Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In the Middle

One of the many fascinating things about Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is the way it seems to be the middle passage of a story, suggesting both a beginning and an ending although without anything really happening during the song, but still being, well, fascinating. We know the joker and the thief have both landed somewhere that they'd like to find a way out of; they also know they've been through that, and that this is not their fate. As the hour is getting late, two riders approach. What next? I don't know. I wonder if Dylan knows. Probably not.

I was reminded of "All Along the Watchtower" while watching The Hotel Chevalier, Wes Anderson's new short film, which is being shown prior to screenings of The Darjeeling Limited. This two-hander follows Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman as they meet in a hotel in Paris; although Schwartzman plays the same character in Darjeeling, the two stories aren't all that closely connected. You would miss a couple of jokes in Darjeeling if you hadn't seen Hotel, but Hotel can stand, magnificently, on its own.

The two characters don't explain how they - either collectively or individually - got to where they are, and there is little hint of where they're going. Some unseemliness is hinted at, especially in the unexplained bruises on Natalie Portman's body, but they remain tantalizingly unexplained. There was more exposition in Bob Seger's similarly themed "We've Got Tonight." Yet The Hotel Chevalier throws enough hints in both directions, forwards and backwards, to suggest an entire world of possibilities based on a 13-minute short.

It's hard enough to write a story that is complete and compelling. I can't imagine constructing the middle of a story that leaves you wondering for hours, but that's what Anderson has done here. And Dylan too, of course.

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