Wednesday, September 25, 2019

CANON OF FILM: "GHOST WORLD"

GHOST WORLD (2001)

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Screenplay: Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes



Over the years, I’ve found many reasons to find myself drawn back to “Ghost World”. I’ve always loved the movie, sure, but there always seemed to be something mysterious in it, something that I kept seeking out, but wasn’t sure I could actually find. I kept going back to it periodically, at one point recently, I even went so far as to read the graphic novel it was based on, which I rarely do, especially with comics. I liked it, but it only resembled the movie in tone; it was even more sardonic and episodic than the movie I remember; for something that I think of as being distinctly narrative, the book was more comic strip-like almost; it felt more reminiscent of say, the TV show “Daria”, which makes sense considering the time period, and comparing anything to “Daria” is a good thing in my book.

I’ve seen it airing on TV a lot lately; when I had cable I used to watch all the time when I’d run into it, but I can’t watch it much these days. I know the movie too well and it’s just chopped to shit on regular TV. I don’t mind the language being edited but a lot of the TV edits just seem to completely miss the jokes or the irony or nuances of the film. Like they keep the scene of Enid (Thora Birch) dying her hair green while listening to punk rock and they show her in a brief glimpse of her Sex Pistols-inspired punk rock get-up, but they’d leave out the speech where she explains to an idiot that she gets her classic Indian musicals from, that she’s wearing the clothes ironically, and is the only one who seems to understand that?! Missed details like that happen enough to where I just gave up watching it on TV anymore. Still though, I kept finding myself drawn to it though, and I finally think I know why.

I’ve always related to Enid, the young high school outcast who’s sardonic, arm’s length view of the world was what was tripping her up and events changed in her life that she couldn’t control, or that she would sabotage. This is true enough; I knew people like her, hell I was, perhaps still am someone like her, complete with a female friend who seems to also share those inspirations, but is also prettier, and more willing to go out to the world. In Enid’s case it’s Rebecca, (Scarlett Johansson) and she’s even planning her and Enid getting an apartment after the summer, after Enid has to stay behind and take a Summer art class just to graduate. I related to the absurdity of the graduation ceremony, the struggles of an adult world trying to relate to teenager, completely misunderstanding just how absurd everything truly is, and therefore into a sardonic undertone not as irony or rebellion, but as self-defense.

Now however, almost 20 years on, I realize that I much more relate to Seymour. (Steve Buscemi) An aging fast food regional employee who’s bored by his own fascinations and habits that he ultimately could never find anybody else to relate to. He’s in his 40s and is filled with useless information on aged delta blues singers that nobodies heard of and collections of records and other strange items that make his living room look like a museum to someone who died years ago; the kind of stuff you’d expect to find at a yard sale that nobody would buy, and yet, the seller is still reluctant to sell. It never quite dawned on me that perhaps, on top of being a love interest and fascination to Enid, Seymour might also represent a warning for Enid. One that I don’t think she ever realizes or for that matter, understands that he is the representative of what she might end up becoming, or perhaps is destined to become. His fascination with old blues records becomes her fascination, but how different is that then her unique interest in old obscure Bollywood musicals? She’s already so dispirited with the rest of the world that she can’t even bare to put a price on her old items as she tries to have a yard sale, just like Seymour periodically does. She ostracizes all her friends and potential love interests, Seymour doesn’t have that many of those and of those, he finds them as boring as he finds himself as he struggles to navigate through a world that doesn’t quite fit him as well. It seems like he was always a loner, but perhaps he also had some friends who simply outgrew him or he decided not to grow up.

This isn’t exactly just these characters being introverts, there’s more to it than that. There’s the kind of introverted behavior that is a fear of going further, putting oneself out there, but then there’s being an introvert because of the general disgust one has with the outside on top of that. It’s not simply that they can’t navigate around it, they foresee it too well just how they don’t fit in. What’s natural behavior for everybody else, or seems that way to them, are just other characters in their observant play that they’ve placed into their own universe. I feel this way a lot, and it’s crippling; it’s bad enough that I can easily see myself filing a missed connection ad, but I can see myself answering it too, both seriously and for laughs, like Enid does.

I guess the word would be ennui, and this movie gets ennui way more than perhaps any other I’ve seen. This sense of trying to be apart of the world, but because you’re so dismissive of the world, you insist on only going through it on your own terms; it’s vile and can truly stunt one’s emotional growth, and these are two characters who are emotionally stunted and they’re so far gone that don’t even fear the problems with that. Seymour’s practically given up and basically just accepts it and the other is still so in her own world that she doesn’t even realize that she should fear it. She thinks she’s trying to help out Seymour, which, yeah, comparatively, she’s the one who should be pushing him, but she should’ve been getting help too. And she rejects it when she had the opportunity, like with the art teacher, (Ileana Douglas) and with everybody else, including Rebecca and Seymour. Including her father (Bob Balaban) and her father’s on-again off-again girlfriend (Teri Garr).

The film was directed by Terry Zwigoff, the wonderful filmmaker behind “Crumb”, the documentary on the great underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, the cartoonist behind Fritz the Cat among other noteworthy projects. Reportedly, Zwigoff was a friend of Crumb and the only reason the film got made was become Zwigoff was on the brink of having a nervous breakdown and Crumb was concerned that he might be suicidal so he reluctantly allowed him to start filming. Roger Ebert’s review of “Ghost World” notes that Buscemi’s Seymour character has a lot of similarities to Zwigoff himself. His character is not prominent in the graphic novel and the whole main plot between him and Enid is nearly entirely made up. I wonder if he found himself in Clowes’s comic version of Enid and decided to expand Seymour’s role and create him as sort of a warning to her. The movie has a famous open-ending where Enid boards a bus, a bus that, once upon a time, was noted for not running anymore, until suddenly, and without warning, it starting running again. She has no high school diploma, she’s no longer friends with Rebecca and is so frustrated with how everything in the town has changed so drastically that she finally leaves. I used to think it was ultimately a happy ending; I know that she has no real prospects personally, but what about emotionally. Will she just find a new but similar world that she can’t grasp and can only observe at arm’s length? That she can’t ultimately go maneuver her way through? Did Seymour make a similar decision to leave wherever he was from to come here? It’s been almost twenty years; I wonder what does happen to her and everybody else. I don’t normally want to see a sequel to anything but I kinda think I do want to see one for “Ghost World”; I’m sure it wouldn’t be as great, but it could be decent like Peter Bogdanovich’s “Texasville” for instance, his good-but-forgotten sequel to “The Last Picture Show” that looks in and checks on these characters twenty years down the line. See how they struggle to survive in a new world they can’t seem to grasp and are still disgusted with it and can only observe the absurdity in everything. Perhaps Enid finds a way out of her own insipidness, or perhaps she ends up like Seymour, having taken a simple job at some fast food place and just never bothered finding anything else or improving anything else about her and now, she’s been there for twenty years, and collects old records.

I know these are two characters who I distressingly relate well to, too well perhaps. Perhaps I read the film as more of a warning now then when I originally did, and yet, I still want to seek it out more, and I’m usually happy when I do. Maybe Enid and Seymour might be onto something after all. Perhaps the world is so diametrically opposed to them, and keeps not getting or understanding or finding a decent place for them, then, maybe they should be rejecting it and all it’s conventions?   

I mean, maybe somebody should pick up that pair of jeans that’s been on the sidewalk forever; who knows, they might actually fit somebody, if only somebody tried to put them on.

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