I’ve heard rumors that other countries have holidays too.

*God, I’m wasting away in this savory bake of a weekend. Don’t know why.

*Oh hey, there was some film festival over in Cannes, and they handed out prizes. Pretty much all of the press coverage I read had either Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver or Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel locked in for the Palme d’Or, but the big prize actually went to Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Almodóvar did win Best Screenplay, and Iñárritu Best Director. Both of the acting awards were curiously given to ensembles rather than individuals, with the cast of Volver collectively given Best Actress, and the cast of Rachid Bouchareb’s Indigènes receiving Best Actor. The Grand Prix went to Bruno Dumont’s Flandres (I’ve been meaning to see his Twentynine Palms forever), and the Jury Prize went to Andrea Arnold’s Red Road.

Out of everything I’ve read, Babel certainly seems like the most interesting of the ’acclaimed’ entries - I was lukewarm to Iñárritu’s prior feature, 21 Grams, which I considered to be a noble failure, filled with nice performances and a few standout scenes (I still recall that wonderfully nervous attempted murder), but weighed down by an overly mannered, jumbly timeframe that served no discernible purpose other than to obscure the soapy melodrama at the heart of the plot, and a general lack of potency to the work’s stated themes. Babel looks to be another ensemble epic of colliding lives and actions, only on a grander scale than ever, spanning several nations, four languages, and six families - there’s apparently politics, violence, emotional scars, and communication issues all around (I mean, just look at the title). Sounds promising to me.

Other anticipated films were coolly received, among them Southland Tales by Richard Kelly of the decent-if-somewhat-overrated Donnie Darko (then again, I've only seen the apparently inferior Director's Cut), and Marie-Antoinette by Sofia Coppola of the decent-if-somewhat-overrated Lost in Translation. Southland Tales did manage to pique the interest of Manohla Dargis and J. Hoberman, so there might still be something there. Meanwhile, the out-of-competition Clerks II from Kevin Smith was greeted by quite the huge ovation at its past-midnight screening, the applause lasting roughly eight minutes in length following the close of the film according to reports. I've never seen the original Clerks.

*But nothing quite enhances one’s vacation experience like partaking of the classic cinema, artifacts from that golden age when men and women journeyed forth with little more than basic filming equipment and big dreams, and wrestled out of well-lived locations and the vaporous plains of dream indelible images of cultural potency and grand additions to the subsequent national unconscious.

Thus, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Yes, ‘chainsaw’ was two words at the beginning.

What really jumps out at me is how restrained the whole thing is, compared to its horror contemporaries - it was apparently shooting for a PG rating, though keep in mind such things were much different back in '74. Placed up against many of today’s shockers, it’s practically an art film. Following the famous John Larroquette opening narration, then the short bits with a corpse being hauled out of the grave and made into a public sculpture, then those gorgeous red-tinted images set behind the credits, it’s a good thirty or so minutes of kind-hearted (albeit somewhat dopey) kids driving around and shooting the breeze and encountering eccentric, sometimes threatening locals. It’s quite an excellent portrait of folks wandering around a rural, somewhat depressed landscape, with plenty of attention paid to curious noises and ruined indulgences like wallpaper and swings.

I can easily see how this picture might have inspired later filmmakers - often, it certainly looks like something that the viewer could conceivably create for themselves (though not easily - the shoot itself by many accounts was often grueling), what with its jumpy edits and ragged sound and not entirely polished acting, yet its effectiveness is rarely impaired by technical matters, seemingly every ‘filmmaking’ weakness ultimately turned to the film’s ambling, ominous, off-the-cuff advantage. It really is an often beautiful film, effortless evoking a feeling of wandering around old, sun-bleached places, then ramping up the natural oddness of the environment to incorporate murderous activity - it’s notable that Leatherface’s first killing takes place almost entirely in longshot, with no musical backing, because he and his family are just part of the surroundings, their flesh and bone sculptures logical extensions of what we’ve already seen, things we’re probably familiar with in our own lives, their latent creepiness suddenly broken out and predominant.

It’s not perfect, no - writers Tobe Hooper (who also directed) and Kim Henkel unfortunately opt to tie everything we’ve seen together in the end, while I think leaving parts of the film more obscure would have left it more effective, Leatherface and his ilk a natural, forbidden element of their environment yet their actions fundamentally random. They’re still not really explained in the finished film, but they’re made to be more of an all-pervading force in the film’s action that it all starts to smack of contrivance, particularly damaging for an otherwise disarmingly naturalistic horror piece. But damn, those last five minutes really are great - not just the iconic final image of Leatherface standing in jacket and tie in the Texas sunrise, flailing his weapon around, but the crazed chase around (and at one point through) oncoming vehicles in that early-morning traffic, the madness crashing headlong into delicate normalcy. Truly of all modern horror franchise ‘monster’ originals - and I’m an absolute sucker for A Nightmare on Elm Street - this was the most aesthetically pleasing, and perhaps tellingly the most temporally detached from its now inevitable-seeming sequels.

*Anyway, tomorrow we have Kings in Disguise, and maybe other stuff.