Arizona Dream

(Emir Kusturica, USA, 1993)


The cast of an especially surreal and feverish, all-American dream: Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Faye Dunaway, Vincent Gallo, Lili Taylor – all connected by intensely unstable ties of blood, love or friendship.

Somehow, the visionary Emir Kusturica (Underground, 1995) pulled together this manic, unclassifiable, sprawling fantasy – which began as a script from a student (David Atkins, who later directed Novocaine [2001]), and proceeded through some production chaos that reportedly involved Jerry himself taking the director’s chair for a day or two (if true, I think I can tell which scene it is).

In fact, this film gave me one of the most off-the-wall, fusional experiences of my entire filmgoing life: in a tiny, packed, sweltering Paris cinema in 1994 (when the film itself was still only a distant myth, almost only a rumour, to me), I was surrounded by nothing but very young teenagers of both genders who sighed whenever Depp walked on – and went berserk with appreciative joy whenever Jerry popped up. Who said the education system of the West is failing our children?

In the end result, the film careers from sentiment to burlesque, from magical fairy tale to satire – and back again, many times over. What tormented images of the longing of men and women this film contains – and what inspired genius in the performance-art spectacle of Gallo miming the cropduster scene from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), thus affording us one of the great practical lessons in the conjoined art of film-acting and film-language.

MORE Kusturica: Black Cat White Cat, Underground

© Adrian Martin April 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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