Death by Amnesia, or How French Cinema Culture Can Save Us All

Death by Amnesia, or How French Cinema Culture Can Save Us All

nullThe reason I write about cinema at all is because, at the age of 15, my high school French teacher sent our class to an art theater to see Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast.

At 15, I lived in a small home in a drab smear of a lower class L.A. neighborhood of strip malls and storage parks. If anything less aesthetically numbing had ever existed it had long since met the wreckers’ ball, so as to make way for depression-friendly identikit apartments.

Beauty and the Beast shocked me out of this gray limbo-world and into an exquisitely detailed surrealist 18th century that never really existed, with images that were forever branded on my frontal cortex: Human arm candelabras! An animal prince cat-licking from a stream! Teleportation via mirror! Holy shit!

The next week: Cocteau’s Orphée, featuring Death as a long cool woman in a black dress, her messengers as proto-Brando black leather bikers, and negative film stock as the Underworld as Greek myth is recalled through the lens of the French resistance.

Cocteau’s cinema made life more tolerable, less scary, impossibly beautiful.

Fast forward to last month, just before my vacation to Paris. I’m chatting with my friend Richard on the stoop of my East Village building about American amnesia.

nullIn particular, about that horrifically bloody week in 1863 that threatened to destroy the Union and the American experiment entirely, the week of The Draft Riots. As seen in the box office bust, Gangs of New York, the Riots started as white protests against conscription in the Union and led to a race war that killed 2,000 people.

I asked my friend how many Americans might remember what the Riots were. Memory is a big thing with me: 20 years ago a bus smashed into my face, causing traumatic brain injuries that blanked out entire years.

“Seriously? I’d guess close to none. If that many."

So when cinephiles periodically bat around the hypothetical, “Is cinema over?” you have to ask “Where?” and “Who’s asking?” And when you throw in the craft of film criticism, same thing, but more so.

After all, our country is one where mass amnesia is practically a point of pride, whether it was the candidate in our last election who amassed nearly half the popular vote while changing positions bi-weekly and, thanks to the power of forgetfulness culture, lost nary a vote with his constituency, or in a cinema that masticates its own increasingly recent past and spits out product stripped of history and motive, of cultural memory.

Meanwhile, American media hemorrhages critic jobs, and why not? Criticism, the craft and art of contextualizing the memory of narrative and image withers, as hack editors confuse criticism with for-free Yelp posts.

The French, however, are different.

Once in Paris, the notion of a dying cinema dissolved before the steam rose on my first cappuccino.

Just meters from the monolithically gorgeous Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, a monument to, among other things, the excesses of the Second Empire, was a newsstand.

On the newsstand’s top row: Le Monde. Cahiers du Cinema. French Sports. Seriously, a magazine of deep cinephilia up there with the latest in football coverage.

Which totally makes sense when you consider that, in so many ways, the French invented cinema.

In 1876, the French inventor Charles-Émile Reynaudin creates the Praxinoscope, a device for the projection of moving images.

In the same decade, the Lumière brothers (appropriately, lumière translates as "light" in English) invent the cinematograph, a portable camera, printer, and projector. The Lumières project films for a paying public, thus inventing the cinema experience we're worried is dying.

nullThe first modern auteur—years before French directors and cinephiles writing in, you guessed it, Cahiers du Cinema, invent the “auteur theory”—is Georges Méliès, fleetingly resurrected in the American mind as a central character in Scorsese's Hugo.

Today, Paris continues to downright ooze cinema, to the point where Godfrey Cheshire’s assertion in a recent New York Times article, “If Critics Go, Culture Will Suffer,” that upwards of 400 people in France make a living writing about film feels just about right.

Meanwhile, the city is dotted with tiny theaters showing art films supporting a vibrant, living film culture.

Cinema tourism is a thriving business, as film fans swarm locations of the recent explosion of English-language, Paris-set films like Before Sunset (2004), Marie Antoinette (2006), The Bourne Ultimatum  (2007), Carnage (2011), W.E.( 2011) and hundreds more. (My choice: La Bistrot Renaissance, the restaurant where Tarantino filmed Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz) and Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent)cat and mousing over cheesecake in Inglourious Basterds.)

nullFor cinephiles, mecca is La Cinémathèque Française.  Situated in a gravity defying building by the great American architect Frank Gehry, the Cinémathèque, the museum boasts one of the largest collections of film-related materials in the world, including the robot woman of Metropolis (1927), beyond-rare drawings by Méliès, the bird masks of Georges Franju’s Judex (1963), and a new Dennis Hopper retrospective. Chuck Eddy famously said, “Rock ‘n roll always forgets”: the Cinémathèque is there to make certain the same thing doesn’t happen to cinema.

Incredibly, just a few meters away, there was more cine-worship: the Hôtel de Ville, hosting the "Paris vu par Hollywood (Paris as seen by Hollywood)" exhibit.

“Breathtaking” is a word I seldom use, but here it applied.

nullElements from 800 American films—clips, director's notes, posters, costumes, gloves, scenery and always more—are on worshipful display. A Givenchy dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina floats in mid-chambers like a holy ghost; the words of Vincente Minelli and John Huston provide sacred texts.

I see a cluster of about 15 French children, hands over faces in delight and awe, muttering in delight like Jesus had returned as SpongeBob. The object of their delight: A never-seen interview with Alfred Hitchcock. 

Forget kids—how many American adults posses the ambient culture memory connecting Hitchcock with his jaunty theme, the French composer Charles Gounod's "Funeral March for a Marionette”? How advanced is the forgetfulness virus? (Very, it would seem: The liberal-esque Romney of one week Etch-a-Sketched into the loathsome, gay-hating creep of another week, and it’s all good, that is, it’s all nothing.)

Whatever. What I believe is this: stories, sketches, films, statues, buildings, everything created is someone’s memory’s grand fuck you, the only thing standing between life and the sandblaster of eternity.

And so as an American in Paris, I could not help but be bowled over not only by a thriving new Gallic cinema but how every single centimeter of city space is inscribed with memory, be it in it in the form of stone griffins, gilt-bronze statues, arcane dedications, complex graffiti, or underground catacombs of made of the skulls, tibias, and femur bones of six million of the dead arranged in near-perfect geometric wall sculptures.

This nearly primal inclination to aestheticize is part of an ongoing dialogue, and therefore cinema can’t be dead, and even if it were, the French simply wouldn’t tolerate it.

The City of Lights? Try The City of Memory. And frankly, we all need to become more Parisian, before the enemies of the Enlightenment turn their wrecking ball on everything cinema and humanism stand for.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.

Ten Uniquely Horribly Brilliantly Wonderful Music Movies

Ten Uniquely Horribly Brilliantly Wonderful Music Movies

Just as there is no such thing as a bad anti-war film, there is no such thing as a truly bad musical. The impulse itself is noble and raises any enterprise up 11 notches.

The people making a musical film may not be of the caliber of Terrence Malick or Paul Thomas Anderson, but hell—they not only had a song in their hearts, they imagined entire worlds where people burst into song. What kind of mean-spirited douche wouldn’t give extra credit just for that?

Not me. I love me some “bad” musicals. I love to see that what people think goes with sounds. Or vice versa.

Enjoying these films is about readjusting criteria, realizing that po-faced seriousness and Big Drama are all tricks anyone can learn—which is why TV writing staffs are always full.  But the music-based thing that happens in The Happiness of the Katakuris—what is that? You can’t learn it.

Ahem. In the following appraisals, I joke here and I kind of dis there, but I’m always in appreciative awe. I strongly believe that if Georges Méliès were alive and had a song in his heart, one of his films would be on this list.

nullCan’t Stop the Music (1980)

Steve Guttenberg's a totally straight boy who only wants to not have sex with his ex-super model roomie (Valerie Perrine) so he can put together a singing group (the Village People), so he can make disco records.

That Hollywood impresario Allan Carr thought straight America would buy that story, as well as scenes where men showing no interest in women danced with other men while singing about "The Milk Shake"—well, you gotta admire chutzpah.

As for the film, which clearly used up all the spandex, lurex, and Barbarella style “futuristic” plastic baubles that clubs of the period favored, quick dismissal is inappropriate. First, the songs are mostly catchy as hell, and positioned at the Hollywood and Vine where catchy and ludicrous French kiss.

Take a minute: 15 years from now, what do you think people are going to think about those skinny leg jeans and that impractical beard you maintain? And Fun, Jack White, and Skrillex? Yeah, sobering, isn’t it?

nullFlash Gordon (1980)

How much multi-track-mojo did the post “Bohemian Rhapsody” Queen own by the time Dino De Laurentiis decided on an un-upgraded version of the ‘30s Flash Gordon serial films?

So much that even when the film came out, people were contextualizing it within the band’s oeuvre.

Meanwhile, the only sound that outwits Queen’s magnificent Flash sountracksonic pomp is Max Von Sydow’s cackle as Emperor Ming the Merciless, who’s super evil and out to destroy the Earth unless football star “Flash” Gordon (Sam Jones) and journalist Dale (Melody Anderson) can stop them.

Flash doesn’t seem like a musical but it works like one. Through a color palette set to “Art Nouveau sunset,” we suffer through the enjoyably hambone story so we can get to the good parts: the bad green screen, matte, and model effects accompanied by those walls of overdubbed and orchestrated Brian May guitars and the many times overdubbed May, Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor master choir melodically proclaiming "AH!," "OH!," and, of course, “FLASH!”

nullSgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

As a “jukebox musical film,” Sgt Pepper’s never had to do anything but throw together as many stars as corporate music’s golden age could and trust the great unwashed would come. Or so said the cocaine frying the makers’ brains.

Which is the only way to explain The Bee Gees and a mute Peter Frampton as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band looking for magic instruments. Which led to musical numbers by Aerosmith, Steve Martin, Alice Cooper, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Godzilla (kidding, but would you be surprised?).

What’s really on producer Robert Stigwood’s mind is Saturday Night Fever and how to duplicate its mad success. That the answer was a flat, five-camera TV comedy-style style spearheaded by a stogie-smoking George Burns in full Borscht Belt fettle . . . well, when people speak of America’s lost innocence, it’s the addlepated, guileless, ‘ludes-cancelling-out-blow, wanna-put-on-a-show-ness of Sgt. Pepper I think of.

nullThe Apple (1980)

In the Eighties, Menahem Golan produced meat ‘n potatoes actioners starring Stallone, Norris, Van Damme, and Bronson like he was falling off a log. But before that, he sewed some insane oats with The Apple.

Before losing its mind entirely, colorfully, amazingly, The Apple tells us of Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), two freakishly wholesome folk singers from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (!) competing in the1994 Worldvision Song Festival.

Alas! They are beaten by Mr. Boogalo (Vladek Sheybal) who then seduces them into the music industry’s lifestyle of elaborate, badly choreographed dance numbers because Boogalo is also . . . Satan! He is also so powerful that he compels all of America to wear Mr. Boogalo triangular stickers and engage in compulsory fitness workouts.

The Apple just gets more insane, including—I think—God and His videogame sound effects, because there is no ceiling on crazy here just a time limit on how long a movie can be and still get distributed.

nullRock n' Roll Nightmare (1987)

God made the ‘80s so Jon Mikl Thor could becomes a bodybuilder, learn how to rock, and star as Triton, singer of a glam metal band that decamps to a skeezy house in Canada with some babes to work on their new record. But they’re soon infested by demons until Thor smashes. Everything you’re imagining this film will include—uproariously Poison-ous power ballads, over-permed hair, dubious latex demons—is here in abundance.

But the Direct-to-Video ethos hits a new apotheosis when a shirtless Triton battles some tiny flip-floppy eye demons and then, to the beat of hilariously literal hair metal (“We Accept the Challenge”) takes on the main demon, an immobile mannequin Jon Mikal has to be careful not to break.

Thor looks like a big male bodybuilder metalhead, but he’s a little boy and he wants to play with monsters. And so he does. It’s freaking adorable.

nullSpice World (1997)

So now that it’s long over, we can all exhale and admit that, man, did the UK blow in the 90s or what? I mean, okay, Napalm Death, Carcass, and Bolt Thrower, but Oasis? Blur? That poor man’s Muse, Radiohead?

Thank God for Spice Girls. I recall, vividly, that Spice Girls, the film, was what the recent Katy Perry film was trying to be—candy-colored ultra pop—but without Perry’s creepy porn-for-children lyrics and visuals.

Spice Girls personified goofball egalitarianism: all dancing terribly, all singing mediocrely, all embracing a power that was about not taking anything seriously, at a time when the UK boy kings of self importance—your Thom Yorkes and Richard Ashcrofts—could do nothing else.

Spice Girls was a poor girl’s A Hard Days Night, a bunch of skits and non-stop silliness. When I saw the model Spice Girls bus go over the model London Bridge, I nearly injured myself laughing, I do not know why. I love when that happens.

nullThe Happiness of the Katakuris  (2001)

I once interviewed Takashi Miike, the famed hyper-prolific Japanese creator of often disturbing films like Visitor Q and Gozu (both films featuring men crawling out of women’s vaginas).

Through an interpreter, I asked what was, like, up with that.

He chuckled, spoke, and the interpreter said, “Miike say he has trouble understanding women and through his films tries to maybe understand them better.”

The Happiness of the Katakuris lives in some completely mad limbo between his so-so Yakuza movies and exquisitely controlled art films like Box.

It’s a deeply spiritual, family-oriented zombie musical dealing with a failing guesthouse, a suicide, more death, some Claymation, a romantic daughter, her sweet parents and then everyone is SINGING, in a color scheme amped up to look like The Sound of Music.

Does Miike understand women better? Can’t say. But I’d swear he kind of loves them.

nullAcross the Universe (2007)

Across the Universe is so epically dreadful in conception and hilariously, absurdly, offensively and, yeah, beautifully absurd in execution that it manages to overwhelm even director Julie Taymor’s Mount Kilimanjaro of self-regard.

There's no story, just people with Beatle song names like Jude (Jim Sturgess), Lucie (Evan Rachel Wood) and Prudence (T.V. Carpio), who go to Beatles song places to do Beatles song things, like a Vietnam unit carrying the Statue of Liberty while singing “She's So Heavy'' (seriously), or Bono singing "I am the Walrus," which I'd suspected for years.

There’s tons of whack-a-doodle imagery—five naughty nurse Salma Hayeks?—but surprise MVP Evan Rachel Wood is so devoted, and her tremulous alto is so sweet it even calms down her director, suggesting what would happen if she had even a microgram of aesthetic self-control. Download: “If I Fell.” See?

nullREPO! The Genetic Opera (2008)

REPO! is a movie that I’m sure pretty much aimed for a certain degree of “bad” but not so “bad,” it couldn’t be treasured. In short, an intended cult film.

So! Does this dystopian story of a company that supplies organ transplants and the “repo men” who rip them out if you default—does it work as intentional comedy, or camp or what?

Actually, the marketing sells the film itself short.

With Broadway star Sarah Brightman fantastic as a blind opera singer, Buffy’s Anthony Head delightfully evil, and Paris Hilton as a plastic surgery addict (!), as well as an impressive Hellraiser-as-cityscape look, I’d say that, in terms of sheer sensation assault, REPO! is a success.

The actual songs by Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith also use a metal/industrial style to create something that actually works as opera. So partial bad news to director Darren Lynn Bousman: your bad film is simultaneously kind of good—and that’s REPO’s odd, sanguine charm.

nullTron: Legacy (2010)

After about 40 minutes of Garrett Hedlund in a cathode-blue-lined black body suit on his video-cycle, zipping around a mainly-black videogame ‘verse, I totally spaced.

Even with occasional splotches of exploding color, and Jeff Bridges digitally shorn of 30 years of age (weird), it was like watching gloomy rave visuals. Even with Olivia Wilde in a fetish bob and body glove, I spaced out. Really—how long can you look at colored lights ping-ponging around a screen?

The answer came: The same way one would listen to Daft Punk’s fantastic score, suggestive of Vangelis’ Blade Runner work mixed with downtempo electronica.

As ambient music, or rather, ambient video.  If only there were a way to put Tron on an eternal-loop, you could totally play it during cocktail parties, or after you’d smoked a few, or whatever. In short, as a movie, not so great. But as a digital lava lamp, I’d totally invest in Tron: Legacy.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.



Tonight’s meh True Blood was proof double-O positive of the Law of Fives. Seriously, if physicists applied themselves, I trust they’d find the Law of Fives almost as immutable as the Law of Gravity, and not nearly as funny.

nullAs much as tonight’s episode sort of amused us it was also reminding us that it was, in this final Alan Ball-written episode of this final Ball-supervised season, one over-repeated riff, theme or trope away from self parody, accidental camp or worse.

What I mean: a troop of rednecks in Obama masks yelling, “Yes we can!” as they blow up a vampire . . . . Well, can’t speak for you, but that’s pretty much what “trying too hard” looks like in True Blood terms.

But back to the Law of Fives: from The Wire to Alias to that other great vamp show, Angel, five seasons is just the perfect amount. Under, say, four seasons, is cruel undernourishment (Deadwood, Firefly, Terriers) and over five seasons, just wears a show down, out or beyond its strengths, even for titans (much of Lost and Buffy’s respective six and seventh seasons, sadly.)

The issues of time and termination are raised right off after Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) lead the forces of the Authority to the insane asylum where the batty nihilist Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) is getting ready to wreck havoc on everything he can find.

“Maybe you’re just bored after one thousand years but you not not make that decision for me,” says Bill to Eric, for not playing along/kissing ass with the Authority.

Eric, alas, is being pulled under by some deep seas of ennui now that he’s separated from Pam, the social context of Fangtasia, the love of Sookie (Anna Paquin and hey, remember her?), and now he learns that his sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths) is a crazed member of the blood cult fundamentalist Sanguinista movement. Skarsgård is such a terrific actor—who knew there were so many colorations of “disinterested because of multi-centennial pain”?

Jason, meanwhile, is pulled in the direction of ultimate discovery: a dream brings the vision of his lost father and a possible truth of his death.

Terry (Todd Lowe) is, as psych professionals might say, totally fucked.

He confronts Arlene with getting wasted in Iraq and his unit killing a family and his killing an old woman after she cursed him. “Now I’m being hunted by an evil smoke monster,” he complains, which when we saw them in a flashback looked just like the fire god from Wrath of the Titans but way smaller.  We’ll see what redemption looks like; I’m leery.

The show’s other problematic male, Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), did poorly this week as well. He visited his crazy mom at the convalescent home where Jesus used to work, which meant lots of zany sentences where the name “Jesus” was inappropriately placed in sentences.  Please.

At one point in this very randomly structured episode—I find myself writing about it out of sequence to try and enforce a shape on it which the writers didn't supply—Eric and Bill must glamor Sookie—hey, remember her?—lest The Authority have them killed for seeing something they shouldn’t have seen.

Bill goes gallant. He tells her that not only will she not remember this night, she will not recall ever knowing him and furthermore, she will only love those who live in the sun. Oh, Bill.

Eric, meanwhile, tells Alcide (Joe Manganiello and his freakishly well-defined upper body) to forget as well, and to take care of Sookie—and to develop a deep loathing of any physical contact with her forever.

But ten minutes later, Sookie reads Alcide’s mind and undoes all of this glamoring. Back in the day (last season) not remembering important things could power an entire season.

Now, I guess that the only reason the glamor scenes existed was to remind newer viewers what separates Bill (romantic!) from Eric (scamp!).

By the time Russell makes his appearance—"silvered" and bound—for an execution in the Council’s chambers, there’s an electric friction between the forced civil behavior of the council and Russell’s Southern gentleman nihilist nutjob. The performances come alive, but director Daniel Attias’s staging is clumsy.

Russell finds Roman’s notions of “mainstreaming,” of humans living with vampires in peace, to be nonsense. “Peace is for pussies!” he quips, a born politician yelling his first campaign button catch phrase.

Roman pushes the button on his killer I-Stake app but Russell doesn’t die—treachery!—and the episode flames out with Russell stabbing Roman in the chest: cue scratchy old blues record (a favorite, but tired True Blood trick).

Look, this is a not prime rub Blood. Or rather, the show Ball’s presided over for five years is getting some more parts together for the grand finales.

It’s just that Attias, an extremely experienced TV and film director, doesn’t display the needed élan or post-Hammer sleaze panache that Michael Lehmann or Romeo Tirone bring to knottier scripts.

And I worry this problem will leak into next week’s episode. Until then, we have the relationship between newly turned vamp Tara (Rutina Wesley) and maker Pam (Kristin Bauer) continue to complicate. And Hoyt continuing to debase himself to impress Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) or because he really is a skeezy perv in the making while Jessica continues to solidify as the show’s most essentially decent person—whoddathunk?—and poor Sam the shifter (Sam Trammell) finally gets a family together for reals (if the Obama-faced crew doesn’t kill him.)

And Sookie (remember her?) goes with Jason to the fairy nightclub to learn more about their family/vampire issues. Sookie is actually kind of awesome in this episode: she’s discovered the rich world of grown-up self-loathing and Paquin's having hell’s own time not fluttering around that butter-colored set being all distressed and girly. She’s not angry, or sad either, she’s just over this vampire and fairy shit and her part in it. We forget, sometimes, that Paquin is a superlative, not just good, actor.

And that True Blood is, at heart, an incredibly lively, romantic, old school production. The queer hatred it poked fun at way back in 2008 feels way different now after the real Obama’s monumental legal changes, the elegance of Cooper and the acid of Savage changing the lenses but not the disease.

But the times are right, unfortunately, for the desperate, knowing self-gay-hate and pitiful monsters of desperate abjection and real fear of the terribly beautiful Teen Wolf. Even when it’s working, even when it’s delightful, True Blood already has the feel of a relic. I’m just not sure yet of what.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.

GREY MATTERS: Show Stopper: The End of the American Theatrical Moviegoing Experience

GREY MATTERS: Show Stopper: The End of the Theatrical Movie-going Experience


At some point, no matter how much you love something, you may have to admit it’s ruined beyond repair, that it really is time to let it expire with whatever dignity it has left. That thing, currently, is the American theatrical movie-going experience, may it rest in peace, forever, quickly, soon.

What was just five years ago a slightly unpleasant thing has turned into a Pavlovian act of outright self-harm wherein the exhibitor game’s guiding business model—absolute contempt for overpaying customers—is just the beginning of the worst show in town.

It’s where we submit ourselves to sticky-floored rooms full of texting and chattering teens and, here in New York City, suffer through forty minutes of TV commercials, followed by twenty minutes of film trailers, followed by five minutes of ads for the theater we’re sitting in while choking down $7.50 Cokes (the cheapest hydration available) and maybe a popcorn that eats a ten-spot in an already profoundly slimmed wallet.

One thinks back to the $5 blown on the subway, the $12 an hour on the babysitter, and, of course, that extra $5 the theater is milking you to experience The Avengers in a version of 3D IMAX that’s all murky because the theater is saving money by projecting with lower-amp light while the vaunted THX sound suggests the flatulence of the Gods, due to blown subwoofers.

And art houses? Please. Wherever you are, there tends to be a place with this recurring funky-but-chic design out of a How I Met Your Mother episode about someone’s artsy trustafarian uncle. These theaters let you pay multiplex money to see what your cooler friends are talking about—the current debased definition of being a "cineaste"—while burning through the kids’ allowance to pay for a Certified Organic, shade-grown coffee and lactose-free muffin.  Mmmm, film culture—it’s so yeasty!

Less flippantly: All this is happening because brick and mortar theatrical exhibition is moribund and going down.  According to The Los Angeles Times, movie attendance in 2011 dropped to a 16-year-low as The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the lobby group for all the major studios, registered zero domestic growth for the industry.

Most devastating was another LA Times piece claiming that “total box-office per film” had plummeted 13% in 2011 because people are more inclined to wait for movies to hit DVD, on-demand and other services.

Time magazine paints an industry kept afloat by international markets where 69 percent of overall sales last year came from beyond these shores. And by sucker-punching customers with arbitrarily increased ticket prices garnished by $3 to $5 extra fees for a 3D craze created by the industry itself for the purpose of raising the cost of admission up to and beyond $8 per person no matter where you live, while a one dollar bottle of water skyrockets—it isn’t like you can leave the theater to buy one elsewhere.

The business model here is contempt: as long as a certain amount of people show up who are willing to have their wallets and handbags stripped, it’s all good. That is, until a summer of no business-saving Avatars or Avengers. When it’s all John Carters.

But this isn’t a business known for planning ahead. Or at all.

And yet the abusive audience/exhibitor relationship continues to be championed—by film writers whose experience of it couldn’t be farther removed from that of ordinary citizens, who enjoy perfect prints in cushy screening rooms with plush chairs and high-end sound systems. There are no texting teens, no phones beeping, no snack bags crinkling.

Which might help explain the cognitive dissonance of Salon’s normally insightful Andrew O'Hehir in a new article unreasonably titled, “Does Hollywood hate adults? Bloated with teen-oriented summer spectacles, the ailing film industry may finally look to moviegoers over 30.”

Putting aside the craziness that Hollywood might dislike anyone rich enough to pay for a ticket, what Salon is re-selling here is the common idea that it’s those damned big-budget CG action and superhero movies are ruining American cinema.

Movies like The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and The Amazing Spider-Man. Whose billion-dollar-plus earnings are the only thing keeping the industry afloat in this time of zero growth, thus making it possible to even imagine “indie film” as an incredibly minuscule boutique business.

Of course, Salon is very much in the business of not countenancing the idea that many cannot afford to throw away $72 per person ($12 per ticket here in New York, $15 for a Coke and popcorn, $5 for trans, $40 babysitter) to see a Woody Allen movie on its first run that in 60 days will be on Pay Per View for $4.99.

Yet that’s exactly what the studios, theaters and culture organs like Salon are selling: time and exclusivity. The great water cooler discourse surrounding a new Allen film when it comes out. Except now it’ll be about Game of Thrones or Girls. Because who wants to endure a platform in its final spasms when you can enjoy a Golden Age still being born?

Anyway, Mr. O'Hehir asserts that the lukewarm successes of Moonrise Kingdom, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, To Rome With Love, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ted, and Magic Mike are proof positive that “adults are going to the movies in droves and making a huge statement by doing so.”

Since I cannot imagine just what “statement” connects a magical realist pre-Katrina film with a male stripper morality tale, let’s look at those “droves.”

Beasts has made $800K so far. To Rome, $5M. Moonrise Kingdom, $27M. And so on. If you were to tally the total grosses of every film Mr. O'Hehir lists, you still wouldn’t match the $346,178,697 Spider-Man made in its first weekend.   

And so the real problem with the Salon piece—and ones like it, which run all the time—is that they answer an unsure future with nostalgia and cries to a sort of indie populism that just doesn’t fit the incredibly huge, intractable, and complex international film and entertainment market.

As for traditional exhibition—it’ll stumble along for a while. Teens still need a ritual location to meet, text, and cell-talk. And there are indie theaters that make filmgoing an actual pleasure: the Arclight in LA, Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, the Charles in Baltimore, the Sunshine here in New York. And every so often I’ll be goosed into thinking something is a must-see worth four meals-worth of money to see. 

Then it’ll turn out to be an overhyped world market contender like Prometheus or Battleship, and I’ll appreciate again how lucky I am to live in this low cost, post-movie-theater Golden Age, away from the brick and mortar, and at home in the worlds of Breaking Bad, Alphas, and Mad Men, of Teen Wolf, Fringe, and Longmire, of Parks and Recreation, Doctor Who, and Justified. And like Andrea True sang in another golden age, more, more, more.

As for the shared experience of viewing cinema—hey—do it. Maybe individual people will create neighborhood theaters. Or perhaps we’ll have networked versions of those summer film festivals most major metropolises offer. This could get really interesting—and completely lacking in the designed unpleasantness that’s currently the industry’s trademark.

But the good new days can only be hastened when we agree that hey, it was great while it lasted, but theatrical cinema is dead.


Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.



So what’s wrong with this picture: Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Alcide (Joe Mangianello), Alcide the werewolf for god’s sakes, somehow manage to band together with Sookie (Anna Paquin), in the search for the psychotic Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), ex-Vampire King of Mississippi.

nullAnd newbie vamp Tara (Rutina Wesley) not only owning a surrogate mom in her maker Pam but a new BFF in Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) courtesy an adorable scene—which you can watch above—where the latter waxes irresistable about sex, blood, morality, and how tough it is being a vamp, alone. Yes, there's a tiff over rights to Hoyt's neck, but for reals, these girls are made for each other: we just wonder how much . . .
And, after a visit to a fairy nightclub, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and Captain Andy (Chris Bauer) bromance their journeys of personal growth. But Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis)? Bah! Lafayette turns into a demon, looks at the heavens, cries “I just need some fuckin’ help,” and is answered with a vision of his dead lover Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) with his lips sewn up. Which I guess is an improvement over last week, when his grief caused Jesus’ demon-head to cause Sookie’s car to ram into a tree.
In short, it sucks to be Lafayette. It always sucks to be Lafayette. And lately, Ellis’s acting has been suffering as he tries to carry this impossible weight. I think Alan Ball has been over-trying so much to atone for very early Lafayette sins that he’s been forcing poor Ellis into repeated hair shirt moments when all he has to do is one simple thing:  Grieve over the death of Jesus.

But Lafayette has been denied that, just like Lafayette always seems to be denied normal things, from the very dubious beginning, when he started the show as a literal slave to the very, very, very white Eric Northman, a black guy laboring in chains.

This was . . . what’s the phrase? Wait. Got it. This was fucked up. This was Black Snake Moan, but backwards. The idea, I think, was to push an envelope so far the envelope shredded. But instead I feel like maybe it messed Alan Ball up in some way he hasn’t quite worked out.

Whatever the deal, True Blood has had a very skittish way with black characters. Jesus? A Latino? No problem. But black people? It’s just weird. This is, after all, a show that gave Tara a black lover named Eggs who became possessed by a demonic white MILF. Then Tara had to get her brains blown out to become interesting.

Mind—I’m not yelling racist. I’m yelling confuse-ist. Or rather, there’s so much subtext bubbling under any given episode of True Blood that if you started talking about race in this show that takes place in the Deep South, it would just be too much. That the show would be about nothing but race.  And that would just be miserable, and life-like.

Anyway—back to Lafayette and Ellis and fantasy misery. Ellis is such a lovable presence, and the True Blood writing room so dependably comes up with ways for him to suffer so horribly, they could at least allow him some down time to suffer his true love’s death.

I mean, sure. Tonight Sam (Sam Trammell) not only had to deal with his two shifter friends’ mysterious death, he also had to watch impotently as a bunch of apparent Slipknot fans blew away Luna. But Sam has Merlotte’s and friends aplenty.

And sure, Hoyt (Jim Parrack) has taken to dressing like he’s in Love and Rockets and hanging at Fangtasia, but that’s so he can get bitten (make contact.)

But Lafayette? How is it that someone this adorable has not discovered Grindr, or the local gay bar? More to the point, why does he still live in a shit hole like Bon Temps?

This is the weird thing about the Law of Fives, or the concept that shows tend to work for about five seasons and then the internal gravity that makes them cohere starts to fall apart. Which is why I believe Ball is leaving the show before the deadly Season Six rears its woeful head.

Before Ball blows, I hope he does all right by the beleaguered Lafayette; on the flip side, I don’t know what the moral calculus is for Terry (Todd Lowe), because what we learned tonight was unforgivable.

We knew from a previous episode that Terry and Patrick dropped acid and boozed it up in Iraq and accidentally obliterated a couple of innocent Iraqi families. Well, tonight they found another guy from their unit who’s living in an underground room surrounded by paintings of a fire demon.

Reason: At Patrick’s urging, the unit killed a surviving woman who let loose a fire demon on them all, after which the three Marines burned all the innocents. Kee-rist.

So Terry’s a mass murderer who burns women and children. Totally fucks with his adorable goofy PTSD profile. It’ll be interesting seeing where this goes. And it’s fascinating that we’re OK with Eric and Bill and Pam and the rest killing like crazy, but that’s sexy supernatural (TM Maureen Ryan) stuff: this is real Iraq War murder.

Meanwhile, Eric, Bill, Sookie and Alcide are looking for Russell in an old building. This is like Waiting for Godot at this point.

But they do find him—along with a clutch of humans he’s mesmerized for future meals. He looks a bit under the weather, but he does have his skin back. There’s a commotion and they cut to a goth classic tune. Kind of a letdown ending, considering that Bill and Eric are wearing I-Stakes (electronic stakes that can kill them from afar.) All in all, the weakest episode this season, the kind that exists to fill in the holes that’ll make the next episode really, really good by comparison.

But even weak Blood can give us Captain Andy, asking with a straight face, “I fucked a fairy?” and Ryan Kwanten swinging his full buttocks for no reason whatsoever except that this is True Blood.  So a fail? Nah, not close. But please, Mr. Ball, cut Lafayette a break, ‘k? We’ll all feel better in the morning.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.




There is a hunger out there that cannot be fed by smirks, poses, and irony. In art, in film, hell, in anything. That hunger is why The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” drew Madison Square Garden-sized crowds in 2011 for four months straight. And it’s why believers from around the globe came to New York to mourn the early death and celebrate in a hush the incandescent genius of McQueen, a fashion legend already on his way to art stardom and now definitely a star post mortem.

The tens of thousands lining up on Fifth Avenue revealed an indefinable demographic. Elementary school kids who’d gasped over impossible McQueen women in dresses made of blood red laboratory slides from used library copies of Vogue, Wall Streeters who pored over McQueen videos while their wives and children slept. The Lady Gaga fans who saw his Alien/aqua-woman fusions in “Bad Romance”. As Robert Palmer sang, every kinda people. (The same need explains last year’s Tree of Life mania).

The McQueen phenomena was a stark relief from the last time someone tried to mint a new art star: the Guggenheim’s up-trading of Matthew Barney from Film Forum ur-hipster with “The Cremaster Cycle (1994-2003)” show, way back in 2003.

A collection of semen-toned sculptures surrounding five pop-tchotchke-glutted films that J. Hoberman brilliantly summed up as “narcotized self-satisfaction,” the root of the appeal of Barney’s was their cold, smooth, ironic hipster deadness—the idea of emotional response their anathema.

And so, the McQueen show solidified an appetite for a new art star. Someone personifying a natural disinclination to buy into an exhausted and drained self-cannibalizing post-modernism, for artists with the nerve to make indescribable emotional engagement their goal.

If McQueen was going to hand-apply tens of thousands of feathers to a dress that evoked the madness of Edgar Allan Poe (and not the stories), whoever came next would have to be literally or figuratively dirty. Or both.

If you tuned into HBO Monday, you know who she is: Marina Abramović. While stylistically McQueen’s utter opposite, she feeds the same need for an extreme in inexplicable emotional experience, and Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present feeds the need in spades. (And sure, she’s been around for decades, and yeah, the actual show took place in 2010, but the film, which is how most people will get to know of Abramović, hits us now, and so this modified timeline.)

Directors Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre have given us a sharp-eyed film with the affect of ambient music and the feel of a myth progressing in real time that hinges on and riffs off images of The Artist is Present’s endlessly fascinating main event:

It’s Abramović in a brightly lit space in at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, stock still in a series of structured/shapeless robes, sitting in a light-colored wooden chair, confronting one of what will come to be 1,565 strangers in a matching chair, saying nothing so long as those strangers need to say nothing back to her. Each trapped in the other’s gaze.

People of every age, race, creed, and yes, James Franco, take the chair (Lady Gaga came but just watched). Abramović sat motionless for 736 hours and 30 minutes over a period of three months, with no days off.

The people who come to see her—they’re actually called “sitters”—often smile, frown, try to out-stare her (forget it) but just as often, they break into helpless tears. Sometimes, Abramović weeps with them.  

Even as the body-breaking pain of the project—although she eerily looks half that age, Abramović was 63 at the time of this piece—becomes alarming, her dedication grows more heroic. No wonder young people in the audience want to be like her.

Structurally, Akers and Dupre’s film works as a constant interweaving of multiple stories and themes building up to the show itself.

nullThere’s the prepping of the MoMA space: the endless daily maddening minutiae of putting together a show that included approximately fifty works spanning over four decades of video works, installations, photographs, and collaborative performances made with ex-lover Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen).

There’s Abramović decamping to her Hudson Valley home with a troop of young people who will re-enact her pieces within the show.

She puckishly treats them to a Spartan Zen/Marines regime of shock troop performance art training during which they learn how to not move, eat or do anything but exist in the moment for days on end, motionless. (For people still unclear on what performance art is, one talking head brusquely explains that it’s just like painting, except with living bodies.)

I had the sense that Abramović was using the film to re-write her biography, to make a better myth.

The daughter of World War II Serbian partisan heroes, Abramović speaks of being under the influence of her fiercely militaristic mother and paints a life defined by The Work and one Great Love: Ulay, the German performance artist with whom she lived and crafted performance art’s basic syntax.  This love story’s arc packs an incredible emotional gut punch one isn’t prepared for in a film on art. Which, one assumes, is the reason it’s here.

We see and hear of pieces where Abramović invited people to use any of the 72 implements surrounding her body—a whip, scissors, scalpel, gun, etc—on her, and came out of it with thorns in her flesh, death barely averted.

nullOther works involved cutting her flesh, whipping herself, walking the Great Wall of China, and pushing her body to extreme limits of pain and suffocation. The Artist Is Present is eventually about the limits of human giving. If they exist.

She says she recalls each person, communicates with each sitter. And yet the filmmakers never address the 800-pound Christ subtext in the room. Would simple boredom with excess Christian yada-yada explain this aversion? Probably. I wonder what the crying sitters think.

The film does suffer from a couple of crises of courage. It gets jittery at Abramović’s embrace of high-end couture in the 80s. As her art becomes more rapturously theatrical, the film quick-cuts away, as if anxious that more surface-pleasing pieces might somehow be less artful.

Lady Gaga, the artist who most obviously mirrors Abramović in terms of absolute dedication, political engagement/fashion-passion, and near-crazy work ethic (think two full CDs, five videos and hundreds of live performances in one and a half years) is alluded to, but only in a dippy Fox News clip that feels like a way to deny the connection, in case Artforum is off Gaga this season.

But that’s small beans. Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present is one of the film events of the year, carrying forward the needed romance of the artist as a creature owned by a mission which is carried out by an incomprehensible extreme work ethic that would literally kill anyone less devoted than she is. Abramović helps us remember that anything less should simply not be acceptable.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.



Alan Ball’s a believer. Now on his last season as True Blood’s major domo, he continues to see no reason at all why Big Themes and literary stuff can’t coexist with camp, bodice ripper romance, Hammer gore camp and a Ken Russell-esque free-for-all approach to fantastic filmmaking. This week’s episode added family as a major element and ended up a sweetly, amusingly, and painfully memorable piece of work. 

nullIn genre dress, it playfully explored the pleasures of successful parenting while going very dark on the adjoined subjects of letting go badly, ultimate loss, and the persistent survivor’s guilt.

Pretty heady stuff. Not to worry—there are also state of the art splatter gore and broiling flesh effects. Still, the name of the season’s first episode—“Turn! Turn! Turn!”—continues to define everyone.

Even the non-familial characters were in extreme motion. We finally see the mix of LSD and mass murder in Iraq that caused Terry (Todd Lowe) to lose it. And somehow grief is making Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) a target for Jesus’ demon. And Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is still trying to sever himself from the childhood sexual abuse that’s sentenced him to a life of empty zipless fucks.

Lately the entire show seemed to be bent on deconstructing its hero, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), to the point where the show seemed to have nothing to do with her.

I was missing the point.  With the memory of her grandmother fading, and so many people dying for her or at her hands, what she’s really about is survivor’s guilt. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, she hooks up with Alcide (Joe Manganiello, currently bouncing his wolfie goodness on-screen in Magic Mike). But that bit of oo-la-la is poisoned by Sook’s self-hatred. However, a single sentence at episode’s end changes everything. We’ll talk about that IN a bit.

What rules this episode is family, starting with Pam (Kristin Bauer) mothering Tara, three words I’ll enjoy typing for quite a while, it’s so beyond slash fiction fun.

As you recall, Tara (Rutina Wesley) tried to tanning-bed herself to death. Pam stopped it before Tara totally fried.

"Mothering" pace Pam is still bitchy and, well, Pam-ish, but still, she’s taking care of Tara. The question is, Why?

Easy answer: Eric said it was the right thing to do. And Pam worships Eric. And Eric made it clear last week that when you make someone a vamp, it’s akin to having a child, with all the same responsibilities. 

Interestingly, Pam’s bitchiness fades fast. She may quip of Tara’s reluctance to sink her teeth into a human, “three days and she already has an eating disorder”, but Pam really wants to help. When she finds a willing vamp fetishist at Fangtasia and orders Tara to feed, Pam wraps her arm around her young vampire and whispers encouragement. “This is who you are now . . . the top of the chain.”

Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) is also feeling good about his progeny, Jessica, who’s gone from whiny adolescent to very determined young woman over the span of just four episodes. And unlike your usual overpraised cable TV show where a female character’s “complexity” is defined by her ability to become as cynical and nihilistic as the males she’s secondary to, Jessica, who’s very aware of all the horribleness life (and un-life) has to offer, makes a conscious choice to become more morally centered, supportive, and empathic than the males around her. She’s a born leader as well.

Bill, who always failed at all these things, enjoys a rare happy moment as he regards her and says, “I think I did well.”

And sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, or how hard you work. Because Pam is going to lose Eric and vice versa.

When Eric and Bill first return from their meeting with the vampire Authority—how about we call it the “VA”?—Pam tries a squirt of playful snark regarding Tara: “Congratulations, you’re a grandfather.”

But Eric is not amused. Instead, he grills her about Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), the 3,000 year-old psycho-vamp who, having somehow broken out of the cement prison Eric and Bill created for him, will not only try to kill Eric, but destroy the VA and its goal of mainstreaming vampires into normal human life, for the sheer hell of it.

Eric tells her that whether it’s because of Russell Edgington or the VA, he’s going to die. And so he sets her free, officially, of all and any bonds to him. “I need you to live when I’m gone…you are my child as I was the child of Godric . . . and you’re a maker now . . . our blood will thrive.”

And then it’s done. He sets her free, ending a century-old relationship, but leaving her with child—Tara.

Trust me, True Blood is not my go-to destination for deep emotional experiences but, yeah, I got choked up. But this wasn’t TV-melodrama choked up. This was stranger, more like I felt when seeing, say, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast when I was 15. Is Ball mining similar subconscious monster archetype energies? Without going full-out Jungian on you, I do think that we don’t care about beauties, and beasts, and bitchy vampires named Pam, and their sudden ‘familial’ feelings towards African American girls who’ve suddenly turned vampire just because. I think there’s always something they represent in a grand passion play happening beneath every surface—and if you’re a grand fantasy master, as Ball has proved himself to be (with the help of with his writer’s room), you know how to work the under-surface stuff.

But onward.

You’d think the cold, 007-ish underground world of the VA would be the last place for anything domestic, but the show’s on a family roll, so here we go.

When VA head Roman and his . . . whatever she is, Salome (Valentina Cervi), are unable to torture ex-chancellor Nora into spilling info on who else is up to anti-mainstreaming, fundamentalist no good, she only cracks because it will save the life of her brother Eric, with whom she’s sleeping. (Ah, incest, what would cable TV dramas do without it?) And after Salome reminds her that for centuries she’s been like a sister to her.  

Meanwhile, out in a grassy field somewhere, Andy (Chris Bauer) and Jason are in a limousine with the obsequious Judge Clemmons (Conor O'Farrell).  The Judge is taking them somewhere really deluxe for serving Bon Temps so damned well. And with a flash of light they’re magically teleported to a Moulin Rouge-y fairy nightclub because in True Blood,a fairy nightclub is always a light-flash away. And frankly, that sort of gleeful disinterest in how the show “logically” gets characters from point A to B is one of its many charms.

Captain Andy runs into Maurella (Kristina Anapau), the spacy girl he had fairy sex with at the end of last season. Jason runs into a girl he knows from some time ago who says he and Sookie are in great danger from the vampires—worse, she tells him that vampires killed Sookie and Jason’s family and will soon kill them all!

Before he can find out anything more, some guards throw Andy and Jason out the cosmic portal—big burst of light!—and they’re on their asses in that grassy field. Run credits to a cover version of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.”

So there it is. A smoking gun, why Sook’s been almost predestined to be involved with vamps from the git-go. Or—Ball’s just screwing around with us until something else entirely happens. This is one of the joys of tuning in. But what I’m mostly taking from this is Pam and Eric, the look on both their faces when they realize there’s nothing they can do no matter what they want. Such beautiful flowers are sprouting up in True Blood to soil this fine fifth season.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.




The American military has largely dealt with the sexual assault of more than 95,000 service members since 2006 by stonewalling, denial, blaming the victims, and worse, according to Kirby Dick’s horrific and essential new film.

I’d had my concerns about Kirby Dick covering this material: his This Film is Not Yet Rated was a snarky swipe at the MPAA that was entirely too in love with itself and its clever graphics.  In this film, save a very occasional lapse into inappropriately cool-looking statistics, Dick’s baser instincts and any unfortunate slide into Michael Moore-like ‘liberal’ self righteousness are utterly consumed by the urgency of the task at hand. 

To the point where we experience a sort of horror-driven vertigo, The Invisible War provides hundreds of ex-service members a place to tell of their defilement by people they’d trusted with their lives. Even as it explores every conceivable reason behind the grotesque failure to address this ultimate crime, the film refuses to go anti-military, mirroring the across-the-board POV of female ex-soldiers who, despite their rape, still respect the uniform.

This is mainly a film of faces, with Dick cutting away only when needed—to courtrooms, clinics, Congress people, and others who won’t help, along with news clips of recent and mostly forgotten military sexual travesties for context. The relative asceticism gives War the apt hush of genocide.

Dick’s assembled a core group of women. There’s Kori, Coast Guard. Jessica, US Air Force. Robin, USAF.  Ariana, Marines. Trina, Navy. Elle, Marines. Hannah, Marines.

Each tells of their love and pride of country and service. Each then describes having that love obliterated and stolen from them by their perpetrator, who most likely goes unpunished.

Dick takes a blowtorch to any notion that rape is anything else but a crime of violence and power by repeatedly focusing on the unspeakably painful physical brutalization of these young peoples’ bodies.

One woman’s spine is broken. Other women have broken bones elsewhere. Kirby focuses on Kori, a short ash blond spitfire whose jaw was crushed in her rape to the point that she can only eat Jell-O, pudding and other soft foods, as a sort of guide through the slow burn hell her perpetrator has turned her life into.

As her jaw problems worsen, the VA offers help with a back condition she doesn’t have. (Catch-22 lives.) Her husband—like all the spouses seen here—does everything humanly possible to help, and as his life is consumed by that endless job, the rapist claims another victim by proxy.

We meet woman after woman after woman, each with a story of love, service, rape, and betrayal by the military family she thought had her back. Watching these women’s’ faces and voices fuse as they all tell one extended story of incomprehensible soul-rending transgression is like hearing Jung’s collective consciousness screaming J’accuse.

Dick attacks every angle of this rotten story. His talking heads are all high-ranking, no-nonsense ex-military or thought leaders who exude zero-bias competence.  As with other victims who hide behind screens and electronic distortion, unearthed official documents, and military rape advocacy workers, the same story comes out, with the same details, the same narratives, the same outcomes, the same strings of words, even. That such identical details come from such radically different people either suggests that 1) Dick brilliantly coached about 50 non-pros to lie like trained actors or 2) This is the real, 100% true, truth. All it ever does is get worse as things are cleared up.

Who rapes? Often people of higher rank. Who know their victim. Who’ve raped before and will again.

We’re introduced to Brig. General Loree Sulton (Ret.) Psychiatrist, US Army, who’s brisk, friendly and assertive in her complete command of victims' psychology.

She tersely, chillingly asserts that tightly knit military units are nothing less than a “prime, target-rich environment for a predator” and points out the terrible irony that the military’s success at creating alternate families causes rape victims to suffer a far worse constellation of psychological damage after being raped, similar to that of incest. These were her surrogate brothers and fathers, after all, who attacked the victim, who may be lying about her, who are turning their backs on her.

Male predators also rape other males, with 20,000 “buddy-fuck” victims in the last ten years. Experts in multiple fields detach this from gay issues: again, rape is about power, violence and dominance. Rapists don’t care about gender. Just targets.

Kirby deftly alternates between small and large-scale abominations so as to keep the human suffering always at the fore, even when he goes historical. When you see a Marine talk about her agonizing violation, and then a second later we’re watching news footage of a famous rape military spree or court decision that says rape is an acceptable part of being in the military (this is a real thing), suddenly those facts are not distant, or abstractions. They’re real things, and you shudder to imagine how they affected the people you’ve come to care about during this film.

Dick follows one woman’s downward spiral from fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom, to being raped and devastated by PTSD and ending up homeless and drug addicted, to asking, How did this happen? Why does the service so grievously mistreat some of its warriors?

And the answer Dick offers? Military justice is not American justice. There’s a chain of command deciding things. The chain of command has all manner of reasons for keeping rape cases closed or invisible and does not work according to democratic rules. Commanders with no personal involvement in a case might see a rape accusation as a potential black mark on their own career, sweeping the issue and possible investigation under the rug. Maybe they think the girl was asking for it. Maybe they’ve committed rape themselves.

We meet Captain Greg Rinckey (Ret.) US Army JAG Corps, a fortyish man who seems to still not believe the awfulness of what he has to communicate to the filmmakers. “The problem in the military is, the convening authority, who is not legally trained, makes the final decision.” That "decision" being what happens in a rape case, which defines a woman’s entire life.

As a corrective to the luxury of selective historic amnesia Americans enjoy, Kirby brings up recent scandals, old nightmares.

There’s the Tailhook Scandal in 1991: at least 87 women sexually assaulted by more than 100 U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aviation officers. The Aberdeen Scandal in ’96: 30 women raped.  

In the Colorado Springs Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal in 2003, 12% of all graduates claimed they were victims of rape or attempted rape. (The film reminds us that over 80% of victims never report their rape.)

At a certain point, the film crosses the line between objective documentary form and out and out advocacy in the same way Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s coverage of the West Memphis Three in Paradise Lost gave up even a fig leaf of detachment in the film’s two sequels, as the filmmakers realized the depth of the crime they were covering. I suppose some grand, detached style might be more artful, but I really don’t worry about superior grammar and usage when drowning people scream “help.”

Simply seeing The Invisible War won’t end any of the horrors it catalogues. But a movie like this wasn’t made to stop anything, it was made to anger you, to get you to do that first thing that keeps these monsters at bay. Ultimately, it really is up to you whether this film is a success or not.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.

GREY MATTERS: The Haunted Suburban World of TEEN WOLF

GREY MATTERS: The Haunted Suburban World of TEEN WOLF

Anyone comparing Teen Wolf’s second season to Buffy either isn’t paying attention to the dark gem Jeff Davis’s show has become or doesn’t understand what Joss Whedon’s show used to be.  Think instead of this reboot of the silly Michael J. Fox '80s film as fully on par with Ronald Moore’s remake of Glen A. Larson’s way-'70s Battlestar Galactica. It’s that good. And now, it's that grim.

Gone are even the small gestures toward even nominal teen melodrama normality season one made, mostly courtesy a sound-weave that was already more Lynch than CW, more Cocteau-dream-time-floaty than let’s-sell-some-alterna-pop catchy.

From the credits onwards, the second season announces a visual sensibility that suggests Lars von Trier pace Melancholia in a suburb called Beacon Hills, where McMansions literally sit next to rotting poverty homes. Where there is never anyone on the streets, or any place of business open but the ER, the police department, and a 24-hour veterinarian’s office (Teen Wolf may be grim but it's not without humor.)

The last time I wrote about the show, I mentioned an across-the-board ache, a sense that everyone of parenting age had failed, leaving a generation of children trying to reassure the adults that everything would be okay.

That ache has metastasized into distance, malevolence and violence. The show’s teen werewolf, Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), now keeps a certain distance from Mom since a telepathic bond with her revealed her endless well of erotic loneliness.

Scott’s best friend Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) has a father (Linden Ashby) so humiliated by his drunken confession of broken marriage anguish that he can barely face his son anymore.

And Scott’s beloved, Allison (Crystal Reed), has learned that the worst thing in the world isn’t her morally compromised father (JR Bourne), but her morally psychotic grandfather, played with scene-eating intensity by <i>Battlestar’s</i>Michael Hogan, this season’s very bad, big bad, wolf.

All of this is mirrored in the visual poetry of Teen Wolf, most often conveyed in pairs of shots that tersely convey discrete information, the cinematic version of haiku. Cinematographer Jonathan Hall—best known for The Walking Dead—somehow conveys darkness even in his day-lit school hallway scenes.

Oh. Right. Werewolves. Or as I like to say, “weres”, because it’s shorter and makes things sound as un-lame as the show Davis—best known as creator of Criminal Minds—has gifted us with.

Davis still uses his moneymaker moon howlers, but mainly as bearers of metaphor. But since I want you to fall for this show, I’ll run some Wolf basics by you before getting lost in those thickets.

When we first met Scott McCall, he was a golly, gee-whiz teen lacrosse player in love with the lovely Allison. Scott’s pal Styles was a knockabout, but not a pop-culture-spouting one.

Then Scott got clawed in the night and became a were, which, downside, meant turning halfway into a wolf, but upside, meant super-enhanced strength, night vision, speed, healing abilities, and so on. Sure, there was the whole thing with murdering people and eating their flesh, but a little forethought and some chains and locks could take care of that.

Unfortunately, Scott quickly gained the attention of longtime were Derek Hale (Tyler Lee Hoechlin).  Like the zombies hanging around the mall they loved when they were alive in Dawn of the Dead, Derek can’t stop himself from hanging at his burned down, old American dream house.

Last season, Allison not only learned of her family’s avocation—hunting down and killing weres—but saw her sadistic, morally insane aunt killed by the sadistic, morally insane ‘Alpha’—a sort of ultimate werewolf who may or may not lead the pack of weres.

Also, everyone knows that Scott’s a were when his attempts to gain some privacy with Allison at last year’s winter formal only lead to Chris, the werewolf hunter, accidentally finding him while in wolf form.

This season finds the Argent family closing ranks and forcing Allison to break up with Scott. (Of course, the two work out a complex system of signals and signs for meeting up in secret.)

Then Hell comes to town in the form of cruel, killing-‘em-old-school Gerard, who loves the sound of a young homeless were’s screams, cut off when he cuts him in two with a special sword.

Gerard believes in killing all weres, shows zero tolerance of Others, and has a pungent Tea Party vibe to him that, in an election year, one assumes, must be intended.

Then Allison finds out that she must train to take her aunt’s place and become a were killer. As Valentines to nuclear families go, this one isn’t winning anyone’s favor.

The alternative isn’t kittens and roses either. Derek is trying to create an alternative family based on the pain of others, to repel the Argent menace.

There’s Boyd (Friday Night Lights’s Sinqua Walls), a black kid bussed to Beacon Hills, where he’s forced to do menial work, who chooses Derek’s bite to gain power over a core-rotten school system. And Isaac (Daniel Sharman), a white kid whose abuse at his father’s hands reverberates horribly in a post-Penn State context. And an unnamed student (played by the awesomely-named Gage Golightly) ruined by uncontrollable, humiliating seizures is more than happy to give up a known awful life for a life living like Derek looks.

For whatever reason, because the show works under the disguise of genre, because everyone isn’t putting every word uttered under a critical electron microscope, because the show is free to use metaphor freely, Teen Wolf is free to delve deep into topics whose existence a show like Girls might deny.  

And were the show not called Teen Wolf, its to-be-continueds would surely be the stuff of virtual water cooler conversations. Breaking Bad, now there’s some word play for adults. But Teen Wolf, seriously? Next you’ll be saying Battlestar Galactica, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or . . . Oh.

Take the battle for the soul of Jackson Whittemore (Colton Haynes). Everything that’s remarkable about Jackson—his steely good looks, his bottomless checking account, his classic Porsche—only remind him how much he didn’t earn them. And so what good there is in him is eclipsed by a need to act out his self-loathing. Worse, Jackson is aware of this extra dynamic, which makes him truly tragic. We never hate him.

And now he wants Derek to turn him into a were as well. To give him a power that comes from his body, not his Chase Titanium card. If something gay happens, well, whatever.

In direct opposition to Whedon’s wonderful alternative families, the Buffy, Firefly or Avengers crews, Teen Wolf is a dire warning against socialization, especially for Scott: if he enjoys Allison, his mom may be getting killed by Gerard. If he’s with his mom, how can he protect Stiles and Allison?

This is horror for times of terrifying scarcity. It’s why Allison hangs on to Scott and vice versa, and it doesn’t feel clingy or retrograde, and it's why Stiles will save even Derek when a new monster comes to town. In lean times where the family is verklempt due to ideology, bad breaks or character flaws, they’re all they’ve got.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out/New York.

GREY MATTERS: Vidal Sassoon: In the Salon, In the Movies, In Life

GREY MATTERS: Vidal Sassoon: In the Salon, In the Movies, In Life

Vidal Sassoon did nothing less in his astonishing life than co-engineering the design and mindset of desire and freedom in fashion, cinema, and feminism—in ways that echo to this day.

nullIn the mid-60s, his radical, Bauhaus-inspired cuts for Twiggy and Terrence Stamp in Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise defined a Mod brand of cool reemerging again today in everyone from Karen O to Ladytron to Lady Gaga; the pixie cut he crafted for Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby made that film all the more effective and is now being rediscovered by Michelle Williams, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Mia Wasikowska, among others; the feathered cut he crafted for Farrah Fawcett in Charlies’s Angels gave the 70s Sexual Revolution a go-to style that, when shortened, also worked for men.

By creating “wash and wear haircuts” that freed women from the tyranny of elaborate post-war styling, Sassoon caused a side effect that was his greatest effect. Women of the early 60s who got Sassoon cuts were no longer spending a huge portion of their discretionary earnings and spare time on the salon, and so, simply in terms of dollars, cents, and time, feminism became that much more logistically possible.

And so I feel as if this amazing history is in danger of being lost when I realize that when people think of Sassoon, they think of superior hair products. In fairness, though, he also created that industry.

Me, I first “met” Sassoon entirely by accident of need.

When Lizzie E. came up to me at high school’s end and asked how I was going to support myself until my band got signed, I was like,  “I have no idea.” When she asked if I wanted to go to beauty school, I said,  “Sure. Why not?”

But beauty school was lame, all boring rudimentary cuts, color, curling iron work, and such. Until The Twins showed up.

The Twins: two impossibly suave young Latino men in Armani suits with hair like Al Pacino in Serpico. They may have had names, but I never learned them. They didn’t talk much. They cut.

The Twins had been to Vidal Sassoon Academy. This was the late 70s. Everyone knew all about Vidal: he was a living media presence in the process of creating that idea, too. Think Tim Gunn but younger, ludicrously cool in his Pierre Cardin suits, and also a mensch.

nullAnyway, at school, students lined up daily as the Twins executed precise Sassoon-style versions of a Ziggy cut, a Bryan Ferry asymmetrical, a pixie, and the Master’s other contribution, the bob.

Everyone came out of a Twin session changed. Happier. More confident. More cool and more themselves at the same time.

I wanted a Twins cut! But I was also only 17 and seething with a crippling sense of how little I deserved such fine things, in part a side effect of the bipolar disorder percolating in my head.

So I just watched.

All very nice, but this is a film blog! Yes, but film and fashion are always absolutely intertwined.  

To explore what I mean by that, you have to ask, and also know: What is a haircut about? You. If you’re in the Marines, for example, it’s about erasing your identity with a buzz cut ten thousand other women and men have, so as to become an interchangeable part of a unit.

A haircut is also code. It’s Audrey Hepburn's hair in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), signaling in streaked hair-color semaphore that she’s a very new sort of girl, an idea and look Gloria Steinem promptly appropriated and repurposed as an act of playful post modernism, whose referencing of Tiffany's was a hidden-in-plain-sight rejection of the top-down, patriarchal conservatism that institution stood for. And all while looking devastatingly chic.

This is all because of an irrefutable bottom line: hair is the most telling human visual tag after skin color. It’s the thing people remember. And that's why when profiling a perp, after race, a cop will ask what color hair, what style, how long, etc. Because everyone remembers that. It’s probably a tribal thing, engrained on a DNA level.

Until Sassoon, post-war America conservatism recognized the threats inherent in hairstyle—sexuality, individualism, personal agency—and quashed them.

A salon visit—and you sometimes needed multiple ones per week—meant enduring having your hair chemically burned with harsh, primitive perm, bleach and color concoctions, then soaked in gum, methylparaben, gelatin, cornstarch-based based adherents, before being wrapped in scalp-tearing curlers. The client was then stuck under burning hot driers for hours on end before having the hair—now decimated tissue resembling burnt wire—tortured into halo-like shapes held together by industrial-strength lacquers.

nullAt this time, the ‘50s and early 60s, nobody looked at hair and thought: Bone structure! Bauhaus! Geometry!

Nobody asked: How can I enhance the way this woman naturally is, instead of warping her into something she’ll never be?

Sassoon did.

Sassoon, who was born in 1928 into such dire poverty that his single mother was forced to send him to a Jewish orphanage, who later joined the Israeli Defense Forces to fight in the 1948 Arab Israeli War, who then, at his mum’s insistence, got in the hair trade, ran a regular salon for a while until he just had it with things as they were, the sheer cruel, ugly oldness of it all.

He threw out the hair driers, the perms, the chemicals, everything but his trusty sheers.

Word spread like wildfire. Some madman was cutting hair based on bone structure, and geometry, and then letting women just leave the salon! No setting! No lacquer. Just beautiful, healthy, shiny hair. Hair he encouraged women to run their fingers through.

nullHollywood came calling: their new, post-war Chinese sex symbol in the making, Nancy Kwan, needed a look. Vidal created a luscious, cascading bob for Kwan for The World of Suzie Wong (1960). The Beats appropriated it, every present-day hipster girl has had one at least once, and actors like Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett and Charlize Theron look especially good with one.

But Sassoon’s eureka moment came in 1964. It was the five-point cut. It was a radical, Bauhaus-inspired design that practically screamed the end of an era and the start of something new.

Craig Teper’s recent gold standard documentary, Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, gets inside the mind of a man who’s known pretty much every way a person can live, and from that experience came a well of empathy that fueled designs that could have been cold or detached or, god forbid, ‘arty’ (and so dismissed.) He could think of hair as a fine artist, as a businessman or, as we’ll see, a method actor. In the film, Sassoon tells his greatest hits in an alternately incarnational/imperious/impish vocal style that’s another pleasure.

nullThere’s the tale of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), where Roman Polanski desperately needed his hero to have a visual signifier of motherhood in crisis that would capitalize on both the rush and anxiety accompanying the first wave of feminism.

He called Vidal. The cut Sassoon delivered for Mia Farrow was short, but feminine. Angular, but not overtly weird. The effect was a triumph of style-based foreshadowing: the idea that this woman would give birth to Satan’s child was totally believable to men—just look at her haircut! American women, ironically enough, wanted to look like Rosemary, and they all flocked to Sassoon-trained stylists.

If I have one complaint with the film, it’s that it’s too humble. Another incredibly important cut, the one worn by Sassoon client Jane Fonda in Alan J. Pakula’s boundary-breaking Klute, is a study in, shall we say, influence. That cut is the missing link between the geometry of the 60s and the flow of the 70s, eventually migrating to the heads of Suzie Quatro and Joan Jett and a good many of the lesbian bars my friend Lizzie E. would hang at.

But his greatest achievement will always be a side effect of the wasted time and money his cuts returned to women. The quarterly perm, the monthly color retouch, the monthly cut, the once, twice, thrice roller/set/comb-out/styling sessions. All of them replaced with one haircut every two or so months.

Without that boon, feminism would have been incalculably harder to pull off.  Or as Vogue’s creative director Grace Coddington, a one-time model who enjoyed the original five-point cut, has said, "He changed the way everyone looked at hair . . . and it liberated everyone."

Me, I never got my hair cut by The Twins. But my band did get a record deal, and the guy who cut my hair was, by incredible good luck, the haircutter for Bryan Ferry, once and future king for all things cool beyond measure.

And, of course, that haircutter trained at Sassoon’s.


Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out/New York.