Directed by Rick Alverson
Opens November 13
Fritz Lang famously said that cinemascope was only good for filming snakes and funerals. Rick Alverson has found both in one man in the apocalyptically bleak Entertainment. Gregg Turkington is Neil, a performer on a desperately sad tour of the southwestern United States. He visits airplane graveyards, novelty Old West towns and oil fields and makes phone calls to his daughter who never answers. By night he sheds his skin and becomes The Comedian, a man with a wet combover, Charles Nelson Reilly’s glasses, three drinks clutched as tightly as a life preserver and an unyieldingly distasteful act. The endless walk from abysmally received dick jokes to motel to local curio and back again has the morbid air of a man carrying his own coffin. So why is Entertainment probably the most electrifying work of cinema this year? Control.
Alverson subtly manipulates Turkington’s environment to reflect the parade of odd stimuli he encounters. Exacting widescreen compositions trap the unfunnyman in his own life as it spins into nightmarish abstraction. Even in the desert, it’s easy to get claustrophobic watching the little man, his gnomish hands looking like prostheses curled across his gut, try to navigate the enormous space. Everyone seems to mock his existence, overtly or covertly; his constant refrain is that the bars he performs in don’t have security to protect him from hecklers. Turkington, Alverson and co-writer Tim Heidecker have imagined a man who has detached himself so completely in order to play a character every night that he’s lost all sense of himself. He clings to his routine, hopeful that he’ll remember what he left behind. Instead, he sinks further into the mire of his environs, letting his audience talk him into becoming part of their sordid lives for a short while, debasing himself a little more each night. His comforts—the walking tours, the Mexican sitcom he watches, the phone calls to his daughter—grow to look like projections of a deeply wounded subconscious. He becomes a figure of cosmic fun for people who view him as an object—a prop whose only function is to make people laugh, something that brings him no joy but makes him fearful, angry and sick. Like the TV orgasm in Videodrome reimagined as asexual reproduction, Turkington’s entertainer is slowly pulled inside out, deadness his exterior, bad jokes stuck on the inside.