Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Down and Out in the Pacific Northwest

Many of my favorite films revolve around destitute, desperate, denizens surviving on the fringes of society.  Films about lost souls, survivors, and criminals.  Odes to freedom seekers and outcasts.  Stark portrayals and gritty depictions of life in the gutter.  Chronicles of the down and out.

For me, the best locale, the best stage to set these grimey stories is the Pacific Northwest.  Country that is beset by its own gloom.  A region where the clouds reign supreme from rise to set and the rain pounds the pot holes for much of the year.  Whether it's the omnipresent damp air or the domineering gray landscapes, or some other far reaching phenomenon, there is something about the PNW that reeks of depression.  It's as if the the old PNW is always looming high  over the heads of it's citizens, slowly blowing messages of despondency and desolation through the night skies.  The Pacific Northwest is more than a setting for these films, it is a character that infiltrates every scene of it's movies, every last corner of a thousand lonely hearts.

These films serve as an elegy to the Northwest, a reminder of so many of the things that make me miss this forlorn world.

This is one of my favorite documentaries that takes place in the Pacific Northwest.  It tracks the lives of several street kids surviving the streets of Seattle in the early 80's.  Everyone is beset by their demons, whether they be prostitution, drugs, lonliness, and/or destitute poverty.  These kids are alone at sea.  All they have are their wits, their alliances, and their dreams.  Tragically romantic.  The characters from this film are so intimately portrayed that you can't help feeling a genuine sense of loss and compassion for each character as they wander in and out of the film.  Also perhaps one of the best uses of the song "Teddy Bear's Picnic," performed by Baby Gramps, the famous Pacific Northwest Street musician.  There are also a couple of songs by Tom Waits, including the theme song for one of the characters, "Rat" that are not to be missed.  You can watch the whole film on youtube, but if your savvy enough, I sould suggest downloading the bittorrent.  I don' think this one has been put out on dvd yet, so your chances of finding a hard copy are pretty slim.

Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong in American Heart

American Heart was inspired by Streetwise.  Pictured above is Tiny consulting on the film.

Glammed up street kids in American Heart

American Heart follows the lives of a desperate family comprised of an ex-convict and his street son.  The films is the dramatization of Streetwise and does an exceptionally good job at remaining faithful the the themes and mood of the source material.  Even though it' very clear which characters from American Heart are based on characters from Streetwise, the film does a great job of giving new life to the fictionalized characters, but still manages to avoid giving the characters a predictable hollywood slant and heavily moralizing their actions.  This one is absolutely not to be missed.  It is a superb story that is finely acted and remarkably authentic.

Tomorrow I will continue with a look at Gus Van Sant's depictions of life in the Northwest.  Stay tuned.

1 comment: said...

I just saw "American Heart" this evening. I wanted to see where my disturbed ex-BF grew up; the streets of Seattle, his being lost and getting beat up there, ending up in his gramma's basement until he won a lawsuit against a pedophile priest. When I met him he had just used the lawsuit $ to buy a home and a hot rod, so I thought maybe the guy had it together from outward appearances...until I got to know him better. This movie exemplified that gloom that was so often his mood, the rough edges that surfaced along with his tears and his yearnings for normalcy and love. I could see my ex all through the main character there, substance abuse and all. I don't think I'll be dating any Seattle malcontents in the future, but, GREAT movie!