Trouble in Mind, 1985, 111 mins, Streaming (HD)
I returned to Rain City, for the first time in what is… well, its been awhile, probably over twenty years, now that I think about it- last watched it back when it came out on DVD. As regards the very first time I watched it, that was a TV network airing, which I’ll return to a bit later. Watching it again after so many years though, its a little surreal, the film’s music cuts through those years like a knife. I’m sitting here, watching the film, and I can almost turn my head and see my younger self sitting alongside me: he’s younger, slimmer, single. There’s decades yet ahead of him, of films good and bad. I wonder what he’d think regards one day returning to this film in 2022 and realising it really was as good as I remembered. Hey, I feel like telling him, you always had good taste in movies.
It was probably back in 1988 or 1989 when it was first shown on television here in the UK, late night on BBC2. I think the schedule guide in Radio Times mentioned that it was a futuristic noir in the style of Blade Runner, which naturally got my attention. Broadcast, as usual for the time, in pan and scan, I recorded it onto a VHS tape, and subsequently rewatched it many times. That Blade Runner reference was partly relevant, partly misleading- this film was something else entirely, although it does mirror Ridley Scott’s film in how the past and future collide visually. There are times it seems to be set in some alternate post-war America in the 1950s or 1960s, or some odd post-apocalypse future. Cleverly it doesn’t repeat Ridley Scott’s mistake in giving the film a date onscreen.
How do we fall out of touch with some movies? Is it because I eventually couldn’t play that VHS tape anymore- hey the horrors of home video format obsolescence!- or that it has seldom, if ever, been shown since on tv, that the DVD release was pretty damn poor (not even widescreen, as I recall) and that its never been released on Blu-ray, inexplicably ignored by the boutique labels like Arrow or Eureka. I suppose I could just as easily ask how do we fall out of touch with people.
Alan Rudolph’s Trouble in Mind; ostensibly it stars Kris Kristofferson, Keith Carradine, Lori Singer and Genevieve Bujold, and they are all great in this, as is Divine as a surprisingly chilling crime boss, but the truth is, the real star of the film is the evocative music of Mark Isham and the voice of Marianne Faithful whose two songs bookend the film. I love the music, I’ve written about it before.
The music is so important because Trouble in Mind is a film of mood, expressly designed for movie lovers; it never feels entirely real, instead it exists in a dream logic of old noir movies and I think that’s why this film feels different, watching it again after so many years. So familiar that I remembered scenes and even lines of dialogue, and yet so much seemed stranger than I remembered. Its a much more mysterious film, informed perhaps by all those noir films I’ve seen since. This time I watched the ending and realised that Kris Kristofferson never really got the girl, he’s only imagining her with him as he drives off towards his dying moments, serenaded by Marianne Faithful’s siren call.
There isn’t really much of a plot, it instead feels like what might have happened after the ending of some other noir movie (that of course never existed). I have written before about the way film-makers choose to end their films, the when and the where… how curious I am about that, about how they choose the moment, that last line, that last look from someone or shared between characters. Older films, especially those of the 1940s and 1950s, can end suddenly, almost brutally… very often it feels like we’re left missing something, and indeed most modern films tend to add a scene or two, like a coda (Marvel films, of course, can’t help but add additional scenes even into the end credits). At any rate, often a lingering sense of frustration is left in me (which is a Good Thing, I mean, who wants a good movie to ever really end?), when I’m wondering what might have happened next. Trouble in Mind feels a little like ‘what happened next’, like its one long epilogue. Noodle’s dream after we see his smile in that last shot at the end of Once Upon A Time in America.
It begins with a character dressed in black leaving prison and subtle references in subsequent scenes to a murder (eventually featured in a flashback), and it often seems like that murder and the events surrounding it was the ‘proper’ movie, and that within Trouble in Mind we’re just watching what happened after the end of it. The limping ex-con is John ‘Hawk’ Hawkins (Kristofferson) and the murder was an act of sacrifice, revenge for Wanda (Genevieve Bujold), Hawk’s wronged love. Now out of jail, this ex-cop returns to the location of his old life but finds Wanda changed, unable to resume or rekindle that old romance, and Hawk is caught in a changed world in which he no longer fits. Maybe that old film ended at the right place after all, when it showed him standing above that dead criminal and destined for jail- at least that’s how I imagine it.
Restless characters ricochet off each other, are kind and cruel and fall in and out of love, make mistakes and sacrifices while around them Rain City is like some dream, a place that speaks in the Saxophone that mournfully soundtracks most of everything. Trouble in Mind is less about its almost inconsequential plot and its corny, bumbling hoods than it is about the conversations and moments between those characters. Its about the camera slowly lingering over the models of street scenes that Hawk has made. Its about Hawk and Wanda smoking so much its like the cigarettes are extensions of their characters. Its about incidental background characters that we get glimpses of, wondering what their stories are, stories we’re never told. Its about Marianne Faithful’s voice. Its about Rain City’s lonely corners, how the film drips with melancholy.
Its more beautiful than I remembered. How is this film largely forgotten and not more greatly loved?