Saturday, March 24, 2007

Out of Time

A couple of weeks ago in The New Yorker, David "American Sucker" Denby pontificated on the fairly recent rash of movies that have presented themselves in something other than precise chronological order, underscored by the recent multiple-Oscar nominee Babel. Denby traced this phenomenon back to Pulp Fiction, with its three stories presented sequentially but taking place in overlapping time. Denby calls Pulp Fiction "highly influential" but doesn't mention the movie that most directly influenced Pulp itself, Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, which had come out just four years earlier, and presented three stories presented sequentially but taking place in overlapping time. Plus, Mystery Train had Screamin' Jay Hawkins in it.

Denby also overlooks Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, which to my mind was a more successful example of a chopped-up time structure than Pulp. Pulp didn't really have three different stories; its first and third sections were focused on the same character and were basically just two episodes from his life. Out of Sight opened with George Clooney furiously ripping off his tie in the middle of a downtown Miami street, then going in to rob a bank; it wasn't until midway through the movie that we were brought back to that moment and the whole thing suddenly made perfect sense. The altered notion of what constitutes the present made much more sense -- particularly since Clooney's character does time, which would alter anyone's sense of time -- than Tarantino's showoffy, movie-for-movie's sake work.

And then there's the scene between Clooney and a sparkling Jennifer Lopez, pretending to meet for the first time in what must surely be Detroit's swankiest hotel bar; said meeting was intercut with scenes of them upstairs in the same hotel, doing what any of us would do with either Ms. Lopez or with Mr. Clooney, depending. The editing of that scene was allegedly inspired by a similar scene in Don't Look Now, which is unseen by me, and all the better, because I love luxuriating in the tension and fun and eroticism of the way it was done in Out of Sight. At any rate, it's a lot more enjoyable than watching John Travolta clean brains off a back windshield.

1 comment:

Pike said...

Aren't the time manipulations of "Pulp Fiction" and "Out of Sight" merely the cousins (or the logical multiple) of the traditional flashback, in a weary world? I don't regard them as much an innovation as a permutation.