Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leza on The Manipulator


Is Mickey Rooney THE MANIPULATOR? The invisible voice of a filmmaker on a mission, a puppetmaster to his kidnap victim and chosen star? Or is it an industry that chews up a spits people out when they have outgrown their cuteness? Who is the man behind the curtain, really?

As his character B.J. Lang says, “Fear is the universal disease.” His hapless hostage must play Roxanne to his Cyrano de Begerac. He uses any means necessary to get the reaction he needs from his starlet. He coddles and terrorizes and feeds her appleasauce and water when she screams in hunger. Most of the time, though, as a viewer you must be his hostage to strange rambling rantings and conversations involving an entire film crew, all voiced by his truly.

Just as Cyrano was the invisible voice of another man, BJ’s victim must speak the lines her crazed kidnapper feeds her, take after take, till he gets what he wants. This is an experience I’m sure a man who began his film career at the ripe old age of four , is not entirely unfamiliar with. A man who is in the Guinness world book of records for longest running film career spanning 86 years. This is the irony laid upon irony in this misanthropic little oevre by one time director turned television writer, Yabo Yablonsly.

Most of it takes place in a warehouse outfitted with prominent stage lights and props and a dressing room. One particularly surrealistic sequence involves the woman attempting to escape and running through a butcher shop hall, with endless pig carcasses hanging from the sides, where she then stumbles upon a small gathering of suited players happily delivering a symphony.

There is a twisted logic to all this. Yet, it is hard to truly care, and has definitely made me permanently creeped out by Mickey Rooney, especially after his soliloquy about how he used to do Marilyn Monroe’s makeup and how she’d say he was not putting makeup on HER eyes, they were OUR eyes that TWINKLED for the cameras. This, while knowing that Marilyn spoke of getting hit on by Mickey Rooney while she was a young starlet and being thoroughly creeped out. You and me both Marilyn.
This is the living nightmare of a man who has seen his best days flitter by, and, with his captive, attempts the challenge of recreating the magic that once was… or not.

If you want a nightmare, you’ve found it in demented Mickey Rooney in this saga of horrors. You shall see the glories of orgies with Mickey Rooney’s phantom adorers, with mysterious baby present, cartoonish makeup on obese vampiric revelrers, a stroke inducing strobe sequence, and to top it all, Mickey Rooney in whorish makeup and dancing frenetically in sped up sequences, singing Chattanooga Choo Choo with demonic glee.

What is truly incredible about this film is the complete lack of plot and forward motion of any sort. Every positive action is negated by a regression. The ending does not disappoint on this front.

Terror is a Man Named Mickey Rooney

I'm glad to finally be able to return to you. No really good excuse for making you wait this long, but we'll be sure to get back in the groove so you won't have to wait so long for next time. One reason it took so long to get going again was that Leza and I couldn't find a movie weird and disturbing enough to relaunch the site. There was one, but it was too awful to even consider. In the past, we'd talked about it, but Jordan "misplaced" it repeatedly. Yeah, sure. "Misplaced." To avoid its gutwrenching unpleasantness. Not that we'd blame him. Because this movie is one bad mother starring one of the scariest actors in film history.

Who? Bette Davis? Peter Lorre? Zac Efron? Worse. A combination of the three molded into a single unholy fright machine. I am of course referring to hellish imp Mickey Rooney, a man who creates more terror before breakfast than Rob Zombie has in his entire career. Does this mean we're going to review Silent Night, Deadly Night 5? You fucking wish we were going to review Silent Night, Deadly Night 5. So do we. But we can't do. It's October. It's almost Halloween time, and if we don't present the kind of mortal terror and strangeness that makes your testicles ascend, then we're wasting your time. We're going to discuss 1971's The Manipulator. It's a doozy. If you drop acid and watch it, Mickey Rooney will crawl out of your television and whisper into your ear the exact time and date of your death. The Manipulator is a movie about Mickey Rooney making his own damn movie all by himself, like Robert Rodriguez. If Robert Rodriguez completely lost his goddamn mind.

Mickey Rooney plays BJ Lang, a cameraman during Hollywood's glory days, discarded and displaced by time, like Mickey Rooney. BJ is a one man crew for a movie in his own mind, or multiple movies in his own mind, or perhaps even a Hollywood in his own mind. Rendered powerless by age and a changing business, he seeks to reclaim this power, to live a past he wished he had and to stand around a makeshift soundstage acting like a raving lunatic. Mickey Rooney talking himself in multiple voices would be terrifying enough. Mickey Rooney eating Fruit Loops and reading the paper would be terrifying enough. But he does more. He has kidnapped an actress, played by Luana Anders, tied her to a chair and is forcing her to make this movie with him.

Her every move is dictated by a mad man, her every word and action must be chosen to avoid transgressing against a set of imaginary rules. She has been thrust into a chaotic mirror universe, an embodiment of all the worst things about the Hollywood delusion machine. She must feign compliance, respect, appreciation and even to a degree, love to survive.

That's pretty damn creepy. And Lang talking to himself is pretty damn creepy. When he puts on lipstick and eyeshadow and tells anecdotes about doing makeup for Marilyn Monroe, the creepiness gets worse. When you see glimpses into his warped imagination, involving nightmare Hollywood parties that look like a New Year's Eve in Hell hosted by Ken Russell, then you start to get the full impact. Or perhaps it's when Rooney puts on a swashbuckler costume and a fake nose and romances her as a far less than serviceable Cyrano. This is a bad situation.

And when you factor in the meaning of this mess, the rage and despair and truth of his performance, the significance of his character playing a man who gets no respect for being a puppeteer to the beautiful people, the disgust factor goes over the top. The surrealistic bile of Lynch's Mulholland Drive lurks under the surface of this and Rooney, lashing out against a system that stunted his potential and left him by the wayside, The Manipulator becomes an unwatchable vortex of chaos and artistic frustration, rotten to its core with dark truths, awkward performances and unnecessary weirdness. Mickey Rooney is good in this part. Too damn good.

An honest, scary, grotesquerie that I would wholeheartedly recommend not seeing. There's nothing more icky than badness with moments of uncomfortable insight.