Archive for Anton Yelchin

Light & Dark

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2021 by dcairns

Picked up a DVD of DYING OF THE LIGHT in a charity shop, which seems like the movie’s natural destination, and had a dim memory of it being a disastrous production that was taken out of writer-director Paul Schrader’s hands. Then, however, I was able to do a direct comparison with DARK, which is sort-of the director’s cut. Sort of.

DYING is a middling thriller in which a CIA officer with frontal lobe dementia (Nic Cage) tracks down a terrorist with anemia (Alexander Karim). You could say that the producer’s cut is anemic, and Schrader’s response is demented, and you wouldn’t be far off. Obviously demented is better. But not ideal.

DARK was made without access to the original materials, so Schrader and editor Benjamin Rodriguez Jr scrambled together the producer’s cut with deleted scenes from the Blu-ray, refilmed shots with a cell phone, and generally exploded and reassembled the material into a radically different form. The director’s cut is 75 minutes to the original’s 96 (Schrader didn’t have to worry about hitting a commercial length since he had no rights to the material and couldn’t commercially release his version). His reclaiming of the footage is a heroic act.

(In fairness to the producers, however, their notes, as quoted by Schrader, seem fairly respectful and reasonable — a case could be made for synthesising what they wanted from the film along with what Schrader wanted, to make something that satisfied everybody. It’s not quite clear what made Schrader decide such an understanding was impossible.)

But is DARK a better film? Is it really less conventional? In some ways, yes, but Schrader can’t escape the fact that he shot fairly conventional coverage. Both cuts even contain establishing shots of building exteriors, like you’d see in a sitcom. I was a bit unfair to Brian DePalma’s DOMINO a while back, not knowing at the time that BDP’s film had run out of money and he hadn’t been able to stage the setpieces he’d had in mind. At least on paper, Schrader’s film is more interesting than DePalma’s, with at least one proper character, Cage’s, and one borderline case, the late Anton Yelchin’s. He does what he can with an underwritten part, and the DARK cut restores a couple of character moments. But DePalma has said, “establishing shots are a waste of time” and when it comes to building exteriors he’s pretty much correct.

Both versions of the film require Cage to wear a FALSE EAR, which is supposed to look like a part has been cut away, but of course they couldn’t do that to Cage (he did have some teeth removed for BIRDY but they were baby teeth that would have had to come out anyway) so they’ve stuck a couple of bits on, resulting in an ear that always seems to be waving at you from behind its owner’s face.

The disruptive effects Schrader is going for in DARK, what he calls “a more aggressive editing style,” is not really anything new, it strikes me as artsy rather than really expressive, and it doesn’t really convey the Cage character’s disorientation in a way that feels subjective. Actually shooting the movie with disorientation as a goal would have achieved that better (but, to be fair, maybe there’s unused coverage that would have done that, but which Schrader couldn’t access). If disorientation is a goal those establishers are REALLY destructive.

There’s also a slight disadvantage in having a lead character plagued with mood swings and sudden shouting, played by an actor who’s made a career of mood swings and sudden shouting. Nothing’s very wrong with what Cage is doing, it’s just a little familiar.

Schrader follows his original plot (another place the disorientation should’ve been used more is in the WRITING) until the end, basically changing the visual and aural texture, and then he boldly has the film disintegrate instead of reaching a climax. It’s a big lightshow meant to signify the state of the protagonist’s mind, though it’s very electronic in both its pictorial effects (digital fragmentation, videotape static) and sound. Even here, Schrader can’t quite commit to abstraction, however, and ends the film with a character’s gravestone, so we can’t complain we never learned how things came out.

Still, it’s undeniably an auteurist disgorgement, able to be read as the most uncomfortable allegory — an aging pro, considered past it and suffering mental decline (Schrader is, I trust, quite healthy, but some of his social media posts might make you wonder) goes on a last desperate mission, with his bosses disowning him, helped only by a younger colleague who has to ignore the quixotic nature of the quest… it’s all there. Not all of it is flattering to the filmmaker. But he reclaimed his movie! And he screwyoued the producers in a highly noncareerist way. I have to admire that.