07 June, 2015

Come for the Movie, Stay for the Guy Behind You Talking About Peter Boyle's 1970's Hair

I'll tell you this: If John Huston asks if you're getting laid, you damn well answer him.

Winter Kills is an odd one. The cast alone is what sold me. Jeff Bridges, Toshiro Mifune, John Huston, and, oh yeah, Anthony Perkins. And Elizabeth Taylor. And Eli Wallach. And Sterling Hayden. And it was shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. With music by Maurice Jarre. I had to see this movie. The fact that I had never heard of it made me even more interested. I refused to look anything up. Was it a western? Was it a war story? Was it a musical? Early Dogme 95? Porno? I had to know! So I drove my ass out to the New Beverly tonight and I saw it.

And, let me tell you, Winter Kills is one hell of a mess.  A hilarious mess, a mess with some fine performances, but a mess nonetheless. The kind of mess you need to clean up with a hose.

Depending on what stage of your chemical exporation you are on, Winter Kills is a take off on the labyrinthine world of JFK assassination theories, and it's either a comedy with aspirations to thrill its audience or it's a thriller that thinks it can do comedy. I mean, I don't know, man. I'm not sure it's director knew either. I'm not sure I care. The mystery of the film is almost more interesting than the film itself.

The whole movie plays out like The Parallax View by way of Joseph Heller. But not Catch 22 Heller. Closing Time Heller. While it doesn't match the heights of other conspiracy thrillers of the time like Three Days of the Condor, it certainly is as brown, if not more so. So brown.

John Huston seems to be the only person having any fun in the film, which is just as well. He is one of the main reasons I saw it. I have to imagine he was thinking about his paycheck the whole time. Good for him. The real revelation in all of this is Anthony Perkins, who seems to have seen John Huston's dailies and went "I can beat that." Because his performance is bananas. It's ecstastically bonkers in a way that only the best of Jimmy Stewart of Nick Cage seem capable of delivering. He actually got applause for his big speech towards the end of the film. Somebody get that guy more work.

Then you have Toshiro Mifune, who is on screen for maybe three minutes before he is buried behind the wall of the film's insane plot. It's just as well. In hindsight the film benefits from layering on the confusion like this. There's a lot more fun to be had looking back and going "What the hell was that about?" than to eyeball the actual plot of the film.

Before I go off about the actual quality of the film stock, I'll give you a few highlights of the film to mull over:
  • There's a wig warehouse owner that is a full blown Williamsburg Beardo. Powerful stuff.
  • During a sex scene Jeff Bridges has to smother his girlfriend to keep her from screaming. He fucks that good.
  • John Huston (spoiler) dies after clinging to a massive American flag.
  • Sterling Hayden drives a tank. Because he's a man, damnit.
  • Jeff Bridges has the vapors at one point.
  • Belinda Bauer looks really, really good dressed like a man.
I'm sure I'm breaching some well-worn code about complaining about the quality of an old print, but I can only tell you what I saw: The reel looked like it had been dragged through hell and back. The color was shot to hell. There was a lot of dust on the frames and, what are those? Like, track lines? You know. The things that run up and down over a bunch of frames? I'm so far removed from actual film lingo I have no idea what to call these. I feel like a spoiled aristocrat trying to come up with the right words to describe the weekend.

Artist's concept of writer
"Well, you know, it's the day where you don't work. I mean, not that I would. But, others don't work. Except for our staff. Which is the entire town. And farmers. But, well, hmmm. . . "

Then again, there's a certain charm in being reminded what worn out, old film looks like. I can see why Quentin Tarantino insisted that the theater only show film. . . Wait. No I don't.

The second problem I had with the presentation was that there was, what I can only guess, is fifteen minutes missing from the beginning. The entire beginning of the film is missing. At first I was wondering if the film was just that daring, then it slowly dawned on me that, no, this wasn't how the film was supposed to be shown. After it ended, I asked the man behind me (who, before the film began was pontificating on his friend about the pluses and negatives of the film Hardcore), if the first reel was missing and he didn't seem sure. It's that kind of a movie.

And, again, maybe it makes me a snob. Maybe I'm missing the point. As charming as the physical medium of film is and as much of a rollercoaster thrill ride as wondering "Will this movie's color be completely blown out? Will the reels be in order this time?" I would much rather just straight up watch the damn movie.

That isn't to say that I won't be back. As flawed as this outting might have been, the New Beverly Cinema is delivering a service. It's showing films that nobody would show if it wasn't for this place. It's a place that still believes in the communal experience of the theater, of the actual physical medium of film, of the kind of artistic divinity that you get sitting with a group of strangers in a dark room watching a movie, especially some strange movie that you would have never heard of or never seen without the aid of the New Bev. Netflix is great, but it can't replicate that experience. And Hulu certainly can't because I think that site is run by apes. Stupid apes.

I just probably won't be back to watch Winter Kills.

James Kislingbury writes, draws, and does a few other things. You can listen to his podcast, A Quality Interruption. You can donate to fund that program here. Keep your eyes peeled. He's going to weird crap coming down the pipeline.