The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus Review: Tom Waits On Screen

Yes, I am aware its called I Blog What I Hear, but I see things as well as hear them, so this is going to blur the party line a bit, ok?  Jesus, relax already.  Christmas is an interesting time for those of us in the Jewish faith, “The Chosen People” as some call it.  There is NOTHING to do.  I don’t know how to express this is any other way.  Imagine going out, and EVERYTHING is closed.  You can’t get food, other than Chinese, you can’t buy anything, trains are empty, everything is just plain quiet.  Its an eerie feeling.  I greatly dislike it, and it has always been this way.

As is the tradition, I woke up Christmas Day with nothing to do, and decided this is the year to go with tradition.  This is the year, not to break the mold, but to fit into it!  Ladies and Gentlemen, I saw a movie.  After calling every person I could imagine would not be involved in family shenanigans, it was determined that I would be braving the streets solo.  I’ve only seen one other solo movie in my life, this was while living in LA.  I drove to a sketchy part of downtown, to a weird looking mildly abandoned theater to see the Moog Movie.  I was one of 3 people in the theater, and it was fantastic.  IF you have never seen this movie, netflix that up.  Bob Moog truly believed in what he did, and made an interesting spiritual connection with the electronic instruments he built.  Anyway, this was an overall positive experience, So I was ready for round 2.  So on Christmas Day, I braved the rain and disgusting slush, and went to see The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus.

Much mythology has surrounded Parnassus long before it was ever released.  This was Heath Ledger’s last film, he died halfway though the filming.  With nowhere else to go, and the money quickly running in the other direction, director Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame)  called upon his friends Johnny Depp, Collin Farrell, and Jude Law to fill in for the role, with only minor rewrites.  But all this is just Hollywood trivia.  What I was concerned with was the role of The Devil.  Not A Devil….The Devil.  Played by none other than Tom Waits.  Up until now, Waits has had a few minor film roles.  He played Renfield in Braham Stoker’s Dracula, Had a walk on in The Fisher King, another cameo in Wristcutters, and probably a few others, what am I, IMDB?  But this is by far his most significant.
EXCLUSIVE:  Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus Still Shooting
The first thing I noticed about this film was Gilliams Python style animation.  It was the soft focus style of drawing (think the giant foot in Holy Grail) that most defined his signature style.  His films have a unifying look as well.  He does this one camera move in every film.  Its kind of like a shakey wrap around shot, he uses it in the hotel check in scene of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (one of the greatest films ever made) as well as all over 12 Monkeys.  Visually, Gilliam never fails to disappoint.  Its no Baron Munchausen (one of the other greatest films ever created) but it certainly is exciting to look at.  His fantasy sequences have the look of the greatest and most psychedelic school play you could ever imagine.  The sets are incredibly detailed and real.  My least favorite thing about the films of the last 10 years is the heavy reliance on CG.  Gilliam embraces this, yet details the sets with enough actual substance to fully bring you in, rather than just admire some shit done with computers.

But you don’t come here to listen to that type of talk, no.  We all knew this post would really be about the greatest man to grace the earth and beyond, Tom Waits.  Now, my undying love for Waits aside, he OWNS this role.  There was no better choice for the mythical devil role, named Mr. Nick,  than Tom Waits.  Every step is a little dance, he puts soul into every word.  Every scene he acts in is like hearing a spoken word Waits piece.  Have you heard “What’s He Building In There?”  off Mule Variations?  It’s just like that. Of all the great stage performers, Waits may be among the most believable.  It seems he never breaks character.  One advantage a musician has over a stage or film actor, is that everyone believes the persona they adapt.  Not for one moment would you question the fact that Keith Richards is a heroin addled vampire, but what if that was just some persona he adapted?  Whereas looking at Brad Pitt in Fight Club, you can kind of tell he’s putting it on a bit.

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Lets talk specific scenes.  By far, the best, is the dance sequence.  The basic theme of Waits’ character, is that he’s always there to make a bet with Parnassus, ready to take advantage of him in his weakest moments.  When it looks like he will inevitably win one of these bets midway through the film, he takes Parnassus’ daughter by the hand and says “Dance with me baby!”  and they go into a surreal ballroom sequence.  Its like the dream sequence of Big Lebowski.  They display serious moves, old school tango style.  The runner up would be, the first introduction of Waits, where he visits Dr Parnassus hundreds of years ago when he is a monk in an ancient temple.  Waits enters with a cigarette holder and a clarinet type contraption, and proceeds to suck the voice out of every monk chanting an ancient tale, in an attempt to prove that the world continues, even if no one tells its story.  Amazing.  A bird then shits on his hat, but that is neither here nor there.

My only complaint is that Waits had no songs on the soundtrack.  Come on, how cool would a musical sequence be, with The Devil on lead vocals and piano? I sight Shrek 2, when the used “Little Drop Of Poison” for the bar sequence, and Captain Hook sings the Waits parts.  Overall, the movie was not the best I have ever seen. The story did drag a little bit, and it felt a bit long, despite the powerful cast and beautiful imagery.  But lets hope Gilliam gets some ideas from this, and casts Waits in the lead for his next project?  Lets hope so.

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