Friday, May 04, 2007

Zoo story // The Paul in the parka

Laal and i saw "Zoo" tonight. i went with some trepidation. i had heard about it in Time Out (whoa, a bestiality doc!) and of course that seed was planted: i was totally intrigued. as with serial killers, or any other perversely fascinating subject, i usually just keep digging until i get scared off.

but some Googling i did on the, uh, topic this movie deals with made me ill and uncomfortable for a good half a day recently, so i wasn't sure it'd be a good idea to check the thing out. i'm worried about that whole thing of images you can't shake, thresholds you can't uncross, etc.

anyway, was it a disturbing film? in some ways yes. the death at the center of the film--a Washington man died of internal bleeding after having sex with a horse--is extremely disturbing and sad. but it's harder to know what to feel about the actual zoophilia.

the movie has an extremely strange and at times frustrating style. basically its entire visual content is reenactments of events being narrated by various participants. you hear a lot from the ranch hand at the farm where all this stuff took place, from a few of the men who went to his zoophile gatherings there and from the "horse rescuer" who takes possession of the animals in the midst of all the uproar.

the film is overwhelmingly visual and abstract. if you're going into it looking for a clear narrative, a clear sequence of events, any sort of step-by-step logic, you'll be bummin'. the content of the narration wanders; it may skirt the issue for long periods or avoid it entirely, only to snap back into focus with a really startling comment about horses mounting people or somesuch.

i've never been a huge fan of Errol Morris and the film's superstylized reenactments and images really reminded me of him. but somehow i was able to get over that. the movie has an extremely intoxicating beauty. there are images that i won't be forgetting for awhile: men walking through a corridor of purple-flowered trees; figures huddled around a TV in a dark living room watching the moon landing; an illuminated digital clock seen on a car dashboard at night. it's just a lot of pictures, like visualized thoughts or something. the images can get too literal at times--like when one of characters says goodbye to his mother at the beginning--but other times, they're just perfect, like the aerial shots of the Seattle skyline and the rural land around where the incident happened.

it's a sad movie. it's weird, but you feel for the zoos who've been outed as such and have to abandon their lifestyle. i would read the movie not so much as being pro-zoophilia, but as being pro-tolerance. the horse rescuer comes across not as villainous, but as somewhat bitter and judgmental. the scene where one of the horses is castrated at the end is nauseating and deeply troubling. it seems to suggest that castrating a horse is far more inhumane than having sex with one.

god knows what i think about all this. i guess i'm just really curious how someone who didn't live on a farm or otherwise have consistent contact with animals would gravitate toward this lifestyle. one of the participants, who goes by the name Coyote and actually portrays himself in the reenactments, came to Washington from a small coal-mining town. apparently it was internet browsing that first gave him ideas. i suspect that's the way it was for a lot of these folks. there's a really poignant yet creepy scene where the ranch hand is talking about how he didn't know that what he did was called zoophilia, or that there were other people into this sort of thing, until he got on the internet in 2002. (he claims to have not been on since.)

as for what is shown and what isn't, i'll just say that the film is sporadically graphic. the images skirt the issue the same way the narrative does. there's all kinds of weird puzzle pieces to the case that don't quite fit. there's a lengthy interview with one of the policemen involved where he talks about confronting death in several sitations and nearly breaks down, but he barely mentions the case in question. and there's some really weird stuff about how the man who died apparently did some top-secret weapons-engineering work for Boeing.

the music is chiming, at times oppressive--really, really melancholy and piano heavy. there's just this feeling of haziness and sadness and solemn weight that pervades the movie and you sense that for the filmmaker, Robinson Devor, it has to do with the ending of this idyllic scenario the zoos have created, like their Eden is crumbling or something. i can definitely see why some folks have been accusing him of sympathizing overly with these folk. they come across as creepy but sane. there's a lot of talk about "why does doing this make me a bad person?" and all this. it's interesting, b/c there are plenty of horrific acts that would immediately classify someone who had performed them as an unequivocally bad person, but the film really asks you to ponder whether bestiality is one of them.

without getting too graphic, Rush Limbaugh actually carries the day with his quote about how it's ludicrous to say that the animals hadn't consented when they were the ones who were mounting the men, not the other way around. i guess for some people, that would seem like a completely inconsequential detail, but it seems relevant somehow. anyway, i'd recommend this; the movie may not give you the clear narrative of this peculiar tragedy that you're looking for, but it will make you think and feel for sure.


i'm sorry to Paul Simon for discussing him in the same post as zoophilia, but speaking of thinking and feeling, try this clip of him singing "American Tune":

this completely kils me. i keep coming back to the idea that Paul Simon is my favorite songwriter. "songwriter" is a weird term. when i use it i'm referring to a specific thing; it sounds stupid, but it has to be someone who takes him/herself seriously as such, who knows about sophisticated chords, who studies the practice as a science, who cares about poetry and who cares, most of all, about reaching a lot of people. i guess you're not a songwriter till you're an international superstar. sounds dumb, but in my parlance, it's kinda true.

i love Paul Simon for a million reasons. "American Tune" gets at maybe the thing i love most about him, which is that he is very, very honest about malaise. it's maybe even his most pressing theme. he talks about people who are fucked up and in some cases psychotic, who are confronting really ugly truths about themselves. people don't think of him this way; he's thought of as some fey '60s troubadour ("Feelin' Groovy," anyone?), but he's one of the deepest poets of alienation i know.

i love the line "i don't have a friend who feels at ease," in "American Tune." it seems to be about some sort of generational malaise, much in the spirit of the Elvis Costello line "Some of my friends sit around every evening and they worry about the times ahead..." (from "Radio Radio"). i just love this idea of a society of weighty consciences, of worry, of stirred-up thoughts. or rather, i don't love it, but i feel it to be true.

"Still Crazy After All These Years," an absolutely stunning song. a scary song. an elliptical song. "I met my old lover on the street last night...": so far, so nostalgic, but what about the guy at the end who "fear[s] [he'll] do some damage one fine day"? it seems to be about someone burning out, not living up to his potential or the wild dreams he once had, but what if it's an implication of insanity, of him actually being a harmful person?

and the bridge, talk about scary, ominous, true, sad: "Four in the morning / Crapped out, yawning / Longing my life away / I'll never worry / Why should I? / It's all gonna fade." i'm sorry but that's devastating.

my favorite Paul Simon album is the self-titled one from '72, which will henceforth be referred to as "the parka album" for obvious reasons. it's his first solo record and these days, it's overshadowed by a great many things: Simon and Garfunkel will always be the prevailing impression people have of Simon, unless they're younger and it's Graceland. those are the bookends with him and everything else is just details seemingly.

and if people know this album at all, they know it for the singles, "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." they're great songs, no doubt, but somewhat unsubtle when compared to the quiet, devastating sophistication of the rest of the album.

"Duncan" is a beautiful, somewhat surreal and eerie ballad that everyone should hear. "Run that Body Down," about--surprise!--an unidentified feeling of malaise, is somewhat feverish and woozy, much like its subject. "Armistice Day" is intricate, quizzical, complex, oddly exuberant. "Hobo's Blues" is gemlike, with an aw-shucks blue-collar-poetry feel ("Detroit, Detroit / They got a hell of a hockey team / They got a left-handed way of makin' a man / Sign up on that automotive dream), but maybe my favorite is "Peace Like a River."

this is a song of deep. ambiguous longing. it has a quality of something wondered at and mourned simultaneously. "You can beat us with wires / You can beat us with chains / You can run out your roles but you know you can't outrun the history train / I seen a glorious day...." i cannot do this justice, but please listen:

Peace Like a River

this next one, "Everything Put Together Falls Apart," is also a favorite. it's got this sort of meandering structure, linear rather than cyclical, that Simon seems fond of. "American Tune" has this to: no real chorus, just steady momentum. this is kind of a preachy (anti-drug) song in a sense but listen to the way it accrues momentum, starting out like a wisp of smoke and then eventually taking on this weird, uneasy ramble:

Everything Put Together Falls Apart

i can't recommend this album highly enough. i have called like 80 different albums my favorite of all time, but i'd have to say i think it's between this, Craw's "Lost Nation Road," Andrew Hill's "Point of Departure" and maybe the Band's s/t album. for a long while, i didn't like the last track on the Simon, "Congratulations," but one day it struck me that i just didn't get it. i realized that i loved it and that the album was a perfect one.

a lot of people seem to be coming back to Paul Simon (i remember John had a cool roundup of Graceland accolades a while back), and they should be doing so. do not be afraid of him. he is one of the most straight-talking music makers there ever has been. if you just know "Mother and Child" and "Me and Julio," you do NOT know the "parka" album! please check out all of the parka album!


Anonymous said...

Paul is definitely in my 'pantheon' of untouchables when it comes to the songwriter genre, for all the reaons you listed above and more. I mean who the hell else could get away with singing "But it's all right, it's all right, I'm just weary to my bones/Still, you don't expect to be bright and bon vivant/so far away from home, so far away from home." Bright and bon vivant? Give me a one else could pull that off. He can express the deep longings, the deep love (Nobody is a deep cut in his catalog in that area..."Who is my reason to begin?/Who plows the earth, who breaks the skin?" serious stuff), and the human complexities of love (see: You're Kind...he goes through two verses of reasons why she's the best ever, and then segues directly into the goodbye...and the reason? "I like to sleep with the window open/And you keep the window closed"...fucking brilliant).

I could talk about Paul all day.

One of my favorite deep cuts from his later catalog is Thelma off disc 3 of the box idea how that didn't make it onto an album proper.

Prof. Drew LeDrew said...

Getting to this late, but not never. Some weeks before you posted this, Hank, I came to buy both "parka" and "there goes," having never experiences them beyond the radio tunes. Lacking your true catholic tastes, I had put off seriously approaching Simon for the reasons you mentioned, chief among them the "Feelin' Groovy" problem. Also the many SNL appearances. It was just snootiness, really. I think if I liked him at all, it was for his goof as Tony Lacey in Annie Hall (or Manhattan?) -- "going back to Jack and Angelica's," indeed. Anyway, I think the malaise thing really hits on a key point: that this is "adult music," as in: music for grown-ups. "Still Crazy" is a song that talks to adults. For a long time it felt to me like a song that no bearing on my life whatsoever; it was almost dopey in it's seriousness and growed-up-ness. But that's sort of the key: Simon is serious. (MUCH more serious than, say, JT.) It's just taken me a long time to realize it, and be able to take it in. The bonus/demo cuts on the remasters of those first two solo discs are pretty decent, too, btw.

Also, re the parka, it's a snorkel, and for an eye-opening new fetish, try Googling/Wiki-ing "snorkel parka" and follow it down the rabbit hole.

You listen to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC Sats/Suns, Hank? He sometimes goes off on a PS jag, "Hearts and Bones" being a particular favorite of his.

Anyway, thanks for this. Now I'm off to revisit your Steve Perry post from way back, in light of the Sopranos finale...

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