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May 17, 2006

Keane, Or Something.

keane.jpg As I mentioned last month, Lodge Kerrigan's recent Keane has been released on DVD with an alternate cut by Steven Soderbergh. I watched both versions back to back the other night.

First let me say that Kerrigan's film is brilliant; so too is the performance by Damien Lewis that fills up most of the space in every single one of its frames, and indeed, I don't think Kerrigan can be credited any more than his leading man for the success of the picture. It's a tandem effort, each artist pushing and pulling and pivoting on the fulcrum of that nearly subjective lens. The film's style reminded me very much of the Dardennes - although how reminiscent it is of Kerrigan's prior work, I can't say (it's been too long since I've seen Clean, Shaven and I've yet to see Claire Dolan). Keane does bear several similarities to Clean, Shaven, in that both films center around a mentally ill man and a missing girl; but that film, as I recall, was a bit more narratively driven, whereas this one is more concerned with immediate experience. Or, more specifically, the fluctuations of a psychosis on a moment to moment basis. To that extent, we never know exactly what is wrong with Keane; perhaps he's schizophrenic; perhaps he's a paranoid delusional; perhaps, in a way, he chooses to go crazy because it provides an escape, like the drugs and booze he gulps down in equal measure. Kerrigan and Lewis certainly know the key to the character, and I'm sure the film was researched as assiduously as it was executed; but were that information to be revealed, it would qualify as exposition, and that is something Keane is blessedly free of.

Now, here's what Soderbergh has to say on the DVD about his alternate cut:

While I was away on location, Lodge sent me a copy of Keane to look at before he locked picture. I loved the film and told him so, but I also sent him this version to look at, in case it jogged anything (it didn't). In any case, we agreed it was an interesting (to us) example of how editing affects intent. Or something.

It is interesting. Soderbergh's cut is fascinating not because it makes a minor failure of a great film - which I think it is - but because it goes to show how inseperable inent is from the quality. Keane has an improvised feel, but watching it with its chronology rearranged and one key scene excised completely, it becomes clear how carefully structured it actually is. Soderbergh's sapped it of its forward momentum, its singular, hypnotic draw. Which isn't so much of a problem all by itself, but what I found odd was that he doesn't offer anything in exchange for what he's taken out. His cut doesn't generate any new ideas regarding the content of the film, or challenge our perception of its events.

Soderbergh's too smart to have merely hit the shuffle button, and his reordering does display a certain vision; the problem, though, is that Kerrigan's footage doesn't support it. Their intentions run afoul of each other. What Soderbergh's done, essentially, is to create a blueprint for the film as he would have directed it. In other words, he's hammered a square peg ino a round hole.

Posted by David Lowery at May 17, 2006 3:55 AM

Comments

FYI: Kerrigan will be on hand at the Pioneer Theater on May 30, when I will be hosting a discussion following a screening of Keane. Check out the Pioneer's Web site for more details and ticket information.

Hope to see you there!

STV

Posted by: S.T. VanAirsdale at May 18, 2006 1:15 PM

What an awesome opportunity, especially for folks who haven't seen the film yet (who, given its almost non-existant release, must number quite a few). I hope I can make it myself, since I'll just so happen to be in NYC that night....

Posted by: Ghostboy at May 18, 2006 3:15 PM

Oh yeah, Reeler! Well...from 2 years ago: http://crossoverfollowing.com/nyff42day10.html

Posted by: mutinyco at May 18, 2006 8:28 PM

Interesting comments Ghostboy, especially from an editor (as I assume you are from your last post).
Unfortunately I haven't seen Soderbergh's cut. What is the scene cut out?

It is a powerful and challenging film both for its formal understatement and its disturbing dramatic content. The narrative mess, partial shots, discontinuities, lingering down-times, contemplative characterization... everything makes for a really original and mysterious psychological study.
Even the overtly dramatic tension created by the kidnapping, drugs and social misbehavior nurtrure nonetheless an insightful interpersonal drama, a critique of a pathological society.

I had certain issues with the overstated melo ending, that would have been better left unresolved, only suggested. The final scene is too much. I hope it's the one Soderbergh took out ;)

Posted by: HarryTuttle at May 22, 2006 10:27 AM

The ending is still there, but its effect is altered by the scene that was cut. That would be the one in which Keane is invited over for dinner at the mother's apartment, and they wind up dancing. That whole sequence is gone. Now, I can definitely understand why Soderbergh thought to cut it -- it is certainly very sentimental, a brief fairy tale moment, almost too good to be true; but the way Kerrigan directed the performances, the subsequent scenes with those characters (particularly the daughter) depend on that initial meeting. Without it, their interactions seem awkward and unbelievable. It's a case where, had Soderbergh not only edited but directed his own version, such a decision could have worked perfectly; but because he's working with someone else's materials, his choices can't live up to his intentions.

Posted by: Ghostboy at May 22, 2006 11:28 PM

I liked this scene because it doesn't end the obvious way, she sends him home and he sleeps alone. But yeah I guess it's a little too intimate and sentimental for these 2 unstable personalities.
I see what you mean by the director editing someone else's footage. It's an interference in auteurism that undermines the final result.

What did you think of Bubble btw? Did you review it?

Posted by: HarryTuttle at May 24, 2006 11:27 AM