Taking a leave from work has given me the opportunity to, as my father succinctly put it the other day, "write your novel, Aidan". True. It's also given me the opportunity to do something I'm even more talented at, which is watch a crapload of movies. Watching a movie at ten a.m. in your underwear is kind of like eating corn chips for breakfast - enjoyable, headache-inducing, with crumbs on your stomach for the cats to hunt down. On the plus side, I can always write about the movies I watched and make out like I'm expanding my critical faculties. Honing them to a sharp shining edge and using that edge to chop movies to squirming little bits.
The Darjeeling Limited. Three brothers travel across India by train, take lots of drugs, fight with each other, sleep with wicked hot ladies (okay, one brother sleeps with one wicked hot lady), settle their dysfunctional relationship and reach some measure of inner peace. Ninety minutes long, but it feels like three hours in the theatre. If you sped up all the slow-motion sequences set to Kinks tunes, the movie would probably only run seventy-five minutes and feel two and a half hours in length, which is about the length of your average Star Wars prequel. It is fair to say, then, that Wes Anderson should have directed The Phantom Menace. Picture Obi-wan (Owen Wilson) and Darth Vader (Gene Hackman) rocketing around the galaxy, taking space drugs and forming passionate liaisons with foreign space women, eventually hashing out their charmingly fraught relationship and coming to terms with their place in the galactic order. The sets would probably be crowded with 1970s Star Wars memorabilia. And scored by Mark Mothersbaugh. You know, this is starting to sound okay.
Children of Men. Last week marked the third time I watched Alfonso Cuaron's sunny vision of the end of the world, and I enjoy it more each time. Every viewing brings out more richness and detail, more moments where I scratch my head and wonder exactly how that shot was pulled off, and a greater sense of satisfaction to watch the cast and crew avoid endless pitfalls of laziness and always make thoughtful, difficult decisions.
A day or so later I was watching clips of Marx Brothers and Chaplin films, and it occurred to me that Children of Men, choked as it may be with a cloud of poisonous dread and tension, owes as much to farce as it does to drama or science fiction or action movies. Clive Owen plays a bumbling alcoholic who spends most of the movie trying to find a pair of proper shoes as he barely avoids being shot to pieces every few hours or so. Much of the action plays out like a comedy of mortal stakes, with farcical ducking and hiding, Chaplinesque tumbling, and everyone comically fixated on some private life-or-death task. Maybe this is Jacques Tati in reverse: instead of a M. Hulot quietly causing chaos wherever he goes, Owen's character is the only figure who isn't destroying everything in sight.
Repo Man. If, like me, your adolescence was thickened and stirred by hardcore punk music and ragged jeans, then you probably sat around at a friend's house with a roomful of people and watched this movie repeatedly. Repo Man is the story of Otto, a punk who ends up working at a repossession lot (The Helping Hands Acceptance Corporation) after being fired from his grocery story job and losing his girlfriend. And then there's a Chevy Malibu with dead aliens in the trunk, being driven around by a lobotomised scientist slowly succumbing to the effects of alien radiation. Yes, this film rocks. You're welcome.
The experience of revisiting a touchstone from a previous period in one's life can be difficult or even upsetting. I was aware that I might not find Repo Man funny or relevant anymore, that I might end up a bit sad and a bit embarrassed for my teenage self. I think that I appreciate the film more than I did now; for all its jarring cuts and unsophisticated performances, Repo Man has more to say to me now that it did in 1985.
The film takes place in some run-down area of Los Angeles that brings to mind Philip K. Dick's notion of kipple: the world as a slowly accreting junk heap, entropy in plain sight. The repo men are both janitors and human junk, flotsam caught up in a tide of cars and spare parts and microwave ovens. Junk transcendence permeates the film, with TV preachers and dead aliens standing in for spirituality. When I traveled through the US a couple of years back, I ended up going through red states and visiting third-tier cities: it was all Repo Man all the time.