Monday, October 06, 2008

Searchers 2.0

On Tuesday, film director Alex Cox came to Seattle for the local premiere of his latest film, Searchers 2.0, at the Grand Illusion Cinema. It is the tale of Mel and Fred, two middle-age bit actors in Los Angeles who both appeared together as children in a cheesy western written by legendary screenwriter Fritz Frobisher who so terrified and brutalized them on the set that each man swore revenge. When they learn that he will be appearing at a special screening of the film in Monument Valley (where John Ford shot The Searchers) their path is clear. They will travel there, find Fritz Frobisher, and kick his ass. Since neither man has a car, though, they rope in Mel’s daughter, Delilah, to drive them. And so off they go through the American Southwest in Alex Cox’s thoughtful, funny and engaging meditation on movies, revenge, forgiveness, cars, the Iraq war, John Wayne, Sergio Leone and other topics.

This movie is a lot of fun. The conversations among the three main characters are hilarious. (You can get a sample of them in the clip below.) Now, “charming” (as opposed to, say, “sardonic” or “anarchic”) is not a word I would normally use to describe the films of Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Walker) but in this case it fits, largely due to the chemistry among this three leads: Del Zamora as Mel, Ed Pansullo as Fred and Jaclyn Jonet as Delilah. Pansullo was especially good, capturing the eccentric and nerdy intensity of a devoted film fan (as in fanatic).

Searchers 2.0 is solid proof that the most important part of any movie is the writing and acting. In the Q & A after the screening Cox (who also wrote the screenplay) mentioned that he wanted to see how quickly and cheaply he could make it. It was shot on digital video in two weeks on a budget of about $200,000. And it’s far superior to most Hollywood movies. In fact, it’s far superior to most independent movies. It’s full of great touches that only talent – yes, that’s right, talent – can provide. For instance, when Fred starts talking about John Wayne’s performance in The Searchers (watch the clip) notice how the light increases on him. If that effect had been done too forcefully then Fred would be reduced to an object of ridicule; we would laugh at him rather than recognize both the awe in which he holds Wayne’s performance and the fact that, on some level, he is seeking the same redemption that he’s describing. The film also shows the makeshift memorials set up in these small Southwest towns to the local kids who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

My only disappointment with this movie was that it falls apart at the end. Cox’s films fall into two categories: the punk (Repo Man, Walker, Straight to Hell), which are exuberant, tongue-in-cheek, satirical, etc. and the realistic (Sid and Nancy – his masterpiece). This film begins as realistic – with whimsical elements hovering around the edges – but then goes into Cox’s anarchic punk mode which, while entertaining, I found ultimately something of a letdown. These characters are very engaging on a human level, you care about what happens to them. And while the resolution of the story makes sense dramatically, Cox abandons the human element at the tend and lards up the film with a tedious Sergio Leone parody.

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