David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche Reviewed

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At this point, pretty much anything anyone writes about director David Gordon Green sets out to divide his early “promising” work—impressionistic, Malick-beholden films like All the Real Girls and George Washington—from more recent stoner comedies like Pineapple Express, the much-vilified-now-but-future-cult-classic Your Highness, and Green’s work on Eastbound & Down.

The critical line on Green’s latest film, Prince Avalanche, is that it synthesizes the poetic and artistic impulses of the earlier films with the commercial comedy of what came after—that, in shortGreen has found his way again. I don’t think that this is especially true.

Based on the 2011 Icelandic film Either WayPrince Avalanche floats around the barest wisp of a plot. It’s the end of the 1980s, and in the middle of wildfire-ravaged Texas, uptight Alvin (Paul Rudd) and slacker Lance (Emile Hirsch, channeling a sensitive Jack Black) paint yellow lines on the old rural roads and hammer in new signposts. They squabble, share vodka with an alcoholic truck driver, and encounter a woman whose house has burned down. We learn that Lance has scored the job because his sister is Alvin’s girlfriend—but that romantic relationship looks pretty rocky from the get-go.

Prince Avalanche is never better than its opening scenes, where Alvin and Lance wordlessly perform their duties, hammering stakes into the ground and measuring out yellow dashes. Green is confident enough to let the camera linger on his actors, and most of the memorable scenes are simple—Paul Rudd’s motions as he sets up a folding table, or Hirsch tying down equipment to the work jeep. The blasted Texas forest is beautiful, as new growth mixes with charred tree trunks in frames by turns surreal and painterly.

The story line of Prince Avalanche isn’t especially bad; it’s just not especially good, or even interesting. There’s simply too much indie dramedy quirkiness going on here, and when Green’s plotting hits familiar arc-driven beats—a climactic fight, a scene of drunken abandon—the story feels false against the pure, beautiful cinematography. The original score by postrockers Explosions in the Sky is maddeningly intrusive, buzzing with overly-detailed blips and rhythm huffs that sound at times like Tangerine Dream’s work on Risky Business. Calm down!

This is all perhaps a way of saying that the “synthesis” many critics have detected in Prince Avalanche is not particularly satisfying. It’s true that the film is smaller and more intimate than Green’s last effort, the execrable and indefensible into-the-night film The Sitter, but Prince Avalanche is just as much a product of formula as that film.

In most of his films, Green retells the same core story about a lonely young man with communication troubles who really just wants a friend (this is Paul Schneider in All the Real Girls or James Franco in Pineapple Express or Danny McBride in Your Highness). Prince Avalanche is no different, but it seems unsure of pulling off its emotional impact without all the indie-quirk baggage. It feels bloated at a scant 96 minutes and would be a far better film if, like the burned and beautiful world it depicts, it was willing to strip away more of its protective layers. (It doesn’t help that Kelly Reichardt told a similar story far better in 2006 with her film Old Joy).

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the film—I’ll confess I wanted it to be great, something that could transcend the self-seriousness of All the Real Girls and surpass the final, perfect diner scene of Pineapple Express (the single moment where Green best combines his Malick-tinged naturalism with his sense of bromance-up-too-late humor).

Of course I could be dead wrong—I might catch the film on cable in a year and see something there that I missed the first time. Like most viewers, I had no love for Your Highness on first viewing but have since sat through it at least four times—it’s a failure, to be sure, but a compelling, bizarre failure, one that I find funnier and more self-aware each time. And the same promise that Green has always shown in all his work (okay, not The Sitter) shines brightly throughout Prince Avalanche. The final shot of the film shows us children joyfully chasing a chicken. It’s one of the finest moments in the film, and I wish Green’s lens lingered there longer—I’d like to see what happens next.

Katherine Anne Porter on Being a Southern Writer (And Eloping)

Katherine Anne Porter in her Paris Review interview:

INTERVIEWER

But it seems to me that your work suggests someone who was searching for new—perhaps broader—meanings . . . that while you’ve retained the South of your childhood as a point of reference, you’ve ranged far from that environment itself. You seem to have felt little of the peculiarly Southern preoccupation with racial guilt and the death of the old agrarian life.

PORTER

I’m a Southerner by tradition and inheritance, and I have a very profound feeling for the South. And, of course, I belong to the guilt-ridden white-pillar crowd myself, but it just didn’t rub off on me. Maybe I’m just not Jewish enough, or Puritan enough, to feel that the sins of the father are visited on the third and fourth generations. Or maybe it’s because of my European influences—in Texas and Louisiana. The Europeans didn’t have slaves themselves as late as my family did, but they still thought slavery was quite natural. . . . But, you know, I was always restless, always a roving spirit. When I was a little child I was always running away. I never got very far, but they were always having to come and fetch me. Once when I was about six, my father came to get me somewhere I’d gone, and he told me later he’d asked me, “Why are you so restless? Why can’t you stay here with us?” and I said to him, “I want to go and see the world. I want to know the world like the palm of my hand.”

INTERVIEWER

And at sixteen you made it final.

PORTER

At sixteen I ran away from New Orleans and got married. And at twenty-one I bolted again, went to Chicago, got a newspaper job, and went into the movies.

INTERVIEWER

The movies?

PORTER

The newspaper sent me over to the old S. and A. movie studio to do a story. But I got into the wrong line, and then was too timid to get out. “Right over this way, Little Boy Blue,” the man said, and I found myself in a courtroom scene with Francis X. Bushman. I was horrified by what had happened to me, but they paid me five dollars for that first day’s work, so I stayed on. It was about a week before I remembered what I had been sent to do; and when I went back to the newspaper they gave me eighteen dollars for my week’s nonwork and fired me!

I stayed on for six months—I finally got to nearly ten dollars a day—until one day they came in and said, “We’re moving to the coast.” “Well, I’m not,” I said. “Don’t you want to be a movie actress?” “Oh, no!” I said. “Well, be a fool!” they said, and they left. That was 1914 and world war had broken out, so in September I went home.

 

Barry Hannah on Southern Literature

From The Paris Review’s interview with Barry Hannah

INTERVIEWER

Do you think you can still say there is a Southern literature? That people aren’t just hanging onto something that no longer really exists?

HANNAH

Yes. Remember that the South—and this is what people forget—the South is sixteen states and it’s the biggest region. It and the West are enormous country. Of the sixteen states, from Texas on up to Virginia, there is a stamp that means love of language and stories. But that might be the extent of the similarities. Texas lit is nothing like Virginia lit. The Tidelands is nothing like Appalachian. We’re talking about an enormous nation. We’re talking about people who love blacks more than Northerners. We’re talking about people who deeply hate them more than anybody in the world. So, yes, that’s Southern lit but that’s like saying—oh, let us say German lit. Heavily philosophic is what we usually think.

But the Germans also command that you have fun. So we can say certain things about Germans but there are huge varieties, and Germany’s much smaller than the South.

 

Watch Death for Five Voices, Werner Herzog’s Film About the Bizarre Life of Carlo Gesualdo

Blood Meridian Contest Winner Announced

Big congratulations to Michael Cooke, a librarian from Flower Mound, Texas who is the winner of our Blood Meridian contest. Michael will receive a copy of the 25th anniversary hardback edition of Cormac McCarthy’s seminal anti-Western/awesome Western courtesy Biblioklept and Modern Library. Michael had the unfair advantage of being from Texas, and he totally cheated by sending in a baker’s dozen postcards, which was totally awesome. Cheating and being evil is the core of Blood Meridian. Each of Michael’s stark, garish, gritty, surreal, or just plain wicked postcards came with a wonderful corollary quote from the novel. The postcards come from Michael’s personal collection; he’s had some of them for years, and they’re from all over the place, several came from New Mexico, Cormac McCarthy’s chosen home. Here comes the weird–