East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Old Joy: A little more space

USA, 2006
Starring Daniel London, Will Oldham

Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt from a story by Raymond
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Men and women of letters have often written, sometimes several times in the same issue of the New Yorker, with similar insight to that possessed by this movie into the way friends can be separated by their contrasting alienations. Those writers, though, can't introduce the theme by pumping Air America through car stereo speakers, and might not be conceptually deft enough to realise this is clever. This is one way Old Joy is subtle even when it's only moderately deep. Another example: on a drive through Oregonian woods towards an isolated spring, after sociallly responsible Mark (London) is led by unreconstructed hippie Kurt (Oldham, who should act more often) down a number of wrong roads, he pulls over to study his map, and says something like "I need a little more space". He says it quietly, and no one feels they need to draw attention to the line's less immediate meanings. Part of subtlety, though, is knowing when to be direct -- who wants to see another movie that pussyfoots around its homoeroticism? (It was bad enough when the not subtle, not deep, yet bluntly and simply effective Brokeback Mountain did it.)

Many of the verdant American landscapes I've seen in movies lately have been over-glossy, but Reichardt's budget prevents that. She posits a unity in nature simply through awareness of the surroundings -- when we're awaiting Mark's and Kurt's semi-actualised old joy, she cuts to a curling, cute slug. The fractures in the human world are first revealed through those Air America broadcasts, by their content and the editing: jump cuts shatter the anti-Bush and anti-Democrat tirades into soundbites. The same editing means we hear Kurt's cosmic chatter and Mark's platitudes in snatches, drawing attention to their separateness. This is not a movie of verbal fireworks, so the dialogue is deceptively flat: it's the particular banal response to the preceding banal statement that's revealing. There is one pivotal line, which Mark immediately realises is a gaffe, but Kurt's lack of reaction means we don't see how deep it has cut until the coda. The atomised world gets to burning men too.


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