Despite the pleasant weather of the past week, I've spent the last several days in solitude, choosing to remain indoors in front of my television set. Not that I've been watching much programming, with the exception of 'Sponge Bob' and reruns of 'Mr. Show' (on Nickelodeon and HBO, respectively). Instead, I've been trekking to the local video stores, returning with piles upon piles of videocassettes and DVD's (yes, I've stepped into the future and it doesn't look half-bad). Of the countless films I've watched, there have been many losers, some surprises, but only a few worth mentioning.
Anyway, you may remember hearing a bit about Jason Rosette's documentary BOOKWARS last year during its one week run at Film Forum. Rosette spent much of the mid-nineties working as one of many New York City street booksellers situated around West 4th Street near NYU. In the midst of this heyday of plentiful, cheap literature, Mayor Guiliani began his controversial 'quality of life' plan. Eventually, his campaign to clean the streets of undesirables made its way from drunks, crazies, and crack-whores to booksellers as well. Sensing the end was near, Rosette began documenting the booksellers and their final days on the streets of lower Manhattan. What he put together is a fascinating tale of street life that will probably make you sour even further on the Guiliani administration and long for the days when cheap alternatives to a fifteen dollar copy of 'On the Road' at Barnes and Noble sat only a hundred feet away on the sidewalk outside. Much like Richard Sandler's amazing film 'The Gods of Times Square', about the clean up and Disneyfication of Times Square (recently screened at Anthology Film Archives), Rosette gives you an inside look at people who choose to live their lives outside "the system" but find it increasingly hard to do so in this era of policing, monitoring, and reporting.
But maybe you don't care for this anti-authority attitude and really believe in "the system". Well, good for you, I guess. Enjoy it. Maybe you can watch this film and root for Guiliani and the cops and cheer loudly when they try and stop these people from making an honest living. If nothing else, the passion the sellers and their customers hold for reading might at least get you to turn off your television or computer for a few hours and pick up a book for God's sake.
Currently, BOOKWARS is available for rent at Kim's Video on St.Mark's Place, or you can order your very own copy from their web site at www.cinerado.com.
Sitting on the industry shelf since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1997, Johnny Depp's directorial debut, THE BRAVE has finally hit home video. Well, sort of. A few foreign copies of the DVD have recently hit the streets (it hasn't officially been released in the U.S. as of yet). Anyway, in the months following the infamous Cannes premiere, I heard the film called "a turgid and unbelievable neo-Western" and "strikingly preposterous" by Daily Variety, and saw one critic describe the ill-received Cannes screening as the "experiences of which legends are made." This hostile attitude, combined with my tendencies to disagree with any and all critics, plus a cast that includes Depp, Marlon Brando, and a who's who of great supporting actors including Frederic Forrest, Luis Guzman, Clarence Williams III, Marshall Bell, and Max Perlich, made me very interested in seeing the film. For the past few years, I have eagerly anticipated the chance, even trying to pimp copies from people I know who may have been connected to the project. I've had no luck. Alas, with the appearance of the DVD last month, my wish came true.
In the film, Depp plays Raphael, a Native American living in a one-room trailer with his wife and two kids in the middle of a junkyard/desert-wasteland. An ex-con that drinks heavily, sleeps all afternoon, and can't find steady legal employment, he hasn't been able to provide for his family in some time. Following a vague lead on a job, Raphael finds himself in a creepy basement sitting across from a man in a wheelchair. The man offers Raphael fifty thousand dollars to star in a snuff film, to be produced later in the week. As the man making the offer is played by Marlon Brando, it seems that Raphael surely can not refuse. The story then goes on to detail Raphael's week; what he plans to do about his predicament, and whether he plans on wrapping up his life and saying goodbye to his family or taking the money and planning his getaway.
When I say "story" in the last paragraph, I say it loosely. After the very intriguing set up, Deep, as director, coasts through the final seventy five minutes on mood, ambience, and a musical score by Iggy Pop. Be advised, this movie is slow, this movie is a downer, and with the exception of a vicious fight scene in which Raphael snacks on another man's ear, this movie consists mostly of people walking and talking, or sitting and talking, or laying and talking, or walking, sitting, or laying without talking. But maybe you, like me, can appreciate a really good set up, then not mind so much when the rest of the film chills the fuck out instead of continuing to build and build and build. You know what happens when things build and build and build? They topple over.
And speaking of movies that coast on ambience and mood, another recent video release is Abel Ferrara's THE BLACKOUT, which also premiered at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival to much hatred and disapproval, then vanished without a trace for four years. Finally, here it is in all its glory for us Ferrara fans (you know who you are - stand up and be proud!)
The Blackout follows budding superstar actor Matty, painfully portrayed by Matthew Modine (painful in a good way - when he wakes up stoned out of his head in a diner, then realizes his waitress is confessing how much of a fan she is, I couldn't help but wince for the guy as he tries to compose himself and take the girl's compliment). Matty spends the first half of the film cruising the beaches and clubs of Miami with his girlfriend Annie (Beatrice Dalle) and filmmaker/video-artist friend Mickey (Dennis Hopper). They are kind of making a movie, but they're kind of not. And they all kind of get along, but they kind of don't. In any case, Mickey carries his video camera with him all the time, taping and directing the sex and drugs - part friend, part director. Things happen, but seem to not happen chronologically. Scenes exist as fragments and notions, occurring with no set beginning or end. The sex, drugs, and alcohol escalate, with Matty spending much of his time in a barely conscious state. Eventually, the party derails and Matty crashes to a halt. Eighteen months later, Matty is sober and living in New York. His friends are gone, his career is on hold, and he is struggling with nightmares that tell him something terrible happened that week in Miami.
Not quite as potent as Ferrara's two Harvey Keitel films, 'Bad Lieutenant' and 'Dangerous Game', in which Keitel played a cop spiraling down a drug nightmare (Bad Lieutenant) and a film director spiraling down a drug nightmare (Dangerous Game), this one still has powerful moments and dangerous absurd humor. As for Ferrara's style, his films are becoming more deconstructed, abstract, and obviously more alienating (for evidence of alienation, dig up some reviews or check out the comments on the Internet Movie Database).
To put it bluntly, watching this movie is like watching a train wreck. And unfortunately, the old cliché says that while a train wreck can be fascinating to watch, for it to be interesting you have to like or care about the passengers involved. So, for those of you hard core logic-addicts expecting major plot points and standard character development, this probably wouldn't be worth your missing 'Boston Public' over. However, if you don't need such things to hold your interest, then sit back and enjoy as Ferrara corrupts and destroys another cast of characters, spiraling them out of control in a haze of sex and drugs. In my opinion, a train wreck can be fascinating even if you don't like the people involved. Hell, who cares who's even ON the train? I say, let 'em crash. All aboard!-- Paul Kermizian