Friday, October 2, 2009

Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets...


I'm almost 13 years old.

My father came over to me as I sat on the floor of the living room in our tiny house outside of Seattle and asked me," Wanna go to the movies? There's a double feature at the Lynn Twin."

The Lynn Twin was a two screen movie house in a parking lot off of a huge mall in Lynnwood, Washington, a small town a few over from my own. The screens were separated by a massive concession stand which served as a sound buffer between the two screens.

The building was block and simple. Functional. It was meant to get people in and out to watch movies, not to admire the decor or enjoy the rock hard seats.

Over the years, my father had tried to bond with me over various sporting events. First there was baseball. I hated it. I stood in the outfield, clutching a worn, dirty mitt in my hand, terrified a ball might actually come my way and I'd be forced to attempt to catch it. I remember being so afraid to leave my spot I used to pee in my pants instead of going to the bathroom a few fields away.

I was a curious child.

My father tried soccer (hated it, but loved watching boys in their jockstraps), fishing (if there is a more boring 'sport' known to man I have yet to uncover it), hiking (enjoyable, if endless and oddly unsatisfying - climbing and climbing and climbing for more climbing and climbing and climbing), camping (loved the outdoors, hated the lumpy ground), and the infamous Y-Indian Guides of the Pacific Northwest.

Y-Indian Guides was a group dedicated (as the badge says) to making Fathers and Sons 'pals forever.' My father was Chief Bryan and I was Little Michael. It was a whole Indian-Washington naming thing difficult to understand unless you grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I asked to be Sacagawea Michael. That didn't go over very well.

At Y-Indian Guides we boated and sailed and made cars and stood for pictures wearing Indian feathers on our heads and beaded was all very bonding but it bored me to tears (except the cars...they were cool).

I was a young boy growing up gay and my father was a farm hand from Idaho and Montana. What did we have in common?

Movies. We had movies in common. So when my father asked me in the late summer of 1977 if I wanted to go to a double feature, I said yes. Movies were my obsession. They were my friends. I didn't have any literal friends, I was that oddly pathetic kid in school who spent time alone reading and watching movies. My Mom and Dad were my best friends.

I know, sickening.

I always went to the movies alone or with my parents. My mom took me to disaster movies and comedies and my dad took me to anything R-rated or with blood. A good time to be had by all.

He told my mother we were going to a double feature. She asked him what the movies were. The conversation went something like this:

Mom: "Lynn."

Dad: "Yes, dear."

Mom: "You didn't tell me what movies you and Mike are seeing."

Dad: "I don't know, dear. Some movie where Dustin Hoffman plays that weird comic who swore all the time in the 60's -"

Mom: "You mean Lenny. The biopic on Lenny Bruce."

Dad: (to me) "Biopic? Where does she learn these things?"

Mom: "I learn these things by reading Mike's Rona Barrett Hollywood magazine. There's a lot of boobs in that Lenny."

Dad: "How do you know this?"

Mom: "I read the review by John Hartl in the Seattle Times. He said that oversexed Val Perrine person shows her boobs through the whole movie."

Dad: "Well, then, good for us, huh?" (at this awkward point he nudged me in a heterosexual father and son moment)

Mom: "What's the other one?"

Dad: "I don't know. That Taxi thing."

Mom: "Taxi Driver?"

Dad: "Yea. We have to go. We're gonna be late."

Mom: "Nice. This is good parenting Lynn. Mike is 12 years old. He turns 13 in two weeks and you're taking him to a foul mouthed movie with all sorts of boobs flying all over the goddamn screen and a psychopath killer cab person with teenage hookers in New York."

Dad: "Yup. That's about right."

And with that, we left the house.

I was elated. Nudity? Violence? New York City? R-rated movies?


So on that late summer day in August of the summer 1978 my father and I sat down in the air-conditioned Lynn Twin and watched Taxi Driver, starring Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese.

I never finished the movie in 1978.

Here is why: I sat watching this movie about this guy driving a cab in dirty, grungy New York City and as the movie progressed, I had a mounting sensation something awful was going to happen. I didn't have any idea at the time what would happen, but I had sense it was going to be awful.

I shrunk down farther and farther in my seat. The pit in my stomach was growing and I felt sweaty.

Then came the scene where Robert DeNiro walks down the street, his hair in a full Mohawk and shoots Harvey Keitel in the stomach. Something about the way in which he shot the guy made me sick to my stomach.

But that isn't what did me in.

What did me in was when DeNiro walked into the apartment building and shot the guy in front of him in the hand, sending four severed fingers flying in the air and blood shooting onto the wall.

I felt as if a cold bucket of water had been splashed on me and I heard myself scream.

That was when my father reached across me, grabbed me by the arm and hauled me out of the theater as fast as he could.

On the drive home we didn't say a word about it. My father giggled about it and said it was probably not smart to have taken me to it. I agreed...but nothing more was said.

But I privately knew Taxi Driver was the very first time I felt horrified in a movie theater which is why it is #29 in the Halloween Movie Countdown.

When I see the movie now I can admire it's artistry. The grainy film stock Scorcese used to give the killing scenes a documentary feel; the lack of any sense of politically correct charged speech; the shots of old, dirty, foul New York City at night; the dour, depressed and insanely angry tone of the movie; the poetry of the writing and the sheer audacity to make a film so insanely bleak and hellish.

Sure Jodie Foster is good in it (let's face it, the woman is not a great actress, she's stiff as shit and we all know it) and Cybill Shepherd is breathtaking and Albert Brooks is so damn young and Peter Boyle is amazing, per usual...but this is all about Scorcese.

The man is a fucking narcissistic ego whore. Raging Bull is great, Goodfella's is great if you're a Guido and hate everyone but your family, but Scorcese is not the God everyone makes him out to be. There is a reason hardly any of movies make any money.

He's too in love with Scorcese and Taxi Driver is still one of his top movies. Well - Mean Streets is pretty spectacular but Taxi Driver is the real jewel.

Plus, I used to be Robert DeNiro's assistant in the early 90's and I can tell you that DeNiro is a prick. 100% certified. I became good friends with his father and some day, some day, I'll tell stories that would make DeNiro fans die with envy. All I'll say is that I used to sit in the living room of DeNiro father's house and watch movies of DeNiro as a child...very surreal.

Taxi Driver is a movie, movie and I see now why it put Scorcese on the map. It's unrelenting in it's bleakness and grime. When I worked in video stores in New York City in the early 90's, myself and the other employees would watch the movie over and over on laserdisc and pause it and analyze the shots and the way they were composed and what they were about.

This is the kind of movie film geeks love because it's so in love with the form it's hard to take your eyes off of it.

It's a narcissistic, dirty horror movie with a rotten, tortured soul. But it's well-made and extremely smart.

Writer Paul Schrader (a man I admire but am afraid to meet) said he wrote Taxi Driver in 6 days in New York City when he was homeless and broke and strung out on dope. All of Hollywood is bullshit, so I find this hard to believe. But that is how the movie feels. It feels like it was made in the midst of a feverish drug dream where there is no escape.

Even the final shot with Travis looking in the rear view mirror and the refracted image he sees of himself to the zing of Herrmann's strings tells you this horror dream is never ending for him.

Travis Bickle is insane and is going to murder again. Thank God there has never been Taxi Driver 2. Can you imagine? "Travis Bickle is pissed off...again!"

And let's just say it - the name "Travis Bickle." One of the greatest names for a character ever.

Taxi Driver is unsettling, horrific, demonic and feverish. It's your worst nightmare come to life and as such, is a fitting part of the Halloween Movie Countdown.


Of note as well:

Paul Schrader is a writer whose work I studied for some time. Besides the too-often praised Raging Bull, the bloated Cat People and the oddly dull American Gigolo, he did write 2 fun Halloween flicks you'll want to check out:

The first was Obsession directed by Brian DePalma in 1975. It was a great, crazy, ridiculous somersault of a movie that is a wonderful brain teaser straight out of the old noir days starring Geneviève Bujold, Cliff Robertson and John Lithgow.

The movie is old-fashioned but the directing by DePalma is great and baroque and the ending is a smash. The score by the late Bernard Herrmann (whose died one day after he finished the score for Taxi Driver) is a dream come true, the cinematography by the late, great and unmatched Vilmos Zsigmond is a widescreen lovers wet dream and the editing by Paul Hirsh (still editing to this day) is breathtaking.
Also, I'm a huge fan of The Comfort of Strangers, a 1989 movie Harold Pinter adapted from the Ian McEwan novel of the same name. Pinter truly understood Ian McEwan's book. He took the tone and the style of the novel and somehow found a visual and aural equivalent no other writer could have.

I only recommend this movie to people who truly love the art of movies. It is slow and methodical. This is a languid, living macabre dream of a mystery movie. If such a movie is not your thing, you will not like it.

But I can't get over the scene of Helen Mirren on the balcony describing the private, hurtful things Christopher Walken does to her in the dark or the way Natasha Richardson puts together the pieces of what is happening to them and why.

McEwan is an extremely tricky writer to adapt. He is all about the word. To find a way to make his work cinematic is hard for any artist, but when Schrader and Pinter got together, it became magic.

Sexually charged, demented and with one of the sickest endings of any movie in the 80's, The Comfort of Strangers is a wonderful Halloween movie to watch in the dark with a glass of wine. The cinematography by the great Dante Spinotti is pitch perfect, the editing by Bill Pankow is great and the score by Angelo Baldamenti is one of the most underrated scores he ever created. I bought the CD back in the 90's and listen to it at least once a month.

Until tomorrow...

Pleasant dreams...

1 comment:

  1. First, you should be writing for the Times. This is SO good. Second, did we have the same father? Someday you will have a wider audience for all of this. These are pages in your future book. No mater what, always LOVE you. XO