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Entries in Nicolas Cage (5)


In Which We Contemplate Our Daemons

The Spirit Animal


At the shelter, they recommend that you sit on the floor and wait for the right animal to approach you. Ideally, you will connect with an animal that best fits your needs, based on any number of inexplicable factors that draw a cautious prowler to the hollow of your lap.

If you have a 9-5, it will be fine home alone during the day. If you like to have loud company, it won’t have to hide under the bed. If you don’t have money, it will never require medical attention. If you are insecure, it won’t look at other humans. This highly anticipated encounter, like going unescorted on a Friday night to any local watering hole, is a game of pheromones that eludes the human subject and thus makes it ridiculous.

neil gaiman by kelli bickman in 1996

Any understanding between man and animal (as with man and man) is nothing but a profound misunderstanding. When claws or fangs draw blood, we expect a beast’s empathy, if not its complete understanding that it deserves death and punishment. Why then, in the subtle lairs of our living rooms, do we endow upon the creature our wildest animal instincts? How can we laugh at the proclivity to chase sunbeams across a wood floor?

elizabeth taylor

The natural state of any living thing, except a Happy Meal, is birth and death. What happens in between those two is the great debate. Before the spirit animal, men and women were driven to hide their essences elsewhere: gaudy containers, pieces of jewelry, bottles rolled away to the safety of the sea. Like what people did before blogging, it is something we may never know for sure. There was nowhere to hide in plain sight.

Of the first cat I remember, auspiciously named Plato, we saw only snatches of dark fur, a paw flung carelessly over the edge of an armchair. When unprovoked, he remained indifferent, although ornery for such a handsome and well-fed specimen. Provoked (easily), he appeared twice his usual size, producing unearthly growls that eventually got him banished to a curtained back bedroom. On one occasion he stalked angrily around the coffee table while my brother and I trembled on all fours behind the sofa. He suddenly appeared in front of us only to leap, claws extended, and we screamed. Only his mistress, my aunt, and sometimes my uncle, could coax him into their arms – a privilege no doubt acquired by the blood sacrifice of many small and unfortunate creatures. Left to his own devices, we felt sure that he would murder us in cold blood.

Did philosophy or religion exist without this animal? At the incline of its head nations tumbled, empires fell to dust. Nepalese peaks rose in imitation of its clever ears. At the very least, corners proved darker for its playful ambush of passing feet, windows larger to frame its wise face. The arts owe more to the feline than to any other creature, save perhaps the horse. Somewhere in the desert, an ancient Sphinx rests on time and mankind’s imperfect worship.

Unlike its feral counterparts, the housecat is a follower of Epicurus, its basest passions restrained by a constant striving after pleasure. Survival is less important than aesthetics, a subject explored by the animal in great detail as it reclines fluidly on the rug. Its ennui humanizes it, as it progressively forgets (intentionally, unintentionally) why it was placed on earth.

grace kelly

We inherited our first family cat in California, when my parents managed an apartment building. An elderly tenant moved or passed away, and according to standard apartment procedure the managers ended up with whatever was left beneath sinks or in the back of the closet.

Mikey was an ancient orange and white tabby and I think we saw him a grand total of five times while we were in his possession. He spent most of his time wedged underneath my parents’ bed, although we made sure he was still alive by shaking his box of dry food and calling his name, a clever ruse that got him to frolic like a kitten down the hallway. In the mornings he mewled outside shut bedroom doors, awake only when nobody else was. Shortly thereafter we moved, and another tenant took him. In all likelihood he still lives in the San Fernando Valley surrounded by Koreans.

The survival of a species depends entirely on the ability of its hunters, on the secrecy of its cache. Infamous tiger-slaughterer Jim Corbett shared pleasantries with many a man-eating feline at dusk over bait. If they lunged, he fired his gun. An otherwise grandfatherly-looking man, he mostly hunted alone with his small dog Robin. In tales about the Chowgarh tigress it is unclear whether he was hunting or wooing her. Concrete slabs mark the spots in India and Nepal where he finished them; we can imagine him tenderly composing pet epitaphs at night to the howl of nearby monkeys. He devoted his later years to the preservation of endangered species, no doubt fearful of karma.

Dad kept a freshwater aquarium for a few years, and Mom indulged in parakeets and a couple of yellow canaries. My parents provided us with a cat every few years, despite their general reserve towards the animal kingdom. It showed a remarkable ability on their part to see our potential for compassion. Still they were the first to pick up the slack when it proved once again (as it always did) that we were still very young, and that we could not yet grasp how another living thing might need us. They allowed disquiet at the foot of their bed and shoveled through litter boxes and patiently satisfied another hungry stomach.

aldous huxley

To identify with or as is the siren song of this generation, an ongoing game of association in which the subject pinpoints behaviors, fashions, morals, or ideologies and appropriates them to himself. (e.g. I must be Liz Lemon because I think and act and speak like Liz Lemon. Ryan Gosling must be my boyfriend because Ryan Gosling speaks and looks and thinks and acts like I want my boyfriend to act.) The spirit, it would seem, has become as much of a consumer as the body. This is vanity.

For a long time the most desirable relationship was such a one as existed between Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes, or between Lucy and Aslan, a bond in which similitude transcends any differences of kind or quality. In any case, this relationship seemed highly preferable to any story in which animals only talk amongst themselves, which is believable only inasmuch as reality television is believable.

In the early 00s, my parents somehow became acquainted with farmers in the Haute Savoie, a portion of France irreversibly wrinkled by that majestic mountain range known as the Alps. From them we received goat’s cheese, lessons in vocabulary, and a chaton – a tiny ball of brown and white fur we unorginally named Simba. We brought him home in a cardboard box. He peed on a towel. From the very beginning, we strove to teach him the difference between right and wrong using a squirt gun. He chased our ankles and climbed papered walls. When he took to running in wild circles around the apartment day and night and howling at the moon, we released him in a meadow near a friendly-looking barn and stacks of warm, plush hay. He did not look back.

Otherwise, it was our constant hopping from one location to another that prohibited a long-term relationship with a pet. It was also our own inability to remain constant, our chameleonesque capability to blend into language and space, adopting the same awkward ease with which an academic handles reality: drawing on a vast well of knowledge, but with very little practice.

Domesticating an animal, like educating a child, rationalizes its wilderness of instincts, robs it of the power quivering on its whiskers.  An oblong box filled with sand might just as well be a place to shit as a place to rest in peace. If eternity is man’s natural habitat, he cannot be blamed for chasing it by dividing his soul into parts.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about Jeffrey Eugenides‘ The Marriage Plot.

ava gardner

"Lúppulagið" - Sigur Ros (mp3)

"Popplagið" - Sigur Ros (mp3)

"Flijotavik" - Sigur Ros (mp3)

george plimpton


In Which It Is The Danger Mothers Warn About

Turn Back Time


1987 was a good year for Cher: Suspect, The Witches of Eastwick, a popular fragrance, a pop-metal album, a bagel artisan boyfriend, and a best actress Oscar for Moonstruck. As Pauline Kael wrote, in Moonstruck, Cher was funny and sinuous and devastatingly beautiful.

Yes, beautiful. Like Fitzcarraldo's steamship lurching over a Peruvian mountain, Cher had arrived at a vertiginous instant of surgical perfection: nose, slimmed, teeth straightened and capped, mushroom cloud of hair, presumably not her own, but at least a believably natural hue. A few years later, she was sporting synthetic weaves and blue eyes, and promoting "The Shoop Shoop Song." That's not the Cher any of us want. Give us "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves"; give us "Half Breed."

I was smitten, maybe because she was a cross between my other two other childhood idols: Lynda Carter, who made being a brunette bearable (brown in the 70s and 80s was like ginger today) and Dolly Parton, who instilled honor in being a painted woman.

Some well-meaning relative bought me a bottle of Cher's perfume, Uninhibited. I listened to Cher's metal version of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang" and to what I think is the best-ever unisex karaoke anthem, "If I Could Turn Back Time."

But really what appealed was the movie; not just the transformation of Loretta, Cher's dowdy widow, into permed, borough prom queen, but the pleasure of spending time in a Bococa brownstone with the family. (This is post-Godfather but pre-Sopranos).

I don't know, said my mother, if these characters are setting a good example. I think she disapproved of the scene in which, after a bloody steak and a glass of whiskey, Nicolas Cage throws over his kitchen table, hoists Cher in his arms and takes her to bed.

Obviously, Moonstruck is not a field guide to building intimacy. But it is the I-ching for Jungian romantics:

Why do men chase women?
God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Maybe men chase women to get the rib back.

Why would a man need more than one woman?
Because he fears death.

On whether to accept an ill-chosen engagment ring:
Everything is temporary. That don't excuse nothing.

The correct response to an ill-timed "I love you"?
Snap out of it.

There's also the definition of a good suit (comes with two pairs of pants); a good restaurant customer (a bachelor); the right meal to eat before a flight to Sicily (manicotti); the proper way to propose to a woman; and the exact time to hold a wedding (after mom's dead).

It's a corroboration of Norman Jewison's and the actors' skills that this dialogue is remotely plausible; they achieve exactly the right tone for the overheated characters. Imagine Al Pacino, who was originally pursued for the Nic Cage role, chewing through these lines:

I lost my hand. I lost my bride. Johnny has his hand, Johnny has his bride. You want me to take my heartbreak, put it away and forget it? Is it only a matter of time before a man gives up his one dream of happiness?

John Patrick Shanley's original title was The Bride and The Wolf, suggesting a scrapped Tarantino-Romero collaboration. Really it's a domestic drama with mythical dimensions.

Loretta wants to be a bride — will the groom be the safe choice (a lamb) or the dangerous one (a wolf)?

Nic Cage, festering like a bread-baking Hephaestus, is crazy like a wolf. Or so Loretta tells him when he relates why he lost his hand and his fiancée from a bread-slicing accident. You're a wolf. That woman didn't leave you. She was a trap for you. And you — you chewed off your own foot to get away.

Moonstruck is the last modern record of an adult receiving or perpetrating a hickey. It's also the last time a prosthetic could be seen as a plausible impediment to marriage (if only Heather Mills had been around as an example for Ronny).

It was released when Pauline Kael was still writing for The New Yorker, which means that there were still movies being made worthy of Kael plaudits. See Wes Anderson for further details.

Moonstruck has the visual dullness of mid-80s urban films, a bit of claret mixed in the granite and beige and inky palette. But Kael recognized its conceit: "it's an honest contrivance – the mockery is a giddy homage to our desire for grand passion. With its special lushness, it's a rose-tinted black comedy." Maybe that's the danger my mother warned about; the movies suggests that under a particular planetary configuration, we will be *pleasurably* confronted by our repressed passions.

Karina Wolf is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about Tennessee Williams and his sister. She tumbls here.

"If I Could Turn Back Time" - Cher (mp3)

"Believe" - Cher (mp3)

"Walking in Memphis" - Cher (mp3)


In Which It's Worth Watching Over And Over



At some point during my impressionable preteen years, my mother and I undertook the time and soul-consuming project of watching Nicolas Cage’s entire filmography. "Filmography" is a word I grew to like, back then, although I am still not sure it’s an accurate or expressive one. Since 1982 (when the world glimpsed him briefly, flipping burgers, behind Judge Reinhold in Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Cage has made sixty movies. Among them are some nearly unwatchable big-budget action movies (Next, Bangkok Dangerous), and some equally unwatchable romantic schlock (City of Angels, The Family Man).

Many of these movies are so bad that one wonders exactly how the film industry has come to value and understand Nicolas Cage: unlike Willis or Stallone, he can’t be expected to get ever manly American ass in seats; likewise, what red-blooded American woman would choose to project her hopes and dreams onto Cage’s growly, disingenuous Family Man

All of this was, of course, different once. When I asked my mother to try to define Cage’s je ne sais quoi, she didn’t give me a pat quote (it seems that this is impossible when talking about Cage), but she did cite 1983’s Valley Girl as the movie in which he blossomed before her eyes into a mightily irresistible sex object. 

Indeed, Valley Girl was Cage’s first real starring role, and it’s worth watching over and over just for the authentically teenage excitements it offers: Nicolas Cage sneaking in through the window of a bathroom at a party he’s been thrown out of, waiting for the girl he’d been flirting with to come in, then watching her apply makeup in the mirror. Valley Girl established Cage as both a rebel and a stud, which is basically what he has stayed – to the extent that the culture has let him.

In 2007, Michael Hirschorn wrote an article for The Atlantic called “Quirked Around” which describes, better than I ever could, the way in which figures like Michael Cera, Wes Anderson and Ira Glass – effete and emphatically quirky men – have proliferated since the 1980s.  Hirschorn locates the birth of quirk sometime around 1985, in David Byrne, in Jon Cryer’s character from Pretty in Pink. This is perhaps why Nicolas Cage, in the earlier phases of his career, seemed to make so much more sense than he does now. Cage's quirk reaches further and into stranger corners of the soul than I imagine Ira Glass would feel comfortable with – provided he has one. I’m not really convinced.

Take Moonstruck, a mainstream romantic comedy that nonetheless stars Cage and Cher, two of the more mind-bendingly weird cultural icons of our time.  For whatever reason, the 1987 gem manages to combine impassioned quirkiness with a straightforward and heart-warming plot.  In an early scene, Cage’s one-handed Italian-American baker, sweating, sweeps Cher (literally) off of her feet, into his bedroom, roaring “SON OF A BITCH!” As always with Cage, there are elements of irony to his performance – edges and intonations that remind us that he’s acting, that he may be intentionally overdoing it.  But these strange ironies only make his performance in a movie like Moonstruck that much more pleasurable:  as always, there is a light-heartedness to his brooding and a hint of darkness in his happiness.

We often want to classify actors into two camps: Daniel Day-Lewis and Julia Roberts.  It’s fashionable to believe that among movie stars there are the really “fine actors” whose work is helped along by crazy Method shenanigans and a healthy dose of self-seriousness, and then there are those who have ridden to fame on the basis of their million-dollar smiles – sex appeal and charm, all the way to the bank. Daniel Day-Lewis is believed to have “range” (does he, though?) whereas Julia Roberts is “always Julia Roberts.”

Nicolas Cage presents an interesting case, in that he has great range, while remaining singularly himself in every role. In watching all of his movies (okay, not all) one is struck by just how much he can do and has done: he channels noir giants like Humphrey Bogart, he carries entire action movies with genuine cowboy swagger (again, with hints of irony, as in 1997’s amazing Con Air), and on more than one occasion he appears as an heir to Jimmy Stewart’s own original brand of quirk, never more so than in 1994’s It Could Happen to You, in which he plays a saintly – yet Cage-y – New York cop. 

At some point in the mid-90s, however, it does seem like a certain sickness started to wear away at the vibrant and legitimately sexy quirk we had all come to love in Cage. In 1996 he won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, in which he plays a perpetually gray-faced, doomed alcoholic – a type that he has not been able to leave behind, and which now seems to be at the core of his best work, Sorcerer’s Apprentice aside. 

In movies like Adaptation and Bringing Out the Dead, he plays disturbed and/or drug-addled losers – losers in the sense that these men seem utterly lost, vulnerable and perpetually at the precipice of an existential quagmire.  The downward spiral has been thorough, so much so that, at moments, when Herzog’s camera finds him in Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans, Nicolas Cage seems like a skinny, cap-toothed ghost of his former self.

Of course, these sea changes in his career may be attributable to Cage’s own boredom or desire to experiment as an artist. A friend told me that he owned several castles and is under a lot of financial pressure, which is why he continues to make shitty blockbusters. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth considering that we no longer live in an America that appreciates Cage’s sexy ghoulishness.  We’ve replaced Cage’s gothic brand of quirk with Michael Cera’s safe, stammering awkwardness and Ira Glass’s geeky self-assurance. And although I know, and acknowledge, that there is a breed of young woman who has now come of age admiring – wanting, even – Michael Cera’s skinny, dispassionate bod, I can’t personally fathom what that might feel like.

Elena Schilder is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in the Netherlands. She blogs here. She last wrote in these pages about Keith Gessen and Elif Batuman.

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