Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" is a comedy, according to the strict definition of that word: It ends hapily, and there are indications along the way that we're not supposed to take it seriously. It is, however, the tensest comedy I can remember, building its nightmare situation step by insidious step until our laughter is hollow, or defensive. This is the work of a master filmmaker who controls his effects so skillfully that I was drained by this film - so emotionally depleted that there was a moment, two-thirds of the way through, when I wondered if maybe I should leave the theater and gather my thoughts and come back later for the rest of the "comedy."
The movie tells the story of a night in the life of Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a midtown Manhattan word-processing specialist who hates his job and his lonely private life. One night in a restaurant he strikes up a conversation with a winsome young woman (Rosanna Arquette). They seem to share some of the same interests. He gets her telephone number. He calls her, she suggest he come downtown to her apartment in SoHo, and that is the begining of his Kafkesque adventure.
The streets of SoHo are dark and deserted. Clouds of steam escape from the pavement, as they did in Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," suggesting that Hades lurks just below the field of vision. The young woman is staying for a few days in the apartment of a friend (Linda Fiorentino), who makes bizarre sculptures, has kinky sexual tastes, and talks in a strange, veiled way about being burned. In Arquette's bedroom, Dunne makes the usual small talk of a first date, and she gushes that she's sure they will have a great time, but then everything begins to fall apart.
At first, we think perhaps Dunne is the victim of random bad luck, as he is confronted with nightmares both tragic and trivial: ominous strangers, escalating subway fares, a shocking suicide, sadomasochistic sexual practices, a punk nightclub where he almost has his head shaved, a street mob that thinks he is a thief. Only later, much later, on this seemingly endless night, do we find how everything is connected - and even then, it doesn't make any logical sense. For Paul Hackett, as for the Job of the Old Testament, the plague of bad luck seems generated by some unexplained divine wrath.