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Another Girl, Another Planet

(Michael Almereyda, USA, 1992)


 


Best of all the Generation-X movies of the early ’90s is a remarkable low-budget film by the American writer-director Michael Almereyda: Another Girl, Another Planet. This made it onto my list of the best films I saw anywhere in 1994.

This serves up true Gen-X love-story stuff: two young, dissolute lads in their tiny apartment, obsessed with movies, TV and records, having a series of non-committal relationships with a string of women whose characters range from teary and hysterical to cool and dreamy.

It’s in the ballpark of films like Reality Bites (1994), Bodies, Rest and Motion (1993) or Hal Hartley’s films – in fact it even uses a familiar Hartley regular, Elina Löwensohn. But, compared to these movies, Almereyda’s has a much more authentic and intimate sting.

Once again, it is a film about alienation, romance in an unromantic world, fleeting emotions and vague experiences of sensuality. Nobody connects, and there’s a lilting, almost pleasurable sadness about this whole non-connection business, instead of the sometimes laboured, moral lament that concludes many Gen-X movies.

The title captures this sensibility well: people are more like separate planets slowly spinning past each other, mere atoms bopping around, rather than old-fashioned, psychological human beings. I think of it as a chaos theory of love and sex. These dudes don’t possess much depth, but they certainly put a lot of stylish effort into living and bouncing around on the surface.

One very good thing about Almereyda’s approach to all this is that he clearly doesn’t believe that he’s the first young man to ever feel alienated, or that he’s disappearing, or that every person and their inner emotional selves are like weird ghost ships in the night. Another Girl, Another Planet effortlessly recalls the Nouvelle Vague movies of Godard and Truffaut, the various punk lifestyle films of the early ’80s, or American movies from the ’70s about alienated young rebels, outcasts and dissolute wanderers, like Monte Hellman‘s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).

I was most intensely reminded of Jim McBride’s famous fake cinéma-vérité piece, David Holzman’s Diary (1968). In that film, young Dave films everything around him obsessively for his visual diary. His gaze upon women, especially, is furtive, desperate, uncomprehending. In a chilling moment, this anti-hero takes to filming a woman he doesn’t know, every day from his window. He films her going to work, taking out the garbage, returning home. As he rolls the camera he whispers, like a demented film buff, a quotation from Truffaut: “With every movement, she gives herself away … to me”. Another Girl, Another Planet has that same kind of grubby male poetry in it, presented in an ironic way – the poetry of this male gaze which looks and looks at women, but sees nothing.

Almereyda is not a first-time director; and he’s not, in fact, as young as his heroes. He came to make this movie via an interesting path. In the early ’80s, he was involved as a writer on various projects including the original script of Wim Wenders’ dog Until the End of the World (1991). Later, he made an absolutely bizarre directorial debut with Twister (1988 – not to be confused with the 1996 blockbuster), which is one of the oddest films you will ever find in the back of your local video shop. The experience of doing this film, in a conventional way with a studio, was a painful one for Almereyda. When he couldn’t get other projects off the ground, he turned to a recent low-tech novelty, the pixel-vision camera.

Pixel-vision is a kind of primitive toy process that records images and sounds onto audio-tape. Almereyda saw some of the raw, remarkable, intimately confessional pixel-vision tapes made by the teenager Sadie Benning. So then he worked out a project involving just a few actors in a confined space, and used a doctored pixel-vision camera to catch the raw material, which he later polished up on 16 millimetre film. (Almereyda obviously believes he’s onto a good thing here: in a later film, the modern vampire story Nadja [1995] produced by David Lynch, he does all the dream and hallucination sequences with his trusty pixel-vision camera.)

Let me say that I think the pixel-vision process itself has been rather over hyped. There’s something about its closeness to the faces, its shadowy, ghostly black and white tones, and its lack of visual definition that chimes in well with the emotional subject matter of this film. But I’d have to comment that Another Girl, Another Planet is finally a terrific film despite pixel-vision, not because of it.

It’s an original, distinctive character/lifestyle drama, produced in an ingenious, low-budget way.

© Adrian Martin July 1995


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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