Mar 17, 2020

Trouble in Mind

Sometimes I find myself appreciating a filmmaker and his craft, even though I sense an innate distaste, if not downright hatred, for their character and overall essence as an individual. For example, I see Billy Wilder as a subversive little semite that, aside from physically resembling a sort of kosher Jean-Paul Sartre, made films that reek of an intolerable venomous bitterness, primitive misanthropy, and covert anti-shiksa vile, yet there is no denying he made some fairly worthwhile films The Lost Weekend (1945) and Ace in the Hole (1951) that say something relatively profound about the (in)human condition. Additionally, while I like The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972) and Paris, Texas (1984), I basically cannot watch a Wim Wenders flick without fantasizing about violently slapping the terminally tedious Teutonic auteur in the face for being such a meandering wimp that seems to have forgotten he has a pair of testicles. As for American auteur Alan Rudolph (The Moderns, Breakfast of Champions)—arguably the only true authentic protégé of great freewheeling American auteur Robert Altman—I would be lying if I did not admit that I also see him as a sort of wimpy weasel that would probably benefit from a gym membership and a steady dose of red meat but, unlike the spiritually comatose Wenders, he at least has something of a heart and has directed some truly romantic films that, quite unlike the typical Hebraic rom-com or historical romance à la Miloš Forman's Valmont (1989) and Pride & Prejudice (2005), actually manages to make romance seem cool and sophisticated.

The son of filmmaker Oscar Rudolph who directed the Lenny Bruce-penned low-budget sci-fi oddity The Rocket Man (1954), Rudolph may be of a certain dubious Hollywood pedigree but he is also an unequivocal artiste and cinematic auteur that, naturally, was always more respected in Europe than the United States. Despite being a pussy pothead of sorts, Rudolph has managed to assemble a fairly idiosyncratic oeuvre that pillages the best from film noir and melodrama (not to mention various European new waves) in style, as if attempting to demonstrate to Godard the proper way to shamelessly recycle certain genre conventions without seemingly like a pedantic poindexter with an undying contempt for cinema. Politically speaking, one might assume that Rudolph is a man of the left (and you’re probably right, though his films are fairly apolitical), but his arguable magnum opus Trouble in Mind (1985)—a film that seems to beg for a curious combination of lachrymose and awkward laughs yet ultimately inspires spiritual rejuvenation—would be considered ‘reactionary’ by today’s rather ridiculous standards. Indeed, in the film, cities are a seedy and soulless cesspool of sin that turn good men bad, nonwhite foreigners run most of the criminal realm, beta males get their women stolen by alpha males, art has been reduced to a primitive childish level, and an exceedingly effete evil fat queen portrayed by Divine of Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974) infamy in a rare male (yet nonetheless glaringly gay) role is the most loathsomely ruthless of underworld crime bosses.

More importantly, Rudolph’s film is the cinematic work that I originally hoped Godard’s Alphaville (1965)—a virtual tribute to German Expressionism and its masters like F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang—would be as a superlatively stylish and genuinely romantic dystopian sci-fi flick where love conquers all in the end and not in a phony emotionally counterfeit sort of fashion (although Godard's film literally concludes with the words, “Je vous aime” aka “I love you,” it does not ring true like at the end of Rudolph's flick where no words are needed to express the life-changing love that the antihero feels).  Undoubtedly, more than just a sort of more stylish 1980s American Alphaville, Trouble in Mind is like an anti-Blade Runner as a relatively laid-back, laconic, and low-key film of the aesthetically understated sort that is more dedicated to somewhat hermetic melodrama and poetical pathos than a meticulous mise-en-scène and oneiric atmospheres that manages to, not unlike Ridley Scott’s film, completely swallow up the storyline (which, of course, is of secondary importance in the case of Blade Runner). Indeed, while Scott’s arguable magnum opus manages to provide the viewer with someone akin to a drugless high due to its overwhelming aesthetic allure and initially inexplicably foreboding atmosphere as a film that sincerely feels like it could be set in some dystopian future despite being released nearly forty years ago, Rudolph’s film is first and foremost a story about love and the power of love and its dystopian setting is largely symbolic and secondary to its story, or as the auteur once explained himself, “To me, love is always the turning point, the best hope for any future. And my favorite subject for a film. If nothing else, I hope TROUBLE IN MIND convinces you of that.” While I can only assume due to what I know about him that there is very little that the quirky auteur and I would agree on, I unequivocally agree due to sheer personal experience when it comes to his assessment of love and his film—one of the most leisurely and idiosyncratically romantic films ever made—certainly strengthens his argument. Featuring an ex-cop-cum-ex-con antihero, ditzy yet well-meaning dame with a baby and degenerate baby-daddy as the female love interest, and a violently misogynistic queer queen as the villain, Trouble In Mind might be an eccentric film with an eclectic collection of eccentric characters yet its insights regarding love and human motivations certainly ring true, as if the film was directed by a self-loathing humanist with an unshakeable film noir fetish that wanted to make a feature-length melodrama to accompany the latest New Order album.

For better or worse (and in true pothead style), Alan Rudolph has had one of the most uniquely uneven and less than ideally idiosyncratic filmmaking careers in cinema history and Trouble In Mind is certainly the crowning achievement of said artistically troubling career. Beginning his directing career with the personally disowned hippie horror flicks Premonition (1972) aka Head aka The Impure and Nightmare Circus (1974) aka The Barn of the Naked Dead aka Terror Circus, Rudolph did not seem to take the art of filmmaking seriously until he became the protégé of Robert Altman and acted as an assistant director on such Altman classics as The Long Goodbye (1973), California Split (1974), and Nashville (1975). In fact, Rudolph’s first true auteur effort Welcome to L.A. (1976)—an Altman-produced production that does not coincidentally star such Altman superstars as Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman, and Geraldine Chaplin, among others—is like a West Coast spiritual sequel to Nashville, albeit somewhat more romantic and, in turn, precisely narratively structured in a fashion that has been compared to Arthur Schnitzler's play La Ronde (in fact, it would not be an exaggeration to describe Rudolph as a sort of preternatural heir of Schnitzler and, in turn, Max Ophüls who of course cinematically adapted La Ronde (1950) and directed some of the most stylish (dis)romances ever made). While Rudolph is a clear protégé of Altman, by the time he was directing films like Choose Me (1984)—the director's sole hit film—he had already developed his own distinct cinematic worldview, which would only further evolved as the years passed in between occasionally accepting for-hire hack work (e.g. Mortal Thoughts (1991) starring Demi Moore).

Although Welcome to L.A. is undoubtedly the auteur’s first true auteur piece, Rudolph was still relegated to directing some passable hack work like the pseudo-horror-thriller Endangered Species (1982)—a film dealing with cattle mutilation conspiracy sans aliens (!)—and the Sydney Pollack-produced Songwriter (1984), which is an important yet artistically forgettable film in the director’s career in that sense that it introduced the auteur to singularly stoic Trouble In Mind lead Kris Kristofferson. While he might have started out as a singer-songwriter and demonstrated a natural talent for so-called revisionist westerns like Sam Peckinpah’s regrettably uneven Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and Michael Cimino’s watchable yet plodding box-office disaster Heaven's Gate (1980), Kristofferson—probably the only cowboy to get down with Mishima in the unjustly overlooked The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976)—demonstrates in Rudolph’s flick that he was born to be the film noir antihero par excellence. As for his mischling costar and Altman/Rudolph regular Keith Carradine, he once again demonstrates that he is the vaguely creepy dorky weirdo par excellence.  Indeed, not unlike his buddy Altman, Rudolph has a knack for perfectly casting actors, even when it comes to against-type roles (for example, while Lori Singer plays a relatively innocent and naive girl in Trouble In Mind, she would effectively play the complete opposite in the director's later Equinox, which is also notable for Matthew Modine portraying central two roles in the form of long lost twin brothers that could not be more different in terms of character).

Naturally, as I have gotten older, my perspective of certain films—and the way I look at films in general—has changed drastically. For example, I once tried to watch Trouble In Mind about a decade ago before I was familiar with Rudolph's work and could not even get into as it seemed like cartoonish kitsch noir and apparently I am not the only one. Indeed, as Richard Ness explained in his text Alan Rudolph: Romance and a Crazed World (1996), “As much as CHOOSE ME seemed to excite critics, TROUBLE IN MIND (1986) appeared to alienate them. While the film received some strong notices and a few critics, including Roger Ebert, numbered it among the best of the year, many were unsure whether Rudolph intended the film as a serious revision of film noir or a parody of the genre. Although there are comic elements in the film (such as the increasingly odd appearance of Keith Carradine’s character), they end to grow out of the absurdity of the situations, whereas the humor in CHOOSE ME grew out of the honesty of the characters […] Although it anticipates a whole cycle of later new-wave noir films (producer Carolyn Pfeiffer described it as existing somewhere between Bogie and Bowie). TROUBLE IN MIND also serves as a summation of Rudolph’s work to date.” While the film is, to some degree, absurdly aesthetically goofy in a manner that would anticipate Rudolph’s later films like Made in Heaven (1987) where Debra Winger of all people appears in drag as a sort of neo-greaser guardian angel of sorts, it is also quite deadly serious when it comes to love and the ways of the world. Undoubtedly, it is no coincidence that Divine, in what is probably the most underrated role of his all-too-brief and unfortunately largely terminally typecast career, plays a murderously neurotic queer underworld boss that, owing to his hatred of his own mother and humanity in general, lacks the capacity to love, hence his erratically evil pussy-repulsed essence. Additionally, the film dares to demonstrate that it is much better for a woman to leave the father of her baby for a stronger man than to stay with him, especially if the baby-daddy is a despicable bitch of the constantly criminally bungling and dopey dope-addled sort that curiously resembles a New Romantic drag king.

While the product of a pothead that used to share joints with the belated auteur of the comfortably dumb O.C. and Stiggs (1985) and even co-penned the insipidly anti-white celluloid abortion Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976), Trouble In Mind is also surprisingly red-pilled in many respects, as if the largely apolitical auteur unconsciously came to a number of truths and naturally could not help but disseminate them due to tackling the dystopian realms. Indeed, Teutonic philosopher Oswald Spengler might as well have been speaking of the dystopian ‘Rain City’ (aka Seattle) of the film when he once wrote, “Long ago the country bore the country-town and nourished it with her best blood. Now the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, till it wearies and dies in the midst of an almost uninhabited waste of country.” As the viewer soon discovers as the film progress, the film’s antihero lead John ‘Hawk’ Hawkins (Kris Kristofferson)—an ex-cop that is released from prison after serving eight hard years on a murder rap that involved gunning down a bigwig gangster for his ladylove—might be a somewhat cynical killer, but his ugly urban environment forced him to become tough and ruthless and it is only when he discovers love in the form of a relatively innocent young lady that he is given a true chance at redemption instead the predictable figurative road to katabasis.  Aside from Hawk, the viewer witnesses how city newcomer ‘Coop’ (Keith Carradine)—a country boy that not coincidentally declares at the beginning of the film, “I’ve been to plenty of cities…And they ain’t nothing but trouble”—completely morally and psychologically deteriorates after reluctantly moving to the miserable metropolis at the behest of his young naïve wife ‘Georgia’(Lori Singer) who foolishly believes the city will provide a bright future for their baby son ‘Spike.’

Somewhat ironically, the young family’s move to the city ultimately leads to a bizarre love triangle the concludes with Georgia leaving Coop for Hawk in what is a bittersweet scenario where love conquers all but a baby boy loses his loser beta-boy father. Needless to say, had Coop never listened to his wife’s dubious advice and relocated the family to a big shitty city, he probably would have never hooked up with black criminals that deal in stolen goods smuggled by Koreans and turned into a deranged dope fiend dork that loses his entire family in the end.  Indeed, not unlike Blade Runner, Trouble in Mind is set in a grotesquely mongrelized multicultural realm where black neo-gangster speak Korean and curiously practice Buddhism and an overall lack of cultural and, in turn, moral, consistency (and, of course, racial homogeneity), leads to a gynophobic gay queen becoming both a powerful man and proud patron of the (rather entartete) arts.  Needless to say, the film hardly depicts so-called multiculturalism in a flattering light and the central dystopian city is something akin to H.P. Lovecraft's view of NYC, albeit nowhere as paranoically portrayed.  Not unlike his comrade Altman, Rudolph has a certain inordinate respect for audiences and does not dare to attempt to force the viewer to accept a sort of dichotomous perspective of completely ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in regard to characters as everyone of them displays a certain ‘humanity,’ not matter how vulgar or unflattering.  For example, when Coop's colored criminal comrade ‘Solo’ (Joe Morton of John Sayles's vaguely comparable Afrofuturist cult classic The Brother from Another Planet (1984)) spiritually foresees his own demise via being drowned inside his own car (!), one cannot help feel the character's pain.

Aesthetically speaking, the film can obviously be compared to Slava Tsukerman's kaleidoscopic sci-fi cult item Liquid Sky (1982) and Alyce Wittenstein's neo-Godardian hipster joke Betaville (1986), but it seems to be of a more artistically sophisticated pedigree than these two flicks. Indeed, aside from sharing some aesthetic similarities with Germanic cinematic works like Niki List's exceedingly eccentric cult flick Malaria (1982) and mischling dyke Ulrike Ottinger's collaboration with her then-muse Tabea Blumenschein like Bildnis einer Trinkerin (1979) aka Ticket of no Return and Freak Orlando (1981), the film demonstrates somewhat of an understanding of modern art history and its relation to the decline of the Occident. For example, numerous wholesome and romantic scenes in the film depicted from the outside perspective of a diner seem like they were dreamed up by American realist painter Edward Hopper.  Rather fittingly, much of the urban graffiti and art gallery paintings in the film, which certainly symbolize cultural and spiritual decay in a rather goofy otherworldly way, seem to be modeled after the Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke movements associated with German Expressionism. Additionally, the colorfully grotesque sculptures featured at the art gallery mansion of the film's gay villain bear a striking resemblance to those of debauched French-American feminist sculpture and occasional filmmaker Niki de Saint Phalle (Daddy).  While one could try to make the largely pointless argument that Rudolph is, to some extent, himself a degenerate artist, Trouble in Mind is hardly respectful to degenerate art and ultimately carries a fairly aesthetically and morally conservative message of the rather perennial sort.

As for Hawk, who more or less has the total opposite experience as his much younger rival Coop, it is only when he rejects the sickness of the city that he finally achieves his dream of discovering his dream girl and leaving the urban hellhole behind for good. To accomplish this dream love affair, Hawk agrees to save the mostly worthless life of the guy he is cuckolding as Georgia might be leaving Coop but she is a good girl and does not want her no-good-bastard baby-daddy to die despite it being his own fault when he becomes a marked man after robbing a powerful gangster. A blunt man of gristled honor with a stern chiseled face that practically screams indelible stoical strength, Hawk even matter-of-factly declares to his love interest Georgia in regard to reluctantly agreeing to save her worthless husband Coop but also keeping her as his beloved prize, “I’ll save the poor son-of-a-bitch but you’ll owe me something I want. And I’ve just spent too many years wanting and wanting and never having. So once I fix this up and send him on his way, you belong to me—completely. You’ll live with me…and I’ll take care of you and the kid and we’ll have something. Otherwise, let him get what he deserves. Let everybody get what they deserve.” In the end, practically everyone indeed gets what they deserve and luckily hardened cynic Hawk finds true love despite losing love in the past due to his criminal impulses.

In fact, Hawk lost his previous lover Wanda (Geneviève Bujold), who incidentally employs Georgia at her café, as a result of heading to the slammer upon murdering a criminal in cold blood and the two fuck soon after the antihero is released from prison at the beginning of the film but the long-awaited sexual reunion is short-lived.  Upset about their seemingly complicated tragic past that includes the antihero receiving a hefty prison sentence after killing a mobster named ‘Fat Adolph’ (Gailard Sartain) to defend his beloved's honor, Wanda refuses to continue the sexual relationship after their first fuck, complaining with the sort of fiery fury of a wounded woman that still loves a man but knows she cannot be with him, “It’s got nothing to do with hunger, Thickhead! It’s a matter of philosophy.” Needless to say, young, fertile, and relatively innocent Georgia is a much better choice for Hawk as she offers the sort of comfort and nurturing qualities that a bitter old bitch like Wanda simply can no longer provide.  A lonely little lady that has let her life slip away, Wanda is still a character of strength that, somewhat curiously, provides Hawk and Georgia with the ‘philosophy’ they need to start a healthy romance.  By the end of the film, Wanda has abandoned her café and disappeared, as if her one job in life was to hook up her ex-flame Hawk with a much younger dame.  Of course, as Otto Weininger noted, women first and foremost excel at being matchmakers.

If I was a bitchy queer, I might conclude that Alan Rudolph is some sort of hipster homo-hater after watching Trouble In Mind as the film's fittingly named antagonist Hilly Blue (Divine)—a sort of obscenely campy Sydney Greenstreet type—is arguably the most ravenously repugnant gay villain in cinema history as a sort of sod spiritual son of kosher carpet-muncher Madame Spivy’s similarly sleazily sexually sinister villain ‘Ma Greeny’ in Ralph Nelson’s Rod Serling film adaptation Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). While Rudolph’s film is littered with great highly quotable dialogue, Divine certainly steals the show with Hilly Blue with prissily pugnacious lines like, “People that say they care about other people are hypocrites. I prefer priests; they’re at least real hypocrites. I prefer two-faced people who show it.” Notably, Hilly Blue is a morbidly miserable character of the compulsively cynical and homicidally hysterical sort and although he spouts wacky womb-envy-oriented misogyny like, “Women are despicable…especially mothers,” he is not enjoying his life as an ostensibly all-powerful poofter crime lord and even displays glaring weakness by hysterically shouting in front of his entire entourage in regard to a criminal comrade as if complaining about a lover, “Everything between me and Nate is desolation, sadness, disappointment after disappointment.” Undoubtedly, Hilly is a sort of symbol of Hawk’s old immoral life and naturally he violently berates the antihero for wanting to go straight, stating, “You are capable of almost anything, John, but mainly anything bad. You have nothing but bad qualities and, yet, you think you have a heart.” When Hawk expresses his desire to spare Coop’s life, Hilly loses it and declares, “You’re so predictable. You make me want to vomit. The only way you can ever live up to this ideal you have of yourself is from a hole in the ground.” Naturally, it proves to be a symbolic act when Hawk kills Hilly by putting a bullet in his brain. Indeed, out of his love for a young mother, Hawk kills a homo that hates mothers.  Notably, Hilly's murder sparks an extravagant absurdist shootout-cum-riot in the villain's virtually magical mansion that is surely the centerpiece of the film and is comparable to the legendary climatic hall-of-mirrors shootout in Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai (1947) in terms of great film noir climaxes.

I am not the only one that has noticed the film’s somewhat idiosyncratic contra cocksucker subtext. Indeed, as Richard Ness noted in regard to the sexual and, in turn, moral degeneration of one of the main characters, “Coop’s increasingly androgynous appearance suggest that his loss of identity may owe in part to a sense of sexual confusion as he goes from a traditional family environment with Georgia and their child to consorting with male companions and attempting to reaffirm his heterosexual identity through liaisons with prostitutes. His androgyny is paralleled by the casting of transvestite Divine in the nondrag role of Hilly Blue. If Coop’s coif becomes a reflection of his search for identity, Hilly’s baldness suggests an emasculated state, and his need for power and control appears to stem from a lack of affection from his mother.” Interestingly, unlike his obscenely over-the-top and low-camp killer dookie-downing characters in classic John Waters flicks like Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974), Divine, who was eager to finally play a male character and defy his drag stereotype, comes off as sincerely demented and disturbing to the point where his violent murder comes off as a relief to both the viewer and his character as if he was practically begging to be put out of his misery. Indeed, while Divine’s Hilly Blue declares, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven; nobody wants to die,” one suspects he wanted to die even though there was no way in hell that he would get into heaven.

Undoubtedly, one of the things that makes Trouble In Mind such an organically romantic film despite its tendency towards artifice and preternatural pageantry is that, unlike many films—be they romantic-comedies, film noirs, or otherwise—it actually depicts what a couple needs for a healthy love affair. Indeed, when Georgia reveals her reason for leaving her husband by stating in regard to Hawk, “Him and me feel safe together,” she is expressing what every woman instinctively wants and needs. While Georgia's young husband Coop goes from being an unemployed loser to erratic egodystonic dork that tries in vain to be a cool criminal yet fails in every regard, Hawk—in his impenetrable stoicism—radiates strength and demonstrates through deed and demeanor that he can be the real strong man that she so desperately needs. Like any good woman, Georgia also inspires Hawk’s greatness and goodness with remarks like, “I think you’re a good man that’s had bad luck and I think all that can change. The luck, I mean.” Although a man that sincerely believes, “A little bit of everybody belongs in hell,” Hawks also discovers heaven through Georgia and the two even symbolically enter romantic nirvana by leaving Rain City at the end of the film (though, to be fair, said ending is somewhat ambiguous, but their strength of their mutual love is unquestionable).

While I am not sort of moron that believes that people can sincerely change in any meaningful way for the better, Trouble In Mind rightly reminds the viewer in a refreshingly understated way that certain good qualities of a person are deeply buried and sometimes it takes love and the right inspirational lady to dig up such long submerged qualities. In that sense, Trouble In Mind is a rather hopeful film despite being made during what its director felt was a rather hopeless time. Indeed, as Rudolph stated in regard to the metapolitical influence for the film during the 1980s, “My opinion at the time was that despite the warm rhetoric and political smoke screens, our society’s increasingly cold blood could easily turn to ice […] What’s important and desirable would soon be hidden, forgotten or missing altogether. Escape would mostly come through daydream reality, memory imagination. Whether our fictional replica appears more within reach now compared to the soothing form of avarice of the 1980s is for someone else to decide. Where, you might ask, would human affection fit into this bizarre and harsh environment? Would it be worth searching for? Or even possible? To me, love is always the turning point, the best hope for any future. And my favorite subject for a film. If nothing else, I hope TROUBLE IN MIND convinces you of that.” To my surprise, pothead Rudolph’s film—and, of course (and obviously more importantly), real-life experience—has certainly convinced me of that.

While most of Rudolph’s post-Welcome to L.A. output is mostly comprised of highly watchable auteur pieces, Trouble In Mind is probably his only film aside from his later romance neo-noir Love at Large (1990) that I would dare to describe as a personal favorite of sorts and something I could re-watch at least on a yearly basis, even though I would probably stop short of describing it as a masterpiece. Beyond my personal taste, the film represents Rudolph at the height of his auteur powers as a film that, totally transcending the Altmanian influence, could have only been directed by the filmmaker who, naturally being an idiosyncratic auteur, has never really gotten his due and is largely best remembered today among cinephiles as a loyal compatriot of Robert Altman. While the auteur would turn to more ambitious art faggotry the ‘Lost Generation’ flick The Moderns (1988), which is dripping with bohemian chic style and attitude, and even an unconventional biopic on red mischling Dorothy Parker entitled Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) starring Jennifer Jason Leigh in arguably the greatest performance of her rather eclectic career as the titular lead, these films fail to capture the shameless romantic resonance and dazzling oneiric aesthetic allure of Trouble In Mind. While his playfully preternatural fantasy flick Made in Heaven (1987) is undoubtedly romantic to the core, it is just too gimmicky, silly, and full of too many wussy rockers like Tom Petty and Neil Young to be taken as seriously as his great romances.

 In terms of aesthetics, positive approach to romance, and successfully subversive genre-tweaking, Trouble in Mind strangely reminds me of a sort of counterpiece film to Peckinpah’s masterpiece Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) which, incidentally, features Kris Kristofferson in a small but unforgettable role as a rapist that gets his just deserts. While I typically subscribe to the Peckinpah School when it comes to patently pessimistic depictions of life and romance, Trouble In Mind is just pessimist and culturally nihilistic enough for one to reasonably accept its unconventionally hopeful happy ending in regard to love. Notably, Rudolph was not so optimistic about love’s healing capacity and ability to save the sick and broken in his subsequent work Equinox (1992) where the quasi-autistic hero loses his chance at serious romance when his would-be-lady-love regretfully fails to flee with him for the Grand Canyon upon being forced to make a split-second decision about the future of their relationship. Of course, the antihero of Trouble In Mind is older and wiser than the lead of Equinox and thus does not waste time in securing his future.  As Rudolph's own filmmaking career demonstrates, oftentimes with age comes wisdom, but pain and regrets regarding love can sometimes last a lifetime and Trouble In Mind seems to organically express that while remaining optimistic in regard to the quest for love in a seemingly loveless world of softcore authoritarian asininity where society is shit and culture and art are crap.  In that sense, the film is more hopeful and inspiring than when it was originally released some 35 years ago.

Throughout his career, director Alan Rudolph has made no lie about the fact that his unique utilization of absurd humor and equally atypical aesthetics reflects his belief that real-life society is absurd and should symbolically depicted as such, or as he once stated in a 1993 Film Comment interview recounted by Richard Ness, “Once I realized I was going to take the leap with Divine, this was not going to be a conventional film.  When Keith got involved we started talking about how this guy should go through these transformations.  I never realized we would take it to such an exaggerated level, but then it seemed to be the way to do the story without taking it totally seriously.  If you do these retro story plot ideas and take them terribly seriously,  then you've made another exercise.  The times seemed to be going through that culturally, with Reagan and all that; it just seemed to be an unfamiliar terrain that we were living in.  There was an absurdity to the whole film that I kind of enjoyed—people talking funny languages, all the gangsters were inarticulate people who don't even use words so they growl. . . . What it really is is this thing that gets me in trouble all the time, which is this simultaneous serious-humorous.  If you ask me to make a film that is the most accurate reflection that you see of our condition right now, I'd make a version of TROUBLE IN MIND or EQUINOX.  I see it—it's absurd.”  Undoubtedly, in his tendency toward taking an absurdist approach to our putrid (post)modern milieu, Rudolph is practically sugarcoating cyanide, thereupon making the intolerable at least tolerable enough to be eccentrically engrossing in a way where the spiritual and cultural morbidity of modernity is at least recognized but thankfully not embraced in what is ultimately a sort of form of anti-escapism that manages to entertain even the exceedingly alienated and/or ludicrously lovelorn.

Of course, in an absurd society, there is also a morally ambiguous blurring between cop and criminal as completely personified by antihero Hawk who, due to the degenerate world he lives in, had to learn to be a little bit of both and does it well. In that sense, I could not help but reminded of the Ernst Röhm quote, “The soldier turns away from this kind of false morality in disgust. What mattered to me in the field was not whether a soldier measured up to society’s morals, but only whether he was a dependable man or not. An immoral man who achieves something is far more acceptable to me than a ‘morally upright’ fellow who accomplishes nothing. So-called society commits no greater sin and inflicts no greater harm than it does in this way. Suicides of the best people speak only too eloquently here.”  In his sort of neoclassical historical fiction play My Friend Hitler (1968), Yukio Mishima speculated that Röhm foolishly stayed in Nazi Germany despite the high probability that he would be killed—as he ultimately was during the infamous so-called the Night of the Long Knives—out of a gay love and romantic allegiance to Uncle Adolf. Of course, cop or criminal, Hawk is, probably unlike tragic rectum-reamer Röhm, a great man and that is why he gets the girl in the end and he does not allow moral questions to get in the way of that fact, but both Trouble In Mind and My Friend Hitler demonstrate that the only truly timeless and respectable sacrifice is for love and death—or at least a willingness to dance with death—is a more worthy route than to betray said love and succumb to soulless mediocrity. 

-Ty E

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