whiten

White Nights (1985, Taylor Hackford)

It’s the perfect time for the White Nights post I’ve been slacking on.

Why have I been slacking? A combination of things. First and foremost, White Nights is a Columbia Picture. Sony releases Columbia Pictures on DVD and has not released White Nights in the US yet. If and when they do, those twits will probably release it pan and scan. We watched the lovely, anamorphic widescreen Japanese release. Even has Taylor Hackford commentary. Two, I’ve seen White Nights before and I don’t know how much I have to say about it. Three, maybe I’d have more to say or something different to say, if I didn’t watch the movie thinking how great an actor Gregory Hines really was, how unappreciated he was in the 1980s (how many good roles did he have in theatrical releases–I’ve actually seen Dead Air–seven or eight, depends on if you count History of the World or Eve of Destruction). Gregory Hines came and went and he shouldn’t have. The fact he’s dead without any acting recognition upset me throughout the film. Just now, I read he dropped out of 48 HRS. for The Cotton Club. So now I’m even more upset.

No one makes movies like White Nights anymore. Hollywood does not produce adult dramas not intended to be Oscar-nominees. It just doesn’t happen. Miramax has ruined adult cinema (and Adam Sandler and Mike Myers have ruined adult comedy).

White Nights is–I suppose–not entirely ludicrous. I have no idea what would have happened if Baryshnikov ended up in the Soviet Union somehow. So, I can accept it. The rest of the story is simple and paced over a couple weeks. The KGB sets Baryshnikov up with Hines, a tap-dancing American defector (over Vietnam), hoping to get world recognition for getting their defector back home. Getting him to give up the world of Western indulgences. Eventually, Baryshnikov escapes again. The end. I’m sure almost everyone’s seen this movie on late night TV (though not in beautiful anamorphic widescreen).

There’s Phil Collins music at some point but it’s that somehow okay Phil Collins 1980s music. Makes for good sequences. That Phil Collins. Not Phil Collins-Monkey Love Song Phil Collins. And it fits because Hackford produces an excellent package. His films are always well-produced. Against All Odds is not, you know, a good film, but it’s well-produced. In the context of the 1980s, I would have called Hackford mediocre. Now, I would have to call him good… comparably.

Nights isn’t a musical, but there’s a lot of dancing and it’s impossible not be awe of the two dancers. No offense to Hines (or tap dancing), but Baryshnikov is the more stunning. What the guy can do is amazing. I can’t do any of it. And neither can you, because you’d be doing it right now instead of wasting your time reading about some movie. My interest in the dancing, besides general appreciation, wanes. It’s not a musical, there’s a story coming before these sequences and they seem long when they’re interrupting that story. Some are great and Hackford does a good job with them. But the dancing makes White Nights good. It’s the peculiar nature of the story and of the actors.

For the majority of the film, Hines doesn’t like Baryshnikov and neither does the audience (though my fiancée seems to like his tush a lot). Baryshnikov is a selfish prig and it takes a while to warm to him. The differences between the Soviet Union and the United States and freedoms do come up, but those difference’s aren’t the character’s motivation. He’s just a selfish prig. There’s no ideology. And that lack makes him likable in the end. In other words, for four-fifths of the movie, it’s all about Hines. And he’s great. He turns an amazing performance, even when he’s got to be drunk and upset. The bad guy, of course, is the KGB guy. But, it’s not so simple because the KGB guy is a selfish prig too and turns out not to be inhuman. He’s just doing his job and he wants as good of a job as possible. And Helen Mirren’s in it and she’s great. So’s Geraldine Page. In fact, only Isabella Rossellini turns in a blah performance. But it’s Isabella Rossellini and she’s always blah, isn’t she?

So, White Nights is good. It’s an unexpected good. It does have a completely out of place Oscar-winning song, though. Lionel Richie sings what seems to be a song about friendship and I really wish there was a scene where Baryshnikov told Hines, “Believe in who you are, you are a shining star.” It’s not even in the movie, it plays over the end credits. How can a song get “Best Song” if it’s not in the movie? At least the songs in Irwin Allen’s disaster movies were in the movie a little….

White Nights reminds me–not too long ago even–most movies were okay. Most I’d see anyway. They were okay. Sticking with the Hackford oeuvre, Against All Odds isn’t any good, it really isn’t. But it’s not a crime against the human intellect. It’s not a Chris Klein movie or something. The 1980s constantly gets shit from people who think Britney Spears can sing or Hayden Christiansen can act. Sure, a lot of the films were incredibly derivative. Oh, you know, like bullet-time. White Nights is a reasonable example of that decade’s film output and it’s a good sign. It’s a sign the decade shouldn’t be ignored just because of John Hughes and Tony Scott.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by James Goldman and Eric Hughes, from a story by Goldman; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Hackford and William S. Gilmore; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Mikhail Baryshnikov (Nikolai Rodchenko), Gregory Hines (Raymond Greenwood), Jerzy Skolimowski (Colonel Chaiko), Helen Mirren (Galina Ivanova), Geraldine Page (Anne Wyatt), Isabella Rossellini (Darya Greenwood), John Glover (Wynn Scott), Stefan Gryff (Captain Kirigin), William Hootkins (Chuck Malarek) and Shane Rimmer (Ambassador Smith).


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