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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Shakespeare on Heroin

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Newly reformulated and cut with iambic pentameter.

Relapse Day 7: Bad Scene, Act I

To use or not to use, that is the question—
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The stabs and shots of outrageous misfortune
Or tie up Veins against a sea of troubles
And by injection, end them? To dream, to sleep—
Ever more; and with a shot, put to end
This Heartache, these thousand unnatural shocks
Our brains are heir to? ‘Tis a preparation
Devoutly taken. To walk the world asleep…
To sleep, perchance to Wake! Aye, there’s the rub,
For on our heroin, what life may come,
While we flee in disdain this mortal coil,
Must give us pause, despite all the Thoughts
That make Absurdity of waking life
For who would bear the stripes and bars of time,
The prosecutor’s wrong, the social scorn,
The pangs of junky love, the Law’s decay,
The insolence of officers, all spurns
The world merits but we are forced to take
While we ourselves might our quietus make
With a bare syringe. Who would these troubles bear,
To grieve and sweat under a broken life,
But that the dread of losing our escape,
From sobriety, that unsought country
Travelers avoid return to, slows our Time,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than withdraw to a world we care not for.
Thus Suffering does make Junkies of us all,
And thus the golden rays of opium
Are sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Dreams,
While enterprises of great pitch and moment,
Are tossed by Time as currents turn awry,
And we yield to Inaction.

Original free verse:

To use or not to use, that is the question—
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pains and miseries of outrageous misfortune
Or tie up Veins against a sea of troubles
And by injecting, end them? To dream, to sleep—
Forevermore; and by a shot, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand unnatural shocks
Our brains are heir to? ‘Tis a preparation
Devoutly to be taken. To walk the world, asleep…
To sleep, perchance to Wake! Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of heroin, what life may come,
When we have shuffled away to deny this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Absurdity of so painful a waking life
For who would bear the stripes and bars of time,
The prosecutor’s wrong, the society’s scorn,
The pangs of junky love, the Law’s decay,
The insolence of officers, and the spurns
That society merits yet we are forced to take
While we ourselves might our quietus make
With a bare syringe. Who would these troubles bear,
To grieve and sweat under a broken life,
But that the dread of losing something in our escape,
From an unsought country, whose sobriety
No traveler wishes to return to, collapses the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than withdraw to others that we care not for.
Thus Suffering does make junkies of us all,
And thus the golden rays of opium
Are sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
While enterprises of great pitch and moment,
Are lost to time and turn awry,
And we lose ourselves to inaction.

Of Ragamuffins and Dens: State Legislation, Municipal Enforcement, and Opium Smoking

Social class has as much to do with effective drug demonization as race. This great article doesn’t rewrite the history of anti-Chinese racism in the prohibition of opium, but the class divide caused by criminalization and the speed of the cultural shift from upper class but bohemian acceptability to disgust, classism, and racial segregation of drug use is breathtaking. You see the same pattern throughout the general history of drug prohibition in the 19th and 20th century, with different drugs and in various societies.

Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society

On May 26, 1888, the Boston Daily Globe reported the death of a young Harvard student named Frank Mills. The front page headline read: “Fatal Opium.” According to the story, having decided that life at Harvard would not be complete without the experience, Mills and three fellow students had ventured into Boston with the hopes of securing some opium. Following suggestions from their classmates the foursome sought out a man known as Nicholas Gentleman who sold opium in the South End. The boys had “refused to go to an opium joint,” as they feared a police raid, but told Gentleman if he would come to Harvard they would “make things all right for him.” He readily agreed after several assurances that Mills was “an old hand at smoking.” That evening Mills continued to claim he was a frequent smoker leading Gentleman to oblige his numerous requests for another pipe. Mills…

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Who Killed Kurt Cobain? Vultures: Courtney Love explains

Ludovico

In 1995, Courtney Love, in a questionable but more honest interview than most, talked about the immediate reason Kurt killed himself: being “ganged up upon” by selfish, greedy jerks who were supposed to be his friends. Courtney and the vultures that surrounded him staged a “tough love” drug intervention. Any idiot could have told them it would backfire. But they didn’t do it for him. They were trying to shove their cash cow toward the bullpen. He was supposed to be touring, he was cancelling left and right, and millions of dollars were at stake over Lollapalooza alone. And here we have a guy who is not only on smack, he wants to sneak off and record Lead Belly covers. He doesn’t want to be a pop star and make us money. That is unacceptable.

It’s a rare, vintage moment of honesty among a crowd that never wants to talk about why Kurt killed himself, or dispel the myth that fame alone did him in. As if fame is some evil goddess. Even in the same interview, Courtney starts to veer toward that official line. Actually, the twisted, greedy pigs around Kurt and in the music industry are the ones who did him in.

These prohibition-minded, temperance movement style drug and alcohol interventions kill people. At best, they can do serious damage. If the management and money men had just let Kurt do what he wanted with his music, since his decisions are what made them all rich in the first place, and if they’d just put Kurt on methadone James Taylor style, maybe he’d be alive today. Maybe not. Who can say? But in the 1990s, tough love interventions were all the rage. Actually, they’re still going on. Even the disgusting A&E show Intervention ran until 2013: 193 episodes, 13 seasons of exploitation and misery.

Mark Goheen, an addiction counselor, put it plainly: “These interventions backfire because it reinforces the idea that [kids’] parents are assholes.” Great way to help some one, right? Be a total prick to them when they’re suffering.

Remember kids, drugs are bad for you, but it’s prohibition that kills.

at 8m18s

Barbara Walters: Could you have stopped it?

Courtney Love: Yes.

BW: Could you have stopped it permanently?

CL: No, but I could have been diligent…

BW: …Why do you think your husband killed himself?

CL: He was ganged up upon…

BW: …Do you feel his death is your fault?

CL: In this instance, yes.

BW: Because?

CL: Because I didn’t need to call for an intervention. I shouldn’t have called for an intervention. I just panicked.

BW: …Because you tried to get him off drugs…it’s your fault?

CL: He thought he was a waste of space. Yes. I told him he had dropped the baby. And I was mean about it… I told him on the phone, ‘you know, you dropped the baby the other day.’ When he was in rehab. You dropped the baby. He was like ‘what!?’ I’m like, ‘you dropped the baby, you dropped Frances on her head.’ She was wearing a big hooded coat, he did not hurt her. And I did not need to tell him that.

BW: And you think that’s why he did it?

CL: I think that’s a major reason…I do, I think that’s a major reason alright? And also, he felt like a waste of space, and a sell out and he’d made everything too huge and it was his fault that everything was too huge. Do you understand what I mean? I mean it came like a Mack truck. First, it was magical. It was so weird. It was surreal and magic in the air. Everybody my age remembers that period when his band got big. And then huge, and then the grown ups knew and then the boomers knew… and he was too famous.

aim

heroin raindrops

heroinraindropsCranes fly overhead
Reflected by glass and steel
Turning dreams to dust

Sweet blades of wet grass
Soft as the silk of her hair
Tremble in the rain

Red sunset beauty
Ponds ripple, blue light scatters
All things fade in time

How to lose your life
Without even trying to
You just follow me

First I hesitate
Plunge the needle in my vein
Yes, the fix is in

What’s the speed of smack?
Misery to ecstasy
In seven seconds

Every junky’s like:
Never mind the setting sun,
We’re supernovas.

all dead heroes

statueweepingspiders_IMGorig

I walk with dead heroes in a sea of broken statues, of ancient gods with stoic faces that weep spiders as they stare into the sun. We shiver in the heat, drift like ghosts through city streets, scattering the happiest of crowds. People roll away from us like waves do from the shore, our desperation sensed by those desperate to ignore.

I live with dead heroes who speak to me in murmurs, across the veins of dry rivers that once swelled in the sun. Now I float where your river takes me. I sleep where your shadows make me. My dry rivers have long since vanished into darkness where they died weeping crimson tears. I am an escape artist. My heart whispers of escapades, but my pockets are full of prisons and my stomach is sick with keys. So I spend my nights alone with you and all my dead heroes in these quiet, cluttered rooms.

Tonight, I slip past sleeping statues, I abandon all dead heroes. I find peace on crowded city streets with youthful gods at play, who in dance and drink live to die another day. But my dead heroes always find me, and trace their lines upon my arms. These people flow around me like ripples on a pond, my presence sensed but my life soon to be foregone.

Government shoots celebrity, society blames the gun

Peaches Geldof had heroin in her system when she died. Who’s really to blame for accidental overdoses… hmm… Do you often find yourself accidentally overdosing when you take prescription medication? Oh, man. That Lipitor, it was way stronger this time. No. You accidentally overdose on street drugs that vary in purity. Why do they vary in purity? Because they are made in underground labs by amateur chemists with no potency controls and then sold on to people who cut them depending on their whim. Why is heroin made in underground labs? Because of prohibition.

When a celebrity dies of a drug overdose, prohibition must be defended. Like peachessuperstitious, ignorant shamans warding off evil spirits, society blames the drug itself when it can’t bring itself to blame the victim. If all else fails, they toss out the the devil’s messenger trope, and blame the poor sap who delivered the drug to the willing recipient. But if you died, assuming you’re not a celebrity, they’d just blame you.

If you want to blame someone for the absurd, pointless deaths of those you love and admire, blame your government for caring so little about your lives that they refuse to end a war against their own people. Do they need to be taught this lesson repeatedly? Alcohol prohibition, anyone? Black markets grew, gangsters took over, cartels formed, violence spread, and people died trying to enjoy a cocktail. The prohibitionists know their history. They just don’t care, because it’s not their loved ones who are dying.

Coroner Roger Hatch says the post mortem shows Geldof used heroin shortly before she died … and that the drug is “likely to have played a role in her death.” -tmz.com

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.

memoriam

Sunset Black and White by Cetrone

Their time pours like a waterfall, our time trickles toward the sunset. Our time drips in the dusk from the edge of the world into the dark abyss of the Pacific like summer raindrops on the petals of a corn rose. When the dawn comes, our time shivers across the west in the morning dew of a thousand green fields where a billion blades of grass tremble in the cold before the sun washes over them.

A junky’s time is tangled between past and future.

Yesterday we basked in the warm glow of the sun and the green shade of your garden. You squeezed my hand and you held your breath as you watched the hummingbirds flit from your daisies to my lilies, moving so fast their lives skipped frames. Tonight I went outside to face a cold, dark, starless sky. The garden walls are crumbling into the dead grass and there’s nothing left but a pile of dirt where your daisies bloomed. Tonight, I can’t find you. I don’t want to remember why. Every night, when I close my eyes to see yours, I won’t have to forget what I don’t know.

Let their time flow like a river. My time trickles toward the dawn.