Movie Reviews
11:18 am
Mon July 28, 2003

Northfork

It sure is fun to see how David-Lynch wanabees actually give the weirdmeister a run for his blue velvet.

There may be weird movies out there recently, but I can't think of any weirder than Mark Polish's "Northfork." A small Montana town in 1955 will be obliterated by a new dam. James Woods (an executive producer of the film), Peter Coyote, and some other dark-suited corporate types are responsible for moving the residents out before the deluge.

Director Polish is hell bent on making most images (Start with the suits, go to coffins, and then observe wings for starters) reflect the impending death of the town and the spiritual death of the townies. Nick Nolte as the only surviving preacher lends an almost medieval sanctity with his blend of worldly attitude (looking like his famous LAPD mug shot with scruffy hair and weary mien) and Puritan resignation to God's will. Most images are bleak, drained of color, and set against vistas menacing rather than beautiful.

Not everyone is anxious to leave, making Woods, et.al., work damn hard for the lakeside property they get if they convince everyone to leave. The holdouts are goofy, for instance, one with an ark and two wives, another a boy with a family of guardian angels and extra wings to comfort him. Woods himself evidences serious ambivalence about moving his mother's remains to higher ground, but does give the witty line to his son about what happens if she doesn't move: "When this small town becomes the biggest lake this side of the Mississippi, your mother will be the catch of the day."

In the end this formalist film revolves around the town facing inevitable progress and the people inevitable death. That both notions are ground hard into a fear of death but a longing for its transcendence makes for an interesting, abstract, sometimes Coen-Brothers-like black situation, thumbing its nose at traditional ideas of death like the outhouse with a cross on its door rather than a crescent.

It's low-rent Bergman, pleasing to academic geeks like me but hardly favorable to the ordinary filmgoer. The movie is probably dead at the box office like its subject, but it sure is fun to see how David-Lynch wanabees actually give the weirdmeister a run for his blue velvet.