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American Horror Stories (‘Rosemary’ Turns 50)

Rosemary’s Baby turns 50 today, and I’ve been thinking a ton about this film and about the genre of horror overall. For a few decades, dystopias were the alarm clock we all needed, but because the dystopia is now and no satire could possibly outstrip the grotesque burlesque that has capsized the highest chambers of the land, horror is the perfect lens for examining the greatest biases and ugliest fears prevailing in our dying (dead?) republic. That’s why Get Out blew everything else in 2017 out of the water, and that’s why films like The Exorcist and, yes, Rosemary’s Baby haunt us still. The former was about an America possessed–why else do you think it took place within spitting distance of Nixon’s White house?–and the latter was about the way that women are gaslit about everything including their own intellectual and reproductive powers. It’s also why I’m so flatly unimpressed by the emptyheaded Hereditary, the Toni Collette everything-and-the-kitchen-sink horror film that has everyone’s tongue a-flapping this month.

Admittedly Collette, who often overcompensates for weak material, turns in a fascinating calibrated performance that is a career peak. But this is the psychologically scariest film I’ve ever seen that has no thesis, no greater point it’s driving home, no true coherence, nor character development. As a witch and magic practitioner, I was painfully aware that writer/director Ali Aster steered into a bevy of supernatural topics he didn’t adequately research or articulate. Has no one learned from the myriad deaths and tragic accidents associated with Spielberg’s clayfooted Poltergeist?

Really, Hereditary is a fantastically executed failure that I don’t regret seeing but never need to see again. If you’re going to scare the bejesus out of us these days, there’s plenty of real American Horror Story to draw upon. Director Roman Polanski, for all his insanity about women and sexuality, nailed the putrid plight of the twentieth century woman, and, let’s face it, 21st century women too. Besides its unparalleled aesthetics–young Farrow alone!–that liberationist rage is why I clamor to the film again and again.

Here’s the related essay I wrote for the film’s less austere 47th anniversary.

‘Angels in America’ Saves Us All

Yesterday I did a full Angels in America immersion–10 hours in Midtown for Parts 1 and 2. I scored cheapo tickets on TDF.com and into the Neil Simon Theater I smuggled water, sliced apples, nuts, whiskey, and lavender water in case my neighbors had hygiene challenges. (They didn’t, but because they were tuna sandwich smugglers, the lavender water proved useful anyway.) Outside the theater the city was cloudy and cold and Mercury Retrogradey. Which is to say: there was nowhere I’d rather have been.

Put simply, it was the best theatrical experience of my life—timeless and timely, emboldened and emboldening, transcendent and holy fractured. The staging–neon boxes and steampunk lanterns and ladders sliding up and down, side to side– was extraordinary. Ditto for the performances—Nathan Lane, raw and raging and hilarious, was the best anyone’s ever seen, and even Andrew Garfield’s look-Ma-I’m-playing-gaaaaaay conceit was not appalling once he found his rage. And get this: every straight male role was played by a middle-aged lady wearing a doggedly bad wig!

But all that pales in contrast to the powerful joy of hearing Tony Kushner’s words uttered live for the first time. I honestly believe he is this greatest country’s finest voice. Even in a too-many-cooks-in-a-kitchen mess like “Lincoln,” through his cadences course everything–salt and blood and cum, stone and silt and copper. The sweat and tears of our country and our heavens, basically. As when I saw Hamilton, I felt connected to the groundlings taking in Shakespeare while he was still alive. Connected to all of time.

Yes, Mrs. Lincoln, everything, and I do mean everything, was vibrant and devastating in equal measures. By the time I walked out, my legs barely worked anymore, so it was a good thing I could fly with the play’s 1980s Jewish Mormon homosexual lady angel wings. As I soared, the Eustacia Vye phrase I’ve whispered since I was a teenager flashed like another sign on Broadway: “Send me great love from somewhere, else I shall die.” That great love never did show up for me in the mommy-daddy, one-on-one incarnation I expected. But in New York’s museums, galleries, kitchens, caverns, sidewalks, subways, and, o fuck, stages–all those “melting pots that never melted”–I feel it all the time. I guarantee you everyone in attendance at this play feels it too: great art, great truth-yes, great, great love. It comes in such finely feathered forms.

‘Schindler’s List’ in Trump’s America

The first time I saw Schindler’s List, it enraged me.

Admittedly, this was not a typical response. Upon its release 25 years ago, the film was touted as the crowning glory of director Steven Spielberg’s career and 1993’s greatest cinematic achievement. At the Oscars that year, the adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s historical novel about true-life figure Oskar Schindler won seven Academy Awards, including Spielberg’s first for best director.

It wasn’t just that the 3-hour-and-16-minute film was expertly crafted. Though documentaries like “Night and Fog” (1955) and “Shoah” (1985) had already catalogued the ravages of the Third Reich, Spielberg’s feature about a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Polish Jews ignited younger generations’ commitment to “never again” just as Holocaust survivors and witnesses were beginning to die out. In a 2013 interview, the director said, “The shelf life of ‘Schindler’s List’ has renewed my faith that films can do good work in the world.”

Really, as an introduction to both the horror and the goodness of which humans are capable, it was the ultimate Spielberg vehicle. And that was my problem in a nutshell. As the film’s credits rolled and people around me sniffed, I stormed out of the theater, saying, “Leave it to Spielberg to find the feel-good story of the Holocaust.” Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy