Gas Food Lodging Review
Allison Anders' Gas Food Lodging made something of an impact when it was released in 1992. It wasn't just that the film was made by a woman, although that was a rarity in the early 90s, nor that it was a critical hit that won awards and nominations at prestigious festivals for independent cinema (Sundance, Berlin, Deauville), but there was clearly something in the film that resonated with the times. Its enduring reputation over the years, more as a cult favourite than a popular success, is however probably more to do with the way that it touches on what is the daily reality for many people.
In that respect, dealing with outsiders struggling to find their way through the troubles and difficulties of living in the real world, Gas Food Lodging has the same impact as the films of John Hughes had for the misfits of the previous decade. There's more of an indie sensibility here however, more of a willingness to confront realities with a quirky feel for location, character and sensibility that is closer to Wim Wenders (Anders notably working previously with the director as production assistant on Paris, Texas). Most significantly however, it's the ability to view the experience from an authentic female point of view that marks out Allison Anders film as something of a breakthrough.
"Women are lonely in the nineties, it's our new phase" opines Nora (Brooke Adams). "We'll live. I've been lonelier", a description that perhaps not only applies to a single mother of two children living in small desert town of Laramie in New Mexico, but is surely a circumstance and attitude recognisable to many women and probably female filmmakers too. Living in a trailer park, working as a waitress at a diner, with two teenage daughters going through that difficult age, life is hard for Nora. As the film's title indicates, Allison Anders' film deals with the basic essentials of living - gas, food and lodging - and it deals with it in an unsentimental way for the hardships that need to be endured, but there is something else that is perhaps essential for a young woman and for her young teenage daughters; the dream of love.
Dreams are easy, but true love is harder to find. Shade (Fairuza Balk), the Molly Ringwald-like hopeless romantic indie-kid, spends her days at cinema matinees admiring the romantic Spanish language melodramas of Elvia Rivera, wondering how to attract the interest of a boy whose inclinations don't seem to lie that way. Her sister Trudi (Ione Skye) is the young, independent rebellious one, a rock-chick who skips school and has a reputation for sleeping around. Nora (Adams) has her hands full with the girls but she also has her own life to sort out and she's beginning to realise that it's unlikely to go anywhere with the married man she has been seeing.
Gas Food Lodging can be a little bit formulaic in its situations and observations ("I always thought there was nothing here", says Trudi about a desert cave that is revealed under special lights to be a colourful place of wonder) but that doesn't make them any less real or reflective of the experience of many women. As a single mother Anders draws considerably more from her own experience than the original Richard Peck source novel, fearlessly presenting an often frank and unromanticised view of life that sets her film apart from any superficial comparison to John Hughes. The reality is often that you have to go through the bad times and awful relationships before you recognise the good ones, but the experience can leave scars that remain with you all your life.
There may also literally be tumbleweed rolling down the streets of Laramie, but Anders has a Wim Wenders/Robby Müller-like eye for the American landscape, for how lives are indeed shaped by the hardships of their surroundings and how they endure their circumstances. Gas Food Lodging has also endured and its qualities will still be recognisable to many who grew up in 'desert towns' everywhere.
Gas Food Lodging is released by Arrow Academy on Blu-ray disc. The Blu-ray release is Region B encoded. The High Definition transfer approved by director Allison Anders is just beautiful, the image softly detailed, clear and stable, showing natural grain and authentic warm colouration. The soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo. English SDH subtitles are provided, but not for the occasional Spanish dialogue in the film.
The director looks back on the making of the film in a brand new 30-minute interview, considering the film as one of the ground-breaking works of independent cinema, and she is also present (along with the likes of Sally Potter, Kathryn Bigelow and Penny Marshall) in the Cinefile: Reel Women documentary on the experience of women trying to break through and establish an identity in the male dominated film industry during the 90s.
There is also a stills gallery and, in the first pressing, a booklet with new writing for the film.