A long-absent father turns up at the back door of his home carrying a drowned girl over his shoulder. Is he really there? Or is he being dreamt into existence by his abandoned son and wife? The man is a handsome and dangerous gangster right out of a children’s adventure story, the girl the dead and desperately missed girlfriend of the son, but now she lives again, wanders around, only partially drowned now, half alive, half dead and entirely blind. This is a reunion of characters that have torn each other’s hearts apart in the past, but it’s also a reunion of amnesiacs who aren’t quite sure where they are or why. And if anyone or everyone is dead, each has forgotten his or her own funeral. Now they set about to love each other properly, but in their new addled states, what are their chances?
The father, Ulysses, has embarked on an Odyssey from the back door of his house up to his marriage bed. He knows not what compels him. Room by room he makes his progress up through the corridors of the house, bedroom by bedroom, chamber by haunted chamber. In this scene, Ulysses, his son Manners and the dead girlfriend, Denny, who has lungs full of water and the power to see the true essence of each room while her sighted colleagues cannot, warns her party of emotional booby traps or confirms for the father that he is on the right track.
There are so many ways to remember a room, to bring to life all its most dormant ghosts – those living deep in the pile of old rigs, inside the drawers of credenzas, within the smells emitted by the warming tubes of an old radio. This is a chamber packed floor to ceiling with Proust-like madeleines, none of them edible, all of them delicious.
Why This Scene?
I like this scene the best of all the stations on this domestic odyssey because there is virtually no dialogue in it. Just music and sensation. This is the kind of story that has to get dreamlike, trancey, and Jason Staczek’s score really gets it airborne. The lack of dialogue trains the viewers’ underused eyes on each object suddenly brought into the center of each frame. And the much deserved rest from dialogue allows the ear to take in the dialogue that returns in the next scene. I love silent film, but I’ve made my last one. But any good filmmaker will tell you a film needs silence now and then within one of these newfangled talkies, if only to make the dialogue play better. I love the purely occult way in whch music and images work together here.
Behind the Scene
We had a lot of dialogue and just 10 minutes left in the day. I was ready to shoot and incur the wrath of producers by going an hour overtime. But Jason Patric didn’t get the dialogue, and I don’t blame him. I had savagely amputated a scene on either side of this one earlier in the day that rendered everything said in the scene irrelevant. I was tired and confused, and incapable of cajoling Jason to act in a scene he didn’t understand – something about professional pride. I told him I’d already cut half the dialogue from it, and he retorted that half a turd is still a turd. I couldn’t argue with that, so the rest of the dialogue went and the scene became an olfactory exploration of the room.
Perhaps the rest fo the journey should have been broken down by senses. One room for sounds, one for taste, touch and sight. Macrosight! As it is there’s a room for smells and the rest of the rooms are for dialogue. Anyway, when I’m assembling material for a montage I can work really quickly. The scene was shot in seven minutes with my handheld camera and a handheld light. It’s my fave.
I like the way music alloys itself with the trajectory of the scene and we all arrive at the same sense of foreboding because of this mysterious relationship between image and melody. Know one can possibly explain to my satisfaction how music and image work – it’s paranormal, that much is certain. Music so often conspicuously props up a scene, saves it, patches, splints and bandages it. But I love it when one can never tell what came first, the shots or the score. This is one of those examples.
I know Bernard Herrmann always scored after the picture cut, but at his best it’s impossible to separate his work from Hitchcock’s. “Vertigo!” Or from Nick Ray’s in “On Dangerous Ground.” The score seems to BE the shots and vice-versa.
I love this scene and even though I can never rewatch my movies more than once, I’ll always be able to watch this little moment.
Below watch a Q&A Indiewire did with Maddin and “Keyhole” star Udo Keir at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival: