Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Shiny Place

"There's something really sexy about Scrooge McDuck." Now that David Tennant plays Scrooge McDuck this is arguably a reasonable statement but when these immortal words were first spoken by Chloe Sevigny in 1998's The Last Days of Disco they constituted a prime example of the film's understated tragic humour. You couldn't sell a movie like this to-day which is a shame because there's something really sweet and illuminating in this gently acidic satire.

Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale star as Alice Kinnon and Charlotte Pingress, respectively. Two friends who work for a publisher and who frequent an exclusive disco club in their off hours. Alice is quieter but capable of a little more independent thought but both have the same kind of received intelligence most of the characters have in the film, constantly putting forth shallow arguments about mundane things with an odd counterfeit of passion. And every now and then you can catch the furtive glance as someone wonders if their bullshit is really sticking. In these moments are conveyed a simultaneous sense of belief and not belief, as though everyone keeps two consciousnesses running; one that believes the lie and one that has to not believe the lie in order to maintain it. It's like Doublethink from 1984.

"Okay," says Charlotte after a fight with Alice, in another of the film's memorable lines; "Anything that I did that was wrong I apologise for. But anything that I did that was not wrong I do not apologise for." This is a moment of desperation where her mental operations are bare, she's usually a little craftier. Among the loose group of friends who hang out at the club, everyone bullshits but Charlotte and Matt (Josh Neff), are the two who most compulsively define everything; Charlotte to prop up her self esteem, Matt out of some eerie, earnest shallowness. He insists to Alice with a weird passion that he's "easily discouraged" as though it's part of his creed.

It's Charlotte who informs Alice that she ought to casually mention random things are sexy to entice men. In this case, Alice comments on Scrooge McDuck after Tom (Robert Sean Leonard) shows her some of his collection of original Carl Barks art. And he falls for it, along with the rest of her rap. There'd be little harm in it--they're both just looking to get laid--if he didn't have two venereal diseases he wasn't telling her about.

Even then, it's hard to see him as anything more than another cog in this machine of shallow nightlife. Charlotte even tells Alice how great it is reconnecting with ex-boyfriends in the process of informing them she had gonorrhoea. Does she really believe this? Does she really believe anything she says?

A big part of this film's effectiveness is how much the actors commit to it. Sevigny and Beckinsale are so sincere; even when you laugh you also feel bad for these hapless travellers.

Twitter Sonnet #1175

Impressions made of dots became the page.
In mutant science pens became a chance.
An X and Hulks conclude a vivid age.
In autumn wind the broken web would dance.
Banana cubes are feeding future men.
The bony wrist became a bony watch.
A thousand rings curtail the perfect zen.
A million knives could cut the jagged blotch.
The solemn flaps could cure and wash the car.
Exchanges led to ice replacing glass.
A trebuchet can only sling so far.
There's something round we call the giant mass.
Tamale dreams were hidden 'neath the husk.
Across the sea the walrus stretched his tusk.

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