Strange Daze - Dillinger Dead, Zombies Undead and Holmes Straight.

The last few films I've watched have made for some truly varied viewing. Two were entertaining diversions – Sherlock Holmes and Zombieland and as odd as it might sound, I thought these pictures shared a bit of territory. Both are modern reinterpretations of oft-filmed stories (I read somewhere that Holmes is, in fact, the most-filmed character in cinema's history with several hundred adaptations) and both succeed in varying degrees in updating these stories for the purposes of entertaining their intended contemporary audiences. The fact that grumpy old traditionalists will rail on for hours about how ludicrous Ritchie's version of Holmes is, the fact remains that Sherlock has been employed in a myriad of different ways over 11 decades (and counting) to entertain film and TV audiences. He's matched wits with everyone from Jack the Ripper to Nazi's and depending on the adaptation, he's either just queer and blissed-out on opium or brilliant, asexual and fit-as-a-fiddle. It should be noted that Ritchie's adaptation is the first I can recall where he is both fit and heterosexual. Like many famous characters, Sherlock Holmes is simply imprinted on contemporary interpretations and Guy Ritchie's take is just as valid as having Holmes lock horns with Hitler. Was it great? – of course not – but it was entertaining and well-cast. If I had a complaint, it was a little noisy.

Zombieland takes the post-Shaun of the Dead romzomcom and puts a uniquely American road-movie spin on it. The zombie movie, an ever-ready genre for all manner of social and political allegory, is played here more for laughs in guilty-pleasure territory, but still manages to get some mileage out of the inherent social commentary that's sort of built-in to the standard zombie storyline. At the risk of over-analyzing what is in essence a well-crafted time-waster, by staying true to the Romeroesque quasi-politcal underpinnings of the zombie flick, Zombieland ends up being a pretty authentic (and at times quite funny) update on a overrun genre. Woody made the movie.

Meandering back to the past (and based on Joe's recent recommendation), I watched Marco Ferreri's Dillinger is Dead last night and haven't quite come to grips with what it might have been about. This is a film that could only have been made in the late '60s and I think its point might be that... it doesn't really have one. One of the major, if rarely discussed, shifts that's occurred in modern film making in recent decades has been a distinct move toward telling very specific stories with hard lines drawn as to how the audience is supposed to interpret the final result. The underlying allegory (if there is one) isn't necessarily telegraphed, but one doesn't have to dig too deep to uncover what the film maker is alluding to these days. That isn't to take away from whatever message modern film makers might be trying to convey, only to point out that it doesn't take a huge leap of intellect to understand the thrill-addicted soldiers of The Hurt Locker or the blatant if-we-just-lived-in-harmony-with-plants Avatar. Like much of our entertainment these days, there just isn't a lot of faith put in the audience's ability to assimilate ideas, so they tend to be packaged in ways that make it easier to understand and digest.

For a brief period of time in the post-New Wave era, film makers weren't so quick to underestimate the audience and directors such as Godard, Antonioni, Hellman, Jodorowsky and others made weird films that left interpretation entirely up to the viewer. These puzzling oddities were polarizing works with about 95% of the audience left shaking their heads at what felt very much like pretentious exercises in absurdity and the remaining 5% fundamentally changed by the event (and out the next morning to buy a water pipe to assist in their new careers as contemplators of the mysteries of time and space). I think you can firmly place Dillinger is Dead director/co-writer Marco Ferreri in this same camp. Dillinger is going to play to audience expectations along roughly the same split as it probably did in 1969. In fact, it'll probably find even less fans these days as our collective drug use has shifted from recreational to pharmaceutical in the intervening decades. It's a minimalist, detached film that denies any single take on a deeper meaning and I think might instead be an open invitation to project whatever the viewer might want to on its loosely-constructed framework. Dillinger is one of those rare films that not only invites but, if it is to be seen as anything at all, quite literally demands the audience's involvement. For what it's worth, I took it to be an effort to define the meaninglessness of a wasted existence, an exercise in surreal wish-fulfillment and/or a projected fantasy about escaping the banality of a bourgeois life (like that's possible). What might be the most fascinating part of the experience is another person would likely find something completely different in the film's seemingly vacant subtext.

Almost impossible to recommend (although I must say I'm glad Coleslaw did), Dillinger is Dead might be just about as far from the likes of Sherlock Holmes as one could get, but in their completely unique ways, both are successes, at least on their own terms. I just wish Criterion had released Ferreri's film under its original title. Dillinger è morto sounds just too cool when said out loud. Looks like I might have to break out the bong from extended storage. Important things need to be thought on.... pronto.


1 comment:

the coelacanth said...

hahaha that image never fails to make me laugh.

i wasn't crazy about holmes when i saw it at the theatre, although that was less to do with the story, and r.d.jr and his sidekick t.t.r. than with my growing annoyance with guy ritchie's spastic filmmaking style. it came to the point of being a distraction, and with every jump cut and weird music cue, i wanted to extend hands across the ocean to ritchie's neck and provide him with a sensible shake and say firmly "stop moving! at least half of your audience doesn't have ADD".

glad you enjoyed(?) dillinger, it's an early candidate for one of my 2010 top releases.

haven't checked zombieland yet, despite the insistent urgings of many. however, on tom's word, i did throw it in at work and watched the opening credits, and have to agree with him that they are the coolest i've seen in awhile...