Friday, January 16, 2009
How Blue Can You Get?
By Jonathan Pacheco
Apparently, if you listen to the blues and snap your fingers exaggeratedly in order to “feel the music,” it means you’re living in the ’30s. Or so the actors of Dark Streets would have you believe. Nearly everything in this “noir musical fantasy” is reduced to cliches and generalizations, from the overacting to the colorless plot, making my on-a-whim decision to see this over Let the Right One In all the more painful.
While Dark Streets tries to push its tagline — “Music. Passion. Betrayal. Welcome to the Blues” — you wonder if anyone involved knows what those words mean (with the exception of B.B. King, who contributes to the score). Performances are more hammy than passionate, and each twist and betrayal is met with stupefied looks and crocodile tears. Every character utters dialogue filled with flowery, rambling, hollow words; I guess this is what they mean by “the blues.” “Darkness has no face,” “once it’s in you, it’s got you,” and “that new little pony of yours... she’s the one riding you...” are just a few examples of the endless stream of faux-philosophical lines that aren’t even spoken with any conviction.
The world of Dark Streets is about as paper-thin as the characters that inhabit it. It’s funny, because with all the attention that seems to be paid to the sets, costumes, and music, it all feels false. It’s a production in a vacuum. No atmosphere, no reality, and no imagination renders an interesting culture soulless. I think a lot of this may be due to a lack of understanding. While I won’t pretend to be an expert on the blues or the culture of the ‘30s, I can tell when someone else doesn’t get it (but is trying very had to pretend that she does). That’s what I see with director Rachel Samuels. When the concept of your entire film is based on the emotional thrust of a specific genre and movement, you’re going to need more than period clothing.
Dark Streets only realized its potential during a single, early scene. Madelaine, a mysterious new girl, auditions to be a singer at the night club inherited by Chaz, our young playboy protagonist. The moody musical sequence slows down the movie, finally allowing us to become engrossed and entranced in this world. All of a sudden, there’s some life to Dark Streets. The camera, often too concerned with filming the elaborate choreography, is allowed to linger on the faces of characters; it gets closer to their faces in that one scene than any other I can think of in the film. We’re now able to read their emotions and see some subtleties. Gabriel Mann, playing Chaz, stops trying to act like he’s in the ‘30s and lives in the scene and in the music. Madelaine’s performance is intoxicating for Chaz and for ourselves, all of us wondering what’s behind the lyrics.
As this scene played out, I sat up straighter in my chair. Now things were getting interesting. I saw this as a turning point for Dark Streets. This film could become intriguing if it was willing to put its rough start behind it. Sadly, the film did not move forward, but rather reverted to those old ways. The rest of the movie is a boring mesh of plots, mysteries and characters that I could care less about. Save for that one remarkable scene, Dark Streets is unintentionally misanthropic; even the coldest of noir shouldn’t be this distant.