A remarkably lucid and enjoyable riff on an unfilmable (some say unreadable) book — William S. Burroughs’ cult novel about addiction and dehumanization. Burroughs had been one of Cronenberg’s biggest influences (Nabokov was another, and I’d have given anything to have seen Cronenberg adapt Lolita instead of Adrian Lyne), so it was a neat fit. Cronenberg doesn’t even pretend to “adapt” Burroughs in any conventional sense. He draws from Burroughs’ life and from scattered incidents in the book, supplying a context for the writing of the novel. Cronenberg liked to joke that he and Burroughs had stepped into the telepod together, and what emerged from the other telepod was the movie. Peter Weller’s hilariously deadpan performance as bug exterminator and struggling writer Bill Lee seems to bear this out: he looks and sounds like a fusion of the author and the director. A lot of weird fun, with an eclectic cast including Judy Davis (in two roles), Ian Holm, Roy Scheider (having a ball as Doc Benway), and Mugwumps built by Chris Walas. Both a making-of book and documentary were released (and now hard to find). Burroughs died in 1998.
Archive for December 1991
Oliver Stone’s take on the events at Dealey Plaza is a big, thick piece of work, a leatherbound refutation of the Warren Commission Report — a thrilling piece of moviemaking and (to use Stone’s term) “alternate-mythmaking.” It ended the year on a note of controversy when shrill journalists from coast to coast attacked it as “inaccurate” (a tactic the news media would later repeat with Nixon) and gay groups denounced it as homophobic (for its scenes of suspect Clay Shaw at play with shady men). Kevin Costner gives a Jimmy Stewart gloss to his performance as Jim Garrison, the discredited D.A. who wouldn’t accept the government’s official version of Kennedy’s murder. In real life, Garrison (who does a cameo here as Earl Warren, and who died the year after the film’s release) was said to be much less noble and competent than the Costnerized hero, but Stone’s apparent blind spot doesn’t matter much. Stone needed someone around which to build his inquiry into the event, and Garrison was it.
Besides, his storytelling has never been more vivid or compact; even at three hours plus, the movie never bogs down. And the climax, in which Garrison/Stone demonstrates pretty convincingly that Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t have done it, is both terrifying and triumphant. The sight of a multi-million-dollar Hollywood production taking on the radical viewpoint of a Howard Zinn-style alternate history is undeniably electrifying (even now, I wonder how the hell Stone got Warner Brothers to back him up). The movie’s only big flaw is that Stone never really shows what Clay Shaw — played with utmost fey sleaze by Tommy Lee Jones — had to do with the assassination or why he’s on the griddle; at most, he just seems like a middle man Garrison dug up. Still, a scathing attempt to get to the bottom of a great dark American mystery. The standouts in the huge cast: Gary Oldman disappearing inside Oswald; John Candy juicing up his scenes as a jovial Garrison contact; Donald Sutherland as “Mr. X” delivering an authoritative-sounding version of what happened, his words packed in ice. The home-video “director’s cut” runs 17 minutes longer, restoring scenes that many (including me) feel should’ve been left out, including a goofy sequence with John Larroquette as a Johnny Carson-like TV host. At least now Larroquette can say he’s in JFK.