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Mala Noche


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Amazon.com: 19 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
art house release from 1985 too long unavailable 7 Aug. 2007
By simpcity - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Mala noche is a 'bad night.' Skid Row in Portland is full of bad nights for the central character, a clerk in a pocket packet store. Sweaty, sexy Mexican kids come to the store for booze and cigarettes. One in particular throws him over into a sea of lust and unrequited love.

Who is a 'bad knight' and who is a knight in shining armor is never really resolved. The clerk tries to teach the Mexican day laborer to drive, but maybe he just wants to get away on the road in the Dodge Dart, icon of all things PNW.

Gus Van Sant produced this in 1985, the same year he produced the music for his William S. Burroughs CD Elvis Of Letters. The 'sensual despair' that haunts nearly every Van Sant film was forged in these Portland days of the Director.

I saw this film just once at a film festival in Seattle when it first came out, and I have ached to see it again, if for no other reason than to reflect on it in light of the subsequent druggie Road pictures [Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho] and the more recent 'fictu-mentaries' [Elephant and Last Days].

Hats off to the Criterian volk for releasing this film. Not all may like it; some will find it brief and coarse, and yet those qualities are what so powerfully animates the film.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Gus Van Sant's Auspicious Debut 10 Oct. 2007
By Cubist - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Mala Noche was Gus Van Sant's feature film debut and an early example of what would become known as New Queer Cinema in the 1990s. More significantly, it was the first film in an informal trilogy set in Portland, Oregon that would also include Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho - Criterion Collection. One can see, in retrospect, Mala Noche as the thematic blueprint for these two other films: a fascination with street life and the characters that inhabit it - hustlers, store clerks and street kids.

The film has a gritty look thanks to the murky black and white cinematography of John Campbell (who would work with Van Sant again on My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) that suggests film noir (with skewed angles and everything filmed in shadows) but because it's a Gus Van Sant film there is a Beat poet vibe as the characters reside in cheap, run-down apartments, seedy liquor stores and the grungy, rainy streets of Portland.

Tim Streeter does an excellent job as Walt, the quintessential Van Sant protagonist cursed with too much self-awareness. He has street smarts and an endearing romantic streak that the actor conveys so well. Streeter has a real presence - you can't take your eyes off him - that makes him interesting to watch. Aside from a guest spot on 21 Jump Street - The Complete First Season and an appearance in a Sam Shepard play, he has done no other film or television work which is a real shame because he showed such promise with Mala Noche.

Because Mala Noche was Van Sant's first film, it has a rough-around-the-edges feel and a certain vitality and energy that was carried through his two other Portland films but seemed to disappear once he dabbled for awhile in Hollywood. Fortunately, his recent trilogy of death-obsessed films, Gerry, Elephant: A Film By Gus Van Sant, and Last Days sees a return to his looser, more experimental roots.

"Gus Van Sant Interview" is a typically low-key extra that features the filmmaker talking about a variety of topics, including his early filmmaking effort and how it led to making Mala Noche. The director talks at length about making the film with his own money and with a very small cast and crew.

"Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet" is a 1995, hour-long documentary by animator/filmmaker Bill Plympton about Curtis. The poet describes himself as "a kind of jerk-off poet therapist," reads his work and offers observations about life in a very colourful way.

Also included is a "Storyboard Gallery" with copies of the boards that Van Sant used while filming.

Finally, there is a trailer.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Van Sant's first, and not his best. 29 July 2009
By Angry Mofo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Before Gus Van Sant assumed the role of indie figurehead with earnestly progressive biopics and earnestly plotless art-house fodder, he made low-budget films about marginal people with risky lifestyles. There were three of them: Mala Noche (the first), Drugstore Cowboy (by far the best), and My Own Private Idaho (watchable, but already starting to lose the plot). Mala Noche is about a grungy grocery store clerk who becomes attracted to, and wants to be accepted by, a group of illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Van Sant's use of black-and-white in this film was largely dictated by budget constraints, but it effectively uses darkness to make the city look dangerous. The use of shadow may have been influenced by underground photography, e.g. Larry Clark's Tulsa; another apparent influence is Coppola's Rumble Fish. The camerawork is dynamic, with frequent cuts that create a fragmented sensation. Much of the score, especially in the first half, contributes to that disconnected feeling with monotone, droning acoustic guitars (this style is straight out of Rumble Fish). The depiction of the sex scene is quite creative (and was later reused in My Own Private Idaho): the camera coyly shows close-ups of skin, with extremely quick cuts that make the images look abstract.

The weakest aspect of the film is the occasional narration. In voice-over, Walt says stuff like, "I find this sad and absurd," referring to the Mexicans' distrust of him, or, "A gringo like me can never understand." I suppose there might have been a way to say those lines effectively, but the way he says them sounds smug. His tone on "absurd" has the sneer of an art-school drop-out who is attempting to use high diction in order to affect a poetic tone. This weakness runs throughout Van Sant's work. My Own Private Idaho is especially egregious, lifting Shakespeare quotes and sticking them in between vulgar incidental dialogue. In Mala Noche, it's a bit more realistic in the sense that there is a certain type of person who might actually think in those terms, exactly the kind of person who would push himself to emotions that he knows full well will go unrequited. But unfortunately, because there's not much dialogue (the Mexicans don't speak English), the flat narration is the film's primary way of showing Walt's thoughts, and it's just not very appealing.

Much better are some of the incidental scenes. A few times, the camera lingers on shots of the Mexican guys play-fighting and laughing. Somehow, this exactly nails the "authentic" air that Van Sant wanted. One can perceive some of the rough, immediate atmosphere that these people live in.

The way Van Sant depicts Walt's relationship with the Mexicans is convincing. It is absolutely clear that they never take him seriously. Once they figure out that he means them no harm, they take advantage of him. They are always contemptuous, as in the scene where they leave Walt standing in the road, and taunt him by stopping his own car a way down. Even their friendly moods can instantly turn to hostility. The film is completely matter-of-fact about this, and treats it as a law of life, so immutable that it doesn't warrant discussion.

Walt fully understands that he's being used. He says once that he "knows" that he is Roberto's friend, but this is in one of the voice-over narrations, and the listless tone takes all the joy out of the statement. The very nature of his "love" is peculiar. The performance does not make it seem like an emotional love. He's willing to crawl on his hands and knees to demonstrate his loyalty, but he also complains to his friends about how Mexicans allegedly don't have any "fantasies" or "erotic friendships." This statement in particular makes his love seem arbitrary, like he's winding himself up in this way out of boredom, or perhaps out of some aestheticist desire to defiantly reaffirm his marginal status. River Phoenix's character in My Own Private Idaho is similar -- there is a sense that, out of self-loathing, he doesn't really care who comes along, whether male or female, as long as it's someone who is sure to never return his affection.

Perhaps that is the reason why the plot seems to run out of energy in the second half. There is no dramatic climax or resolution. The last scene with Roberto may have been intended as one, but the film leads one to believe that there will be a bigger violent payoff in the scene where Walt reads the newspaper to the Mexicans. However, the way the film does it is certainly more realistic. The real reason why the film flags toward the end is because it doesn't really give more than a sketch of Walt's life, so without the Mexicans, there's no way to convey a sense of the dingy world that Van Sant had in mind. Instead, the film unfortunately begins to resemble Leos Carax's Boy Meets Girl, a tedious black-and-white art-house exercise.

Mala Noche is not an unsung masterpiece. Drugstore Cowboy is better in every way, and I'd recommend it over Mala Noche unless you're really interested in the subject matter or in low-budget film-making. But if you are, then Mala Noche does have certain narrow strengths, and an outline of a directorial vision that was already nearly gone by Van Sant's third film.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Very interesting early effort by van sant 26 Oct. 2007
By Stalwart Kreinblaster - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
mala noche is a very good example of low budget film at its best.. it is absolutely gorgeous black and white cinemetography and it takes on material that most directors would probably shy away from... Based on a book of the same title it really maintains a unique beat inspired flavor and brilliantly captures the longing that the main character feels..
It is very rough edged but that is part of its charm.. This is the first example of a truly gifted and unique director... I have recently heard people talking about the racism in this movie... but please don't make the mistake of thinking the film is racist just because a character in it has these particular tendencies... so often artists are criticized for this when in fact they are telling a story... it is clear that the main character in this movie has certain cultural views that i for one would disagree with but the movie does not really show this in a positive light so much as just show it.. and who can say that realism is offensive?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
simply life 18 Jan. 2010
By Michael Kerjman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Low budget movie of a great realistic and performing value provides a usual for some "life-style" story of teen-adult affairs in Portland, OR, of 1985 (filmed in Los Angeles).

B&W movie is running fast and very entertaining also leaves more to imagine than follow in steamy scenes.
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