• Trouble in Mind (Special Edition)

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: 12/14/2010
    Director: Alan Rudolph
    Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Keith Carradine, Lori Singer, Genevieve Bujold
    Year: 1985
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    The Film
    After serving time for the vigilante shooting of unsavory mobster Fat Adolph (Gailard Sartain), former policeman Hawk/John Hawkins (Kris Kristofferson) is released into the gloomy metropolis known as Rain City (aka Seattle, WA), heading immediately to old flame Wanda's lunch counter (she is played by Geneviéve Bujold). Sympathetic to his need for a landing spot, she offers her spare upstairs apartment to him, though he has a bit more in mind......

    Meanwhile in the sticks, poverty-stricken new parents Coop (Keith Carradine) and Georgia (Lori Singer) are having a dispute: Georgia wants to go to the big city in hopes of a better life for themselves and, more importantly, baby Spike(!), who has neither a crib nor a stroller. While Coop is dead set against the idea at first, he warms to it pretty quickly once he surreptitiously robs the open safe at a worksite where he has been repeatedly turned down for a job.

    As if on schedule, the hapless trio arrive in Rain City and also find themselves at Wanda's Cafe, parking their camper outside and almost entering into an altercation with Rambo (Dirk Blocker, son of Dan) and his driver, thugs in the employ of current #1 crime boss-about-town Hilly Blue (Divine!). Clued into Hawk's recent release, they are sent by Blue to attempt to enlist him into a life of crime, an offer that has some level of attraction given Hawk's former boss Lieutenant Gunther (George Kirby)'s hesitation to re-hire him.
    Once seated at the counter, all of Coop's anxieties about their journey into civilization seem to manifest in an outward display of "offense before defense" behavior that is sized up immediately by those around him: while Hawk sees him as a chump with a bewitching mate (things with Wanda did not re-kindle as hoped), this quality seems to attract eccentric intellectual criminal Solo (Joe Morton), who hires Coop to assist in the jacking of motorcycle parts and off-brand watches to be re-sold at a price that undercuts the competition. That said competition consists of one Hilly Blue seems to not bother bumpkin Coop one bit (knowing better, Solo is more trepidatious), and this unlikely duo form their bond through boozing, cavorting with prostitutes and taking speed, while an increasingly despondent Georgia sinks deeper into a pit of depression. Hawk reaches out to her, but it takes a moment of absolute desperation for her to reach back.

    As Hawk and Georgia's mutual attraction gradually grows, so does Coop's self-styled (in more ways than one) metamorphosis into what he imagines a worldly and sophisticated criminal to look and act like (on Mars, maybe), believing his own hype to the point that he must now concoct a big score in order to secure a higher payout from Blue, with whom he and Solo are now doing business as a result of their little scheme coming to his attention. Needing to back up his braggart's bluff, he and Solo attempt to pull a big job on a rich couple they spy having dinner in "Rain City's tallest restaurant" (you guessed it, the Space Needle), unaware that by doing so they have just run afoul of unhinged gangster Nate Nathanson (DOCTOR DEATH himself, John Considine).

    When news hits the streets that Nathanson blames long-time rival Hilly for the robbery, Blue gets proactive and invites Nate to a soiree at his swank (and modern art-filled) estate, also extending the offer to Hawk, who has a personal interest in keeping Coop safe while fully knowing that the would-be criminal is in way over his head and has not one clue.....

    At first glance, Alan Rudolph's TROUBLE IN MIND appears to be a straight-up tribute to 40's crime noir bathed in garish 1985 trappings, and while it certainly is that (from aspects of costume design, dialogue, and Mark Isham's lonely sax-driven score on down), it could be more accurately described as "dream noir": what Rudolph really succeeds in doing here is not only crafting a believable environment (pre-boom Seattle was an inspired choice, and the essence of the Pacific NW is every bit as strong here as it would be in the following year's BLUE VELVET, albeit in a completely different manner) with "Rain City" being the film's main character, but setting it in a time that is completely non-specific: elements of the past abound, but there is a distinctly "dystopian future" vibe at work as well, with constant (if scarcely populated) clashes between police and common citizens in unrest just around every corner. That our main quartet of characters seem to float through all of this without really coming into contact with it speaks to a theme running through the story of people not really being able to connect, to each other OR their surroundings, and even in trying to do the right thing, going about it all wrong. Rain City is clearly a nest for bad eggs, and as such, the police seem powerless to do much to improve things, a situation well in place from before the beginning of the story i.e: Hawk's shooting of Fat Adolph. Instead of wallowing in a sense of hopelessness, however, these characters do indeed try to find redemption, even if that means getting the hell out.
    In a fine case of utilizing the right actor for the role based on overall demeanor, Kristofferson does a credible job as Hawk, and imbues the character with a grizzled sense of both loss and desire, coupled with a bad-assedness that he barely has to reveal outwardly for it to be effective. As Coop, Keith Carradine really excels in making what could be a pretty unlikeable character not only completely enjoyable to watch, but also more than a little sympathetic, despite a growing list of bad choices: though he gets side-tracked by lifestyle, he rarely loses sight of the fact that he is doing all of it in order to give a better life to his family. Lori Singer (fresh from THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN) also does nice work in the role of Georgia, rural ragamuffin deluxe. Like a pre-pumpkin Cinderella, Georgia is completely unprepared for that which she thinks she desires, and even as she becomes increasingly aware of Coop's immersion into a life she does not understand, she remains sympathetic to him as the father of her child. Tying all of this together as tough-talking Wanda, Bujold is TROUBLE's emotional center and ambassador/den mother to Rain City's denizens, her cafe being the conduit for all of the film's characters, as well as being the story's driving force and true heart and soul. The rest of the supporting cast (especially THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET's Joe Morton and Dirk Blocker with that toupee) deserve high marks, but the wonderfully bizzarro casting choice of Divine (in his first full-film male role, though he had non-drag bit characters in FEMALE TROUBLE and the original HAIRSPRAY) is perhaps the greatest boon here for the cult film freak: while maybe having a wee bit of difficulty finding his style in a non-Waters production, Rudolph was wise to just let the Divine one do what he does best, and his campy-yet-effective take on the menacing character is a real joy to watch.

    Another of Rudolph's great moves (probably financial as well as aesthetic) was to hire local artists to help craft the look of the film, and there is little doubt that this gives TROUBLE much of its dynamic and specific look, from the paintings and sculptures on display, to actually crafting the cafe set from a vacant building near the ferry (try attemptng that even five years later!), but this would all be of little consequence if it were not captured with aplomb by first-time DP Toyomichi Kurita (SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO). Obviously just as inspired by the look and feel of Seattle as Alan, Kurita plunges the viewer into the cold dampness specific to the region while also celebrating both rustic and slightly more modern architecture, effectively preserving a view of a city about to get a new lease on life.
    In the years predating the "indie boom" of the early 90's and carrying the cachet of mentorship from Robert Altman (just don't mention those BRADY BUNCH episodes, THE PREMONITION, or BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD), Alan Rudolph was the hip filmmaking guy of the era, and it's easy to see why: a keen visual sense and love of classic films coupled with a respect for everyone involved as contributors make for timeless viewing experiences, and for all of its 1985-isms, TROUBLE IN MIND is just that.

    Making its debut on DVD in a brand new transfer from film elements, TROUBLE IN MIND is presented in anamorphic 1.85 and looks quite lovely with its alternately bold and drab color palette coexisting easily. Blacks are deep and natural, and the real-deal film grain helps to draw the viewer in (as a side note, it would appear that all of the scenes in Wanda's Cafe were "flashed"/mildly over-exposed in order to create a look of steam and smoke without wreaking havoc on the lenses, but that's just a guess, mentioned only because grain in these sequences is more pronounced) to its "old movie" surreality. If there is edge enhancement at play, it is just enough to bring the image up to modern standards of image representation (that said, the title card really pops), and is not distracting in the least.

    The lone audio track consists of a Dolby 2.0 stereo track in which dialogue takes center field and the artful f/x and music tracks (including Marianne Faithful's takes on the title song and Kristofferson's EL GAVILAN) are spread across the spectrum. All are represented well with force as well as subtlety and the clarity of aural image is really nice, the only bit of oddness occurs during EL GAVILAN over the end credits where some of the low (cello? Synth?) notes seem to distort a tad, but this could be a.) aesthetic choice on Isham's part at the time of production, b.) an original mag stripe issue unable to be fixed, or c.) not an issue at all, and I'm hearing things.

    Disc extras consist of two featurettes: "HALVES OF A DREAM: MAKING TROUBLE IN MIND" (50m, 37s) which contains interviews with all of the principals (sans Divine, of course), Rudolph, producers Carolyn Pfeiffer and David Blocker (brother of Dirk), composer Isham, Kurita, and production designer Steven Legler, and is about as extensive an account of most (if not all) stages of a films production as you would hope for, and goes a long way towards expressing what various elements of inspiration and provenance came together to form this unique film. Alan is an open and enthusiastic subject (again, even if life apparently doesn't begin before Altman), and you can see how these qualities got everybody on board, and warm recollections abound from all here; MARK ISHAM AND ALAN RUDOLPH IN CONVERSATION (37, 1s), which is just what it sounds like, and sees the subjects sharing stories of how they began their extensive collaboration spanning several films, work methods and a shared philosophy of improvisation. Clearly fans of each other's work, the conversation flows freely and helps to give an even more complete picture of how TROUBLE took shape; and finally, an 8-page color booklet with stills and a short essay from Rudolph that serves as either a preface or afterword to the film and is unique content-wise (meaning, no major repeats from the interviews).

    The Final Word
    Shout! Factory presents Alan Rudolph's 1985 noir-inspired ode to the Pacific NW, TROUBLE IN MIND, marking its debut on DVD. A colorful and somewhat grim fantasy set in an undetermined time, TROUBLE brings together a diverse cast (example: Kris Kristofferson and Divine!), interesting and unique production design and a city as-yet unknown to most of the world to form a one-of-a kind film experience that's worth your time.

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Barry M's Avatar
      Barry M -
      "Pre-pumpkin Cinderella" is a great phrase.

      I've only seen about the first half of this (loved it, fell asleep), and your review's talked me into picking up this disc.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Fantastic review, Miller.
    1. Ian Miller's Avatar
      Ian Miller -
      Good deal, Barry!

      Thanks, Ian!
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      I love that picture of Divine shooting a gun. You know he's a bad-ass gangster by the way he squeezes his eyes shut as he squeezes the trigger.
    1. Ian Miller's Avatar
      Ian Miller -
      It's funny, I didn't really notice that until I took the screencap, and then I LABORED to get the best shot of his eyes closed!

      Watching this made me miss Divine a whole lot.
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      I really liked the guy too. I'll bet he was a riot; fun to be around.