July 7, 2012 by bluberie
Ayush Prasad walks through the moral pathways and wades in the slush of unrequited love in Baillie Walsh’s Flashbacks of a Fool
These are the Flashbacks of a Fool. These are the flashbacks of one who couldn’t determine his actions for himself. These are the flashbacks of one who did not know the right for him from the wrong for him, who did not know how to clearly differentiate between what he wanted and what he didn’t. These are the flashback of one who’s been a bad manager of his life, who has wandered as fate, others and guilt would have him wander, who has been trapped all his life between what it seems to him he desires and what he actually desires as a strong feeling.
Could Joe have done otherwise? Maybe. Maybe not. Could he have had a different making? Maybe. Maybe not. Could he have trudged a different path? Maybe. Maybe not. Could he have resisted giving in to the seduction from Evelyn and chosen Ruth’s body and soul that he so desired, making love to her with the Gods of rock n’ roll, Bowie and Roxy, playing in the background, reading William Burroughs’ Junkie when it was over? Maybe. Maybe Not.
Could he have, as an afterthought, been less afraid of himself? Yes. He could have. Could he have faced his vacillations and deviations with greater emotional strength? Yes. He could have. Could he have confronted rather than run away from his losses? Yes. He could have. Could he do that? No. He couldn’t. Why? Because he lacked courage, not the “courage” to “take action…dream…get forward in life,” but the courage required for “standing still.” Yes. He couldn’t stand still, couldn’t defend or criticise his ground and choices, couldn’t face his own actions and was scattered, scattered on the shimmering waters of prejudice and fear just like Evelyn’s little child who was blown up by a renegade mine as she had sex with him.
This wallowing in the self’s indeterminacy and the inability to break out of the accompanying guilt is the moral universe of Flashbacks of a Fool, a film about the inability of Joe Scot, a young lad in a provincial beach town in America, to come to terms with his identity as a “wanker,” or as the Encarta dictionary would have it, ‘somebody considered unpleasant, self‐indulgent, pretentious and arrogant.” Was he a wanker? No. Not really. But the world nevertheless called him one and he felt trapped within this imposed identity. In fact, he started believing in it and behaving like a wanker.
The adult, runaway, Joe Scot, the famous Hollywood actor who “every woman wants,” has not been able to overcome his past–a disastrous faux pas of cheating on his love Ruth and losing her to his best friend Boots–and spends his time drinking non‐stop, calling up phone sex “976” lines, depriving himself from sunlight, women with who he could have relationships, pleasure and happiness. But somehow, somewhere deep within Joe, there rests a desire to float away from his tribulations, not by evading them, but by standing up to them, face to face.
Boots’ death, the loss of a film contract and his agent’s defection gives Joe a chance to do that. He literally floats into the unknown, into the shimmering ocean, the infinite sky and the horizon of a new beginning, and is reborn as someone who dares to go back and look at what he had been and what he had done in his past, trying to understand his becoming, trying to stand still and face his losses with calmness, trying to push away the mantle of a fool he has so desperately clung to. He desires to believe for the first time that it is possible to live and have pleasure and happiness in spite of errors and losses. It is for the first time that he understands that all he needs to do is to go beyond the mess and find alternatives after taking a few lessons from that which he has messed up.
Joe needs to face Ruth, needs to tell her that he still loves her and would always do, but that he understands her identity and situation in life and needs to go beyond her, a sort of rite of passage for a coming of age, an act that would take him into the world of understanding and contentment with what he is, a sort of making peace with his personal history.
In the modern Romance of Flashbacks, Joe, the knight in dark armour, perpetually in hatred and denial of his actual self and forever in love with what he is not and could not be, would get there as romantically and passionately and truthfully as when he had first asked Ruth for a date some twenty‐five years ago. He will earn his lost chalice in the idyllic world he had upset, his hometown, and return to the modern world. This is a world where he needs to struggle to fend for himself to continue getting roles in films, where he needs to halt the recession of his identity as a dependable actor, where he needs to accept, acknowledge and move beyond the singed Joe Scot for the first time and under the scorching sun of capitalist competition.
The shot of the singeing, sautéing slice of meat at the beginning of the film works as a perfect and terrifying symbol of this burnt, burning and fried state of being that Joe Scot is in. The earlier, pre-resurrection, adult Joseph Scot, the frustrated actor, who spends “a thousand bucks” talking to women over the 976 phone‐sex line, does so because in the moments of such sexual experience he can “pretend to be someone else” and run away from facing his real self. Mindlessly perambulating between grey silhouettes in his empty home, he doesn’t mind being fleeced by his black caretaker and manages to get “tickets” of cocaine to sail towards the illusion of freedom from the regular life he so detests. This mixture of loneliness, fear, anxiety and unhappiness, which hides in every corner of Joe Scot’s ultramodern, grey-sea-facing, hill-top villa, is emphasised at the beginning of the film with a keyboard rendition whose rhythm is formed out of a repetition of broken and unrelated notes of the piano.
The colour scheme of the film is in varying shades of grey and black and white. Scot is trapped in the black and whites. He is clamped shut within the shadows that inhabit these black and whites, and cannot grasp the meaning of the grey he perpetually sees until he meets and floats on the blinding shimmer of the ultra grey ocean. The prismatic refractions of his finite being and of the blinding light that Scot experiences while floating on the ocean leads him to appreciate and come to terms with the varying shades of grey in his life. The violin‐piano track that plays when Scot hears about Boots’ death over phone is piercing and strongly introspective. It seems to bring, for the first time in the film, Scot’s divided selves together as he learns that his estranged friend Boots died proud of his achievements as an actor.
The image of promise and love that remains from this film—even as it eventually takes Ruth and Scot in completely different directions—is of the David Bowie’s trippy, “Jean Genie” (and a few other intoxicating numbers too), playing in the background as adolescent Scot and Ruth get to know each other in the golden light of Ruth’s large, upper‐middle class apartment. They lie with their heads towards each other, barely touching each other, romancing their fates even before landing them. Ruth tells Joe, “This feels good,” referring to their meeting under the exotic canopy of music and sexual excitation. She does make-up on him, colours his eyes blue with mascara, dresses him in a black punk jacket, makes a God of him, her God, does “vocals” for a Bowie song that they love, lets him kiss her fingers with his, lets him kiss her lips and her cheek, and ushers in a never‐ending streak of a certain special passion between them both: a passion that would keep pulsating between her and Scot like the perpetual sea that froths turbulently and continuously between man and sky; a passion that would keep coming unannounced like strains of unknown music that knock on the doors of the mind with all their strange variations whenever they feel like it; a passion that would bind them forever as two lovers who fell for each other, touched each-other’s soft skins, and left a mark, an imprint in the psyche, indelible, beating, throbbing, to be remembered and felt, yet not to be had.
PS: Published in Insignia, the UTV World Movies monthly, in 2010, for Spenta Multimedia, Mumbai