Northfork, an Accidental Review

by SUSAN DAVIS

We saw "Northfork" by accident. "The Swimming Pool" with Charlotte Rampling was playing at our local art house, but we got the times mixed up. I remembered seeing trailers for Northfork, and it seemed like a good bet, an anti-Western Western about an old Montana town that’s destroyed by a dam.

The promise of "Northfork" is a glimpse of the old, extractive economy colliding with the new energy industries. We are supposed to confront the complexities of community displacement and learn some new meanings of "frontier." Unfortunately, by the time we get there the town has packed up and all that’s left is a crew of professional evacuators confronting the bonkers remnants of the population. There’s no sense of the destruction of community, because there’s no sense of what the community was. You’re supposed to piece its history together from some black and white Viewmaster slides and a 1950s country music soundtrack.

The real story is less rich and a lot more confusing. James Woods plays O’Brien, a glum evictor who’s just received the final notice to disinter his wife lest she end up underwater like everything else. O’Brien makes a lot of remarks to his son about "the smell of death," and it is no surprise that the son is uncooperative. The coffin-moving project troubles O’Brien throughout the movie, and he ends up crying about it in an outhouse that looks suspiciously like a confessional.

Meanwhile, Nick Nolte as Father Harlan is caring for little Irwin, a sick boy whose parents have abandoned him. There are some affecting scenes, as when the priest preaches the last sermon to his congregation, and when he surreptitiously measures little Irwin for his coffin. You can see he’s exhausted from a lifetime spent serving others. Unfortunately, Nolte has a heart to heart with a black grave digger about Irwin’s inevitable death. He says something like, "I love my church, but I’ve lost my faith." This movie wouldn’t go in for clichés, would it?

On another parallel track, and there are a lot of them, a foursome of angels is camped out in a frame house full of stuff you’d like to see appraised on the Antiques Road Show. Little Irwin’s spirit visits them, trying to convince them he’s their comrade. The angels are dressed in Edwardian costumes, except for Flower Hercules, played by Daryl Hannah, who is wearing an Elizabethan ruched shirt and a short black leather jerkin. The reason for this seems to be so we can glimpse Hannah’s remarkable legs, which extend until next Saturday. Flower Hercules badly wants a child to join the angel band. So, they examine Irwin, and the scars where his halo and wings were removed, and do some lengthy forensic work on the feathers that keep growing behind his ears, but they don’t believe him. Meanwhile (another meanwhile), some kind of baboon on stilts has escaped from the stage set of "The Lion King," and is wandering the Montana badlands.

We are in a swamp of ferocious allegory here, but allegories are supposed be in relation to something. The baboon and the dam and the angel wings and everything else are allegories of nothing much. The cemetery seems to stand for itself.

Obviously, "Northfork" is not supposed to be plausible, it is supposed to make you think and wonder. And so I did. I wondered: why is Daryl Hannah wearing a nylon wig? Why is a black safety pin dangling near the top of her ear? Why did Nick Nolte agree to be in this mess? Did I leave the oven on? And I thought: I would rather be at a PTA meeting. Yes, it really makes you think and wonder.

"Northfork" underscores a few important things. First, just because Nick Nolte is in a movie doesn’t mean it will be good. Sad, but true. Second, phone the theater before leaving home. Finally, if you’re going to go to a bad movie, you should have the courage of your convictions and go to a really BAD movie. See an Adam Sandler movie, or "Blue Velvet," or one where the dogs and cats talk. Sit back and glory in the experience, and laugh. It will put some oxygen in your bloodstream. Don’t waste your time with a bad movie that’s pretending it’s a deep movie. No one laughed during the entire hour and 43 minutes of Northfork. They were afraid to.

SUSAN DAVIS teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

 


Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal