Thursday, August 4, 2011

Still on the Bus

The Magic Bus

Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place
Directed by Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood
Starring: Ken Kesey, The Merry Pranksters, Neal Cassady, The Grateful Dead, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Stone, Larry McMurtry, and Stanley Tucci

Watching Magic Trip, a film shot in 1964 and finally put together in a coherent form some 47 years later, is like watching a home movie of a family vacation. Except the family in question is The Merry Pranksters, a band of psychedelic pioneers led by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey. And the vacation in question is a cross-country road trip, from Kesey’s Oregon farm to the New York World’s Fair, in a customized, wildly painted, 1939 school bus called Further (or Furthur), driven by Neal Cassady, who served as the model for Dean Moriarty, the main character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. And everybody on this bus was stoned on LSD most of the time. And pot. And speed. And a couple of other things.

Ken Kesey

Historically, it was quite a time. JFK had recently been murdered in Dallas. The Beatles had arrived. Vietnam was heating up. LSD was still legal. The Beat Generation, as Kerouac called it, was over. And hippies didn’t yet exist.

I might have been only 11 when The Pranksters were making their momentous journey, (and I hadn’t even heard of LSD), but I still feel a personal connection to this film. Because, in a manner of speaking, I was on the bus—though I didn’t know it yet. There’s an expression in Tom Wolfe’s comprehensive study of The Merry Pranksters, The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test: “You’re either on the bus…or off the bus.” Which I’ve always taken to mean, you’re either a Prankster at heart or you’re not.

Neal Cassady drives the bus.

And if there was ever any doubt as to where I stood with The Merry Pranksters, it was laid to rest in 1986, when I met a Prankster.

I was working in New York as a men’s magazine editor at the time, and I’d been buying stories from a writer in Oregon whose outrageous and hilarious erotic fiction had leaped out of the slush pile. Just before Thanksgiving that year, this mysterious author came to New York to visit me at the magazine office. That’s when I found out he was John Babbs aka Sometimes Missing—all the Pranksters had nicknames—younger brother of Ken Babbs aka Intrepid Traveler.

John Babbs, circa 1964.

John and I became friends, and I’d occasionally visit him in Springfield, Oregon, where a colorful cardboard cutout of Further stood on his fireplace mantle. We went camping, fished for trout—he was a passionate fisherman and wrote a novel about it, Yellow Leaves—tooled around town in his big old Mercury convertible, played full-court basketball at the YMCA, smoked a bit of weed, and drank a bit of beer. Such was the idyllic life of a Prankster in the late ’80s. Once when he visited me in New York, I hired John to help me out at the office. He spent a few days organizing into the proper pornographic categories photos for some of the magazines I was editing—good work for a Prankster if you can get it.

Robert Rosen (left) and John Babbs, 1987, New York City.

Watching Magic Trip reminded me that I hadn’t heard from John in a few years, so I got back in touch with him. He told me that he hadn’t seen the movie yet, which somehow wasn’t surprising. John seems to live outside time, outside money, outside fashion, outside most things that might demand the attention of a 21st century New Yorker.

John Babbs self-portrait: Trout Fishing in Oregon.

Magic Trip also reminded me how quickly time passes, how strange it must be for The Pranksters, many now in their 70s, to sit in a theatre and watch their youthful selves of 1964 “tootling the multitudes,” as they called it.

So, this is not a review of this time capsule of a film. It’s merely an acknowledgement that Magic Trip exists, and that I’m delighted to have finally seen this long-lost footage of the late Ken Kesey, a writer I’ve always admired and would have liked to have met; of Ken Babbs, whom I did meet, and who recently published a novel, Who Shot the Water Buffalo? based on his experiences as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam; of the Grateful Dead, when they were still The Warlocks and their job was to provide the soundtrack to the “Acid Tests,” those massive Kesey-organized gatherings where everybody drank the “electric” Kool Aid, and were probably better for it.

Before they were The Dead.

And, of course, I’m glad Magic Trip motivated me to get back in touch with John Babbs, whom I’m proud to call my friend, and who has allowed me to feel an intimate connection to a home movie that I wish I could have been part of.

Festival’s End: One Last Film, One Last Party

Originally posted May 8, 2008.
Keith Haring’s “The Last Rainforest” © The Estate of Keith Haring. 
Director Christina Clausen at Soho House.
The Universe of Keith Haring
Directed by Christina Clausen
90 minutes

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

Last Saturday evening, I attended a screening of Christina Clausen’s film The Universe of Keith Haring at the Soho House in NYC’s Meatpacking District, along with fellow bloggers Robert Rosen and Julio Malone, who’d met Clausen at a recent Tribeca Film Festival event.

I had happened to overhear about a week ago, right before a T.F.F. screening of Squeezebox!, the novelist Jay McInerney talking about the ubiquity of Haring’s work in New York in the 80s, how you could hardly walk out of your building without seeing some freshly painted Haring figures on a wall, on somebody’s jacket, on a subway platform. I remember that too, especially, for some reason, his Christmas-greeting Madonna (the Jewish one, though Haring was friends with the other) and Child. I recall walking into the Christopher Street subway station and suddenly coming upon the deceptively simple curving lines that suggested a veil, a woman’s face, and the baby she was holding, all surrounded by Haring’s signature little lines, a bit like rays but more about kinetic energy—nearly every one of his creations, no matter how bizarre, seemed to be jumping for joy.

And there’s a lot of joy in Clausen’s film. Many people loved the wiry, bespectacled Haring, including his supportive family—he had grown up in the Norman Rockwell-esque Kutztown, Pennsylvania, but came into his own in New York—and close friends such as DJ Junior Vasquez and fellow artists Kenny Scharf and Yoko Ono. Haring was very much of his time, diving into the early-80s swirling underground scene of sex (the Baths), clubs (Paradise Garage and Club 57), and rock ’n’ roll (the B-52s). Through interviews, film footage—when Haring spray-paints a mural on a wall in record time, you can almost see those kinetic lines shooting out from his own body—and narration by Haring himself (courtesy of his biographer, John Gruen), Clausen does indeed capture his universe, even as it changed with the advent of AIDS. AIDS, of course, claimed Haring in 1990; he would have been 50 on May 4.

Over champagne at the cocktail reception that followed the screening, in a little bar area next to the theater, Clausen confided to a few of us her concern that the reaction to the screening seemed “cold.” But we assured her that instead the audience appeared to be stunned by Haring’s death (Scharf nearly breaks down when speaking of it)—no matter that we knew the fact of it—after getting to know him in this way. I asked Clausen, who is Danish but lives in Rome, if she’d ever met Haring. She said she hadn’t thought so when she decided to do the film, but while going through photographs for it she realized that as a high-school student she had once seen him. At a Copenhagen museum, where he’d come to do a mural, she locked eyes with him, in a way that she now feels was meaningful.

Who knows if that encounter planted the seed for Clausen’s film? I’m just glad to have had the opportunity to wander into Keith Haring’s poly-wondrous universe, even though I feel I’ve been there before.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sex Slaves: We Deliver (Esclavas Sexuales: Servicio a Domicilio)

Originally posted September 27, 2007.
Adriana (Paulina Gaitán) and Jorge (César Ramos) in their Mexico City home, in Trade, before the Russian mob snatches Adriana off the street.

Adriana (Paulina Gaitán) y Jorge (César Ramos) en su casa en Ciudad de México, en Trade, antes de que la mafia rusa secuestrara a Adriana en las calles del barrio.

On occasion, when the situation warrants, Maiscott & Rosen will run articles in Spanish as well as English. The review of Trade, below, is the first article to run in both languages.

En ocasiones, cuando la situación lo amerite, Maiscott & Rosen publicará artículos en inglés y español. La crítica de la película Trade, abajo, es el primer artículo publicado en ambos idiomas.

Directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner
Screenplay by Jose Rivera
Story by Peter Landesman and Jose Rivera
Starring: Kevin Kline, César Ramos, Alicja Bachleda, Paulina Gaitán, Marco Pérez, Linda Emond, Zack Ward, Kate Del Castillo, Tim Reid, and Pasha D. Lynchinkoff
In English and Spanish with subtitles

By J.C. Malone

Children who disobey their parents will suffer serious consequences, but love of family and religious faith will always prevail over impossible odds. These are among the central themes of Trade, a well-crafted and highly emotional blend of fiction and docudrama, based on a New York Times Magazine article, “The Girls Next Door” by Peter Landesman.

The film focuses on the brutality of the Russian mob, which operates out of Eastern Europe and Mexico City. Their business: kidnapping young women, girls, and boys, beating them, drugging them, and smuggling them from Mexico into the United States for a life of forced prostitution.

One of their victims is the virginal 13-year-old Adriana (Paulina Gaitán). Living like Eve in a Mexico City-slum version of Paradise, her original sin is to disobey her widowed mother. Suspecting that the bike Adriana’s brother, Jorge (César Ramos), gave her for her birthday was stolen, and believing that the neighborhood is too dangerous anyway, the mother forbids her daughter from riding it.

As Adriana takes her first bike ride through the barrio, the vicious Russians promptly kidnap her. Brother Jorge, like Don Quixote, then begins an improbable quest to find and rescue his sister. Along the way, in Juárez, Mexico, he meets Ray Sheridan (Kevin Kline), an American cop specializing in insurance fraud, who, for mysterious reasons, freelances in tracking down kidnapped children.

Offering perhaps the most panoramic view to date into the black holes where forced prostitution operates, Trade straddles the difficult-to-distinguish border between art and reality. Though director Marco Kreuzpaintner did his best to overcome the technical and conceptual problems of this delicate balancing act, sometimes his best wasn’t good enough.

Jorge, for example, performing a feat that would make a Toyota hybrid jealous, drives a hotrod 1,200 miles, from Mexico City to Juárez, without refueling. Then Jorge and Ray blast across the U.S.A, covering almost 2,000 miles, from Laredo, Texas, to New Jersey in 24 hours—which might be possible with Neal Cassidy behind the wheel, popping amphetamines. And Mexico City, as compelling and diverse a megalopolis as you’ll find anywhere, is portrayed as a one-dimensional crime-ridden hell-hole, where desperately poor and marginalized Mexican kids, like Jorge (who are in the business of ripping off gringo tourists with a prostitution scam), have learned to speak perfect English. “I’ve got many brains,” he tells his mother when she asks about his language skills.

’s worst sin, however, is to inflame the current anti-immigrant bias, and reinforce the stereotype of Americans and the United States as the helplessly innocent victims of evil, heartless foreigners who run their forced prostitution rings as ruthlessly as any drug cartel.

Mexicans and Russians team up with lowlife Americans to smuggle their human cargo across the border and “store” them in the suburban New Jersey home of Laura (Kate Del Castillo), a Latino woman who runs an online global auction which offers wealthy pedophiles the opportunity to buy the flesh of their choosing. It’s through such an auction that Jorge, using Ray Sheridan’s life savings, is able to buy Adriana, bidding against a South African man who drives the price to over $30,000, because the girl is a virgin.

A middle-aged man who flies from Malaysia to Laredo to pick up an Asian boy he bought at auction and Mickey Mouse American cops who transform themselves into heroes and show up just in time to save the day are among the other stereotypes parading through the film.

Not surprisingly, Trade also delivers a strong message of Roman Catholic propaganda, establishing the theme early, with children singing the traditional Mexican religious birthday song, “Las Mañanitas,” and carrying it through to the end. In one scene, one of the kidnappers, Manuelo (Marco Pérez, who played Ramiro in the Oscar-nominated Amores Perros) stops to pray before a giant cross; in another, Adriana saves herself and Ray by spiritually blackmailing Manuelo; and—SPOILER ALERT—finally (and miraculously) Adriana’s mother, a faithful church-goer, prays in a cathedral as the lord delivers her kidnapped daughter, as if by Federal Express, directly to her pew.

Though the photography is outstanding and features a striking high-energy opening montage of Mexico City, Trade, above all, may well be remembered as the movie in which César Ramos, who’s good-looking in a Tom Cruise kind of way, burnt himself into our consciousness with a brilliant and unforgettable performance.


J.C. Malone, author of
Sammy Sosa in 9 Innings, is a columnist for El Listin Diario in the Dominican Republic.

Esclavos Sexuales: Servicio a Domicilio

Dirección: Marco Kreuzpaintner
Guión: José Rivera
Basada en una historia de Peter Landesman y José Rivera
Protagonizan: Kevin Kline, César Ramos, Alicja Bachleda, Paulina Gaitán, Marco Pérez, Linda Emond, Zack Ward, Kate Del Castillo, Tim Reid, y Pasha D. Lynchinkoff
En inglés y español con subtítulos.

Por J.C. Malone

Los niños desobedientes sufrirán serias consecuencias, pero el amor familiar y la fe religiosa siempre triunfan sobre lo más insalvables obstáculos. Estos estan entre los temas centrales de Trade, una bien armada mezcla de ducodrama y ficción con una alta carga emocional, basada en un artículo publicado por The New York Times Magazine “The Girls Next Door” (La Muchacha de Al Lado) de Peter Landesman.

La historia muestra la brutalidad de la Mafia Rusa que opera desde Europa Oriental y Ciudad México. Su negocio: Secuestrar mujeres jóvenes, niñas y niños, someterlas a base de golpes y endrogamientos, para cruzarlas a Estados Unidos para a una vida de prostitución forzada.

Una de sus víctimas es la virginal Adriana, de 13 años, (Paulina Gaitán). Viviendo como Eva, en su versión del paraíso terrenal en un barrio pobre de Ciudad México, su pecado original fue desobedecerle a su madre viuda. Ella sospecha que una biscicleta que su hijo Jorge (César Ramos), le reagalo a su hermana Adriana para su cumpleaños, fue robada. Y creyendo que el vecindario es peligoso, ella prohibe que la niña monte la biscicleta.

Cuando Adriana salió a dar su primera vuelta en biscicleta, los rusos la secuestran. Su hermano Jorge emprende la quijotesca labor de encontrarla y liberarla. En el proceso, en Juárez, México, el encuentra a Ray Sheridan (Kevin Kline), un policía texano especialista en fraudes contra compañías de seguros, quien, por razones misteriosas, trata de localizar niños secuestrados.

Ofreciendo quizá la perspectiva más panorámica hasta el momento, del agujero negro donde funciona la prostitución forzada, Trade cabalga sobre algunas dificultades para establecer la frontera entre el arte y la realidad. Aunque el director Marco Kreuzpaintner hizo lo mejor que pudo para resolver esas dificultades técnicas y conceptuale, manteniendo ese delicado balance, por momentos su mejor esfuerzo no fue lo suficientemente bueno.

Jorge, por ejemplo, conduciendo un auto que haría sentir envidioso a cualquier Toyota híbrido, conduce 1.200 millas, de Ciudad Mexico a Juárez, sin detenerse a echar gasolina. Entonces Jorge y Ray atraviesan Estados Unidos, cubriendo unas 2.000 millas entre Laredo Texas y New Jersey en 24 horas. –Eso quizá sea posible con Neal Cassidy al volante metiendo anfetaminas. Y Ciudad México como una gran megalópolis, es presentada de manera unidimensional, como un agujero infernal corroído por el crimen, llena de paradojas. En Trade los marginados niños pobres mexicanos, como Jorge (quien estafa turistas con ofertas de prostitución), hablan perfecto inglés. “Yo tengo varios cerebros” le dice a su madre cuando ella le pregunta sobre sus destrezas en el idioma inglés.

El peor pecado de Trade, sin embargo, es añadir más combustible al sentimiento y prejuicio anti-inmigrante del presente, reforzando stereotipos de que Estados Unidos y los Estadosunidenses son víctimas impotentes e inocentes de diabólicos desalmados extranjeros, que corren su netgocio de prostitución forzada; igual como con los carteles de drogas.

Mexicanos y rusos trabajan para introducir a su carga humana por la frontera y “almacenarla” en una residencia de un suburbio de New Jersey donde Laura (Kate del Castillo) una mujer latina, dirige las subastas globales. En ellas acaudalados pedófilos extranjeros compran carne fresca extranjera a un a venderoes extranjeros. En una de esas subastas Jorge, con el dinero de Ray Sheridan, compra a su hermana, compitiendo contra un rico sudafricano que elevó el precio pasado los $30.000 porque la niña era virgen.

Hay un hombre de edad mediana que viaja de Malasya a Laredo para recoger a un niño que compró en la subasta. Los policías americanos, como Mickey Mouse, llegan justo a tiempo para salvar a los protagonistas; esa es otra forma de propagar estereotipos en la película.

Trade también incluye una fuerte dósis de propaganda Católica Romana desde el inicio. La película abre con unas niñas cantándo “Las Mañanitas” y el tema sigue hasta el final. Uno de los secuestradores, Manuelo (Marcos Pérez, que hizo de Ramiro en Amores Perros) reza ante una cruz gigante; después Adriana salva su vida y la de Ray montándole a Manuelo un chantaje religioso. Y (CUIDADO, VIENE EL DESENLACE), vaya coincidencia, al final, como un milagro, la madre de Adriana, una asidua visitante a la iglesia, reza en la catedral y el señor escucha sus oraciones, enviándole su hija secuestrada (como si fuera un currier de Fedex) diercto al banco de la iglesia donde esta de rodillas elevando sus plegarias.

Aunque tiene excelente fotografia y comienza con un montaje de alta energia musical, gráfica y artistica sobre Ciudad México, Trade, por encima de todo, puede ser recordada como la pelicula en la que César Ramos, un jóven talentoso y aparente, tipo Tom Cruise, ingresó a nuestra consciencia con su inolvidable actuacion.

J.C. Malone, autor de Sammy Sosa en 9 Innings, es un columnista sindicato de periodicos en español de Estados Unidos y de El Listin Diario en República Dominicana.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Invisible Man

Originally posted March 26, 2008.
Aware that diamonds are a lot more than a girl’s best friend, Hobbs (Michael Caine) and Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) plot a heist in a seedy pub in 1960s London, in Flawless.

Directed by Michael Radford
Written by Edward A. Anderson
Starring: Demi Moore, Michael Caine, Lambert Wilson, Nathaniel Parker, Shaughan Seymour, Nicholas Jones, David Barrass, and Joss Ackland
By Robert Rosen

Just like the nameless “negro” narrator of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel of 1940s Harlem, Invisible Man, Hobbs (Michael Caine) is an invisible man in early-1960s, not-yet-swinging London. The aging nighttime janitor, a widower who labors for a multinational diamond corporation, moves unseen through the world he despises.

But Hobbs, highly overqualified for his job, is no fool, and he makes the most of his invisibility: He overhears confidential corporate conversations; he digs damning documents out of the garbage; and he knows more about what’s going on at London Diamond than chain-smoking, married-to-her-job Laura Quinn (an almost unrecognizable Demi Moore), the company’s sole woman executive.

Suggesting that the company’s being less than generous with his retirement package, Hobbs, using executive-caliber powers of persuasion, slickly manipulates Quinn to help him bring karmic justice to their filthy-rich and soullessly exploitative employer. Quinn, convinced that London Diamond has put an impenetrable glass ceiling between her and the promotion she craves, is more than susceptible to Hobbs’s wily influence and low-key charm.

The iconic sound of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” sets the mood and rhythm, and the stylish direction of Michael Radford (The Merchant of Venice, Il Postino) sustains them throughout, so that Flawless, a thriller unmarred by gaping plot holes, proves to be that rarest of all gems—an intelligent and thoroughly entertaining heist flick with heart.

It isn’t quite flawless, but it comes close.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Identity Theft

Originally posted April 25, 2008.
Diega Luna and Samantha Morton play obsessive Michael Jackson and
Marilyn Monroe impersonators who meet in Paris.

Mister Lonely
Directed by Harmony Korine
Screenplay by Harmony Korine and Avi Korine
Starring Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, James Fox, Anita Pallenberg, Denis Lavant, and Werner Herzog

Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe—two tragic figures (well, in Michael’s case, perhaps the jury is, so to speak, still out). Who would want to exchange identities with them? In Harmony Korine’s new film, Mister Lonely (and how great to hear uninterrupted that emotional Bobby Vinton song), we soon learn the answer: a young man and a young woman so unhappy with themselves that they choose to live full-time as their impersonations—along with a group of similar misfit/lookalikes that include the Three Stooges, Abe Lincoln, the Pope, Queen Elizabeth II (played by Stones muse Anita Pallenberg) and, natch, Madonna, all living in a castle commune in the Scottish Highlands with a flock of beloved sheep. Not unexpectedly from the director of Gummo, this bizarre setup begets many bizarre sights, such as the Three Stooges armed with rifles to fulfill a sad mission and a tiara’d Queen in bed with the Pope. The movie also has a parallel story involving an alcoholic priest pilot (Werner Herzog) and miraculously sky-diving nuns, which, though it has its charms and allows for exhilarating visuals, I found ultimately puzzling. But no matter: Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También) and Samantha Morton (fittingly zoftig here) are lovely and affecting as Michael and Marilyn, two peas in an odd pod who discover you can’t get away from yourself or life’s problems (in Marilyn’s case caused mainly by a sadistic “Charlie Chaplin”)—but find very different ways of dealing with that fact. And then there’s the egg song…