The Very Ecstasy of Love

Parents, be careful of this handsome, handsome man
Parents, be careful of this handsome, handsome man


Ahhhhhhh …. Film Fight, my Film Fight.

God, how I’ve missed you.

I’ve spent this past month in low-grade agony, without the thrill of constant argumentation and online contentiousness that made July bearable, without the joy of starting each day by reading 1000 words slandering my character, claiming to the heavens that I’m a misinformed, maladjusted, cantankerous jackass with a stone for a heart and oatmeal for brains. Suddenly thrust back into the role of the amiable citizen after all that wonderful Chronicle-sanctioned confrontation, I found myself at a loss, wandering the streets at odd hours looking for trouble, stopping shoppers in the grocery store and demanding they defend the collected works of William Wyler or prove to me that John Carpenter’s The Thing is better than Howard Hawk’s The Thing From Another World. (An old man in the cereal aisle at HEB actually came up with a pretty convincing argument for that last one, by the way. I’ll never look at Kurt Russell the same way.)

But, Kim, Kim! - here we are (and what was just a world is a star!), back in the trenches, back at war, back where we belong, back at each other’s throats, back fighting the good fight. The Film Fight. The pleasure, may I say, is all mine.

(Of course, if I lose this go-round as egregiously as I did the last, I’m taking my ball, going home, and never speaking to you again.)

So … have at you, Miss Jones; it begins here:

"Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere."

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Never having been a 16-year-old girl, never having read Sassy magazine, never having felt a burning desire to stroke Leonardo DiCaprio’s greasy hair, and never having found Jared Leto deep, I’m aware that Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (full title: Romeo + Juliet 4Ever, or Juliet Montague, or Juliet Capulet Montague) wasn’t made for me. By the time it came out in 1996, I was already a grumpy old man, indifferent to its frenetic charms: the camera trickery, the mope-rock soundtrack, the bright colors, the boys’ choir singing Prince songs, the antic gun-play, the designer clothing, John Leguizamo. What you call “Romeo’s slo-mo catwalk twirl to Radiohead” looks to me like a cologne commercial, and Luhrman’s caressing, sun-bathed shots of that “lovesick, wannabe poet in Versace threads” pondering the ineffability of a broken heart struck me as pornography for adolescent girls of a particular artistic disposition. Not that I have a problem with pornography, mind you, but real porn is disposable; it’s honest with itself as far as what it is: You get what you need from it and then you turn your back on it with great speed and disgust. But Leonardo DiCaprio in a black suit with stringy hair, clutching his journal? That’s enough to make young girls covetous and distracted for long stretches of their adolescence, convinced the object of their affections isn’t some empty vessel only worthy of 10 minutes of their erotic energy but a potential soul mate who “gets” them, as so few ever have: It goes beyond porn to all-consuming fetishism. Leonardo DiCaprio as Poet Romeo the Poster Model is porn of the body, porn of the soul, and porn of the bedroom wall.

But wait! I come to bury Baz Luhrman, not to praise him. Avaunt, avaunt, speak it trippingly on the tongue!

Here is the fundamental problem with Luhrman’s take on Romeo + Juliet, beyond aesthetics, beyond casting choices, beyond curious reinterpretations: He turns what is generally considered the greatest love story ever told and reduces it into the consequence of a drug trip. Rewatching Romeo + Juliet this week, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Twenty minutes before the Montague boys show up at the house of Capulet, where young love will first blossom and grow into legend, Mercutio gives Romeo an ecstasy tablet. Meaning 40 minutes into the party, right about the time he first lays eyes on Juliet, Romeo is rolling like a movie camera (or a log ... or a stone ... or Proud Mary. Fuck it! I can't do analogies). so, it's no great surprise that he falls in love with her. Who wouldn't? But that’s not love; that’s chemistry. That’s a body loopy on MDMA, a soul capable, at that moment, of falling in love with a shag carpet or a glass of water or a plate of fish. Who needs Claire Danes when you’ve got a pair of comfortable socks and a copy of Pet Sounds on vinyl?

Everyone falls in love on ecstasy. That’s the point of ecstasy. And everyone declares that love while they’re on ecstasy, and some of us even go so far as to speak in verse when we're on ecstasy, provided we can get our jaws to work. But no one stays in love on ecstasy. Most people have the common decency to fall in love when they’re high and then, when they come down again, get morbidly depressed, slink off to bed praying that sleep comes quick enough that they don’t have to lie in bed too long pondering the bottomless pit of unfathomable misery that their life is, and then, the next morning, disavow everything they did or said the night before and claim that they don’t remember any of it.

That is the one and only true tragedy of an ecstasy high: that it comes to an end and that we can never be that ideal version of ourselves that we were then now that we’re no longer chemically enhanced. Tragic indeed. Our own self-made noble Frankensteins, our own walking, breathing superegos - paragons of love and goodwill! - hinting at what we could be if we weren’t such selfish, conniving, low-down, stinking, dirty rats.

So, to sum up:

Fall in love on E? Absolutely. Stay in love? Don’t be mad.

Make out in a pool? If at all possible. Plan your wedding in a pool? You’re crazy.

Contemplate suicide? Of course. Commit suicide? Who has the energy?

Side note (or sweeping generalization) No.1: You may have your problems with Leonard Whiting, and I do as well, (mainly that he got to lie in bed with a naked Olivia Hussey), but I have to say that Leonardo DiCaprio, like Mark Walberg, is not the actor everyone likes to think he is. Granted, your video clip proves he can do silent rapture through a fish tank (by the way, did you notice you chose the Spanish-overdub version of that scene? Keep watching: What a pleasure it is to watch Tybalt fume, “QUE?!! En nuestra fiesta solemne?!! Es un crimen matable de un golpe!” Or something.), but if you keep watching here, I think you’ll see an actor who has no idea what in the world he’s saying nor how to match his emotion to his words. Watch him speak the lines “Sin from my lips? Oh trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again” as if he were reading the ingredients on the back of a shampoo bottle for the first time, and ask yourself: Where’s the love? Where’s the lust? Where’s the poetry? Where’s the diction?

DiCaprio, despite being impossibly and inarguably handsome, has somehow managed to convince Hollywood that he’s not just a pretty face but a pretty face with acting genius. I’m not saying he can’t act at all; I’m just saying he can’t act that well. And it’s my feeling that Martin Scorsese doomed himself by declaring during the making of Gangs of New York that DiCaprio’s performance in that movie was on a par with Robert DeNiro’s in Taxi Driver. Everybody knows now that shit isn’t true, but I think Scorsese felt like he had to stand by his statement or risk looking like a fool, and so he starting putting DiCaprio in every movie he makes. Rather than admit his brief bout of over-enthusiasm, Scorsese will stick with DiCaprio from here till the day he dies, casting him in the role of George “The Animal” Steele or Coretta Scott King or Chim-Chim the Monkey-Faced Boy if he has to.

And with that, Kim, let’s play: "And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day!"

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