Sunday, June 19, 2011

8MM (1999) and The Conversation (1974)

Two films have been on my mind a lot lately: 8mm (1999), directed by Joel Schumacher, and The Conversation (1974), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Both deal with a male who gets too cozy with his work and loses his marbles as a result. 8mm is more conventional as a film, but its story is more perverse and twisted. Nick Cage is best when he portrays mind-losers, and he really drives this one home for the victory lap: he plays a nervous, workaholic private eye hired by a very wealthy family who discover, after their daddy dies, there's an 8mm snuff film their safe. Dead daddy's confused, aging widow charges Cage's character with finding how the film got in the safe and to seek the identity of the girl killed in it by a leather-masked gimp. Already smoking cigarettes behind his wife's back (played by Catherine Keener) and on a long absence from her and the baby, Cage's private eye goes deeper into the mystery, milling about in L.A.'s EXXXtreme porno underworld. There, he gets help in finding the director of the snuff film from a young smut pusher cum-musician named Max California (played by Joaquin Phoenix). Upon the private eye's full immersion in the pervert void his determination to bring justice for an otherwise forgotten young girl has calcified into lunacy. He tricks the evil pornographer into outing himself to catastrophic effect for both, and by Cage's character identifying too much with the dead girl's fate, he ends up dredging up as much dirt within himself as he does for the family that hired him. 8mm's power is primarily driven by the spiraling narrative and its curated menagerie of sleazy characters, but there's an added benefit, which was no doubt added by the 10 years since its release: with everything going digital nowadays, obsolete analog technology—in this case the grainy physicality of the 8mm 'snuff film' —has rarely made violence more primal and creepy.
Another post on the more brilliant of the two, The Conversation, next time.....