This movie is basically a giant nauseous leap into the cesspool that was the burgeoning media-driven culture of the Nineties that has by no means yet been flushed away. I watched the “Chaos Rising” mini-doc on the DVD for the umpteenth time after this viewing and in it Oliver Stone says how it’s the product of 2 years in which he was simply “disgusted” by what was happening in the world and really, that’s the best summation of the movie that you could ask for. It’s a movie that just boils with bile at a world that is, it’s so often hard to deny, going to hell. Even 14 years on it still feels perfectly relevant, not least because there are still hoards of people who think of it as just a piece of ultraviolent cinema.
The tone of that first “I Love Mallory” sitcom flashback still astonishes me – it feels so much like any sitcom, but the presence of Woody Harrelsson and Rodney Dangerfield, almost comedy icons in themselves, yet with those evil looks in their eyes, the words coming out of their mouths and the crucial intercutting with the “real” black and white stuff like Dangerfield fondling Juliette Lewis’ butt, it’s just simultaneously horrible yet fascinating to have the world laid bare in such a way.
It’s photographed by Robert Richardson. Whenever I see his name on a movie now it’s this movie that immediately springs to mind and the one I most associate with him – the horses, wolves, dust, clouds, and of course, the multiple film stocks … never used as a gimmick, always perfectly relevant to the scene in question.
On top of all this is Trent Reznor’s soundtrack. I still remember the day when my family were on the proper cliché family holiday in Orlando in 1997 and we went to the Florida Mall and my eyes were peeled specifically for this movie and The Exorcist on VHS (they still hadn’t been released here yet – I’m sure Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs, Texas Chain Saw, Pretty Baby and even Kubrick’s Lolita were in the back of my mind too though), yet my heart first leapt on finding the mere soundtrack to the movie, and I’ll never forget the guy at the counter who sold it to me ‘cos it was like one of those first times a random adult (sue me, I personally feel blessed that I still felt like a kid at 17 lol) had spoken to me like I was just a regular person, and he said something along the lines of, “This CD rocks, I have it in my car all the time, it’s just like watching the movie,” which of course I didn’t know what he meant at the time because I hadn’t seen the movie yet, but it’s absolutely true, that soundtrack is one of the greatest of all time – both standalone and in the context of the movie, from the 50s “Back in Baby’s Arms” through Bob Dylan’s “You Belong to Me” right up to Reznor’s own “Burn” and “Something I Can Never Have”, the dialogue frequently cut into it almost rhythmically, my favourite of those moments being the Nixon, “As I leave,” during the Leonard Cohen “Waiting for a Miracle” opening (“There are lots of invitations …” “As I leave …”).
It’s just a brilliant, blistering assault that really defies any attempt to summarise as I’d like to do here. But I would just say, I should probably watch it more as the very world it portrays disgusts me more as time goes by. Those closing moments, the flicking between the channels, really caught me off guard this time around and they’re about the most crushing moments in a whole 2 hours of horrific acts. That this was so long before the rolling news that covered things like 9/11 (which Stone himself arguably overly sanitized in World Trade Center) is nothing short of a terrifying marvel.