Friday, January 19, 2024

Notes on Film: Anti-Contest 2024

 by Anthony King

Competition is the worst form of motivation.

Let me be honest: I have a stupidly horrific competitive streak in me. But I'm not competitive during things when you're supposed to be competitive. Board games, hockey, video games – it's all about having fun for me. Win or lose, all I care about is if I'm having a good time. Yet I find myself competing for non-existent things against people who are not privy to the contest, nor would they ever consider what I'm competing for a contest. More in a bit. First, what I've been watching.
After watching the Maysles' Gimme Shelter (1970) last week I wanted to keep the concert film vibe going. I turned to my favorite documentarian, D.A. Pennebaker and his remarkable footage in Monterey Pop (1968). As it turns out, Pennebaker had enlisted Albert Maysles to operate one of the cameras, so I've got a second theme continuing here. The film showcases performances from the groundbreaking Monterey International Pop Festival of 1967 with appearances by The Mamas & the Papas, Canned Heat, Simon & Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Country Joe and the Fish, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ravi Shankar, and more. I'm not a hippie, never have been, and never dug much of the music that came from the Summer of Love. But I love live music, and seeing such iconic entertainers giving some of the most iconic performances ever was a real treat. Even from groups like the Mamas & the Papas and Jefferson Airplane, or Janis Joplin, all three of whom I can't stand, I found myself in a sort of trance watching them give such incredible performances. I loved Simon & Garfunkel singing “Feelin' Groovy,” and Otis Redding (with Booker T. and the M.G.'s, no less) sing “I've Been Loving You Too Long,” but I was most impressed with the way Pennebaker and his cameramen filmed Ravi Shankar and the crowd's reaction. I believe this was Shankar's first big performance in the States, and at the beginning of the song you could see the audience didn't know what exactly they were listening to. But by the end he may have gotten the biggest reaction from the crowd. Everybody's minds seemed to have been simultaneously blown, and it was very cool to witness that.
The concert movie train continued along with Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz (1978). I'm not into classic rock at all, and although I wouldn't consider The Band, or even any of the songs they performed in the film, part of that oeuvre, I think my misperception of what type of music would be performed kept me from seeing this film for decades. Boy was I wrong. And even though I knew who The Band was, and all their contributions to the music industry, I wasn't too familiar with most of their work. Scorsese cuts together intimate interviews with the band as a group and individually with songs performed during their farewell concert at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The live concert featured 50 songs, whereas the film gives the highlights with 25. Performers include Dr. John, Neil Young, Joni Mitchel, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and more. While there wasn't a guest I didn't enjoy, I really enjoyed watching The Band play by themselves. Watching Robbie Robertson direct and rip solos, listening to Rick Danko's unmistakable voice warble, seeing Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel behind their respective rigs, and listening to Levon Helm's perfect country twang while he held down the group behind the drums with perfect time was a transportive experience. Standout songs include “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Ophelia,” both sung by Helm. And the final song, “The Last Waltz Theme,” played in a studio, showed just how incredibly talented these men were. As the camera slowly pulled back and the credits began to roll, my eyes welled up with tears. Beautiful.
Finally I watched Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way (1993) in stunning 4K from the recent Arrow release. While I remember when this was released, and I've wanted to see it since, and even hearing Adam talk about it recently, I realized I really had no clue what this was about. Folks, it's a ride. Al Pacino is giving one of his all-time Pacino deliveries from start to end, and Sean Penn is giving us that raw, unfiltered Pennergy. The movie is great, but all I could think about was how volatile that set must have been with two personalities as gigantic as Pacino and Penn. On top of that we get great turns from Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, James Rebhorn, Viggo Mortensen, and John Liguizamo. De Palma gets in his own way a little bit with the way he moves the camera in some scenes, but overall Carlito's Way is definitely my jam. It’s my favorite discovery of this young year so far. And I can't recommend that Arrow 4K disc enough!
Onto the topic at hand. Carlito Brigante is trying to start a new life in Carlito's Way. He has a goal of raising $75,000 legitimately and moving down to Jamaica to start a business renting cars to tourists. In the film his old cronies are coming at him from all directions, trying to pull him back into his old ways. In his old life, Brigante was King Shit. But to be King Shit he had to fight his way to the top and never stop fighting. For the past several years I felt like I had to fight to get my voice heard. I needed to be the best. I needed people to know how much I knew about movies. I had the best podcast around, and I was doing something other people weren't. What I had to say was important. I needed to go onto different podcasts, write essays or reviews, and pop into Discord groups and say smart things because I knew more than the people I was talking to.

Of course, that was all bullshit. Now I don't have my own podcast. I spend less time bloviating on social media. I still have my column (thanks, Patrick), but this is sort literally my diary where I barf up all my incoherent thoughts, movie-related or not, and hope to god I'm allowed to write the following week. As I reflect on how I've presented myself in the past, I now realize I was more Benny Blanco than Carlito Brigante. There are people, two in particular, that I constantly found myself in competition with. Now, whether they knew they were in a competition with me, I don't know. Let's be honest: they probably didn't. The strange thing is that I still find myself bristling when I read a tweet or hear them on a podcast. “Anthony, why follow them? Why listen to them?” One is a good Twitter follow 98% of the time. And the other appeared on a podcast with other people I adore. But here's where the big change needs to happen. What it boils down to is that I have a picture in my mind of who I want these people to be; I have words I want these people to say; I have ideas that these people need to share. I need to come to terms, though, with the fact that I can't (read: shouldn't) change people to be exactly who I want them to be. I've worked long and hard in my sobriety to change that way of thinking when it comes to the people closest to me. Now it's time to change that way of thinking for the rest of the world.
I recently rewatched Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood (2019) and Waterworld (1995), both featuring characters who are confident in their own skin, their own lives. Cliff Booth and the Mariner, both played by two of the coolest actors to ever walk this planet, are guys who have seen their fair share of bullshit and are now happy to exist in their own little worlds. The difference between me and those two (well, one of the thousands of differences) is that I'm more about community than they are. Cliff and the Mariner are happy to live solitary lives. I, on the other hand, am not. I like people. Love them, actually. And I love having conversations with people. Especially conversations about things I'm passionate about, like movies. The problem is, though, that as soon as I get going I feel I need to be King Shit in this conversation. Movies? Parenting? Alcoholism? Life? I know it all. At least that was old Anthony's way of thinking. New Anthony, 2024 Anthony, has decided to change all that. I have nothing to prove. This column is a form of word vomit, in hopes that this vomit might help somebody someday, or at least give someone (and me) a sense of connection. I'm getting out of my own way. Something De Palma needed to do a little more of in Carlito's Way. And to those two people I was always competing against: I’m sorry for being such a dick.

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