Thursday, October 3, 2013


Hollywood. Not glitz Hollywood but the place on the map where they used to make the movies. Images of once splendid cinemas collapsed and crumbling with just enough of the splendour visible. These saddening images resurface throughout as a kind of floating memento mori of Glamourville, a kind of long suffering servant to the ravenous trust-fund human insect life we are about to follow.

Christian, young, buff and benefitting, invites casually contacted strangers in to edge-up his sex life with his girlfriend. When we see this happening it plays like a canasta night. He is funding a film production but hasn't so much as read the screenplay. I'd say he's like something out of Brett Easton Ellis except that he is.

The Canyons is a crowd sourced collaboration of veteran film director and writer Paul Schrader and novelist Ellis and they crowdsourced this film after a more amibitous project fell through. I know nothing of that one but the fact of its failure shouldn't colour your approach to this. Why? Because it's fine.

It's not fine because troubled star Lindsay Lohan plays close to the touble she's been in and the rest play callous and worldly or in training for same. The plot is a tangle of infidelity and manipulation and of itself registers only softly. The performances vary between confidence (eg. Lohan) and audition tape (Nolan Gerard Funk). The film punches above its weight in recording medium, mix, editing etc. Schrader's at the wheel and he's working.

But this film isn't about film it's about flow. That's kind of why this review might feel like damning with faint praise. However well the pieces of this one fit and how efficiently the cinema of it works, this film works best when you just let it happen. If you've ever read a novel by Ellis you'll be aware of this and know that rather than describing slackness on the part of the audience or readers it points more to the gradual build of something uneasy, something spooky. Soon enough you are as haunted as the narrator and it ends.

The opening in the restaurant sets this up well as we look at the faces of people listening to what others are saying rather than the ones speaking. Chit chat has never felt more like air, more disembodied.

I can watch movies about people waiting as long as the atmosphere is well laid out. Some of my favourite horror films are like this, slow fuses fizzing to a bomb. The bomb can be silent but it must feel like one. Sometimes that means you only feel the numbness after the shock and don't remember the shock. I enjoyed this film because of this effect.

This is the best thing I've seen based on Ellis' writing the same way that Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is the best thing I've seen to do with anything by Burroughs (including documentaries). It has the seabreeze sigh of something you wish hadn't happened but had to. It leaves a hint of horror between the torn and dusty glamour of the old movie palaces and the tearing sins of their descendants. I should stop now, I guess, and disappear here.


  1. Here's something A.O. Scott (movie critic) of the New York Times said about Ellis, "...Bret Easton Ellis (who is, like it or not, Waugh's legitimate American heir)".
    I like it not. If anything it says something about Mr Scott and the state of criticism today.

    1. I rate Ellis highly. Less Than Zero still haunts me for its closeness to my life and character when at the age of the narrator. American Psycho is both sobering and frequently screamingly funny. The listlessness of unearned privilege coupled with well aimed cultural slaps are also the stock of Waugh but I still wouldn't make the comparison.