Thursday, November 1, 2007
11/1: Inland Empire: More Things That Happened; Kill!
Now that I've come to grips or at least as much as possible with David Lynch's Inland Empire, I dove into More Things That Happened, an extended suite of additional scenes that turns out to be somewhere halfway between a traditional deleted scenes segment and a whole new feature film. The fact that a nearly 3-hour film is complemented by an additional hour and fifteen minutes of supplementary footage may seem like overkill, and this mini-feature isn't likely to convince anyone who didn't like the main film. But for those who enjoyed Inland Empire, More Things provides a chance to dig deeper into the film's many mysteries and characters.
In some ways, it's clear that this material is comprised of outtakes, and it falls mainly into three categories. Firstly, a portion of the film is composed from small moments, incidental scenes that seem to have been cut simply because they didn't add much to an already very lengthy film. Many of these are oddly straightforward domestic scenes between Laura Dern and Peter Lucas, fleshing out their marriage a bit, since it was largely implied and talked about and rarely seen during the film itself. These parts are interesting from a character standpoint, but too much of this would have been very jarring to the tone of the film, especially since these scenes are mostly brightly lit and cleanly shot in a film where such light and clarity are rare.
The second aspect of this supplementary film consists of those scenes which definitely fit in with the film's tone, but simply go on too long and probably would have felt like unnecessarily lengthy diversions if they had been left in Inland Empire itself. Among these are several of the stories that Dern, as an abused but tough housewife, tells to a mysterious man in a shadowy room. These have the same inexplicably creepy vibe to them as the ones included in the main film, with the same mix of eeriness and dark humor (at one point, when Laura Dern's describing how her mother's hand was squashed flat by a factory machine, the man dryly notes his love of pancakes). Also in this category is a puzzling but compelling scene where a woman describes an encounter at a bar to Laura Dern, and as the story goes along it begins to parallel the shadowy scene from the very beginning of Inland Empire, where the Polish prostitute goes to a hotel with a customer. The modern-day prostitutes also show up again, in one of this film's less compelling moments, for a lengthy and rambling street scene that I can only be glad was cut from the main feature.
Finally, and most interestingly, some scenes that appear here seem to have been cut from the main feature because, oddly enough, they make things too clear. I've already discussed how I believe Inland Empire denies interpretation and definitive narrative analysis, with its multiple layers often standing in ambiguous relationships to each other. It turns out that Lynch at least toyed with the idea of making a lot of these connections more apparent, and some of the material appearing here clarifies scenes and characters from the main film in ways that make narrative analysis potentially a much more likely proposition. The Phantom shows up here in his longest scene, revealed as a creepy watch salesman who seems to offer a form of supernatural redemption with each transaction. His words to a young potential buyer, "I'll watch over you," could be read as either a promise or a threat, and this scene crackles with his understated menace to such a degree that one wishes he had been a more tangible presence in the feature as well. Even more telling are several scenes involving Laura Dern's multiple roles which seem to point towards the idea that everything in the film is happening in her head as she goes crazy. In one scene, a seemingly hallucinating Dern, as the actress Nikki, lies on a hotel room floor speaking to Justin Theroux over the telephone while a threatening Polish voice speaks into her head. In another scene, the abused Dern tells a story about how she found herself suddenly in another place than her own home, which turns out to be first the small home where a happier Dern lives with her husband, and then transforms into the palatial house she's living in as an actress at the very beginning of the film.
This fluidity between locations and characters is never quite as well established in Inland Empire, in which, after the first hour, Dern's various incarnations inevitably appear without much context or explanation. In that sense, I find these clarifications incredibly interesting, but at the same time I much prefer the final film's greater ambiguity about what exactly is going on. These outtakes hardly clear up all the questions or settle anything definitively, but they do provide additional information and clues that the film does perfectly well without. As a whole, though, More Things is hardly just a hodgepodge of deleted scenes, and many of its images and scenes are as powerful and memorable as anything in its parent feature. Lynch has clearly assembled this film with great care, and its elliptical, fragmentary structure really isn't all that different from Inland Empire itself. If anything, the fact that Lynch could assemble what is essentially a whole other film from the leftovers of his feature, only supports the idea that this latest project is best viewed as a free-associative collection of moments and images rather than as a narrative feature.
Kihachi Okamoto's Kill! is a real blast of a samurai pastiche, pulling out all the stops to make a wild samurai parody that simultaneously functions as a great adventure in its own right. Two luckless and hungry ronin, Tatsuya Nakadai and Etsushi Takahashi, show up in a deserted town run by corrupt feudal lords and their vicious samurai. They're quickly embroiled in a fight when a group of seven noble samurai, presumably stepped right out of Kurosawa's picture, decide to assassinate the worst of the corrupt warlords, and are promptly betrayed by some of their power-grubbing allies. The two ronin join the battle for their own reasons, at first on different sides, but eventually with both of them fighting to protect the seven samurai from the machinations of the evil local lord.
The film is a real riot of shifting moods and conflicting tones. It's a strikingly physical film above all, both in its broad slapstick humor and its rollicking, violent battles, which inevitably feature several dozen people running frantically around, swords slashing everywhere and body parts flying one guesses that Quentin Tarantino saw this before staging the massive and bloody battle at the end of Kill Bill, Vol. 1. The film's fun atmosphere is enhanced by a rubbery, versatile score that encompasses everything from surf rock to Western jazz to Ennio Morricone to some more traditional Japanese touches. The discordant blending of all these different styles is mirrored in the film itself by the shifts between political manipulations, all-out action, and hilarious bumbling comedy.
Okamoto is working in the broadest possible mode here, and he achieves a brilliant send-up of samurai movie clichés as seen through the filter of the spaghetti Western. Kurosawa and a few decades worth of other samurai classics are all thrown into this blender, coming out the other end pureed into a thick mash of references and genre in-jokes. What's most interesting here is the way that Kill! brutally parodies supposed samurai honor, exposing it as mostly a system of manipulation and control that powerful lords exerted over their underlings. Within its pastiche and barrage of humor, Kill! winds up presenting a darker subtext, on the class biases of warfare in which the poor and helpless fight and die with honor, of course! for the sake of their social superiors. This is a fun, vibrant kick in the teeth to the whole samurai genre, and yet its actual samurai narrative, in spite of the many diversions and elliptical asides, is as genuinely exciting and intense as anything in more serious examples of the genre. This is especially true of the thrilling fight scenes, which totter continuously between tightly choreographed graceful swordplay and total chaotic frenzy, much the way a real swordfight doubtless would. More generally, Okamoto's ability to balance grace and chaos drives this film along, keeping his film in an ambiguous position in relation to the samurai genre. Whether Kill! is more a parody or a tribute, though, it's deliriously fun to watch either way.