Wednesday, April 20, 2016

MIKE'S MURDER

There are many ways for a movie to haunt us. Fewer ways, perhaps, for a movie to haunt itself.

Mike's Murder, a mid-80s work by James Bridges, finds itself thus haunted. It's a rarely-screened semi-obscurity, not often discussed even in passionate conversations about the neo-noirs of the 80s. The thing is weirdly paced, tracking L.A. banker Betty (Debra Winger) into a drearily sunlit L.A. underground in search of more information about her murdered lover. But I had a clue that this thing would probably not rush toward its destination, having read that the movie has been tinkered with by its studio. Bridges, it seemed, had intended the movie to flow in reverse chronological order, only to have the studio insist on the movie's scenes being recut into a more conventional forward chronology.

Was I better off not knowing about this? It certainly was distracting trying to imagine the scenes unfolding in Bridges intended order, trying to reverse engineer a flow from each scene to the one before. And even though one understands that this is a foolish mission at best something about this other movie, this mirror movie, helps Mike's Murder linger even longer than it would have.

As is, though, the movie does land as a moody if unusually sedate noir romance. Mike remains present even after his mysterious death, with photographs taking on a ghostly life of their own. Betty herself is often framed in mirrors as she proceeds on her quest, enhancing a feeling of crossing over into a dreamy, not-quite-real liminal zone. Her search takes her into many unusual milieu, from the decadent but earthy home of a gay music producer (Paul Winfield, award-worthy) to a conceptual art party that throws Betty from one screen to another.

But haunted it remains. By the movie it was intended to be, so that the opening scene of the movie seems palpably overlaid with its devastating final cut. By the music of Joe Jackson, which survives solely on radios playing throughout Betty's L.A. By the evening's co-hit, Laura, Otto Preminger's noir romance about a detective similarly haunted by the murder victim he's investigating. (Both movies abound with queer characters, though the two other men lusting after Laura are coded as gay - closeted heterosexuals? What about Laura brings these men out of themselves?) And like any good haunted site it continually folds in on itself, leaving one unable to unsee it, turning over its various versions in one's head for hours after. Fascinated. Obsessed. In a word, haunted.

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