Thursday Morning Rant: On Film Rants, Melville And Being Cool

John Goodman, The Big Lebowski
“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.” John Goodman in 'The Big Lebowski' (1998)
“Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads! Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.”
Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver (1976)

It’s not clear when exactly it happened, but sometime between 1968 and having Greta Gerwig as a judge at the Berlinale, long arguments about films have gotten a bad rap. A malevolent authority of some sort decided to substitute the fine art of screaming one’s opinion in people’s faces with a far inferior blood-letting technique of posting snarky comments on Youtube and public forums. The loss of the highly beneficial face-to-face verbal aggression, among other nauseatingly overstudied and overresearched causes of modern alienation, has birthed a widespread phenomenon of borderline sociopathic behavior-at the mere sight of a comment section, a seemingly mild-tempered aunt turns into a harpy ready to tear you to pieces. The propensity to engage in live tirades has been demoted to a kind of social litmus test that separates the cool kids from the losers, and an expressway to offending those who mistakenly take your passionate disagreement for plane old harassment. Whether we like it or not, heated discussions have come to be perceived as a pastime reserved mostly for conspiracy theorists, eternal students and overambitious neurotics.

A film ranter is usually a wannabe filmmaker, knows more about motion pictures than the average filmgoer, and has a natural talent for hysterical outbursts. When he’s not busy wallowing in self-pity and actively hating Wes Anderson, he can be seen at social events and easily recognized by the constipated facial expression brought on faking interest in other people’s half-witted film analyses. Take the chronic grievance against pretentious superficialities, mix it up with the tidal nature of one’s own insecurities, count in a single excess as a spark, and you’ll have yourself a human time bomb, blood-thirsty and rant-ready.

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“Say What Again!” Samuel L. Jackson loses it in Pulp Fiction (1994)

The emotional build-up can take from a few hours up to several months; it can start by overhearing a twenty-something intellectual in a bowler hat spewing tongue-twisting expressions and proclaiming as a masterpiece a film whose supposed value lies exclusively in its obscurity. A potential ranter will start to imagine himself as Bonasera in The Godfather, kissing Brando’s hand in return for a swift retribution. He might manage to take his thinned nerves home without lashing out on the hipster, but before getting a chance to indulge in self-congratulation over the remarkable display of restraint, our ranter will find himself standing in middle of a bar, waving a broken bottle at a friend, screaming something about the French New Wave.

“You didn’t like Melville’s Le Samourai?! Punch yourself in the face! Hard. Jef Costello invented ‘cool’. He is the Miles Davis of cinema, the ultimate criminal, the father of film badassery! The tight-lipped killer for hire is a samurai that lives according to a rigid code and wears his masculinity with quiet but deadly confidence. If Jef Costello hadn’t existed, the New Hollywood and modern film noir would be decimated-think what would have happened to some of the cult films without the influence of Costello’s cool-headedness: Copolla’s The Conversation, Luc Besson’s Leon, John Frankenheimer’s Ronin, No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, to name a few. Oh, and almost every John Woo film.

Jef Costello internalizes. He takes quick showers and turns the water off while brushing but doesn’t brag about it! Walking out of his Spartan apartment he takes a quick glance at the mirror, taps his hat and leaves. No dramatic close-ups, poignant staring into his own reflection, no sign he is about to do some badass shit. He steals a car by going through a large set of keys, one by one, instead of just hot-wiring the damn thing. Hot-wiring is for peasants. He drives the car to a mechanic where the guy changes the plates and gives him a gun. Costello drives away. Not a word spoken. And why would there be any? Tell me- why?! You Stephen Daldry admirers, American Beauty worshipers, Philip Glass-humming sentimentalists, word-lovers! …”

The tirade can go on for a while and its duration and dynamics depend mostly on the intensity of the speaker’s frustration, his rhetorical skills and the general level of drunkenness. In its fragile state, a rant may be completely abandoned due to a discovery of a new seafood special or a sudden happy hour gong.

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Nicolas Cage’s face in Face/Off (1997)

This unique combination of contradictory behavior and social inadequacies reminds of, you guessed it, Woody Allen:”…I was in group analysis when I was younger, ’cause I couldn’t afford private…I was captain of the latent paranoid softball team. We used to play all the neurotics on Sunday morning. Nailbiters against the bedwetters, and if you’ve never seen neurotics play softball, it’s really funny. I used to steal second base, and feel guilty and go back…” A typical ranter is apologetic in victory, vicious in defeat, but most importantly-inconsistent.

Well too aware of the fact that, except in the case of the homeless, street preachers and small children, screaming one’s opinion in public is considered a grave social faux pas, a ranter is compelled to welcome this love of tirades as a stubborn reflex- a vampire that keeps feeding on his boiling, film saturated blood. Call it romanticized self-deprecation, but on days when I’m not convinced I’m doing a wonderful job walking the thin line between being fashionably blasé and painfully blunt, I find myself on the field, stealing the ball and then giving it back to other fellow wretches, Dostoyevskian underground types, the awkwardly passionate, the clinically regretful and the latent Travis Bickle’s of the world.

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