Okay, a good friend sent me a copy of Ken Russell’s ‘FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER’. I knew nothing of this movie and was largely unfamiliar with Mr. Russell, other than 1980’s ALTERED STATES & 1986’s GOTHIC. The latter film I love, the former being something I bought on clearance several years ago but have only watched once. I enjoyed it but have yet to find the motivation to watch it a second time. Not dissing it, just saying.
‘Usher’ I am going to diss now, so if you’re a fan wait until the end and then feel free to defend it.
I dare you.
Before I get under way with the bad however let me just say that the music in the movie, written and performed by James Johnston (also the lead actor here) and his band Gallon drunk, is really good.
Now, on with the bad.
First I will confess to not having been able to watch the entire movie.
It’s that fucking awful.
It takes a lot for me to turn off a movie. Seth Rogan’s super bad SUPERBAD is the only thing in recent memory that also got the yank, and let me tell you, both that and Usher definitely deserved it.
But Usher is a different kind of bad, so let me explain.
After about one hour that felt like ten I was so infuriated with everyone involved with the project* that I just couldn’t take it anymore. The movie itself is cardboard: plot is lifted from Edgar Allen Poe’s classic, supposedly, but then Russell takes so many liberties with it that it can no longer truly be called the same story. However, the fact that Russell took liberties with it is not what bothered me. No. What bothered me is the fact that none of the liberties taken are for the sake of any plot or effects or characters – Russell seems to think his inclusion of whatever fetishes or fancies he harbors for shirt skirts, naked chicks covered in blood or bizarre sexual scenarios (blow up dolls having orgies with inflatable dinosaurs could have been really pretty cool) will add pop and … I don’t know… ‘weird cinema cred’ or something to his half-assed attempt at, well to say it was even an unsuccessful attempt at a home movie would be giving this steaming pile of shit too much credit. I mean, really, I’ve seen some movies made with no budgets in peoples homes that were better than this.
Shit, Douche tube is chock full of them.
Why is it so bad? Well, glad you asked. First and foremost, all the performances (including Russell’s as Doctor Calahari) are either flat, laughable or in some cases most likely the product of real-time camera coaching. Others are so over the top ridiculous that the only balance ever achieved is the kind that puts everyone involved look like they are having fun while anyone watching is suffering.
Next, I’m all for non-linear stuff, but this is just comes across as everyone trying a bit too hard. William Burroughs, David Lynch – these are two excellent examples of artists who can really work with non-linear techniques. Usher just feels like ‘Hey everybody, let’s make it as weird as we can!’
In trying to find some explanation as to what the motivation behind this atrocity could be I began looking around on the Internet. Now, first let me say although I know next to nothing about Russell I always want to give artists the benefit of the doubt, and so I arrived at a theory.
In my understanding of the world, the only way to explain a talented film maker constructing such childish garbage is for the function of laughing at those who would seek to find and tout it’s ‘art and merit’. These are usually the folks who are afraid if a bad creation by an independent or iconic artist comes their way, they will come off as foolish or unsophisticated if they judge it based on anything other than how their reaction to it is perceived.
No hipster, snob or critic, for the most part, want to be the only one ‘not getting it’ if they indeed ‘did not get it’.
Applied to the music world, this explains why people say they like the band The Locust. The Locust’s rep is the proverbial bootstrap that holds them up.
I have similar theories about artists such as John Zorn or The Flying Luttenbachers, whose overall catalogues I love, even though certain albums or projects seem made from this clearly Dadaist perspective. I like that. It is clearly a bait for art snob douche bags who sit around listening to what was meant to be unlistenable saying things like, ‘Oh yes, I see the significance of this passage – it’s really about the nature of the sustainable sound and its relation to the empty passages further along.’
Now, in a strange turn even though I hated this film, if this is indeed the reason behind its existence then I love the fact that it exists. I love artists who take the swipe at the hoity-toity populace. It’s like the artist in Soho who shits in the corner of his gallery. The scenesters come in and attempt to befriend or patronize the creator with, ‘ It’s clearly a commentary on this,’ or ‘I see what you’re getting at with this one’ and the creator responds, ‘No, I shit on the floor. Hah!’
So this my mind told me could be the only rational explanation for Ken Russell’s ‘Fall of the Louse of Usher’ – it’s a joke. A joke on the audience, because it takes somewhere around two hours to watch this (not me!), and it took him and his friends probably two days to film it, and they were probably drinking and having a good ol’ time laughing about all the assholes that would pretend to ‘get it’ while doing so.
I’ve said it for years and it remains true – you can sell your own shit in this country if you know who to market it to.
* The only person I did not dislike in this film was the lead, James Johnston. It wasn’t that his performance wasn’t bad, it was. Yet I do not know if it was the fact that I am a Gallon Drunk fan, or that it didn’t feel like Johnston’s performance was bad because of him but because of what he was working with. Also, he very notably was having a great time with it.