Thursday, February 28, 2013

the end of a shovel

Nakamura Utaemon IV in the picture on the cover of my Heike has the strange eye deformity that you sometimes see in traditional Japanese portraits, the iris and pupil trying to slide into the bridge of the nose, possibly not the thought he wanted people in the future to have when they thought of him, and possibly not how he would have wanted to be remembered if anyone had asked for his preferences, but the real Kiyomori would possibly not have wanted to be remembered by my few lonely memories of him in the Heike, steaming on his bed or encountering skulls off the back patio.

And the approach I have to things is usually sideways or indirect, the thoughts I have when I meet a piece of work are not thoughts the artist would probably suspect me of having, even if they knew me, for example, when I saw the film Casino last Monday night (I have deleted six words here: see last post), through the first half or so, during the sight of Joe Pesci cramming the sharp end of a man's own pen into the mild pale-pasturing meat of that man's own gentle throat (gentle as a cattle's wattle), I was thinking, every time we saw a domestic interior, "Is this the house that belongs to the friends of that woman who wrote that memoir about her time as a casino model?"

We had seen this woman at a library event (her name is Elaine McNamara and her book is In The Midst of Cowboys, Crooners and Gangsters: Recollections of the Las Vegas Glamour Era, LifeStories, 2011) where she'd told us that her friends had to live somewhere else for nine months because Martin Scorsese was in their house with his camera crew.

(We saw Cullotta at a similar event a week later: see last post for the relevance of him, a man with a square-cut snow-colored beard.)

The house was next to a golf course, she said, so I looked out for the golf course. When the golf course arrived I relaxed. There's the house. Seeing the way Robert De Niro's fictional casino was positioned on the Strip, with the Flamingo down the road, I felt an unpleasant but triumphant discriminatory emotion -- a poisoned emotion I would say, poisoned by the suspicion that it was not very worthy of any intelligent human being, not only unworthy of myself but unworthy of all of us without reserve, and in a good world or the one in J.M. Coetzee's new book it would barely have been born but intelligence would have overruled it, yet we have had our instincts collectively for many years, creating various instant feelings in our hearts, and they have saved us from lions or wild dogs or being eaten by the crocodile in former centuries (and even in current times, depending on your homeland and opportunities, observe that a film director off the coast of EnZed yesterday was killed by a shark, a man with a volunteering ethic of whom it was said, "He was always there at working bees on the end of a shovel"), now they counsel us to avoid a certain dark street when we think we see a movement at the end or "it just looks wrong, it feels wrong," myriad tiny events reaching us I suppose, and converting themselves instantly into a menagerie of warnings the moment they are touched by our senses which in this way creates them though not efficiently enough in the case of the man Joe Pesci stabbed in the throat, and I cannot escape them myself -- discriminatory towards De Niro's character because he was lording himself around as though he ran the Wynn and his fictional casino was only replacing Bally's, which opens onto the world with a neon plastic people-mover that puts security so far away from the pavement out the front that they always have illegal buskers on the concrete in Spongebob Squarepants costumes or else playing the bagpipe while the Bellagio fountains in the background emerge from the concealed iron tubes in their violent bursts.

The interior of De Niro's casino is played by the interior of the Riviera, which appears again in The Hangover and other films. The four casinos that Rosenthal ran (see last post) have been imploded, replaced, incorporated into the MGM Grand, and, in one instance, maintained by a conglomerate known as Boyd Gaming, which is one of those business entities that have filled the essential leadership role formerly occupied by crime mobs, filling it insufficiently, is the song from parts of the public, because these companies do not restrain the ordinary criminals who have taken over the crime part of the mob role, the murders, the prostitution, and so on, off the Strip, the mob would have stopped them, but this is nothing but nostalgia and rose coloured glasses, say the opponents of that crew, and it is true that Old Vegas can be regarded with nostalgia, not only mob-related, but also nostalgia for the times when children played with lizards on the same land that is now covered with tract housing and English-named streets, or nostalgia for dead entertainers, Cee-Lo Green opening a new show inspired by Liberace -- Loberace is the name of the show, and for the publicity months ago he did honestly and sincerely dress in a lobster suit, this well-spoken gentleman decorated and armoured provocatively like a crustacean beast of the deep, with the pink cliffs around the city all luminous at sunset.


  1. You, uh, made a discussion of Casino seem a lot more memorable than I remember the film being.

    1. I have a fair degree of respect for anything so blatantly gaudy. The costumes were so gaudy that I couldn't work out what era they were supposed to have come from -- the film was set in the '80s, the clothing wasn't, not consistantly. It came from the Time of Gaudy Things. And then you had the mob bosses, back in Kansas City, keeping their eyes on all that glamour from the back room of a shabby palefaced grocery store on a road full of nothing important. And Scorsese has this interest in how crime works, this mechanical interest in the coming and going of the money being processed back of house in the casinos, which is to my taste -- I like seeing how things work too, and the contrast between the lush front of house casino experience and the businesslike backstage area (in some places you go from carpet and gilt straight onto utilitarian concrete floors and pipes running along the ceiling) is a phenomenon I enjoy every time. He likes faces as well. The faces he picks, even just for background characters, wordless bit parts, are wonderful. They're almost deformed. The attention to detail! The stamina it must take, picking all these faces.