Monday, June 01, 2015

I am into tacos like you are into turqoise.

This is my contribution to this year's White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Philip Tatler IV at his blog Diary of a Country Pickpocket.

If a movie is repeatedly described by its fans as "Dadaist," isn't the joke on anyone who tries to write about it? Putting aside the question of whether "Dada" is a descriptor that has any real meaning outside of the zeitgeist that birthed it - WWI-era Europe - if a work, like Robert Downey Sr.'s Two Tons to Turquoise to Taos Tonight, is indeed deliberately artless as a protest against the crimes of polite society, is there anything else to say except to note its existence and move on? Maybe, but as I've been assigned Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight to write about, I will try.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't call the film (originally titled Moment to Moment) Dadaist so much as cheerfully nonsensical - while Downey's movies, most famously Putney Swope, were often designed to rankle the status quo, this plotless collection of brief sketches seems less like a calculated provocation than the result of Downey and his friends screwing around with a camera for their own amusement. One scene crashes into the next - there are men on horseback playing baseball, there's a scene aboard a spaceship, and at one point, it seems like the apocalypse might happen, but then it doesn't. The results are uneven as that sounds, though I admire the spirit of the movie even as the experience of actually watching it was something of a chore to get through. Writing that makes me feel like the lieutenant played by Fred Willard in This is Spinal Tap who tells the band he's a fan "not of your music personally, but the whole genre of rock and roll." That's how it is, though.

It's entirely possible that my feeling that I just watched a version of The Kentucky Fried Movie without jokes is on me for not being on Downey and his cast's wavelength. Everything about the way the movie jumps formlessly from one vignette to the next without concern for beginnings, endings or any kind of context suggests that, if it made Downey laugh, that was good enough for him. And as Putney Swope and some of his other movies combine this anarchic sensibility with more focused, pointed satire, I assume that he didn't set out to make a more conventionally satisfying comedy and screwed it up. This is the movie he wanted to make, and there's something admirable about how it's defiantly its own thing, even if I didn't enjoy it very much.

What enjoyment I did get out of it is reflected in the interview for the movie's Criterion release featuring Downey and Paul Thomas Anderson, where the younger director is clearly tickled by the notion that Downey convinced his cast - including his wife, Elsie, who appears in nearly every scene - to act out whatever crazy nonsense they could come up with, which is absurd in the way that all moviemaking is inherently absurd but which few movies acknowledge. My main takeaway is that Elsie, who, according to Downey, never said no to anything, must have been a real hip lady (young Robert Downey Jr. also appears in what seems to be home movie footage). Two Tons to Turquoise to Taos Tonight goes beyond personal into the realm of private filmmaking, and while I found myself thinking "that's clever" but not actually laughing throughout the movie, maybe it'll click with me if I revisit it sometime. And, while it's cheap to dismiss any surreal movie by accusing its makers of being on drugs, as the cast literally does lines at one point in the movie, it seems safe to say that I would have had a different experience if I was high.

Sidenote: I submitted one of my favorite movies, Dead Man, to the blog-a-thon, thinking that the person who was assigned it would be very lucky indeed. He actually hated it and spent multiple paragraphs rolling his eyes at it. Oh well, Jarmusch isn't for everyone. But I have to say, to the person that contributed Two Tons to Turquoise to Taos Tonight to the blog-a-thon: it wasn't my favorite, but if it's one of yours, thanks for nudging me to watch it, and I hope I haven't let you down.

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