of childlike escapism, yet it does provide a tinge of spiritual nourishment and righteous romantic justice that similar films are quite lacking. In short, the film contains very little, if any, culturally syphilitic poz, which is certainly no small accomplishment considering the current cultural climate.
For me, the brilliance of Mandy comes in the form of the little things like an evil demonic biker gang that seems like it is the miserably misgotten spawn of the strangely iconic Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) brutally buttfucking the bikeboys of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963). Likewise, the animation feels the bastard mongrel broad of characters from the esoteric erotic Japanese animated feature Belladonna of Sadness (1973) directed by Eiichi Yamamoto and the Canadian cult sci-fi-fantasy Heavy Metal (1981). As for the beauteously foreboding forest depicted in the film, it falls somewhere between the more mystical German Heimat films and the first two The Evil Dead films. Not unlike like Philip Ridley’s comparably eerily mystical The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995), the film might be set in the American wilderness but it was actually shot in Europe (indeed, while Saxony, Germany stands in for Appalachian region of North Carolina in the former film, Cosmatos opted for somewhere in Flemish Belgium for his feature). And, not just because of the Lowland Country setting, the film echoes the wonderful neo-Gothic weirdness of Belgian auteur filmmakers like André Delvaux (One Night... a Train, Belle) and Harry Kümel (Daughters of Darkness, Malpertuis). In short, Mandy resembles some sort of marvelous Frankenstein movie monster as carefully assembled from the butchered parts of 1980s horror/slasher cinema, the Fantastique genre, the psychedelic films of Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1980s era David Lynch, Heavy Metal-esque animation, Stan Brakhage films like the Dog Star Man (1961-1964) cycle, and stupid heavy metal shit. Luckily, the film is greater than the sum of its seemingly absurdly combined hodgepodge of parts. If Nietzsche was right when he wrote, “There is one thing one has to have: either a soul that is cheerful by nature, or a soul made cheerful by work, love, art, and knowledge,” then one must assume that Cosmatos has the latter type of soul as Mandy is clearly the expression of a man that lives for art and feels obligated to express this to the world. Undoubtedly, the film is not the expression of some simple artisan that simply learned a thing or two about cinema history from film school but an autodidact and natural cinephile that makes no distinction between lowbrow cinema trash and high celluloid art, but simply ‘good’ and ‘bad’ film of all sorts. In that sense, Cosmatos is somewhat like Nicolas Winding Refn sans the obnoxious autism.
In the featurette Behind the Scenes of MANDY, one of the film’s producer, Daniel Noah, remarks in regard to a central theme of the flick, “To me, this film is ultimately a romance. It is the story of love and while it is a sad story—the story of lost love—it’s also a story about when you lose someone, you still hold them in your heart. And this is a movie that we hope will provide comfort, which is a funny thing to say about a film that is such a dark journey. But it provides comfort because it speaks to people, like Panos and like us, and it says to them that they’re not alone.” Indeed, in many ways, the film, or at least the first half of it, is a simple tasteful love story of the rather wholesome sort where sex does not even really come into play, as the protagonists are depicted in a relatively normal domestic setting doing simple things that lovers tend to do like spooning each other in bed while talking about their favorite planets and watching shitty low-budget horror films together like Don Dohler's Nightbeast (1980). Indeed, it is not until the titular heroine is brutally murder by a Jesus cult that we truly realize how powerful their love is, at least for the male protagonist who carries out a savagely sadistic scorched-earth policy against the culprits. An inordinately psychedelic neo-gothic romance-revenge hybrid where there is no real redemption aside from the glorious thrill of destroying one’s enemies, Mandy cannot be described as an uplifting film yet it does somehow have a deranged triumphant spirit in the end. Surely, while watching the film I could not help but be reminded of various drunkenly lovelorn quotes by Edgar Allan Poe like, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” as the eponymous heroine's fiery demise is indeed quite the sight, as is the various consequences of said death. Likewise, when Poe wrote in his short story The Black Cat (1843), “There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man,” he could be speaking of the male protagonist.
The story of Mandy is deceptively simple: Simple man lives a simple happy life with his beloved girlfriend; hippie Jesus cult ruins man's life by kidnapping and murdering his girlfriend; destroyed simple man then dedicates his destroyed life to vengefully destroying every single member of the hippie cult. Of course, the film is more of an aesthetic journey than a narratively complex Kubrickian tale. The male protagonist is named ‘Red Miller’ (Nicolas Cage), which is a fitting name because he is a simple man that, by the end of the film, has a totally red-face as a result of all that blood that splatters on him while passionately dispatching his enemies. Red’s beloved girlfriend is named Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) and she also has a fitting name because she is beauteous young babe that is at the height of her physical prowess and feminine fertility. As hinted in the film, both characters come from rough traumatic backgrounds yet they have managed to find a special sort of happiness due to their strong love for one another. Even before she is killed, it is clear that Mandy is probably the only thing keeping Red from being a miserable mess. While the lovers live in an incredibly safe rural area called Crystal Lake in the remotest forests of the Shadow Mountains, Mandy has the grand misfortune of one day being randomly spotted while walking to work by a bleach blond hippie cult leader named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache)—a megalomaniac and charlatan that leads a motley crew called ‘Children of the New Dawn’—who immediately decides he cannot live without her, so he has his cult members kidnap her and Red. Being drugged out cult members that are mostly lacking in the physical prowess department, the Children of the New Dawn—a group of about half-a-dozen mostly bleach blond Aryan degenerates that look like they could be the family members of Stephen King fetishist and filmmaker Mick Garris—are not exactly fit for the kidnapping, so they summon a demonic biker gang called the ‘Black Skulls’ to carryout the operation. Rather curiously, the biker gang is summoned via a musical instrument called the “horns of Abraxas” and are given a large batch of hard LSD and a fat male victim—the weakest member of the cult—as payment (or “blood for blood”) for their actions.
A somewhat hard bitch that had a traumatic upbringing (among other things, her father apparently taught her and other kids at a very young age how to mindlessly slaughter baby starlings), Mandy does not let a large dose of LSD stop her from completely humiliating and emasculating Jeremiah—an unequivocal god and legend in his own mind—when he bares both his naked body and soul to her and attempts to ply her with pathetic pseudo-poetic compliments in front of all of his followers. While presenting himself as a virtual god in mere mortal form, Mandy literally laughs in Jeremiah's face while his flaccid pecker is hanging out in what proves to be an especially unnerving moment of the film. Not unlike Charles Manson, Jeremiah is a failed folk musicians that, rather conveniently, inevitably found “another path. The path I have always been truly destined for” and became a cult leader, so he is doubly internally wounded when Mandy mocks both his music and authority. Needless to say, Jeremiah needs to save face and uphold his authority in front of the cult after being so ruthlessly rejected, so he opts to have Mandy burned alive after literally conferring with himself in front of a mirror like the bargain bin Narcissus that he is and stating to himself whilst crying like a little girl, “Tell me what to do.” Unfortunately for them, Jeremiah and his crazed crew fail to murder Red. Instead, they make the ultimately fatal mistake of ruthlessly taunting Red by making him watch his beloved being burned alive, but not before Jeremiah’s seemingly half-autistic right-hand man Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy) declares to him,“Take a good look, you worthless piece of human excrement. This is the tainted blade of the pale knight, straight from the abyssal layer” and then stabs him in the side with said “tainted blade.” Naturally, the only thing that Red cares about after surviving the horrific soul-crushing ordeal is pure and unadulterated bloodthirsty revenge. Needless to say, the self-stylized quasi-Gnostic cult is no match for the most broken-hearted of backwoods bros.
In what can either be seen as either a major flaw of the film or a perversely poetic statement about the power of love, Red, who seems almost literally possessed by the Greek goddess ‘Adrestia,’ expends very little effort when it comes to systematically exterminating rather enigmatic enemies that almost seem to have magic satanic powers. Indeed, upon visiting an old negro friend named ‘Caruthers’ (Bill Duke) in his remote trailer to fetch his prized crossbow named ‘The Reaper,’ Red is informed by his comrade that the Black Skulls are ungodly beings and will probably kill him, but the friendly warning does not faze him. Indeed, as Caruthers explains in a sort of strangely poetic country colored gentlemen sort of fashion in regard to the Black Skulls, “There’s stories that there was a chapter that ran courier for a manufacturer of LSD. He took a disliking to them and cooked them up a special batch, and they have never been right in the head since. I seen them once from a distance. What you’re hunting is rabid animals and you should go in knowing that your odds ain’t that good, and you’ll probably die […] When I seen them things, they were in a world of pain. But you know what the freakiest part was? They fucking loved it.” After visiting Caruthers, Red also opts to forge a large battle axe, thus underscoring his compulsion towards a truly visceral and brutal ‘hands on’ sort of revenge as opposed to simply gunning down his enemies with some sort of assault rifle.
Although Red is captured by the Black Skulls after crashing his car while attempting to hunt them down, he actually proves to be a formidable fighter against completely leather-clad faceless creatures that can hardly be described as human. Living in a home that more resembles the double-wide trailer of stereotypical meth-addled bikers than the ominous lair of demonic beings, the Black Skulls reveal certain idiosyncrasies despite their matching ‘infernal uniforms.’ For example, a gaunt and seemingly gay member of the group that seems to have a makeup dresser makes Red cry by stating, “You have a death wish.” Red retorts by crying “I-I don’t want. . . I don’t want to talk about that” and telling him, “You’re a vicious snow flake.” Since he is the most faggy of the group, Red does not have to waste too much energy to takeout the lanky biker even though one of his hands is initially nailed to a floor. The next biker Red encounters is a grotesquely large and fat porn addict named ‘Fuck Pig’ that seems to be a demonic couch potato of sorts. On top of destroying Fuck Pig’s living room while he is watching a porn, Red gets a couple gallons or so of the rather rotund biker’s blood on his face after murdering him. While the final biker puts somewhat more of a fight as the two battle in front of a burning car, Red has no problem decapitating the bulky Jason Voorhees-esque being, especially after the creatures taunts him by stating in regard to Mandy, “She burns. She burns. She Burns.” Before dispatching the final biker, Red himself transforms into a demonic being of sorts after fiendishly consuming some of the Black Skulls' cocaine and LSD. Of course, Red then makes his way to the church of the Children of the New Dawn after completely liquidating the Black Skulls brigade, but before he does he must meet a mysterious LSD chemist so that he can get directions.
The Chemist (played by Richard Brake, who is probably best known for playing the legendary ‘Night King’ in HBO’s big (s)hit show Game of Thrones) is a Delphic hippie-guru-like figure with a pet tiger name ‘Lizzie’ and without Red even saying a single word to him, he remarks, “It’s cool, man. Jovan warrior sent forth from the eye of the storm. When it’s calm, I know it’s good. Oh, man. They wronged you. Why they gotta be like that? You exude a cosmic darkness. Can you see that? Okay. The children. North.” From there, Red heads north where he first encounters Brother Swan, who has the gall to state, “She… She burned brightly, Mandy. Don’t you think? Still, better to burn out than fade.” Since Swan has a big mouth, Red opts to underscore that fact by firmly penetrating his oral orifice with the butt of his battle axe, thereupon killing his creepy psychotic sycophantic ass in a rather brutal fashion that is something akin to deadly oral rape. From there, Red knocks the children off one by way as day turns to night until he eventually reaches their primitive church, which seems like it is located in a remote pit of hell. Somewhat predictably, Red first encounters Jeremiah’s lead whore Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouéré)—a sort of evil and sexually insatiable Mary Magdalene figure with a disturbing million-cock-stare—who demonstrates a shocking degree of self-delusion and denial by bragging without even showing the slightest inkling of fear that she is about to be murdered, “Jeremiah says. . .I’m the most sensual lover he’s ever experienced. . .because of my sensitivity. . .and my empathy. I can anticipate my lover’s every move. I meet them. Like warm waves. . .locking. . .the rocky. . .hard shore.” As the old whore of Jeremiah who was once told by her charlatan lover that, “Everything you do is wrong,” Mother Marlene was naturally jealous of Mandy and Red killing her almost seems like a compassionate act of mercy, even if he decapitates her.
In what ultimately proves to be a grand entrance, Red scares the shit out of jerk-off Jeremiah Sand by rolling Mother Marlene’s decapitated dome into his lair. While Jeremiah commands, “Come no closer. God is in this room” and tells Red, “You’re just meat. Without a soul. Without a brain. Without anything,” the charlatan messiah soon reveals that he has nil authority by trying in vain to spare his own life by curiously offering to suck the protagonist’s prick. Indeed, it seems that the sex-obsessed sicko, like all sociopath/narcissist types, lacks the capacity to differentiate between love and sex, though he clearly sees the latter as a symbol of power. Of course, Red is not impressed with Jeremiah pansy pleadings of, “I’ll blow you, man. I’ll suck your fucking dick!,” so he crushes the cult leader’s head until eyeballs pop up with his bare hands and then sets his decapitated head on fire. Notably, as Red is crushing Jeremiah's skull, he lets out an orgasmic yell that reveals that he has finally obtained the visceral emotional relief of killing the man that killed his one-true-love. In the end, Red erases all physical memory of the Children of the New Dawn by burning their church down and then nostalgically thinks of Mandy while driving away as if she is in the passenger seat of the car with him as he maintains a deranged expression of happiness on his absurdly blood-soaked face. As Red drives away, the planets Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the sky, which, quite notably, are the lovers’ favorite planets as revealed during a tender moment near the beginning of the film before everything went to hell. Incidentally, in the same scene, Red jokes that he likes the Marvel comic character Galactus because he “eats planets,” which is fitting words for a man that murdered virtually every single member of a group called the Children of the New Dawn in what amounts to a sort of Gnostic Ragnarök.
Undoubtedly, Mandy is, in many ways, an exaggerated expression of Nietzsche’s words, “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” Personally, I have see enough men throw their lives away on women to feel a little bit agitated by certain aspects of the film, namely Red entering a perennial dark void of no return for a woman that seems like a cold cunt, though I can certainly sympathize with him. While the titular chick clearly does not deserve the inordinately brutal demise she receives, it is hard to deny that seems like a total bitch and it is probably no coincidence that her greatest outburst of emotion comes out in the form of her laughing demonically for an extended period of time at a sick sociopathic pseudo-messiah, as if she was begging for death. Notably, a scene at the beginning of the film where Jeremiah Sand first sees Mandy bears a striking resemblance to the artwork on Black Sabbath's 1970 self-titled debut album (additionally, aside from the fact that Mandy is wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt in this scene, Cosmatos once remarked in regard to his intent with the film, “I wanted to create something like a heavy metal album cover from the ’70s”). Of course, this is not the only moment in the film where Mandy resembles a witch. In short, Red—a man that literally devotes his entire life to his women—is too good for Mandy, thereupon making his vengeful mass-murdering spree all the more tragic. Of course, the fact that the heroine is a bitch makes the film an all the more romantic example of masculine sacrifice as the protagonist takes virtual otherworldly risks and it is doubtful that his lover would have even done a fraction of the same things for him had the tables been turned. It seems that auteur Cosmatos has a more sympathetic view of the heroine as he stated in an interview with comingsoon.net, “I mean, it was very important to me that you actually care about Red and care about Mandy and feel something for them unless it just becomes a lot of noise signifying nothing, you know? And I really feel it’s important, even for being just an abstract film, you still sort of feel some kind of connection to what you’re watching emotionally.”
Judging by his own remarks, I can only assume that Cosmatos has a seemingly self-destructive fetish for broken women, as if he is the sort of dude that would stay with a bat-shit crazy bipolar bitch that got gang-banged by an entire underage high school football team. On the other hand, Cosmatos reveals another side of the heroine in an interview with thebrag.com that makes her seem more sympathetic where he states that she would have approved of Red’s murderous revenge campaign, remarking, “Absolutely. I think she loves all of him, so this part is definitely a true part of them. And her too: I think she would have done the same for him.” Undoubtedly a charitable (to say the least) view of women, Cosmatos also demonstrates an almost grotesque naïveté regarding womankind as if ladies have ever historically demonstrated a tendency towards sacrificing their security, let alone their lives, to avenge a male lover. In that sense, Mandy, despite being inordinately aesthetically mature, sometimes feels like wishful juvenilia, at least in an emotional sense. After all, while the filmmaker is nearly middle-aged, he is from a soft generation of man-children that were largely raised by women. I hate to say it, but I feel like Cosmatos needs to learn more about a life and the opposite sex before he makes another movie unless he decides to switch to the sort of stupid genre trash that he loves. Indeed, maybe Cosmatos should put down some of the unhealthy cinematic junk and watch some Fassbinder where he can learn more about the specific timeless peculiarities of the so-called fairer sex.
Nietzsche once wrote, “Heavy, melancholy people grow lighter through precisely that which makes others heavy, through hatred and love, and for a while they rise to their surface.” For better or worse, the same can also be said of the film’s hero and his eponymous lover, as Red reaches his full potential as an almost godly Übermensch of retributive murder—or, more in tune with the character's mindset, ‘Galactus’—when he loses his beloved and his lover demonstrates an almost otherworldly degree of potent maniacal contempt while mocking a psycho that has just kidnapped her. While I find the statement somewhat dubious in itself, Red’s actions do confirm Georges Bataille’s words, “The unleashed desire to kill that we call war goes far beyond the realm of religious activity. Sacrifice though, while like war a suspension of the commandment not to kill, is the religious act above all others.” Indeed, Red certainly achieves a sort of spiritual transcendence underscored by the final shot of the film that he would have never achieved had he not gone on his vengeance campaign of hyper homicidal heartbreak. While the film features a number of scenes of vulgar brutality, it also carries a good timeless traditional message about the power of love, which says a lot for a film that was, according to its director, influenced by, “the weird, amorphous vibe of [Lucio Fulci’s] CONQUEST” of all films. Additionally, I also respect Cosmatos for not being a politically correct cunt and instead having the gall to make an explicitly pro-revenge film of the artful sort in a pathetically pacifistic age of neutered nihilism. In fact, the auteur would state in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine in regard to Mandy, “I actually think [the act of vengeance] really does help the characters. I wouldn’t want to make a movie that punished the person taking revenge, and I tend to prefer films that don’t moralize about it.”
The film also makes a mockery of commercialism as is especially expressed in an unforgettable scene where, shortly after his lover is murdered, Red becomes disturbed upon seeing a goofily perturbing TV commercial for a grotesque easy-mac-and-cheese brand called ‘Cheddar Goblin’ that involves an eponymous green monster absurdly vomiting the sub-food product onto a disturbingly overly cheery child’s head. In regard to the Cheddar Goblin scene, which provides a rare moment of comic relief in what is an otherwise largely heavy film, the great auteur Italian Ettore Scola was certainly right when he once said, “Grotesque humor is a noble and tragic way of representing contemporary problems.” In terms of aesthetic cultivation and relative lack of degeneracy, Cosmatos seems to have a lot of potential as an auteur, though one hopes he at least matures somewhat when it comes to women and cinema as boyish 1980s nostalgia only gets you so far as an artist. Indeed, maybe Cosmatos’ new buddy Nicolas Cage, who was such a big fan of E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten (1990) that he produced the auteur’s second film Shadow of the Vampire (2000), will try to convince him that the 1980s mostly sucked as indicated by rather retarded films he starred in like Vampire's Kiss (1988).
Still, both of Cosmatos' features demonstrates he is a talented filmmaker with a lot of potential that seems to artistically benefit from some sort of internal misery. Indeed, I hate to say it, but I think that the auteur has a lot to gain from some more suffering. In fact, Mandy was apparently largely influenced by repressed rage the auteur felt as a result of the death of his parents, especially his mother, which explains the film's complete and utter lack of erotic love. After all, as Thomas Ligotti once noted, “Let's say it once and for all: Poe and Lovecraft—not to mention a Bruno Schulz or a Franz Kafka—were what the world at large would consider extremely disturbed individuals. And most people who are that disturbed are not able to create works of fiction. These and other names I could mention are people who are just on the cusp of total psychological derangement. Sometimes they cross over and fall into the province of 'outsider artists.' That's where the future development of horror fiction lies—in the next person who is almost too emotionally and psychologically damaged to live in the world but not too damaged to produce fiction.” While I would not wish suffering on any one, especially not what happens to the male protagonist of Mandy, I think the greatest thing that might happen to a filmmaker like Cosmatos is to have a disastrous relationship with a soulless bitch like the titular thots from Bergman's Summer with Monika (1953) and Fassbinder's Bolwieser (1977) aka The Stationmaster's Wife.
Speaking of human misery and tragedy, it should be noted that the film's Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson died of an accidental drug overdose before the film was even released. When I discovered this shortly after watching Mandy, I even felt a bit angry at the senseless loss despite knowing very little about the musician as Jóhannsson's exceedingly ethereal musical score is nearly immaculate and certainly one of the greatest and most potent aspects of the film. Apparently, Cosmatos took Jóhannsson's death rather hard, as he was hoping to establish a lifelong collaboration with the composer. Considering that Cosmatos is himself no stranger to drug abuse, I think he might want to consider directing the ultimate cinematic (anti)drug trip as he certainly already has all the artistic vigor to accomplish that.
(”Last Year at Marienbad” is briefly mentioned in this.)
So much 20th century modern art, in just about every genre, including music, painting, architecture and sculpture was purposely designed to be incomprehensible to the layman. In the mid-1970s and early-1980s, Tom Wolfe made sport of the entire enterprise with From Bauhaus To Our House and The Painted Word. The title of the latter book explains how badly art had degenerated by the mid-1970s. Whereas once any layman could instantly appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of say, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David, or a great classical symphony, modern painting in particular had almost become merely an excuse for the artist and his champion critic to write a treatise explaining the work of art in the first place.John Derbyshire has a fascinating essay, which ran almost a year ago, but recently relinked by the Derb at the Corner, which does much to explain why this divergence occurred, and its mid-19th century origins.Meanwhile, regarding the motion picture industry, one of the few 20th century artforms that any layman could appreciate, NPR looks back at 1962 and its abundance of cinematic riches:The five Best Picture nominees that year were Lawrence of Arabia (the eventual winner), The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty and To Kill A Mockingbird. Not a bad list for any year, certainly.But even if none of those pictures had ever been produced, the Motion Picture Academy could still have assembled a perfectly respectable 1962 list. One possible slate: The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz, Days of Wine and Roses, The Miracle Worker and Long Day's Journey into Night. Believe it or not, they were all among the year's also-rans.And if none of those had been produced either? There'd still have been plenty of worthy candidates: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Billy Budd, Divorce Italian Style, Last Year at Marienbad, Gypsy, Sweet Bird of Youth, Period of Adjustment, Jules and Jim, Lolita, Advise and Consent, Peeping Tom and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ... just to name a few.So: Is there a year that can top that?Well 1939 wasn't too shabby a year for American movies, either. And in both cases, we''ll likely never see quite a line-up of films that could appeal to the general public and contain such fine craftsmanship and (dare I say it?) art. But much like the love-hate relationship the Mad Men TV series has with the late '50s and early 1960s, it seems sort of paradoxical for the boomers at NPR to praise an era that they themselves helped to destroy shortly thereafter.Related: And speaking of movies, J.R. Taylor has some thoughts on the transformation of Roger Ebert from ingratiating middlebrow movie critic to the masses, to shrill archliberal wannabe-pundit.Update: Speaking of which...
(”Last Year at Marienbad” is briefly mentioned in this.)
This is the time of year for movie critics to roll out their awards and their ten-best lists, and I am forced to take a long, hard look at the cinema from the fact that I cannot come up with a “ten best” list at all. For in the cinema we must wage the same struggle that we should have been fighting in the rest of the culture since the turn of the twentieth century: on behalf of the old, bourgeois values and against the morbidity and unreason of the avant-garde. Unfortunately, the avant-garde has now become “the garde”, and so it becomes more important than ever, in the movies as well as in literature, art, and music, to raise the standard of the arriere-garde — a rear-guard struggle against a diseased culture. The carriers of the disease are of the course the intelligentsia…..
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