Saturday 6 October 2007

Into the Night (1985) John Landis

John Landis is a major, if often inconsistent, film director. As the seventies turned into the eighties, he could do no wrong: The Kentucky Fried Movie, National Lampoon's Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London. Amazing stuff. However to my mind, Into the Night, made right after the longest rock video of the time, Michael Jackson's Thriller, is his most enjoyable and interesting movie, if not his best. It reminds me very much of Martin Scorsese's After Hours, not just in vague theme but in the way that I can come back to both of these films any time I like and can't keep my eyes off them. After Hours isn't Scorsese's best film either, but I find it so much more fascinating than all those New York Italian movies.

The lead character is Ed Okin, an aerospace engineer played by Jeff Goldblum who effectively sleepwalks through the entire film. He can't sleep, hasn't slept for a long, long time and everything is starting to fade into one for him. Sitting in bed, eyes wide open and unable to drop off, isn't far different from sitting in a technical meeting at work, spacing out to the degree that he finds himself two weeks behind where he thought he was. It's like he's disconnected from the entire world.

When he goes home and finds his wife cheating on him, he ends up taking his colleague's suggestion that he go to Vegas for the night. He drives on out to the airport and is just sitting there in the parking lot, when Michelle Pfeiffer gets chased onto the bonnet of his car. Suddenly he's part of something big, that escalates in all sorts of directions without him ever having control of any of it. It may just be the most understated lead performance in history. He's simply there and the entire film happens to him, like the lead character himself is the MacGuffin.

The cast is amazing and completely unique. Almost everyone in the cast it seems is integrally associated with the film industry but you wouldn't expect to see them in front of the camera. Landis himself is one of four hilarious middle eastern thugs who chase Michelle Pfeiffer throughout the film and shoot up everything. Beyond him though there are directors, producers and other well known names everywhere, in cameos of various sizes, starting with Ed's boss who is David Cronenberg.

Rick Baker, the makeup and creature designer that helped make An American Werewolf in London so memorable, is a drug dealer. Jonathan Lynn is a tailor, Carl Perkins is a bodyguard, Amy Heckerling is a waitress whose only line is 'Sorry'. Jim Henson is a man on a phone, Don Siegel is a rich man getting some in a bathroom, Jack Arnold is a man in a lift with a noisy dog. Jonathan Demme and Carl Gottlieb are federal agents and Lawrence Kasdan is a cop. Paul Mazursky has great fun as a TV director with a Golden Globe that the Savak break in half.

For some it's their only acting credit: Colin Higgins is a TV actor here, but he's really a writer, director and producer, who wrote Harold and Maude and directed Nine to Five and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Some are bad guys, such as Roger Vadim, in possibly his only English language speaking role. Best of all is one of his hired killers, David Bowie of all people, who is awesome in my very favourite role of his: 'You're very good! You're really very good!'

Now these are just names I know and faces I recognise. Clicking on random names in IMDb shows that there are many more. I had no clue who Richard Franklin was, but he's one of Ed's fellow aerospace techs here and it would seem that I've seen quite a few films that he's made. Robert Paynter is the security guard where Ed works and I've never heard of him either, but he's a cinematographer who shot a lot of films for Landis and others like Michael Winner. There are people in here who are merely actors, but there don't seem to be many of them.

And I'll shut up about the cast now. There's much more here than just a wildly different cast. There's also music by B B King, apparently because Landis hadn't used him in The Blues Brothers, and as a result we get to hear a lot more Lucille than we'd have heard in that film had he been there. There are awesome locations and choices of angle or what may even be lucky coincidences that elevate everything. I wonder if the plane being carried across the overpass was planned or just lucky.

The story is fascinating to me and works on so many different levels. There are so many little touches of genius that could so easily go almost unnoticed, but which resonate with me. Sometimes it's really well written lines or dialogues, sometimes quirky situations, often it's merely a reaction. Often it's something that didn't have to be there but Landis or screenwriter Ron Koslow or whoever felt the need and they work as a powerful enhancement. How many films can I honestly say that I'd want to rewind them and immediately watch afresh? Not many, but this is one of them.

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