20 February, 2011

Those Bitches Are Dead

Last Tango in Paris is all over the place in tone, emotion, and content, but then again, most anonymous sexual affairs are, aren't they?



Tango reminds me of a particular place and time in my life that I spent with a particular woman. I can't assume that this is a feeling or an experience most people have in their pocket, but I think most people at least have a best friend or know of a best friend that's had a passionate, sexual, and ultimately unfulfilling love affair with another person*. It happens and it's human and I can't think of another movie that quite encapsulates something like that-- even however passingly it might be in this case. It's just two people that have full lives meeting in a room, screwing, and having these great conversations. Though, I can't say I've ever been that bald or had a wife kill herself on me or used butter in quite that way or ever felt the need to bring up porcine/human relations while doing. . . that. That, I'll admit, is outside of my realm of experience.

Now-- a few caveats-- There are more than a few moments that leave me cold. The Last Tango is Paris is well acted and great looking. It's a bit like taking a cross-country tour in a sports car. It's great at first, then you'll hit a dirt road and wonder why the fuck you even started out on this whole thing.

It isn't so much that I'm not aroused by them or that I'm disgusted, it is that shat occurs on screen is so far out of my realm of experience or understanding that I can't help but feel that I am watching amoebas fuck. I know what they're doing. I could write out what's occurring on paper, even. Can I empathize with it? Fuck no, which is probably why I picked up watching Battlestar Galactica again, but at least when I'm alienated, something is bound to explode-- IN SPACE.

Tango is nowhere near as romantic as a movie like The Dreamers (which, as I think about it, really isn't all that romantic, now is it?). It's melancholy at best and, as the plot progresses, it hits the "at worst" qualifications and becomes down right miserable. The apartment in The Dreamers is also better than Tango, but, admittedly, that's a bit of a personal fixation of mine.

That doesn't mean it isn't a film about romance or people coming together (hold the rimshot). In it's off kilter way, it's about off kilter people finding each other. . . and then slowly but surely losing their minds. That's indicative of art films, though, isn't it? At some point, on the margins, things are going to suffer and cease to make any real, logical sense. It can't because that's the kind of picture Bernardo Bertolucci (apparently) set out to make.

It's about the Art and, while I think this movie has aged in many ways the 1970's couldn't have predicted (the elimination of the X rating, for one), it has changed into a fairly modern drama. It's something more than "porn masquerading as art," as William F. Buckley put it when the movie first came out (but, as brilliant as he may be, is hardly a man I would trust with appraising either art or pornography). All of the shock and controversy has fallen by the waysides by now and even the most difficult scenes would strike a modern audience as rather tame when compared to movies like The Accused, the Saw series, or, a movie I'm convinced no one has ever watched for noble intentions, Irreversible. What's left now that all the dust has settled and all the leads are dead is a rather straight forward film about two people that probably should have never wound up in the same bedroom at the same time.

Another thing that reminds me of my previous romantic experiences is the fact that Marlon Brando's character really is quite an asshole. With this, I can symapathize. I bitch about my dad all the time and while we don't connect 100% of the time-- thank Christ-- we do have an overlapping character quality which is the uncanny desire to give people close to us a hard time. I first started noticing this tendency when I started annoying the women I had a relationship with a hard time, only because I could. It's not one of my more endearing qualities, I realize. I started to see an overlap with this character when he started being king of a jerk to Jeanne for no real reason. He's a ball-breaker and he's pretty funny when he gets going, which is something I'd like to think of myself as.

I can appreciate a ball-breaker if he's funny enough. Brando straddles the line between being roguish and just being an asshole without being too likable or too annoying. Tango, which I feel I can't state enough, isn't a great film-- it's an interesting film-- but even for all of the flaws in its character, it reminded me just why Brando could get away with being a crazy asshole for so long. It's because he's one of the best actors of all time. Without Brando in this movie, even with all of the nipple and bush taken into consideration and even with Vittorio Storaro behind the camera, there really isn't a movie. So, as screwy at the movie is and as unsatisfying as the last twenty minutes are, it's almost worth wading through it all just to see Brando do what he does best.

With that said, I won't lie to you, I can't understand about a quarter of what Brando is saying-- but he says it so convincingly, damnit! After a certain point, I started looking forward to the scenes where he'd speak French-- a language I have no affinity towards-- so I could read the subtitles. He mumbles his way through the film and, method acting be damned, it's annoyingly indecipherable in a way that only 1970's films I think ever were.

It seems to me that the 70's were the only decade in film that weren't all that concerned with recording the voices of the people in the film. It's like all of the world's boom mic operators were just stoned off their asses between 1968 and 1977. I liked when they did that in Alien because it kind of set up a muted tone that would pay off when shit actually started going down. Here, though, in an earthbound, personal drama, it's out of place as a certain eight-foot tall, hideous, obsidian, space penis might be. I can only imagine the reasons for letting one of the greatest actors of all time go to waste because somebody couldn't be asked to screw with the levels.

Speaking of Brando (by the way, I have no idea what his character's name is and I refuse to look it up) I also can't help but feel a certain, painful pathos for Brando's turn as a sloppy, horrible, sincere drunk who doesn't quite understand the consequences of his actions. It hits a little to close to home, in fact it hits the home repeatedly and with a large hammer. There's probably a lesson in the last fifteen minutes of the film. I think I know what it is.

Alright, I've come to a conclusion while thinking back on the movie, and, you know what? I guess it is porn disguised as art, because the movie does basically follow the plot of a porno. Tango doesn't have the same conclusions, it wants to provoke a bit more than it wants to arouse. The storyline is minuscule and it's padded out by a sub-plot that feels like Jean-Luc Godard crashed his moped on the set of Taboo 3. Most of the plot doesn't seem to do much other than add a delay to the inevitable screwing and Brando speaking in soliloquies. I guess that's pornographic in a way. High porno, at worst.

Movies can sometimes afford to not quite work and, in fact, some of the best and most memorable movies of all time probably fit into that category. A movie can be screwed up and still be worth seeing. Having a nice butt run through a shot every once in a while can't hurt, either.

SUB-NOTE: Hey, look, there's a reference to French film I understand! The lifesaver Jeanne throws into the channel has the ship "L'Atlante" painted on it. You, as an astute scholar of French romances, would know that L'Atlanate is a movie about separated lovers who live on a river boat (the film is also referenced in the ending of Lovers on a Bridge, another very Gaullic romance about crazy people brought together and separated and brought together again by love).

SUB-NOTE PART DUEX: You know what? Just go see Lovers on a Bridge, you'll thank me later.

SUB-NOTE PART TROIS: What the fuck is that trailer? Seriously? Does that make you want to watch it? Like, at all?

SUB-NOTE TERMINAL: I couldn't fine any images from the movie that were worth a damn (and didn't have straight-up, rude titties all over the place), so, as an apology, here comes the master of repartee, William F. Buckley--

You're welcome.

*That's my PC/college training coming into play. Otherwise I would have said "with the opposite sex," but I guess that's assuming all too much nowadays. That would've been rude.