Tag Archives: Iggy Pop

86. DEAD MAN (1995)

“Do what you will this life’s a fiction,
And is made up of contradiction.”

–William Blake, Gnomic Verses

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DIRECTED BY: Jim Jarmusch

FEATURING: Johnny Depp, , Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, , , Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Mili Avatal, Gabriel Byrne

PLOT: Mild-mannered accountant Bill Blake heads west to take a job as an accountant in the wild town of Machine, but when he arrives he discovers the position has been filled and he is stuck on the frontier with no money or prospects. Blake becomes a wanted man after he kills the son of the town tycoon in self defense. Wounded, he flees to the wilderness where he’s befriended by an Indian named Nobody, who believes he is the poet William Blake.

Still from Dead Man (1995)

BACKGROUND:

  • William Blake, the namesake of Johnny Depp’s character in Dead Man, was a poet, painter and mystic who lived from 1757 to 1827. Best known for Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, he is considered one of the forerunners of English Romanticism.
  • Jarmusch wrote the script with Depp and Farmer in mind for the leads.
  • Elements of the finished script of Dead Man reportedly bear a striking similarity to “Zebulon,” an unpublished screenplay by novelist/screenwriter Rudy (Glen and Randa, Two-Lane Blacktop) Wurlitzer, which Jarmusch had read and discussed filming with the author. Wurlitzer later reworked the script into the novel The Drop Edge of Yonder.
  • Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum coined the term “acid Western”—a category in which he also included The Shooting, Greaser’s Palace and El Topo—to describe Dead Man. Jarmusch himself called the film a “psychedelic Western.”
  • composed the harsh, starkly beautiful soundtrack by improvising on electric guitar while watching the final cut of the film. The Dead Man soundtrack (buy) includes seven solo guitar tracks from Young, plus film dialogue and clips of Depp reciting William Blake’s poetry.
  • Farmer speaks three Native American languages in the film: Blackfoot, Cree, and Makah (which he learned to speak phonetically). None of the indigenous dialogue is subtitled.
  • Jarmusch, who retains all the rights to his films, refused to make cuts to Dead Man requested by distributor Miramax; the director believed that the film was dumped on the market without sufficient promotion because of his reluctance to play along with the studio.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Nobody peering through William Blake’s skin to his bare skull during his peyote session? Iggy Pop in a prairie dress? Those are memorable moments, but in a movie inspired by poetry, it’s the scene of wounded William Blake, his face red with warpaint, curling up on the forest floor with a dead deer that’s the most poetically haunting.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Dead Man is a lyrical and hypnotic film, with a subtle but potent and lingering weirdness that the viewer must tease out.  It’s possible to view the movie merely as a directionless, quirky indie Western; but that would be to miss out on the mystical, dreamlike tinge of this journey into death.


Original trailer for Dead Man

COMMENTS: Dead Man begins on a locomotive as a naif accountant is traveling from Continue reading 86. DEAD MAN (1995)

CAPSULE: WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: A MAN WITHIN (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Yony Leyser

FEATURING: Peter Weller, Amiri Bakara, Jello Biafra, David Cronenberg, Allen Ginsberg (footage), Iggy Pop, Genesis P-Orridge, Patti Smith, Gus van Sant, Andy Warhol (footage), John Waters

PLOT:  A portrait of the life of the literary outlaw told through archival footage, rare home

Still from William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2010)

movies, and interviews with friends, admirers and followers.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Its subject is weird, but despite the brief avant-garde sequences used as buffers between the praising heads, its method isn’t.

COMMENTS:  With his quick wit, cadaverous features, and patrician drawl, William S. Burroughs projected a mighty persona.  His writings were full of ironic distance, parody and outlandish stream-of-consciousness surrealism, only occasionally punctured by confessional.  The romantic myth that grew up about him—the artist tormented by guilt, addiction, and public ostracism, who strikes back at society by rejecting all forms of authority—was so powerful that it became far more influential than his actual writings.  The subtitle of this documentary—A Man Within—suggests that we may get a peek under that dapper three-piece armor Burroughs wore in public and see the real, naked man underneath.  Yony Leyser’s freshman documentary is partially successful at that task; he gives us unprecedented access to Burroughs’ home movies (showing him as an old man smoking a joint before going out to fire a shotgun) and reminiscences from those closest to him, including several former lovers.  The portrait that emerges is of a man who may have suffered as much from loneliness as from drugs and remorse; the man we see here has difficulty forming relationships with men he’s attracted to, and prefers to seek the companionship of street hustlers and boys too young and foolish to break his heart.  Topics covered, in jumbled order, include Burroughs’ upper class upbringing; his role as godfather of the Beats; his homosexuality and his refusal to join the “gay mainstream;” his lifelong relationship with heroin; his love of snakes and guns; the accidental killing of Joan Vollmer Continue reading CAPSULE: WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: A MAN WITHIN (2010)

CAPSULE: SUCK [2009]

DIRECTED BY: Rob Stefaniuk

FEATURING: Rob Stefaniuk, Jessica Pare, Malcolm McDowell, Dave Foley, Alice Cooper

PLOT: A struggling Canadian rock band finds sudden success when their female

Still from Suck (2009)

bassist becomes a vampire.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a campy, tongue-in-cheek music movie with a horror/comedy flavor, but doesn’t do much we haven’t seen before.  It draws from other films and music videos to create a light parody of the music industry that’s enjoyable but ultimately forgettable.

COMMENTS:  The plot of Suck is oddly (and I assume unintentionally) reminiscent of Zombie Strippers: both feature a group of performers who willingly become a monstrous entity in order to boost their own popularity, and then climatically reap the consequences of their selfishness.  It gives a satirical bent to the overdone “fledgling musical group hits the big time but get more than they bargained for” premise, substituting blood addiction for drug addiction and topically tapping into society’s sudden Twilight-fueled obsession with vampires.  The concept of vampirism is handled in a very matter-of-fact way, resulting in a lot of unexpected jokes and straightforward humor.

Writer/director Rob Stefaniuk stars as Joey, the lead singer of “The Winners”, playing the straight man surrounded by ridiculous figures for most of the film.  Jessica Pare holds her own as the only female lead, funny and sexy as the hot bassist Jennifer, while Malcolm McDowell (always ready to bring the camp) is awesomely over-the-top as vampire hunter “Eddie” Van Helsing.  Appearances from an impressive bevy of old timer rock stars lend Suck an air of credibility as a rumination on modern-day rock and roll.  Iggy Pop is a wise rocker-turned-recording engineer, Alice Cooper is a creepy mind-reader who spouts unwanted advice, Henry Rollins is a goofy rock DJ, and Moby is a meat-loving frontman.  The highlight for any Kids in the Hall fan will of course be Dave Foley’s few scenes as the Winners’ incompetent manager, delivering the film’s best deadpan lines.

Suck incorporates a lot of different visual techniques that give it more variety than one might expect of a low-budget horror-comedy.  The use of stop-motion miniatures and blood-stained maps for transitions were a neat touch, and the frenetic cuts and dramatic lighting during many of the vampire-centric scenes cleverly reference contemporary music videos.  The music itself is catchy and fun, but doesn’t do much to set itself apart from any generic indie rock band’s output.  It’s not a true musical, saving most of its songs for stage performances except for one unexpected impromptu goth music video set at a vampire’s really pale party.

As a movie, this sits somewhere in the middle of funny and boring, smart and stupid, bold and underachieving, rocker and poser.  It’s got a good concept that blends several genres, but isn’t as effective as it could have been.  It needed to be funnier, scarier, more rockin’, or all three.  As it stands, it’s a cute film with some really enjoyable comedic bits and a few great performances, but not nearly humorous or weird enough to be memorably entertaining.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

…Stefaniuk bites off more than he can chew in this star-studded rock ‘n’ roll fantasy vampire flick. Juggling conventions, skewering clichés and referencing genre cues, Stefaniuk packs the film with so many insider jokes that what could have been a wild ride simply isn’t.”–Barbara Goslawski, Box Office Magazine (festival screening)

CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Stanley

FEATURING: , Stacey Travis, Lemmy, voice of Iggy Pop

PLOT: A desert wanderer in a post-apocalyptic wasteland discovers a relic.  It’s the dismembered skeleton of a cyborg used by the government in the war that destroyed civilization, and when a man conveniently buys the creepy-looking thing for his metal sculptress girlfriend (!!!), she pieces it back together and unleashes a mechanical nightmare upon both of them.

Still from Hardware (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hardware suffers from a terrible bout of conventionalism.  It’s essentially a post-apocalyptic version of Alien set in the confines of a ratty apartment complex.  There’s nothing truly weird about it, other than the cast, which is lousy with hard rock stars.

COMMENTS: Well, it must be said outright that this movie wasn’t bad.  It was breezy, very streamlined.  This is a cyberpunk horror movie about a robot run amok, simple as that.  Usually, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi likes to wax poetic and lament on our ever-dwindling lack of human compassion and kindness toward our Mother Earth.  And I don’t have a problem with that, but when your movie is actually about a killer robot and not about the fate of man’s heart as we hurtle deeper into the future, perhaps being an armchair philosopher is not par for the course.  The plot is based on a story in the British comic staple “2000 A.D”. called “SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale”, and it certainly takes the cyberpunk vibe from that series and really goes with it despite a $1.5 million budget.

Well, it’s the 21’st century (THE FUTURE!!!!), and America is devastated by an undisclosed nuclear disaster.  People have to make a living any way they can, and many times that includes scavenging the technology of the past.  One disturbing fellow, called a Zone Tripper, finds the menacing remains of a robot (it is called a cyborg, but since there there are no organic mechanisms implemented into the device, let’s just assume they wanted it to sound cooler than just a plain ol’ robot) in the distant, post-apocalyptic desert.  This intimidating fellow comes to sell his scrap at the typical oddball junk broker Continue reading CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)

LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD MAN (1995)

NOTE: Dead Man has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Commenting is closed on this review, which is left here for archival purposes. Please visit Dead Man‘s Certified Weird entry to comment on this film.

DIRECTED BY: Jim Jarmusch

FEATURING: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Robert Mitchum, Crispin Glover, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Mili Avatal, Gabriel Byrne

PLOT:  Mild-mannered accountant Bill Blake heads west, becomes a wanted man after he

Still from Dead Man (1995)

shoots a man in self defense, and, wounded, flees to the wilderness where he’s befriended by an Indian named Nobody who believes he is the poet William Blake.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEDead Man is a lyrical and hypnotic film, and one that comes about as achingly close to making the List on the first pass as is possible.  The quality of the movie is no obstacle to its making the List, but the weirdness, while there, is subtle and must be teased out by the viewer.  There is a mystical and dreamlike tinge to Blake’s journey into death, but the strangeness is almost entirely tonal; Jarmusch’s artiness aside, it’s possible to view the movie as a rather straightforward, if quirky, indie Western.

COMMENTSDead Man begins on a locomotive as a naif accountant is traveling from Cleveland to a the western town of Machine to begin a new life.  We see him on the train playing solitaire or reading a booklet on beekeeping.  He looks up to survey at his fellow passengers, who meet his glance with indifference.  The train’s whistle blows as the scene fades to black, accompanied by twanging chords from Neil Young’s guitar (sounding like abstract, electrified snippets stolen from a Morricone score).  The scene repeats and fades back in again and again, each time with the traveler glancing around the compartment to find his companions slowly changing: their dress becomes more rustic, their hair longer and more unkempt; female passengers become less frequent, firearms more common; the indifference in their eyes turns into quiet hostility.

Dead Man tells the story of an innocent who becomes a refugee after being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s a standard story, but the way Jarmusch tells can be strange indeed.  This opening scene sets the rhythm for the movie: it proceeds in a series of slow pulses punctuated by fadeouts and anguished bursts from Young’s guitar, and it slowly shifts locale from the civilized to the wild.  The continual fading out and Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD MAN (1995)