September 17th, 2019

Into the Bay

Getting One Thing Straight

Movies and television in the U.S. so often shoot things the same way that audiences are trained to expect certain things and can become peculiarly frustrated when their expectations aren't met, even if, some might say especially if, it's a superior product. Watching David Lynch's 1999 film, The Straight Story, again a couple nights ago I marvelled at the shots he created of Iowa and Wisconsin with cinematographer Freddie Francis.

It's the same kind of visual revelation as Fargo. One kind of forgets how consistently studios shoot southern California for Montana or Indiana or Minnesota that these images have an almost alien quality.

I guess in that sense it's appropriate the previous time Freddie Francis worked with David Lynch it was on Dune and, before that, on The Elephant Man. The Straight Story wasn't only his last film with Lynch but the last film of Francis' career. A magnificent note to go out on.

The true story of a man, Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), travelling across country on a tractor just to see his estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton) is played with a perfectly understated note by Lynch and the actors. Long quiet moments of Alvin driving while Angelo Badalamenti's gentle score plays create this beautiful story through sensory experience.

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Computer beads effect a careful count.
Divided tables add to sev'ral games.
As pieces move the problems slowly mount.
To carve the bones is like to give them names.
A tractor took the hundred miles once.
Of broken belts the war would never tell.
For salt the tiger's tongue forever hunts.
Saliva falls but not for ev'ry bell.
Commended books discard the earthly pulp.
A distant gated drive was shortened quick.
Translated words retract in shrinking gulp.
A careful plan became a lousy trick.
The amber dream remained through inky night.
The slowest wheels approach a morning light.