This is part of an irregular series wherein pretend I haven’t thought of anything new to write about by writing about the last documentary I watched and tenuously trying to link it to a current pop culture phenomenon to give is a semblance of relevance. But there is a little more to my fandom of 1982’s ‘The Killing of America’ than that. Firstly, if the lurid warning above doesn’t set alarm bells off, and you’re of a sensitive/normal disposition, don’t watch this documentary — that’s as close to a NSFW warning as you’ll get from me. I’ve long been fascinated with the mondo strain of extreme documented cinema, but I’m repelled by the frequent violence against animals in them (Victor Schonfeld’s ‘The Animals Film’ is a much better use of that kind of footage) in the infamous ‘Faces of Death’ and earlier Antonio Climati/Mario Morra productions like ‘Ultime Grida Dalla Savana.’ While the genre is often without merit, I still think that the “cargo cult” scene at the end of 1962’s ‘Mondo Cane’ (partly soundtracked by Riz Ortolani, whose work was on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack) is an affecting piece of footage. Laugh it up, but I’d sooner worship that crude plane reproduction than the stuff you’re deifying on your Pinterest boards.
As a child, I was obsessed by the idea of ‘Faces of Death’ — at school, a fellow pupil claimed to have seen it, and described a scene where an ill-fated parachutist drops into a crocodile enclosure at a zoo. It’s worth noting that with maturity, I have less inclination to view this strain of exploitation, but I would love to see that scene. It turns out that my classmate was just a liar. The majority of ‘Faces of Death’s human atrocity is hoax footage, and even the memorable “death” of Pit Dernitz, the tourist eaten by lions on exiting his vehicle was fake, albeit a fake convincing enough to move Gerhard Richter into immortalising the incident in 1990’s ‘Tourist (with 2 Lions)’ painting. These were the days when incidents like a death on a Noel Edmonds show were discussed among peers, but never televised, and the cult of amateur footage had yet to grow into something bigger and murkier.
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“Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re running out of you.” George Costanza, ‘The Comeback’
For all the sharp attire, Bret Easton Ellis exudes the aura of don’t-give-a-fuck. Thought ‘Lunar Park’ was lacking? Bet you wouldn’t have the balls to confront him on it at an upcoming reading for fear of public putdown. Garrett McDonough’s account of an embarrassing meeting was published in ‘The Believer’ last July, and is worth your time. The joke was on us, as he rohypnoled the reader just as they were enjoying a fictional autobiographic device, and parodied Stephen King’s narrative approach with the usual self-referential splattergun targeted. What then, can we expect from ‘Imperial Bedrooms’, the sequel to ‘Less Than Zero’?
We know this is a sequel because he’s using the Elvis Costello titles again. Seeking more of the clinically detached horror only Ellis can depict (and I’m reliably informed that ‘Imperial Bedrooms’ cooly delivers in that regard), and anticipating the author’s character cameos, there’s one irritation. We Brits aren’t getting the book until early July, whereas the Americans could pick it up last monday. Leaving me wide open for spoilers like one of Ellis’s shackled victims, I’ve waited 20 years to read a follow-up (I can’t pretend I’ve been in anticipation since the original 1985 release).That’s not to say the characters haven’t been busy—Ellis screwed Blair in ‘Lunar Park’, Julian cropped up in ‘The Informers’ and Clay narrated in ‘Rules of Attraction’. These were fleeting appearances. I need more than that.
I need to read ‘Imperial Bedrooms’ now. How hard is it to release a book in the UK and US simultaneously? If it was about a boy wizard, the launch would be global. Self-destructive youths now “grown up”? No ones giving out goody bags with the first purchases. Presumably the delay leading up to July 1st is for Bret to visit Europe and answer the same questions regarding violence, reality TV, gaps between books, his current residence and filmic adaptations. I need my blank-faced introspection-defying fix. For the casual literary shock tactics, Ellis critics circa. 1985 might want to look at 2010’s preoccupation with dead eyed reality shows to provoke the have-nots into aspiration, powder-nosed “celebs” spreading their legs exiting expensive vehicles, and a solemn obsession with labels and soulless, heavily marketed, electronic objects of desire.
According to IMDB, the rights have been grabbed, and the film adaptation is set for 2012. Bret was right to be less than happy with 1987’s ‘Less Than Zero’. The film is garbage. Shock value was shorn in favour of a TV movie atmosphere complete with sledgehammer drug moralising. Leave anything to bubble for more than a decade and the ‘cult’ tag is applied by default, but it bears such little resemblance to the novel that it’s astonishing. Sure, there’s Ray Bans and yayo, but that’s it. Downey Jr. broods by swimming pools, Andrew McCarthy would be better off with Bernie for a weekend, Jami Gertz is beautiful but dull…atrocious. 1 of 2 great things in the movie is James Spader’s reptilian turn as Rip.
Spader spent much of the ’80s as some kind of nemesis for Andrew McCarthy. Brat pack typecasting at its best had him down as the jerk’s jerk. As rich Steff McKee in ‘Pretty in Pink’ he tried to drive a wedge between Andrew and Molly. As rich Mr. Richards in supernatural sex doll comedy ‘Mannequin’ he tried to stop Andrew boning a dummy. As rich Rip in ‘Less Than Zero’ he even exercises some fleck-shirted kung fu styles against Andrew in trying to undermine his attempts at drug intervention. The long coats, orange v-necks, slicked hair and floating phones give Rip a certain cool too. That’s not to say he’s anything like Bret’s Rip. As snide a character as he is, Spader’s Rip is barely as monstrous as the one depicted on paper. It wasn’t until 1990 that I saw Spader as an almost-good guy, when he played a put-upon…surprise, surprise…yuppie, dragged to the dark side in the underrated ‘Bad Influence’. He was no angel there either.
At least jerk-nemesis George Costanza took revenge on the Spader’s character in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Apology’ where we find out his misbehaviour was down to an alcohol problem that relapses courtesy of Costanza.
The film’s other strong point is the Rick Rubin coordinated soundtrack. Slayer covering Iron Butterfly? Poison doing Kiss? Strangely, other than two classics from LL Cool J and Public Enemy (later included on 2 essential albums), The Bangles’ cover version of ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’ is a highlight. While the book dwells on The Go-Go’s, another beautiful girl group with faint alt-rock tendencies (Susannah Hoff was one of the most stunning women in music) is a fair replacement, and the aggressive undertones to their cover suit the source material. The same cover version was also used to winning effect in Powell’s 1994 ‘Suburban Diners’ video. An emotional Roy Orbison contribution (released a year before his death) sounds like a dry run for Rubin’s Johnny Cash collaborations. Strange that something so emotive could be written by no less than Glenn Danzig. And not a ghoul, murderer or sexual assault in sight.