Note: This post was originally published on the vox.com iteration of this blog. It was posted in 2006.
A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through a video store (you remember those right?) and I picked up previously viewed copy of Kiss Kiss, Bang! Bang!. I watched it for the first time about two weeks ago. While it wasn’t bad ( it was actually pretty good, in its Shane Black-ish sort of way) I kept feeling like I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about.
You see, Kiss, Kiss comes up in conversations all the time in my world. All conversational roads seem to lead to this movie. And that’s cool with me. I can see why it’s so well loved. I think for a lot of people it’s kinda Lethal Weapon meets The Big Lebowski…or something. While it has noir-ish elements it’s really just a black comedy with some action sequences. Overall great movie; but it’s a little overrated.
The thing is, it makes me really wonder why Kiss, Kiss develops a cult following not seen since Boondock Saints; while something like Brick wallows in bargain bins and the bottom of Netflix queues all across movieland.
Brick has all of the elements of a great cult movie. Weird performances, young first time director, genre blending, energetic camera moves. It’s got conic performances, clever writing and a bitchin’ ending.
Yet for whatever reason I have to walk people through the movie. It’s a real tough sell. Mostly because on paper the concepts of the movie sound incredibly stupid. The idea of kids in high school acting out a film noir bring to mind images of Bugsy Malone.
In fact the first 10-15 minutes are the toughest to get through. They feel like the beginning of a movie that Rushmore’s Max Fischer would make. The style of the film is so overwhelming that you wonder if you’ll be able to get through the whole thing. But somewhere along the line director Rian Johnson manages to create a perfect blend of homage, reinvention and flat out ballsy filmmaking.
A lot of what makes Brick so magical is its brilliant ensemble cast. Rarely do you see independent films that manage to handle large groups of people with such elegance and evenhanded precision. It’s one of those movies where you really appreciate what an actor does. Anyone can pretend to be a noir-ish detective from the 40’s, but it takes real talent and style to make that evocative and emotional.
Something should also be said about the visual style of Brick. While it does a have a steady stream of dolly moves and slow zooms; noir staples. It seems really obvious that Johnson loves the idea of punctuating onscreen drama with abstract sound; a technique that Martin Scorsese and David Lynch have brought to artistic prominence.
Even still, every once in a while the camera does something so wacky and herky jerky that you can’t help but wonder what the motivation was. Most times you feel that there might be an idea behind it all. The kind of wacky, experimental ideas that can define a filmmakers style (see Tarantino’s "camera in the trunk" shot for a great example). Having said that, I feel that Johnson is a really intelligent filmmaker with visual ideas that verge into abstract filmmaking. Which is an amazing and beautiful thing.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s meshing of high school politics and with noir elements just makes me smile. I’ve seen it 3 times and really admire its love of structure. Whether it’s the narrative structure of 40’s film noir or the structure high school politics, I’m impressed every time.
Lynch’s commercial work has never been that interesting. Even his recent work for Gucci, lacks his ability to emulate the tone of sensual mystery that his films evoke.
The imagery lacks the type of longing that he achieves so gloriously in Blue Velvet, or Mulholland Drive. I imagine there are great challenges in creating such élan in the span of 30 seconds, with product’s text emblazoned on the screen.
Speaking generally, there is an evocative quality to the imagery in Lynch’s commercials. An exhalation in the image that does achieve the passions — but unironically, not the Obsessions — of the auteur’s feature film works.
Here, in this commercial, featuring a very young Benicio Del Toro and Heather Graham, you can see the power of all the tools at Lynch’s disposal. The strongest being the passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby — a tale of longing for something in the past and obsessions it creates in men’s lives — but it achieves none of that. How can it?
How does one conjure imagery that represents obsession in 30 seconds? Lynch doesn’t succeed, but instead grasps at the equally interesting node of Passion.
The first image, a slow-motion image of carnal longing, is the strongest in the piece, followed only by the impressionistic dissolves that lead to the kiss. The piece reaches a visual crescendo with Lynch’s integration of both a thematic cog, and one that fits the product being sold: a rose.
This bloomed rose recalls the opening shot of the director’s 1989 feature Blue Velvet. A story about internalization of emotion and hidden passions.
In line with the self-referential is the slow-motion shot of Heather Graham, recalling mental snapshots of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, which in turn brings us to the directors proclamations of the influence of the T:JKT film Laura.
Evidence of Lynch’s love for film-noir can be found in other corners of this commercial as well. The kiss, made up of two shots; a medium shot that dissolves into a close-up, is clearly reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart kissing Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
While Lynch fails at assembling a commercial that functions as a microcosm of the universes he has created in the previous works (which I imagine is why he was asked to direct this — if he was asked) he is incapable of creating work that is not fully his own.