Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Dizzle and Drizzle: DVDs of the Week

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (Tribeca)

The feature debut of award winning short film director David Russo begins as a journey through the strange life of late-night janitors and ends up a very different kind of odyssey. Marshall Allman is the cubicle monkey Dory, a “Data Meister” who flips out at work and ends up with a janitorial service that cleans up after a market research firm working on an experimental (and, it turns out, highly-addictive) “self-heating cookie.” Given that the cleaners like to sample the goodies left out in the offices, they make perfect test subjects: oblivious, unwitting and unlikely to sue.

Janitors unite (sort of) in Little Dizzle

The side-effects of these chemical-laced snacks are unusual to say the least, at least for the men: cramps, cravings, hallucination and finally giving birth to a living creature. Really: they poop out a little blue fish-like creature. It sounds funny and much of the time it is—Russo has a grand time with this misfit community of night-workers and much of the humor of their work and their social fun and games is drawn from his own years as an after-hours janitor. Plus it delivers one of the great lines of the year, spoken as a couple of janitors peer over what they assume is a weird blue poop left in a toilet: “You guys name your dumps?” “The great ones name themselves.” But when those men face the life that came out of their body, flipping and squirming and gasping for life before expiring, the primal force of those unformed, confused emotions—helplessness, loss, the primitive biological imperative to protect this thing, as alien as it is, that came from their body—is terribly touching.

Russo hasn’t quite mastered narrative but his compassion for the characters is genuine and the spiritual hunger of these dropouts flailing around for meaning and direction—Dory sampling his way through the faiths of the world, trying each on like a new suit and seeing how it fits, and alpha janitor O.C. (Vince Vieluf ) turning his work into outsider art—has an authenticity to it. And then there is the deliriously imaginative imagery created largely by Russo in the distinctive, largely hand-made animation style of his shorts. Even when they create their own little film within the film, like the pixilated swim of the fish from the barroom painting through Dory’s chemical-addled consciousness, they are less special effects than dreamy side-trips through experiences we don’t usually get in indie features. Russo doesn’t strive for verisimilitude or realism, he embraces the unreality of their break with the real world. The fishes, however, are both real and unreal, glowing and hyper-present, natural and unnatural, flopping around like a desperate creature trying to escape a terrifying situation, as vivid and organic as Lynch’s Eraserhead baby.

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle is one of the first releases from the fledgling Tribeca Film label (distributed by New Video). The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virgina, Metropia and The Infidel were came out earlier this fall and The Trotsky came out this week. The DVD of Little Dizzle is, like the rest of the releases, light on supplements. “My Tribeca Story” is a 3-minute piece with director David Russo pitching his film and relating the road to getting it made to the audience and the additional interview with Russo covers much of the same territory in even less time. Both are little more than sponsored promotional pieces sponsored from Tribca “presented by” American Express, but Russo’s passion is palpable. The three deleted scenes, though brief, are interesting and editor Billy McMillan provides introductory comments.

So I offer my own supplements: a feature profile on Russo and Little Dizzle for Seattle Weekly and a long interview with Russo here on Parallax View, both from 2009.

Trouble in Mind (Shout! Factory)

Alan Rudolph’s neo-noir could be the indie flip side to Blade Runner, a crime drama with a romantic dimension in a darkly colorful, grim urban dystopia. Kris Kristofferson is the hardboiled hero, an ex-cop with a murder rap (for executing his own form of justice) and a cynical exterior masking a soft-hearted soul, who steps out of prison and into this world of shabby shopfronts and alleys (the modernist touches are reserved for the better neighborhoods) and an ever-present militia patrolling the streets as. He immediately turns gruff knight as protector of a young mother (Lori Singer) whose once devoted husband (Keith Carradine) turns criminal punk with a bizarre New Wave fashion sense. Geneviève Bujold watches over all as the tough but maternal mother hen running a waterfront diner owner.

Both Carradine and Bujold starred in Rudolph’s Choose Me and in some ways this is Rudolph’s follow-up to that smooth, stylish breakthrough: a personal take on a genre film with an elegant sense of design and style, a coolly colorful nocturnal palette and an askew sense of humor, but this time with a harder edge to the unpredictable characters. Think of it as a modern noir in a parallel universe where his anonymous Rain City is a grubby old port town of crooks, hustlers and gangsters, where the rich are all on the shady side, the cops are busy just trying to keep the worst elements in check and the rest of the population is disenfranchised, just trying to stay honest (or as honest as one can remain) and alive in a world where everything is for sale. It doesn’t rain much in Rain City (there’s more steady rain in Blade Runner) but the name pegs the atmosphere of cold, wet and gray.

Looking in on Rain City

Rudolph cited Casablanca as a reference and he found his Sydney Greenstreet in Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, in what I believe is his only screen performance not in drag (though for him, this could very well be another side of the same coin). He plays mob boss Hilly Blue with close-cropped hair, eye-liner, a sneering growl that recalls Rosalind Russell and a dapper white suit that he wears much the same way he does a dress: as a costume that defines the character. But it’s really a mash-up of all sorts of noir films and themes. Carradine’s Coop begins as a poor but happy husband and father trying to keep his family innocent of the big city corruption, but he’s the one seduced by the life of thievery and violence, as if slipping back into a life he thought he’d fled forever. Kristofferson’s Hawk is the grizzled survivor, a tarnished knight with feral instincts—the first thing out prison he wants is a woman and he takes her, whether she consents or not—and his attraction to Singer’s spirited rural innocent Georgia is as much for her authenticity as her beauty, the very thing his character is bound to corrupt. But Georgia is neither naïf nor helpless damsel. She understands the currency of sex and desire and the game of seduction that Hawk is playing. When she needs to, she plays it even better than he does to keep Coop alive.

Rudolph shot the film in Seattle (which he later made his home) and built his askew urban dystopia by carefully plucking pieces out of Seattle’s mix of old city stylings and retro modernism—the monorail streaking across the elevated concrete highway, the stacked highways of the Viaduct whisking cars along the waterfront, the austere spaces of Pioneer Square next to the yesteryear brick storefronts and alleys of old Seattle, the sleek architecture of what is now the Asian Art Museum and the otherworldy glass sculptures of Dale Chillhuly shattered in the society party turned gangland shootoout—and reconstructing his own geography together from the pieces. No special effects or Hollywood sets here, it’s all about forging a fictional world out of the real and Seattle is a perfect city for it, since most films shot and/or set in Seattle don’t do much with the city beyond making sure that you can spot the Space Needle on the horizon.

The mix of old Hollywood character and modern stylings continues through the soundtrack, with Marianne Faithful crooning ballads of heartbreak between the electronic sounds of Mark Isham’s score. Rudolph calls this “the straightest film I ever wrote,” but the quirky approach to character and the retro-modernism of his urban backdrop and fashions makes this as distinctively idiosyncratic as any Rudolph project.

The DVD proclaims that it is “Newly restored from original film elements,” and I have no doubt it’s true. What’s revealing is just how soft and grainy the image is, a hallmark of eighties independent filmmaking where they shots fast and cheap on a budget. That texture becomes part of the atmosphere of the film. The new 50-minute documentary “Halves of a Dream: Making Trouble in Minds,” directed by Greg Carson, is a well-produced, nearly exhaustive portrait of the film and the creative energy behind it with input from most of the film’s primary collaborators, and there is a new interview featurette with Rudolph and composer Mark Isham and liner notes by Rudolph.

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Available at Amazon:
The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle
Trouble in Mind