The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call – New Orleans (Werner Herzog, USA 2009)

FROM THE CANS OF SAND ARCHIVES

For a significant portion of Herzog’s brilliant TBL:PoCNO (as it will henceforth be known) I was unsure whether I was watching a work of genius or the most preposterous piece of garbage I had ever watched.  Similarly I was unable to decide whether it was the performance of Nicholas Cage’s career or he was simply a retard.  On reflection I think that “work of genius” and “performance of his career” are probably closest to the truth.

Do not watch TBL:PoCNO if you are expecting a retread of Abel Ferrara’s bleak 1992 masterpiece from which this film gets it’s name.  In fact you are probably best served ignoring the words “Bad Lieutenant” entirely as they only serve to confuse and confound your expectations of it.  The film bears little resemblance to Ferrara’s film in terms of aim, style or tone and the name is only there because the producer allegedly wanted to create a franchise.  My love (though I’m not sure if that is the correct term to be honest) for Ferrara’s film is what caused my initial confusion when watching TBL:PoCNO as i was unsure as to whether I should be taking Herzog’s with the same level of seriousness.  It wasn’t until about half way through the film that I realised I was watching a parody of mainstream Hollywood crime cinema and it’s cliches.  The final realisation of the film’s aim as parody coming in the fantastic scene towards the end where several storylines gain closure in a parade of ridiculousness.

This is Cage’s film all the way though and it is a joy to watch him chewing his way through this madness and for some reason turning into Jimmy Stewart half way through the film.  It is not a subtle performance and if you are not a fan of Nicholas Cage then chances are you will hate him even more after watching him in this.  For those of us who enjoy his work, particularly his early, edgier roles, then TBL:PoCNO is truly a treat.

Whilst I absolutely loved this film by the time it had finished it is perhaps difficult to truly recommend it.  Most people will probably find it ridiculous, over the top and nonsensical.  For me though sometimes that is recommendation enough!


Touchstones #1 – Blue Velvet

Touchstones is a series about those films that have played a pivotal role in shaping the contributors to Stranger Than Paradise.  Those films that opened up a doorway into a new genre, director or movement.  Films that have stuck with us over the years as being responsible for our passion and love of cinema.  The aim is not to analyse or provide any major insight into these particular films but to share their importance and impact on our cinematic lives.

In many ways Blue Velvet is the gateway film for me.  It is absolutely the film that showed me the light and made me realise that there was a world out there that was a million miles away from the mainstream American cinema that I had previously been exposed to.  Somewhat bizarrely I have 80’s thrash metal giants Anthrax to thank for introducing me to this film and therefore setting me on the journey that has led to both the creation of this blog and my career as a film and media teacher.  Anthrax’s 1988 album State Of Euphoria contains the track Now It’s Dark and I remember reading in an interview how the song was inspired by Blue Velvet and specifically the character of Frank Booth.  The interview talked about how Frank was the most terrifying character in cinema and made Freddy Krueger look like Mary Poppins.  In hindsight comparing Blue Velvet to Nightmare On Elm Street seems somewhat ridiculous and inaccurate but it was enough to perk the interest of one horror film obsessed teenage metalhead!

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that my 15 year old self sat down to watch this potentially terrifying film and my god was it terrifying!  Not terrifying in the way I was expecting but terrifying in a whole new strange, violent, sexual and all together more adult way than I had ever experienced before.  The opening scene alone was enough to tell me I was in for a brand new experience.  The slow motion shot of the fireman waving from the fire truck has stuck in my head ever since I first saw it and might be one of my favourite moments in cinema (strange the things that stay with you isn’t it!).  In fact I remember when I worked in a factory in the early 90’s that me and a friend used to get one of the engineers to reenact the scene on a forklift truck as he bore a passing resemblance to the fireman!

The thing that really disconcerts about that opening scene though is when Jeffrey’s dad has the stroke.  The sense of creeping dread that recurs throughout the majority of Lynch’s work is perfectly captured in this one short sequence.  The cuts from Jeffrey’s dad to the tap and hose accompanied by a rumbling drum roll just ramp up the tension to an unbearable level.  I think it’s the use of sound that does it but there is something about it that really puts me on edge.  When Mr. Beaumont does finally succumb to his stroke his pained writhings are, for some reason, made all the more unsettling by the piece of string that he is lying under.  It’s these little touches that really get to me in this film.  Last of all it is the final shot of this sequence that finishes me off.  The slow zoom into the grass to reveal the crawling bugs underneath the surface accompanied by that same swelling, throbbing, unidentified noise that gets under your skin and lets you know (indeed feel as it is such a visceral sound) that things are not right.

Needless to say Blue Velvet continued to astound my impressionable young mind (as it still does today) and after it finished all I could do was sit there in stunned silence knowing that somehow my life had been irrevocably changed by watching this film.  I think Blue Velvet was probably the first film that induced that sense of shock and deep contemplation that follows all great films.  That ten or twenty minutes where you just sit there unable to speak whilst you process what you have just witnessed.

I don’t want to go into anymore detailed analysis other than to say that Anthrax were absolutely right about Frank Booth and the world he inhabits.  Blue Velvet and Lumberton is a terrifying, funny, magical place that has absolutely altered my life and one that I return to on a regular basis always finding something fresh to discover.  So thank you Anthrax for pointing me in the direction my life has taken!


Movie Dance Scenes #2

FROM THE CANS OF SAND BLOG ARCHIVES

Why is it that so many of my favourite films have a little dance scene tucked away in them somewhere?  This one is from the phenomenal A Room For Romeo Brass which is for my money the best film Shane Meadows has made so far.  The scene is a pivotal one in the film as it occurs just before we find out that Morell is not quite the child-like innocent we initially thought.  Taking the boys out on a day trip to Chapel St Leonards whilst bunking school Morell unleashes a plethora of astonishing moves much to the delight of the gathering of old age pensioners seated around him.  The scene is even more affecting for being part of a fantastic montage of them wandering round a bleak out of season English seaside town.  Paddy Considine is simply astonishing in this film and if you haven’t seen it then make sure you do as quickly as possible.


Movie Dance Scenes #1

FROM THE ARCHIVES OF MY EARLIER CANS OF SAND BLOG

For some reason there is something about dance scenes in movies that really makes me smile.  I’m not talking about musicals (although there is a place in my heart for a well choreographed chorus number!), I’m talking about standard films that just happen to contain scenes where characters have a little boogie.  In honour of this little fetish of mine I have decided to introduce this somewhat occasional series of blog posts.

What better place to start than with my favourite movie dance scene ever from what is possibly my favourite movie ever; Terence Malick’s masterpiece Badlands.  I don’t really want to say too much about the film itself as other people have probably done so a lot better than I ever could.  The dance scene is just one of many treats that force me to come back to this film time and time again.

The opening close up of Kit and Holly’s feet as Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” blares out of their radio is just perfect and brings a huge grin to my face every time I see it.  This is two people dancing just for fun and the whole scene captures their wide/wild-eyed innocence perfectly.  We then cut to a mid-shot of Holly swaying to the music and as the vocal comes in Kit appears shuffling across screen looking cool as fuck with his hands on his hips, white t-shirt and James Dean quiff bouncing to the beat.  Martin Sheen is an absolute badass in this scene, who wouldn’t want to be him?


Welcome to Stranger Than Paradise

Good day everyone and welcome to Stranger Than Paradise.  Stranger Than Paradise is a new film blog (yes another one!) that focuses on quality cinema old and new for the discerning film lover.

Stranger Than Paradise will feature a number of contributors from around the globe (UK, Norway, Canada, USA and hopefully more) with a deep love and wide knowledge across the spectrum of film.  You can expect reviews of new films, essays on classic cinema, cult gems and retrospectives on genres, directors, actors and cinematic movements.

I hope to have some articles from other contributors ready to publish very soon so keep watching and let me know if you want to contribute to Stranger Than Paradise.