The death of Bea Arthur has got me wondering where else to get my fill of her pert bullfrog voice and inflexible smirk besides old "Golden Girls" episodes. Pauline Kael's review of the Lucille Ball film version of Mame ("Too terrible to be boring; you can get fixated staring at it and wondering what exactly Lucille Ball thinks she's doing," Kael writes, delighted. "When that sound comes out -- it's somewhere between a bark, a croak, and a quaver-- does she think she's singing?") has got me excited.
A CD-R filled with bullfrog croaks would irritate less than Michael Haneke's Funny Games, his English-language version of his 1997 film, which itself predates the Abu Ghraib photos by several years. Outside the work of auteur Sylvester "Sly" Stallone (Cobra and Rambo particularly) I can't think of another filmmaker who took such exquisite pleasure in inflicting pain on his characters. "Exquitite" is right: his sets gleam with the unemphatic chic taste of Good Housekeeping. 2002's The Piano Teacher worked because of the too-perfect casting of Isabelle Huppert, who is to mashocism what Julia Roberts is to dentrifice; beneath the undigested Freudian subtexts and stupid ideas there was Haneke's perfect composure, the unhurried confidence with which he sustains a mood of dread. But I understand the complaints of those (many) who hated it. Cache (2005) was supposed to make us feel guilty about something, but I'm not sure what -- the French treatment of Algerians? Haneke treats lacunae as reverentially as Naomi Watts does her kitchen counters in Funny Games. He's the asshole who would blame the impulse to ask honest questions about his films on capitalism and Twitter.
It doesn't help that Funny Games' cast performs like Haneke instructed them to stare at a black spot in the corner of the frame. I've so tired of Naomi Watts' open-mouthed Kewpie doll routine; she either needs another comedy like I ::Heart:: Huckabees or a director more sympathetic to her gift for unearthing the hysteria in ordinarily pretty people. Tim Roth's in this farrago too, I think. As for Michael Pitt, he's a chubby nothing. From certain angles he looks like Truman Capote wearing an Andy Warhol mask. Shifting his weight from one tennis shoe to the other, he can't decide what to do with his body, or whether he should be on the set at all. If Pasolini were still alive, he'd cast Pitt as a too-long-for-this-world hustler, which would at least have the virtue of being convincing. In how many movies has Pitt been the object of leers from other boys? He and Haneke are ideal partners -- they each have something to pimp.