Monday, November 29, 2010

drugstore cowboy [1989]

it is nearly always illuminating to return to a work of art that informed your youth. sometimes that illumination still shines with the original impulse. other times that bulb just dims. i'd seen gus van sant's first feature when it was released in '89 and i was enthralled to the filmmaker's vision of a life of louche decadence. of course the decadence spirals downward to the inevitable decline of the movie's principals. van sant is refreshingly candid. his cowboy does not pull himself up by his bootstraps from a life of petty crime and even pettier highs. even if the fate of matt dillon's character, bob, is left a bit ambiguous at the end of the last reel we know he's irrevocably damaged.

part of this flick's appeal is watching van sant hone his craft. in '89 i was pretty much done with chemicals even if i was under the influence of that master bastard and seer, rimbaud. watching bob and his crew shoot up was difficult for me. i had to turn my head when the needle hit the vein. i'm less squeamish about that now even if my tolerance for the tales of the drug-addled and downtrodden is almost nil.

which was the problem with watching the pic last night on ifc. van sant is a talented filmmaker and placing william s burroughs in the film as a junky priest is a brilliant touch. i simply couldn't care less of whether bob got straight or died a junky. drug addiction in literature, movies and language, is an over-ample field. i blame myself. as i get older the troubles with junkies are too complicated, too familiar and too tedious for me to really give a shit.

another problem is the beauty of the cast. dillon as bob is too handsome to be such a bottom-feeder. same goes for his wife, diane, played by kelly lynch, and heather graham as the baby of bob's crew. ever see what real junkies look like. they sure as hell don't look like models with clear skin and even clearer eyes. but that's hollywood, even indie hollywood as constructed by van sant, because who would want to spend 90 plus minutes with a cast that looks like it'll ask the gaffers and electricians on the set for spare change for a bottle of ripple very much like the real street people we pass each day.

i don't blame van sant either for he made a good film. as bob gets high van sant uses fades and floating imagery that would make dali proud. the result is rather kitchen sink surrealism made on a budget of a buck and a half. doesn't matter for this movie is supposed to look rather unravelled much like the protagonist bob who separates himself from his crew when his guilty conscious over the death of a member of his gang puts him on the path toward sobriety.

and yet. . .and yet. . .the junkie's life is always a tangled weave of lost opportunities. how van sant traces the narrative arc to its bitter conclusion is something to be lauded. i can see with this first feature that van sant is developing into a very good movie-maker. not all of his films will be good ones. i'm tempted to say that van sant is an honest filmmaker but how can one forgive his shot-by-shot remake of hitchcock's classic psycho. what could van sant have been thinking?! then again, such missteps are the life of art and perhaps even the life of life. i saw this pic again last night for the first time in almost 20 years. and as borges liked to say of himself about particular books that didn't work out for him, i failed the film.


At 8:07 AM, Blogger Jim McCrary said...

dont forget burroughs's 'the junkies chirstmas' video in claymation. it is 4 parts and at about 5:20 in conclusion you will see xmas dinner party with friends of bill. sue is the blond beauty next to bill as he sits at head of table. i am floating on right side of screen, hair in ponytail.

At 10:43 PM, Blogger richard lopez said...

cool, jim, thanks. i almost forgot about this short.


Post a Comment

<< Home