Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Depp’
Promoted as the new Johnny Depp film, The Rum Diary has also been tipped as the new Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas given that they’re both based on books by Hunter S. Thompson. Yet fans of Withnail and I, it’s something perhaps more momentous: the new Bruce Robinson film. Given that prior to The Rum Diary, Robinson had helmed just two more movies, it’s no surprise that he hates the process. “When I got the word back that they were going to make it, I was thrilled,” he says of his fourth film. “However, when they asked me to direct it, I wasn’t, because I didn’t want to. After the last unmentionable film I directed [Jennifer Eight], I was really determined that I would never do it again.”
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be many similarities between The Rum Diary and Withnail and I. Seperated by almost a quarter of a decade, they’re actually closer than you would expect…
The central dynamic between both films’ lead characters is almost identical. Withnail is effectively doomed to his lifestyle, his addiction dictating his professional failings, while for the seemingly younger Marwood it’s a stage in his life that he can move on from. In The Rum Diary, Kemp is ultimately able to move on: his older pal Sala’s declining talent and love of the glamour of island life keep him rooted to Puerto Rico.
Both depict the end of an era. Withnail and I charts the final decline of the Sixties ideal before the Seventies delivered a darker decade. By the close of The Rum Diary, The San Juan Star has closed down and the peak of the island’s commercial development – and therefore the local high life – has passed.
Neither film has a nuanced female character. Amber Heard’s Chenault looks sensational and reiterates a sense of glamour, but we learn little about her character and she adds little of substance to the plot. Still, that’s serious character development when compared to the women in Withnail and I.
The dialogue is exuberantly funny. Withnail and I could well be the most quotable film of all time. The Rum Diary can’t really match it, but its use of comedy is also its greatest asset.
Booze. Withnail and Marwood enjoy every intoxicating drink known to man. Kemp, Sala and pretty much every other character drink to excess too, although their chosen poisons of rum and cocktails are more sophisticated choices than EVERYTHING.
Both films depict three separate classes, which isn’t especially common for comedies. Kemp finds himself in the upper-middle class of the island together with most of his associates at the newspaper. The islanders forced away from the private beach of Aaron Eckhart’s Sanderson are the underclass in a place ruled by an upper class of American investors. Withnail shares a similar class level to Kemp, although his personal decline seems to have moved him down a level from that of his wealthy uncle Monty to the point where there’s little separation between him, the “scrubbers” and “the wankers on the site.”
On several occasions, Johnny Depp pulls the same leering, lascivious drunk expression as Richard E. Grant did as Withnail. Still, if you’re going to be influenced by anyone, one of cinema’s greatest portraits of an alcoholic is a fine starting point.
“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake.” Although Kemp’s ill-fated trip to the proposed development site of an idyllic local island is nowhere near as disasterous as Withnail and Marwood’s trip to the countryside.
Giovanni Ribisi’s Moberg and Ralph Brown’s Danny are effectively the same character. And they serve the same primary purpose as a comedy sidekick whose existence is even more extreme than the core characters.
Both share a rambling narrative direction. For all their strengths, neither film can claim to have an expertly crafted plot. Withnail’s is minimal – two alcoholics drink to excess in London, drink to excess on holiday in the Lake District and one takes a new direction upon returning to the capital – while almost every plot of The Rum Diary lacks focus.
The cinematography couldn’t be more different. Withnail and I’s squalid, retro atmosphere was captured with a grimy limited palette, while The Rum Diary bursts with the colours of a sunny, glamorous environ.
The Rum Diary is full of glamour. Flash cars, attractive women, ludicrous amounts of money, sunny beaches: it’s the epitome of the high life. The sole concessions to such an approach in Withnail and I were Monty’s ostentatious home and some very expensive bottles of wine.
The Rum Diary has a far broader collection of characters. Aside from those already mentioned, you’d struggle to recall any other character from Withnail and I – perhaps at a push you’d remember Michael Elphick’s Jake, a supremely unwelcoming local poacher. The Rum Diary’s supporting characters seem to have both screen time and contribute far more to the story.
Unsurprisingly, The Rum Diary hasn’t been a huge box office hit. Yet it’s undeniably a far more commercial proposition than Withnail and I was. Just examine the trailers. The Rum Diary: upbeat salsa music, stretches of beaches, Johnny Depp looking slick, jokes, fireworks, a carnival, flash cars, a diamond-encrusted tortoise, Amber Heard not wearing much. The Withnail and I trailer features an overweight middle-age man sipping wine, Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann drenched in rain, a randy bull and a dead fish.
Withnail and I is so funny that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. The Rum Diary is entertaining and worth a watch, but it’s unlikely to leave the same legacy.
This interview with Tom DiCillo, director of When You’re Strange, appeared in Clash in the summer of 2010. I think. It seems like a long time ago.
“Some of the responses have been almost violent,” states director Tom DiCillo of the feedback to When You’re Strange, his exemplary examination of The Doors. “The band touches people so personally that they feel like they own it. If I tread in their sacred psychological musical closet, they get very threatened by it.”
But what could possibly provoke such a reaction? Nothing more than DiCillo’s inclusion of glorious 35mm outtakes from the Jim Morrison-funded film HWY: An American Pastoral in which the iconic vocalist sports a grizzly beard. The accusation is that the director hired an actor to create these scenes.
“There’s so much myth and legend and in some cases just actual bullshit written about the band,” he sighs. “I hate nostalgia. I think it’s idiotic. America was in a really fucked up place and that’s what The Doors came out of.”
Central to the mythology is Oliver Stone’s depiction of Morrison as “a drunken lout who was in an existential self-destruction.” DiCillo offers no real vitriol to Stone’s film, but is adamant that the search for truth was his compelling motivation behind his film. Yet prior to being approached for the project, DiCillo’s mindset wasn’t radically different. After the director, then a self-proclaimed “Doors fan with a small f”, trawled through thousands of hours of footage, his opinion altered radically.
“The only real preconception I had was that Jim’s excesses were…” He deliberates for an eternity before opting for “intentional. That was a huge turning point for me when I discovered that wasn’t actually true. He was a very troubled guy and it’s clear he was a clinical alcoholic. It wasn’t that he was getting drunk as a lifestyle choice, he had a disease.”
And so, with the dry calculated wit of Johnny Depp’s narration, DiCillo’s film unfolds like a virtual time machine that plants the viewer straight into the heady days of the band’s success. There are no contemporary interviews and, as the director himself admits, little new facts for hardcore Doors fans. But the issue of correcting twisted mythology is just as important, guitarist Robby Krieger’s reaction proves.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Tom, thank you for letting people know that I wrote Light My Fire.’ If it was that important to him, it’s important to me and therefore important to the world that the little statement of fact is known.”