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Trouble in Mind (DVD Review)

13 Dec, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 12/14/10
Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Drama, $19.97 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Kris Kristofferson, Keith Carradine, Lori Singer, Genevieve Bujold.

Filmed in Seattle and set in a compatibly fictional metropolis called Rain City, writer-director Alan Rudolph’s flaky noir conceit was at the time among my favored movies of 1985 — which may be another way of saying that 1985 and its tsunami of teen tastemaking didn’t warm too many of my aortic cockles. (OK, The Breakfast Club gets a begrudging pass, but Weird Science?)

Still, the movie has an elusive “something” going for it, which is mostly potent chemistry between its romantic principals plus some ticklish gonzo casting — also a Mark Isham score that gets under your skin. Rudolph was a protégé of Robert Altman’s, and the movie plays like one of the latter’s more “winging it” projects (which is mostly what Altman himself was doing in the 1980s).

Sporting the kind of perfect trim that every bearded guy would like to brandish on his wedding day, Kris Kristofferson plays a limping ex-cop cop just out of prison for fatally popping some lowlife crud who apparently deserved it. Initially anxious to rekindle with a hash-house proprietress from his past (Genevieve Bujold), he instead falls hard for a willowy lost soul new to town (Lori Singer) — one with a very young baby who’s so cute that he could make Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange go “aaaawwww.” Unfortunately, she also has a longtime companion who somehow fathered this child (Keith Carradine).

This guy is such a loser that the first time he gets some change in his pocket — not counting the cash he stole to get them city-bound from the sticks in the first place — he blows it on some almost historically abysmal spit-curl hairstyling that suggests what you might get if some ‘C’-list Elvis imitator had a child with David Bowie. Plus some notably garish apparel. In fact, both Carradine and Kristofferson seem to have been given a generous clothing allowance here, given their characters’ shaky status in life.

Carradine gets involved with a low-grade thief (Joe Morton, whose own hair is pocked with tiny spikes) who is foolishly trying to compete in thievery with the local underworld’s Mr. Big. The last, turns out, is big, and he’s played in uncharacteristic male garb by the late and lamented jumbo transvestite Divine — a couple years before he originated, just before his death, the Edna Turnblad in John Waters’ first version of Hairspray. And in another jolly trip to the Screen Actor’s Guild, the late comic impressionist George Kirby plays the local law and sometimes friend of Kristofferson — which may or may not have been intended irony. Between his heyday and this movie, the onetime Ed Sullivan regular who served 42 months for selling heroin to an undercover cop.

All of this contributes to a tone of other-worldliness (or maybe other-weird-liness) that begins at once with a Marianne Faithfull vocal during the opening credits — one almost as life-beaten (and no less effective for that) as Billie Holiday’s swan song Lady in Satin LP. Also contributing is a continuing motif that involves that involves some kind of paramilitary force and the placard-carriers who are protesting it. This part of the movie I just don’t get, and in a new 50-minute featurette included on the DVD, Rudolph never refers to it.

The result is self-conscious, overripe and (to some, I’m sure) even risible, but there’s a solid dose of humanity here in the way that Kristofferson genuinely cares about Singer, also in Bujold’s automatic offer of shelter for mother-and-child and in the way Bujold cares about Kristofferson (maybe romantically, maybe not) despite being wary of him.

The look-back features all five surviving leads (it’s obvious that they all enjoyed the experience) plus a sit-down between Rudolph and Isham to discuss the music. Mind has a distinctive look, though there is one shot in Bujold’s eatery that’s about as grainy as anything you’ll ever see on a major DVD release. This same establishment also hosts a fight scene (which in real life sent Kristofferson and Carradine to the hospital) that I still remembered after 25 years. Even if you count all the variations you’ve seen in a million Westerns, this bout has some unusual choreography that features one of the best ill-timed flying leaps you’ll ever see.

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