Thursday, May 11, 2017

Some Thoughts About After Hours (1985)

This one’s Martin Scorsese’s weird one, apparently made when he had his Last Temptation of Christ project yanked out from under him just before shooting was supposed to begin, and before he had found a new home for it. Obviously, the next logical step when confronted with the failure of a project of particular personal importance is to make a bizarre comedy about white collar worker Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) visiting a pretty woman (Rosanna Arquette) in Soho only to drift into the bizarre dark comedy version of a Hitchcock plot about an innocent man hunted for something he didn’t do. There’s a bit of suicide and the threat of a lynching to make the stakes high in a way that does remind of Jonathan Demme in this stage of his career a bit, but predominantly this is a film about utter confusion, our protagonist having stumbled into a night world whose social cues he just isn’t able to read, and whose godhood (I’d bet on the good old cruel humorous universe) really has got it in for him tonight.

Paul gets stripped of money early on, and bodily safety quickly follows. Every offer of help only leads to another cruel twist that slowly begins to erode his sanity too, with the obstacles he encounters becoming in equal parts increasingly absurd and threatening.

What makes After Hours special – and a rather difficult film to actually enjoy watching – is how much effort Scorsese puts into making the audience feel just as violently ripped out of the world they know and – presumably – understand as Dunne’s character is. While this is a comedy, it is very much one that’s out to disquiet and unroot the viewer, and as such, it’s not the kind of fun you’d usually seek in films called comedies. The trick Scorsese uses is to film the comedy with all the stylistic elements of a classic thriller (poor old Hitchcock comes to my mind again), using the genre assumptions certain ways to edit, pace and stage scenes carry against the audience’s sense of security until, just like Hackett, every situation feels wrong, potentially dangerous, and impossible to understand.

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