Saturday, April 30, 2011

THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (1949) Dir: Anthony Pelissier

What I Remember:

Based on a story by D.H. Lawrence, I recall this movie as a kind of Twilight Zone episode, only longer, more British, and without a major plot twist. It was kind of like the “Franklin” episode of the Zone, where a slot machine takes on a personality as it calls the newly gambling addict like a siren, luring him to a plunge from a Vegas high-rise hotel window.

In the case of “The Rocking Horse Winner”, a lower income English household is in trouble, and their child hears the house itself demanding money. He gets on his Rocking Horse, and suddenly finds that riding the horse very hard causes him to predict the winners at the local track. If that ever happened to me, my family would have probably taken me out of school on the spot, installed a TV on the horse’s nose, and had Lutece cater all my meals while I rocked away all day and night. “Sleep? There’s time for sleep later, Wayne. Now get on that damn horse and tell me the Exacta winners from the 4th at Aqueduct!”

So right now you’re thinking, “Oh, that Wayne. Exaggerating again for comic effect”. Not this time, bub.
Example 1; Most people have grandparents who break their hip in a fall, and that usually is their undoing. Sadly, this was true for my wonderful Grandma Pearl. However, Pearl slipped and fell running to the cashier at Belmont after she nailed a longshot in the 2nd race.
Example 2; The other side of my family lived at the track also. There is actually a room at Monmouth Racetrack in New Jersey named after my Grandfather. When told of this honor, he responded by saying, “All the money I lost at this track- they should name the whole damn place after me!”

Anyway, my college girlfriend and I were sitting at her place relaxing with the TV on, and this movie came on Public Televison. She literally jumped up, and said, “I love this movie. We have to watch it!”. Remember, I was a film major, and I went “Oh great. Some precious British kid’s film with a ‘40’s version of Hayley Mills and a rocking horse. Just how I want to spend my night. Aren’t the White Sox on or something?”

On the inside, of course.

On the outside it was, “Sounds great, baby.” Needless to say, the movie completely shocked and surprised me, in a very positive way. This was no Disney does Darby. It’s a serious film about child abuse and neglect, and an allegory about how parents can exploit a child with talent to the child’s detriment.

After re-watching:

“Don’t send me away till after the Darby! Please Mommy, please Mommy, please!” – Paul Grahame


The Grahames are an Upper Middle Class family who are running out of money. Mrs. Grahame spends like there’s no tomorrow, and Mr. Grahame gambles at cards to try and generate enough to handle her needs. They have 3 children, the oldest of whom, Paul, is a happy young boy who strikes up a friendship with their landscaper/handyman, Bassett (John Mills). Mrs. Grahame’s brother, Oscar, is well off, and is also her trustee. He has helped them many times, but is running out of patience. Mrs. Grahame’s mantra, “we must get more money” becomes part of Paul’s unconscious, until he believes the house itself is saying it. His new Christmas present is a Rocking Horse that he rides with intensity, believing it will bring him the luck his parents don’t have. With Bassett, he begins to pick the winners at the track, and rides until the inspiration hits him. Uncle Oscar gets in on the deal, and takes his winnings to replenish his sister’s money, telling the family it’s trust disbursement. Soon the luck runs out and Paul becomes desperate, riding his rocking horse maniacally.


Wow, did I have this one wrong! The parents are not lower class, and they are totally in the dark about the boy’s special talent. They don’t even really know where the new money is coming from. It seems like they don’t care to know. They are simply ready to spend and live extravagantly without asking questions. Just now, it occurs to me that if there’s an allegory here, it’s to today’s USA. Spend, borrow, spend more. Live the high life, don’t ask questions until the collection agent shows up expecting a payback. Then the excrement hits the propeller. It’s an endorsement of the Protestant ethic, for sure.

Nobody realizes that Paul is destroying himself with his maniacal riding except maybe the nanny, who is worried initially, but later seems to lose track. The Mother is totally oblivious, then out of nowhere, gets this sixth sense that something is very wrong with Paul. It’s very hard to believe, and is a pretty huge flaw. The Father is a real nothing in this movie, he ignores the children, and is obviously a failure at providing for the family.

Is there a villain in “Rocking Horse Winner”? Maybe the horse itself, but it’s not Uncle Oscar, who despite being snarky and brusque, genuinely tries to help. It’s not Bassett, who is a lower class nice guy, with a real code of honor. The parents are products of their upbringing, spoiled, yes, but not malicious. The real enemy is greed, just like it is today in the good old U S of A.

The moral of the story? Greed kills. Money is the root of all evil. Check in on your kids once in a while.

To wit, there’s a great scene early on, where the mother puts her children to bed, and she remarks to the father that it was so easy, and she has no idea why Nanny complains about how hard it is all the time. Meanwhile, we cut upstairs to the previously placid bedrooms, now with mayhem breaking out. She has NO CLUE about her own children, because she is obviously so self-involved.

On a side note, there is an awful scene which I had no memory of, and it might have been cut from the version I saw. Trust me, if I’d seen it, I would have remembered it. Mrs. Grahame, faced with the prospect of having a bill collector stay in her home unless she produces 40£ to pay him off, goes to a ghetto neighborhood to sell some of her expensive clothes to a tailor. The tailor, a Mr. Tsaldouris, is obviously Jewish, despite the name. He has a Central European accent, acts and looks the part with coke bottle glasses, carrying a dog around in his dank tailor shop. And he’s a tailor. After they “hondel” (bargain) they settle on a price that gets her to the amount she needs, only if she throws in the expensive bag that she is carrying the clothes in. When he pays her, he asks, “Aren’t you going to count it?” She replies, “No, Mr. Tsaldouris, I trust you”. In that one sentence, she puts him down so thoroughly, and elevates herself. It is classic Brit Anti-Semitism. Only four years after the war. It made me almost as sick as Watto, that huge nosed flying Jew-bug in The Phantom Menace episode of Star Wars, who sells Annakin’s mother into the slave trade, explaining that “Business is business”, with a buggy shrug.

Fuck you, Lucas. You haven’t made a decent movie since “The Empire Strikes Back”. Man, that felt good.


I had never heard of Anthony Pelissier, and with good reason. Nothing else that shows up on IMDB is well known. Mr. Pelissier both directed and did the screenplay adaptation of “Rocking Horse Winner”. The screenplay has its moments, and I’m sure Mr. Lawrence supplied much of them. The Direction is ambitious, and often succeeds. There are great Noir-ish lighting stunts, and the horse itself looks exceptionally demonic at times.

Probably my favorite moments are;
1) The first time we see Paul on the horse, it cuts from the children cowering in the corner watching him, to Paul’s POV while riding. The camera tracks in and out very fast on a fuzzy, filtered vision of the mother and Nanny. You can see that he is in another world, and that the reality of his room is like a separate dimension. It’s very effective.
2) When Mrs. Grahame finally gets the mental idea that something is terribly wrong, and she rushes home to find Paul on the horse, she opens the door, and there is a remarkable shot of her head in the lower right corner of the screen, while the rest of the box is filled with the giant shadow of Paul on the rocking horse. Yes, I am sure Mr. Pelissier was familiar with the works of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock.

Music is used very dramatically throughout the film, and the score by William Alwyn is powerful, indeed. Mr. Alwyn also wrote for the great wartime documentary “Fires Were Started”, and Carol Reed’s two lesser-known masterpieces “Odd Man Out” and “Fallen Idol”. This is interesting, since Pelissier’s ex-wife remarried Reed! The score is typical, but much of the tension in the movie is provided by its presence in scenes that otherwise would seem quite mundane.


John Mills, who played Bassett, also produced the film, and he is very convincing in the role as the slightly dim but good-hearted handyman. Paul is played by John Howard Davies, a child actor who had two other quite meaty roles as Oliver Twist and Tom Brown in “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”. Davies had a short career as a young actor, but a very long one as a TV director, including helming many episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and more importantly, directing the greatest sitcom of ALL TIME, “Fawlty Towers”. When I read that little factoid, I decided not to trash him for being way over the top in “The Rocking Horse Winner”. Actually, he is only slightly over the top. The kid who plays Phillipe in “Fallen Idol” (Bobby Henrey) does a better job, but frankly that film is far superior to this one.

Ronald Squire as Uncle Oscar does a decent job of delivering his sarcastic dialogue, but he looks decades older than his sister. In fact, IMDB research revealed that he was indeed 30 years senior to co-star Valerie Hobson, who played Hester Grahame. Hobson had had two very big roles to her credit at the point this film was made; as the adult Estella in “Great Expectations”, and Edith D’Ascoyne in “Kind Hearts and Coronets”. Her performance in this film is fairly shallow, even at the end when she is transformed, the character lacks depth and personality. We take for granted how terrific British actors are, so when they are a bit substandard it really can undermine a film.


This was not the film I remembered both in substance AND in quality. There are some fine moments in imagery and sound, but the poor acting and shallow characters take away from the power of the film. We’ve seen this kind of story many times in Twilight Zone, so the novelty of it, which must have been quite compelling in 1949, has little to no effect on us now. In any case, if I had been on the fence about “The Rocking Horse Winner”, that little trip to the London shtetl pushed me off of it.

1st Look-★★★1/2 2nd Look-★★

Monday, April 18, 2011

BRAZIL (1985) Dir. Terry Gilliam

I didn't get it.

What I remember:

This is the first entry of my “I Didn’t Get It” section of this blog. These are movies that seem to have a life of their own, “legs” I think some people call it. Film freaks and critics alike adore these movies, which I found underwhelming at best, and in some cases just plain awful.

My credentials for loving “Brazil” are unassailable; I enjoy sci-fi, I am a huge proponent and performer of Brazilian music, I am a geeky Monty Python devotee, I adore off-beat and original movies. All bets should have been on a “two thumbs up” reaction to Gilliam’s opus. All bets would have made mad loot for the bookies.

About 25 minutes into the film I can recall wanting out of the theater. It was a cacophonous mess of dangling wires and poorly conceived stunts, devoid of humor or plot, with nasty sharp teeth and floppy ears and run away run away RUN AWAY!!!!! It was as if Dinsdale had nailed me head to the coffee table. I was pining for the fjords.

I did not, however, walk out on “Brazil”. I sat through the entire 132 minutes hoping against hope that the movie would give me a reason to like it. It did not. Most people feel that it is Gilliam’s greatest film. It is rated at 98% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer. That’s higher than “Pulp Fiction” or “Goodfellas”!

So what the hell film was I watching? How could I be so absolutely off base about it? It’s not like I just don’t like Gilliam’s movies. I really enjoyed “Holy Grail”, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Time Bandits”. You know how, in the great “Cheese Shop” skit from Python, Michael Palin says how clean the shop is, and John Cleese responds, “Well it’s certainly uncontaminated by any bits of cheese, isn’t it?” That describes my memory of “Brazil”. For a comedy, it is certainly uncontaminated by any bits of humor.

Isn’t it?

After re-watching

Kurtzmann: Information Retrieval has got him down as "inoperative." And there's another one - Security has got him down as "excised." Administration has got him down as "completed."

Sam Lowry: He's dead.


In a dystopian society of the late 20th Century, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a mid-level bureaucrat from a rich and powerful family. He is obviously very intelligent, but without drive. He dreams constantly of being a flying avenger, and of a certain woman whom he can rescue from the clutches of an evil giant samurai. When he catches a glimpse of this woman in “reality”, he pursues her and begins to get in trouble with the Orwellian authorities. He takes a promotion he had earlier turned down, and uses his new level of information to find her and rescue her from the bureaucracy which has mistakenly targeted her and her neighbors.


Do you remember having a childhood friend who you used to have play-dates with, who was really creative and a bit hyperactive? We all knew those kids, right? The first hour with them was really cool. They had a lot of interesting shit to play with, and all these fun, manic things to do. Then, after about an hour, it started to get a little annoying. Soon, everything the kid did was irritating and why the hell doesn’t he just shut up and can’t we watch TV and don’t you have anything to EAT for God’s sake and can I call my folks to come get me now?

This is “Brazil” in a nutshell. The theme is nothing new, of course. “1984” had already covered this territory quite well, maybe with not as much humor. I will admit there are a few funny bits in the film. One of my favorite moments happens after freelance heating engineer Harry Tuttle (Robert DeNiro) fixes Lowry’s AC/Heater, and a couple of repairman show up from Central Services (Bob Hoskins and Derrick O’Connor) looking very suspicious and quite unofficial. It’s not what Hoskins says, but how he says it. The character is rife with smiling malevolence.

Yet so much of this movie is over the top, that whatever lingering pleasure one might get from the humor and creative vision is just swamped in noise for both your eyes and ears. One scene, where Lowry hand delivers a refund check to the widow of a wrongly arrested man, is beyond shrill- it is absolutely unwatchable. The movie keeps assailing your senses to make its point: We ignore the disaster we’ve created with our modern society so we can enjoy the fruits of technology. But these fruits are poisoned, and our future can only get worse as we let this beast take over.

In 1985 when “Brazil” was made, there was really no Internet as we know it now, nor was there anything close. Gilliam tried to predict this age of mis-information and his satire has a sharp edge. My issue is not with the film’s message, but with it’s methods.


A Terry Gilliam movie is a trip inside his head, one supposes. Whereas most of us have a barrier between subconscious and conscious mind, Gilliam’s is down like the Berlin Wall. The attic of our brain is kept at bay so we can actually concentrate on the important stuff at hand; What time is my next appointment? Where did I leave my keys? What should I buy Aunt Millie for her birthday? Gilliam’s attic is wide open and spewing vast amounts of mental sewage and diamonds constantly. Unfortunately we are left to wade through the muck to find the gems.

“Brazil” has a lot of references and influences. Besides “1984”, there is “Metropolis”, “Battleship Potemkin”, “Duck Soup” and “Things to Come”. Why did Gilliam make the overall style of the film 30’s and 40’s Art Deco? It could be that he just likes that look. Or it could be that it makes the technology running rampant even more discordant in comparison to the styles of a more simple time. I believe that it is an outright salute to the sci-fi movies of that era like “Metropolis” and “Things To Come”.

Michael Kamen’s score is perfect if you want to heap extra abuse on the ears of the audience. It is orchestral, with quotes from the title song “Aquarela do Brasil”, and other familiar themes that come and go with a freneticism that matches the movie. It is relentless.

Visually it is a unique and, at times, wonderful feast. The ducts and wires are everywhere; they are almost a character unto themselves. One of the earliest scenes in the Dickensian Ministry of Information is truly balletic in presentation. Workers weave amongst each other down a long crowded corridor with absurd precision. Another stunning bit happens when arresting officers come to claim the wrong man in his home. Like a Storm Trooper invasion, they bust in through the door, the ceiling and the windows at once, tie the man up in a burlap sack that covers him from head to toe, make his poor wife sign a receipt for him, and whisk him away, while she and her children cower. It is disturbing to say the least. It reminded me of the great nightmare scene in “An American Werewolf in London” when David has a vision of the Gestapo invading his suburban home. One moment you are enjoying a quiet evening at home, the next you are plunged into violence and chaos.

Lots of laughs, huh?

At this point you are probably saying, “Come on, man. You love “Little Murders” and there is no blacker comedy than that!” My response is….that movie is FUNNY. Repeatedly funny. Uproariously funny. Sarcastically funny. Not so for “Brazil”. It just doesn’t get me that way. The overall effect is like being at the Fun House. There are lots of weird and somewhat cool things, but a lot of the time it’s just annoying, like the wind jets, or the tilted room. Most Fun Houses are not fun. I sure wouldn’t want to buy a second ticket for this one. I am not really a Tim Burton fan, but I do love “Beetlejuice”. Now THERE’s a Fun House I would go back to!


The cast is actually one of the strengths of “Brazil”. From top to bottom, everyone does what they are supposed to do. It’s exactly WHAT they have been told to do to which I take exception. Jonathan Pryce’s Sam Lowry is perfectly fine as the harried, daydreaming hero. Of course, putting one of Python’s standout comic talents in the role, such as John Cleese or Graham Chapman, would have dialed up the comedy and made the film far more tolerable.
Iam Holm, who is always wonderful, does a superb job as the incompetent boss, Kurtzmann. There are also very strong bits from veteran TV actress Katherine Helmond as Sam’s mother. Ms. Helmond was very well known at the time as Jessica Tate from the popular sitcom “Soap”, a role she reprised on the show “Benson”. I like character actor Jim Broadbent as Mrs. Lowry’s plastic surgeon, Michael Palin as the evil friend Jack Lint, and, as I already said, Bob Hoskins is hilarious. Kim Greist as Lowry’s dream girl, Jill Layton, does a nice job, but not a standout.

The big question is, why DeNiro? His Harry Tuttle is really the hero of our story, the guy who keeps rescuing Sam for no apparent reason. Don’t get me wrong, he turns in a good performance, but he is such a powerful presence on screen, and so recognizable, that it’s a bit of a distraction. Like having George Clooney show up on “Mad Men” as a janitor.


Is “Brazil” as terrible as I remembered? No, not at all. It’s noisy and abrasive. It’s like having your brain in a pinball machine. The movie does take on some very important issues, particularly the way technology and industrialization are dehumanizing us all. It’s a harrowing vision, for certain. The satire, however, is not funny enough to help balance the film’s intensity and chaotic demeanor. NO WAY does this film warrant a place in the “Classics” of modern cinema.

1st Look-★★ 2nd Look-★★★

Friday, April 8, 2011

DEAD MAN- 1995 Dir. Jim Jarmusch

What I remember:

Whether you like him or not, Jarmusch is one of the few true auteurs out there. I guess you could call the entire Pixar group an auteur, but after Jarmusch, is there any one person who’s body of work is so singular, so completely separate from the bulk of what else is being done, and yet so uniform to itself? Yes, there’s Almódovar, no argument here. Other names that come to mind are Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Tim Burton, Noah Baumbach, Ramin Bahrani, Tom McCarthy, Suzanne Biers. The first four each have a body of work that has similarities throughout, but there are also variances that keep me from proclaiming them auteurs. Woody’s serious side usually is imitative of other great directors; “Interiors” is his Bergman, “Stardust Memories” his Fellini, “Match Point” his Hitchcock. Tarantino, Anderson, the Coens and Burton each have enough of their own sideways trajectories to make them questionable for this nomenclature. As for the other four younger directors I mentioned, their oeuvre is still in formation. We shall see if they continue their very individual work.

Digression over. Jarmusch has such a strong hold on every film he makes that genre has no effect. You want a hitman flick? “Ghost Dog”. How about an episodic travelogue? “Night on Earth”. Relationship movie? “Broken Flowers”. All of these films have the trademark leisurely paced, quirky dialogue, stranger in a strange land narrative that has defined a Jarmusch film.

His western, “Dead Man” is no exception. I consider it his finest movie. I saw it over a year after it’s release and was very impressed. It had some of that great humor we associate with Jarmusch, but the title alone shows just how dark and intense the film is. The fact that it is shot in black and white adds to the general gloominess of the proceedings. Johnny Depp was fine in his role as William Blake, but he does come across a bit like Edward Scissorhands in bearskins. The real star of the film, besides Robby Müller’s cinematography, was Gary Farmer as the Indian, “Nobody”. Farmer is indeed a Native American (yes I know he’s Canadian- that is part of America), and his performance here is nothing short of astonishing.

“Dead Man” is all about atmosphere, hopelessness, disorientation, isolation. Other than that it’s a fun, light-hearted romp!

After re-watching:

William Blake- (holding up a gun) “Why do you have this?”
Thel Russell- “Because this is America.”

Nobody- “ I was then taken east, in a cage. I was taken to Toronto. Then Philadelphia. And then to New York. And each time I arrived at another city, somehow the white men had moved all their people there ahead of me. Each new city contained the same white people as the last, and I could not understand how a whole city of people could be moved so quickly.”


Accountant William Blake (Johnny Depp) is traveling to the far west to take a job with Dickinson Metalworks in a town called Machine. When he arrives, he finds the position is already filled. Broke and alone, he drinks outside a bar, and assists a flower-selling woman named Thel Russell (Mili Avitel) who has been accosted. The two sleep together, and are surprised by Thel’s ex-lover Charlie in the morning. The man shoots Thel, then William, wounded by the bullet that has passed through Thel, shoots Charlie. He takes Charlie’s horse and escapes into the forest. In the forest he meets Nobody (Gary Farmer) who is a lone Indian. Nobody mistakes Blake for the poet of the same name, and befriends him. Meanwhile, bounty hunters and U.S. Marshalls are hired by Dickinson himself, who, it turns out, is Charlie’s father. While on the run, Blake becomes a legend like Billy the Kid, with Wanted Posters all over the area.


If the plot summary I just wrote gives you the impression that this is an action-packed oater, then I am sorry to say that you are mistaken. In fact, the pace of all the violent scenes in the film is 16 RPM. People even react to being shot with a 1,2,3 OUCH! Many times, characters that are drawn upon fumble with their weapon or don’t even move, simply awaiting their fate. Unlike the violence in “The Wild Bunch” or “Taxi Driver”, shown in slow motion to exaggerate the blood and guts, there is no gushing geyser of blood, usually just a minute bullet-hole appears, and seconds later a hand goes to the site of the wound. Languid pacing is what a Jarmusch film is about, and there are other hallmarks of his work in “Dead Man”. One I forgot to mention earlier is the juxtaposition of the strong, silent type with the guy who just won’t shut the fuck up. John Lurie and Roberto Benigni in “Down By Law” supply the archetypes, as do Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Cinque Lee in “Mystery Train”. In “Dead Man”, these roles are supplied by characters Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen) and Conway Twill (Michael Wincott).

Much of the dialogue is mystical, especially when uttered by Nobody or the train fireman (Crispin Glover). The theme becomes about the transition from life to death, how the white man sees it and how the Indian sees it. In Jarmusch’s vision, the Old West is a place where life is cheap, death comes easy, early and often. It is not so much a land of opportunity, but a place where hope runs out. In this place, the rule of law is a rumor, a man is very close to his feral roots, the veneer of civilization is threadbare, like everyone’s clothing.

Makes for a lovely weekend trip.

I think Jarmusch has always been drawn to society’s marginal folk, the Jersey losers in “Stranger Than Paradise”, the Finnish alcoholics in “Night on Earth”, the hit man in “Ghost Dog”. It is that theme and also the “Stranger in a Strange Land” dichotomy that he continues to explore and expound upon in all of his movies. “Dead Man” is the film I would use to introduce a person to Jarmusch’s catalogue, simply because it is the best and most poignant. And, oh yeah, there are some VERY funny moments along the way. If you have been reading this blog, you know that humor is a necessity for me to enjoy a film. Depp plays the Barney Miller-like straight man, while the humor comes from various sources; Nobody, the Bounty Hunters, even Dickinson. Comic relief mitigates this otherwise dismally dark piece, and the two work beautifully together to make a very strong statement.


I guess 16 years is not so long a time that I couldn’t remember the best things about this movie. I was right that Robby Müller’s camera work is amongst the best you will ever see, and certainly the best in a film by Jim Jarmusch. There is a look to contemporary black and white films that transcends the old silver screen concept. The Coen’s “The Man Who Wasn’t There” has a luminous quality that only a few other films can muster. This one is in that group. I also remember seeing some restored prints from the classic years, especially “The Big Sleep” which are very special to watch in monochrome. So maybe it’s the condition of the old prints that have made them lose that lustrous quality. “Dead Man” has luster in spades. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a beautiful film. The imagery is quite bleak and often disturbing. The first time you see the town of Machine, you are introduced to the Coffin maker, and the skulls of dead animals are hung everywhere. The Indian fort near the end of the film is shot like a Nazi ghetto. There are times when you feel like you could smell the stench of where you are; the maneur, the burning animal flesh, the rotting corpses.

The opening sequence is truly memorable. As the tedious train-ride to the west progresses, both the landscape and the other passengers go from civilized and familiar to savage and strange. William Blake, in his ridiculously dapper get-up, notices this change between naps, making the movement towards the primitive starkly envisioned. Right before the credits, Glover’s soot-covered fireman (the coal shoveler) sits across from Blake, and talks of visions. At one point, when he finds out where Blake is headed, he responds with “The end of the line. Why would someone want to go to hell?” It’s a premonition for the entire film before the title rolls.

A quick note about the score: Neil Young plays both acoustic and distorted electric guitar throughout the film. Thank the Lord he doesn’t sing! At times it sounds like they rolled the film with a mic on his amp, and he just picked up his axe whenever it seemed like a good time to add some tension. At first I loved it, but as the film goes on it becomes repetitive, annoying and distracting.


This is quite an ensemble that Jim put together. Iggy Pop is not only clothed, he is dressed as a woman in one very creepy segment, where he is reading Goldilocks to two other men, played by Billy Bob Thornton and Jared Harris. Other notables are Robert Mitchum as Dickinson, and Gabriel Byrne as Charlie. Everyone is perfect in their parts, but as I said earlier, the transcendent performance is from Gary Farmer as Nobody. It is a star-making turn, and I cannot figure out why he didn’t get a boatload of great parts after this. He did reprise this role in “Ghost Dog”, wherein he gets to say the signature line of Nobody- “Stupid fucking white man”. I also love a moment when he grabs Blake’s hat, puts it on and rapidly moves his lower jaw like he is a corporate bigwig talking to an underling. This is physically and verbally one of the most singular and indelible performances you will ever see.

As for Depp, he underplays the role so much, that it is hard to recognize the Johnny Depp we have all grown to know so well. No Jack Sparrow or Ed Wood here. His William Blake is simple, not very clever and truly without artifice. It’s just what the film needed out of him.


“Dead Man” was my favorite film by Jim Jarmusch, and re-watching hasn’t changed that. “Dead Man” is Jarmusch’s “Annie Hall”, or “Strangers on a Train”, or “Fargo”. It’s the one movie in an auteur’s career where he gets it all right.

1st Look-★★★1/2 2nd Look-★★★1/2