I Saw A Film!

I know I rarely stretch out to the modern industry as I have missed so much over my life I am sure I can spend all of what I have left just catching up on oldies, gems, forgotten masterpieces and flat out junk, which should be categorized at least in the form of inadvertently awful (making them hilarious) and simply low-budget art (honest films from visionaries that earnestly tried to make an imaginative and creative project on a shoestring).

I excused myself this excursion because 1. it’s possibly the best “vampire” movie ever (even if the protagonist isn’t exactly a “traditional” vampire, and 2. because it stars Henry Rollins whose career as singer for Black Flag made him a hero of mine, right down to my opportunity to pat his “Search and Destroy” tattoo (plastered across his scapulas) and compliment his show (a part of which he sang from his back on the floor of the old venue The Living Room in Providence). He thanked me in a gruff but absolutely honest manner. It was punk rock after all, there were no superstars, we were in it together. It was always like a protest that we joined and frequently our participation was as valid as theirs. I was there to see them, and I wasn’t even sure it was them when they took the stage. I’d never seen Kira –and it was kind of easy to fall for her, but I was confused by the their appearance despite the opening chords to “Life of Pain”. Well there you go, Rollins has had plenty of career since then but I’ve not really kept up with it aside from the occasional recognition of him as he pursues acting and book-writing. I can’t help but feel a connection even if at times he’s kind of a hyper-masculine caricature.

He Never Died outlines exactly what I always thought an immortal would end up being. You might spend the first few centuries actually having a good time, doing whatever you wanted with aplomb, but eventually, a kind of weariness would inevitably force a path of basic satisfaction over any Xerxes-like need for thrills. Humanity would soon appear like children who keep circling the same set of pursuits and dying too soon to make anything of value. Jack, as this character is called, spends much of his time playing bingo with elderly folks, because he doesn’t have to think, and eating oatmeal at a nearby diner every day. He feels no desire to communicate or explain. He has long ago transcended any semblance of ego. And when some rotten elements find their way into his quiet life just as an estranged 19 year old daughter decides to look him up, his contemplative isolation is trashed.

The film is a very dark comedy and I have to say I didn’t really find it funny the first time I watched it a few years back, but the second time through, I saw where the director meant for us to be amused. The amusement is mostly in the fact that Jack is so alien as a human being at this point in his existence that he’s essentially socially handicapped. Though as a handicap it really doesn’t matter, he’s lured into having to care, because, well, the two ladies in his life (the waitress who brings oatmeal, and now the reunited alcoholic daughter) force him out of his detachment and into a sort of action. He’s not happy about it, just as the Yojimbo isn’t happy about having to turn from being a careless ronin into devoting himself to ethical behavior. While on the one hand any samurai would welcome the opportunity to do something honorable (being useful is actually part of our born-in–biological even–social contract) it takes a bit of effort for these characters to get over the accumulated moss of their circumstances. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver also pursues an avenue of some kind of ethics, but in his case he’s looking for something to aim his life at. He just sort of lucks into a better target than he initially chose.

Rollins’ Jack is refreshing in a manner that is almost freakish. He never gloats. He never threatens. He never has a quip. And while we wish to see him “super hero” up and take on the violent scum that appear in his little paradise, he does only what he must to accomplish saving his charges. Of course, it isn’t long before the problem escalates as problems with violence often do and the criminals, unable to kill off this bizarre road block, end up in a kind of circular confusion about him. Their usual blunt tools and techniques are not working, and their inability to actually adjust to the problem is very realistic.

Jack has to feed occasionally, and those moments are not particularly sexy. Everything is done to make the necessity as dull and ugly as possible, no gorgeous victim is painstakingly selected, followed, and seduced . . . instead Jack just takes parts of his enemies and seems to feed without pleasure like any wild thing that lucks upon sustenance it needs to survive.

The end, I won’t spoil, but the situation comes to a bit of a wild head, and we’re let in on more relationships we weren’t aware of. And unfortunately the finale seems to draw on further supernatural elements than are necessary by way of a desire to explain. I always feel like these sorts of things, usually atomic bombs, or John Carradine spouting sciency mumbo-jumbo in the old days, can safely be skipped. They’re always the worst parts of any fantasy film. We don’t need to know who he supposedly is or how he supposedly came to be. In fact, I can accept that possibly we can’t know, and it won’t mean anything to us!

I could watch Rollins as Jack in a whole series of this I think. I could watch him play more bingo, watch him eat his oatmeal, watch him go through the motions like a robot so utterly unattached to existence (not life) that he’s as hilarious as Mr. Bean on a roller-coaster (which if you haven’t seen, please do yourself a favor).

This film is on Netflix and is a wonderful answer to those twee Twilight romances from a few years back.

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