Down These Wet Streets: Trouble in Mind

Trouble in Mind (Shout! Factory)

Alan Rudolph’s neo-noir could be the indie flip side to Blade Runner, a crime drama with a romantic dimension in a darkly colorful, grim urban dystopia. Kris Kristofferson is the hardboiled hero, an ex-cop with a murder rap (for executing his own form of justice) and a cynical exterior masking a soft-hearted soul, who steps out of prison and into this world of shabby shopfronts and alleys (the modernist touches are reserved for the better neighborhoods) and an ever-present militia patrolling the streets as. He immediately turns gruff knight as protector of a young mother (Lori Singer) whose once devoted husband (Keith Carradine) turns criminal punk with a bizarre New Wave fashion sense. Geneviève Bujold watches over all as the tough but maternal mother hen running a waterfront diner owner.

Looking in on Rain City

Both Carradine and Bujold starred in Rudolph’s Choose Me and in some ways this is Rudolph’s follow-up to that smooth, stylish breakthrough: a personal take on a genre film with an elegant sense of design and style, a coolly colorful nocturnal palette and an askew sense of humor, but this time with a harder edge to the unpredictable characters. Think of it as a modern noir in a parallel universe where his anonymous Rain City is a grubby old port town of crooks, hustlers and gangsters, where the rich are all on the shady side, the cops are busy just trying to keep the worst elements in check and the rest of the population is disenfranchised, just trying to stay honest (or as honest as one can remain) and alive in a world where everything is for sale. It doesn’t rain much in Rain City (there’s more steady rain in Blade Runner) but the name pegs the atmosphere of cold, wet and gray.

Rudolph cited Casablanca as a reference and he found his Sydney Greenstreet in Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, in what I believe is his only screen performance not in drag (though for him, this could very well be another side of the same coin). He plays mob boss Hilly Blue with close-cropped hair, eye-liner, a sneering growl that recalls Rosalind Russell and a dapper white suit that he wears much the same way he does a dress: as a costume that defines the character. But it’s really a mash-up of all sorts of noir films and themes. Carradine’s Coop begins as a poor but happy husband and father trying to keep his family innocent of the big city corruption, but he’s the one seduced by the life of thievery and violence, as if slipping back into a life he thought he’d fled forever. Kristofferson’s Hawk is the grizzled survivor, a tarnished knight with feral instincts—the first thing out prison he wants is a woman and he takes her, whether she consents or not—and his attraction to Singer’s spirited rural innocent Georgia is as much for her authenticity as her beauty, the very thing his character is bound to corrupt. But Georgia is neither naïf nor helpless damsel. She understands the currency of sex and desire and the game of seduction that Hawk is playing. When she needs to, she plays it even better than he does to keep Coop alive.

Rudolph shot the film in Seattle (which he later made his home) and built his askew urban dystopia by carefully plucking pieces out of Seattle’s mix of old city stylings and retro modernism—the monorail streaking across the elevated concrete highway, the stacked highways of the Viaduct whisking cars along the waterfront, the austere spaces of Pioneer Square next to the yesteryear brick storefronts and alleys of old Seattle, the sleek architecture of what is now the Asian Art Museum and the otherworldy glass sculptures of Dale Chillhuly shattered in the society party turned gangland shootoout—and reconstructing his own geography together from the pieces. No special effects or Hollywood sets here, it’s all about forging a fictional world out of the real and Seattle is a perfect city for it, since most films shot and/or set in Seattle don’t do much with the city beyond making sure that you can spot the Space Needle on the horizon.

The mix of old Hollywood character and modern stylings continues through the soundtrack, with Marianne Faithful crooning ballads of heartbreak between the electronic sounds of Mark Isham’s score. Rudolph calls this “the straightest film I ever wrote,” but the quirky approach to character and the retro-modernism of his urban backdrop and fashions makes this as distinctively idiosyncratic as any Rudolph project.

The DVD proclaims that it is “Newly restored from original film elements,” and I have no doubt it’s true. What’s revealing is just how soft and grainy the image is, a hallmark of eighties independent filmmaking where they shots fast and cheap on a budget. That texture becomes part of the atmosphere of the film. The new 50-minute documentary “Halves of a Dream: Making Trouble in Minds,” directed by Greg Carson, is a well-produced, nearly exhaustive portrait of the film and the creative energy behind it with input from most of the film’s primary collaborators, and there is a new interview featurette with Rudolph and composer Mark Isham and liner notes by Rudolph.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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