"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.
In 2011, Matt Zoller Seitz (editor) and Kim Morgan (narrator) take Ebert's review, combine it with footage from Figgis's movie, and create a multi-layered video essay that brings out the best in all of them. The "script" has been altered slightly to work more effectively as voiceover, and Morgan delivers it in a sultry voice, over the throbbing rhythm of B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone," from the movie's soundtrack :
What is "Stormy Monday" about? Well, where to begin? I could start by saying it's a modern noir, or neo-noir, released in 1988, and it stars Melanie Griffith, Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting, and that it's written, directed and scored by Mike Figgis. And I can tell you that the picture 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.
Does that tell you what "Stormy Monday" is about -- a few credits and a sketch of the plot? No, not really. It never does, does it? So, how about this? "Stormy Monday" is about the way the light falls on wet pavement stones...
Read and see more at the new indieWIRE video and prose criticism blog Press Play.
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