I had been a fan of all the Coen Brothers movies leading up to Miller’s Crossing, the brothers’ Irish mob genre-bender. The first time I watched that movie I sat there for over an hour thinking, “When the fuck is this thing going to go anywhere?!?!” Suddenly, one thing happened, then all hell broke lose. In the final 20 to 30 minutes I was dazzled. I walked away saying, “That movie was excellent!” My close, personal friend E. Pluribus Gergely, who I believe was sitting alongside me that night, couldn’t believe I was able to change my mind so quickly, so definitively. He still teases me about my ability to “do a Miller’s Crossing.”
I had a similar experience with the movie Lost in Translation. It was a total waste of my time until the party scene, with Bill Murray singing along to “More Than This.” From that point on the movie clicked, and I did a Miller’s Crossing. Patience has its virtues.
Sometimes the opposite occurs for me: I’ll be enraptured by a movie only to have it crash and burn in the final 20 to 30 minutes. The other night I found myself in this enraptured state as I watched the first hour-plus of a 1946 ghost-love story, A Matter of Life and Death (originally released in the US as Stairway to Heaven). I’d long heard about one of the co-directors, Michael Powell, who is name-checked by my favorite director, Martin Scorsese, at every opportunity, but I’d never actually seen any of his movies. This movie got off to a fantastic start! It simply looked amazing, like The Wizard of Oz‘s reverse twin sister, with earth scenes in color and heaven scenes in a pearly B&W/sepia tone. I’m a sucker for sepia tone. Plus it’s a ghost-love story, a genre I am a huge sucker for: all variations on Here Comes Mr. Jordan/Heaven Can Wait, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, even Ghost itself… (I know, hard to believe considering how damn manly I am.) Anyhow, the movie was fantastic until the final act, which I don’t want to spoil but which worried me as soon as it got underway, introducing a device I’m highly skeptical of in movie storytelling. The movie crashed and burned over the final 25 minutes. It went from being one of the most spectacular pieces of futuristic film-making I’d ever seen to merely a brilliantly executed concept that ultimately fell apart and left me highly disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, A Matter of Life and Death still left me feeling enlightened about a major piece of film-making that I’d never been exposed to in 50 years, but the ending put me into a Reverse Miller’s Crossing. Being way more of a music guy than a movie guy, I got to wondering whether there are any albums that have put me through the emotional roller-coaster of either a Miller’s Crossing or an A Matter of Life and Death. I’ll have to think about it: albums that didn’t move me at all until they were two thirds through vs albums that made me think I’d found the holy grail before completely fizzling out over the last few tracks. How about you?
For Matters of Life and Death, I’m talking about experiences a little more intense than the “great side 1/eh… side 2″ of Television’s Marquee Moon. There’s no doubt about it that side 2 won’t live up to side 1 as soon as you drop the needle; there’s little tease that the majesty will continue. For Miller’s Crossings, the experience would have to be a little more intense and dynamic than your typical “slow-burner” album. There needs to be a late-game “ah-ha!” moment that signifies an unexpected turnaround.