Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is an electric fever-dream of a movie. It’s a swan dive into ego and madness shot with the kinetic motion of a seemingly unedited single shot.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
There is popular lore that novel Leaving Las Vegas was author John O’Brien’s “suicide note,” and that he killed himself upon learning that his book would be made into a movie. The idea of Leaving Las Vegas being a suicide note unintentionally originated with a letter O’Brien’s sister Erin wrote to Nicolas Cage after John O’Brien’s death, and with a New York Times article that claims his father also called the book his suicide note. It’s an poetic idea, but it seems to oversimplify the life and literary ambitions of John O’Brien.
On “Big Edie” Beale’s death bed her daughter “Little Edie” asked her if there was anything she wanted to say. According to Little Edie she replied “There’s nothing more to say, it’s all in the film.” Groundbreaking documentary filmmakers The Maysles Brothers presented Big and Little Edie Beale to the world in 1975 with the splendid documentaryGrey Gardens, a film that rivets you where you need to be riveted, if you’ve got the groove for it.
Mariel Hemingway is attempting the lift the “curse” of self-destruction that plagues her gifted and beautiful family. The patriarchal figure, Ernest Hemingway, whose golden words still seduce the masses, is at once a symbol of robust life, and of alcoholism, depression, and suicide. There is growing research that indicates these traits: alcoholism and mental illness are often linked to genetics. Of course, a toxic or emotionally unstable family life can lead to mood problems regardless of the genetics – whether it’s nature or nurture or a poison soup of both, madness tends to run in families. In Running From Crazy, a Barbara Kopple directed documentary film that came out last year and is now getting a run on Oprah’s OWN Network, Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel Hemingway confronts her family’s decades-long curse of despair in an attempt to understand it and break free of it.
The Room’s auteur Tommy Wiseau is an American. That’s the first thing he’d probably want you to know about him. And he’s right, he is American, and like most Americans and their ancestors, Tommy is an immigrant, but he doesn’t like to talk about that. He’d prefer that fans of his magical film experience believe he’s from Louisiana, where he spent some time with his aunt and uncle before settling down in San Francisco in the 1970s, but his broken English and tangled accent are embarrassingly obvious tells. It’s been tracked down that Tommy was probably born in Poland and he has often said he spent a good part of his younger days in France, which accounts for his mixed accent. Most people would think nothing of mentioning their native country even if they want to keep some details private. For Tommy Wiseau, all details are private and the truth is something that you construct for yourself. Tommy isn’t interested in the wonderful mixing of cultures in the United States, instead he’s locked on with a vice-grip to an important American trope: The Self-Made Man. This dude is vampiric absurdist Don Draper who everyone knows is really Dick Whitman.
For Ushio Shinohara, one of the subjects of the 2013 documentary Cutie and The Boxer, art is more than a passion: it is a dire fight. Figuratively, yes. But also literally. He makes his signature pieces by strapping sponges to boxing gloves and aggressively attacking the canvas. The finished product is captivating and reflects the violence of its making, but watching Ushio making it is a visceral performance art in itself. The tiny self up against the vast and awful and sparkling world, fighting for a piece of it. Wanting to snatch the marrow out of it, wanting to eviscerate the disappointments of it. Wanting to be rewarded for the fight. Punching at the demon at his heels, making it stronger all the while. Ushio kind of likes his demons. We all do to an extent.
The latest Beat Generation movie focuses on the murder that looms in the background of all Beat literature and lore. Kill Your Darlings is about when Lucien Carr, (Dane DeHaan) a Columbia student who was friends with Beat Generation superstars William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allan Ginsburg, murdered David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall,) an older man who was obsessed with him. Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs both played a role in the murder that landed them briefly behind bars.