Monday, 14 August 2006

Don't Come Knocking (2005)

A special kind of mood is required to watch the world go by. Or a Wim Wenders film, for the matter.

Long before Sofia Coppola was doing Lost in Translation, Wim Wenders was beating a trail in intercultural cinema. The German-born, American-influenced (Wenders grew up in occupied Germany), and French-educated auteur is known for works like Paris, Texas, Tokyo-Ga, and Wings of Desire.

From their titles alone, you’d have an idea of what to expect from a Wim Wenders movie. One can imagine dislocated persons wandering around in foreign landscapes, alienated yet searching for some common humanity with others. As a filmmaker of the old European school, Wenders eschews the tyranny of realism and plot in favour of the image and the soundtrack. Whether it is angels perched on top of skyscrapers and statues or even slow pans of the desert vistas of the American Southwest, watching any of his movies is a cinematic experience of pure experience. Dialogue may be at a minimum and the plot may take a while to develop and then a while for us to figure out, but in those many minutes, we chill out in our seats admiring the stunning cinematography and the soundtrack.

While most of us are used to film as a means of storytelling, Wenders employs film as a mode of philosophy, of mellow observation of the deeper qualities of humanity. That’s not to say that his films are unwatchable or are intimidating and artistic. There is a sense of wry humour and irony that creeps along in each film; we sometimes hear it humming along in the background, and sometimes it just jumps out at the most unexpected places, discreetly and in a non-showy fashion, of course, since Wenders is still more European than American in his directorial sensibility. So when you watch Don’t Come Knocking, all this will hold true for you: the languid pacing, the meditative, taciturn dialogue, the profoundly beautiful camerawork and the unforgettable music – you know what to expect, but the joy is seeing it delivered in an unexpected manner.

While Don’t Come Knocking returns to the setting of Paris, Texas and reprises its opening scene of a cowboy riding off into the desert, everything is different. For one, it turns out that the figure is really an actor, a washed up former Western film star who, after decades of hard living and celebrity scandals and a slow slide to has-been status, has decided to walk off the set of a film so bad that it almost is a parody of all Westerns and The Bridges of Madison County, and had to be financed by a small-time businessman. We will never know why Howard Spence (Sam Shepard) left, but we are treated to half an hour of seeing how this celebrity (however much he is a has-been) manages to pull off and sustain a disappearing trick on his handlers at the production company. Or to appreciate slowly the irony and humour of a man disappearing from the world’s eye by going into the real world, of a man making it difficult to be found in order, perhaps, to find himself. The humour is understated, in the background, and yet sustained over half an hour on just one philosophical joke, will generate tingles in your flesh.

At the same time, Don’t Come Knocking is still a Western. Relentlessly and mercilessly on the heels of the outlaw is some kind of bounty hunter (Tim Roth), a creepy man who speaks ever so politely in clipped syllables and even pays a visit to Mrs Spencer (Eva Marie Saint), a little old lady in Nevada who Howard has never spoken to in more than 20 years. Perhaps he’s fled to the safety of his childhood home. Or perhaps, like outlaws in the movies, Howard has escaped in order to come to terms with the hearts he’s broken – after all, he did have a wild past – and reap the seeds he has sown before he meets (and will surely meet) the bounty hunter.

I liked Wender’s handling of what appears to turn out as Howard’s quest for personal redemption. In the hands of a lesser director, this would turn out to be a preachy, moralising film about the evils of the Hollywood lifestyle, If Howard realises that much of his time was lost in his youth and literally suspended in the endless succession of film shoots, can he regain it? Instead of asking dramatically if Howard can be saved, Wenders gently asks if he could regain that lost time. Instead of asking if Howard’s attempts at rapprochement with an old flame (Jessica Lange) could ever lead to his redemption, Wenders asks with a twinkle in his eye whether how Howard attempts to make up for his lost time is the test of redemption in itself.

First published at incinemas on 17 August 2006


illustrationISM said...

I just saw the movie, 'DON'T COME KNOCKING' tonight and it was awesome. I can't find the soundtrack anywhere tho'!!??
U2 & T-Bone Burnett all over the soundtrack!
mark jaquette @
illustrationISM &

Vernon Chan said...

You'd probably want to keep this page bookmarked:

Currently, though, there isn't a soundtrak for the movie yet.