Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2022 9:10 pm 
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25TH anniversary revival and celebration of a cult buddy pic

A nineties movie that feels like a seventies movie, Dream with the Fishes is a critical failure and a popular success, a lingering "good watch." Why? Well, because we love buddy pictures, and this one, of two guys bonding in desperation, is a particularly loving one. Some one of the two at least is going to help the other to die, so it's for keeps. This cult pic is getting a reboot and 25th anniversary celebration, released by Sony, showing with cast and crew reunited

Roger Ebert wrote "Dream With the Fishes generates a free-ranging road and buddy movie that, with its use of drugs and counterculture spirit, could be a '70s production--made when characters could slip through a movie without carrying a lot of plot along with them. Colorful characters materialize, do their thing and shrink in the rearview mirror." He also rightly points out that this is Finn Taylor's feature film debut, and hence he is full of giddy ambition, going for broke like his lead characters.

Yes, call this an anthology of incidents. But it winds up at home. Terry (David Arquett'e character) is the stiff middle class loser in a suit who wants to die. Nick (Brad Hunt), the sexy disreputable lawbreaker and heroin addict who turns out actually to be dying - of leukemia - with a short time to live, takes charge of their last ditch buddy vacation. Nick is the motive energy of the film; Terry is passive and recessive. Brad Hunt may have had no other good roles, and to have been scrambling for bit parts lately. This is a wonderful part, the role of a lifetime. David Arquette is just a suit, a rumpled one, with his shirttail out underneath. But in the character of Terry Arquette is given something essential to provide: loyalty, and morality. He has been living his poor life as a voyeur spying with binoculars on Nick and his girlfriend, and someone else we learn out about later (unless you're keen and you guess). In his wild ramble with Nick he gets to live vicariously up close. Terry is guilty, and he repents. Nick give him someone to care about and a brutal, up-close lesson in the beauty and brevity of life.

The movie was shot mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area which writer-director Taylor hailed from, "in nearly 60 locations in 23 days," and the local critics went easy on it. Roger Ebert seems to have given it one of his (somewhat too willing) thumbs-up: he praises Dream with the Fishes for rising above, or rather setting itself apart from, the buddy/road clich├ęs it uses to hold itself together: "the road movie and buddy movie formulas slowly dissolve from around Nick and Terry," Ebert concludes, so that the two main characters "by the end of the movie stand revealed in three dimensions; it's the cinematic equivalent of what sculptors call the lost-wax method." That's a clever image, but Nick and Terry aren't sculptures. They're defined by the adventures they share and are never more three-dimensional than in each breathless incident.

Dream with the Fishes is about how it's fun for while to hang out with somebody cool and sexy and risky who will do exciting, life-enhancing things you're too uptight and sensible to think of trying, and on a more general level the value of "carpe diem," seizing the day, living at a more intense level than we usually achieve. We identify with Terry (though there's not much there there), but it's Nick we want to be. And so there is no "lost-wax" three-dimensionality here, but the movie embodies the kind of sweet intimacy straight men can only have when isolated or in extremis.

Dream with the Fishes, 97 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 1997, with other festival showings at Sudbury, Canada, and in Portugal, and in 1999 in Buenos Aires. It opened in US theaters in June 1997. The Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator score was 60% but the audience score 85%. Now rereleased by Sony Pictures Classics, it has a celebration Oct. 17, 2022 at 7:00pm at Smith Rafael Film Center with much of the cast and crew reunited for a Q&A afterward, David Arquette, Cathy Moriarty, Brad Hunt, Kathryn Erbe and Patrick McGaw, plus writer-directorr Finn Taylor, producer Mitchell Stein, DP Barry Stone, and music supervisor Charles Raggio.

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