Blog Directory CineVerse: Pharmaceutical outlaws

Pharmaceutical outlaws

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Drugstore Cowboy" is one of several key American independent films that set the cinematic world on fire back in 1989. Other standouts from that year include "Do the Right Thing" by Spike Lee and "Sex, Lies and Videotape" by Steven Soderbergh. But the former remains memorable for several reasons, not the least of which are it's refreshingly non-judgmental take on drug use and a fine performance by Matt Dillon. Other observations on this movie reached by our CineVerse group last evening include the following:

It’s not preachy or political about drug use or trying to send an anti-drug message; in fact, detractors argued that it actually glorified drug use.
o However, director Gus Van Sant disputed this criticism. He was quoted as saying: “Not being a drug addict myself, I was making it for myself, and for the lay public, as a way of experiencing the life of a drug addict…It was like an anti-war film that has a lot of killing in it. My position on drugs comes through if somebody is really looking for it, and though my position is admittedly lightly ambiguous, it was never my intention to make a pro-drug film…A lot of people in Hollywood said this is ‘an immoral film’ that promotes drug use. The movie may make a junkie want to go out and take drugs, but the movie isn’t a political statement about drugs.”
It was made and released on the heels of the “Just Say No” era of heightened awareness about drug use, yet the filmmakers chose to place the story in 1971, when drug use was perhaps more fashionable, accepted, and ingrained in the subculture. Setting the story in this earlier era possibly frees the film from any burden to provide a contemporary moralistic message or story.
It adopts both a realistic and surrealistic tone, look and feel; there’s a gritty documentary-style authenticity to it, yet we see fantastical scenes like images of floating objects that give us the junkie’s perspective.
Despite its dark subject matter, the filmmakers also employ a comedic and freewheeling tone.
o Critic Emanuel Levy wrote: “A comedy of the absurd, with visual touches of expressionism and tonal notes of surrealism, Drugstore Cowboy is humorous rather than grim, as it could have been in the hands of another director. Van Sant succeeds in making the story less bleak without sacrificing the spirit of the original source. The text’s offbeat sense of absurdity largely derives from his insights into the peculiarities of the junkie subculture, and from the director’s idiosyncratic approach."
o New York Times critic Stephen Holden also posited: “Because the characters are so self-absorbed and their lives so totally unproductive, there is an element of comic absurdity in their continual desperation.”
The characters written and portrayed here are likeable, interesting and multi-faceted; these aren’t stereotypical hoodlums and low-lives, For example, Bob lives by a very eccentric code of superstitions and doesn’t want sex as much as his wife; Rick is a walking contradiction of moods and behaviors, ranging from sober to silly, steely to soft; and Nadine appears like an immature child just trying to fit in. 
The actors cast are also attractive and crowd-pleasing, resulting in more sympathetic characters.
The color green becomes a motif in the movie, reoccurring as the dominant hue in many objects and scenes—consider the green furniture and walls and Dianne’s wardrobe, the floating gun, the suitcase, the car and truck, and the green “get clean” house.
Levy also theorized that Drugstore Cowboy “was an antidote to the naïve John Hughes youth movies, such as “Pretty in Pink,” “St. Elmo’s Fire” and others, starring the brat pack. It was also a counterpoint to such yuppie films as “Less Than Zero,” made in the late 1980s, about rich upper class youths.”
Dysfunctional families take many forms. The foursome depicted here serve as a nuclear family of sorts, with Bob and Dianne as the skewed parents and Rick and Nadine representing younger and naïve surrogate children, according to Levy.
Even anti-heroes live by a code: For Bob, that means abiding by superstitious beliefs and irrational rules of good vs. bad.
Additionally, living by a code or set of rules doesn’t guarantee success or fulfilment. Bob learns that his lifestyle and the rules that apply to it is the wrong choice.
Subcultures and outsiders can lead pathetic, insignificant, peripheral lives when they pursue a destructive path. 
Films about outlaws on the run like Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands
Films about addiction like The Panic in Needle Park, Requiem for a Dream, and Trainspotting
My Own Private Idaho
To Die For
Good Will Hunting

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