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January 05, 2011

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Matthias Galvin

While I'm certainly no paragon of aesthetic appreciation, I have yet to find anything strong in any of his movies. (I regret having seen them). But I could probably be missing something.

However, when confronted with other normal individuals, it's nice to find agreement:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uZgJapYmEI

Korine's 1997 appearance on the David Letterman show

The funniest part of the video isn't actually the video, but some of the comments, where the more self-serious and appointed individuals get frustrated at Letterman's lampooning.

Frank McDevitt

I think this Letterman appearance is a bit funnier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-IGcCfLdAo&feature=related

Re: "Trash Humpers"

I haven't seen it, since I'm the kind of person who's strongly disinclined to see a film called "Trash Humpers".

Jimmy

Harmony is just one of those guys, a true character in this life.

I enjoy the hell out of.

Happy New Year all.

warren oates

I'd accept that dare but I saw if for free at LACMA, though, in retrospect, I would have paid for it with no regrets. (My wife, not so much about either the paying or the regrets.) The real questions are: "Would I ever want to see it again? Would I recommend it to anyone?" And the answers are probably "no" and "no." Still, like another blogger wrote: The film has a weird integrity all its own. There's just something about the whole melange of influences and intentions: the makeup, the pranks, the VHS look, the actual ridiculously literal humping of the trash cans--and yeah the boredom and annoyance too. You might think Korine's always been a poser--and he could still be--but this is the closest to punk he's come yet.

If anybody who wants to see an authentic trash film--a lyrical poem about outsiders deliberately shot, aged and damaged to appear as if found on a junk heap--they can try the excellent Second Run PAL region 0 DVD of Artur Aristakisyan's PALMS. But it won't be nearly as much fun as the often annoying and boring and manifestly fake and yet still strangely watchable (at least once) TRASH HUMPERS, the most honest film Harmony Korine has ever made.

Glenn Kenny

Don't get me wrong; I like Mr. Korine too, always thought he was a crafty fella. I interviewed him for Premiere when "Gummo" came out, and he wanted to eat at the Royalton, which I thought was funny; I was also amused when, at the venue, he exchanged very warm greetings with Laura Ziskin, who was lunching at another table. We had a nice time, discussing Japanese metal bands, mostly, although he was a little preoccupied that he had misplaced his new grill (yes, as in the jewelry-for-teeth) under a movie theater seat the evening before. I believe he was able to successfully retrieve it.

In any event, to further clarify, watching "Trash Humpers" was hardly as squirm-inducing an experience as, say, "Life As We Know It" or "How Do You Know."But I think we can agree here that whatever else we may think of Mr. Korine's work, it's clearly not for everyone. And the silly overblown praise it's getting, particularly in the Slate Movie Club (where the jokes, I see, are continuing to write themselves) seems to me a pretty base case of critical grandstanding, and something that paying moviegoers DO have a right to complain about.

bill

Glenn, do you think that, due to the Slate thing, unsuspecting and casual film lovers are going to find themselves watching TRASH HUMPERS? I suppose it's possible. I'd like to see the DVD cover of that one, if there ever is a DVD. Just look at the cover for EDMOND, and imagine how many people have rented it thinking it's an entertaining and brisk crime thriller.

warren oates

@Glenn, TRASH HUMPERS is definitely not for everyone. But it is a surprising and memorable screening experience. I still can't get that stupid laugh out of my head, for instance. And my significant other forbids me to re-enact it.

@Bill, unlikely, due to the scary-ass DVD cover art and the truth-in-advertising title, with which Korine branded his film on purpose. Netflix actually carries TRASH HUMPERS now, so the curious will be risking their time more than their money.

Apropos rental confusion: One of my fondest childhood memories is watching the VHS tape mom thought she had borrowed from the library, SHERLOCK HOLMES' DRESSED TO KILL. Except it was Brian De Palma's DRESSED TO KILL!

I.B.

At least Leos Carax and Denis Lavant appeared in 'Mister Lonely'. And Werner Herzog!

MovieMan0283

Sign me on for the Muppet re-enactment of The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia, and that's without even knowing what The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is. I'd rather take a WTF experience than a yawn, though I liked Gummo a lot better in snippets than as a feature. If he switched his primary venue from film festivals to You Tube, I think he'd probably be 10 times less popular with critics, and 10 times more popular with the general public (at least the ones who surf the internet drunk/high/just looking for weird shit).

Chris O.

It seems like something you might be willing to roll with for the first twenty minutes or so, then find yourself looking at your watch for the majority of the rest, then maybe something kind of interesting happens toward the end. Am I close?

abenk

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nrh

Man, that quote about film festival movies spooks me a bit. Because he has a point, and it's one that applies just as equally to films by Lav Diaz, Bing Wang, Lisandro Alonso or Raul Ruiz (evidently, since who ever got to see Dias de Campo outside a film festival? Or Le Domain Perdu? Not counting illegal downloads?).

Escher

It's like no one who's seen the film has ever looked at the photos of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. For that I blame the poor cultural literacy of the critics, and not of Korine. I like Korine fine, he's an amusing guy and an interesting autodidact. But because he's a precocious autodidact, with an autodidact's attitude & self-confidence, he's never seemed to realize the degree of his un-specialness: how, for instance, if you'd just set him down in the cafeteria at the Rhode Island School of Design at age 19, he'd suddenly've found a couple hundred other people with the same reference points and inclinations and aesthetic as him.

warren oates

@nrh, I agree. What's wrong with films made mostly or even solely for festivals? The contrary view is tantamount to banishing writer's writers from the literary canon. Then we'd have to trash PALE FIRE in favor of every piece of crap Stephen King ever wrote. Might not these so-called festival films have an importance (and a time-delayed influence on future generations) beyond what we can yet know?

@Escher, I don't see the Meatyard and the Eggleston borrowing as diminishing the final work of TRASH HUMPERS. (You might actually have a better case against GEORGE WASHINGTON.) Kubrick stole Arbus' most famous images for THE SHINING and yet the film stands on its own as a masterpiece. It's in the way that you use it.

I happen to know a number of RISD film grads and the difference between them and Korine isn't the references so much as this: He's the one with the vision, the will and the guts to do it. And to, among other things, convince Agnes B. to pony up her hard-earned cash to make something as out-there as TRASH HUMPERS. IMHO, a way better waste of financier money than most of the allegedly well-made and supposedly hard-hitting foreign art films I've seen this year (WHITE MATERIAL and DOGTOOTH especially). Ambivalent as I am about TRASH HUMPERS, it's undeniably worth talking about.

Glenn Kenny

I asked for some counters, and I'm getting them, and I'm glad. I think Warren Oates is pretty right on when he says Korine is "the one with the vision, the will and the guys to do it." Indeed, just as when someone says of a work of Abstract Expressionism, "My kid could do that," the starting point for the rebuttal is always "But he/she DIDN'T." Do it, or even think of it, for that matter. That said, I think there's a disingenuousness in "Humpers" and in most of Korine's work generally that I don't find in Meatyard's very solemn work, or in Eggleston's stuff. By the same token I think that disingenuousness is a feature rather than a bug. These posts of mine go up as notes on my Facebook page, and a visitor there left a comment that he said wasn't a "defense," but that still struck me as a good one. In part, it reads:

"I'd say it presents a landscape of a demented America. Are we so different from these old weird freaks? Sacks of flesh and impulses, meaningless ultimately in the face of death, which they address very practically in the film (at least Korine's character when he flees the scene after they kill someone...and what an odd scene it was, at the point it comes in a death isn't the strangest thing you've seen, part of the package). Also the use of VHS, in this day of too crisp, too new, blu-ray whatever the fuck it's nice to see something shitty looking. 'But why can't it look nice?' Why do we want something nice looking? What's so interesting about that? The screw-ups and distortions created by the VHS and the process of editing it on two VCR's produces almost organic effects in how the colors pop or distort or tracking mistakes but they don't simply feel like 'Oh we'll fuck it up so it'll be arty' It feels apart of the whole thing and produces an effect of a mixture of disgust and nostalgia. It delivers on the promise of a film, 'Found on the Trash Heap of the Universe'."

Again, obviously I'm not THAT positively impressed, but I do believe Korine's in charge of his "effects" as it were. I suppose what irritates me is that I think the praise it's getting in the Slate Movie Club exchange—the cast list of which does contain several critics whose writings I'm not crazy about—is the way it's being discussed within a context of more or less mainstream cinema. There's something more than a little patronizing about the whole thing, combined with what Kent Jones described in a different context as "looking in the rearview mirror." The whole thing seems intended not to "stimulate discussion" but self-servingly provoke attack—"I know you're not going to like this, but I'm going to put it at the top of my own top ten list, and then bitch and moan about how mean and uncivilized you all are when you call me on it." There's less interest in talking about the film than there is in throwing down a gauntlet. And to what end?

And again, I don't have anything against "festival" films per se. I do have a problem when critics throw festival films in the faces of readers with such smug insouciance—"I saw this and you probably never will, too bad." One of my beefs with the self-styled Ferroni Brigade is their whole "Not only have we seen every Lav Diaz film, but we're friends with her, too!" schtick. Drives me batty.

That's one reason I was actually rather glad to know that Ruiz's wonderful "Mysteries of Lisbon" was produced as...a television mini-series. But that's another discussion...

Simon Abrams

I put my reax here and step away from the mic to breath:

http://extendedcut.blogspot.com/2009/11/419-trash-humpers-2009.html

(No, I don't know why I started this post with a Tay Zonday reference either; it just felt right)

Evelyn Roak

Glenn, Escher, Warren, et al. I think you hit on something that irks me about Korine’s work. It is that disingenuousness, a disingenuousness that seemingly comes from the question your defender offers people asking: “but why can’t it look nice?” The issue for me is that I often feel that question is contained in Korine’s films but even more so is one of its driving forces. Yes, there is a lineage of art that asks that question, and it can be a worthy one (Korine feels miles away from Kurt Kren, perhaps the added “O” and “I“ is indicative), but with Korine it often feels forced, that the challenge is all too prominent, that this anticipated reaction is given far too much weight in the conception and production (see his books/zines). This is reflected in the issues you have with the Slate response which seems to take up this discourse, growing out of the attitude and essence of Korine’s work. The adolescent provocation feels all too large an element and it is tied to ideas of authenticity I also recoil from.

Evelyn Roak

I should add that the "looks nice", while particular to Trash Humpers, is extended to other parameters and elements of the perceived "normal" in his other films. I extrapolated that question to fit similar anticipated queries of content, style, etc that may not be "look nice" but function similarly.

John Keefer

With the question of whether or not there exists in Korine's work a disingenuous attitude...I have no idea. Maybe it is all a prank and maybe this isn't a legitimate rebuttal (in fact I'll say it isn't because it concerns things outside of the frame) but the energy necessary to complete something like Trash Humpers would need to draw from something a bit deeper than, "I can't wait until people see this and get pissed off. I will then laugh a self-satisfied laugh to myself". I'd have no way of knowing what Korine was drawing from for this but I'd have to believe that even at the height of a giddy prankster high eventually you'd look around and say "What the fuck am I doing?" and walk away.
But let's take the movie at it's word for a moment and say that it's honest and meaningful at least to its inventor and that the success of that vision lies with the beholder. I keep coming back to the almost palpable layer of filth the VHS extends to the viewer. It's a grimy looking glass that gives you a clear picture of these characters and their world. And for me at least it creates an entire world to get lost in, it's like a poetic work of science fiction. Everything looks a bit familiar but you see those trash cans? They're not for garbage, they're for humping. And you see that practically naked old man, he won't hurt you, he just wants to tell you a story while you throw firecrackers around (is that a Putney Swope reference? If not it doesn't matter, go see Putney Swope, it'll change your life...or make you smile, either way). What's the most important thing in this world? Sex, destruction, being a self-actuated individual. I thought the scene where the Korine-humper starts kind of explaining himself to the camera was a bit on the nose (boooo, on the nose! According to how-to screenwriting manuals people never express themselves by directly stating how they feel...except when people do that all the time, especially when they're angry!) But now I think it's almost a critique of our rationalizations of how we lead our own lives, the ridiculous things we tell ourselves to justify our own needs most of which are just wants but wants we want really badly, to the point where we start behaving badly. "We choose to live as free people." Doesn't really explain anything.
And also it's a perfect ending. Why? Because it ends. Is that a Zen koan?...nope, those are way harder to figure out.

@Glenn: Do you have a take on the phenomena of how the opinions of others can begin to influence your own take on a film, for better or worse? I have a friend who hated Inception but he may have ended up hating it even more when he found himself in conversations with people who were wondering if Nolan is the new Kubrick. He also wondered if Nolan dreams in levels from Goldeneye or some other comparable shooter game. I think he dreams of Armani warehouses and boring movies. I didn't like Inception, loved Trash Humpers and am astounded by critics who don't know who Powell and Pressburger are...ahh, such is life. Think I'll go smash a fluorescent tube on the dumpster I'm humping.

Evelyn Roak

To clarify, the use of disingenuous was not meant as an all or nothing dismissal, nor to characterize the movies as a prank, or to be totalizing in any respect. Disingenuous not as in a lark but in partially (not in the entirety) coming across, to this viewer, as all too aware of and formed by the effects of the provocation, this being an end in itself and getting lost in that to the detriment of other aspects (I have felt this with most of his output---the gesture, and the effects of the gesture preconceived overwhelming the other things going on). It all seems (and this connects to the ideas Korine is working with) a little adolescent to me (as mentioned above).

I concur that Korine has a good eye at times and understands the capabilities of different visual formats but unlike a favorite, Dusan Makavejev I a) don’t find myself particularly interested or involved by his ideas and their actualization, investigation or expression and b) find them lost at times, buried by a too great interest in provocation and reaction (both of which come across as simplistic).

jim emerson

Escher: "he's never seemed to realize the degree of his un-specialness." That's dead-on.

Nathan Fisher

I've tended to agree in the past that Harmony Korine is mainly a wasted talent; I think that his punk status largely gives him authenticity for not really trying to do anything, which he probably sees as some sort of counter-intuitive success. I've never liked any of his other pictures.

That said, there's something about Trash Humpers, after you realize that it really is going to be this way for ninety minutes, that is strangely ambitious. To me, I found it something of a formalist horror film: by which I mean, it seemed to be reproducing the iconography and semiotics of horror films without any context or justification at all. It really is a random collage of, I think, rather disturbing scenes, and that arbitrariness, that absolute contempt for storytelling or entertainment makes it all the more disturbing (I started becoming involved around the time the child is cackling and hitting a baby doll with a hammer in a parking lot: a pure display of useless, directionless terror).

John Waters gets credit for claiming bad taste is the heart of entertainment; I think Korine is taking Waters' 'bad taste' to a new extremes and with a much more interesting formal audacity. This has nothing to do with taste; it's just 'bad.'

I found myself oddly magnetized to the film, if only for the very reason that it somehow existed.

Brandon

While it becomes entirely obvious that this is a plotless exercise a couple of minutes in, I think the randomness of it all is what makes it intriguing (especially if you know that it is only 75 minutes). You have to admit that, even if you were bored with it, you had no idea what was going to happen next.
Korine has built himself up as "crazy". Whether that's an act or not, disingenuous or not, doesn't really matter. If you're watching the film, he wins. You are the 'balanced' person his 'free' character is driving by in the night, so to speak.
If anything, I kept expecting scenes of more trash humping. I found myself laughing out loud a couple of times at this visual and I don't know if that should scare me or not.

Spoilerish comment: I also thought that, even though they edited around eating the dishsoap pancakes (something John Waters would never have cut), I really thought they were going to do something mildly scary to that baby. Maybe that's the litmus test for buy-in to the thing....

Evelyn Roak

“If you're watching the film, he wins. You are the 'balanced' person his 'free' character is driving by in the night, so to speak.

Not to beat a dead horse and all but this is what I was getting at. Really, what does this mean? This is the simplistic paradigm that rankles and leaves one wanting. Is it just making the squares squirm, shocking them out of their barren lives? The ‘free’ vs. the ‘balanced’? The opened eye inhabitants of the night and the sleepwalking citizens of the day? This isn’t Thoreau or Bataille and Acephale. Feels more like Nine Inch Nails to me.

Brandon

The whole schism over Korine, in my mind, stems from whether he is intentionally incoherent on purpose to provoke people or he is just too wacked out to make the intellectual connections some critics sprial out of his work. Or, maybe more realistically, he selectively uses intentional incoherence as a crutch for not having to present a fully formed argument/opinion.

We can't know if Korine is genuinely trying to wax pseudo-philosophical with his "characters", but those words about being "free people" not wanting to be "balanced" come from the only seemingly coherent part of the picture (while they're driving aimlessly around in the night). It can come off as trite to some; as a kind of metaphysical bait for so-called "film fest types", or one could say that by putting this viewpoint in the film it gives some proper (narrative?) context to the rest of the randomness. Granted, it's not very articulate, but the characters aren't supposed to be.
If anything, Korine is riding the line between a kind of narcissistic anti-intellectualism and a commentary on its ridiculousness, much in the same way that war movies can glorify war, even when they are made with peaceful intentions (if that makes any sense).

And I guess it depends on your take on Bataille or NIN. Were they serious in trying to provide some sort of reactionary emotional catharsis for their consumers, or were they just a constructed put-on for put-on's sake? Or (as is possible with the case of KIDS leading to this), did one lead to the other?
Ah, the gaze of postmodernity...

Evelyn Roak

Brandon, I think you are somewhat correct in writing: “maybe more realistically, he selectively uses intentional incoherence as a crutch for not having to present a fully formed argument/opinion.” I guess, and this is a short shrift of a thing to say (and hopefully doesn’t just seem a provocation itself or a conversation stopper), I just don’t find him to be very smart, and that is a charitable assessment. The adolescent spurts are dumb if believed in and dumb if thought to be a commentary or critique or what have you. They don’t seem to be bait, as you put it, and if they are what is the point? His work (especially the novel/other writings) just seems to this viewer/reader as the kind of thing a precocious 14 year old does, thinking it is profound. Escher’s quote, highlighted by Jim Emerson, states this well. This isn’t to say Korine isn’t aware of what he is doing (and as I said he can have a good eye) but I guess my brain doesn’t really connect with his in the way it does with a Kurt Kren or Dusan Makavejev or a Jack Smith or the Kuchars or or or….It isn’t befuddling just disagreeable.

The point on Bataille is that there is an adept and adventurous critical faculty at work there and the interrogations of societal constructs and sociological and philosophical (and fiction) writing has an intelligence (and irony) to it whereas NIN is just a bunch of pre-teen adolescent wankery (and I don’t think Pretty Hate Machine has much in the way of irony going on). It doesn’t have to be catharsis or put-on, there is a more nuanced, complicated middle ground there but that necessitates a certain level of understanding.

Thanks for your reply though, you have given me further things to think about that I haven’t fully worked through at the time of writing this.

Brandon

Thanks for the reply to my reply, so I'll keep going while it's on my mind (excuse the length; this is like three posts in one)....
One thing that strikes me, because I have done it as well, is that it may be a bit too easy/haphazard? to make sweeping comparisons across mediums. I wasn't aware that Korine had a novel, but the majority of his work is with the motion picture (VHS or not). That is a wholly different beast than the written word, music, or even painting. And when deliberately working with a so-called 'trash aesthetic' is there much room for intentionally layered discourse? (I really don't know).

Even the filmmakers mentioned above all had the benefit of being hailed as pioneers (even if only in retrospect), which gives them cultural capital that Korine does not/will never have. He is in a place, like the majority of contemporary artists, where innovation may no longer exist. Or at least that's what they tell the kiddies these days.

The so-called avant-garde/experimental/abstract/alternative moniker is a widely vague categorization. And in my limited understanding of such brandings, the context around the creation/creator seems to matter as much as the finished product when determining "quality". So, of course, Bataille is given credit for his fiction, because of his literary writings. For someone who only read The Story of the Eye (in translation) on a whim, without that context, I thought it too was just adolescent wankery (albeit entertainingly written)....

And to continue my defense of people I really don't feel that strongly about: If irony is component of quality here, one could make the argument that this is why someone like Trent Reznor rose above hordes of industrial acts in the '90s. His 'fragile machismo' act did something for bringing (part of) the genre into the mainstream (for good or bad). I'm not sure if it is even possible to say something like, "Well, he's no Francis Bacon". Though this may have less to do with the virtual impossibility of comparing mediums, than with the wide gulf of socialized value given to the two disparate artists/forms.

I just simply find it interesting that many are compelled to compare something like Trash Humpers to a larger body of work in order to find any validity/relevancy in it. Though even I, jokingly, thought earlier today: "It's just like Inception": Either you get lost in the Penrose staircase of self-aggrandizing interpretation or it's just Michael Mann on steroids; Trash Humpers can be either a complicated treatise on the detritus of our decaying culture (with some extra layer that a Jackass 3-D doesn't have), or it's just a video that's got some dudes humping trash cans and smashing shit.

MilanP

After seeing "Trash Humpers" on the 2009 festival circuit, I had this crazy fantasy of a major distributer (say, Universal), picking up distribution rights, opening it on 3,000+ screens backed by a blitzkrieg marketing campaign that sold it as a horror flick, then bringing video cameras to multiplexes across Middle America to record the (appalled, of course) audience reaction. That would have been a prank of Dadaist--or at least Banksy--proportions.
"TH" remains a film that's more interesting to discuss than it is to actually watch, and that's coming from a major Korine fan.

warren oates

What I'm looking for when I sit down in a darkened theater is a reason to stay seated, some kind of aspiration on the part of the film to earn my attention and show me something I haven't seen before that's truly worth watching. Against all odds and my better judgment, TRASH HUMPERS did this.

So there's my non-defensive, non-defense defense of this film.

Consider indie critics darling Jim Jarmusch, for instance, who seems like a good enough guy but hasn't made anything I'd want to see again since his first few features, which flirted with the cinema of annoyance and boredom that Korine has taken up in TRASH HUMPERS. You could easily level the same criticism against Jarmusch that Escher and Jim Emerson have pinned on Korine: He doesn't get the degree of his unspecialness. Except one of them still risks making something other than a minor variation on what they've done before.

I walked out of THE LIMITS OF CONTROL after an hour because I felt like I knew more or less what was going to happen and I'd stopped caring. Jarmusch's films always look so pretty and they're full of pleasant looking actors. Not so with TRASH HUMPERS, a film that taunts you with its ugliness, irritation and repetition and yet, for all that, remains weirdly compelling.

Kent Jones

"You could easily level the same criticism against Jarmusch that Escher and Jim Emerson have pinned on Korine: He doesn't get the degree of his unspecialness."

Okay. We all have our opinions. And we all need to remember that what we think of as givens need to be argued. Myself included.

But...faulting Jim Jarmusch for failing to recognize his "unspecialness?" Classifying DEAD MAN and GHOST DOG and THE LIMITS OF CONTROL as "minor variations" on his earlier flirtations with "annoyance and boredom?" Labeling him as a guy who makes "pretty" movies with "pleasant looking actors?" And Harmony Korine is better because he "risks" making something other than minor variations on his own movies? Like TRASH HUMPERS is NOT an absolutely infinitesimal variation on JULIAN DONKEY BOY or MISTER LONELY? And he's to be commended for having made a "weirdly compelling" film that taunts us with its "ugliness, irritation and repetition?"

Fine. Let me suggest an alternate characterization. That Harmony Korine is a nostalgic throwback who makes genre movies. The genre in question is "transgressive faux-primitive," which has its own unspoken rules and clichés. If he seems to me several steps below fellow genre practitioner Gaspar Nöe, it's because of a certain measure of craft in Nöe's work, which translates to a commitment to the art form. In Harmony Korine's movies, I see a carefully cultivated, anxiously maintained and entirely complacent lack of commitment to anything in particular. Give me Herk Harvey, Ed Wood, Timothy Carey, Vincent Gallo, anybody or anything but Harmony Korine.

Jim Jarmusch, on the other hand, has a commitment to cinema, to poetry, to history, to comedy, to understanding the urges to violence and destruction. His images aren't "pretty." They're composed. I have absolutely no idea what roles "annoyance and boredom" play in any of his movies beyond certain transitory states of mind of some of his characters. His first movies look better and better to me when I go back and look at them, and it was Glenn's eloquent entry on MYSTERY TRAIN a few months back which got me to take another look at that film, which once struck me as semi-enjoyable and now seems great. Looking at DEAD MAN and seeing some kind of minor albeit pretty and pleasant excursion into familiar territory seems borderline impossible to me - even if you don't like it, you have to acknowledge a level of craft and a commitment to visual awe and mystery.

But I guess it takes all kinds.

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