Friday, May 6, 2011

"When life gives you razor blades, you get a baseball bat, and you cover it in razor blades"

I figured Hobo with a Shotgun to be many things – tongue-in-cheek, gory, nutty, over-the-top, etc. And it was, but it somehow wound up being something more than that, too – taking me to a way darker place than anticipated. Last year’s iteration of the postmodern grindhouse ethos, Machete, just missed making my 2010 Top Ten List, but for all its mania and gore it was, at heart, a wish fulfillment fantasy – a hilarious and exciting candy-colored fantasia of violence as a kid might imagine it, with a bit of extra long intestine added in. That’s basically what I thought Hobo with a Shotgun might be.

Well, not quite. My antennae did go up when Rutger Hauer, in my interview with him earlier this year, referenced both Westerns and Cirque du Soleil. “It’s a graffiti movie, but it’s also like opera,” he said. “Every scene is like a little opera, but without singing.” He then said that the filmmakers briefly considered putting it out on YouTube as individual scenes. Okay, I remember thinking, this is either going to completely suck, or it’s going to be visionary. Given that it was made by a first-time director and a bunch of his friends, and that always-ominous specter of a YouTube premiere, I feared it would tend towards the former. I was wrong.

Is “visionary” too strong a word for something like this? Maybe. Hobo doesn’t have the existential ferocity of Death Proof, or the heart-stopping action choreography of Hong Kong cinema, or the slick badassery of James Cameron’s Terminator flicks. But when Hauer referenced opera in that above quote, he wasn’t kidding. For all its sophistication as entertainment, there’s something very elemental, almost primitive in opera – you either respond to its extremes of emotion or you don’t. It may take a lot of skill to execute, but the connection is immediate, and it’s a gut-level thing; you can’t think your way into appreciating opera. (Wasn’t there a line in Pretty Woman along those lines?)

Hobo’s maniacal levels of violence and cruelty don’t come with that much surface technical prowess: The action is serviceable, the performances are appropriately over-the-top, the screenplay basic (though it is one of the more quotable movies in many a moon). But, like a cave painting, there’s something about it that just connects and burrows deep into your soul. In a good way, but also in a bad way – it’s too disturbing, too intense, too cruel, too primitively deranged, like the director somehow plugged not into the worst nightmare you’ve ever had, but into the worst nightmare you fear you might one day have.

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