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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: Prince Avalanche

David Gordon Green is back in arthouse form with the lovely and effervescent Prince Avalanche, a methodically paced, gorgeously shot buddy/road trip/ghost story loosely adapted from the Icelandic film Either Way. Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are stuck out in the middle of nowhere, living out of their tent and highway maintenance truck as they wend their way slowly down an endless ribbon of stagnant highway, methodically painting yellow line after yellow line in a hypnotic rhythm, interspersed with a staccato bang, bang, bang as they hammer metal poles with reflectors alongside the highway, marking their path as they go.

They make an odd couple. Alvin, who fancies himself to be smarter and therefore better than the rather dense Lance, studies German on audiotapes, blaring his lessons from an giant boombox as they work, while Lance complains that it’s putting him to sleep. Alvin’s self-righteously set on self-improvement and study; he’s a bookish, reclusive sort of guy, and he’s using this job at least in part, it seems, as a justified way of having space and solitude from his stagnant relationship with his girlfriend, Lance’s sister. Lance, on the other hand, aspires to neither big thoughts nor big dreams, and finds the endless stretches of quiet and loneliness, with no one but Alvin for company, to be excruciatingly dull. Lance’s tastes are simple: he likes beer, comic books, loud music, hot chicks, and “getting the little man squeezed.” He only has this job because Alvin is doing his girlfriend a favor – and perhaps because it makes Alvin feel important to be able to impart his own brand of knowledge and wisdom onto this guy he perceives to be beneath himself. With Lance, Alvin can play the role of mentor — a role, one suspects, that he otherwise has few opportunities to play.

The one thing that breaks up the dull routine is the semi-regular appearance of a crusty old character driving another truck around the area, who stops by periodically to offer sage advice, humor and bottles of moonshine to help the time slip past faster. Along the way, the film veers slightly off the lane of odd couple buddy film and into a ghost story of sorts, when Alvin encounters an old woman sifting through the rubble of her burned-to-the-ground house. “Sometimes I feel like I’m digging through the ashes of my life,” she tells him – but whether that sad and lovely line refers to her or to Alvin is left for us to sort out. Later on, Alvin and Lance see the woman get into the old man’s truck, but he denies that anyone is there. Is she a ghost? Are they both?

There is humor here, but of the gentle, nudging, self-aware kind more than broad slapstick, save for one scene toward the end that injects a quick dose of mostly painless comic relief. But mostly there is an excavation of character going on here, as Alvin sorts and sifts through his own understanding of who he is and his place in the world. A letter for Alvin forces him to reassess things he thought he knew, causing him to dig through his own ashes in search of the answers to where he’s veered off track. A confrontation with Lance further shakes things up for him, shattering his view of himself as the one who has it all together.

Prince Avalanche was shot in Bastrop State Park in central Texas not long after wildfires devastated the area, and blackened, fallen trees and road kill create an interesting visual juxtaposition against tentative new growth, evoking a cycle of life and death, destruction and new birth. The color yellow appears symbolically throughout, from the bright yellow paint used to paint fresh dividing lines on old asphalt to equally bright wildflowers sprouting up out of ashes and charred remains of trees. Green is working less in the territory of non-stop-laughs bromance (and thank goodness for that) and back to working more in the artsy realm of the calm and quiet, the metaphoric and visually evocative. And working with the beautiful and poetic, for me, is exactly where this often brilliant, sometimes frustrating filmmaker belongs.

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Julian Schnabel: Years ago, I was down there with my cousin’s wife Corky. She was wild — she wore makeup on her legs, and she had a streak in her hair like Yvonne De Carlo in “The Munsters.” She liked to paint. I had overalls on with just a T-shirt and looked like whatever. We were trying to buy a bunch of supplies with my cousin Jesse’s credit card. They looked at the credit card, and then they looked at us and thought maybe we stole the card, so they called Jesse up. He was a doctor who became the head of trauma at St. Vincent’s. They said, “There’s somebody here with this credit card and we want to know if it belongs to you.”

He said, “Well, does the woman have dyed blonde hair and fake eyelashes and look like she stepped out of the backstage of some kind of silent movie, and is she with some guy who has wild hair and is kind of dressed like a bum?”

“Yeah, that’s them.”

“Yeah, that’s my cousin and my wife. It’s okay, they can charge it on my card.”
~ Julian Schnabel Remembers NYC’s Now-Shuttered Pearl Paint

MB Cool. I was really interested in the aerial photography from Enter the Void and how one could understand that conceptually as a POV, while in fact it’s more of an objective view of the city where the story takes place. So it’s an objective and subjective camera at the same time. I know that you’re interested in Kubrick. We’ve talked about that in the past because it’s something that you and I have in common—

GN You’re obsessed with Kubrick, too.

MB Does he still occupy your mind or was he more of an early influence?

GN He was more of an early influence. Kubrick has been my idol my whole life, my own “god.” I was six or seven years old when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I never felt such cinematic ecstasy. Maybe that’s what brought me to direct movies, to try to compete with that “wizard of Oz” behind the film. So then, years later, I tried to do something in that direction, like many other directors tried to do their own, you know, homage or remake or parody or whatever of 2001. I don’t know if you ever had that movie in mind for your own projects. But in my case, I don’t think about 2001 anymore now. That film was my first “trip” ever. And then I tried my best to reproduce on screen what some drug trips are like. But it’s very hard. For sure, moving images are a better medium than words, but it’s still very far from the real experience. I read that Kubrick said about Lynch’s Eraserhead, that he wished he had made that movie because it was the film he had seen that came closest to the language of nightmares.

Matthew Barney and Gaspar Noé