Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Almost twenty years ago, writing in praise of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” for Premiere magazine, author Rick Moody said that “the first and most important act of violence” Tarantino’s movie committed “was against Robert McKee’s airtight three-act cinematic structure,” going on to describe the movie’s shape as “dangerously impulsive.” There’s always been a method to Tarantino’s impulsiveness, as it were, and seven films after “Pulp Fiction” his method is, if not exhausted—very few screenwriters and/or directors can successfully replicate the effects his best films achieve—then at least familiar. His screenplays purposefully juggle time, showing us a certain series of events in an independent context, then doubling back in time to reveal why everything the viewer thought he or she knew was wrong, while also providing bonus pleasures like bringing favorite characters back from the dead, in a manner of speaking. Tarantino is not the only filmmaker to do this sort of thing but he’s one of the few who do it from the ground up, that is, in the writing—masterful cinematic time-jugglers like Resnais, Lester, and Soderbergh achieve their effects mostly via editing.
This is arguably a long-winded way to introduce a HEAVILY Tarantino-influenced film that tries to outdo Tarantino in the structural ingenuity department. The movie doesn’t even come close to succeeding, and teeters on the brink of out-and-out disaster at several junctures. But as failures go, it’s more interesting than most.
John Hawkes plays Sampson, an L.A. private detective with a rogueish-but-fatalistic air about him, who inexplicably comes running when he gets a phone call from a stripper named Dorothy (Crystal Reed). One says “inexplicably” because according to their conversation, they’ve only met once, and it was three years prior. One hopes to not being spoilerish when noting that the movie’s main title card, the one reading “Too Late,” appears about twenty-two minutes into the film, at the conclusion of its first episode, which is also its first shot.
You read that correctly. “Too Late” is divided into five acts, each of which takes place in the space of one shot. More or less. (We’ll get to that qualification in a second.) To make matters more interesting, the five acts are non-chronological. The second act, in which a strip-club owner’s indignant and hurt wife is so beside herself that she answers the door to her house naked from the waist down, takes place after the first, but not directly; it’s Hawkes’ Sampson at the door, and he’s dressed in the same suit, but he’s pretty bloodied up, which he was not when the first act ended. Act three goes back those aforementioned three years, whaddya know. And so on.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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