08
Sep
13

The Canyons (2013)

canyons_ver2_xlgI’ve chosen to return from the blog grave to write about THE CANYONS. Why, oh, why? This should not be taken as a ringing endorsement of the picture. In fact I’m not sure I even “liked it”. However, it does attempt to say a few interesting things, ranging from heavy-handed to slightly oblique, yet in a not-quite-entirely-successful way. I have written a little about Paul Schrader here before. I’ve even talked to the man in person (ooh I’m special), but that, of course, doesn’t qualify me to judge this picture with any kind of authority or intelligence. I’ve only read a bit by Bret Easton Ellis (confession: I never finished reading American Psycho because “I was, all, like, I think I GET IT, DUDE” after a short way into the book. Registered trademark phrase brought to you by XYZ industries Etc.), but this is a VERY interesting mesh of two (male) sensibilities. Let’s call it Calvinist Nihilism, shall we?

SO, onto the picture at hand. What everybody wants to know: What’s up with Lindsay Lohan? How “bad” is she in the picture? Well, surprisingly, Lohan is not bad in this picture. She’s not great, but many of her flaws (figurative and, well, figurative) work for the role. How naked does she get? (topless with a moderate ubiquity). What about James Deen? (better acting, less shots below the waist, than usual I assume). Some hyper-aware critics have referred to this picture as camp (whether it was intentional or not). There is that layer to it, but it is not played for camp in ways that make it any more entertaining (which would be the point of the affectation, no?). The better descriptor would be “meta“. While I agree this is a highly overused descriptor in our post-post-modern media landscape (e.g. NBC’s Community), it is the appropriate oeuvre, if you will, of a so-called Ellis-Schrader combo. This film not only namechecks its “real world” tabloid-life/drama surrounding its two separate leads, but it strives to be a commentary on the current state of cinema economics as it relates to the lack of oil in the dream factory cogs, so-to-speak.

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In interpretative terms Lohan(‘s character) is effectively a stand-in for the current state of Schrader’s career. (S)He is trapped in a relationship where s/he has to do what the Money says and if she wants something from him/it, she must receive approval before doing it, or simply assume she should do it to maintain the situation of having “somebody to take care of me”. She has a former lover named Ryan (Nolan Funk), or in Schrader’s case named New American Cinema, that doesn’t make money anymore, so he isn’t more than a nostalgia trip, realistically. So, even though (s)he loves it/him, she confines herself to a performance of a relationship that involves sharing herself with other sexual partners (Schrader’s foreign & Kickstarter financial backers?) at her producer boyfriend’s will. Got it?
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The Money, lovingly named after the preeminent socio-financial movement of the previous Millennium, Christian, (Deen’s character/Ellis’ attitude/the producers of every failed Schrader film) is so self-obsessed and lacking actual humanity/creativity that it/he merely does what it wants when it wants, lies when it needs to, and generally expects everyone and everything to go along with this because it is so obviously aware of its viably essential part in the hearts and minds of the heartless and mindless eco(nomic)system. If I cared enough to elaborate further (or make it a bit more coherent), this religious/cinematic metaphor probably plays much better than I am describing (this is Paul Schrader were talking about here), especially with the head-crushing obviousness of the beginning and ending stills of hollowed out movie theaters, like glimpses into some kind of empirically existent artistic apocalypse.

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Lohan’s line, as featured prominently in the trailer, is aptly meta, where she asks in a rhetorically Schraderesque way: “Do you really like movies? When’s the last time you went to see a movie in a theatre? You know, a movie that you really thought meant something to you?” For the indoctrinated so-called cinephile like myself, who are fortunate to (at least currently) have a great University Cinema (surely existent only because of tax dollars and philanthropy), this very relevant cultural question may not personally apply quite much as of yet. Yet, for the rest of America and much of the so-called late-capitalist Globe, this is an important thing to ponder. Schrader, Ellis, and yes, even possibly Lohan (on an unconscious level, I suppose) are clearly positing a question: Why create art for the masses if they are going to download it from iTunes steal it and watch it on a tiny handheld screen while consuming it like so much detritus amongst the multitasking multitudes? Why bother producing/writing/acting in/directing a film at all, if everyone expects you to be awful in it or views it as a joke before it even starts? According to me these are questions you should be asking when watching this otherwise relatively conventional, digital motion-picture product. If you don’t, it might just be too boring (though I admit Deen holds what attention he can working within the strictures of his Ellis penned aw-shucks-sociopath).

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IF this was Schrader or Lohan’s last film, I would say it is an apt closing “fuck you” to everyone. Travis Bickle or Patrick Bateman responded to their environments with violence. In this later, aged, though debatably more mature time, our younger (though arguably just as emotionally weathered) protagonist(s) has no outlet for escape. The institutional hegemony (here the Money/Hollywood/Deen’s character) has all the power. He/It must always be “in control”. And so we are, at least within the confines of this depiction of Hollywood, without hope. Yet, unlike a depiction of post-Vietnam or Reagan-era type despair, the options for rebellion now seem controlled by forces beyond individualist action. Schrader is clearly screaming under all the muted melodrama here that FILM IS DEAD. Not just the celluloid factories that physically produce the film stock, but the culture of inquisitiveness and cultural dialogue that projected it. And, of course, more essential to its creation, dead is the model for its self-sufficiency as an economic product (go see how easy it is to consume it without compensating the makers). Ellis has seemingly milked this type of post-defeatist attitude in his literary pursuits for decades. Schrader has always had a so-called outsider’s point-of-view of Cinema. Does this mean that we have to accept all this doom-and-gloom? Well, there is still Art being made. Some of it quite affecting and good. But if you think there’s a New-New American Cinema coming anytime soon, keep dreamin’ among the factory ruins. If anything, you may only be reading about it on the Internet and eventually succumb to stealing rather than hope Netflix will potentially license it for temporary streaming or that you can afford to pay for the luxury of cable channels that will make it available to temporarily rent in addition to your already exorbitant monthly bill. These are the thoughts that Schrader brings to the table: Put Lindsay Lohan in your picture, cut a trailer that (mis)appropriates your art as a properly objectified product and intentionally direct information to the media that plays up the kind of on-set antics an audience would need to expect to peak their interest. In other words, act like you’re making garbage and maybe people will flock to the smell. But, there can be interesting bits in every garbage can, if you are hungry enough to look.

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