Iguana dance with somebody

For good old Jenny Leask.

It’s taken me rather a long time to catch up on the Herzogian renaissance. Since at least as far back as SCREAM OF STONE (1991) and probably back to COBRA VERDE (1987), his dramatic features had been somewhere beyond disappointing, with INVINCIBLE particularly unsatisfactory. Oh, his documentaries had continued to be terrific (apart from WILD BLUE YONDER, I thought, which had the most fictional elements), and had even improved with the addition of more humour and self-awareness, but I was starting to doubt whether he’d ever make a good fiction film again.

The ones that seem to have possibilities are RESCUE DAWN (leap-frogging from a successful documentary into a dramatic remake), MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE (a fact-based story given a dramatic makeover) and THE BAD LIEUTENANT: POR OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, which is the odd man out in many, many ways, since it’s based not on fact, but on the title of an Abel Ferrara film Herzog claims not to have seen.

I’m sometimes rather conservative about renaissances. I haven’t seen a new Woody Allen film since DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (but bits of SMALL TIME CROOKS convinced me this wasn’t the one) so I haven’t yet formed an opinion as to whether his form has been returned to, or his mojo has turned up. I saw THE PIANIST via somebody’s BAFTA screener, so I became convinced that Polanski was rallying late in life without outlaying any cash on the chance of it. While CARNAGE strikes me as very minor, it was funny and just about satisfactory (and very skillfully made).

One shoulder UP.

So, I had some doubts about Herzog, but we popped BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS in the Panasonic and gave it a spin. It probably helps that I’m not a fan of the Ferrara — not that you have to be Catholic to get it, I’m sure, but I certainly couldn’t warm to the particular form of redemption on offer. Herzog’s, after an equally wild ride, is more muted, more incomplete and more realistic, which is a surprising place to reach after the kind of trip he’s taken us on.

Unpicking what was an extremely enjoyable experience for Fiona and I, I do wonder how much of it is truly a Herzog film. Kudos to William M. Finkelstein for the propulsive/picaresque screenplay, which carries off the trick of seeming scattershot while being tightly organized, and to Nic Cage for a performance that aspires to Kinski but achieves… Nic Cage. Herzog, for much of the film, seems like he’s being professional rather than animating the film with added mania of his own, except for the lizard-cam stuff, which he apparently shot himself, and maybe this moment — I’m assuming the dialogue is scripted but was the Lynchian breakdancer present in the screenplay?

Finkelstein, I see, is an old hand at cop TV, which explains the credibility and the effective taut/loose balance, so maybe we can assume that some of the real crazy stuff comes from Herzog, Cage, and the rest of the fine cast (good to see Fairuza Balk, Eva Mendes continues to impress, we fell in love with Shea Whigham and his “Whoa yeah” performance).

Cage is a fearless actor, and we should probably all stop being mean about the stupid moves he pulls in bad movies, because they’re a necessary consequence of the mad brilliance he achieves in good ones. That’s the way I feel after seeing a good Cage film, anyway. The trouble is, I feel the opposite after seeing a bad one, and there are so many bad ones. If he stopped trying to enliven crud and confined his abilities to movies with a smidgin of value, it’d be much easier to overlook things that don’t work, like his hair.

THE BALD BAD LIEUTENANT PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS offers N.C. ample opportunities to be weird, and without researching the effects of every narcotic known to man, it’s hard for me to say whether what he’s doing has any basis in actual human behaviour. But I loved his lopsided walk, presumably a result of his character’s spinal injury (plus I suspect he’s been neglecting his physio) and the way his delivery deteriorates as the film goes on, as if he were huffing helium and numbing his jaws with dental anesthetic, which seems quite possible. His smile comes on slow and then drops fast as if the effort of maintaining it were too much for his soul to bear. Strange and nameless facial expressions cavort across his sagging countenance as if auditioning for a permanent position there. Is he smiling at that iguana, just grimacing, or is it love? We may never know.

Channeling Timothy Carey.

The idea of a completely unfaithful remake following relatively shortly after the original seemed strange at the time, but I sense a franchise — every ten years we can have a different BAD LIEUTENANT with a different star, director and city. Suggestions?


20 Responses to “Iguana dance with somebody”

  1. I’m really glad you enjoyed this because I absolutely loathed it. I probably feel how you feel about Nic, but I just found… It’s like every year a good filmmaker makes a tedious, cliche-ridden “gritty” mess with no basis in reality that everyone loves. The year before, it was “Black Swan”… this year it was “Shame”, and what these films share is a monotonous, trivialising focus on mental illness inexcusable in works with no more basis in actual human behaviour than a rock video. Cheap, nasty, sef-indulgent and dumb. Gah… anyway… I’m not convinced by renaissances either, but “Midinght In Paris” is fantastic, Lumet’s “Before The Devil Knows Your Dead” was my favourite MAN! MAN! MEN! film of 2007, and Disney have/s..n’t been doing badly lately either. (Hang on. Does this mean you haven’t seen “Bullets Over Broadway”?)

  2. No, Bullets Over Broadway, which is excellent, is before Deconstructing Harry.

    I don’t know if BL is about mental illness — we know the character is an addict, but the concentration seems to be on the physiological side of that. He gets into drugs because he’s in pain, not because he’s inherently hedonistic.

    As for the basis in reality, that’s admittedly very tenuous — you could make ten films about the aspects of New Orleans this film isn’t remotely interested in, and it’s a legitimate question why none of that is in there. But ultimately you have to assess the film in front of you and ask if you found it interesting. I did, and very funny, and some of the stuff I found most problematic is also what intrigued me.

  3. Yeah no, of course, which is why I’m glad you enjoyed it. Nice pun as well, as ever.

  4. The most interesting thing Werner has done since he moved to L.A. was rescue Joachim Phoenix when the latter’s car overtuned on Laurel Canyon.

    Nicholas Cage was a marvel in Vampire’s Kiss. These days I can’t stand the sight of him. All that “brooding” over nothing.

    And are you suggesitng a Justin Bieber Bad Lieutenant? A lovely idea. But there’s only one Harvey Keitel (as his surprisingly adroit turn in Moonrise Kingdom has reminded me.)

  5. They kind of peak with Deadfall but this is still a great joke.http://www.youtube.com/embed/8QPKcADzNQs

  6. I’m the worst person to deal with Cage right now. They had one of his “stupid moves in bad movies” playing in a doctor’s office while I had a long wait just last week and I’m in an uncharitable mood. I remember the Cage of Vampire’s Kiss, but it seems such a long time ago.

  7. I think we have to take the good with the bad. Vampire’s Kiss is a balls-out insane performance that works. Sometimes what he does is… less effective, and he falls flat on his face. No safety net. The stuff that’s hardest to forgive is the dumb action stuff where there’s no way he was ever going to make it interesting anyway. And I actually enjoy The Rock and COn Air, so I’m talking about Ghost Rider here.

  8. David,
    Rem acu tetigisti, as Jeeves might say. That was the very film playing.

  9. judydean Says:

    Just realised that his soul is still dancing to the same Sonny Terry tune as the chicken in Stroszek.

  10. Wow! The theological implications alone are staggering.

  11. “Into the Abyss” just popped up on Netflix streaming, and I watched it last night. It’s excellent. Say what you will about Herzog, he still knows when not to insert a gratuitous albino crocodile. (Gratuitous Tim Carey apparitions, of course, are always welcome.) The subject of “Into the Abyss” just doesn’t allow for those trademark touches of airy good-natured nonsense.

    But who would have predicted from his early films that Herzog would become a likable eccentric? Is he a beneficiary or an instigator of that glacial cultural shift I’ve titled “It’s cute to be German again”?

  12. Instigator, surely! I think My Best Fiend was the first time he seemed aware of how funny he could be, although at that point we still weren’t 100% just HOW self-aware he was.

  13. Thnaks for reminding me of that Katya. Nick Cage works excruciatingly hard at giving the sort of performance Timothy Carey tossed off automatically.

  14. Oh, I think Carey worked hard too, but what was important was that underneath it all he had a baseline of weirdness that was impossible to suppress. Cage seems like he’s quite weird personally, but is certainly capable of flat, hangdog performances devoid of interest.

    Of course, what Johnny Depp does is pretty effortful too. But maybe there the charm is seeing somebody so pretty he needn’t do ANYTHING, who feels the need to do a whole lot.

  15. Oh but there’s a lightness of tocuh to Depp (even in Dark Shadows) that’s utterly alien to Cage. Depp always looks like he’s having fun. Cage never does.

  16. kevin mummery Says:

    The first time I saw this movie (“Bad Lieutenant”) I kept thinking how much Mr.Cage reminded me of someone, but couldn’t put my finger on who…then a week later I saw Carey in “Crime Wave” and it was immediately obvious! Yes, Cage struggles mightily to achieve the level of oddity that came to Carey so naturally, but he has other places he can go to where Carey seemed unable to go anywhere but to Weirdo-ville. Maybe it’s time for Herr Herzog to make a biopic of Carey starring Cage, with Johnny Depp reprising his Ed Wood characterization.

  17. Great idea. Herzog is the very man to film the incident where Carey, insistent that he deserved a role in Prince Valiant, attempted to scale the studio wall wearing a suit of armour. Think of the dwarf trying to climb into bed in EDSS — only Herzog, or Jerry Lewis, would distend a moment of comedy long enough to make this fulfill its potential.

  18. Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call: Baltimore

    Directed by John Waters

  19. With Willem Dafoe, in Bobby Peru mode!

    Bad Lietenant, Port of Call: LA
    Directed by David Lynch
    With Jack Nicholson

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