There is an article in the NYT today about a series of films by Andy Warhol, being shown in Brooklyn. I won't be in New York in time to see them. The announcement reminded me of my hippyish youth, when I saw an Andy Warhol film in an "underground" theater. With my sister Mary, as I recall. I believe the theater was in Pasadena, might have been Under the Ice House - or is that a club? I think so. My memory is going. I do remember going to a club there and trying to dance and not feeling particularly good at it.
I couldn't remember the name of the Warhol film. I hunted through the article, hoping for recognition, but none came. So I started hunting online and found it: Trash. It's about heroin addiction, and it is the most unlovely film on that subject I have ever seen. It really stuck with me a long time. If Warhol was interested in turning people off heroin, this was the way. Funny it didn't seem to work for his own crowd.
I almost bought a poster of the film. I'm still thinking about it.
I'm in a movie-going mode. Yesterday I saw Michael Clayton.
It's a little confusing going in. It starts literally in the middle, then backtracks. Background was really cut to the bone. The concept is simple when you finally get it. Michael is a lawyer in a large firm whose special talent is as a "fixer", a "janitor". The guy they send out to fix the impossible problems. He is not particularly happy in this role and has tried to go back to being a litigator. I get the sense he thinks his job is a little - or a lot - "dirty". Yet he needs it, he does it. A few years before the action, he attempted to start a restaurant as a backup, somewhere to go when the lawyering no longer worked. It never got off the ground, from what I could tell. He also had problems with gambling. So he's doing the work he needs to do but he's deeply in debt.
And then he is faced with what ultimately turns out to be an ethical problem. And we are right if we wonder if he will rise to it.
That's all I'll say about the plot.
I would have liked if the nature of his character had been explored a little more, more than the occasional reference to his card-playing, the efforts to pay his debt. I didn't feel I got enough of that. It's a hard call, I'm sure, for a director: to over- or under-sell, and I will usually opt for under. I just wanted a little more angst, somehow.
I feel obligated, given my position on the subject, to point out that the person in this film who has "bi-polar disorder" might have been better served not taking pills, but that's of course a peripheral argument. Still, it bothers me when persons in film and on television assert that other persons have "chemical imbalances" when such imbalances have never been proven and probably will not be, given the nature of the specific chemicals in question. I leave that there just as a bit of a tantalizer for those who care to look this shit up.
Those were the two main drawbacks to me. The pluses: George Clooney looks good and acts terrifically. The dialog, especially with his son, seems very genuine. The storyline moves rapidly and kept me going with it.
On my way out of the theater I heard someone say, "Is that Judy?" It turned out to be two former co-workers, from city of SLO days. They had seen the same flick. I told them I had no idea going in what the movie was about but "George Clooney. Good enough for me." They laughed because that was their motivation as well. And it's a good enough one! You get to see a lot of him here.
I think I may have been spoiled by the good documentaries that are becoming more prominent and available these days. I look for representations of how things are, even in fiction. Rendition tells some of the story but not much of it. I expect that it would be difficult to go too deeply and still actually have a story. That is, a riveting account with fast action and comprehensible parts.
Anwar, a man of Egyptian heritage, who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and is married to an American and has a child, visits Africa for a conference. He is a chemical engineer. When he arrives back in the Chicago airport he is taken from the plane before he reaches the waiting area. He is captured by the CIA, who think he is a terrorist sympathizer because the phone number of a known terrorist appears on his cell phone bill. They also believe he has lent them his knowledge of chemistry to make their bombs smarter.
He is taken out of the country and interrogated by our allies - I am unclear on this, I believe it is Israelis who interrogate him (location "classified", according to the movie site). Douglas Freeman, A CIA analyst, newly turned field officer, is assigned as an observer. This agent was thrown into this position because the agent who normally has the job was killed in a suicide bombing.
At the other end, Anwar's wife Isabella tries to find out what happened to her husband, why he was not at the airport when she came to pick him up. She runs into walls, of course, one particular one in the form of Meryl Streep, the head of the terrorism unit of the CIA, who directs these "extraordinary rendition" captures. Streep does an admirable job being cold and unsympathetic and playing the party line. Douglas is less cold, if just as committed to finding the truth. When he watches torture - by whatever name you want to call it - and sees the result, he is inclined to believe the prisoner knows nothing, has done nothing.
The basic question, the argument for torture, is raised and is answered different ways: does torture produce results? Here I was rather hoping someone would pull out one of the many studies that show that it does not, but I suspect for the sake of the script that wasn't an option. I think the point was made nevertheless.
Will Douglas do the right thing? Will he get Anwar freed and home to his family? I think we all know that there are many men who have spent months and years in prisons, who have been given no recourse, no representation, no ability even to see their families. Perhaps Anwar will be luckier?