Real Life Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis, written and directed by David Cronenberg (Alfama Films/ Prospero Pictures). This slight figure, in ill-fitting clothes, no matter how expensive they might be—he’s supposed to be a financial titan, or monster, twenty-eight and worth far more billions than that, about to embark on a journey of systematically destroying everything he has. Can he carry a whole movie? It doesn’t look like it. But as the film goes on, his face becomes at once more expressive and withdraws more completely into itself, and an Elvis ghost emerges around the smudged eyes, to the point that you half expect someone, maybe the cream-pie guerrilla, to say, “Hey, you’re the Elvis of money!” But then the sun goes down, Pattinson sits across the table from his nemesis, and as his eyes go glassy—not blank, but a milky pool with no refection—you could be watching The Manchurian Candidate, with Laurence Harvey sitting across from Frank Sinatra as red queens cover the table between them and Harvey remembers what he’s done. Except for Keira Knightley, Cronenberg’s last picture, A Dangerous Method, seemed cast on autopilot, with Viggo Mortensen as Freud and Michael Fassbender as Jung; this, from Juliette Binoche’s bouncing art dealer to Paul Giamatti reaching all the way down into his bag of losers, is displacing from the first moment to the last.

(2) Cat Power, Sun (Matador). There’s always been an acrid, suspicious edge behind Cat Power’s tone of voice; except with other people’s songs, where she might drift, get lost, and not care, she doesn’t let herself go. What’s new here, as the songs, which are indistinctly outlined, slowly take shape, is what I can only call womanliness: a certain warmth, an undeniable lack of fear.

(3) Matthew Friedberger, Matricidal Sons of Bitches (Thrill Jockey). This is the other half of Fiery Furnaces’ twelfth solo album, and the fifth this year. (“I’m supposed to make two records this fall,” the one-man orchestra Friedberger writes, “one home made one and one ‘proper’ studio one—I think of those as being from 2012. But they won’t be out till next year. In other words, I’m confused by this.”) And that’s not even counting the “Table” series, which is said to include one album for each of the 118 elements in the Periodic Table. For the meantime, this is described as being inspired by Hollywood’s Poverty Row, the no-budget fly-by-night letterhead studios that churned out countless B to Z pictures in the 1930s and ’40s. You get a feel for the people hanging around the lots in Nathanael West’s 1939 The Day of the Locust; you can see what the style (form?) (junk heap?) produced at its most intense in Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 Detour. There’s an undertow implicit in both the idea and the fact of Poverty Row, a sense of just-shoot-me surrender, people pressing on to the next shot because it would be too much trouble to stop, and Friedberger catches that, as a kind of memory still present around the edges of even today’s most glamorous movies, as in the scene in Mulholland Dr. where Naomi Watts hires her hit man. There are forty-five tracks here; go to “I’m Sure It’s… for the Best,” number ten, and “Disappointed Dads,” number twenty-four, first.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, and The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, and other books. His column, Real Life Rock Top Ten, runs monthly in the Believer.

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