Archive for the ‘WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY John Cameron Mitchell’ Category

Rabbit Hole

25 Feb

Rabbit Hole — directed by John Cameron Mitchell – melodrama: a couple’s career through grief for a dead child.  91 minutes color 2010.


Rabbit Hole plays like A Guidebook For Grief Therapy, and as such, as a series of “customary” moves, the screenplay is paltry. It plays like a statistic. No actor, no matter how demonically inspired, can lift the lid off of such routine writing. In the big confrontation scene: neither actor can break free of the banality of the lines; they both hit a very low concrete ceiling, and are fantastically monotonous. Naturally, there are side compensations when you have actors of this genius and experience before your eyes. Nicole Kidman plays the whole first part of the story with something going on with her lower lip. What she is holding in is a mortal bitterness. She is always watchable; one is always drawn to her. But Aaron Eckhart, bears o relation to her, for once again he is miscast in a leading man role. Like Leonardo de Caprio he is not a leading man. He is a character lead, which is quite different. He is brilliant in such roles, but a leading man requires a different inner life and a different inborn gift. Richard Widmark began in films the same way Eckhart has – playing maniacs, one after another, brilliantly, and then insisting on being cast as a leading man, or, at least, let us say, a man faithful to his suburban wife. Eckhart should probably do Shakespeare for the next ten years, for, as a leading man, he does not stick to the ribs. Dianne Wiest is riveting as the lower class mother of Kidman; she can give weight to the most prosaic script and does so here. And then we have the great Sandra Oh! Aha! She plays a woman in a Grief Workshop, and her scenes with Eckhart are simply killing. I have never seen an actress of such registration. Her long oval Japanese face is like an ancient and immovable drawing which come to life in the subtlest of ripples. Her scene with Eckhart smoking dope in a parked car is smashing. Give this woman an Oscar for goodness sake. Talent of this order belongs on a postage stamp. And in front of you in a movie theatre. The film is drab, and does not accord with its director’s imaginative temperament.  So go, for the female performances. If I have splattered the screen for its cheap and easy script, and for the routinization of the loss of a child, well, that is a well-deserved public dishonor. It has not shed its disgrace on those performing it.



24 Feb

Shortbus — written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Sex Comedy. Various souls with sexual blocks end up at a sexual retreat.  101 minutes 2006.


Well, sex is fun! That sure is demonstrated with great gusto here — a quality I do not find pornography itself to possess. The notion, however, that sex leads somewhere, that it by itself can open up connection to another, which is a theme here, is false. Each of the main characters has a sexual hang up, each one is stymied. And I do not quite believe that the resolution of each of these hang-ups is real. What I do believe is real is the director himself entering into the orgy scenes but not being able to perform. Voyeurism is a form of participation, yes, but his constraint, or his wish, by making the film, to break restraint, is perhaps the real truth here. John Cameron Mitchell directed Hedwig And The Angry Inch before this and The Rabbit Hole after it, which proves that the word genius does not mean one has a genius for everything. This story of sexual resolution through the ministrations of a sex salon is much closer to his polemic than, let’s say, his directing a June Allyson movie would be. Great directors are great because they have their natural affinities; Raoul Walsh directs quirky action pictures with stories that smash right through. The word métier does not mean profession; it means a particular inner and personal execution of that profession. As to Mitchell’s gay polemic, I do wish we could all live Rabelaisian lives. Prudery, though, is natural. Sexual repression isn’t. Uninhibited sex is natural. Religious sexual stricture isn’t. Foreskins are natural. Circumcision isn’t. Is any of that true? What is curious, above all in this picture, is that each of the main characters has a sexual hang up, but that none of them relate it to the fact that each one of them has the wrong job or no job. What is the relation to sexual obsession, either anorectic or satyriasic, and actual calling? The film is unconscious in the matter. All praise to the director, though, and the whole cast, orgy and all. I was particularly moved by Paul Dawson’s acting; I believed him every moment. Don’t rent this picture, though, and pretend you don’t know beforehand that in it there are all sorts of sexual scenes shown, sans fig leaf. It is not a picture to be watched by hypocrites.



Hedwig And The Angry Inch

23 Feb

Hedwig And The Angry Inch – written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Rock Opera. A transvestite rock singer seeks retribution for the theft of his songs by a rock superstar. 95 minutes Color 2001.


At the heart of Hedwig lies the soul-scar we all carry, one which would revolt and horrify others were it known, so we suppose, perhaps with justification. To countermand and also commandeer this defect, Hedwig fashions himself into being a rock singer. Of course, it works and it does not work. The platform upon this performance is built is that Hedwig is also an orphan, raped by his father and abused by his mother, and eventually sold into marriage with a handsome black pedophile soldier, who eventually shucks him off for fresh chicken. His parents abandon him, this soldier abandons him, his band member lover abandons him, and his songwriting partner abandons him and steals his material and becomes a star. Hedwig is abandoned. But Hedwig is not his name. For he also abandons his name and takes his mother’s name, puts on glitz rags and Farah wigs and flames at the head of a band, Hedwig And The Angry Inch. That is to say, abandoned, he becomes abandoned. He becomes abandoned to being abandoned. He becomes not just a performer, but one who throws everything away. I mention all this because the actor who plays this part is fed by his relation to this background, and his genius does not stand apart from it. So it is impossible to give any kind of technical breakdown or analysis of a performance so profoundly integrated and so grounded that there is no risk the actor takes that proves an error. It means the actor will know instinctually what the camera can and cannot do in his favor. Of course, in one sense, the actor is operating with the full cooperation of his makeup table. The variety of being he is able to paint with this makeup ranges right left and up and down. There are times his darkened eyes are darkened thus not to blantantize an emotion but to frame the masterpiece of a subtle tragic twinge. His face is responsive and to be read, to be followed, to be empathized with. He’s a wonderful actress. He could play Medea. The film itself is not a documentary of the stage version, which Mitchell also performed. The only loss from it is his repartee with the audience – at the Victoria in San Francisco, say, where I saw it performed twice without Mitchell at all. The gain is large because of Mitchell’s sense of the décor of a mess of wigs and everything else. Somewhat over-edited, the film offers the tremendous carrying power of the close-up. The songs, which tend to be collegiately polemic, are not as good as the story, and the story is not as good as his performance, which is the raison d’etre of all. His supporting cast is splendid, especially the young man who plays his band mate lover. See Mitchell do it. He’s a singing scar.


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