Friday, April 16, 2010

Static (Mark Romanek, 1986)

Every time I think that the greatest decade in the history of humankind has unveiled every last electrifying piece of entertainment it has to offer, along comes another slab of fantastical oddness just itching to prove that the 1980s wellspring is deeper than a bottomless cavern. Staggering before me like an overly earnest butterfly selling defective dildos door-to-door, Static is the most current film from the boxy blazer decade to capture my sweaty imagination. However, unlike its vacuous brethren–you know, pornographic flights of fancy and mentally challenged horror flicks–this undertaking, by writer-director Mark Romanek ("Closer") and co-writer Keith Gordon (A Midnight Clear), isn't really that interested in titillating or shocking its audience. Though, I somehow managed to be titillated by it. (What can I say? I'm a brash deviant who's turned on by untied shoelaces and improperly applied make-up.) Whatever. It's got something that the majority of films from this particular era seem to lack: an underlying sense of disquietude. Of course, that doesn't mean it's a weighty examination of the afterlife. On the contrary, the sight of two young Amerasian twins dancing to new wave in lizard masks solidifies that it is not a highbrow crumpet jamboree. Yet it does cause one to contemplate the existence of some kind of celestial temple. Well, not really. But you truly get the feeling that the terribly sincere protagonist in this film really believes the malarkey he's peddling.

Stating off with the image of Julia Purcell (Amanda Plummer), a clearly dissatisfied keyboard player for a punk-new wave band made up members of The Plugz, walking off stage in the middle of performing "In The Wait," the film follows her as she makes her way to the small Arizona town where she grew up. While this is taking place, Ernie Blick (Keith Gordon) has just been fired from his job at the local crucifix factory. (He had the nerve to pocket all the defect crosses for himself and hang them on his wall as a part some outre art project.) Tying both sequences together is the sound of "This is the Day" by The The blaring its unsubtle message on the soundtrack.

If you don't count the song Amanda Plummer's band perform, not a word of dialogue is uttered for the first ten minutes; which is mildly prophetic since Mr. Romanek would become mostly known as a music video director in the coming years. Anyway, Ernie losing his job at the cross factory couldn't have come at a better time, as the invention he's been working on for the past two years is just about ready to go public.

Normally confiding in Patty (Lily Knight), a cute waitress who works at a diner shaped like a giant fish, Julia's sudden arrival in town usurps her role as Ernie's go to gal. As you'd expect, Patty ain't too pleased about this turn of events. I mean, if anyone deserves the undying attention of the ex-crucifix factory worker/kooky inventor in the trench coat (did I mention the film takes place in Arizona?), it's her. Either way, both are anxious to find out what it is that Ernie has been working on for so long.

Also hankering to know Ernie's been up to is his cousin Frank (Bob Gunton), a doomsday preacher/father of two who we first meet sermonizing on top of a dumpster behind Ernie's motel; he spots Julia in the crowd (six or seven people) and accuses of her being a CIA agent (he's a tad paranoid). The scenes that feature Bob (complete with apocalyptic moustache) and his family were definitely the wackiest. Radiation suits, Tang, walls covered in firearms, military saluting in a living room setting; they're super ready for World War III.

The way Static builds up Ernie's invention is the film's strongest plot-based element. Revealed in a slow and deliberate manner, the anticipation over his apparently life changing gizmo increases in a way that keeps the townsfolk buzzing with excitement.

Sure, a large segment of the population thinks he's completely meshugganah, but they all seem to respect his dedication. I also liked how both the women in Ernie's life were similar, not just in appearance but in the way they carried themselves with a quiet dignity.

The lovely Amanda Plummer (Freeway), the dream girl of demented losers the world over, is amazing usual as Julia, Ernie's long lost love. Giving a performance that oozes tranquility, Amanda is a master when it comes to trying to decipher the fragility of a tormented man and his wounded psyche. Her best scene is when she attempts to comfort Ernie after one particularly arduous experience involving his newfangled gadget.

Even quieter in terms of stillness, Lily Knight (she played the woman who listens to Maggie Gyllenhaal's character masturbate in Secretary) does an excellent job of portraying restrained jealously. I loved how she tried to spice up her image at the unveiling of Ernie's invention. Casting aside her drab waitress uniform, Lily's Patty attempts to "out new wave" her revival by wearing a shirt without sleeves and applying a bit of make-up were a "Please stop paying attention to Amanda Plummer and feast your eyes on me" kinda way.

The best aspect about Keith Gordon's work in this film, aside from the fact that he co-wrote the screenplay, is credited as a producer, and freaking hottie, was how convinced he was about the greatness of his invention. When selling what he sells in this movie, you can't go half-assed, you have to attack the material with a unique brand of gusto (none of that weak, store bought gusto). Otherwise, you come off looking like some two bit charlatan.

Helping Keith in terms of creating an eccentric, almost surreal atmosphere was the film's terrific soundtrack. On top of the aforementioned The The song and performance by The Plugz, Static features tracks by OMD, Japan, Brian Eno, and Johnny Cash.

I don't really want to go into much detail about what Ernie's invention is actually intended to do; I found my not knowing to be quite invigorating. I will say that its germination came about after Ernie's parents died in a car accident and it's supposedly makes everyone who looks at it to behave in a manner that is the opposite of sad. Only problem for Ernie is trying to get people to look at it. And since social networking and reality television are still years away, a bus full of elderly women will have to do. Again, I don't want to comment on how a bunch of old ladies end up in the mix, but their arrival is a testament to what an unpredictable delight the film turned out to be. Highly recommended to those who like their '80s movies to be a tad off-kilter.

video uploaded by tiberiuswoodyboyd

(Warning: Embedded video clip contains spoilers after the two minute mark.)


  1. Keith Gordon was so adorable.

  2. First of all, you have written a great review. More importantly, though, you made me feel sane by confirming this movie exists. It's a loopy one, and there's not much out there about it.

    Static is about twenty years ahead of its time. The best Hal Hartley movie that Hartley didn't make. My favorite thing about it is that it's legitimately doesn't try to blindside you with quirkiness.

    Also, it's a story about insanity and grief in an easy to digest package.

    Well done review, and great site.

  3. Putting together a podcast about this movie and I'm trying to track down the music. Can you tell me what OMD and Eno are on the soundtrack?

  4. Sure... The OMD song is the epic "Sealand" and "Weightless" is the Brian Eno one.

    My favourite song on the Static soundtrack, by the way, is "The Experience of Swimming" by Japan.