As many of you know, I’ve been performing in a Broadway production of one of John Steinbeck’s best-known works, Of Mice and Men, which is why I’m writing about one of his lesser-read works, In Dubious Battle, a novel that is part of Steinbeck’s migrant-worker trilogy set during the Great Depression.
The Monster in Mysterious Skin, by James Franco
Greg Araki’s film Mysterious Skin (2006) is an adaptation Scott Heim’s novel about two eight-year-old boys in Kansas who are molested by their baseball coach. The movie avoids the usual clichés of molestation narratives by presenting the two vastly different lives that resulted from the same trauma. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes a hustler who grows increasingly reckless in his sexual behavior, while Brian (Brady Corbet) is so deep in denial he believes he was abducted by aliens instead of sexually abused. The depiction of the child molester is especially interesting because he is not portrayed as a monster. One of the most curious aspects of the film is the attractive depiction of Coach: because the film is presented through the subjective perspectives of the two boys, Coach is seen as each boy would have seen him. He seduces them, and thus he seems more like a friend, rather than a sexual threat. But this is also the only perspective that the audience is given so there are no cracks in Coach’s appealing façade. This kind of positive exterior is precisely what the molester wants within the diegesis of the film. There are a few ancillary elements in the film that suggest the abuse has damaged the boys—Neil’s attraction to horror films, Neil’s rape near the end of the film, and his denial of the severity of any of the events—but the odd thing, especially for a film by a gay filmmaker, is that the implied repercussions of the child abuse are activities associated with a sexually active gay youth. Because Brian and Neil grow up as sexy young men and do things that any curious young person might do, it is as if the film is making a connection between sexual preference and abuse. The monster at the center of this film is so attractive that he seems blameless, and he turns the boys not into pathological wrecks, but into attractive sexualized portraits of young men.
Frank Zappa once said that “music criticism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” We’re onboard with that statement, which is why this time of year always gets our goat, and then rams a splintery chopstick up our poor goat’s dickhole. It’s year-end top-50 review season.
Allow us to explain a few things about year-end top-50 review season. It’s a moment when neck-beard music critics get to throw their weight around, kick their Converse up on their desks, and wax critical about something that’s fully accepted as impossible to quantify—the best albums of the year. According to Billboard, something like 75,000 albums are released each year, and that’s not counting stuff your dirtbag cousin throws on Bandcamp. With an average running time of 45 minutes per record, the average human could listen to music 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and not make a dent.
All this mathy stuff illustrates that year-end lists are based 100% on taste. There is no canon of pop music, and anyone who says there is most likely just wants to keep his job as a music journalist. So allow us to present our taste, in order, as collected in 12 issues of VICE Magazine over the past year. Before you get all pissy in the comments and accuse us of neglecting HAIM, Chance the Rapper, Jon Hopkins, or whatever garbage you think deserves critical respect, keep in mind that A) 99% of all music is terrible, B) some of these reviews are on the top 50 because we liked the review, not the band, and C) we really, really, really don’t care.
Christian Workout Power Pack
Capital Christian Distribution
You were probably proud when you found the Desperate Bicycles’s Remorse Code LP in the dollar bin, but when I came across this gem I felt like fucking Friedrich Miescher. Get this: it’s specifically and explicitly a triple-disc collection made for Christian women aged 30 to 45 to help them break a sweat at the local YWCA. Plus, there are no digital downloads, it’s only available in Christian bookstores, and Christianity is a vicious celestial dictatorship that encourages ignorance, cruelty, and genocide.
UV RACE/EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING
Australian punks are the best punks. This is because they drink the blood of kangaroos, which makes them all “hopping mad” and really good at pogoing. Does this mean that kangaroos are the punkest of all animals? I dunno, but I am sure those fuckers will kick you in the face something fierce, with or without steel-toed Docs. They definitely get some kind of props for that.
When he’s not busy making proggy black metal with his other band, Liturgy, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (son of Helen and Jimi, for all you flower children out there) is making blackish prog rock with his new project, Survival, and—hey, Joe—let me just tell you, I’m mad about this album. Hunt-Hendrix, along with bandmates Greg Smith and Jeff Bobula, expertly revives first-wave math rock with the added punch of hardcore gravitas, and it’s got me floating, got it? I would almost even go so far as to say it’s as good as it gets! I know what women (and men, sometimes) want, and it’s more spasmodic rhythms and unpredictable melodic narratives from this Brooklyn trio. Are you experienced, yet? I’m just trying to pay it forward and bask in the rays of the new rising sun.
In The Red
Sometimes when I’m listening to Drake’s lyrics, I’m all like, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, this is totally something my mom would say.” Not so with these dudes. Sure, they could be talking about white-wine spritzers and alimony, but who the fuck can tell? They’re loud, they have unintelligible lyrics, and they named their band after a diaper. Drake can go shit his pants standing and then suck a good man’s dick.
TYLER, THE CREATOR
Kids are so fucking scary now. I’ve always thought that the most terrifying horror and thriller movies are the ones with really stoic, black-eyed kids in formal wear who have no emotions and wait around to slash your ankles or face with found objects. I would literally be afraid to be in the same room as Tyler, the Creator. He looks like he’d peel off a person’s top layer of skin with the very tips of his front teeth and fingernails so that he could later don the victim’s epidermis as a cape onstage while calling your mother a series of very bad names. Which, I think, is exactly what he’s going for, so we can do nothing but encourage it (or die).
Dir: Nicholas Steele
In a past life I was Jacques Cousteau, traveling the globe in search of adventure. Just a short baker’s dozen years ago, I spent no less than 28 days a month abroad on skateboarding tours. I was home so infrequently that I opted to no longer rent an apartment, but rather slept in any stranger’s bed for a night or under my desk at the legendary, defunct skate mag Big Brother. At some point I met my wife, moved back to New Jersey, had two sons, and settled into a peaceful life of domesticity in the suburbs.
Yet not one day passes that I don’t crave the open air of a strange and new place, wanting to find myself in inexplicable predicaments on foreign soil and barely escaping with my life. To try and spice things up, I’ve gotten myself into three car chases in the past two years, and on several occasions have just gotten in my car and driven for hours with no destination in mind. I try my best to take the family on the road a few times a year, but those adventures are different. The adrenaline rush tends to center around if the kids are going to break something or if we can pull over fast enough to avoid one of them shitting his pants.
In the immortal words of Clark W. Griswold: “I wanna paint, I wanna sculpt something massive… I want to… God, I just have a creative urge.” One that only a road trip can quench. Lucky for me I work for Vans, the greatest skate-shoe company on earth, and they’ve been kind enough to take me on a three-week European vacation. I’m writing this on the eve of my departure, and as excited as I am to mix it up overseas, I am beginning to stress out.
This will be the longest I’ve ever been away from my sons. I’m missing my firstborn’s first day of school and his fourth birthday. Worst yet, what really has me sick to my stomach is that I won’t be getting laid for 21 days. I haven’t gone that long since I first discovered the fuzzy britches of a woman. I don’t know that I’ll be able to handle it. So, I sat my wife down and discussed my options. I told her the tour had a one-night stay scheduled in Amsterdam and that I needed closure. She understood, gave me her consent, but feared for my safety.
The story goes that 11 years ago, in the early stages of our courtship, I found myself in the red-light district of Amsterdam. Not wanting to cheat on my new lady, I instead opted to buy a bag full of oblong vegetables for a prostitute to use as sex toys while I masturbated: no touching involved, and I’d gladly pay full freight. Turns out girls over there don’t care much for veggies. Every gal scoffed at the proposition; one sex worker got so angry that she called the enormous Moroccan security guards and nearly had me beaten senseless.
Babysit My Ass
Dir: Joey Silvera
In April, after a battery of tests, at age three and a half, my firstborn son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Perhaps I should have realized something was up sooner—like at ten months when he lined 34 pancake bites across his highchair tray equidistant apart from each other in a straight line. Or at age two when he became very particular about how his toys and books were put away and any deviation would result in a meltdown. But I had no idea what signs to look for. I was a first-time parent with no father to ask for guidance. It took my son’s preschool teacher to tell me his humming and outbursts warranted professional examination.
It seemed just as the diagnosis came back that things were at their worst; meltdowns and outbursts were becoming violent, and he nearly broke my wife’s nose with a kick to the face in one particular instance. I wrapped him up in my love and rocked him back and forth to calm him down. I whispered in his ear how bad it is to hit people.
July 1 marked my seventh wedding anniversary and I found myself in a car headed for Maine on a camping trip with my family. The campsite, as you would hope, smelled of inbreeding and white trash from various parts of America. The people at the cabin next door to ours were from Ohio. The wife and husband both wore glasses, giving them the appearance of being learned; I realized this to be false advertisement when their five-year-old daughter rode up on her bicycle and said, “Mommy! Drinky!” and proceeded to hop off her bike and run over to her mother who was simultaneously whipping out her deflated tit to put in the child’s mouth.
The swimming pool was ice-cold but had four hot tubs in a row beside it. My son liked to jump in the freezing cold water, letting his temperature drop, then hop in each of the hot tubs for exactly 34 seconds before moving on to the next. Two hot tubs were marked under 18 and two were marked over 18. He can already read but he chose not to heed the signs and I didn’t stop him; he was enjoying himself.
A 40-year-old redneck guido (picture a mullet and gold chain, Oakley Blades, and a Pam Anderson barbwire arm tattoo) tried to regulate a hot tub for him and his bro. My son paid him no mind and slid into their tub. The guy told my son, “No kids allowed.” My son ignored him and continued to count to 34. I told the fucker, “It’s fine, I’m his dad.” He kept on and pointed to the sign and said it was 18 and over. I looked at him and laughed. He had no idea how important counting to 34 was to my boy, and I wasn’t going to tell him. It was none of his goddamn business, and I wasn’t going to give my son a “He’s special” crutch to walk around with his whole life. If his wild eccentricities make him happy, there’s no reason for him or anyone else to apologize for them. I told the Kenny Powers stunt double, “It’s a campground. We’re all on vacation. Chill out.”
With that he leapt out of the water and puffed up in my face. He was begging me to pummel him senseless and fill that tub full of blood, and it took everything I had to restrain myself.
“You are fighting in defense of a hot tub, you cocksucker. I am fighting for my son. Who do you think is going to win that fight?” I asked him. Maybe his Oakley Blades made him a learned man for that instant because he let it go.
It was the closest I’ve come to beating a man in front of my son. I feel awful he saw me that way, and I could tell in his fearful eyes that it resonated in him.
“Thirty-four?” I asked him.
“Do you want ice cream?”
As we walked for a chocolate cone with rainbow sprinkles he asked, “Were you going to hit that man, Daddy?”
“No, boy. We don’t hit.”
Read more Skinema from our past issues here.
Bret Easton Ellis Reviews Your Novel, Part 1
Have you heard of The Canyons? Of course you have because you are a living, breathing human who uses the internet. In case you are the creep who gets his news off the iPad of the pretty lady sitting next to him on the subway, The Canyons is a “contemporary thriller” written by Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho, directed by Paul Schrader, and starring Lindsay Lohan and James Deen. It was partly funded by a Kickstarter campaign, through which they ultimately raised about $200,000. The suckers, err, contributors who gave $5,000 got the chance to have Bret Easton Ellis review their novel. Here we have the first of Ellis’s Kickstarter reviews, of Pablo D’Stair’s novel Regard, which was published this year from (KUBOA) art house. —The VICE Reader
If I’m counting the number of titles correctly on the “Other Fiction by Pablo D’Stair” page then Regard falls among his 38 works of fiction. I’m noting this because D’Stair was born in 1981, and for someone in his early-30s this is a crazily prodigious accomplishment. Judging from Regard, I’m guessing that most of this fiction is experimental and, like Regard, carefully crafted enigmas that bury dramatic incident in reams of minutiae, which is part of a plan—the novel as puzzle. Here’s the description from its dust jacket:
“A 13-year-old girl moves through a world equal parts routine and randomness, tenderness and violence, tedium and excitement, intimacy and ambivalence, making no distinction between one state or another, her life rendered in minute physical description with only as much psychological insight offered as would be leveled at a stray cat or an insect.”
If that sounds like 275 pages of fun reading, then Regard is definitely for you. This approach might seem meek, almost a shy way of constructing a nove. As a writer who has used this device myself, I understand why another might be attracted to it, but the risk in doing so is that a reader might become too busy thinking,Why isn’t a narrative announcing itself? and then skimming through pages instead of concentrating on what’s happening. A reader might get distracted by asking, “Where is the, um, story?” There are, of course, stacks of uninteresting books with strong narratives and forceful characterizations, and a writer can be a complete hack and still write a terrific narrative. But someone needs to be a freaking genius to pull off a 300-pageexperimental novel. This all sounds like I’m going to complain about Regard, but I’m not because the book blithely manages to go its own way and the reader ultimately goes along with it, if not always eagerly.
The burger comes in a sturdy red box with Wendy’s face stamped on it, her open-mouthed smile all made out of a single line. The box reads: “QUALITY IS OUR RECIPE,” which makes me imagine a chubby American burger chef holding up a recipe book with a picture of my burger on one page and “Ingredients: Quality” written in big font on the page beside it. I open the box and look at the baby nestled inside, waiting all alone, the weird cross-shaped X on top designed to create the illusion that the bun was freshly baked.
The food item itself smells different every time you sniff it. First, I remember walking on the beach, during those same years when I was fat and wore a big shirt because I didn’t want anyone to see my chub. If you sniff the center of the cross on top of the bun it kind of smells like the warm free bread they bring you in a basket at corporate chain restaurants like O’Charley’s or something, which is usually only good if you smash enough butter into it to make it not be bread anymore. Sniffing near the cheese reminds me of baseball for some reason; and the bacon, of course, smells like dead meat.
My Name Is Tom and I’m a Video Game Addict – by James Franco
“I am a video game nerd and I love it.” That’s what Tom Bissell admits in his excellent confession and analysis of his descent (ascent?) into video game addiction, Extra Lives: Video Games Matter. He seems like me (I say that humbly), in that he once had a love of literature and spent much of his intellectual and professional life engaged with literature: reading literature, writing about literature, and teaching literature. But at some point in his late 20s, video games took over.
Tom seems to have mixed feelings about his video game addiction. His book makes excellent arguments about video games being the newest popular art form that can do a variety of things that other art forms can’t. They can engage the audience as players and thus as creators of the narrative. They also allow players to create their own avatars to navigate imaginary worlds. And they can make narrative engagement active and open-ended because each player can experience his or her own unique version of the journey. This last point is even more evident in free-roaming games such as Grand Theft Auto IV,where one can just wander.
But Tom also seems to be confessing or defending (to himself?) his tight tether to video games. He plays morning, noon, and night. He ends his book (spoiler alert!) with a moving comparison of his addiction toGrand Theft Auto IV with his concomitant addiction to cocaine. He travels the world on various assignments or grants, fully intending to rid himself of both addictions—I think these trips are called “geographics” in addiction parlance—but he always gets sucked back in. Ultimately it sounds as if his cocaine addiction has been kicked, but the existence of this book shows that video games are still a huge part of his life. They arehis life.
James Franco is now writing for VICE. Here’s his first column, about The Great Gatsby.
James Franco Reviews ‘The Great Gatsby’ Movie
The challenge Baz Luhrmann had in adapting The Great Gatsby to film was similar to what Walter Salles faced with On the Road: how to stay loyal to the era depicted, while still retaining the rawness of the original text. Salles did a great job of capturing the ambiance of 1950s America, but it could be argued that his Dean and Sal didn’t have enough zeal—enough of that desire to live, live, live.
The old saying is that a good book makes a bad film, while a paperback potboiler like The Godfather makes a great film. But this wisdom is derived from the idea that a good book is made by the writing, and if it’s adapted into whatever, its magic is lost. As just about every (film) critique has already noted—and they’re right, if repetitive—most of what makes The Great Gatsby great is Fitzgerald’s prose. We allow the classics to get away with so much because we love the characters. But when older stories are revived for film, the issue of the past and present must be rectified. But that lack was not a function of anything missing in the actors or the general direction as much as it is a result of the passage of time, the encasing of a book in the precious container of “classic” status.