Talking Movies

December 15, 2019

From the Archives: The Killing of John Lennon

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This film should not have been made as, apart from the dubious taste involved, it is deeply uncinematic. You could have someone read The Catcher in the Rye for two hours over an art installation style collage of alternating images of cornfields and New York City and it would be just as cinematic as The Killing of John Lennon. It would be a sight more interesting and would provide just as much genuine insight into the psyche of Lennon’s assassin Mark Chapman. Jonas Ball, who bears a startling resemblance to Rules of Attraction star Kip Pardue, is extremely mannered as Chapman. He confuses wild-eyed stares into the camera with insight into an extremely troubled mind, while director Andrew Piddington confuses exhaustive amounts of voiceover and detailed reconstructions of crime scenes with dramatic interest and momentum.

The problem with this film is its lack of context. We do not get an insight from the point of view of any other characters into the gradual decline of Chapman’s mental health, if that is indeed what happened. Instead all we get is a solipsistic voiceover by Chapman ‘justifying’ his actions by endless references to the hidden messages he finds in JD Salinger’s classic novel The Catcher in the Rye and his repeated self-pitying mantra that in finding his purpose in life, he lost himself. If Mark Chapman was a deeply troubled individual with a psychiatric condition he deserves sympathy but not freedom as he would still be dangerous. However the disturbing thought that can’t be shaken when watching this film and listening to the endless ramblings drawn from Chapman’s own diary entries and criminal testimonies is that there’s nothing wrong with him at all.

Was he merely a loser who at the age of 25 realised how to get out of taking any responsibility for the rest of his life by achieving a life of incarceration, and fame at the same time, by attaching himself to an icon? Just as John Wilkes Booth will always be remembered for assassinating Abraham Lincoln in a theatre, and JFK’s memory will always have the dark shadow of Lee Harvey Oswald hanging over it, so the John Lennon story ends with Mark Chapman…indeed the police chief who protects Chapman from lynching by an angry mob in the film explicitly references Lee Harvey Oswald. Chapman’s first journey from Honolulu to NYC to kill Lennon ends when he has an emotional epiphany while watching Ordinary People. This is a perfect point to walk out of the cinema as things only become more aggravating afterwards. Ultimately this film is so boring that when the timeline ‘12 hours 49 minutes left’ arrives you will wish Chapman would just shoot Lennon already and get it over with. No more savage indictment of this dubious undertaking could be made.

1/5

January 8, 2016

Bret Easton Ellis: Page to Screen

Bret Easton Ellis has written seven books, four have been filmed, and two of those have been set in Los Angeles. And yet they are by far the weakest of the Ellis adaptations… Here’s a teaser of my piece for HeadStuff on those adaptations.

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“I stand back from the unfinished canvas. I realise that I would rather spend my money on drugs than on art supplies” – The Rules of Attraction (novel)

While Hollywood was premiering his debut, mangled to appeal to perceived Reaganised teenagers, Ellis published his sophomore novel The Rules of Attraction, in which the influence of Reaganism is present in the Freshmen wanting a weight room and vetoing Louis Farrakhan as a speaker. Camden College life in the 1985 Fall term is narrated in short vignettes by Sean Bateman, Paul Denton, Lauren Hynde, and some secondary characters. An unreliable picture emerges from their overlapping experiences at parties, cafeteria lunches, hook-ups, classes, and trips to town. Denton narrates a secret affair with Bateman, Bateman narrates a minor friendship with Denton, Bateman and Lauren hook up for a disastrous relationship which both record very differently, and Bateman’s secret admirer (who he thought was Lauren) kills herself when he sleeps with Lauren. STDs and abortions are the frequent price of the casual sex merry-go-round of Camden’s never-ending party, and Lauren pays in full. Ellis’ dialogue is a marvel, with one-liners aplenty in concisely captured conversations, while the trademark pop culture references (everybody is listening to Little Creatures) are married to more nuanced narration. Denton, the most self-aware and self-critical character, eschews auditioning for the Shepard play because his life already is one. Spielberg is memorably critiqued for being secular humanism not rigorous modernism, but mostly these intelligent characters play dumb because excess is what’s expected.

“What does that mean? Know me? Know me? Nobody knows anyone else. Ever. You will never, ever know me” – The Rules of Attraction (film)

Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary adapted and directed the novel, and Ellis dubbed the 2002 film “the one movie that captured my sensibility in a visual and cinematic language.” The rise of independent cinema meant Avary could cast James Van Der Beek as Bateman without bowdlerising the novel. The film is alternately shocking (it opens with the rape of Shannyn Sossamon’s Lauren), hilarious (Denton [Ian Somerhalder] and Dick [Russell Sams] perform an entirely improvised dance to ‘Faith’ in their underwear), and romantic (an extended split-screen sequence shows Bateman and Lauren finally meeting at their Saturday morning tutorial). Avary stylishly plays out the climactic ‘End of the World’ party from three viewpoints before winding back to the start of term, and situates Camden in a temporal twilight zone; with broadband internet but a 1980s soundtrack of The Cure and Erasure. Avary radically changes Lauren’s character, by throwing many of her traits onto loose roommate Lara (Jessica Biel). Lauren is now a virgin, waiting for Victor to return from Europe, whereas in the book she waited on Victor while sleeping with Franklyn. From being a mirror of Bateman, who sleeps with her friend while being in love with Lauren, she becomes a Madonna. There’s no longer an alienated road-trip with Sean ending with an abortion, just as Sean’s affair with Denton is reduced to one split-screen scene implicitly showing Denton’s fantasy. Avary’s changes make more violent and consequential Bateman’s successive breaks with Lauren and Denton, when she tells Bateman he will never know her, and he repeats her lines to Denton. Denton and Lauren’s snowy encounter after the ‘End of the World’ party, scored by Tomandandy with electronic eeriness, becomes a haunting summation: “Doesn’t matter anyway. Not to people like him. Not to people like us.” Lauren’s momentary self-condemnatory thought, unsaid in the novel, is spoken and brings things close to Gatsby’s “careless people … they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money.”

Click here to read the full piece on HeadStuff.org.

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