I’ve been hurting for certain.
Other than the two nights where I tied one on (Modest Mouse on Dec. 30 and NYE) and the two days I was at work last week, I have been hermetically sealed inside our Victorian cottage with a bastard cold since Christmas Day.
I did manage to waltz into the hot city last night and see Old Joy accompanied by my luminous lady friend De Campo. The movie didn’t suck, nor did it make me cry, but it did make me feel beautiful and that’s no lie.
Old Joy is about a guy who’s name I forget and his friend Kurt. Kurt is played by singing sensation Will Oldham. He’s heavily forested about the face (beards are, if not his raison d’etre, they’re at least his thing) with muscular legs and a small penis.
It's adapted from a short story about two interesting men, who, like most young people, were chaotic back in their early twenties and now one has his life in order (wife is expecting) while the other remains dishevelled (Kurt). The two guys go on a trip into the woods looking for some elusive hot springs when the reality is, Kurt is trying to reclaim a part of their friendship that’s been lost and cannot be reclaimed.
Set in a Van Sant-poetic Portland, Oregon, and its wilderness beyond, OJ is an indie gem made to look like it’s 1979, which is totally effin’ sweet. The entire movie reminded me of what it was like growing up there. Passenger side tracking shots passing by clapboard bungalows, mud puddles, silos, power stations set to mellow jams by Yo La Tengo, capturing the sun peeking through rain clouds and sights around North Portland where my Dad worked for 40 years, and, and, and trees, yards and fences so familiar to me they had me wondering if I played there once and obtained grass stains on my knees of which I got in trouble for (they were my good jeans after all and I needed them for school the next day).
There are many beautiful shots of birds and bridges. One bridge in particular, the St John’s Bridge (pictured above), used to be crossed in a blue Mitsubishi hatchback on the way to the University of Portland where I used to watch basketball games with my best friend Mike, his dad Big Mike and Big Mike’s best friend Mike. Big Mike once bought Mike and I a huge packet of Hot Tamales, which were these red hot chewy candies, at a game we ate the whole box and experienced severe sugar damage. We were so totally wired, Mark E. Smith wrote a song about us.
Prior to US indie rock bands, my favourite underdog took the form of Jarvis Helaire, a thuggish power forward for the Portland Pilots who wasn’t very well coordinated. Once he picked up three quick fouls and was quickly benched. “DAT’S OTAY JAH’VIS!” I blurted out. A white boy from the white suburbs, imitating a black supporter from Alabama was a grave error in judgment to myself (what was I thinking) and my Caucasian compatriots. I received several mean looks from the brown-skinned crowd seated in rows 6-9 and quickly began fearing for my safety and imagining the worst consequences. To comprehend how this felt to a 12 year-old you must refer to Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet where Sammler, an elderly Jewish intellectual catches a beguiling black pickpocket in the act, they make eye contact, cold, hard stares, and the pickpocket pursues Sammler through the NYC streets, finally catching him inside the stairwell of an anonymous apartment complex. Sammler, out of breath and practically dialling death’s number, watches fearfully as the black man pulls out his big dick and shows it to him. And that’s pretty much how I felt that night.
What most impressed me about Old Joy was its beauty.
I don’t mean it simply looked good. I mean it has a beautiful, visual language. If the sound was muted, you would still enjoy the story and feel its emotional tension. The upside is you would miss out on a script that is for the most part patchy, and the downside is you would miss out on a few lovely Yo La Tengo instrumentals and a few inspired scenes from Oldham, that like a lot of Van Sant, feel snatched from true life.
At its best, Old Joy manages to achieve powerful abstractions that resonant like literature or poetry.
There’s a scene in the diner that does for off-the-cuff charm what riotous indignation did for Five Easy Pieces. I really hope this indie inspires a renaissance of more movies like it, like the halcyon 90s, which I have been meaning to write about sometime.