Last Friday at Grand Illusion Cinema, preceding the screening of his first feature film, Too Late, filmmaker Dennis Hauck addressed the audience on the importance of keeping 35mm films alive. Big name directors like Tarantino and P.T. Anderson have recently presented movies shot on film (The Hateful Eight and The Master, respectively), but the time has come, Hauck argues, for more independent filmmakers to take the plunge–for nostalgia, for tradition and for the cinematic merits of the medium.
Too Late, is a pulpy, noir detective yarn shot in Los Angeles on 35mm and told in five uninterrupted 20-minute takes. (Check out our earlier piece for a featurette on the film.) There’s a story woven through the five mini-films, but their chronology is jumbled. You have to sort it out at the end, but the individual stories and Hauck’s image-driven storytelling keep you engaged from the start.
We begin with a young woman (Crystal Reed) pacing nervously in the Hollywood Hills; someone’s after her. She’s approached by a couple of drug dealers, and then a park ranger, and finally the hero, a private eye named Sampson, played by the always excellent John Hawkes.
This first sequence is in some ways the weakest of the five. The dialogue feels a bit like a stage play and the strength of the acting fades in and out—but stick with it, because all is forgiven by the audacity of the shot. From the hills, using a high powered zoom lens (borrowed from the Navy), Hauck hones in on Sampson on a balcony far below as he answers a call from the girl in the hills. He hops in his car and drives up to the hills to join the action already in progress, all in real time. It’s a stunt as thrilling as it is unnecessary, and leaves one guessing what tricks and mysteries will ensue.
Part two leads us to another lofty perch, this time in a lavish home in Hollywood, where a big deal strip club owner (Robert Forster) lives with his long-suffering, possibly hysterical wife (Vail Bloom) in what looks to be a life of quiet desperation on the verge of ruin. Hawkes shows up and the whole thing turns into a fabulously acted, pitch-perfect noir spectacle. It’s my favorite of the five sequences: John Cassavetes meets Oliver Stone, giving birth to a whole new thing.
We meet a stripper turned Drive-In theater operator in the fourth installment, which drips with ’70s nostalgia, longing for a simpler time when the movie’s reel needed to be changed by hand and a guy could get shot at a theater without too much fuss. Hauck’s script feels of the same vintage, borrowing from the pulp fiction of that era and earlier. The dialogue isn’t all that believable, but what’s the point of cinema if not to elevate the discourse a little? “Everything you touch turns up covered in blood sooner or later,” one of our hero’s thoughtful girlfriends tells him, and she’s not often wrong.
Too Late is a movie made by a cinephile for other cinephiles. In the gritty, rambling conversations about not just life, but other films, I was reminded of the raw energy of Richard Linklater’s earlier movies. When the two drug dealers discuss the classic Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, I nearly fell off my chair. The forgotten 1990s film genre of kids left home alone to wreak havoc is a weird nightmare burned on the brain of all children from my generation; it’s an era worthy of invocation.
The more I write about and consider Too Late, the more I admire the film’s courage, and more than anything else, aesthetics. It looks like a different time—if not a better one then at least a sexier one, when murder both solves problems and makes new ones. With real imperfections and a real-life low budget, this is a Grindhouse Feature presentation that grinds 100 times harder than Tarantino and Rodriqueze’s affected attempt at slumming it on screen.
Too Late continues at Grand Illusion Cinema (1403 NE 50th St) with sporadic showtimes now through April 28. For specific times and ticket information, visit Grand Illusion Cinema.