Monday, July 26, 2010
Before I get into the review of Border Radio (BR), I want to relate my John Doe Story. A year or so back my wife and myself were out walking around the French Quarter in New Orleans. We were coming back up Decatur Street, when I saw a guy that looked liked John Doe. I remarked to my wife that I thought that was who it was and I guess he noticed this, since as we came up closer to him, he got that panicked looked that some people get when they think they're about to be accosted by a fan. I guess he breathed a sigh of relief, since I'm not the type of person to bug someone famous or even semi-famous. And yes it was John Doe, it seems X was playing a gig at The House of Blues that night.
I buy and sell videos all the time on EBAY and have had BR on VHS tape several times, just never got around to watching it. I assumed (and you know what they say about the word assume!) that this was a movie about a border radio station (ala Wolfman Jack), which seemed interesting, but the amount of movies that come through my possession are too many for me to watch more than a few; and my video checker has just enough time to check the first few minutes to be sure that they play correctly.
When browsing through Netflix, I saw that BR was on DVD (and a Criterion DVD to boot), so decided it was the time to finally check it out. Of course, BR doesn't have anything to do with a border radio station (remember what I said about assuming!!). Instead, BR is about a punk band that has broken up and Jeff (Chris D of The Flesheaters) has gone missing after himself, his roadie (Chris Shearer) and another band member (John Doe of X) broke into a safe in a club that didn't pay them and supposedly took some important books along with the money they stole. The other band member, Dave Alvin of The Blasters, wasn't involved in the robbery and he only appears briefly in BR. Jeff has left his wife and daughter alone and hightailed it to Mexico. The remaining band members all want to get Jeff and the cash and/or books back. That's pretty much the plot since the remainder of the movie consists of different scenes with Chris in Mexico or the other characters in the U.S. BR changes its direction back and forth from plot based to mockumentary interview style, never settling on one style to make a cohesive movie. The cast is credited with “additional dialogue and scenario”, but in an interview segment John Doe states that they would be given a scene and then told "make some stuff up and we'll shoot it", leading me to believe that the major part of the dialogue in this movie was all improvised.
I've gone back and forth on my feelings for this movie. While watching BR it was so slow that at times it was hard to stay awake, but after I watched the extras and found it was made by three film students (Allison Anders, Dean Lent, Kurt Voss) over a period of 4 years for a cost of $82,000, I thought that was a pretty remarkable feat; except then I remembered that Kevin Smith made "Clerks" for around $28,000 and shot his film in 21 days. While the long shooting period helps explain why the direction of the film changed from noir (the main character's name is Jeff Bailey and he flees to Mexico, a nod to Robert Mitchum's Jeff Bailey in "Out of The Past") to a mockumentary to a character study, it still didn't excuse the fact that this was just basically a bunch of well shot scenes that together made SOMEWHAT of a coherent film. I finally decided that it was a pretty good student film and I would just have to accept it for what it was.
Other musicians who can be seen in BR are Green On Red playing in the background in one club scene and Billy Wisdom and the Hee Shees seen playing in a studio setting. Two other musicians of note, both excellent in their roles, are Texacala Jones, lead singer of Tex and The Horseheads as the baby sitter and Iris Berry doing a great turn in the interview segments as a hanger-on/groupie fan.