Wednesday, 19 December 2007

DISCO CAR (John Carpenter, 1979)

This oddity set in a future San Francisco stars Peter Falk as a weary delivery driver who turns gumshoe when a beautiful woman (Jessica Lange) hires him to deliver a succession of what appear to be empty boxes to the same location everyday. The joy comes in seeing the expected thriller plot never arrive- after the set-up, the action centres on the internal workings of Falk's brain as he attempts to discover the meaning of his mission.
The futurescape looks wonderful: trams are illuminated Dickensian structures, Christmas box toboggans dressed up to the nines with fairy lights, as this future is one in which electricity must be used as much as possible. That's right- in a witty twist of typical of Carpenter, electricity is discovered to be a living entity with feelings, and the more it is used, the more useful it feels in return, and swells itself to a more abundant size. And so tenement blocks are covered in permanent luminous skins, causing the film to have an over-saturated white sheen.
Falk is a vision, the angelic eternal Christmas reflected in his rarely removed sunglasses.

Carpenter abandons his usual superior pulp tightness for a more lyrical feel, as Falk repeats his task and cashes his cheques without finding many answers. His quiet paranoia about what is in the boxes, and his speculations (in increasingly fevered overdubbed narration, which contrasts with the quietness Falk exudes on screen) about what exactly is taking place is a brave study of how having time to think can drive a man of action mad; The long, gorgeous shots of Falk at the wheel of his vehicle (the Disco Car of the title- a beaten up silver Corvette, basically, with extra lights) steer the film towards existential road movie territory, but the repetition of the same short route means the journey here is frustrating for the participant. A tension is created by the same process being shown over and over, but it's a quiet, plotless tension, rooted and subverted by Carpenter's own score. A development of his stark work for his own Assault on Precinct 13, suggestions of psyched, haunted Americana fleck the drum machines with warm hues, before disappearing again. The scene where a desperate Falk drives to a glowing Golden Gate Bridge to ponder his life, only to have some kind of communion with an electrical storm, is accompanied by a symphony of dying keyboards and drenched acoustic guitars that is both beautiful and frightening. By the end of the film, as Falk reaches a barely constrained horror, too frazzled to confront Lange about the boxes, too spooked to quit, the soundtrack strips itself to a barely audible pulse and hum as our non-hero drives round and round his city of electric churches, ad nauseum.

Money problems and disagreement over the film's final cut (and misleading name and artwork) caused the film to stagger into consciousness too tentatively, and since it's limited cinema run came to an end, no VHS or DVD release has been forthcoming.

Disco Car Directed by: John Carpenter Produced by: Debra Hill Written by: John Carpenter AVCO Embassy Pictures Starring: Peter Falk, Jessica Lange, Adrienne Barbeau Music by: John Carpenter Release Date US: February 1979 Release Date UK: N/A RunningTime: 89mins Tagline: 'What's In The Box?'

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