Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 19, 2018

Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:44 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 19, 2018

Each November and December NYFCO members like me receive dozens of DVD screeners from film studio publicists that are meant to help us decide on our yearly awards. In order to help me participate meaningfully in the deliberations, I prioritize the films that are likely to be finalists, namely the big-budget Hollywood films from Sony, Fox, et al. This has meant that the kinds of films I prefer to cover get left in the lurch, particularly those that are sent from Magnolia, a conscientious distributor of quality films for various art houses around the country. I invite you to visit their website, which for a modest $4.99 per month allows you to see some first-rate films like “Entertainment” that was included in the 2015 batch that I only got around to seeing recently. To get straight to the point, Rick Alverson, the director of this dark character study of a middle-aged comedian playing to tiny and indifferent audiences in forlorn Southern California towns, is a major talent that deserves far more attention than any of those forgettable Hollywood blockbusters that routinely get awarded. He is a 47-year old Richmond native who has his fingers on the pulse of a dying civilization and is not afraid to tell the truth even if it is one that might not soothe you like the typical Saturday night escapist fare. Indeed, the last two films made by Alverson might be understood as a morality tale on how comedy itself might be key to the malaise that has gripped America for decades and shows no sign of letting up.

What follows is a survey of all of four films that have been made by Alverson since 2010, all of which are available as VOD. Having seen them over the past week or so has left me feeling like I have been through the mill, just like the four men at their center. Despite having a different life experience than theirs, I can share the existential crisis that has overcome them all, against a backdrop of a country that Robinson Jeffers described in “Shine, Perishing Republic” as settling “in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire”.

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