Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Peeking under the hood of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive

"I used to make movies. Sexy stuff. Some critics called them European. I thought they were shit." - Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) in Drive
I can understand the overwhelming allure that Drive must have held for Nic Winding Refn. An existential crime movie set in L.A.? I’d be pretty damn excited too. But maybe he got a little bit too excited, going hog wild front loading the thing with references, nods or homages to a bunch of his favourite movies. I really, really liked Drive, but I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if I didn’t keep getting distracted by the memories of the movies that it borrows so heavily from. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should probably stop reading now. If you have, then let’s pop the hood on this baby and see what makes it purr:
Taxi Driver - When he’s not behind the wheel of his hack, the simmering soft-spoken Travis Bickle struggles alternately with the impenetrable obstacles of emotions, human interaction and Albert Brooks. There’s only one thing for it - let’s splash the walls with blood! Interesting bit of trivia - Paul Schrader’s original script was set in Los Angeles, not New York. The decision was made to relocate the action as taxi cabs were far more common in New York than L.A. at the time. And whilst we’re on the subject of Schrader...

American Gigolo - The second installment of Schrader’s “night workers” quintet that began with Taxi Driver. (The last three films to date in this loose, unofficial series are Light Sleeper, Bringing Out The Dead and The Walker). The scene in Drive set in the strippers’ dressing room reminded me of the scene in the opening montage where the titular manwhore Julian Kaye (Richard Gere) visits his tailor. Lots of light, mirrors, reflections. Lots of red.
Drive’s 80s-inflected electro score also clearly alludes to Giogio Morodor’s synthpop soundtrack. But that’s not all. Check out the opening titles: Blondie’s Call Me soundtracks a man, a road, a car and a very familiar cursive font.

Thief - James Caan is a master jewel-thief with a very fixed structure to his life in Michael Mann’s little-seen crime thriller. Sound familiar? A lot of Drive’s plot machinations echo those of Thief, but I don’t want to get into further specifics without getting too spoilery. (Did I mention that it’s “little-seen”? Worth seeking out if you are a Thief virgin.) Actually, a lot of the visual style of early Michael Mann ripples through Drive - a little bit of Manhunter, a flash of Miami Vice (the show, not the shitty movie). Also: Tangerine Dream are on synth duty.
Irréversible - Not all of Drive’s touchstones are American. Gaspar Noé’s brutal reverse-chronology headfuck looms large, and not only because of the graphic scenes of visceral bone-cracking violence and human heads being obliterated in sprays of copious gore. There’s also the colour scheme. Here comes that red again.
Le Samouraï - Yet another precise, methodical perfectionist with a rigid personal code. Yet another professional whose life is unexpectedly complicated by his relationship with a woman. (This is starting to sound like Genre Fiction 101. Granted, sometimes a trope is just a trope. But they endure for a reason, and these are the mental flashes I kept getting whilst watching Drive. See also Léon, John Woo’s The Killer, etc, etc.)

Hitman Jef Costello (Alain Delon) wears his trenchcoat like the Driver wears his scorpion jacket. Like a uniform. The similarities go deeper than that, though - there are certain narrative and visual cues from Jean-Pierre Melville’s minimalist masterpiece that crop up in Drive. For example, the moment when the Driver strides purposefully down the narrow corridor searching for Cook made me flash on this:
The Driver - This is the big one. If you asked me who my favourite director is, I would vacillate for a minute between John Carpenter and Walter Hill before plumping for the latter, and The Driver is one of the many reasons why - cinema pared down to it’s most basic raw components. Terse, tense, fast, relentless and perfect. Ryan O’Neal is the Driver. Bruce Dern is the Detective. Isabelle Adjani is the Player. And I can’t be remotely objective about it, so I’m not even going to try. Bruce Dern put it best: “You know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna catch me the cowboy that's never been caught. Cowboy desperado.” Cue squealing rubber for 91 glorious minutes.
To Live and Die in L.A. - Say, that would be a pretty good alternate title for Drive, donchathink? Wang Chung wield the synths this time, and I’d argue that the car chases in William Friedkin’s movie easily surpass those from his earlier The French Connection. Robby Müller’s cinematography here is just gorgeous. Also, those colours again - lots of oranges (tangerines?) and reds.
Does this make it sound like a didn’t enjoy Drive? I hope not. I kinda loved it. I just kept getting pulled out of the film and into my memories. Also, I’d love a 1973 Chevy Malibu for Christmas. Failing that, I’ll settle for a satin scorpion jacket.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Word on the Street

Browsing my bookshelves this morning, my eyes kept getting drawn to the same thin volume, so I pulled it down, blew the dust off it and cracked the spine. The book was Breakdancing - Mr. Fresh and The Supreme Rockers Show You How To Do It! It was a helluva way to start the day. Because it's far too good to keep to myself, I wanted to share my favourite chapter with you, a glossary of breakdancing argot circa 1984. Is it fresh or is it wack? You decide!:
If you don't want to completely embarass yourself, then don't tell your friends you just heard "a really outstanding song." Don't say, "That girl is really dumb." And if you're having a great time, going nuts with all your friends, don't say you're all "going nuts". 'Cause that's wack.

And if someone tells you that they have a friend who's a really BAD dancer, don't think he's not a good dancer. And Breakdancers don't "hang around."

Tell your friends you just heard a new song and it's really fresh. And you met this girl who's wack. And that you and your friends were buggin' out. And if someone does a BAD King Tut, then their Tut is fresh. And if you're maxin', you're relaxin'.

So if you don't wanna be wack and have a heart attack, pay attention to the following words and you'll be awesome.

Amaze 'em. This is how you win a dance battle. "You amaze 'em."
"How do you amaze 'em?"
"Easy. You just amaze 'em."

Awesome. Breakdancers don't need much of an excuse to say awesome. Some nights everything is awesome.
"Wow, look at that Adidas suit. Awesome."
"We're goin' to the Roxy tonight. It's gonna be awesome."
"I got the continuation of my Windmill. Awesome."
"I met some fresh girls. Awesome."
"Look at that cheeseburger. Awesome."

Bad. Bad is real good. In other words, if it's good enough, then it's bad.
"When we get our new Chinese suits, we'll be bad."
"Man, I saw this two-month-old kid doing the King Tut, and he was bad."
"Those Gazows are bad."

Bite. When someone bites one of your moves, then they steal it. Bite only has one very exact meaning, and this it. Biting moves is really wack, but everyone does it. Biting is little bit like cheating in a card game. If you see someone biting one of your moves, you can pretend you're biting you're finger, as a sign that you know they're biting. The most interesting thing about biting is that it shows how really individual Breakdancing is. Your moves are used to win battles, so if someone bites one of your moves, then they can use it against you in a battle.

Bugging Out. When you're going crazy, you're bugging out. Or if you get confused or mess out you say you're bugging or bugging out. Or if you see something or someone that really catches your eye and really stare, then you're bugging out.
"Man, we got on the subway and we were bugging out."
"What's the matter with you? You're buggin'."
"Man, those guys were buggin' out."

Chill. Good, O.K.
"His Pop is chill."
"You wanna go to the movies? That's chill."

Chillin'. Relaxing. Hanging out. Laying back.
"Hey, what's up?" "Chillin'."
"Hey, what's up?" "Chillin', willin', maxin', and relaxin'." or "Maxin' and relaxin', chilling, willing, and able."

Fresh. This is the big word. This will get you through a lot of tough situations. Fresh means original, good, or real good. And to say it right you always accent the word fresh.
"Our new routine is fresh."
"I heard a new record. It was fresh."
"He's too fresh."
Fresh is used in so many instances and so often, as long as you use it for anything good, you'll be fresh.

Juice. If you got juice, you got pull with someone who counts.

Maxin'. Relaxing. Or use max out.
"What's your beef?" "Maxin'."
"I'm tired, I'm gonna max out."

Power. If you're a dancer and you're really rocking, you're in power. When someone is in a position of authority, power or respect, you say that they're in their power - a very common term. For example, Michael Jackson is in his power. The Beatles were in their power in the 60's and 70's. Afrika Bambaataa, one of the most respected persons in Hip Hop, is in his power. Sometimes when a dancer feels like he or she has the audience bugging out, they'll do a dance move with a closed fist to indicate a state of power.

Rock. When you're really getting down dancewise, you're rocking.
"How'd it go?" "Man, we were rockin' shit."

Take out. If you win a battle, you take the other dancer out. If someone beats you, they take you out.

Wack. The opposite of fresh. Bad, not bad. Everything bad is wack.
"Man, you wack."
"He dances wack."
"Look at that Calvin Klein outfit. "Yeah, it's wack."