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Welcome to Chestbeating By Word. Writings on artists, experiences, entertainment and fiction.

Stoner Movies – Just Say Yes.

Stoner Movies – Just Say Yes.

I got a call from Blaze the other day. I had not heard from him for a while because he is back working again. Blaze is a hard worker but for reasons I can’t go into as the government files are sealed till 2068 he has been leading a life of relative leisure until the last few weeks. So he is back, nose to the grindstone, head down bum up etc., until such point that he isn’t. I am not sure what he is doing now, as he was his usual secretive self. Judging from hints and previous form he is either in the security detail of a third world dictator or working at Boost Juice.

Anyhow he must have spent at least some of his spare time watching Disney channel because he felt my choice of Disney teen comedies in my last blog on American TV comedy were and I quote, “fucked up.” This is classic case of the devil finding work for idle hands.

And by the way I am sorry for this outburst of proverbs and biblical sayings. I have been binge watching series two of The Handmaids Tale, surely one of the best and most important TV shows in years and now I can’t help but drop a few   “ Under his eye” and “Blessed be the fruit” whenever I go to the café to get my morning flat white. I can’t help it, it’s not like I agree with the Gilead way of life but feeling self righteous and superior has a lot of power and before you know it you are expanding your biblical quote repertoire.

Anyhow I pointed out to Blaze that as he was not a teenage girl but a grown man and therefore his feelings that I had done Hannah Montana and its star Miley Cyrus a disservice could only be based on her introduction to our vocabulary of the term and practice of “twerking” through vigorous demonstration of same on some award show.  He denied this stridently. I pointed out that while Miley can certainly hold a tune she was no actress and anyway the blog was about US comedy and not generational bad haircuts.

We did agree that when it comes to acting surely Elisabeth Moss, star of The Handmaid’s Tale, and a key actress in Mad Men, Top Of The Lake and The West Wing is this century’s actress par excellence. Interestingly her movie work is nowhere near as exceptional which I think says more about the quality of TV now days than anything else.

She has a role in the recent movie High Rise based on JG Ballard’s book. This is cold, dystopic stuff filled with paranoia, social breakdown, class war and violence. If you love David Lynch or David Cronenberg movies or the music of Joy Division and themes of body disgust, technology and sex and society breakdown you need to read some J. G. Ballard. Lets put it this way, even if he was still alive he would not be writing any scripts for Disney for a reboot of That’s So Raven.

Blaze said “ I look at myself differently in the mirror now since I read J.G. Ballard.” Says it all really. Anyway the film isn’t too bad and Elisabeth does good work playing a pregnant woman, which in itself is kind of weird considering her current role as Offred.

A better movie filled with heart and humour is Ladybird, available now through the usual pay TV outlets. A more real than Disney coming of age story, its about a teenage girl on the wrong side of the tracks who wants to quit town and go to college in New York. But family, average grades and no money are standing in the way. Yep I know, been done before but not as well as this. It’s a cracker and if you loved Juno and Richard Linklater’s awesome Boyhood you will dig this. Blaze had not seen this due to him being busy abrading his fingerprints off and practicing signing his name backwards and upside down in a mirror but agreed if it was in the league of Boyhood it had some chops.

Why is Linklater’s Boyhood so good you ask? Well first of all Patricia Arquette is in it and she got the Oscar for best supporting actress. But the concept of making a movie shooting scenes every three years over a twelve-year period using the same cast and sort of letting the experiences of the cast over that time inform the script was really cool. Sure documentaries have done the same thing but filming real life is kind of easy. Anyway if you haven’t seen it, Blaze says you’re a no account wastrel.

Linklater has a number of top movies to this name including the romantic trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight plus School of Rock and the fantastic teen comedy Dazed And Confused. Set like Boyhood, in his birth state of Texas, this movie for my money is only beaten by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the all time best teen movie stakes. Awesome soundtrack, lots of actors you know a lot better now and plenty of misbehaviour.

Which got me and Blaze thinking about a related genre, the stoner film.

You could argue that just about every teen movie from about the 1980s has dope smoking in them and are therefore some kind of stoner movie. But to me that definition is too wide. Stoner movies have dope smoking as much more pivotal to character development and plot progress. There is dope smoked in Ladybird but there is more going on that isn’t linked to the choof.

Should there be more stoner movies? I think so, especially if we are all being honest, that the vast majority of us born since the 1960s have gotten stoned at least once. Blaze with the searing cut through he is known for, pointed out that most people who are going to make a movie about smoking dope, will smoke dope. Now in my experience smoking dope does tend to bring about a number of pleasures but engaging fully with a work ethic is not one of them.

Now there are some good stoner movies but they have been made largely for people who are stoned so the feelings of hilarity, hunger, horniness, paranoia etc. can be viewed on the screen thereby enhancing their own in a positive feedback loop. I am talking here about Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures, the 70s classics by Cheech and Chong etc.

The above movies are full of episodic events that happen because the characters are stoned.

But there are at least two where the stone has a more varied role. By that I mean that being high and being a stoner is central to the story, shapes the action, influences the outcome and brings things to a conclusion.

I am talking about Inherent Vice and The Big Lebowski.

Inherent Vice from a novel by Thomas Pynchon is a good read and the film is great too. A mix of 1970s California hippie life, high society, film noir and cop procedural, Inherent Vice seems to mix Fast Times at Ridgemont High with  Polanski’s Chinatown in a rambling, vague two hours plus film where our hero seemingly, thanks to his smoking, is at the same time just a little behind and ahead of what the hell is going on. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson {Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood} and with Jocquin Phoenix starring I suggest you track it down and get comfortable.

The Coen Brothers are geniuses. If we can’t start with agreement at that point you should move on. The Big Lebowski is one of their finest films and is an exemplary stoner film even if compared to some of the others mentioned here, the roaches are not, to quote Cold Chisel, as “thick on the ground.”

Unlike Inherent Vice this is a buddy story but it also contains a quest for the hero and his faithful offsiders to take to solve the mystery. There are huge nods to Raymond Chandler, the master of the hard-boiled LA private eye story and it is amazing how well these genres rub together. But there is so much more, the cast is amazing, script and characters first rate, music and the production values spot on. The dude abides in the end but the shambolic journey that he and his two buddies take is a classic stoner story where the weed both helps and hinders.

There is one film I should mention that for my mind fits into neither of these stoner movie categories. That is Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas but to be honest the genius was in the book by Hunter S Thompson. Go read it as it is still one of a kind even now and its blend of fact and fiction, journalism and autobiography, cultural critique and hilarious episodes form the basis of gonzo journalism and a whole lot of other stuff.

But in the end this is a book about being off your nut and just really going with it, in fact not just going with it but doubling down at every opportunity.  For me the film doesn’t nail it but have a look anyway. By the way Blaze named his pets after characters in that book. He has a snake called Dr Gonzo and a spoodle called Raoul Duke who always looks at me like I am a meat flavoured hash cookie and once asked me if I could take him bowling. No wait, that was a dream.

Being Right is More Than Being Right.

Being Right is More Than Being Right.

Americans Are Funny Too, They Are Just Going Through A Grumpy Patch.

Americans Are Funny Too, They Are Just Going Through A Grumpy Patch.