Watched at Rio Cinema, Dalston.
David Lowery made my favourite film of last year, A Ghost Story, reviewed back on my old blog here and for the Oxford Culture Review here. But when I went to see his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints in 2013 it was part of a Rio Cinema Sunday Double-Bill. As I also used to attend the Rio’s Saturday midnight showings, I often fell asleep during the second Sunday feature as I did with that film. I’m going to see Dad next week and I’m pretty sure he has it on DVD so I can revisit it then.
So, despite only really having watched only two of Lowery’s film, I’m already convinced he is an intriguing director. In A Ghost Story central character C (Casey Affleck) dies only to be reintroduced into the earthly environment as a ghost soon after. The film shifts temporal planes across the singular spatial setting of the land that holds/held the house he lived in before he died. Though the past and future fluctuate over the location, A Ghost Story manages to collapse time into a perpetual present that is not inflected with particular nostalgia or dys/u-topia. The cinema makes it possible: wherever you go, that’s where you are. It was not a looping or balancing of heterogeneous moments in time that we see in many films, constructed as techniques of suspenseful retardation or allowing us to see an events from multiple character’s perspectives. It said – we are always in the now.
Though the similarities may not be immediately obvious – The Old Man and the Gun being based on a mostly-true story and A Ghost Story certainly unable to make this claim – the two share cinematic sentiments in what they are trying to, and succeed in, achieving.
Blah blah blah…. There are some things only cinema as an art form can do. I think about this a lot, how film inaugurates time in its magic specificity – and it’s true! And Lowery understands this.
The Old Man and the Gun is set in the early 80s, primarily in Texas. Through celluloid grain, all fuzzy and warm, we see the world of retro muted colours, showing us not just time and place but era. Textual qualities of pre-digital processing communicates nostalgia for a cinematic moment, introducing the film as concerned with its own status as a moving-image.
Robert Redford as Forrest Tucker is the warm body that the rest of the film orbits. His face made of deep and soft wrinkles that renders tender all expression and softens all he does, just as the camera’s grain does to the image. A charm undeniable in his confidence that allows for slow and calm bank-robberies and smooth, patient charisma when meeting Sissy Spacek’s character Jewel. Jewel is not a sharp stone, not a crystal refracting light through clean cut surfaces, but one made soft from years of polish.
The hunt for Tucker and his Over The Hill Gang by Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) too is gentle, rhythmically tapping along like a southern drawl singing a catchy melody. Hunt’s ambitions are not an anxious chase, but motivate him through the narrative, sweet and almost humble in his desire to catch a man you can’t help but admire. Tucker’s cool abilities at robbery and escaping from prison are to be lauded, if only for the way they appear so casually precise.
A point that has been much discussed in the film is the still and moving images of Redford in his youth to depict Tucker in early mug-shots or prison escape sequences. Such a self-reflexive technique certifies a logic denoting the film as unconcerned about Redford becoming Tucker or drifting away in order for Tucker to step forth. Redford is himself the character here, and each snippet image of him as a younger man not only winks to the audience, but blows a melancholic and whispering kiss that communicates the fleeting nature of time. Here, Lowery uses the cinema’s own logic, thinking of memory as built by cinematic representations, and allowing a Hollywood figure as important and iconic as Redford to have an enchanted dance with his own handsome legacy. Like in A Ghost Story, it is not that people/beings are “brought back to life”. More nuanced somehow, it is that cinema illuminates a time from then into now.