Our Artistic Director of Film, Jason Wood, delves deep into Candy Mountain, screening as part of our Road Movies season…
A co-production that begins in New York before meandering cross country and concluding in Canada, Candy Mountain is nonetheless described as a resolutely American film by its two well-matched collaborators. An acclaimed photographer whose 1958 book The Americans became a defining moment for the art form, Robert Frank segued into filmmaking, establishing his reputation with the unscripted Beat classic Pull my Daisy (1959). Combining a passion for the road movie genre as evidenced by his work on Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1970), scriptwriter Rudy Wurlitzer similarly mined the tarnished mythology of America, notably in Peckinpah’s seminal Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973).
Candy Mountain tracks the dispiriting personal odyssey of ambitious but untalented New York musician Julius, whose quest for glory leads him to feigning an association with Elmore Silk, the J.D Salinger of guitar making. Charged with luring the legendary craftsman from hiding and retirement, he heads for the border and the remote home of Silk’s former French lover who re-directs him to a barren seaboard town. There, Julius finally tracks Silk down only to discover that in return for a lifetime of security and freedom he has signed an exclusive deal with a Japanese businesswoman.
Wurlitzer draws upon Frank’s background, specifically the dichotomy between art and commerce; the pressures of fame; journeys toward selfhood and the defining importance of music. In part developing from the practical imperative of having to satisfy the demands of the various international financiers, Frank/Wurlitzer also tapped into Frank’s desire to make a film about a journey from the centre of one culture to the margins of another. In turn the pair also debunk the romantic notion of the open road as a symbol of freedom, discovery and adventure. Candy Mountain certainly strikes a sobering note and can perhaps be seen as providing the natural conclusion to the American road movie cycle than began with Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969). ‘Life ain’t no candy mountain’.
Endorsing the film’s endearing, counter culture sensibility, the cast are drawn from an esoteric pool of musicians and repay the debt with accomplished and entertaining turns. Tom Waits, Dr. John, David Johansen, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Arto Lindsay, Leon Redbone, David Johansen and Joe Strummer all feature. The ‘regular’ actors aren’t bad either, especially Kevin J O’Connor as the bowed but not quite beaten Kerouac-lite hero. Bulle Ogier adds to the pervading melancholy as Silk’s former lover.
Originally screened at the ICA, Candy Mountain sits alongside Suture (1993) as one of a number of films the venue screened that developed into obsessions. Staff would eye me suspiciously as I would return night after night to see it. In conjunction with the early films of Wim Wenders and Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975) it also triggered my love of road movies. When it came to naming my youngest son I returned to Candy Mountain, settling on Rudy. I almost wished I’d been allowed to name him Wurlitzer.
Candy Mountain screens on Sat 5 August, with an intro from Jason Wood. Book tickets here.
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