The film opens with an extreme close-up of a black man, Nogo, driving at night on a deserted road. The camera pulls back to reveal Nogo being followed by a full-size pickup truck, its high beams bearing down. Nogo is forced off the road. The driver and passengers, each bearing arms, lean out of the truck as Nogo leaps out, tire iron in hand.“Tolerance! You got that?” He smashes out a headlight and then the other as the driver raises a shotgun. Nogo stares back, defiant. “You better have more than that.”
Yes, just think Django Unchained meets Punch Drunk Love meets Easy Rider.
After three days at Will’s house in St. John’s, I began to hitchhike back west.
June 14, Ride One: St. John’s to Kelce Groose Turnoff (Brown Rabbit) Old and young guy, dog hair all over the back seat.
Ride Four: Argentia Turnoff to Marystown Turnoff (Red LTD) Scottish guy, still wild, music just as wild, “Watch yourself down there. It’s back woodsy.”
Ride Nine: Frenchman’s Turnoff to Fortune (Red Schneider truck) “LSD is shit.”
With the ferry service to the French island of St. Pierre Miquelon cancelled, I hoped for a ride on a trawler, the Marguerite, and stayed overnight in a cheap motel and watched Butterflies Are Free. The Marguerite left without me. I hitchhiked back up the peninsula and then across Newfoundland.
Ride One: Fortune to Grand Banks (Turquoise Ford) Wanted to do something for me…”If I wasn’t married.”
Ride Five: Trans Canada Highway Turnoff to Cornerbrook (Old blue car) Eldery lady spoke of mongoloid mentally retarded boy; offered me a little red bible.
Ride Six: Cornerbrook to Stephenville (Old green car with no back seat) Doug drove (getting married in two weeks) with Pat (intense, speed user) and Brian (hard drinker) in the front seat; all moose and salmon poachers, each been to jail a few times, went to the dump looking for bears; drank four beers by the time they dropped me off at the ferry.
Birth of a Nation had promise – a compelling narrative most of all – but fails. Instead of exploring the contorted depths of American history, Parker trains the camera on himself, too often in close-up, reacting to repetitive brutality. Violent images dominate – people’s teeth getting hammered out, exposed brains – when the story of a remarkable man, Nat Turner, could have been developed, asking who really spoke of this: As we pushed on to the house, I discovered some one run round the garden, and thinking it was some of the white family, I pursued them, but finding it was a servant girl belonging to the house, I returned to commence the work of death. The film does not elucidate nor does it have vision, as did Steve McQueen in 12 Years a Slave, but is solely a chronicle of violence, flat and tediously rendered, craft-less as anything of the Superhero genre.
I dream of looking outside the image.
Escaping from the frame.
Considering what could be.
Getting my head on different.
Words float through: Empty. Death. Grasping. The camera drifts underwater, everything a sweeping, swinging visual. Redeem my life. Justify it. That blinded you. I turned you upside down, my son. Longing for something other. There’s isn’t a story, just characters who stand about, some playing handsies. Nobody’s home.
You have to fly. Fly. High up. Everything’s just a…speck.
(Extracts from Knight of Cups in bold italics)
Russians may find profundity in the story and themes of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror, but for the rest of us it’s the images, the visuals.
A woman runs. A barn burns. A bird lands on a boy’s cap. A dog leaves a cabin. A boy looks back at himself. The music plays. And we reflect. We know something about who we are, as if a light glowed behind us, as if this was not so much a movie as a dream that we had somehow conceived together.
Werner Herzog’s 1968 film Even Dwarves Started Small has a very specific and demanding vision dominated by extraordinarily long takes, the camera mercilessly watching as to what might unfold, be it a truck driving in an endless circle…Dwarves looking at pictures of nude girls…Or a chicken eating a dead mouse.Much is demanded of the audience, too much, throughout this drifting narrative in which dwarves yell and laugh maniacally as they wreck everything they can find.Says Herzog: “Film is out about our collective dreams and also our collective nightmares, something that cannot be extinguished from our minds.”
“You ever see Capricorn One? You ever see that, Nico?” She didn’t wait for him to reply. “James Brolin, O.J. Simpson. I fucking loved that movie.”“The mission to the moon that went wrong. They faked it because they didn’t have the budget, and then the capsule dissolved in re-entry. And so they had to kill the pretend pilots. It turned stupid in the end, little evil black helicopters chasing them around.”
Nico hunched over his screen and turned a switch. “There will be something else tomorrow, Dee, another slaughter, another crime against humanity. And we all know exactly that. We wait for the next thing. And it’s always worse than we can imagine.”
“What about Twilight’s Last Gleaming? The gang that hijacks the nuclear silo, with Burt Lancaster.” He looked around at Dee. “Burt Lancaster claims that there is some kind of secret doctrine about the Vietnam War being fought to prove to the Soviets that they could sacrifice their men. Yes, I remember it.”
“You know, I used to believe all of that.” She spoke too fast, shorthand for what was in her head “It was a revelation. I believed it. I couldn’t understand why the government didn’t fall. It took me a long time to realize it’s not like that. I’m still not there. People are people. We are just who we are. There is no evil emperor, no star chamber, nothing. It’s just us and our demons, pretending that all of this is decided by someone different. And it’s just us.”