Holy Motors an Uneven Ride

Written and directed by Leos Carax
Les Films du Losange, 115 minutes, Unrated (nudity, violence, degrading imagery)
* *

Among the things one can depend upon in life is that most films nominated for a Palme d’Or are those that critics praise and audiences ignore. Many of them attract critical praise because they pay homage to cinema’s past. Among the film references in Holy Motors are: Eyes without a Face, Boy Meets Girl, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Tokyo! and three of Carax’s previous offerings.  If you’re like most folks, none of these will resonate and Carax’s internal clues will be lost on you. This begs the question of whether it’s homage to reference idiosyncratic films almost no one has seen. But the problem with Holy Motors isn’t idiosyncrasy; it’s inconsistency.

If you give Holy Motors a try, pay attention to its enigmatic opening, one in which a sleeping man (Carax) awakens, opens a secret door in his apartment, and enters a crowded theater in which a silent audience is viewing King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928). The character, called simply “le dormeur” is likely a reference to an Arthur Rimbaud poem in which a sleeping soldier is, in fact, dead—akin to the zombie-like audience in the theater and the stripped-of-vitality characters in Vidor’s film.

Holy Motors is an existential dream in which individuals so desperately yearn for sensations to ameliorate their ennui that they will pay handsomely for temporary relief. Would you like to be murdered by your own doppelganger? (Or is the id killing the superego?) Enjoy the adrenaline rush of a spray of bullets disrupting the tranquility of an outdoor café? Have hot foreplay with beings dressed as latex-clad aliens? What does it take to make you feel authentically alive? For a price, Holy Motors and Mr. Oscar (Denis Levant) will act out your fantasies privately, or in front of a shocked public. Oscar rides through Paris in the back of a white limo and transforms himself into various characters while Céline (Edith Scob) drives.

Holy Motors isn’t really a movie; it’s numerous short films loosely strung together by the limo rides. It means, of course, that the quality of the sections varies greatly in quality and interest. Eve Mendes plays Kay M, a supermodel filming in Pere Lachaise Cemetery and bored with the fawning syncophants of the high fashion world. Enter Mr. Oscar disguised as a hideous, deformed, filthy, hunchback who kidnaps her, carries her to an underground lair where he strips naked and lies on her lap, soiling her designer gown—his erection prominently displayed. Oddly, this is one of the more compelling story lines, simply because it’s so grotesque it’s hard not to watch. (I later learned that this is a recreation of the role of Monsieur Merde (Mr. Shit) from an obscure 2006 Japanese film.) And this isn’t even the weirdest segment of the film. That honor goes to one in which Mr. Oscar shows up playing power accordion in an MTV-like graveyard death video with Kylie Minogue! Among his other roles are as a homeless woman, a dying old man, and a grubby failed father driving his teenaged daughter across town, and we can’t tell for sure if she is virgin or vixen.
As you can imagine, a little bit of angst goes a long way and Holy Motors runs out of gas long before Mr. Oscar’s long day ends. The film’s overarching message is that most people are dead long before they die and, like the faux Minogue video, actual expiration is a celebratory relief. Okay…. So is Carax’s film profound, or just two hours of juvenile drivel hiding amidst a shallow surface of affected intellectualism? My take is that it’s a bit of both, and that overall it’s more clever than deep. Carax is often visually interesting, but the walking dead topic has been taken up in far better movies (including The Crowd). Should you give Holy Motors a spin? You could certainly live happily ever after without it but, if your curiosity is piqued, keep the remote in your hand as there is certainly no reason to sit through segments that lose their allure. Trust me—lots of the film will have precious little. –Rob Weir


Missing Good Games at Outmoded Fenway Park

Fenway Park configured for outdoor hockey. Note how the seats face toward the rink and NOT toward home plate.

Now that the Boston Red Sox have rid themselves of the toxins that polluted the team for several years and turned off so many fans that the team’s sellout streak is “officially” over–it actually ended in mid-2012–the Red Sox are in full makeover mode. So why not go the whole way and finally rid themselves of Fenway Park?

I realize some will claim my remark is more heretical than asserting that the pope is a gay Rastafarian, but hear me out. I went to Fenway Park most recently on April 14, where I missed a heck of a good game: Clay Buchholz tossed a near no-hitter against Tampa. Alas, though my attention was rapt, my seats were near the right-field foul post. The “foulest” thing about them is that the Red Sox sold this $52 perch as “field box.” I suppose that’s technically correct as my sight was of–left field! Seriously. Seeing home plate entailed turning either my neck of my entire body 90 degrees to the left. I’ll simply say that those two exercises in yogic contortion were easier three decades ago than they are now.

One hears so much that Fenway Park is a “jewel” and that one can “get so close to the action.” That’s certainly true–for a handful of seats that cost a king’s ransom and in which most visitors to Fenway will never plant their butts unless they know someone in Boston politics, city-based corporations, or organized crime. (But I repeat myself.) Fenway Park’s reputation rests almost entirely on how well roughly 5,000 people get to see a given game, about 18% of the stadium’s capacity. But let me be charitable. Let’s pretend–and it’s a stretch–that a third of the seats are “good.” That means that on a given night just 13,000 people actually witness the game for which they’ve paid a lot of money to see, and 26,000 must crane, strain, and pain themselves for glimpses of it.  Thousands miss just about everything because they are planted behind pillars or beneath the upper deck overhang. In fact, if you’re under the deck, you’ll never see the entire flight of a single fly ball and, from some angles, you’ll even miss groundballs. Given the poor experience offered roughly two-thirds of those attending Fenway, it’s obscene for Boston to occupy its current position as the single-most expensive venue in Major League Baseball. (A recent study estimates it will cost a family of four a penny under $337 to see a game at Fenway Park.)

This is simply inexcusable. Fenway has been cruising for decades on a reputation for being a quaint throwback–like Chicago’s Wrigley Field (which is vastly superior to Fenway in nearly every respect, though it too has “issues”). Let’s be frank: Fenway Park and Wrigley Field were state of the art ballparks for their time, but that time was the 1910s through the 1940s. They were among the first steel, concrete, and brick ballparks and they set the bar for others to follow. (Prior to their ilk, wooden ballparks had a distressing tendency to rot or burn down, the latter the fate of the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, where Boston teams competed before Fenway was built.) Lest we forget, Fenway and Wrigley were also designed to be multipurpose stadiums. Fenway hasn’t hosted regular football games since 1968, or soccer in over 40 years, but it used to, which is why so many seats face the outfield grass rather than home plate. It’s also why Fenway has all those weird angles, which are packaged as “quirky” because it’s such a nicer word than “bizarre.”

Okay, we’ve had the 100th birthday bash and millions of folks have had the “experience” of seeing a Fenway game, but what they’ve seen is a museum, not baseball. I’m sick of hearing Bostonians tell me what a “great” place Fenway is. My reply is to get out more. I’ve not been to every park in the country, but now that the one-size-fits-none ovals (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington) have been retired, and the domed nightmares in Minnesota and Houston have closed, the only MLB venue where I’ve seen a game that’s worse than Fenway is Tampa’s pathetic Tropicana Stadium. Certainly Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and San Francisco are vastly superior to Fenway Park, but I’d ever rate seeing games in Chicago’s Comiskey Park and Oakland as better. (You’re far from the action but at least you can see it from any angle.) And I might as well commit the ultimate heresy. If the Red Sox decide to replicate the Fenway experience in a state-of-the-art facility that retains vestiges of the past, they could do worse than follow the lead of the Yankees! The new Yankee Stadium is massive, but it really feels like the old park, minus the obstructed views, uncomfortable seats, and wrong-way-facing vantage points.

Thomas Paine once remarked, “T’is time to part.” He meant the connection between Britain and the American colonies, but I think if Tom had been in the stands next to me on April 14, he would have extended the remark to Fenway. In the interim, those who wish to spend a fortune and delude themselves into thinking they are seeing “old-time” baseball are welcome to vie for seats without competition from me. I’ve spent my last dime in Fenway. Enough with Green Monster seats, skyboxes, family picnic areas, and other such faux amenities! I don’t care how many garlands you drape on it, Fenway is a broken-down plow horse that should be put down and sent to the glue factory.


NRA Assassinates American Representative Democracy

Oligarchy: (noun)—a government in which a small group exercises control, often for selfish and/or corrupt purposes.

Welcome to the United States of Oligarchy. While most of the nation was focused on the Boston Marathon tragedy and the horrific explosion in Waco, Texas, that body of cowards otherwise known as the U.S. Senate dealt another body blow to American democracy. Our “principled” Democratic and Republican senators—despite the picture at left, do we really still believe there are two parties?­--sandbagged a pathetically weak bill that would have expanded existing legislation requiring background checks for gun buyers by requiring the same standards for those purchasing weapons on the Internet or at gun shows. To complete their April 17 night of shame, the U.S. Senate failed even to get enough votes for a bill designed to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people. (Perhaps the Senate feared for its own members!) By doing so, the U.S. Senate acted as agents of an oligarchy, not the American people. That oligarchy is called the N.R.A.  

Let’s be clear about a few things. First, the Senate’s actions show utter contempt for American democracy. The term “democracy” is often misunderstood. The United States has never been a “democracy” in absolute sense; it is a representative democracy in which the mass electorate chooses politicians that, in theory, advance the public’s desires in Congress. It’s often hard to discern the public will within the politically polarized United States, but that was not the case of the gun bill. Polls indicate that up to 90% of the electorate favored the bill the Senate axed. Some polls show lower numbers, but even the deeply conservative Rasmussen Poll showed 75% approval for the bill. Name me another thing—short of vengeance for the Boston Marathon murders—upon which more than three-quarters of all Americans agree! The idea that the U.S. Senate was preserving anybody’s “freedom” is a sick joke and those that maintain it are sicker still. The U.S. Senate sure as hell wasn’t dancing to any tune called by the American public.

So let’s name the dance master. Forget Congress (please!) and spare me appeals to that Empty Suit in the Oval Office. The President of the United States is not the master here, Wayne Lapierre is. Let’s call him Il Duce, his brainwashed followers Brownshirts, and his organization the new ruling oligarchy. The Nazi (National) Rifle Association is a modern fascist organization with all the earmarks of its predecessors: mobilization by fear, the dissemination of propaganda, bully tactics, Nuremberg-like rallies, contempt for democracy, and the complicity of governmental and social bodies that reputedly represent the masses. It even tries to off its critics. (Gabby Giffords, anyone?) That the NRA would even trifle with such a weak bill as the one before the Senate should be seen as an exercise in pure political power. Why bother? As Robert Michels explained in 1911, once a huge bureaucracy such as the Nazi Rifle Association is formed, it tends to pursue power, use that power, and lapse into corruption. This Iron Law of Oligarchy was precisely what was on display on April 17.

The bill slain by the NRA would likely have made very little difference in curbing gun violence. It’s a toothless proposal even less substantive than the health reform act signed by President Empty Suit. The background check bill was, in fact, a smokescreen from the start, designed to give the NRA time to whip up fear so that truly significant gun control measures never got to the kitchen, let alone the table. But the NRA has its Brownshirts so thoroughly brainwashed that they’re too numb to ask the simplest of questions: Who, precisely, would have lost gun rights under the Senate bill? By sabotaging background checks, is the NRA saying that it’s fine to place firearms into the hands of criminals and the insane? It looks as if the NRA’s ultimate task is dismantling the American political process. One must make the nation safe for self interest, after all, and we can’t allow representative democracy to get in the way. No fear of that with the current Congress.

Let’s hear it: “Duce! Duce! Duce!” Shout it loud—the Brownshirts can’t hear you.