American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
“Why is it,” someone was asking the other day, “that you movie critics spend all of your time talking about the story and never talk about the visual qualities of a film, which are, after all, what make it a film?” Good question. Maybe it’s because we work in words, and stories are told in words, and it’s harder to use words to paint pictures. But it might be worth a try.
“Stormy Monday” is about the way light falls on wet pavement stones, and about how a neon sign glows in a darkened doorway. It is about the attitudes that men strike when they feel in control of a situation, and the way their shoulders slump when someone else takes power. It is about smoking. It is about cleavage. It is about the look on a man’s face when someone is about to deliberately break his arm, and he knows it. And about the look on a woman’s face when she is waiting for a man she thinks she loves, and he is late, and she fears it is because he is dead.
“Stormy Monday” is also about symbols. It takes place mostly near the seedy waterfront of Newcastle, where a crooked Texas millionaire is trying to run a nightclub owner out of business so he can redevelop the area with laundered money. But now we’re back to the story again. You see how easy it is to slip. The movie uses a lot of symbols of America: the flag, stretched large and bold behind a podium.
Baton twirlers. A curiously frightening old man with a sinister smile, who struts in front of the baton twirlers, his shoulders thrown back, tipping his hat to the crowd. A car - big, fast, and red. Bourbon whiskey. Marlboros and cigars.