I used to rely on TV to show me good films. All my childhood I watched endless numbers of great old films. By the time I got to adulthood though, TV films dried up and dried out. But I have recently got back into the practice of watching films right there on network TV, defying all my DVDs, LoveFilms, Netflixes and so on …
[above: a reminder of the 1980s]
Perhaps it’s cos I am lucky enough to have The BBC, who has been showing some very interesting films lately and I have been catching up on them via the good old iPlayer. (“i” is for indispensable)
First up was the 1980s New Orleans set crime drama The Big Easy (1986). I was curious about this film, starring 80s sex symbol Dennis Quaid. It’s one of the Hollywood studio films that now inhabits that huge abyss of dated films, films that are never in anyone’s Top 100 and so fall dramatically off the radar within a decade. I had never even heard of it, so I pressed the Play button. About halfway through I started to imagine the remake, and you know what, it’s just not a bad idea at all.
The plot is not too complicated but it is taut and although I guessed some of it, I didn’t guess all of it. The strength of the film is the characters, who are complex, interesting and almost credible. The leads are good, though the secondary characters – notably soul man Solomon Burke and Grace Zabriskie, marvellous in a small but searing role as “Mama”, are better. However, the film just does not have enough of a set-up for the romance. We need to believe that the Quaid character, McSwain, is a chancer aware of his own attractiveness, and flirts with every woman he meets; then with Anne (Ellen Barkin), something slowly starts to happen to him and it’s for real. Instead, the film rushes into it too quickly. It must be due to the studio’s need to keep the film under two hours – at 102 minutes it clips along at a smart pace but at the expense of some of the intensity that might have made it a film to last.
The Big Easy wears the 1980s like a tight glittery big-shouldered dress that dazzles but won’t come off. I was struck (viewing it in SD but on an HD TV) by the clarity, the use of light, the super saturated colour. It reminded me how desaturated and “gritty” – even dirty – the crime drama aesthetic is these days. A remake would never look like this. Not would the remake have the same fin sentimentale.
I am much more of a fan of the original screenplay approach to cinema, but since remakes are in fashion, we could certainly do worse than The Big Easy. I’d love to see a post-Katrina, gritty NOLA set reinterpretation of this film. With a similarly awesome soundtrack.
[ps. the photo above, the reminder of the 80s actually although it is an 80s car – an East German Trabant – I photographed it in Sept 2012, here it is in situ in Berlin:
I didn’t drive or even see a Trabi in the 1980s, needless to say]