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.

Advertisements

Colonel Kurtz as existentialist philosopher in Apocalypse Now

Colonel Kurtz

An existential philosopher with a spider on his head

Colonel Kurtz is not insane. He’s an existentialist philosopher. A Nietzschean superman. Some of his speeches could just as easily be spliced into the works of Camus, Nietzsche, Sartre.

Like this speech, with its touches of Albert Camus’ The Plague and its darkened Nietzschean undertones:

“We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp…and this old man came running after us…they had hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And, I remember, I, I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out…and I want to remember it, I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized like I was shot, like I was shot with a diamond. A diamond bullet, right through my forehead. And I thought, my God, the genius of that. The genius. The will, to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. Then I realized they were stronger than we. … It’s judgement that defeats us.”

Or this existential nihilist sentiment that almost sounds like a post-modern Zarathustra:

“…what is often called ruthless, what may in many circumstances be only clarity, seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it. Directly. Quickly. Awake. Looking at it. … I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid, lying morality. And so I am beyond caring.”

 

And that, by the way, is what junk withdrawal is like. Pure, existential horror.

“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame. How could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Sex, Drugs and Self Destruction: FILTH (2013)

Jon S. Baird’s film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth is finally out in the U$A, on demand as filth patrol kevin kellyof today, and getting what looks like a very limited theatrical release on May 30. It’s pathetic that this award winning film isn’t getting a wider release in America, and that it took so long to find a distributor in the first place.

For what it lacks in visual style and cinematography (despite all the Kubrick references and some Trainspotting style), the film makes up for in chaos and characterization. It isn’t as extreme as the novel. It isn’t “ghastly and unpleasant” as one reviewer put it. It isn’t as willing to take risks as the novel. But the script does make some wild and intelligent choices in adaptation.

James McAvoy is the real engine of the film. He has the suffering intensity of Michael Fassbender in Hunger combined with the gleeful insanity of Malcolm McDowell in Caligula. He looks like he put his soul into the performance and maybe even taken some years off his life in the process.

The script is better than the direction. Baird parses it down and makes the right decisions. He embraceFilths the chaotic self-destruction but tames it down and stylizes it. It’s not a bad approach. He just doesn’t go far enough. The climactic ending, however, is beautifully twisted and worth the price of admission alone.

Filth was considered unfilmable. It’s one of the few novels I have ever stopped reading mid-way through. The protagonist is totally unredeemable and Welsh’s talent at eliciting disgust is in high gear in this story. The novel actually made me feel dirty—a pretty impressive feat in my case. In other words, it’s pretty good. If you think the film is extreme, though, try the novel.