Bad Cops, Good Drugs and Self Destruction: If you like FILTH, you’ll love BAD LIEUTENANT (1992)

Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant is a film about your average cop: a corrupt headcase with a gun who was born to be a criminal, but turned out to be a late developer. If you like James McAvoy in Filth, you’ll love Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant. This cop knows how to mix his drugs. He’s also good at mixing his drug taking with a lot of stealing, drug dealing, screaming, whoring, and hard drinking. He does have some problems with gambling, though.

Ferrara is always willing to go to dark places, and in Harvey Keitel he found an actor who could go all the way. This NC-17 B-flick full of drugs, degeneracy, wild nihilism, suicidal apathy, horrific rape, and total self destruction is such a beautiful train wreck to watch that even Roger Ebert thinks it’s wonderful. But it’s not the subject matter that makes the film: it’s Harvey Keitel. The parallels to Jon S. Baird’s Filth (2013) are striking, specifically James McAvoy’s reach-out-and-choke-the-audience performance.

This is one bad lieutenant

Harvey Keitel plays the titular and unnamed Bad Lieutenant, the baddest of bad cops, who makes McAvoy’s Filth corruption seem like schoolboy pranks. Keitel pulls the entire film up from its b-movie vibe. The cinematography is so bad it makes shot/reverse shot look nouvelle vague. But it doesn’t make any difference at all while you’re watching it. The visceral shock of Keitel’s acting makes everything else peripheral. See the stills? They don’t come close to matching the intensity of the performance at 24 frames per second. Rogert Ebert wrote, “Harvey Keitel plays this man with such uncompromised honesty that the performance can only be called courageous…” That’s a delicate way to put it. It’s better described as a performance of beautiful insanity.

Gambling his life away, lying, conning, thieving, stealing evidence, selling drugs, robbing criminals, sexually assaulting teenagers, snorting cocaine, smoking crack, smoking heroin, shooting heroin, shooting at people, shooting at car radios, and drinking to oblivion in a naked stupor while whoring with bondage hookers: this Bad Lieutenant is far too busy tearing his world apart to photocopy an image of his phallus just to pull the department secretary.

BAD.LIEUTENANT-(NC-17.RATING).avi_snapshot_01.30.07_[2014.05.13_04.56.38]Now, if you’re here for the existential nihilism like me, I have to warn you: it’s not really the elusive nihilist film you’ve been searching for, because like most screen nihilists, this Bad Lieutenant comes with a twist. Unlike most filmmakers who deal with nihilistic characters, however, Ferrara’s lens never really makes judgments. The camera just watches. And this is one hell of a spectacle.

If you want to see a more phillosophical brand of nihilism in action, check out Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), whose lens is somewhat judgmental but leaves things open to interpretation. Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1971) glorifies Michael Caine’s nihilist antihero. Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993) is closer to the philosophical mark, and David Thewlis is as mesmerizing as Keitel. Finally, another worthy Ferrara film is King of New York (1990) with Christopher Walken as gangster antihero.

Ferrara is currently filming Pasolini starring Willem Dafoe as the infamous Italian poet, critic and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, in a portrayal of his final days leading up to his mysterious murder. Let’s hope that film gets released because if there ever was a great cinephile biopic in the making, it’s a story about Pasolini.

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Love, Death and Suicidal Blood Junkies: Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is a great drug film. Atmospheric, romantic,
doomed. Really, it’s the allegory of a tortured artist, but the drug metaphors are constant and in keeping with that theme. Imagine what being a vampire would really be like. Lonely and sad, you watch ordinary human beings (the zombies) destroy themselves and their world, making the same mistakes century after century. So you isolate yourself. only lovers left aliveThe world falls apart around you, while you sit like a junky Buddha, filled to the overflowing by thousands of years of knowledge, creativity, and dead heroes. Unlike real-life Zen philosopher Nan-in, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) can’t empty his cup. The misery spills everywhere. So he stays still, composing music he wants as few people to hear as possible but is compelled to record. He’s surrounded by the ephemera and detritus of a thousand past lives and his walls are covered in portraits of his dead heroes. He explains his artistic depression and isolation to his vampire wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton): “It’s the zombies I’m sick of. And the fear… of their own fucking imaginations.”

But scoring clean, pure blood in the 21st century doesn’t make for a fun life, either. You have to get the good stuff – medical grade type O negative, available only from crooked doctors. “Now they’ve succeeded in contaminating their own fucking blood. Nevermind the water.” Like junkies, they drift through the night, trying to score, passing the alley onlyloversleftalivebloodjunkyshadows of Tangier dealers who have nothing to offer them, and in the midnight midst of the empty ruins of post-apocalyptic Detroit. Travelling anywhere is a nightmare of organizational set-up to maintain blood supply and avoid the daylight. The blood drinking scenes are performed with junky ritual. The euphoria hits and their faces are shown in close-up, falling back into oblivion in that trademark shot that has come to represent the hit. And, of course, as with junkies, the zombies wouldn’t want them even if they knew they were there.

This is Jarmusch, so there’s no three act plot. But the film is so atmospheric, you can smell the guitars, antique electronics, the antique clothes. The soundtrack is fantastic. It will grow on you after you leave the theater. So will the film. I didn’t like it at first. The intellectual references are a bit forced. You have to settle into what the film is trying to do. I thought there might be something missing apart from plot, but the film grows on you after you feel it. Like heroin.

The greatest drug films: MORE (1969)

More, 1969, Barbet Schroeder — heroin chic

More, 1969, directed by Barbet Schroeder, cinematography by Nestor Almendros, Soundtrack by Pink Floyd

Isn’t this film exactly what heroin is like? Like washing up on a magical island in 1969 and living in a villa on the sea where you have group sex with hot European models on smack, drop LSD, and listen to the some of the best music Pink Floyd ever made, then lay out in the sun like a lizard and embrace the beautiful nihilism of a fantasy world where it’s better to set the controls for the heart of the sun than to fade away?

Well, in my head, at least, that’s exactly what heroin is like. I think this may be my favorite More_(film)drug film. More is the only film I can think of that simultaneously portrays the romanticism of heroin as a drug, and the opiate allure of actual romance—on heroin. The film is a play on the Icarus myth, and Schroeder uses female lead Estelle (played by heroin chic Mimsy Farmer) as a representation of the sun. Falling into heroin is like falling in love, and doing them both at the same time is life changing, life shattering, and usually does play out like a Greek tragedy.

Almendros’ cinematography here is dreamy, mythic, and alluring. He started out working with Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut. His direct shots of the sun in More are iconic and would have made Akira Kurosawa proud.

Unfortunately, Ibiza seems to have degenerated into a Eurotrash techno haven for drunken tourists and rich speculators who grabbed up all the Spanish villas as investments in the late 2000s. You can watch the decline on film, actually. From More (1969) to F For Fake (1975) to Ma Mere (2004).

This is a very cult film and, supposedly, junkies still make the pilgrimage to one of the key locations near the castle tunnel. I guess it’s better than heading to Leith.

Really, you should check this site out. Read about the film and see some more great stills: http://www.barbetschroeder.com/movies/more-1969/

The French trailer with subtitles: http://www.videodetective.com/movies/more/179856

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