Skip to main content

A fish by any other name is still a fish!

Hotel Room
(1993)

(SPOILERS) In terms of visual flourish and scope, Hotel Room couldn’t be more different from David Lynch’s previous couple of features. Even in comparison to his two prior TV series. This trio of shaggy dog stories, centring on the Railroad Hotel at different intervals in its history, is theatrical in its minimalism, consisting mostly (in the two Lynch-directed segments) of two or three-handers. Barry Gifford, the writer of the Lynch episodes, fully gets on board with the eccentric Lynch quality, but it’s channelled into something for more verbalised and so less stylistically provocative. As such, it’s interesting that the most fully-fledged of these, Blackout, which is therefore in theory the least Lynchian, is the most satisfying.

1.1: Tricks

Set in September 1969, Harry Dean Stanton’s Moe takes prostitute Darlene (Glenne Headly) to Room 603. But, before he can get up to anything you’d rather not see Harry Dean Stanton get up to, his associate Lou (Freddie Jones) arrives, and proceeds to get up to things you’d rather not see Freddie Jones get up to (with Headly or anyone).


This is oblique, cryptic and fractured; the relationship between Moe and Lou references murky past deeds and indiscretions; Lou appears to know Darlene’s past precisely; he and Moe suggest she has killed her husband before giving her the fear sufficiently that she exits for her own safety. Then Lou leaves, telling Moe “Remember, don’t wait too long”; Moe falls asleep and is roused by the police at the door, who arrest him for the murder of his wife, Phylicia. Whom Moe earlier indicate Lou was having an affair with.


Lynch throws in unusual shots and asides (the empty mirror when Lou walks by it, the focus on his hand as he places it into his pocket), and occasionally the content becomes engaging in itself (Moe recounting taking groceries to a woman in a nightgown as a teenager, to Lou’s rapt interest), but divining clear narrative meaning from this escaped me.


It has been suggested that Lou and Moe are one and the same, which would make sense of a buttoned-down man, drinking, losing control (unleashing his dangerous side) and about to kill again (Darlene), but doesn’t explain Darlene clearly referring to the two of them (“I’ve had some strange tricks before, but you guys are weird” and “Call the cops! These guys are going to hurt me!”).


Tricks never feels more than a curiosity, but it’s a well-performed curiosity, and interesting to see Lynch focussing so closely on just the performances.


1.2: Getting Rid of Robert

The same room as before but occurring in June 1992, it’s a bit of snooze. Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City) wrote and James Signorelli (er, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) directed this vignette of Sasha (Deborah Unger) meeting with friends Diane (Chelsea Field) and TIna (Mariska Hargitay) in 603 and rather unengagingly discussing splitting up with her fiancé Robert (Griffin Dunne), who is cheating on her.


Getting Rid of Robert does enliven when the friends leave, and Robert breaks off with Sasha before she gets a chance to say anything (“You’re not a nice person” he informs her), at which point she takes a poker to his skull.


An eccentric scene follows in which the maid (whom Sasha earlier accused of aiming a champagne cork at her) enters and sees Sasha attempting to move the body; then we discover Robert isn’t actually dead and he and Sasha end up making out (Sasha invites the maid to leave with “Do you mind? We’re having a private conversation”). An arrestingly curious ending (Robert has left a substantial amount of blood on the carpet), and decent performances (you could easily imagine David Tennant in the Dunne part), but rather airless overall.


1.3: Blackout

It’s only the Lynch episodes that justify the portentous, Eraserhead-meets-Twilight Zone introductory narration (“For a Millennium the space for the hotel room existed, undefined. Mankind captured it, gave it shape and passed through. And sometimes when passing through, they found themselves brushing up against the secret names of truth”). Dated April 1936, Blackout is superbly performed by a dialled-down Crispin Glover (Danny) and contrastingly cranked-up Alicia Witt (Diane).


Diane clearly has some reality-check problems, seemingly resulting from the trauma of the death of their son at age two; they’re at the hotel because she has an appointment to meet with Doctor Smith the next day (“He has a nice voice, Danny. A good voice”). We first see her with her hand over her eyes, and when she looks, she perceives the room as “like being inside a Christmas Tree” (due to the titular blackout it is lit by candles, which makes it also the most atmospheric of the trio).


She continually confuses facts, asking “Why did you speak Chinese to that man”, whom she believed to the doctor; Danny has just bought Chinese food, and was speaking English to the bellhop. She refers to Danny as away in the sea of red (“Red Sea you mean, when I was in the navy”) and how “I saw you on the other side. I shouted ‘Danny, Danny’. But it wasn’t you”. And the fish that told her of her six children, one of whom is Danny.


Danny: If you weren’t so damn hot, I’d kiss you.
Diane: Kiss me anyway.

The dialogue is mannered, especially so given the period trappings and melodramatic subject (beyond its surreal side), but Glover and Witt (particularly the latter) imbue it with real feeling and sensitivity. There’s the occasional Lynchian moment (the caution over the intermittently ringing phone), but mostly he focusses on Diane’s scrambled mind, letting the weirdness therein tell its own peculiar story, unadorned. Blackout also offers a demonstrably happy ending, as the couple appear to find peace with their loss upon which the power is restored, the room flooding with light (so genuinely uplifting, rather than the tragi-sweet conclusion of Lynch’s previous feature).


Overall:


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

You’re a staring Stanley!

The Sixth Sense (1999)
(SPOILERS) It has usually been a shrewd move for the Academy to ensure there’s at least one big hit among its Best Picture Oscar nominees. At least, until the era of ever-plummeting ratings; not only do the studios get to congratulate themselves for their own profligacy (often, but not always, the big hits are also the costliest productions), but the audience also has something to identify with and possibly root for. Plus, it evidences that the ceremony isn’t just about populism-shunning snobbery. The Sixth Sense provided Oscar’s supernatural bookend to a decade – albeit, The Green Mile also has a stake in this – that opened with Ghost while representing the kind of deliberate, skilfully-honed genre fare there was no shame in recognising. Plus, it had a twist. Everyone loves a twist.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).