Jim Jarmusch is a director i’ve always had on my watch list. From Ghost Dog to Broken Flowers, his films speak to you in it’s most silent moments. Last night I decided to show my Dad a film that I had watched a few years ago, that I knew would be “our kind of story”.
I mention ‘Ghost Dog’ right here as it connects to the film that I want to focus on this evening. An uncredited character makes an appearance in this film, just like an easter egg. Nobody, who dislikes “stupid f*ckin’ white men”, is Johnny Depp’s co-star in the masterful Dead Man.
‘Dead Man’ is a black and white film that tells the story of a young man’s journey, both physically and spiritually, into very unfamiliar terrain. William Blake travels to the extreme western frontiers of America sometime in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Lost and badly wounded, he encounters a very odd, outcast Native American, named “Nobody,” who believes Blake is actually the dead English poet of the same name. The story, with Nobody’s help, leads William Blake through situations that are in turn comical and violent. Contrary to his nature, circumstances transform Blake into a hunted outlaw, a killer, and a man whose physical existence is slowly slipping away. Thrown into a world that is cruel and chaotic, his eyes are opened to the fragility that defines the realm of the living. It is as though he passes through the surface of a mirror, and emerges into a previously-unknown world that exists on the other side.
Johnny Depp is someone who I truly admire and feel grateful for, that he is a part of this world. His work – not only acting, but his character input in other artistic area’s, inspire me. I’d say, my first experience with Johnny Depp, in my life, would be from a time when my Mum & Dad took me to Fox Studios in Sydney one day (in the late 90s). There they had a Titanic ride (if you could call it that). On this realistic experience, you are taken aboard and taken through the belly of the ship as it is sinking, and YOU HAVE TO ESCAPE!!! Since I was only 6 or 7 years old, having crewmen yelling out to escape “this way!”, and explosions and rushes of water filling up the corridors behind you, made me cry. It was quite the scary experience for a young one. I remember the relief I felt when Mum, Dad & I were on deck, getting onto a lifeboat, dodging all the icebergs (J. Nick Taylor worked as a sculptor on this set). Well, outside the stage (i’m pretty sure Fox would have built that inside a stage/lot because of its size), they had people in makeup; professional characters; walking around greeting visitors to the studios. One of them, was very creepy, and I did manage to avoid him. His name was Edward Scissorhands.
Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to not only have the time to watch many films, but collect many great films. In my ever-growing database of over forty-two hundred movies and tv shows, I clearly remember viewing Edward Scissorhands, a tale about an uncommonly gentle young man, who happens to have scissors for hands; Benny & Joon, about a mentally ill young woman who finds love in an eccentric man who models himself after Buster Keaton; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, about Gilbert who has to care for his brother Arnie and his obese mother, which gets in the way when love walks into his life; And Donnie Brasco, an incredible true story about an undercover agent who infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the mafia life to the expense of his regular one. Depp’s achievements in film can accumulate into a great list. I’m a massive fan of his Hunter S. Thompson related work; But as for his earlier work, pre-2000, I hope I can highlight what I connect with on a deeper level.
I love black and white films. I also really love weird films. The Weird tickles me; And Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, “The mostly true story of the legendary director of awful movies and his strange group of friends and actors… Edward D. Wood Jr.”, tickled my fancy. Here you can read a great review, of a viewing experience described in a way I completely connect with.
“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.” – Tim Burton
To the weird; To the odd; We have the classic, Dead Man. Alongside Depp, starring we have Gary Farmer, Crispin Glover, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byr, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Iggy Pop, Gabriel Byrne, Jared Harris, Mili Avital, Billy Bob Thornton, Michelle Thrush & Alfred Molina. In all its beauty, so many elements of film making come together and create one amazing visual story. One element I particularly loved was how travel and distance was exaggerated and prolonged to express a sense of time and scale of the landscape. From the train ride to the trekking through the woods, to the boat journey near the end.
The choice of black and white (detailed notably well, here ‘Deliberately Monochrome’) adds to the effect of authenticity and realism, to the era depicted. You become emerged into the world on screen, through the contrast of simplicity and complexity of the tones. I’d actually be really interested in finding out what kind of filters they used (if any) when filming scenes. The mood the filmmakers achieve in a two dimensional image is really fascinating.
In my previous posting, I write a little bit about storytelling and some of my work from this first half-year at NADC. My Story of a Tree, ‘transcendence’, from Thinking In Reverse, reminds me heavily of one scene in particular (from Dead man), where William Blake is looking up at Nobody from the ground. Behind Nobody, seen heavenly – an array of bokeh ellipses shaping the outline of leaves on trees above.
There is another scene in this movie that I find comically hilarious, in the scene featuring Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton & Jarred Harris. I never expected seeing Iggy with an acting role like that since i’m mainly familiar with his work as a musician and artist. He did a great job though, and I think he should have more roles on screen like this. Since Depp and Iggy are friends, how cool would it be if they worked on something together.
Billy Bob Thornton (i’ll write some more about his work someday) and Jared Harris (who I remember from my nightmares I experienced from watching his role as an older Will Robinson fighting a giant SpiderSmith in Lost in Space – a monumental film I went and saw 6-9 times throughout its theatrical run back in 1998); add to the comical atmosphere of the scene, bouncing lines provoking laughter off one another. It completely felt like something out of a Laurel & Hardy film.
“Do you know how to use that weapon? That weapon will replace your tongue. You will learn to speak through it. And your poetry will now be written with blood.” – Nobody
“I’d like to speak with Mr. Dickenson please. I insist on speaking with Mr. Dickenson…”
This week, another Depp film, directed by Gore Verbinski, The Lone Ranger, sparks a similar memory I have for Dead Man. I think the following picture describes that familiarity.
I look forward to seeing this when I can. I know it should be good – I’ve loved all Gore Verbinski films in the past. From the Pirates of the Caribbean series (which began a decade ago), The Ring (a great duology recreated from the Japanese Ringu), and Rango (with Gonzo all over). There are two of Verbinski’s films that I would like to add on to… The Mexican, featuring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts & James Gandolfini. I remember catching this, luckily, on tv one night, many years ago. I believe it was the first movie I saw with James Gandolfini playing a role other than Tony Soprano (Gandolfini:The Goodbye). With the mention of the Sopranos, I have a pin-striped suit that I won from a prop-store on eBay back in 2009. It was used in the Sopranos (an “extra” wore it… maybe Tony rubbed up against it). It’s a really nice suit; I’ve worn it a fair bit.
Mousehunt is another film I remember seeing in theaters, I believe, back in 1997. I not only love it and remember it so well because I remember watching it on VHS nearly every weekend for years on end; but because William Hickey, Mr. Smuntz of Smuntz String, has always been mentioned as a relative of mine in my family, from a long way down the line. His resemblance to some of my family members is very close. Mousehunt was also dedicated to William Hickey’s memory.
On the theme of dead men walking, another film I watched with Dad last night, that I knew I would enjoy, was ‘The Place Beyond The Pines‘ (the title comes from the name of the city of Schenectady, which is the Mohawk word for “beyond the pine plains”). Directed by Derek Cianfrance – the same man who worked with Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine (detailed in a previous posting); is a film about “A motorcycle stunt rider who turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.”
The pacing of the storyline was perfect. Without spoiling the story for readers who haven’t seen this film before – You really get a sense of tragedy and loss, and how karma can come back around the corner at any point in time. I loved the idea of how revenge or vengeance can channel through blood. For every action, there is a reaction, that can ripple over a long duration of time. Almost in reverence to The Butterfly Effect, philosophy.
Ben Mendelsohn‘s role (Animal Kingdom introduced me to this great actors work) brings me back to a role he played in the gritty and scruffy Killing Them Softly, starring Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta & Ben Mendelsohn. In the film, Ben (and Scoot) rob Ray Liotta, much like some of the scenes found in The Place Beyond The Pines – who also, both make appearances in.
Many of the bank heists also have a very close connection to another memory I have in my brain – Public Enemies, with Johnny Depp. This is another crime drama depicting a story about the Feds trying to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave, in the 1930s.
“Ride like lightning, crash like thunder…”
The bike chase scene actually reminds me of a time when I was walking with my Mum, down Nepean Ave on “The Great River Walk/Bridge-to-Bridge”, one evening. We never walked much, but one day, about 8 years ago, a barrage of tire burning, screeching and sirens blaring, came up from behind us. A dirt-bike being chased, right in front of our eyes, slipped away from the cops, and got away down the end of the road where the barrier gates to Trench Reserve begins. The cops came to a screaming halt. Three officers got out, and didn’t know what to do other than ramble on their radios (since their car was way too big to go off-road and fit through a tiny gap in the fence… I recall when walking with Mum, walking back the other way, more unmarked cars heading down the road.
Bradley Cooper, is a dead man in this story…He has a family situation on his hands (his wife, played by Rose Byrne, a Sydney-born actress). His situations lean very close to a film I watched last week with my Dad – Dead Man Down… A drama crime romance, mix – directed by the director of the original Girl With A Dragon Tattoo film, Niels Arden Oplev. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace (played Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium series) star in this gritty cinematic experience.
If you happen to be able to see any of the above mentioned films in this posting – be sure to check The Place Beyond The Pines. It deserves a priority spot on your to do lists. I thoroughly enjoyed the build up to those thrilling scenes that have you on the edge of your seat. There are some moments that keep you from letting your eyes blink.