Every year, when the days get shorter and Vienna starts to get even more depressing than usual, there is at least one good reason to leave the house: the Viennale. In contrast to those other international film festivals whose audience is a mixture of chain smoking men in suits buying and selling film rights (the so-called Industry), and those poorly shod experts of the blag who are paid to write about film, the Viennese Film Festival is a festival for the public. That means me, you, and everyone we know are able to buy tickets and attend almost all of the screenings.
Which is what I’ve been doing. Quite excessively in fact. This has had me trying to figure out the quickest way between the different screenings and yes, sometimes falling asleep in the cinema (despite the fact that there’s often more caffeine in my body than there is hemoglobin). I feel like I’ve been living in some parallel dimension, caught up in the world of serial killers, murderers and heinous crimes. This is wholly my own fault, due my decision to focus on this year’s excellent retrospective about Fritz Lang, Austria’s most important and visionary son of cinema on the one hand, and the special program They Wanted to See Something Different, curated by Jörg Buttgereit on the other.
While other people enjoy talking about celebrity guests when referring to the festival’s biannual cycle (Jane Fonda 07, Tilda Swinton 09, Harry Belafone 11), I prefer to concentrate on the weird trash cinema cycle, which began, somewhat hopefully, with the Larry Cohen tribute in 2010. Cohen is the master of B movies who started his career as writer for TV shows like Columbo in the 60s and came back to his original field when he directed the Masters of Horror episode Pick Me Up in 2006. To focus on his oeuvre was a witty decision, for in between those two touchstones were countless celluloid gems like God Told Me To (1976), Q – The Winged Serpent (1982) and Phone Booth (2002), the Joel Schumacher flick for which he penned the script.
After a break in 2011, this year’s Viennale calls once more upon its skills for delving into the abnormal, the weird and the, well, bad (if you were to take the word of most film critics). The motto, “They wanted to see something different” is a line stripped out of the trailer for The Hills Have Eyes, the centerpiece of this year’s special program. But they left out the best bit of the slogan, which continues, “but something different saw them first!” Indeed, its only in its entirety that the slogan can accurately sum up what all of this year’s selected movies were about—the fear of the unknown which is awaiting us at the end of a journey, the metaphorical bogeymen lying in wait for when we leave the beaten path. Jörg Buttgereit’s choice of films is as excellent as you would have expected it from the director of Nekromantik. Whether we as an audience came across terror in outer space (as in Alien or in the weird Italian movie Terrore Nello Spazio) or in the backcountry (which feels about as strange and far away from us city boys as foreign galaxies) the careful curation and mixture of obscure and mainstream made it consistently worth the ticket price.
That some of these films functioned more as contemporary artefacts which are more likely to illuminate gender relations and the political climate of a certain time than they are to provide actual scares, hardly needs to be articulated. However, there are those special few—the best of these movies—that manage to do both. And really, is there anything better than that?
There comes a time in the life of every TV junkie who makes a living writing about it when suddenly it all becomes about Charlie Sheen. This is an inevitable fact. To me it should have already happened a few weeks ago, when the Hollywood badass’s new show Anger Management aired on FX, but thanks to a stroke of fate another famous comedian made his reappearance on TV the same day – and the same network for that matter. It’s what I call a bi-winning situation. Louis C.K. returns with the first episode of his fabulous 3rd season of Louie , and I didn’t have to deal with what I expected to be a spectacular fail. Then yesterday I watched Apocalyse Now and was stunned by the amount of Post-Empireness young Charlie Sheen was probably getting right from the cradle.
It was Bret Easton Ellis who came up with the distinction between Empire and Post-Empire in an article for Newsweek and The Daily Beast on March 15th of last year. Two weeks prior, Sheen had given an exclusive interview to ABC News’ Andrea Canning which immediately went viral. The performance he had given was mind-blowing, over the top. People got a taste of the drug Charlie Sheen and – as he predicted – they couldn’t handle it, most likely due to a lack of Tiger blood. Shortly after Charlie Sheen got dismissed from Two and a Half Men, which was around the same time the author of Less Than Zero and American Psycho praised Sheen as the one who had understood the fundamental mechanisms of showbiz. As Ellis put it:
Post-Empire isn’t just about admitting doing “illicit” things publicly and coming clean—it’s a (for now) radical attitude that says the Empire lie doesn’t exist anymore, you friggin’ Empire trolls. To Empire gatekeepers, Charlie Sheen seems dangerous and in need of help because he’s destroying (and confirming) illusions about the nature of celebrity.
I’m not sure if Ellis would agree with me, but that is what has been most exciting since the beginnings of Hollywood stardom. Think Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger’s encyclopedia of early Hollywood dark sides and scandals. Think the New Hollywood movement and its excesses that make Sodom and Gomorrah seem like a bible group. And, of course, think Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic movie with not only one actor on the brink of insanity – but all of them. And right in the middle of it: Martin Sheen, father of Charlie Sheen.
The only difference between now and then is celebrities now embrace their flaws and admit their misbehavior publicly. This what Bret Easton Ellis calls Post-Empire.
Charlie Sheen had that bad boy attitude for years, at least for as long as Two and a Half Men has been running, and you couldn’t say for sure what came first: the chicken or the egg. Though one thing is certain: after Sheen’s firing, the show lost its balance and turned into pure shit. Instead of a dumbass and a badass playing the same joke over and over again, there were suddenly two dumbasses (Ashton Kutcher as the admittedly lucky second dumbass, but still), without a single decent joke to be heard in the whole godforsaken mess of a sitcom.
Sheen on the other hand, moved on – at least if you consider attending of The Gathering of the Juggalos moving on. There also was The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen, which wasn’t terrible, and of course his new show, Anger Management. This one is based on the tepid Adam Sandler comedy of the same name. As you can imagine, a show spinning off a movie from Adam Sandler’s (ongoing) streak of lackluster films isn’t exactly an equation for comedy gold. It won’t come as a surprise that the unhinged main character as played by Charlie Sheen is named Charlie, but I suppose the only thing actually fitting for a larger-than-life celebrity like Sheen would be a biopic.
If my last column didn’t tip you off, I like to write about TV shows. Obviously I love sitting in front of the computer or TV for hours or sometimes even for days, while characters evolve, stories gain momentum and I get sucked deeper and deeper into a fictional world. But hey (and this may come as a surprise) I also like reading books. For this reason, I’d like to dedicate this post to the common ground between the written word and TV shows. Not so much television which is based on books, such as Dexter, Gossip Girl, The Walking Dead and last weeks topic: Game of Thrones. Rather, I wanna focus on programs that have nothing to do with actual literature, but become something close to it… or at least try to.
My first encounter with extraterrestrial bad literature was based on Fox Mulder and Dana Scully’s X-Files. Back in the days it was much easier for me to get my hands on the books than to watch the actual TV show. All I can remember is one story about – no joke – cows and sheep that were mysteriously killed in a small rural county. I also had this ‘non fiction’ book which was called something like ‘The Truth Behind the Truth is Out There’ and pretended to contain scientific proof of alien life on earth.
Throughout the following years the X-Files books worked like a vaccine against producers’ aims to squeeze another buck out of me, the loyal customer. I didn’t even notice written offshoots of TV shows – with two exceptions: the book The Bro Code is written by a the fictitious character called Barney from How I Met Your Mother and it’ss some kind of guidebook on how to get women, but alas, I’ve neither watched the TV show nor read the book. I have to admit though I was tempted to buy a book that, similar to The Bro Code, was written by another character from one of my favorite shows from back in the day: God Hates Us All by Hank Moody. In the Showtime series Californication, David Duchovny plays an author who suffers from writer’s block after the success of his first book (the above mentioned). But then the show turned into shit after the second season and, expecting the same from the book, I chose to forget about it.
So it took approximately eighteen years until I bought a book from a TV show and I promise you, it’s worth every dime. It’s called How To Archer, and it’s based on the FX show Archer about a secret agency called ISOS in New York – and it’s just as funny as the TV show. So the conclusion could be: creators that are responsible for great pieces of TV probably come up with good books. Who would have thunk it?