Sunday, 23 May 2010

the bad lieutenant: port of call - new orleans (d. herzog, w. finkelstein)

There are two hand held shots in this film, one from an alligator's POV, another from an iguana's, which are pure Herzog. The rest might be defined as more Kinski than Herzog, as though Nick Cage is seeking to summon the director's excessive alter ego from the grave. Cage's over-the-top performance possesses similar traits to Kinski's most grandiose work, which was achieved in conjunction (rather than at the behest of) his director. Herzog has a penchant for the atavistic spirit, the freak who not only lives life but seeks to devour it, and Cage is more than happy to comply with the less measured half of the director's brain.

Which all goes to make for an entertaining if ridiculous movie. Had it been directed and played more 'straight' it would have been pure pap. However, under the sway of director and star, it almost becomes a critique of excess, a lost film of Donald Cammell's. Almost, but perhaps not quite. Within the security of the Hollywood system, Herzog's vision becomes cauterised. (Hence the appeal of the two shots he quite specifically claims as his own in the credits.) It feels like the only way it could truly have been a Herzog movie would have been had he been able to make it in the days following the breaking of the New Orleans levees, when the bodies and the slime still owned the streets. The shadow of Katrina, and its critique of the American dream, hovers over the film, but its potency has waned. Instead, Herzog uses images of the blandness of the cityscape, its residual grey, its neo-destitution to frame the decadence of a system that can produce an anti-hero like Cage's Terence McDonagh. The gloopily feel-good ending (as in the case of Rescue Dawn, his last Hollywood film) seems like an admission of defeat. This is not Kinski on a raft full of monkeys, or throwing himself at the surf. The rage is tempered, the system and the filmmaker agreeing an uneasy and not entirely satisfactory peace. The irony is that for all its faults, Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant might have been truer to the original spirit of Herzog's fimmaking than Herzog's own version of the film whose title it shares.

No comments: