James Dean goes to Hell

Dirty BeachesBadlands

When we talk of escapism, is it the desire to be somewhere else, or to be someone else? To show the world through a stranger’s lens – in all its distortions, fears and curiosities – is the goal of many a film-maker. The fact that Alex Zhang Hungtai’s “movies” don’t have moving images shouldn’t penalise him in this category. In his own words, “the sound is the leading man”. The hero of ‘Badlands’ drives a car in desperate need of an oil change; his nose and throat are clogged with soot, but he can still sing like a battlescarred teen-idol (even when he’s having a breakdown in a roadside dustbin). This is rock n roll as heard by unhinged ears. Romance, lust, malice and anxiety are here, warped but vivid, buried under a veil of monochrome celluloid. What’s more, it’s incomplete. Ending just as the danger is at its least tuneful and most potent, our obscure “leading man” vanishes just 27 minutes after we meet him, and is all the more tantalizing for it.

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