Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1978) or Welcome to Crazy Horse

Cosmo Vitelli is a gentlemen's club owner who "deals in girls". Of Sicilian origin, currently king of Los Angeles he offers a special kind of show to his patrons. He gives them the most bizarre numbers every night on the stage of Crazy Horse. He travels them around the world. His shows feature Mr Sophistication, a middle-aged buffon that is occasionally daunted; it's not always easy to keep your nerve when surrounded and in competition of the nude artistic merit of fresh young girls. Such situations make it easy for a sensitive artist to lose his ability to feel comfortable. 

"But the only people who are, you know, happy are the people who are comfortable." That's what Cosmo is preaching in the occasion, wearing the flesh of a glorious Ben Gazzara, who himself couldn't grasp the elusive nature of Cosmo better. 

One minute well, the next unwell, Cosmo is never sure what's he's (or ought to be) feeling. That's because he had a very special vision of himself; he created the image of a gallant, well-dressed, caring, ultra-generous person. Who was not him. But who became him. Hence the constant inner conflict.

The great persona that Cosmo concocted for himself suffered from a tiny fault or two. One of these would cost him his peace, but would give us the movie with this very title. Cosmo coerced into killing a Chinese Bookie, only to find out that he was a V.I.P. in the mob world and his enemies couldn't find a way to get rid of him. Then, they found Cosmo, in debt for more than twenty thousand, and that sounded like a plan.

Big-hearted Cosmo loved his girls -some of them were real-life dancers, in fact- his very own girl and her mother, was too naive to see the plan was a set-up. He fed the cats some burgers on the way in; they had to be quiet. He did what he had to do. He made his way out, getting a bullet on his kidneys. Then, he went on to take care of his girls and present yet another show at the Crazy Horse.

Till the club goes to sleep, the way Jean-Luc Godard described:

(…) Like listening to a piano player tickling a few last chords on the ivories in the wee hours of the morning, when the last patrons have left the nightclub and the waiters are stacking the chairs on the tables.

* John Cassavetes always imagined what didn't exist till then, and brought it out there. No film noir like this was seen on screen back then; it was too early to experiment with a genre and a real plot. A film intense on artistic intension and layering, mature with psychological stance, but still a gangster story of sorts, is not quite anything else you've seen before.

** Cosmo means world in Greek. Is it a haphazard choice? 

No comments: