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Archive for April 2009

Lost Highway

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Lost HighwayLost Highway is great. A lot of critics didn’t think it was so hot. I like it a lot. The ideas it contains are less obfuscated than in some of David Lynch’s films, or they are more transparent, less incisive. The execution of these ideas is sometimes less than perfect (exhibiting some of the least effective uses of sound, dissonant and tonal, in any part of Lynch’s oeuvre). But it is structurally delightful, never misses a beat, folds in on itself in a magnificent conceit (I disagree with those who think this is clumsy; at least it’s not a trite resolution to the deliberate ambiguities of a television pilot-turned movie). If Pullman isn’t the most convincing jazzer, everything else seems to be in the right place. His impotence is searing, and his fantasy perfectly foreshadowed. Check out Loggia, who is a terrifying villain in the mould of Hopper and Freeman. The symbolism ties together a few Lynch tropes – I thought the red curtain, the use of deep blacks, and the usual slow fire and explosion motifs potent. Some of the anxieties that sweat out toward the end elicit great empathy, and some of the image/sound composition toward the beginning is affectively distressing – look out for one or two moments, particularly the face merge, which have as significant a physiological impact as any jolts in Wild at Heart, Inland Empire, and that revelatory episode of Twin Peaks. There is disequilibrium reminiscent of the sound balancing in Wild at Heart too, so I’d expect it to be quite a visceral experience in the cinema. If you appreciate the aesthetic choices of Mulholland Drive, and the best ideas of Twin Peaks, this is the ideal middle ground. If you aren’t a devotee to Lynch, then you might wonder why it matters, and drift off. So let yourself – he still knows what’s cool, intuitively grasps atmosphere. It’s quite a wild ride.

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Written by James P. Campbell

25/04/2009 at 12:10

Harold and Maude

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The psychiatrist, feigning prescience, asks “What activity gives you a different sense of enjoyment from the others…what gives you that special satisfaction?” His patient, gazing fixedly into space, replies, “I go to funerals.

Harold and MaudeHarold (Bud Cort, then a rising star and recent alumnus of MASH) is a laconic, morbid nineteen-year-old with no friends, an endless array of fine coats, his own hearse and several overbearing authority figures to corral him. He receives therapy at the behest of his mother, the glib Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles, the English actress best known then for the poetic physicality of her performance in Ken Russell’s Isadora Duncan), following a particularly graphic example of Harold’s first hobby: performing his suicide. We do not gain any insight into what motivates these macabre theatrics, or his general disposition, through black-and-white psychoanalysis on the therapist’s couch (where Harold lies in state). What it takes for Harold to open up (to smile, to speak) is a series of encounters with a vivacious seventy-nine-year-old who also crashes funerals, though for opposite reasons. Maude (in an sonorous turn by Ruth Gordon) is recklessly insouciant, driven by her love for life and sense of connection to the world.

Before Harold can confess “that I enjoyed being dead”, Maude has already understood (with that acute sensibility of experience) the passive nihilism that ails him, and prescribed the best medicine: “try something new each day, Harold”. And with Maude, he must. Following an extended encounter that springs from Maude’s theft of his car, an affair ensues, over the course of which Harold is saturated with references to the leitmotif of organic growth and of joy at life in all its finitude.  He continues to play dead throughout, whether converting his new Jaguar into a hearse, or demolishing one of several arranged dates by staging self-immolation, but all with renewed joie de vivre. This culminates in a touching miniature melodrama, when Harold feigns seppuku before his final date, only to discover her joining in the performance. To his chagrin, he is not taken for dead, but for what he is: the player turning away from life. It takes nothing less than the tragic experience of the death of love for Harold to turn himself around fully.

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Written by James P. Campbell

05/04/2009 at 12:10