Friday, July 29, 2011

Me and My Brother (1968)

Directed by Robert Frank; written by Robert Frank and Sam Shepard; 1968; duration 85 mins; in color and black&white; unrated (nipples and f-bombs); available to purchase on DVD only through a Steidl book about the film; no subtitles (c'mon Steidl, dropping the ball on that one)

Genre: Experimental Art Film
Actors of Mention Other Than Chris: Allen Ginsberg playing himself
Comparable Films: Orson Welles' F is for Fake, or perhaps Woody Allen's Zelig, also Synecdoche, NY
Movie Contained in a Sentence: A film director explores themes of alienation, dissonance, identity, and familial responsibility through a story about a catatonic schizophrenic and his somewhat obnoxious poet-brother who is forced to take care of him.
Should You Watch This Film? Yes. But don't expect to have a "pleasant" time. It is clever, and thought-provoking, but it is also trying to show schizophrenia and it is more than a bit depressing, so, you know, know that going into it.
RATING: I'll give it a 7 out of 10, maaaybe an eight. Not for everybody, nor for every mood, but this film has a unique perspective and a creative voice

Don't go towards the light!

Walken Content: Not so much, about three minutes of screen-time. He plays the director of the film from within the film, as he hires an actor to take over the part of the "real" person, the brother, in the "documentary". Heavy stuff, no? Walken only gets a smattering of lines and then disappears, but the real bummer is you never hear his voice, because it is dubbed (and badly) by the real director of the film.

Walken's great big Peter-Lorre-eyes stare out from a wrinkle-less face, a baby-face. With his awful plaid jacket, and his "look-how-cool-I-smoke-a-cigarette" manner, oh, you can tell he's going places. Even with the jarring bizarro-world effect of someone else's voice coming out of Walken's mouth, you can tell his personality and charm will not be denied.

Walken Quote: There isn't much to choose from, so let me give you some context. Walken is playing the director, sitting in a darkened theater interviewing an actor to play a part, right? But the film being shown is of the actor not only already playing the part, but following Walken's suggestions. Wheels within wheels. We hear a siren go off. Then Walken says: "I like that siren. Try not to shiver. Just look straight at me and try not to shiver. You can smoke if you want. Good. Now bite the apple."

General Thoughts: Beyond even Walken's dubbing, there is a worrisome disconnect between the sound that is presented and the action taking place on the screen. Some of it is brilliant. It is. There are layers of sound being built up, incongruous noises that shouldn't work, but do, and previous dialogue replayed in bits, like an insistent but spotty memory.

But EVERYONE has rubber lips in this, because the film trains the viewer to look for it, and see it, even when it isn't there. The juxtaposition of picture and sound is such a recurring theme that nothing seems real, nothing seems authentic, even when everything matches up perfectly. Sure, it adds to the surreality and alienation of the film, but at what expense? It can be annoying, and certainly confusing at times. The director throws a lot of creative tricks at the audience to convey schizophrenia, but in the end it is up to you whether or not you enjoy the affliction.

A Word on Availability: This was a film that until recently wasn't available to own. No VHS, DVD, or digital download, nothing. You had to wait for a film festival or art museum to show it. Recently though, a German book company has put together a really nice book about the film (screenplay excerpts, pictures, etc.) and included the DVD (both PAL and NTSC) with it. Unfortunately, they don't advertise that well the fact that the film comes with it, so I am taking the liberty of providing a link to the Amazon page where it is available. You're welcome.

The Kiss Off: And so begins Christopher Walken's film career. He is 25 years old in this. He is a spritely 77 as I write this now. By focusing on each film of his, and not just the supposedly "good ones," I hope to provide a comprehensive guide for anyone interested in finding Walken-gold without having to watch 90 movies.

Although you can. I did. It was wonderful. In fact, do that. Right now.

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