This week:

Filthy says:
"Fucking art, man."

Artists have all sorts of reasons why they make their art. Maybe it's ego, or unrequited love, or just this itchy feeling that there's something in your brain that you need to get out on paper or clay or in music. I don't really understand most artists, but I know that whatever drives them comes before money. When art succeeds, man, it hits you like a ten-ton truck, and when it fails you can at least respect the effort. I mean, it's pretty fucking hard to get mad at a guy for making sculptures out of elephant shit if he wasn't trying to rip you off.

Me personally, I'm an artist, and I'll tell you why. I got no interest in being a businessman, wearing uncomfortable shoes and being all polite to shitty people just so they'll give me money. I'm an artist because I am driven by my obsession with immortality. Not a literal immortality, you know, because I faint at the sight of my own blood, let alone drinking someone else's. Besides, I don't want to be deprived of the chance to scare the shit out of people when my bloated, pasty corpse rises to the surface of a tranquil pond some misty morning.

I want all this shit in my head that I need to say to live forever. I don't dream getting wealthy through what I write. That's what the lottery and delirium tremens are for. Rather, I fantasize that in a hundred years, or a thousand years, schoolchildren everywhere will be assigned my novel and read the Cliff's Notes of it. Nobody will talk about Sylvester Stallone's Driven without also mentioning me. I want to be alive through my words, and for my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren to still receive angry e-mails pointing out my typographical errors.

Secretary is art. I don't say that because it's beautiful, although to me it is, but because director/Writer Steven Shainberg sure as hell didn't think he was gonna get rich retelling Mary Gaitskill's short story about a self-mutilating, submissive and naïve girl who falls in love with her dominating boss. I don't know what his motivation is, or what demons are chasing him, but I don't give a rat's ass. All I know is he loves this story. You can tell in every shot because he refuses to cheapen his characters or his story. This is one fantastic movie, full of thick, sticky morals and confused characters. He takes the time to develop these people, to push past the icky parts of the sadomasochistic relationship and to where I could understand them. It's dark, but not to be fashionable, the way Igby Goes Down tries to be. It's dark because it's how these characters live.

Secretary is funny but the humor isn't forced and the characters aren't fabrications plugged into the story just to be shocking and funny. They're warty, fucked-up people who ultimately just want to be loved. That could be corny, but it isn't. The characters' humanity is never lost, and anyone whose ever dropped a dollar bill on the floor of the Arvada Tavern knows how hard it can be to protect basic decency.

Maggie Gyllenhall is Lee Holloway, a meek young woman out of a mental institution just in time for her sister's wedding. To escape the reality of her parents' collapsing marriage, her father's drinking and her lack of self-esteem, she regularly cuts herself. She's methodical, always drawing blood on her inner thigh because it feels like the only way to let out the pent-up pain. Gyllenhall has no idea what she wants but she takes a job as a secretary for lawyer James Spader to escape hr mother's smothering attention. He has a one-man law practice in a nondescript building from the outside. Inside, though, it has the oppressive, meticulous coldness of a David Lynch movie. There're red curtains, dim lights, oriental wallpaper, ancient intercoms and typewriters, dark walls, long halls and baroque doors. It feels like a well-decorated dungeon. Which, really, it is.

Being young and new, Gyllenhall makes mistakes, and Spader becomes more assertive in disciplining her. He circles the errors with a red Sharpie and punishes her for each and every one. The punishments become more severe: first a tongue-lashing, then putting her over his desk and spanking her, and later jerking off and coming all over her back. The fiercer he is, the more she likes it. The more she likes it, the happier she is in life, and the more she is able to express herself.

The fiercer he is, the more he hates himself. Spader is so ashamed of his behavior because he assumes he's just an aberration, and nobody should like to be abused. He hates himself for being a sadist, until the end when he and Gyllenhall finally have the courage to express their feelings, and to finally understand that every masochist needs a sadist. And vice versa.

Secretary is so fucking good because I cared about two characters I thought would be the same old shit. Oh, great, another disenfranchised young person played by a Gyllenhall. Terrific, Spader is playing another prick. But, I was wrong. Or as Fonzie used to say, "Wurrrroo... wruuuuuuu..." She's not just another miserable snot but a lonely girl without the ability express herself. Spader isn't an asshole, but an extremely shy and self-loathing man because he can't explain his desires. That they find each other is genuinely touching and romantic.

The point is that, sure, these two people are freaks, but they found each other and filled in the other's needs. If you see people like these out in public, you should certainly make fun of them, because our ability to feel superior is the only thing that separates us from deviants. But, no matter how weird their fetishes are it doesn't diminish their humanity and their need to be with someone. Look at Mrs. Filthy and me. I'm sure somewhere some upper-crust snooty-toots look down on what they call our "co-dependency." I call it mutualism. I need someone to keep me from eating vaseline or trying to remove warts with broken glass while I'm drunk. My beautiful wife needs a waif to pull to her ample bosom, an adult to mother and protect. If we hadn't found each other, I'd be dead and she'd probably some really successful businesswoman.

Gylenhall is very good. She does a hell of a job transitioning from the indie-standard glum youth to a much more interesting, decisive and attractive person. Hell, at the beginning, she 's gray and dull. By the end, she's sort of hot with all that confidence. Mind you, I'm not really into bondage shit, not since I ordered Candy Bottom's New Year's Spanktacular on pay-per-view. Red asses get sort of redundant, you know? Spader is really fucking good. He starts as just a series of quirks and tics, like that guy that always spits up peas at my retard cousin Larry's assisted-living home. The character grows, though, and Spader underplays him perfectly, even pulling off a few of the script's awkward moments.

Shainberg, as writer and director, stumbles in a few places. He uses the tired-ass framing device of showing us a piece from later in the story as the opening. I suppose this is to let us know not to leave after the slow beginning because it gets racy later. The problem is that it doesn't help tell the story any better. The ending also sort of falls apart. Maybe because the characters are so real, it feels cheap to wrap everything up all neat and clean, with a big bow.

Secretary is really fucking good; Four Fingers. It's art, for sure, and I'm glad Shainberg has demons to wrestle. The manager at the pretentious Landmark Esquire spoke on a microphone before the movie and congratulated the crowd for having such good taste. Fuck him. If I want to hear someone tell me I have great taste, I'll drink less so I can listen to myself. If the manager does this at the theater you go to, throw something at him.

Want to tell Filthy Something?

Filthy's Reading
Mark Twain - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Listening to
Beck - Sea Change

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Back for more is Clay Smith, an up and comer who has yet to see a movie that wasn't the BEST EVER!

Spirited Away is "An animation triumph.! One of the most visually stunning animated movies ever made!"

Moonlight Mile is "Hands down, one of the very best films of 2002!"

Sweet Home Alabama is "the funniest, most romantic comedy of the year!" (But not one of the VERY best?)


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