WEIRDLAND: November 2018

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

New book and film project on Dorothy Kilgallen

A new book on the late newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen blasts Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. for slamming shut a purported re-investigation into her mysterious death. The glamorous reporter and TV personality, 52, was found dead in her Manhattan townhouse on Nov. 8, 1965, amid her own probe of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination two years earlier. In “Denial of Justice: Dorothy Kilgallen, Abuse of Power, and the Most Compelling JFK Assassination Investigation in History,” author Mark Shaw pursues a theory outlined in his prior book, “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much,” that she was murdered to quash her dogged pursuit of the truth. To be published on the 55th anniversary of JFK’s death, the book accuses Vance of a cover-up. Shaw claims a “reliable source close to the DA’s office” told him that Vance’s staff found Kilgallen’s missing JFK file and “buried it.” “We will decline comment,” a Vance spokeswoman said in response. The morning after Kilgallen’s last appearance as a panelist on the hit TV game show “What’s My Line?,” her body was found slumped in bed, naked under a blue bathrobe, still wearing the makeup, false eyelashes and floral hair accessory she had donned for the show. Shaw contends Kilgallen was drugged by accomplices of New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, who feared her planned book would accuse him of plotting the JFK assassination and the killing of JFK assassin Lee Harvey-Oswald, who was shot to death by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Kilgallen, a syndicated columnist for the New York Journal-American, covered Ruby’s murder trial and scored a brief interview with him. Aiming to reconstruct why Kilgallen disputed the widely accepted “Oswald alone” theory, Shaw analyzed the 2,000-page transcript of the 1964 Ruby trial. He cites little-known testimony that, as JFK was killed, Ruby sat in a Dallas Morning News advertising office with a direct view of the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald fired the fatal shot. Source: nypost.com

Producing team John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle are developing a project about investigative reporter Dorothy Kilgallen. The duo have optioned Mark Shaw’s true crime novel “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen” for an upcoming project. “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much” centers on a legal analyst telling the story of Kilgallen while providing new evidence surrounding her untimely death. Kilgallen was conducting an in-depth investigation probes into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but was found dead in her apartment in 1965. The Dowdles will draw from Shaw’s follow-up, “Denial of Justice: Dorothy Kilgallen, Abuse of Power and the Most Compelling JFK Assassination Investigation in History.” “Dorothy Kilgallen remains one of the most influential personalities of her era and decades ahead of her time,” the Dowdle brothers said. “Her insatiable drive to uncover the truth was both fascinating and dangerous. She defended those she felt were victims of injustice. In the process she took on some of the most powerful men in the world, knowing full well her life was in danger.” Source: variety.com

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Love is like Russian Roulette: Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Lou Reed

Five reasons why Rami Malek can win the Oscar for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” 1. He plays a real person and is physically transformed onscreen. It’s awardsology 101. The combination of portraying an actual individual plus altering one’s outward appearance is the easiest way to ensnare the academy’s attention. In the past twenty years alone, Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Adrien Brody in “The Pianist,” Jamie Foxx in “Ray,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote,” Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line,” Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose,” Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” and Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour.” 2. He delivers what will likely be the flashiest performance of the final five. This year, Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the ultimate showstopper. Whether he’s in song, dance or discourse, he’s constantly acting for the camera. That’s over two hours of tears, torment and assorted theatrics. And then there’s the Live Aid concert at the end of the film, which has been singled out as the brightest bit in the movie. Malek’s fierce channeling of Mercury sends shivers down the spine. This might be considered his requisite “killer scene.” 3. He’ll win the SAG Award (and probably the BAFTA, too.) I’m abstaining from calling the Golden Globe race – but when it comes to SAG, Malek is the one to beat. Actors will see him as having the most challenging role. Can you imagine the risks of playing one of the most iconic singers of the twentieth century? Very, very frightening. 4. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a box office smash. Malek’s biggest Oscar obstacle is undoubtedly the mixed critical reaction to the film. It enjoyed a bigger opening weekend than “A Star is Born,” a film buoyed by two huge stars. As of this writing, “Rhapsody” is poised to cross the $100 million mark in the U.S. alone. 5. He might benefit from being the only first-time nominee. Malek is 37 and has paid his dues (time after time, although he's made mistakes – like last summer’s “Papillon”).  Nonetheless, some voters might wish to reward someone more “overdue” for the Best Actor crown. There’s no shortage of contenders. Take Bradley Cooper in “A Star is Born,” hoping to produce his first victory after three previous losses. There’s Christian Bale in the upcoming “Vice,” who could use a bookend to his supporting prize for “The Fighter.” If just enough Academy members were rocked by Rami, he could be the champion on Oscar’s big night. Source: www.goldderby.com

The cast in Bohemian Rhapsody has plenty of recognizable names and faces that play these characters (of which are based on real-life individuals), bringing them to life. Leading the charge (and definitely shines the brightest in the movie) is Rami Malek as Farrokh Bulsara (aka Freddie Mercury). Malek, known for his role in Mr. Robot, truly does a fantastic job in the role. The movie also showcases the love (and interests) that Freddie Mercury courts, examining the lives of both Mary Austin (Freddie’s girlfriend / lifelong companion) and Paul Prenter (Freddie’s manager), who are played by actress Lucy Boynton (Murder on the Orient Express) and actor Allan Leech (The Imitation Game). Unfortunately, Boynton’s Mary complicated relationship with Freddie is a bit underdeveloped. It starts off strong, but becomes less and less important, failing to leave an emotional impact. We don’t get any real idea of who these people are outside of Mercury himself. There’s nothing to be learned about Mary Austin and why she was the most important figure in his life, nothing to learn about Jim Hutton or later Queen manager Jim “Miami” Beach (Tom Hollander). Is the Freddie characterization too gay, not bi enough, not gay enough? Freddie Mercury paid the tragic price for a hell-raising life of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Safe sex, he said, was possible, "But you can't expect to give up sex for ever." Ironically Mercury had claimed for years he was one of the loneliest men in the world. Freddie once told a close friend: "Love is like Russian Roulette for me, I've tried either side - male and female - but all of them have gone wrong. The one-night stands are just me playing a part. I can be a good lover but after all these years I'm not a good partner for anybody." 

Women also gave the superstar sleepless nights. For the past years, blonde Mary Austin caused Freddie deep emotional turmoil and heartbreak. They met in the early '70's as Freddie was shopping. He later said: "Mary is my only friend in the world." Within days they moved into a flat in London's Holland Park. Their love blossomed for seven years and they even considered getting married. "The sex was good," Freddie said. "The only thing that got Mary mad was when I would jump up in the middle of the night to write lyrics." Mary quit her day job to become his personal assistant. She traveled the world with his group, Queen, booking their hotels and concerts. In 1982 they split up but remained good friends. When Freddie dabbled in hard drugs like LSD and Heroin, Mary helped him kick the habit. Freddie bought her a £400,000 four bed-roomed flat in Kensington, near his Edwardian home. And two years later, when the romance was rekindled, she asked Freddie to give her a child Freddie responded by making her the sole heir to his massive fortune in his will but told her: "I'd rather have another cat." Freddie said of Mary: "Ours is a pure friendship but friendship of the highest standard. It's an instinctive thing. I still love her. I couldn’t fall in love with a man the same way as I have with Mary. We'll probably grow old together." Source: www.ageofthenerd.com

"Under Pressure" is a 1981 song by the British rock band Queen and British singer David Bowie. It was included on Queen's 1982 album Hot Space. The song reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart, becoming Queen's second number-one hit in their home country (after 1975's "Bohemian Rhapsody", which topped the chart for nine weeks) and Bowie's third (after 1980's "Ashes to Ashes" and the 1975 reissue of "Space Oddity"). Mercury and Bowie were friendly but rivalrous, both strong-willed and competitive. “Freddie and David locked horns, without a doubt,” Brian May said in a 2017 interview with Mojo magazine. “But that’s when the sparks fly and why it turned out great.” 

A brief, kaleidoscopic overview of David Bowie's conquests: actresses Susan Sarandon and Candy Clark, Playboy model and actress Bebe Buell; dancer Melissa Hurley; singer Ava Cherry; Jean Millington, of the rock band Fanny; and model Winona Williams, whom he invited to live in Berlin with him. Along the way he paid court to Monique van Vooren (twenty years his senior), had an affair with Dana Gillespie (who was then fourteen to his sixteen) and a dalliance with Cyrinda Foxe (a glamorous Monroe doppelgänger), and—in the spirit of his continuing rivalry with Mick Jagger—toyed with Jagger’s onetime girlfriend Marianne Faithfull, backing singer Claudia Lennear (the inspiration for Mick Jagger’s song “Brown Sugar,” and about whom David wrote “Lady Grinning Soul”), Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes and briefly dated Mick’s first wife, Bianca Jagger.

According to David’s ex-wife, Angie, who hawked a variety of negative stories about David since their divorce, there may also have been a moment with Mick Jagger himself. In Angie Bowie’s version of the alleged event, first published in her 1981 autobiography Free Spirit, she returned from a trip to find Mick and David in bed together, something which David took the rare step of denying. At the young age of ten, Bowie was already aware of girls, and claims to have fallen head-over-heels in love with one of them. “I went out with her years later, when we were about eighteen—but I fucked it up. On our second date, she found out that I’d been with another girl. I could not keep it zipped,” he said. However, his propensity for assuming that any girl was fair game, no matter who else had already laid claim to her, led to one of the most seminal events in his life. In the spring of 1961, when David was just fourteen years old, a girl named Carol would inadvertently be the architect of the first tragedy of his life—one that would ultimately become the cornerstone of his image. His best friend George Underwood had fixed his amorous attentions on Carol and arranged a date with her. David, who had designs on Carol himself, told a massive lie to George, declaring that Carol wasn’t interested in George and therefore wouldn’t be going on the date he had set up with her. When George learned the truth, outraged, he took a swing at David and caught him in the eye. David stumbled and fell down. His punch had caught David’s left eye at an odd angle and scratched the eyeball, causing the muscle that contracts the iris to become paralyzed.

David Bowie’s left pupil remained permanently dilated, giving that eye the appearance of being a different color from his right eye. It also left him with damaged depth perception, so that when he drove, cars didn’t come toward him but just appeared to get bigger. His unmatched eyes also lent his gaze a hypnotic quality, and although it took him some time to adjust to the fact that his eyes were no longer identical, and he thought that he looked “weird,” he admitted, “I quite enjoyed that as a badge of honor.” David Jones had traveled inordinately far from the winsome, saxophone-playing thirteen-year-old boy who was already his school’s Casanova, and whose desires had in those early days appeared to be directed exclusively at girls, and only girls. When asked by this author to name his ideal woman in bed, he cracked, “Snow White.” “There was a certain spikiness between Lou and Iggy, and they obviously didn’t get on very well,” David remembered about his American rock friends. While Iggy regaled everyone with stories about growing up in a trailer park and his forays into heroin and crystal meth, David’s bond with Iggy was forged. Years later, David said, “Iggy’s a lot more exuberant than I am. I tend to be quieter, more reflective. He’s always a little bit on the dangerous line. I’m not particularly; I’m much more of an observer.” His friendship with Lou Reed was equally problematic, even more thornly due to Reed's moody personality.


Was David’s “I’m gay” announcement a cynical ploy he resorted to promote Hunky Dory, and a way of starting the process of launching Ziggy on an unsuspecting world, or was it a battle against sexual conformity? In a 1997 interview, Changes: Bowie at 50, a BBC radio program released in conjunction with his fiftieth birthday, he looked back at his revolutionary revelation that he was gay and said, “I did it more out of bravado. I wanted people to be aware of me.” “He was always very flirtatious. He looked you straight in the eyes, but he wasn’t condescending. He treated women with the same equality as he treated men, and looked at your intelligence as well as your sexuality,” Cherry Vanilla remembered. “The sex was as dirty, rough, and aerobic as anyone could want, but it never felt like we were just having sex. It felt like we were really making love.”

In 1972, David played Carnegie Hall, to great acclaim. That night, backstage, nineteen-year-old groupie Josette Caruso made a play for David. “When I arrived at the hotel suite, which included a living room, a piano, and two bedrooms, David was sitting on a couch, wearing a black shirt and black pants. I sat next to him. He poured me a glass of wine and started talking about Catcher in the Rye and he told me that he identified with the book’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield,” Josette remembered. “He was in a very playful mood and sang ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ to me. Then there was a knock on the door, and Ian Hunter and some other guys from Mott the Hoople turned up and we all chatted. Then they left, and David and I went into the bedroom together. “In bed, he was a wonderful lover, massively endowed. David was very romantic, kissing me, holding me, calling me ‘Josie,’ whereas everyone else called me Josette. He was a wonderful lover, but it wasn’t about size, but about his technique. He didn’t just fuck, he made love. He was romantic, charming,” Josette remembered. “But there was nothing gay about him, nothing effeminate. I wouldn’t have thought he was bisexual. He was all man. He was aggressive, took charge, knew all the moves, wasn’t kinky, but really controlled me in bed.” 

For while Bowie had once relished her uninhibited sexuality when they were both single, childless, and flouting convention, the moment Angie had became the mother of his son, he instantly reverted to Victorian tradition and wanted her to stay home and play the role of wife and mother. Instead, she continued to have lovers, both male and female. As a settlement during the divorce process, Bowie paid her $750,000 in 1980. “It was like living with a blow-torch,” Bowie said later about Angie, and “She has as much insight into the human condition as a walnut and a self-interest that would make Narcissus green with envy.” Angie said in 2016, shortly after Bowie's death: 'I knew I had to save David - and by giving him our son, he had a reason to live.'  

David Bowie was always very gracious with me, and deferential to Lou. David genuinely wanted to help Lou succeed as a solo artist, but he also knew that being associated with Lou and his legendary cult status with the Velvets would, by association, bring him cachet and prestige himself, too. Lou wasn’t particularly enamored with Angie; she was David’s wife, though, so Lou was always respectful to her. With women Lou was polite, shy, and almost behaved like a high-school kid. I had bought a white crepe floral dress in London, when Angie and I went on a shopping spree on the Kings Road. Lou kissed and said quiety: ‘I love you. There are no words to tell you how much, Princess.’ That night we took dinner with David and Angie at the Ginger Man. I remember Bowie abruptly turned around to Angie and said, ‘Why can’t you wear a dress, like her?’ Both Lou and I noticed there was some tension between David and Angie, but we didn’t dwell on it. They had an entirely different relationship to us, and they drew very different boundaries around their marriage than either Lou or I would be comfortable with—an open relationship with lovers. From the beginning of our relationship I told Lou in no uncertain terms that if I saw a needle anywhere near him, I would—without fail—leave him. Hard drugs were his Achilles’ heel, and I knew they would destroy him if he started taking them again. —"Perfect Day: An Intimate Portrait Of Life With Lou Reed" (2016) by Bettye Kronstad

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Rami Malek channels Freddie Mercury's hurt in "Bohemian Rahpsody" (2018)

More than most bio-pics, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is carried by the performance of its lead actor, because Malek offers more than a skillful impersonation—he offers an imaginative interpretation. Malek does an impressive job of re-creating Mercury’s moves onstage, but the core of the performance is Malek’s intensely thoughtful, insight-rich channelling of Mercury’s hurt, his alienation and isolation even at the height of his fame. While watching the movie, I found his performance eerily reminiscent, as if based less on Freddie Mercury himself than on some other movie actor’s performance. Then it struck me: Malek wasn’t just channelling hurt; he was channelling Hurt—Malek’s quiet and nearly abashed delivery of lines, in a way that emphasizes both Freddie’s extra teeth and the emotional effect of being singled out for them, reminded me of John Hurt’s performance as John Merrick, in David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” makes the case that Mercury is more interesting than his music—and, by extension, that popularity itself, the ability to become a mainstream star and hitmaker, is itself no fluke or by-product but a conscious creation and a mark of genius. Source: www.newyorker.com

Rami Malek gets asked whether Freddie Mercury as a ‘Gay Icon’:  The team behind “Bohemian Rhapsody” have already been accused of “straightwashing” Freddie Mercury; now, Rami Malek has made headlines because of his response to a question about the singer’s sexuality. Malek, 37, was asked by Into magazine whether he saw the Queen frontman as a “gay icon,” and his answer left fans rather confused. The actor shared, “What’s really great about him is he never wanted to, or thought of himself as being boxed into anything. He just was. I’ve heard him say, when asked, he says, ‘I’m just me.’ If he’s an icon to one there’s no reason that it requires another adjective.” Mercury spent most of his life battling the public, the press and even some in his personal life about how he chose to identify himself. Many labeled him as gay, and very few chose to validate his inherent bisexuality. So is Mercury’s bisexuality erased in that scene with Mary Austin? No, it is made to be real. Source: etcanada.com

With her apricot hair, green eyes, and Bambi lashes, Mary Austin — who he once called the love of his life and who inspired Queen's song "Love of My Life"— was the embodiment of a Hulanicki Biba poster. When the fashion designer founded the Kensington emporium from which a flourishing fashion movement arose, Barbara Hulanicki might have chosen Mary as her muse. Petite and fine-boned, what Mary lacked in terms of stature and confidence she more than compensated for with almost textbook seventies style. “Freddie was already living with Mary when I met him, so I got to know and love them both equally,” Mick Rock says. “I was always popping round to their little flat to hang out with them at teatime. At the height of the glam rock scene, Mary was a really cute-looking lady who could have had anyone, done anything. But she never saw herself as anything special. She never wanted to put herself forward in any way. She was self-effacing, sweet, and charming. You just wanted to give her a cuddle.”

Pale, coy, and peering through shiny tresses, she had the demeanor of an earlier namesake, Mary Hopkin—the fresh-faced prodigy of Paul McCartney who’d had a hit with “Those Were the Days.” What would later be dubbed “the Stevie Nicks look” after the Fleetwood Mac singer was already common on Kensington High Street: midi dresses, maxi coats, suede platform boots, chiffon scarves, velvet chain chokers, purple lips, and smoky eyes. “She’d had a tough background,” remembers trusted journalist David Wigg. “Her parents, who were deaf and dumb, and who communicated through sign language and lip-reading, were poor. Her father worked as a hand trimmer for wallpaper specialists, and her mother was a domestic. But that wouldn’t have bothered Freddie. He somehow preferred people a little below his own level. He did like people in his life who were artistic, or who had come from nothing. Artistic and amusing were the key: he loved to laugh. Mary was shy, but she could make him giggle.” Mary also knew that Freddie had suffered, since childhood, something to which he rarely admitted: a persecution complex. That is, he worried that people were making fun of him behind his back, and that he was indeed ridiculous. It was to remain one of his fiercest inner demons until his death.

Despite her shy demeanor, Mary found herself caught up in London’s rock scene. Having pestered Brian May for an introduction, Freddie landed the girl of his dreams. The attraction between them was immediate, mutual, and would last a lifetime. The pair became inseparable and almost immediately began a sexual relationship. Their relationship would take precedence over every affair, with man or woman, in which Freddie would later indulge. Over the years, Mary became Freddie’s rock. He would rely on her to be strong for him. Whenever Freddie felt his sex/drugs/rock ’n’ roll lifestyle spiraling out of control and was unable to cope with the pressures of recording and touring, it was to Mary that he turned. They soon began living together, in a cramped, shabby £10-a-week bedsit in Victoria Road, just off Kensington High Street—the London neighborhood to which Freddie would always return. Today, the street is officially the most expensive for property in England and Wales, the average residence having an estimated sales value of £6.4 million. “I liked him and it went from there,” Mary would recall. “It took about three years for me to really fall in love. I’ve never felt that way before or since, with anyone. . .  I loved Freddie very much, and very deeply. I felt very safe with him.” 

Mick Rock remembers Freddie being “beside himself” over his issues with sexuality. “He was not exclusively gay, and that screwed him. He was torn. It was almost as if he had to know whether he was one thing or the other for sure, but he was caught in this middle ground, in a kind of no-man’s land. He loved women. He enjoyed their company immensely. Later in life he may have been more promiscuous with men, but he loved to get with the girls. Mary, of course, was the love of his life . . . the closest emotional bond he had ever known. Perhaps that had more to do with the woman in question than sexual preference. There was a real true love there between him and Mary. The sexual thing wasn’t nearly so important as their emotional and spiritual bond.” In 1976, Freddie decamped to an apartment at 12 Stafford Terrace in London’s Kensington and bought Mary a place of her own.

She would remain his devoted assistant at his side almost daily until his death fifteen years later. In a 1985 interview, Freddie Mercury said of Mary Austin, "All my lovers asked me why they couldn't replace Mary Austin, but it's simply impossible. The only friend I've got is Mary, and I don't want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that's enough for me." In his will, Mercury left the vast majority of his wealth, including his home and recording royalties, to Mary Austin and the remainder to his parents and sister. —"Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography" (2011) by Lesley-Ann Jones

Sunday, November 04, 2018

"Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc" (Review)

Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc (2018), directed by Matthew David Wilder (Your Name Here, Dog Eat Dog), is the latest of a long list of film adaptations of Joan of Arc’s legendary story. The real Jeanne d’Arc (1412-1431) was a French martyr and canonized Catholic saint. A descendant from a peasant family at Domrémy, Joan of Arc had a prominent key role in the liberation of France that had fallen under English dominion during the Hundred Years’ War. In 1415, King Henry V had taken advantage of the internal divisions and many French nobles were conspiring with the English crown against the Armagnac faction. In 1430, Joan was captured by the traitorous Burgundian faction and she was handed to the pro-English Bishop Pierre Cauchon, who declared her guilty of heresy and other charges in a rigged trial. 

Joan of Arc (nicknamed 'The Maid of Orléans') was burned at the stake in 1431. The trial transcripts were used as evidence for her canonization in 1920, previously having become a symbol of French nationalism impulsed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803.

In a recent interview with Alain Hertay, Wilder acknowledged his inspiration from Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) and Jacques Rivette’s Joan the Maiden (1994). Undoubtedly Wilder is following the tempo structure of the trial and interrogations and use of the semi-static camera that gave Bresson’s film a theatrical yet realist tone. In Tony Pipolo’s book Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film (2010) we learn that influential critic Susan Sontag judged Bresson’s film a failure because his “experiment” had reached the “limit of the unexpressive,”  his aesthetic “moving in the direction of documentary.” 

In contrast with the poetic silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) by Carl Theodor Dreyer, Pipolo posits that in Bresson’s version all conflict stems from the language used by Joan and her judges during the trial: “the very rhythm of questions and answers creates tension and suggests the persistent danger of Joan’s falling into the traps laid by her interrogators. Florence Delay’s performance seems perfect, an unsentimental embodiment of a singular historical figure. Joan embodies the human figure not just as a noble creation, but as the projection of the filmmaker’s elusive idealized self.” Delay adds a naturalism to the sacred figure of Joan that rivals Maria Falconetti’s poeticism, Sandrine Bonnaire’s belligerence, Ingrid Bergman’s radiance in Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc (1948), Jean Seberg’s vulnerability in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan (1957) – an adaptation by Graham Greene of George Bernard Shaw’s play – and Milla Jovovich’s lunacy in Luc Besson’s Joan of Arc (1999).

Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc updates the events into a dystopian USA where alt-right activists are rampant. These religious zealots have developed a gullible fanbase whose gatherings are celebrated around their mysterious saviour Joan, who has been detained and charged for acts of domestic terrorism. Nicole LaLiberté is certainly a revelation as Joan of Enid, Oklahoma – she is also known as Joan of Arc, Joan Doe, or Joan of Waco, aliases that strengthen the notion of her mythical dimension and, at the same time, typify her as a more local personality who belongs to the modern and traumatic history of the USA.

Her supporters want to reinforce the more traditionalist principles of Christianism. Seemingly devoid of intellectual curiosity or scientific rationality, they aim for a white, rural, intolerant, and inescapable fate. As Wilder points out, Joan is very much one of the so-called Trump “deplorables,” despite her name’s origins: Enid may well mean Eneit, “spirit, life” in Middle Welsh dialect.
We witness a military trial set in a Guantanamo Bay-like prison, where Joan is spied upon and tormented on a daily basis by Major Calhoun (Christopher Matthew Cook), a stand-in for Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, the English commander responsible for prosecuting the real Joan of Arc. In fact, it was Beauchamp who after Joan’s execution ordered her ashes thrown into the Seine.
Indelible scenes highlight the loneliness, mystical fervor, and possible mental illness of our post-modern Joan. Oddly, both Wilder and LaLiberté manage to elicit sympathy and understanding toward this self-obsessed martyr figure, who evokes a defiant melancholy and other-worldly magnetism.
Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc is a tortuous portrait of a self-appointed saviour of so-called Christian values. Through her very powerful performance LaLiberté makes you believe Joan is pure, incorruptible, even magical. Wilder has successfully avoided the postmodern cliché of coloring historical fiction with the brush of learned cynicism, which only would have disfigured Joan of Arc’s memory. Despite her terrible flaws, Joan of Oklahoma is fundamentally devoted to her creed and mission of spiritual salvation. There is a subtext of mordant irony too. The real Joan of Arc was a descendant of French peasants who opposed the English occupation despite being surrounded by England’s Burgundian sympathizers. In this case, it’s Joan from Oklahoma fighting ferociously for reestablishing the fabled English Puritanism in the land of the free.

There’s also a lot of humor in the dialogue: “Do you see the angel…when you look at the President?” Joan is asked. A prison official snickers: “You know Calhoun tried to get a gig on Fox off this? They said he wasn’t a true believer enough.” Amidst the serious and austere mise-en-scène, a subtext of irony pervades, sometimes in the form of an over-conscientious Human Rights Watch agent or a self-righteous Breitbart reporter: “You can play along with these Elites. Truth is gonna get out there.”
Although the tone is sometimes claustrophobic during the court proceedings and the waterboarding room scene. Other times it turns comically absurdist, as in the cat-and-mouse game where Joan’s prosecutors show their different degrees of manipulation and political opportunism, represented (among others) by the two-faced NSA director (Erin Aubry Kaplan).
Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc really works out to be a metaphor for the current radicalization of Republican Christians in the USA, especially their hardcore faction and those advocating the use of violence to restore their alleged supremacy. It’s a brilliant allusion that Joan’s people, who lament the new “decadent urban sensibility” taking over their country, have become the embodiment of human decadence. As one of the court interrogators asks Joan: “If the Devil came and took the form of an angel, how would you know the difference?” Joan evades the question and later reveals ominously: “Truth makes a traitor in a time of scoundrels.”
Personally, this is one of my favorite interpretations of Joan of Arc's storytelling, and its inspiration confirms Matthew Wilder as a necessary auteur and visionary. The final post-credit visual coda is magnificent, giving you a chilling effect by adding a futurist premonition that will provoke complex thoughts about our exasperating present and unpromising future. These dark, menacing, complex, compassionate thoughts will certainly persist through time.
Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc premieres on Thanksgiving at IFFI, the International Film Festival of India (20-28 November 2018).
Article published previously as Movie Review: ‘Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc’ on Blogcritics.