Monday, September 01, 2008

In Search of a Midnight Kiss: A little BW movie from a Factory

OK, “In Search of a Midnight Kiss”, directed and written by Alex Holdridge and distributed by IFC First Take, is a nice, old-fashioned black-and-white movie, that you expect to have the look of film noir from the 40s and 50s, or perhaps some of those gentle comedies like “Sabrina” and "Marty”. Well, not exactly. It’s more like an Andy Warhol movie, something from The Factory LA (or Austin TX now). You don’t see Joe D’Allesandro; rather you see gritty actors (and actresses) and real characters that like for the moment and talk plain, and are hardly aware that the high-tech world of Craigslist and Myspace that starts them off are rather recent add-ons. (The film does make a clever comparison between the two; it's like you get nowhere in life now without checking people out online first.) They haven’t always existed in their black-and-white purgatory that we call Los Angeles.

The black-and-white really didn’t work for me on the outdoor shots. I usually like to fill in color with my mind’s eye. Perhaps it wasn’t crisp and metallic enough (compare to the Coen Brother’s “The Man Who Wasn’t There”) This time, I missed the green of the Hollywood Hills (or is it parched brown), and the red of the roses handed to Vivian (Sara Simmonds) on the Long Beach Metro by some homeless man, embarrassing to his meet-up Wilson (Scoot McNairy, who helped to produce the film). Where the visual approach is in the Hitchcock-like closeups, particularly of the male characters, and particularly Wilson (a struggling screenwriter trying to sell his first big script -- comedies only from this "regular guy"), who starts out scruffy, but when cleaned up for his “date” is most appealing and exudes a simple kind of charisma. The camera lingers on skin tone, making the characters lush or splotched according to the circumstances. It can focus on the little things with Warhol-like attention, as to Wilson’s arm and chest hair.

There have been BW movies in full Scope, like Hud, where the combination of breadth and abstraction work well; but here you just must have the closeups, full frontal, with undivided attention. So 1.85:1 aspect was appropriate. Some of the scenes appear to have been filmed with Dogme technique.

The story is a bit unbalanced, paying more attention to the transformation of Wilson than his pal Jacob (a taller Brian McGuire) who pairs up with Min (Kathleen Luong). There is a crucial scene, transitioning the screenplay from “middle” to “end” where Vivian gets a cell phone call from a jealous ex-boy friend, who wants to talk to Wilson. After shaking his head, Wilson handles the threats quite coolly. “I’m just a guy…” “Say what you want, I’m with her.”

The music score (by Kaz Boyle?) gets interesting in places, especially with saxophone passages that anticipate intimacy. There is one curious passage accompanying a mid-film visit to the Los Angeles Oprheum, which looks odd in black and white.

The end of the movie may seem to head for something like Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” since it is New Years Eve in LA. The results are intimate, but maybe don’t provide such a cliffhanger.

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