Film is something we do. We just do. Whether we watch the big budget block-busters or involve ourselves with Bergman’s Persona or Tarkovsky’s Stalker, we engage nonetheless, as a unit, in a way that is far and wide removed from all other art forms. Film is about a shared experience, however singular your intake. Not everybody reads, nor does everybody enjoy looking at paintings on walls in museums, and I have even, believe it or not, actually met a few folks who don’t even care for music, but: Golly, did you all catch that new spidey flick? Everybody goes to the movies—kids, teenagers, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents. Everybody searches endlessly through their Netflix accounts on the weekends—EVERYBODY. Everybody (at least those of us born before 1990) feels that little pang of nostalgia whenever they come across an old VHS tape in their attic while spring cleaning. I’m tired of reading articles about writers talking about writing and other writers and whatever else it is writers write and talk about. So here it is, folks: writers writing about exactly those things—whatever that means.
First up is Kevin Maloney.
Kevin Maloney is the author of Cult of Loretta (Lazy Fascist Press, 2015). His stories have appeared in Hobart, PANK, and Monkeybicycle. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his girlfriend and daughter.
Burden of Dreams
During a 2006 interview with the BBC, a sniper shot German director Werner Herzog in the stomach with an air rifle. Despite the bloodstain on his shirt, he insisted on continuing, saying, “It’s not a significant bullet.” Sometimes I worry that our generation of writers is soft. We write what we know, and in the process, we neglect the epic. I love Werner Herzog for doing the opposite: creating symphonic, grandiose art. Art so big it endangers people. Art that verges on madness. This mania is captured in Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams, a documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo. In one scene, Herzog delivers a speech about the jungle that includes the glorious line: “The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing; they just screech in pain.”
The truth is I hate most movies. I’m almost always disappointed by their lack of gumption. In literature, there are so many blazing oddities: Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, William Burroughs, Harry Crews. But movies require budgets and actors. Making a movie is like running a small business, and the result is that most feature films feel like 90-minute infomercials concocted by advertising executives. Every once in a while a movie comes along that not only defies this rule, but takes a shit on it. Gummo is one of those movies. It is genuinely fucked up. Harmony Korine depicts an America we know exists, but which we rarely see on screen because it is beyond redemption, and most of us require redemption with our darkness. Gummo is just the darkness.
I only get stoned about once every two years. The most recent time was in a canoe. The time before that was right before watching Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida. I haven’t seen the movie since, so I have no idea how it holds up to sober viewing. But stoned, it was a psychedelic experience. I kept saying, “Wait, so this is real? These are actual people?” Errol Morris goes down the rabbit hole of humanity and finds a turkey hunter named Snake and a preacher lecturing at bizarre length about the word “therefore.” At one point, three old-timers sit outside a general store arguing about the best way to commit suicide with a shotgun. Every one of these people is worthy of a Flannery O’Connor story, but in Morris’s deadpan documentary, it’s just another day in Vernon.
There’s a reason every college student in America has this movie poster hanging on their dorm room wall. Watching it is a rite of passage, a journey from light into darkness. It’s like reading Crime and Punishment and The Idiot in 113 minutes. But Travis Bickle is more complex than any Dostoyevsky character. He’s the place where the saint becomes the sinner, where good touches evil. There are so many great scenes in this movie, but my favorite is the climactic shootout. Apparently the scene was too gruesome for the ratings board; in order to get an “R” rating, Scorsese de-saturated the film, giving the ubiquitous blood an orange, almost rust color. The result is haunting and dreamlike, one of the few instances when a change made to appeal to censors actually improved a film.
My Own Private Idaho
I was pretty good at football in the 6th grade, but by middle school I was a gangly giraffe lining up across from young men who’d very much gone through puberty. One day at practice, the coaches wanted us to run into each other as fast as possible for the satanic purpose of discovering which of us would get up afterwards and beg for more. I wasn’t having any of it. I took off my helmet and walked into the forest and looked up into the canopy of trees and marveled at the beautiful shapes the branches made as they laced together a hundred feet above me. A few days later, I watched My Own Private Idaho for the first time. Everything about it fascinated me: gay street kids, hustlers, narcolepsy, Portland, Oregon circa 1991. Maybe I just had a big crush on River Phoenix… I don’t know. Whatever it was, I quit sports, declared myself an artist, and never looked back.