Monday, October 04, 2004

I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens and 7-11s

David Gordon Green’s okay with re-telling a worn-out story, apparently, provided he can place it in junkyards or on train tracks. And so we have the old Southern Gothic Abel-and-Cain suffering and redemption, Joseph Cambpelled to present day, in Undertow. Okay, actually, we’re firmly in 1974, with the old UA logo, the copyright on the title card, the freeze-frames, and the muscle-car backwoods.

As the two brothers attempt to escape Josh Lucas, it’s easy to see them as trying to escape David Gordon Green’s rural-myth constructs. "How do we get out of here?" they might ask, if their mouths weren’t filled with paint and dirt and gum and blood. "Why doesn’t anyone have a real job? Does that tattoo artist really have the hands of Harry Powell? At least when our dad was alive, he reminded us of Wayne Coyne. Where are the chain stores that might provide us with solace, or at least familiarity? And why is there a Bruce Weber-like interlude during which we dance in the rain, in our underwear?"

The beady eyes and pale skin of our hero put us not only in the mind of director Green, but of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, another twentysomething artiste who wears his heartland on his sleeve. And just as Brock left the trailer park for Epic Records, Chris finally finds salvation in the guise of a Roswell girl who’s dressed for the L train. Goodbye, Flannery O'Connor, hello Karen O.

Bonus trivia question: Why is the last line of the address on Chris’s bag 38-24-36?

My guess: Because he lives in a Brick House?

Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up

I decided to give Zabriskie Point another shot after ten years, but, alas, it’s still pretentious and dull. Aside from the nice use of pop and country songs, and the ending (the only thing I’d remembered), there are four reasons to recommend it. One is the unexpected presence of Cassavetes actor O.G. Dunn, a second is the café sequence that ends with an old man, drinking alone, and the third is the photography of Death Valley, circa 1969. Were dune buggies circling the camera crews?

The fourth, extrafilmic, reason is Mark Frechette.

In Green and Against Everything

Twilight, directed by Robert Benton

Terrible! But how about those locations?

And we do get a power struggle between Phillip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and Harry Moseby.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Hickey and Boggs

“They’re not cool slick heroes. They’re worn, tough men and that’s why they’re so dangerous. They hold their forty-four magnums with two hands and keep firing until they hit something…anything.”

That’s the very lengthy tagline from the original movie poster, and it only begins to hint at the awkwardness of Robert Culp’s directorial debut. Rarely are so many elements of a feature film so impressively awful: I’ll allow that Bill Butler’s cinematography is done no favors by the DVD transfer, which makes everything look like it was shot through a dirty windshield, but the unimaginative framing can’t be fully blamed on pan-and-scan. Butler would shoot Jaws a few years later, and editor David Berlatsky went on to cut The Deep; maybe the plodding “style” they achieve here convinced producers that they’d have a feel for underwater movement.

This is not a good movie, but it is an interesting one, if only for the particular position it occupies in detective-movie history, clumsily introducing concepts that soon would be improved upon before finally being reduced to lazy tropes. The .44 magnums and football stadium showdown put Hickey and Boggs in the lineage of Dirty Harry, but it's the way the movie anticipates neo-noir that's most remarkable. Hickey and Boggs was released in 1972, before The Long Goodbye (73), Chinatown (74), and Night Moves (75) made the impotent private eye such a sign of the times; to Long Goodbye it bequeaths a vengeful ending, to Chinatown an embarrassingly injured protagonist, to Night Moves a hero emasculated by his sexually determined wife—in one of the film’s most outrageous scenes, Robert Culp’s Boggs goes to watch his ex-wife in a strip club. “Eat your heart out,” she spits at him. Additional tethers: The slimy (and improbably named) Lester Fletcher even has the effete manner and soulless gaze of Henry Gibson’s quack in The Long Goodbye; the lieutenant crossing paths with Hickey and Boggs is played by James Woods, who would soon turn up as the murderous motorcyclist in Night Moves. And picking up tradition from The Killers and Point Blank, Hickey and Boggs re-introduces what the San Francisco Chronicle’s Dennis Harvey calls “the great buzzed-at-high-noon portraits of L.A. as a town of the disappointed and the casually depraved, each mere miles away from the gated winner’s circle.”

Bill Hickman, who drove cars in Bullit and the French Connection, even gets a helicopter at his disposal here but with no thrilling results. Vincent Gardenia and Michael Moriarty, who’d be so good together in Bang the Drum Slowly, are useless. And Rosalind Cash escaped one barren LA (The Omega Man) to wind up here, trapped under rubble? Syl Words (one of the spaghetti-breakfasters in A Woman Under the Influence) has the most memorable line in the film. When someone dismisses a woman as a “desperate, nasty bitch,” Words’ black militant Mr. Leroy warns: “Desperate, nasty bitches are dangerous, brother.”

Is it worth noting here that the money to produce Hickey and Boggs came from Culp and Cosby’s old I Spy cinematographer, who had in the interim made his fortune with the invention of the cinemobile?