Top 50 - # 3 - The Man Who Wasn't There

Finally then! Craig was right again.

One of the best cinematic experiences I've ever had was watching The Man Who Wasn't There on the big screen, 4 years after it came out, and after two or three viewings on DVD. Roger Deakins' own print was being shown, and the man himself was in attendance. I've never seen black and white more glorious, more crisp but at the same time also oddly warm, and this screening is when my love for this film turned to adoration.

Deakins also did a Q&A afterwards. I didn't really understand half of the Q's and three quarters or the A's due to all the technical lingo, but I sat there fascinated anyway because he spoke with such enthusiasm about his craft. He was impressively modest. It wasn't any sort of false humility: he knows he's good at what he does. He clearly sees what he does as a craft though, something you need some talent for but mostly a lot of experience, and there was not an ounce of pretentiousness to detect. I really think he's on the best cinematographers working today, and it's ridiculous that he has yet to win an Oscar (he was nominated 5 times, but never got to take home that statuette).

There's much more, of course, than just the cinematography. One of its greatest assets is Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane, the barber who rarely speaks except in his voice-over. He's the ultimate noir protagonist: essentially good, well, not evil, but cursed by his one flaw, which ironically enough is ambition.

Ambition? You wouldn't say it from the way he flatly says "Me? I don't talk much. I just cut the hair", but there is a spark there. He doesn't want much, but he does want a little bit more. Just a bit of independence, a bit more than just cutting the hair. An escape: something undetermined, unplanned.There are too many great moments to mention. Ed shaving his wife's legs, carefully, then his legs getting shaved later on. The murder scene. The Riedenschneider speech, and the shadows of the bars. The UFO's. But the two that resonate most with me have to do with Birdie, played by Scarlett Johanssen before she got all glamorous. The first is when Ed's brought her to a fancy piano teacher. He asks him "How did she do?" and the piano teacher answers:

"She seemed like a very nice girl. She plays, monsieur, like a very nice girl. Stinks. Nice girl. However: stinks."

It's a crushing moment, and Thornton underplays it beautifully. Later, in the car, Birdie calls him an enthusiast, and it's an assessment both ridiculous and strangely accurate. He is an enthusiast, even if he never betrays any emotion more acute than slight surprise, he is someone who likes things in a quiet, but unwavering way.

Or maybe I'm just reading things into him, because above all else, Thornton's Ed is a blank slate, someone everyone projects their own idea upon, like you can see images in clouds, or in the billowing smoke that comes from Ed's permanent cigarette. To his wife he's the reliable dud she married. To her brother he's a pillar of strength and a listening ear. To her lover he's harmless, an innocent. To Birdie he's a strange sort of sugar daddy, to the wonderfully named Creighton Tolliver he's a mark. Most memorably, to Riedenschneider, he's nothing less than "the modern man".

"What kind of man are you?" Big Dave asks, repeatedly. What kind of man is he? The kind you can make an endlessly fascinating film about.

Next up... a movie which ends memorably, with both main characters saying..."Okay"


cjKennedy said...

That's interesting, I never really thought about how Ed is sort of whatever those around him want him to be, but it fits in with the idea that he blends into the scenery. He doesn't stand out. Never exceeds expectations. He's literally the man who wasn't there.

A lot of the people I know who don't like this movie are troubled by the UFO business. It does seem a bit like a fragment of an idea they had that doesn't quite fit in, but I'm not so sure. I'm going to have to think about that the next time I watch it.

That's great that you got to see and hear Roger Deakins! Amazing that he has 3 top notch movies this year: In the Valley of Elah, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men

Hedwig said...

Yes, it's quite the year for Deakins, isn't it? Someone give this man an Oscar already...

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this another of that movies wich one you want take a cigar and live in that times, I don't what have the old movies that charms you in this way.