by Ed Owens
It was like something out of a bad movie. A friend and I had decided
to make a day trip to see Requiem for a Dream. We had both been
dying to see it ever since we first heard about it (I am a fan of Pi,
while my friend is not), and it had finally opened somewhere close enough
to justify the trip. Decision made, we headed north.
The trip took a little over an hour, which got us there just in time
to buy our tickets and take our seats. The theater was a little hole-in-the-wall
art house with one screen and an auditorium that probably only seated
fifty. Soon after the scheduled start time, the manager came out and
announced that there were some technical problems, but that the film
would be starting shortly. A few minutes later, it started.
few minutes later, it stopped. The lights came up and there was a flurry
of noise and activity in the projection booth. People chatted amongst
themselves and then the lights went down for the second time, only to
come back up again before we had even gotten through the opening credits.
The manager announced that the show would have to be cancelled, but
that they would hopefully be able to continue with the 7 o'clock show
as planned. Having driven an hour to see the damn movie, my friend and
I decided that our only course was to kill time until the 7 o'clock
show, and pray to whatever movie gods may be to smile down upon our
efforts and allow the 7 o'clock show to go off without a hitch. The
only problem was killing three hours.
As it turned out, in what could either be considered a happy coincidence
or the first sign of good fortune bestowed upon us by the aforementioned
movie gods, Shadow of the Vampire was playing across town, and
at the perfect time for us to swing over, see it, come back across town,
grab something to eat, and still make the 7 o'clock show of the film
we had traveled from afar to see. Decision made, we headed west.
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
must be missing something.
That's the only possible explanation for the disparity between some
of the reviews I've read and my own reaction to the film. Aside from
an incredible performance by Willem Dafoe (for which he was appropriately
Oscar-nominated and should, if there be any justice in the world, win),
the film is a mess, a one-trick pony that grows tiresome shortly into
the second act.
The premise is intriguing. German director F. W. Murnau hires an actual
vampire named Max Schreck to play the part of Count Orlock in his film
version of Drac...I mean, Nosferatu. But what the movie
actually does with this premise is far less interesting. In fact, the
film itself seems unsure of what to do with its premise, playing some
scenes for camp, others for drama/horror, and not being entirely successful
One of the
biggest problems is the seemingly random editing. The end of act two
contains some of the most incoherent filmmaking I've seen outside of
Un Chien Andalou (at least Bunuel's surrealist work had a point)
- and the third act is so choppy it fails to ever achieve anything even
remotely resembling a climax. The bottom line is that even Dafoe's stellar
work can't save the film from collapsing in on itself. The result is
91 minutes that feel a lot longer.
read several critics who praise the picture as a psychological study
of the lengths a filmmaker would go to in order to finish a picture.
Bah! The film's version of Murnau (played by John Malkovich) is little
more than a shrill, morphine-addicted caricature, who plays second fiddle
to the far more engaging Schreck. Furthermore, I find the implied notion
that "true" film buffs will get more out of the film than regular movie-goers
a tad insulting. While that may very well be true, this film buff couldn't
see the point of wasting his time.
We left the theater disappointed, nay, crestfallen. Was this an indication
of how our day would turn out? Were the movie gods teasing us? Were
we merely pawns whose pain and suffering provided for their celestial
amusement? Well, there was one thing the movie gods had no say in...what
we ate. Surrounded by elegant restaurants, we opted for the self-medicating
glories of fast food. There just happened to be a burger place next
to the art house. Besides, dying young from a heart attack was one way
we could strike back at the movie gods, depriving them of their pawns.
Decision made, we headed back east.
BURGER KING (D)
definitely missing something.
Being a fast food whore doesn't mean I have no standards - merely that
I'm more easily inclined to lower them. And like an addict with his
drug of choice, I have my preferences. Let me just say up front that
The Home of the Whopper isn't one of them.
It's hard to fault the Whopper entirely, given the abysmally poor showing
by the supporting cast. While the 20oz. Fountain coke struggled to find
the right balance in his character, the onion rings went all out, putting
up such a rough exterior that they were all but inaccessible to the
audience (several overheard comments confirmed that this was indeed
an audience-wide problem and not just my subjective opinion). Again,
I was left wondering what others saw that I didn't.
The movie gods must be laughing.
Dinner, such as it was, had been worse than the movie (though I can't
say it was more disappointing, given my low expectations going in),
and a heart attack, at best, was still years away. Our only hope at
getting anything out of the day's activities was that Requiem for
a Dream would be good...assuming that the 7 o'clock show actually
went off as scheduled.
A shout of "Hey!" echoed behind me and I turned in time to see my friend
rolling towards me across the parking lot. I quickly discarded my first
evaluation of the situation (that my friend had tripped and fallen)
in favor of my second evaluation (that my friend had, for reasons unbeknownst
to me, chosen that particular moment to demonstrate his gymnastic prowess)
before returning to the more reasonable of the two, an assumption he
quickly corrected by announcing that he had tripped over the large crater
directly behind him. I asked him if he felt like going on to the theater,
and he said he was fine. So, decision made, we headed across the street.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
missed a lot.
The final sequence of Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to
his breakout indie hit Pi has become a bit of a myth in its own
right. Stories that border on urban legends abound concerning the various
effects the images have had on audiences - at least one person (though
the numbers vary depending on the source) is rumored to have gotten
physically ill because of the sequence. While the veracity of such tales
may never really be known, one thing is certain. Aronofsky is a very
The argument, of course, centers on whether or not Requiem for a
Dream, Aronofsky's collaboration with Hubert Selby, Jr., is an adequate
display of those gifts. The film centers on a group of addicts whose
chosen paths are, from the very beginning, clearly headed for destruction.
A summary is of little importance, given that the primary focus of the
film is experiential. We don't so much watch the downward spiral of
the characters as feel it, with the culmination being the infamous final
sequence. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it's difficult
to deny the power of the film's final "trip."
Burstyn is absolutely heart-wrenching as the absent-minded widow turned
unwitting addict. Her transformation is painful to watch, and her performance
is nothing short of amazing. For once in a great while, the Academy
has the chance to honor the best of the best, and I will be horrified
if they award Julia Roberts' paint-by-numbers-turn as Erin Brockovich
over the artistry of Burstyn's Sara Goldfarb. Fortunately, Burstyn is
not alone. While both Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans are believable (has
Leto ever been in a movie where he doesn't get maimed in some way?),
Jennifer Connelly is the real surprise. Her character is particularly
haunting, and she has the daunting task of expressing a wide range of
emotion by merely showing us the pain behind an otherwise vacant stare,
something she accomplishes with seeming effortlessness.
real star of the film, however, is Aronofsky. Requiem for a Dream
is a director's film if ever there was one, and Aronofsky has gone all
out, crafting a morbidly hypnotic editing language all his own, and
giving us a visual tour de force that is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
If there are two particularly bothersome omissions from this year's
list of Oscar nominees, they are Aronofsky (Best Director) and Jay Rabinowitz
(Best Editing). The film's final sequence is brutal and powerful, daring
you to look away even as it forces you to watch. Many will (and do)
hate the movie for that sequence alone. But the power of it, for better
or worse, is undeniable.
Requiem for a Dream easily surpasses my number one film of last
year to become the top film in my Best of 2000 list. My putting it there
has nothing to do with whether or not I enjoyed the movie (not in the
usual sense) nor with whether or not I was entertained by it (ditto).
Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that I was moved by it,
shaken from my all-too-commonly trite responses to most films, and forced
to confront what I had just seen (or, more accurately, experienced).
In a year that many have dismissed as banal, Requiem challenges
even the most jaded movie-goers to remain unaffected.
a lot by not having seen Requiem sooner, by being so caught up
in the moment that I had no chance to really think about what was going
on on-screen. Requiem for a Dream is a difficult film (some have
called it unwatchable), but I for one am already anxious to see it again.
The movie gods are certainly fickle. In a year that was in many ways
the worst in recent memory, Requiem turned out to be one of the
most memorable. My friend and I both liked it, though we agreed that
it wasn't for everybody. (The manager admitted to us that she had been
unable to sit through it). The fact that we would go on to discuss it
the entire way home (just over an hour) says something, especially given
that most films are forgotten before I've even gotten to my car. We
listened to the opinions of others on our way to the parking lot (mixed,
though all of them were very strong one way or the other), and decided
we were glad we had made the trip.
Decision made, we headed home.