EP on EVP
My hilarious joke yesterday reminded me that I actually saw—and reviewed!—the film White Noise.
"This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living," wrote Don DeLillo 20 years ago in White Noise. Geoffrey Sax's film White Noise isn't the long-awaited adaptation, alas—no Hitler Studies here—but for much of its running time, it creeps along like a ghoulishly literal take on that D.D. sentence. Beginning with a long quote from Thomas Edison that, unfolding between simulated bad-reception skips, suggests the paranormal-receptive ability of inventions to come, White Noise quickly establishes a crude goosebump factory that goes straight to the spine.
Six months after the mysterious death of his novelist wife, Anna, grieving architect Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) gets a call from her cell phone—but the line goes dead. Rattled, he contacts an expert in electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), a fringe practice whose adherents patiently troll the airwaves for messages from the beyond. Jonathan soon becomes obsessed, finding an ally in fellow practitioner Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger). Pimping out his glass-clad bachelor pad with banks of monitors and recording equipment, Jonathan reads raster as Rorschach, hearing voices of the deceased buried under oceans of static. Anna's voice leads him to the scene of a gruesome accident, where he rescues a baby—but it dawns on him that the swirling spirits on the other side might actually be malevolent, revealing glimpses of deaths before they happen (a tinge of Minority Report).
Keaton's not much more than a plug-in here, though in places he manages some economical emoting that grounds the wilder goings-on. His character resonates as a morbid stand-in for anyone chained to the computer screen, glued to any number of devices: cell phone, car radio, answering machine. As in The Ring, technology is omnipresent but uncanny in its obscurity—what is static, anyway? White Noise teems with whiplash scare tactics, but ably mines the same dead zone previously mapped in flashes: The Outer Limits' vertical-horizontal prologue, the communion with snowed-out screen in Poltergeist.
The transfixingly weird Birth crawled down the slope of reason by the end, to some viewers' chagrin; White Noise vigorously pushes the supernatural line throughout, but unfortunately its final movement is so incoherent that the whole thing collapses. It's as if the cultural white noise of a thousand indifferent suspense flicks has gathered to drown out the initial spark of invention with a knee-jerk flurry of howling demons and unrelenting studio rain. —PTSNBN, Jan. 4, 2005
And...I was one of maybe eleven people who liked the DeLillo-penned Game Six!
If last year's rerelease of 1975's The Passenger felt like the ultimate adaptation of an unpublished Don DeLillo novel, it's because the film resembled a template for his books: urbane and mythic, a circuitous and cryptic death trip. The new Game Six, from a DeLillo screenplay, has an anonymous indie look, but with its absurdist cab ride through gridlocked midtown, airborne toxic disaster, ruminations on personal and public history, and baseball fetishizing, it's like volume one of DeLillo's Greatest Hits. DeLillo's stylized dialogue, part brow-slapping smartitude, part beautiful nonsense, finds an ideal mouthpiece in Michael Keaton. As playwright Nicky Rogan, he gives every line just the right spin: He describes a fellow writer, now half crazed, as "someone who sits in a small, dark apartment eating soft, white bread." Rogan's new play, a deeply personal venture, is opening on the same night of a climactic Red Sox–Mets game. Meanwhile, a dreaded critic (Robert Downey Jr.) girds himself for his assignment in his toiletless hovel, while the lead actor is having memory problems due to a parasite in his brain, a bug contracted in Borneo or perhaps Burma. ("Why are we blaming the third world for our parasites?" someone muses.) For a Greek chorus, there's a radio reporter delivering hilariously unhelpful traffic updates spun into glum meditations ("Birth, death, walk, don't walk"). Despite a late-inning swoon of pat emotional generosity, Game Six is a gratifying playground of high-wire language. —PTSNBN, Feb. 26, 2006*
*This was one of the few times a movie ad quoted from one of my reviews. Check it out!