Monday, May 21, 2007

the film that didn't suck

Drugstore Cowboy had always been in the back of my mind as one of those classic movies I'd have to see one day, even though I had no idea what it was actually about. (And, frankly, I think there may have been times when I confused Drugstore Cowboy with Rhinestone Cowboy... a very different movie...)

But then one day, walking down Irving St. in the NW quadrant of Portland, heading towards SK's temporary abode with our friend Dr. Dutch, I noticed a placard on an enormous apartment building. Not your standard brick walk-up type apartment building, but a crazy-huge, wooden behemoth, built in a U shape, with porches along the bottom and top floors, all the way around. A really striking building with a much more Southern architectural style than most Portland buildings.

So the placard on the gate to this building said, and I'm paraphrasing: "Hey, this is where they filmed some of the scenes in Drugstore Cowboy!" Until then, I had no idea it had been filmed in Portland and hadn't even put it together in my mind that Gus Van Sant directed it.

Well, I finally watched it last night, and let me tell you: it's a good, depressing, uplifting movie. The shots of all the Portlandia were less satisfying than those in The Hunted. Drugstore Cowboy came out in 1989, so things looked slightly different and even though a lot of it seemed to be shot in the Old Town area where I work, I still wasn't absolutely sure I knew what I was looking at. Things just looked tantalizingly familiar. And I swear to god, there are shots of my workplace in there. I swear, but I can't prove it.

Other than the Portlandia, it's a good movie. If you don't already know, it's about junkies who rob drugstores for... you know... drugs. There's only one actual drug store robbery in the film, but there are lots of scenes of the ferocious foursome shooting up or in the throes of one or another drug. Mostly they prefer downers, like heroin, and there are great scenes of Matt Dillon with glazed eyes and a half smile, while little cowboy hats and farm animals and trees sort of dance across the screen and over his face in superimposed ghost images. If that's what heroin is like, I'm kinda glad I never tried it.

There's another great scene right after they've traded some of their loot to this local, small time dealer, wanna be hustler kid for some chrystal meth. They're all jacked up on meth and Matt Dillon does a very convincing jaw thrust, a common tick among folks on meth. I see it, unfortunately, a lot at work. I thought that was a nice touch.

Another nice touch was William S. Burroughs, who plays the role of a defrocked priest, kicked out of the church for being a junkie. He turns out to be living in the same shitty SRO downtown as Matt Dillon after Dillon leaves the gang to try and get clean. There are a couple of scenes where Burroughs practically looks directly at the camera and gives what I can only imagine is a completely ad-libbed speech made up of his own beliefs about the demonization of narcotics, including a very prescient prediction that the government will use fighting drugs as a way to erode civil liberties. Or at least that's what I think he was talking about.

Even though the drug lifestyle is really depressing, especially if you've actually seen it up close, the movie arcs upwards and as the credits rolled, I was surprised to find a little mist in my eyes. It was a good one. You should check it out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked the movie, it's one of my favorites. But I have to correct you on one thing. You said there is only one drugstore robbery scene, but there are actually two. The one at the beginning of the movie, when Heather Grahm's character fakes a seizure and Matt(Bob) sneaks behind the counter and steals drugs from the drawers and cabinets. And then the one where they are on the road in a small town, and they go through the window of the drugstore at night.


1:19 PM  
Blogger reasonably prudent poet said...

oh yeah, you're right. i forgot about that scene. it's not as dramatic or detailed as the first robbery.

and of course there's the scene where he breaks into the hospital to steal drugs... a long important robbery scene, but not in a drug store...

1:30 PM  

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