Trouble In Mind Review
A distinctive, low-budget and quite knowing exploration of genre conventions - here the film noir - Trouble In Mind has cult film written all over it. Alan Rudolph’s film may not have had the budget of Blade Runner or Twin Peaks, but it feeds from the same source, giving the genre a little twist, shifting reality slightly, presenting the world with a kink that knocks out the alignment a little and forces us to adjust our expectations of how we look at life... or at least cinema.
Everything in Trouble in Mind is consequently familiar yet at the same time strange. A similar effect was attempted recently (though not entirely successfully I felt) by the contemporary high-school noir drama Brick, which played off the conventions of the genre, retaining its hardboiled dialogue, playing it completely straight, but lifting it out of its normal context. Trouble In Mind is perhaps a little more subtle than that, aiming for timelessness and consequently not being as jarringly anachronistic, holding you in its reality by keeping you slightly off-balance until you can figure out just what it is that’s holding you.
And indeed it’s possibly the tone of familiarity yet strangeness that is the factor that is initially most compelling in the film, Rudolph’s film recalling not so much the classic noirs – though it certainly has that cheap B-movie quality to it – as much as other flirtations and deconstructions of the genre, the release of Hawk from prison as a starting point of the film recalling Fassbinder’s Franz Walsch/Franz Biberkopf characters, while the retro-futuristic setting of Rain City with its controlling militia oppressing the populace brings to mind Godard’s Alphaville, only one that has the exaggerated colouration of late-Fassbinder.
It’s on his release from prison that disgraced Hawk (Kris Kristofferson), having been refused a return to his old job in the city’s police force, looks up an old friend Wanda (Geneviève Bujold), who is temporarily willing to put up with the trouble he brings to her café until he can find his feet again. Trouble inevitably comes in the form of Rain City’s criminal underworld, which is under the sway of Hilly Blue (Divine), part of the reason for Hawk’s original incarceration, but also in the form of a dame, another factor that would lead Hawk to the crime of killing Fat Adolph. The dame who gets Hawk all worked up this time is Georgia (Lori Singer), a young mother who has come to the city in a camper van with her husband/partner Coop (Keith Carradine), a no-good loser who soon gets caught up in small-time criminal activities with Solo (Joe Morton), hoping to gain influence with Hilly Blue. That makes two good reasons why Hawk inevitably takes an instant dislike to Coop.
As he would also do subsequently with the Café Selavy in The Moderns, and even with the Algonquin in Mrs Parker and The Vicious Circle, Rudolph anchors this unusual gathering of characters in a specific location that is drenched in mood and character, that residence here being Wanda’s Café. Budgetary considerations could of course also account for the limited locations, but whatever the reason, it works to the film’s advantage. The importance of the café as a haven, a home, a retreat from the troubles of the world is emphasised further through the other important elements of the mise en scène - the colours and the music, with Mark Isham’s score in particular being as inextricably connected with the mood and images as Angelo Badalamenti’s work for David Lynch.
There are many reasons for loving a cult film of this type however and it can’t always be analysed or rationally explained. If Trouble In Mind does manage to hold together despite its strangeness and the unevenness of its tone, not to mentions some... well, let’s just call them stylised performances (I’m thinking of the peculiarly miscast Divine), and if it succeeds in meaning something to the viewer, it’s probably ultimately down to one’s ability to relate to the characters and their circumstances – the little people struggling to get by, improve their situation, do the right thing, find love and see justice done when the odds and the system are stacked against you.
Trouble In Mind is released in the UK by Nouveaux Pictures. The film is presented on a single-layer disc and the transfer is in PAL format. This edition is encoded for Region 2.
Advertised as being digitally remastered from a restored print, the essential characteristics of Trouble In Mind are retained, even if the print does still show some signs of aging or deterioration, or at least the characteristics of a low-budget film. Some grain is visible and reds seem to be slightly boosted in compensation for fading, resulting in skin tones having a pastel pinkish colouration. All of this only emphasises the surreal nature of the film and its distinctive look. The image is also a little bit soft and there is a faint flicker either through the telecine transfer or through compression artefacts. Less evident, but there to some extent, is cross-colouration and perhaps some edge-enhancement issues. Shadow detail is not great, but not totally obscured either. The print itself is clean, exhibiting no real marks or dust. Contrary to the information on the back of the case however, the film is not in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but is 1.78:1, which is not a big problem.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, showing good stereo separation. Dialogue isn’t always the clearest, but the balance between it and the music is well achieved, Isham’s score in particular effectively conveying mood and character.
There are no subtitles and no hard of hearing options.
The only extra feature on the disc is Minding Trouble (18:10), a recent interview with Alan Rudolph and Keith Carradine. Rudolph provides most of the commentary on the film, talking in particular about the casting and how it, along with Mark Isham’s music and Marianne Faithful’s singing of the theme song, contributed to the character of a film that on paper looked quite conventional.
It’s ironic how often films that strive for a timeless look and feel, particularly science-fiction films with a retro-futuristic look, tend to age prematurely and end up looking very much like the period they were made in, absorbing even more intensely the attitudes and the character of the time. Trouble In Mind looks like an eighties pop-video, but the approach adopted by Alan Rudolph is still uniquely cinematic and full of quirks and qualities that make it a fascinating film, blending romanticism with honest characterisation in an engaging manner. The aging of the film shows in the transfer to some extent, but Nouveaux’s presentation of the remastered print is reasonably good, with a good extra feature in the form of an interview with the director.