Friday, 27 August 2010

Cool Movies

I have a DVD shelf (rather early 2000's, I know) with what I loosely catagorise as “Cool” Movies. Quo Vadis Baby, Ghost Dog, Heat, The Killer Elite, Basquiat, Dinner Rush, The Warriors, Constantine, Love and Human Remains, The Long Goodbye. What is it that makes a movie “cool”? For me?

The protagonist has to live alone but isn't lonely. They have friendships and maybe a relationship that's about sex, but no love and no commitments. And yet they have the possibility and hope, however disappointed by life, of love.

They need to have striking, watchable, intriguing looks – which Angela Baraldi and Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog) have big time. This is Angela Baraldi in the trailer for Quo Vadis Baby.

They live in an edgy district and the place is either a tip (Elliot Gould's flat in The Long Goodbye) or spartan (de Niro's place in Heat). In practice they couldn't possibly afford it on whatever it is they're earning doing whatever it is they're doing. Whatever they are doing, it isn't a regular nine-to-five job: the protagonist of many cool movies is a private investigator. They can handle themselves, but aren't action heroes; they are smart, but not Sherlock Holmes; they are cynical, but for good reason.

The story can't quite make sense, because a cool movie isn't about the story, it's about the atmosphere, it's a way to show us the world of the story. Other than the protagonist, the people are at once individuals and stereotypes. The world doesn't quite make sense either, which is why only the Cool can engage with it and survive. You don't see many normal people in cool movies, except as contrast or to have something bad happen to them a few minutes later. When the protagonist has to visit the straight world, from a supermarket to their families, it is somehow unreal, slightly dishonest, and relies on illusion and dissumlation. In the cool world, people lie for a purpose: in the straight world they do it to stay sane.

The world doesn't quite make sense because our protagonist doesn't have the usual motives: wealth, fame, beautiful lovers, career, knowledge, power or reputation. Nor are they easing some inner demon - Lispeth Salander is not cool. There's an idea of finding a truth, or of living a truth (Ghost Dog, The Killer Elite), of being true to yourself or your vocation (both the protagonists in Heat). It doesn't matter what motivates the Bad Guys, because their actions mean they can't enjoy their success for long, so why would they do it? And there are no normal people with normal motives, except as ghosts in comparison to the vivid Cool People.

What I'm describing, of course, is a Raymond Chandler or a Dashiell Hammett novel, the spiritual forefathers of Jim Jarmusch and Robert Altman.

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