The line of Paul Schrader’s output as a director is craggy and deformed, marked by multiple junctures when he has seemed to forget what he’s doing, or why he’s been so valued. A part of his special appeal as a director is his willingness to risk failure and embarrassment. The risk is obvious in 1988’s endurance-testing Patty Hearst, or 1985’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, a radically structured biopic of the Japanese writer that makes few overtures to general audience appeal, and it’s barely less so in something like 1992’s Light Sleeper, with its rampant gloominess and the soundtrack’s almost avant-garde use of Michael Been’s overbearing art-folk. Schrader doesn’t fail when he pushes his style to the limit like this, or even when he proves repetitive, making his umpteenth Taxi Driver variation, or repeatedly referencing Dante Alighieri’s infatuation with his muse Beatrice, or borrowing the ending of Pickpocket one more time. He has failed when bowing too insecurely to convention.
Because it was released between the fascinating Mishima and challenging Patty Hearst, 1987’s Light of Day can’t help but stand out as a blemish on Schrader’s strange résumé, though his now 34-year-old directing career has seen lower lows. Read Justin Stewart’s entry in Reverse Shot’s “Simply the Worst” symposium,