Thursday, January 29, 2009

Talking to Myself About the Commercial Influence

I was having a coffee at Atlas Cafe when I ran into myself. I said "Why not come over? I got some cake from a Polish grocery and it'll take two of me to eat it." So I went over to my apartment. We sat down in the kitchen.

IV1: Have you written your post about Bad Influence yet?

IV2: No. I'm really late. You?

IV1: No. I've been playing with words, but they don't really come together. They don't make an essay or a post or whatever.

IV2: Maybe we should talk it over. If it can't be an essay, maybe it can be a conversation. Anyway, writing is just talking to yourself, trying to convince yourself of something. Anyone who reads a blog post is just overhearing someone else's mumbling. And a dialogue is usually more interesting than a monologue.

IV1: Ok. Well, let's start with the truth. I’ve never liked any of Curtis Hanson’s movies. But I like this one. It’s one of those works that alter your perceptions of other works by the same author. Like how Carlito’s Way makes Scarface a better movie and Scarface makes Carlito’s Way a worse one. So Bad Influence makes L.A. Confidential seem better, but the memory of L.A. Confidential also taints my experience of Bad Influence. It's even got a great start. Opening credits are something we don’t talk about very often, even though they happen to be parts of the movie. I used to really dislike 1980s and 1990s American credits, where some action builds in the images, accompanied by music, while the credits are displayed in a small font, as if a small font is less obtrusive that a large one. But I’ve come to understand them. Overlaying credits creates a direct connection between the film and the people credited. It’s like the artist’s signature at the bottom of a painting—which, we shouldn’t forget, is an integral part of the painting itself. So every image becomes “signed” by various people—the main cast, the editor, the casting director and so on and so forth until the last credit, which is always for the director, because he or she, of course, gets the last word.

And I like the shot that “introduces” Spader’s character. I don’t mean during the credits, where we see him and Rob Lowe doing something mysterious. The credits sequence is like a glimpse of a stranger at a party. You don’t quite understand who they are, and there’s a lot of other stuff going on. But then, very suddenly, you’re introduced. And here it happens when he opens his mouth. His voice is a little weak. He asks a question.

IV2: Well, you remember Heartbeat Detector, right? I think one thing I admired about it was its devotion to a corporate image. I mean that every room looks like an advertisement for that room, the way people wear their clothes or drive their cars looks like a commercial for those items. It’s like the characters of the film are trying to project this idea that these items are worth it. Like, nowadays, the way people wear Bluetooth headsets—they have this strange relationship with them where they try to look like the people on the Bluetooth headset box. Or the way iPod owners insist on using the white earbuds instead of getting better headphones. And, starting with the moment Spader opens his mouth, we enter this world where the mise en scene is modeled on advertising, on stock photography. Everyone’s desks are arranged like old computer ads, very orderly. Early on, when Spader’s feeling down, he goes to the bar where he first meets Lowe, and even that is lit like a beer commercial.

IV1: Well, the aesthetic ideas behind Hanson’s images are ultimately indebted to advertising of one kind or another. It weakens a lot of his other films, but it strengthens this one. More print advertising—magazine ads, motivational posters, travel brochures—than anything else. Settings like the zoo, the clean wharf with its fishermen, for instance, look like they could belong in a travel magazine. When the bands are playing--and there are two "rock club" scenes--there are shots that look just like glossy music videos. And what was 8 Mile if not an advertisement for Eminem, an advertisement for the kind of glossy grittiness you also see in his music videos and concerts?

IV2: Yes, and the sex scenes have this Cinemax quality to them, which works for them rather than against them. As though images of the world have invaded the world itself. Advertising has supplanted experience. Spader's character lives his life very carefully, like he's the guest at some hotel. A guest at his own anniversary party. It’s a world that is enveloping and is unfulfillingly comforting. It can replace everything without actually being anything. And this is true of both Spader and Lowe's worlds. Neither one has more depth. Each one has invested too much into his own ideas to let go. Lowe needs his power and Spader needs his comfort, and both notions are equally marketable and empty.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Perils of Masculine Intimacy in Bad Influence (1990)

Curtis Hanson's Califor-noir Bad Influence (1990) impressed me mostly as a "downlow" narrative of male-male courtship, depicting the peculiar perils of same-sex intimacy. I don't think I read the film as "gay" in any way. Nor do I find it especially homoerotic (despite the camera's lurid titillation by the seedier tinge of Rob Lowe's beauty).
Rather, what I find most interesting in Bad Influence is Hanson's provocatively cinematic exploitation of queer(ish) visual tropes as a way to evince the essentially uncertain perils of male-male intimacy. I'm also fascinated by the fact that Hanson, presumably developing this film in the later 1980s, was able to make a film about the erotics of masculine intimacy while somehow eliding/escaping certitudes of gayness and/or straightness.
Most centrally, and putting aside for the moment the (open) question of whether or not Lowe's Alex is "real," Bad Influence is "about" the relationship between Spader's Michael and Rob Lowe's Alex (if that is indeed his "real" name)...
I love that the environment of Alex and Michael's first real interaction -- the piers, just after Michael has checked out the men's room and discovered it closed -- is a physical location rife with "cruising" metaphor.
And that their subsequent exchange -- a battery of awkward greetings, dropped glances, and coy smiles -- is as fraught as any flirtation, a feinting encounter that becomes all the more electrifying for the speed with which it evolves into a thrilling new relationship.
I found it impossible to forget the obliquely erotic charge of this first encounter between Michael and Alex, especially as their impromptu "date" continued, first to a dive bar where they seemed only to be interested in each other and then to an underground nightclub where their scopes widened. Here, I think it worth noting how Hanson uses the "code" of the underground nightclub network to mark the next three beats of Alex and Michael's evolving relationship.
First, it's a bit of role play, requiring a touch of subservience on the part of the masculine subject. And while I wouldn't go so far to say that Lowe's Alex is the aforementioned "dominant athletic female" (though it is a somewhat amusing thought), I would suggest that the personal ad "code" does cue Spader's Michael for the "role" he takes in his subsequent relationship with Lowe's Alex. In the scenes that follow, Alex is calling the shots and Michael's learning the pleasures of taking orders. By the time of their next big night together, the two men have experienced a somewhat surprising degree of physical intimacy.
So it may be little surprise that Spader's Michael finds himself thrust into the throes of a minor identity crisis, as when he visibly bridles when Lowe's Alex voice calls from behind: "Gay White Male!"
Spader's Michael is, of course, visibly relieved to realize that "Gay White Male" is not his new title but (like "Dominant Athletic Female" before it) merely the "code" for Alex and Michael's next adventure. This moment, too, is when I become convinced that Hanson is using such "code" to underscore that Michael and Alex are getting a little too close. Indeed, the "Gay White Male" evening of adventures commences a phase when things between Michael and Alex start getting scary, when their macho playdates transform into a set of dangerous secrets that Michael must learn to guard -- to "closet" -- lest they destroy the careful construction of his public persona. The homosexual horror of this next phase in Alex and Michael's evolving intimacy is enacted gruesomely, first in their shared predatory late-nite rampage (which includes the bizarrely sexual attack on the donut shop guy, an assault which culminates when Lowe doesn't "shoot" the dude's head off, but instead "squirts" in his mouth)...
And which continues as Alex stages his careful incrimination of Michael, a nefarious scheme which promises to render permanent their passing intimacy.
At this moment in the narrative, Alex's motives beg for elaboration, yet Hanson doesn't budge. Perhaps as a result, Bad Influence becomes more interesting than it should be. And, for me, the unknowability of Alex's motives clarified the gendered operation of identity-theft noir pics more generally. At this juncture in the narrative, I found myself reflecting on the identity problems in movies like Fight Club and Strangers on a Train or, say, Single White Female or The Hand That Rocks The Cradle or Rebecca. In this screening of Bad Influence, though, I realized that the threat in female-centered identity surrogation noir is most often that of a kind of erasure, where the ominous figure (either the new friend or the absent predecessor) threatens to stealthily overtake the life of the central character, until she must fight back in order to protect her own integrity/personhood. In male-centered pics (like Fight Club or Strangers on a Train or Bad Influence), on the other hand, the ominous new character is not so much about identity dissolution/displacement but more about the threat of unveiling a core, intimate truth about the male protagonist. (As when, here, Lowe's Alex taunts Spader's Michael with the breathy allegation: "I didn't make you do anything that wasn't in you already.") The thrill of male-centered identity surrogation films often follow from one man's choice to reveal his true desires to a charismatic male stranger and, subsequently, how this other man chooses to utilize this intimate "secret" to compel the protagonist to do terrible things. It's a fascinating, gendered tension -- identity dissolution versus identity revelation -- that I don't think I would have discerned where it not for the curious peril of masculine intimacy in Bad Influence. It's also why, to my mind at least, why the third beat in Alex and Michael's relationship is cued by the final bit of personal ad "code": Fun Loving Couple.
While Alex has wreaked his desired havoc in Michael's life and is ready to move on (to a porny threesome with two women no less), Michael decides brings a third into the drama of his primary relationship with Alex. And not only is Michael's "third" a man, but it's Michael's brother Pismo (Christian Clemenson). In this moment, the model of masculine intimacy embodied by the Michael-Pismo dyad (a signal of the intrinsic, if imperfect, reliability of filial trust) stands in a conclusive contradistinction to the Michael-Alex dyad (an example of the perilous thrills of the mancrush). And, of course, with the normative masculine intimacy of his connection with his brother to moor his unsteadiness, Michael's relationship Alex ends where it began -- in the cruisy isolation of the pier -- with one man decisively communicating to the other who's on top.
All told, Curtis Hanson's Bad Influence is a surprisingly rich exploration of the perceived perils of masculine intimacy and, in the best noir tradition, Hanson is somewhat astonishingly unapologetic in his use of queerish/erotic visual tropes to explore the uncertain terrain of male-male emotional infatuation.
-- Brian (aka StinkyLulu)
for my unedited ramblings on the film, see also StinkyBits.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I want to try to develop some of the issues raised in comments about who actually exists in Bad Influence. Not so much because I think it matters who exists or not - but because the way film hints at the possibility, and then does not resolve it, raises points about information in films that I find fascinating.

So who is real? The film sets you up to wonder about Alex, especially - even raising the point explicitly. Pismo says the cops won't believe he exists - and that's the plot in the last third or so - how can Michael (and Pismo) prove that Alex exists, and that he did these things, not Michael? That's what happens in the last act - they chase down evidence that Alex exists - finally trapping him on the Manhattan Beach pier.... But what's interesting about the question is that the film doesn't resolve it. It maintains its ambiguity to the end. In fact, it probably raises more questions about what is real, without answering them. What about Pismo? He's even more ambiguous than Alex, if you think about it. We don't see anyone interact with him other than Michael and Alex. What's more - his function in the plot is as a kind of return of the repressed. He's more Michael's physical double than Alex (a fact the film plays with, from his introduction on.) He shows up at MIchael's door, asking for money, paranoid about an old drug conviction, or later, telling Alex he has "the fear." Which prompts Alex to ask Michael what he is afraid of, what he wants.

The question of what is real isn't all that important in itself. The symbolic links among the characters are obvious enough, and don't depend on their literal identity. What is interesting is how the film handles the possibility, and how it fits with other aspects of the film. How does the film handle it? By hinting at it - then raising it explicitly, and setting it up as the point of the story - then seeming to resolve it - but, rather pointedly, not resolving it. Most of the hints, in fact, are more about the symbolism than the reality of these characters. Alex doesn't really seem to be anything but a slumming gangster of some kind when he first appears. He plays tempter - plays Faust - though he also seems to be acting as Michael's id, or enabling Michael's id. The characters are linked - most clearly in Alex's first appearance in the bar. We see Michael at the bar drinking a beer - we see him in a fight, getting pushed around - then we see a closeup of a hand, breaking a beer bottle on the bar - then we see Alex. But that hand breaking the bottle - it's certainly edited to make us think for a second that's Michael... But even this is just a symbolic link - and symbolism isn't ontology.

Once Alex's existence is named as a problem, though, this manipulation of information becomes significant. You realize that the film has not shown us who beat Patterson, who killed Claire, you realize that no one has seen Alex except Michael (and Pismo and Claire, but one is as reclusive as Alex, and the other is dead). No one but Michael has talked to Alex on the phone. It is possible to put Michael and Alex in the same place for any of the important moments - and possible to rationalize Alex's presence (as Michael's imagination) at places where there seem to be witnesses (like the fiancee's party.) Episodes like the robberies are played ambiguously - we see Alex's face, but Michael wears a mask, and acts completely dissociated from the crimes, enough to make us question the point of view they represent. And everything that might count as evidence - the videotape, even the pictures we see at the beginning of the film, before Alex meets Michael - have disappeared, been destroyed, etc. Now: by naming the question (of Alex's existence) in the film, it sets you up to expect a resolution. The film never plays the story as if Alex didn't exist - everything is structured as if it were a mystery to be solved. And indeed - the ending of the film seems to solve it: Alex's confession is on tape - then he is shot....

And yet the film maintains its ambiguity. Alex's body doesn't come to the surface - no one actually watches the video footage. Michael walks off to talk to the police - but Pismo lags behind, and we don't actually see Michael meet the police. Nothing is resolved.

I think this is important. It does a couple things: one is, I think it links it to another branch of films, to art films - Antonioni and the like. It shares some of their aesthetic - the stark, urban landscapes, the blank white walls, the fascination with photography and video; and it shares their ambiguity, and interest in ambiguity. The unanswered questions of who killed who, or if anyone killed anyone, of Blowup or Terrorizer or a Michael Haneke film. I don't know how much connection there is to those films, probably some, though even without direct links, many of the ideas and images were in the air in 1990.

It's also important for foregrounding the question of evidence, in the film, and for film watchers. What constitutes proof that something is "real" in a fiction? Most of the time, we take it for granted - if the filmmakers put someone on screen and show something happening, we assume it is actually happening, within that fictional world. So why would we doubt that? Why would we ask if 2 characters are really the same person? Why would we ask if something was a figment of someone's imagination? and if the problem comes up - how do you decide, in the film, what is real and what is not?

How does this film suggest that Alex is not real? I'd say: 1) his introduction, that ambiguous cutting around the bottle; 2) by foregrounding the story templates, doppelganger stories, Faust stories; 3) by manipulating what we see and don't see - and then foregrounding the manipulation, so we notice that the film seems to have arbitrarily skipped something like Patterson's beating. 4) And finally - by making it an explicit problem for the plot - by having Pismo and Michael realize that they have no way of proving that Alex exists.... Or - how does the film prove that Claire (for instance) is "real"? Well - as I said in a comment: she's on tape - other people see her on tape. That's how we know Michael is real. We see people that we can't reduce to Michael's perception, and those people react to him: thus we know he "exists." And that evidence is missing for Alex - and for Pismo. Alex does not appear anywhere Michael is not, or if he does, Michael's independent existence can't be proved; there are no pictures of him (and he has no intention of letting anyone get any - they won't knock over a convenience store, it has cameras), no one hears his voice. Same with Pismo - again - only Michael and Alex see him, except at the club - which we could read as "really" Michael. (I think there's enough time to at least pretend Michael's trip to get the gun is not simultaneous.) No pictures of him, no one else hears him talk. And when there is a real chance of two of them being seen (as when they are trying to dispose of the body, or even at the end), Pismo conveniently disappears when people come along (or the film stops.)

But likewise - how would we prove that Michael and Alex are the same person? Well - the film could tell us, explicitly (as in Fight Club.) Or we could imagine a final scene - Michael telling the cops how Alex did what he did, showing them the tape - and we might see the tape, and see Michael confessing the crimes... Or we could see the cops coming to the end of the pier and see that what we thought was Michael was Pismo - and then see Michael's body in the water. There are undoubtedly more subtle ways of making the point - but of course, the film does none of them.

Anyway: that is all for now. By rooting through all this, I don't mean to say that the characters really are the same person, or that the question of whether they are or aren't is all that important. What I think is important is the fact that the film does not resolve the question - and that it does raise issues about knowledge and reality in film. The ways it relates those questions to technology - might be another essay...

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Some great posts so far. Weepingsam's remarks on light and Peter's on the motif of "stuff" both answer, in their own way, Glenn's central question: what is the relation between the corporate world and the sexual/violent noir world?

Let me start my answer by noting that Bad Influence is built around doppelganger obviousness. By obvious I don't mean that's how everyone reads it (though the comments to the latest post suggest many do), but that the film evacuates other interpretive possibilities. One thing I find interesting about dopperganger narratives is that the "evil" double never gets psychological depth. The same holds true for Bad Influence, even when the editing positions a series of point-of-view shots from Alex.

What's particularly striking - and why I call this obvious - is that unlike some other doppelganger narratives (Strangers on a Train, say) Alex hardly seems to have a psychology at all. "The cops won't believe this guy even exists." I don't believe he exists!

The thematic obviousness is in many ways a nod to noir, where Big Ideas got expressed in pulp form. However, neo-noir does not fully sum up this film. Certain moments of pastiche are there, particularly in the directional lighting, the slow tracks, and the costuming/makeup of the fiancee...
(remarkable how a Veronica Lake look comes across more as Color Me Beautiful...)

Rather than retro-noir, I'm inclined to say the film owes much to the film gris - films like Body and Soul or Force of Evil, which allegorized capitalism as criminal activity. That said, when pressed, it's hard for me to figure out what the film is saying exactly about business or what its target is. Office politics unfettered from morality? High finance? Consumerism? Credit economy? Is Michael the bad guy with his Sharper Image loft and credit card debt? Or Alex with his Armani suits and nightclub hookers-and-coke dissolution? I'm interested in possible interpretations film clubbers might have.

Finally, I should note that all this allegorization comes at the expense of women. There's a long-standing feminist critique of noir, particularly the femme fatale. But here the women are not even interesting characters, but rather pawns for the screenplay. And am I right to say a subsidiary theme is that carpe diem means men should not get involved seriously with women? In other contexts, that might be welcome libertinism, here it soured for me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bad Influence: vice, versa and virtue

Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand the best I can

— Roger Waters, “Echoes”

  • I’d like to thank Glenn Heath for suggesting Bad Influence (1990) as January’s Film of the Month. Until now it’s been a forgotten noir hinged on the back end of the ‘80s, a decade rife with sleepy, sleazy thrillers patiently awaiting our discovery — preferably through groggy eyes at 3am on cable. It’s also a vital part of director Curtis Hanson’s ignored oeuvre, a gaggle of seemingly disparate mainstream pictures most critics wouldn’t own up to admiring. Fortunately, if just for the sake of this brief reflection, I’m not in the same league as ‘most critics.’

        Set in that mythical movie world where beautiful twenty-somethings undergo dizzying rites of passage, unaffected by the mundane concerns of food, rent and insurance premiums, Bad Influence follows James Spader, a corporate overachiever with dubious morals en route to his dark side. Beau hunk Rob Lowe is the guide, sinister yin to Spader’s complacent yang, a nasty parasite feeding on his host’s good nature. In time, their Faustian association provides Spader with a few depraved perks: severance from an impending (and likely suffocating) marriage to a tidy socialite, shameless sex with undemanding dollbabes, and a rapid ascension up the corporate ladder. The price is high, as backs are stabbed and bridges burned while Spader goes topsy-turvy.

        But the end result is maturity at the cost of Lowe’s decadent self-centeredness. It’s a violent journey to self awareness, prompted by the conflict and merger of opposites. These are recurring themes in Hanson’s work: the grieving housewife forced from lethargy by a psychotic in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992); the intellectual husband impotent against tough criminals in The River Wild (1994), his weakness overcome by a strong, motherly wife; the clean, naïve cop evolving through corruption in L.A. Confidential (1997); academic dreamers chasing rainbows in Wonder Boys (2000); the singer hacking away at his oppressive roots in 8 Mile (2002); the battling sisters in In Her Shoes (2005) finding peace in a dimension beyond careers and sex, a retirement community.

        Overlooked (if not slighted) by cinephiles, Curtis Hanson remains faithful to the basic narrative conventions of old Hollywood. Indeed, had he been born forty years earlier, it’s easy imagining him churning out working class melodramas at Warners. Although Bad Influence is slick and sensational, it’s also lined with sharp digs at mainstream values. When Spader begins to lose the trappings of his life — coworkers bail on him, friends and fiancée evaporate, along with his clothing and furniture — truth and self preservation become paramount.

  • Monday, January 5, 2009

    Bad Influence and Neo (not so) Noir

    One of the interesting features of neo-noir, probably following in Chinatown's footsteps, is the use of light, in place of darkness. Bad Influence follows that trend -light plays a key role in its look, throughout. It begins in darkness, and certainly, shadows and dark are significant in the film - but it is remarkable how much emphasis there is on light.

    Its key spaces (Michael's workplace and his apartment) are bright, airy places, with white walls, bright lighting, windows, white decor.

    When he moves outside, much of the story takes place under the brilliant LA sky:

    Meanwhile, as the deeds grow darker, darkness enters the film, as well - though light remains significant. The robbery spree the men go on leads them through dark streets, but the actual crimes occur in the light.

    And light itself is a significant part of what is seen. The light of the TV screen is a recurring motif, the TV and camera are integral to the plot; plot points also depend on a tail light, the light of a refrigerator door opening, etc. Even incidental details like the dance routine at one of the underground clubs are built around lights:

    And here is darkness, framed in light:

    It's a strong pattern throughout the film, and helps establish a theme, maybe: that light hides our bad impulses - darkness reveals them. That may overstate it - the film does fascinating things with what it shows and hides, puts onscreen or off... but its use of light (and whiteness, and glass, surfaces, etc.) is quite remarkable.

    Sunday, January 4, 2009

    Alex Lies and Videotapes

    I thought Rob Lowe did his job well. He played Alex with the perfect mixture of attraction and menace. Why did this surprise me? Where do these low expectations come from regarding some actors? With Lowe, I can't remember being disappointed by a certain performance of his. (to be fair, I also can't remember loving his work. But I guess that just adds to my point) Why was I gearing up for some schlocky work? (Is it really about the 'Rat Pack' or the sex tape? Is that shit still in my mind? How did it even get in there?) I don't like having these unconscious feelings or prejudices going into a viewing. Makes me wonder what other unconscious attitudes potentially affect my first intake of a film.

    Friday, January 2, 2009


    What follows are some random thoughts on Bad Influence. Stress on "random".

    We are given little in the way of motive for what Alex does. We know he was sinister, in some way, before meeting Michael, that's about all. Alex keeps repeating that Michael "asked for this". Just as he forms Michael into the "take no shit" man his corporate success demands, Alex alludes to a certain hatred for this game, and perhaps punishes Michael for his weakness in even playing it. Like an evil version of The Secret, Alex tells Michael to "make it happen", then terrorizes to make it so, "covering his bases" all the while.


    In the scene that starts the process, Alex sits in the almost kitsch Venetian shadows (behind bars) and says "Tell me what you want, Mick."
    Michael is confused and Hesitant. "Mick?"
    "Tell me what you want, what you're afraid of." He is still in shadow.
    Michael is still hesitant to tell him. He stumbles.
    Then, moving away from the shadow, Alex says "Just for fun, come on, tell me, what are you afraid of?"
    This frees Michael from his hesitation. "I'm afraid of getting married, I guess." They discuss it. "Done." says Alex.
    Alex then moves back into the shadow. It is a closer shot. The shadow seems more prominent.
    "Now tell me what you want more than anything else in the world."
    Michael isn't hesitant anymore. Alex is in. He can present his dark side and get a response. Michael reveals that he wants the senior analyst position.
    "Drink to it. Make it happen", commands Alex. They toast.
    "Make it happen" repeats Michael. Alex smiles.


    Alex can be viewed as a manifestation of "passive excess". Passive, in that Michael has no attachment to his 'stuff'. This 'stuff' representing the byproduct of corporate greed. Alex uses this stuff to wreak havoc in Michael's world.

    Alex scans Michael's 'stuff'. "Very nice." he says low. Spots the golf clubs. He laughs to himself. "Do you play?", he asks.
    "No. Never" answers Michael.
    He doesn't play golf. Why does he have the clubs? Just because it's what he thinks he should have?

    When Alex takes his stuff away, Michael wants it back, only because "it's mine", but just as easily tells Alex to "keep it". "So the stuff makes us even?" "Yeah", answers Michael, "the stuff makes us even." This forces Alex to take it to the next level. He has to take away other 'stuff'. With the unused golf club, a symbol of corporate recreation and excess (and Michael's passive excess), Alex kills Claire.


    "Why did you get this?" asks Michael's brother as he stares into the video camera.
    "I don't know, it was on sale".
    "Do you need it?"
    "That's not the point"
    What does Micheal mean? What IS the point. Is it that Michael feels he has to have it, that this is what people like him have in their lives? Even though he can't produce a reason why he has it.
    Pismo senses the trouble with it.
    "You better give it away. Cut your losses", he says.
    "You're not making any sense."

    Alex uses this camera to 'help' remove that which Michael is afraid of...

    ...then terrorizes him with it.
    Finally, Michael turns it on Alex.

    I find this shot, one of the last, to be very interesting. Michael staring into the mysterious waters that Alex's body never rose from. He is basically staring into the mystery that is (was) Alex. "The cops won't believe this guy even exists" was Pismo's worry. The camera, the only thing that will save him now, sits next to Michael.

    Thursday, January 1, 2009

    Excuse My Behavior: Introducing Bad Influence

    Neo-noirs, the modern day cinematic evolution of the classic Film Noir, mix old and new aesthetics to deconstruct, challenge, and ultimately re-define their genre fore-fathers. Films such as Body Heat, Gloria, and Blue Steel just to name a few, seamlessly flip preconceived genre notions via archetype reversals and plot twists. But the layers of these films aren't merely skin deep. By inserting subversive modern day critiques (social, technological, political) into narratives obsessed with sexual deviancy, fatalism, and greed, neo-noirs intentionally provoke strong and provocative reactions from the viewer. To me, Curtis Hanson's seedy and brutal Bad Influence brilliantly evokes these themes and will hopefully open up a plethora of inroads for discussion during the month ahead. 

    Here are a few possible starters. There are two separate realities battling for supremacy throughout Bad Influence; first, the corporate void of corrupt ideals, greed, and lethargy which is Michael's (James Spader) reality, and second, the dark underbelly of sexual manipulation, violence, and crime defined by Alex (Rob Lowe). How do these separate levels of existence compliment, contrast, or overlap each other? To what extend does Hanson construct these spaces through juxtapositions of Noir visuals and music? And lastly, how does the key motif of power vs. submission become an off screen element in ways contrary to mainstream Hollywood fare (and later Hanson films as well)? 

    Bad Influence has plenty of dirty little secrets to tell, bits of sleazy wisdom that describe an American obsession with power and the inevitable futility of trying to control one's fate. Let the mind games begin!

    The Film of the Month: Bad Influence

    As Ignatiy's "Utopian dream[of] getting a group of people to watch and consider a film no one watches or considers" comes to an end, one could gather from the postings and discussions that the group was, for the most part, surprised at what Absolute Beginners had to offer as cinema and discussion. So many different approaches are available from a selection such as this, and it was fun to see what the next one would be.

    I was also enlightened by the discussion that stemmed from Thom's question "Why term the 1980s "the great 'lost decade' of cinema?"

    Glenn Heath's January selection, Bad Influence (Curtis Hanson, 1990), technically just missed that decade, but it harbors the look and feel (and sound!) of it. Having today just seen this "nasty and great Neo-Noir", as Glenn calls it, I anxiously await his introduction to help me wrap my arms around this, once again, intriguing and discussion-stimulating selection.

    Just remember one thing. You asked for this. Happy 2009!