Film: The search for one-eyed JimmyChecked this film on TV the other day, it’s one of those nice things you can see on TV, because it’s too cheap for cinemas, too artistic for video clubs, etc. But really, it’s one of those apparent cases of clever people saying “Let’s make a film on a shoestring budget”.
Film is most often advertised for having Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and Samuel Jackson. However, they all play supporting roles, memorable as they are. These are the kind of roles that took a day or two to complete, explaining how such film could get such impressive lineup. “Search for one-eyed Jimmy” is an independent film, not the best of its kind, but funny, interesting, and worth watching a couple of times.
Holt McCallany plays Les, a film school graduate who returns to his old neighbourhood with a cameraman (Lodge H. Kerrigan), intending to make a small documentary about local outsiders, but stumbles into a story about disappearance of local loser one-eyed Jimmy and hopes that he can make it a huge docudrama about this disappearance. A resident subject of jokes, Joe Head (Michael Badalucco) tags along for the whole time, and the search party is completed by Junior (Nicholas Turrturo) and Lefty (Ray Mancini) alternately, never at the same time because they mostly try to kill each other. Junior, specially, is a punk who’ll repeatedly steal your car and then sit and have a beer with you, claiming that it’s no big deal.
Local folks constantly undermine Les’s attempt at making a serious film, not being able to take themselves seriously or to keep on topic for a long while. So when they interview Colonel Ron (Samuel Jackson is a really memorable whacked-out performance) having heard that he met one-eyed Jimmy, it turns out that he, in fact, met one-armed Jimmy. Buscemi plays Jimmy’s brother Ed who holds a private business of making photos with cardboard-cutout celebrities, Anne Meara plays another bigger role, Jimmy’s mother and Tony Sirico plays a local shark, Whale who suddenly changes his nickname into Snake, having lost a lot of weight in a spa. The whole story consists of a string of funny local characters they meet along the way.
And that’s what the film is, a series of character sketches. It stubbornly defies any attempt at plot, feeling that to be a proper treatment of such people, to whom any plan in life can easily be sidetracked by a visit to a fast food restaurant. They do nothing but sit around for the entire day, and the film shows them doing so. Actions and conversations get repetitive, and digression into aimless, often improvised conversations is almost a signature.
Film is made in a supposedly cinema-verite style, with hand-held camera and self-reference at the film crew. But it also betrays this style, showing film crew at times when camera is off, and from different angles. Film is, in fact, not a quasi-documentary that’s being made by Les, but the style makes it easy to mix those two.
“Search for one-eyed Jimmy” makes a stretch from the average independent comedy, in that it doesn’t take itself seriously, doesn’t try to deliver serious point and, in fact, doesn’t even try to make an accurate portrait. Near the end of the film, a Hollywood producer refers to the film as “recorded an underbelly of middle America” but in fact, the film caricatures local characters, you could say, betrays accuracy for a laugh. Most of independent comedies try to be funny and poignant at the same time, trying to play alternately humorous and serious, and in fact, trying to fascinate festival audiences and big Hollywood producers. There’s certainly a kind of Wayne Wang’s “Smoke” sensibility in “One-eyed Jimmy”, with lingering on those outsider characters, but it’s more a mock of such sensibility, being that it refuses to go deeper into those characters, denying that there is anything serious in tragic in those characters. While in “Smoke”, behind every character there’s a hidden, intimate world of poetry, “One-eyed Jimmy” seriously doubts that there is such deep level in allegedly shallow characters such are Joe Head and Junior; Sam Henry Kass, writer and director, makes a point from not adding depth to characters’ thinking and daily events. Camera that lingers on in long, static shots and sparse editing reminds of “Clerks” as well, but Kass doesn’t seem to think that clever dialogues belong to people who are by definition dull, either.
However, if they are dull and shallow, that doesn’t mean that characterization is not in place. When you observe Balducco’s performance of Joe Head when people mock him for his head size, there is some going along with the joke with notable discomfort, suggestion for how long he had to put up with him, that at the same time he gave up fighting it and grew bored by it. Joe Head stares as psychic’s (Aida Turturro) cleavage and asks a portraitist doing a photorobot of Jimmy if she asks portraits. But when Snakes briefs his family tree, noting that his father and grandfather were also called “heads”, is when this portrait slips into a caricature – effect of losing accuracy that I was talking about above.
Many minor characters make quite an impression, being given nice motivation. Aida Turturro as psychic seems to have open air for improvisation. Said portraitist (Jennifer Beals) seems defencive about her own artistic skills, acting insulted when guys suggest that they should put Jimmy’s photo on posters instead of her portrait. Anne Meara makes one of the roles that tie together pieces of film with her role that manages to sound funny even when it could sound tragic. It’s that local eccentricity and simplemindedness that makes her funny even when she’s grieving for her son.
Buscemi as Ed plays his usual slugging role, relying on his famous appearance for the most. But then, unlike Turturro or Jackson, he is not given an eccentric role to play. Samuel Jackson, on the other hand, has a field day with crazy Colonel Ron, employing a repertoire of funny faces that he usually doesn’t have a chance to show in actioners in which he’s casted most often these days. John Turturro, that wonderful actor, is perhaps the weakest segment of the film; his role sounds at moments like his “Big Lebowsky” role, at others like something out of a Scorsese film. Somehow, this doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie because, unlike the rest who, as caricatured as they are, sound like ordinary people, he still sounds like a movie character and nothing more. You could say, he tries too hard.
Les, getting most of screen time, seems simple enough and definitely least interesting of all characters, but his relation with others turns out to be the most intriguing element of the film. A film school graduate, he is estranged from his old neighbourhood, and his character is a fair mix of roughness that he draws back from the old days, and elitism that he easily adopted at school. He returns to his neighbourhood not fairly as the member of community, but as an outside observer who hopes to find film fodder back there. You could see him imagining himself as Scorsese or Woody Allen who always return to their roots in New York, and that seems to be the only reason he returns to his roots. Ironically, you can believe that simplemindedness he took from his heritage is the sole reason he adopted attractive film-school mindset so easily. But it’s this difference in mindset between Les and others, and of course between audience (closer to Les’s view of the world, no doubt) and characters, that makes comedy.
Les is politely considerate to Jimmy’s family, friendly to his old pals, but pissed off when his film doesn’t turn as he expected and decidedly keeping a distance to things like Joe Head’s rambling about what he should eat next day. Film also records a progress of Les’s return. It’s perhaps the moment when Joe Head proposes that they see each other later and grab something to eat and Les, after some talking into, agrees, that Les seems to be agreeing to return to his old hood, not only as an observer.
The basic conclusion of the film, I believe, is the way how Les’s old hood pulls him back and ruins his intentions to build himself up, climb into the film hierarchy. Underlying idea that passing characters constantly sabotage seriousness of the film, making it a mockery of what Les intended with it, shapes into a viable form when Jimmy, representative of that neighbourhood himself, appears after being locked into the basement for a week. His story seems too emotive when he states that he didn’t have beer for a week, a moment in which his brother Ed can not hold up the tears. Finally, this concept culminates when Joe Head and Junior finally rob Les of his film on a muddled legal technicality, and then sell what seems to be a surprise hit after all, to Hollywood that seems unaware of their simplicity.
This simplicity is, in last scenes of the film, given a sort of dangerous character. Final seconds of the film seem to suggest that this destructive simplicity of “underbelly of America” that Joe and Junior represent, is being released upon the world. Joe Head’s concept of the next film project, “something like Saturday Night Fever III” seems almost apocalyptic.