Blab May 2001
Published Feb 01, 2000My friend Christopher is somebody who I think you should know. Christopher Depp, to be exact. No relation to Johnny, who stars in the brand new movie Blow, which sucks. Boy does it suck. Every once in a while a movie called Blow comes along which sucks, and this is such a movie. I kind of knew I was going to hate this flick when I noticed that everyone in the media seemed to be predisposed to call it a masterpiece before it was even screened. Then, once it was actually released, audiences were obviously influenced by a kind of mass hypnosis that sometimes makes a large section of the population lose its critical faculties and designate a particularly bad movie a "gem" or "the first great movie of the year" despite its flagrant shortcomings. But hopefully, once the Blow wears off, clearer heads will prevail and the movie will be revealed as the piece of substandard trash that it is.
Why does Blow suck? Because it's one of those movies that takes a single concept and flogs it to death until you want to run screaming from the screening. I was already suspicious when I heard that the movie was scripted by David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes, the former the writer responsible for the egregious, cliché-ridden American History X, the latter the singularly untalented son of American independent cinema genius John Cassavetes, who has starred in such dire exploitational fare as Delta Force 3: The Killing Game, Sins of Desire, and Sins of the Night. Now I can appreciate how difficult it would be to live up to the work of Cassavetes, Sr., who has inspired an entire generation of filmmakers, but appearing bare-assed in sleazy movies like Body of Influence with softcore bimbos Shannon Whirry and Sandahl Bergman may not be the path toward surpassing the master. I do feel a certain sympathy for the Junior of any genius, probably because I realise that I will never be able to aspire to the lifetime accomplishments of my own amazing father. But then again, I didn't choose to go into farming.
The script for Blow is certainly a big part of the problem. It borrows shamelessly from the clichés of the already over-crowded drug genre movie, (if there's anything worse than a cliché it's a borrowed cliché), presenting us with an overly familiar set of narrative patterns which, within the movie itself, are repeated over and over again. How many times can we see Depp busted, freeze-frame, by the feds, his bad wig fixed forever in time, or witness his annoying, spoiled little daughter looking at him with reproachful eyes when he fucks up yet again, before we desperately start creating our own plot convolutions in our heads. And don't tell me that the limitations of the narrative are dictated by that fact that it's supposedly based on a true story: non-fiction is never this boring.
Speaking of bad wigs, the thing that irritated me most about Blow was how awful Johnny Depp was made to look. I'm not talking about at the end, when he was supposed to be fat and 40, with a beer gut (but still with that cute, pert little ass!: it's nice to have some continuity with the past!); I'm referring to his appearance throughout the entire first two-thirds of the movie. A combination of bad styling and unflattering lighting has managed to make Johnny Depp look not very attractive for the first time in his career. That's quite an accomplishment. This is particularly unfortunate considering that, with the absence of an involving narrative, witty dialogue, and character development, the movie can exist only as a style piece, and its style is sensationally bad. The ubiquitous fright wigs and the plethora of appalling polyester pushes the aesthetic of the movie into John Waters territory, which doesn't help when it's constantly straining for dramatic legitimacy. The scene in which Depp confronts his harridan ex-wife, played by the Latin spitfire du moment Penelope Cruz, which is meant to be poignant and significant, instead turns into a bad taste competition between two actors sporting identical powder blue polyester track suits and frosted blond wigs. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did neither.
But wait, it gets worse. There's nothing quite as unappealing as a movie with very little substance (besides the controlled variety) giving itself a hernia in its attempt to achieve epic status. All sorts of gimmickry and flourishes are enlisted to create the feeling of sweep and pageantry and gravitas the camera darting and zooming, rapid-fire still montages, wide-angle vistas but the problem is, as Gertrude Stein said of Los Angeles, there isn't any there there. In the wake of Traffic, which, despite its flaws, at least presented us with a wide variety of fully-fledged characters from all different walks of life (Frankie Flowers, the sexy, demented Latino homo hit-man being my personal favourite), Blow seems more and more like a one-note wonder. Even the much-heralded return of Paul Reubens as the hairdresser drug dealer (bisexual? okay, if you say so) can't create a spark; it only makes one pine for the return of Pee Wee.
Wow, that felt good. There's nothing quite like ripping into a movie with both barrels, particularly at a time when a lot of people seem to have lost their ability to discriminate between good and evil. It's like what Pope Ondine used to say about anger: it's like taking a good shit. (And I didn't even get to Rachel Griffiths' bad imitation of Lorraine Bracco.) Really, you should try it sometime.
But after writing something so nasty and mean, it's always nice to temper your contempt with something a little more uplifting. That's what made me think of the other Depp, my friend Christopher. Let me tell you about him.
I met Christopher when he contacted me last year claiming to be a fan of mine, but I decided not to hold it against him. He told me that he was from Long Island and a member of a band called Navy, comprised of two boys and two girls. He said he'd seen all my movies and read all my columns and that he hoped we could meet someday. Struck by his sincere sincerity, I asked for his number and called him the next time I was in New York.
We met at a dingy, dive-y little bar called the Homestead on 1st Ave in the East Village, a local watering hole owned by some dangerous-looking Yugoslavians where you can buy cheap draft beer and play rock'n'roll on the lo-fi juke box. He brought along a couple of the members of his band, including a queer boy with male model good looks and a rambunctious girl with attitude whom you would suspect might be a big fan of Le Tigre, as is Christopher. (By the way, what's your take on Nick Cassavetes?!) Christopher turned out to be a tall, gangly, angular lad with moppish hair and big features, slightly stooped and fast-talking kind of like a cross between Joey Ramone and Eb from Green Acres. Because of his interest in me, I assumed he was a gay, even though he didn't look remotely like any fag I'd ever seen. Everyone proceeded to get drunk, except for C. Depp, who, I soon discovered, isn't much of a drinker, and doesn't do drugs. No, not even blow.
Over the next six months or so I introduced Christopher to some of my infamous New York fag friends porn star Tom International; fantastic fotog Ryan "Ginch" McGinley; impresario Jack Walls, former lover of R. Mapplethorpe and the consensus was that he was a really cool guy, bright, enthusiastic, and cute. Then one day, when I was back in Toronto, I got a call from Ginch, who had a "you'll never guess what I found out" story to tell. Apparently Jack, a debonair black fag with a penchant for white rocker types, had run into Christopher recently and put the major moves on him, which forced the poor boy to fess up that he was really a closeted heterosexual! Apparently he had only posed as a homosexual or at least didn't correct my mistaken assumption that he played for the pink team because he thought I wouldn't hang out with him if I knew he was a lowly straight boy. Little did he know that some if not most of my best friends are so afflicted, and that indeed his charming ruse made him all the more attractive to me as a compadre. (I'm sure it didn't slow down Jack's pass either, who has bedded more cute straight guys than any homo I know.)
Despite the tragedy of his sexual predilections, I always hang out with Christopher when I go to New York now. His straight edge tendencies are always a welcome change from the drug-crazed profligacy of some of my other friends, and we share an interest in karaoke, the movies of Andy Warhol, monkeys, orphans, and Chantal Ackerman. He also loves Japanese photo-sticker booths, to which he is always unceremoniously dragging me despite my hatred of being photographed. Navy has since split up, but C. Depp continues to turn out prolifically his home-made videos and tapes, such as his recent "The Filthy Little Disgusting Monkey," and is working on a novel about orphans. Check out his web site at www.cdepp.com.
The last time I was in New York Christopher took me to a Dominican restaurant at Rivington and Essex called El Castillo de Jagua, which we erroneously refer to as the Jaguar. We both ordered their famous avocado salad, but they were out of avocados. I ordered chicken stew but the new waitress didn't speak English so she brought me some huge slab of meat with rice and beans instead. Christopher ordered a banana milkshake which never came. We both got our cafe con leches, however, which were amazing. The joint was full of scary looking gangster types, so we sat and talked quietly about such topics as his new apartment way up in the Bronx, which is the only place in New York he can now afford to live. Christopher is currently my favourite Depp.