The VHS Stack - Johnny Handsome

(1990) Walter Hill.

Johnny Handsome.jpg

Mickey Rourke portrays a small-time New Orleans bank robber blessed with a saint's soul but disavowed by the congenital facial deformity of a warlock – even surpassing as an iconograph that which the actor in "real life" would later wreak both surgically and pugilistically upon his own countenance. The ironic “Johnny Handsome” is double-crossed on a bank job and ends up in prison, where an ambitious pointdexter surgeon (Forest Whitaker) attempts to perform radical Face-Off-esque treatment to restore Johnny with a humanable face – which turns out to be that of Mickey Rourke post-9½ Weeks. Johnny then returns to society, and though his face reforms his soul does not: he fails at innocent romance and takes revenge on those who betrayed him – scuzzbag maestro LanceJohnny Handsome 2.jpg Henrickson and marvelous pulp-bitch Ellen Barkin. Morgan Freeman plays a dapper folksy Bayou-cosmopolite detective, the one character who knows that Johnny ain’t really so Handsome. Walter Hill draws his metaphysics from the French but his colors from brute American precedents. And where to begin placing Johnny Handsome in the current hagiography of Mickey in The Wrestler? Johnny shows a man bounding back his new face into the old universe; Randy The Ram seizes an old face in an old place and causes it to transmogrify.

The VHS Stack

In the summer of 2008, a video store in Hell's Kitchen was having a VHS sale, 3 tapes for $10. Not the best deal for a near-fossilized modal of entertainment, but still your author participated during lunch break in between lecturing atop bus tours of Manhattan Island.

Frequent visitations were made to Video Cafe, where the premises hark way back to the hoary likes of Palmer Video & Joe's Video on Bloomfield Avenue in Verona, New Jersey, where as a lad your author first engaged the aesthetics of the VCR - the goofy staff, the chintzy wire racks, the bizarro consciousness-insinuating early box art, the chemic fragrance of outdated plastic packaging, the random sounds of whatever movie screened that hour from the monitors perched off the ceiling: maybe Stallone, maybe a stray disciple of the Brat Pack, maybe French, maybe the Resident Evil film.

The sale at Video Cafe was limited to drama, comedy and horror, which your author was not apprised of until after making picks from the classics and foreign section. Stalker and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? had to be put back on the shelf.

And so a memoir of watching that stack of movies bought. . . .


On the Town by Robert Towne

The Last Detail

Hal Ashby knows how to draw forth Jack's knack for the physicality of madness (Five Easy Pieces spazz-out in the front seat, axe work in The Shining ), Jack's raunch eloquence (Cuckoo's Nest hobohemian, camp bigotry of The Departed), and the cool, composed manner of ease when stuck with the insuperable condition of the world (varsity sweatshirt lawyer in Easy Rider, identity-thief media agent in The Passenger, King of Marvin Gardens maverick literati).  This is "Bad Ass" Buddusky.

A true counterculture movie, where the rebellion, alienation and urge to uprise is traced from the inside-out.  Three guys who have each chosen their own imprisonment in the Navy.  Otherwise the universe is chaos. Ecstasy is delivered from beating back those prison walls as if they were not the only choice for these sailors.  Buddy existentialism, just enough solemn and just enough hilarious.