Memory fails 

Montana films that time forgot

When Wim Wenders’ film Don’t Come Knocking had its Montana premiere in Butte in late March, the debut was pretty big news around the state. And it deserved the attention—Wenders shot the majority of the beautiful-looking film in the historic mining city, and the project boasted some weighty Hollywood names, including writer and star Sam Shepard and actors Jessica Lange, Tim Roth and Gabriel Mann. But beyond the films’ in-state screening, Knocking made little noise. It was released by Sony Classics to only six commercial screens and never even made it to Missoula’s Wilma Theatre, where it would surely have enjoyed at least a little attention. Then, last week, just more than four months after its premiere, Don’t Come Knocking was released on DVD.

That’s a shame because the film—the story of a temperamental and troubled movie star who flees the set of his latest film and ends up in Montana meeting his temperamental and troubled musician son—is a captivating snapshot of the West. It’s a chance to see how Wenders (Wings of Desire) and Shepard (Paris, Texas) apply their symbolic mysticism to our neck of the woods; an imperfect effort, but one worthy of a local viewer’s investment.

The fact that the film disappeared so quickly and quietly from the public eye is disappointing. It also got us to wondering what other promising big-screen projects featuring Montana landscapes have faded—for better or worse—from memory.

Continental Divide (1981)
A subdued John Belushi plays a well-connected, chain-smoking Chicago Sun-Times columnist with a track record of exposing juicy City Hall scandals. Most of the city loves him, but the power brokers hate him, and it’s the latter who force Belushi to travel to Wyoming (the film was actually shot in Washington state, Colorado and Glacier National Park) for a story on a semi-attractive, L.L. Bean-clad, Jane Goodall-like bald eagle lover. If the setup doesn’t sound overwhelmingly funny, that’s because it isn’t. It is, however, a sweet love story with a smattering of goofiness, such as an odd twist involving a primitive woodsman named Possum and Belushi’s delivery of the line, “It’s so quiet out here you could hear a mouse get a hard-on.” The funny stuff, however, is just too sparse for a Belushi flick—it’s as if he’s presciently following the Bill Murray formula of turning “SNL” high-jinks into melancholy character studies—and the movie is completely neutered by the time we get to the drawn-out, downright-mushy ending. In fact I spent way too much time having to remind myself this was the legendary John Belushi’s second-to-last film, and not something starring his brother Jim.

Holy Matrimony (1994)
Here’s the most compelling thing you need to know about this comedy: it’s directed by Leonard Nimoy. Spock hasn’t directed a film since.

Matrimony is about a trashy wannabe actress (Patricia Arquette) and her trashier ex-Hutterite boyfriend (Tate Donovan) robbing a county fair and, while pretending to be married, claiming refuge in the commune where the boyfriend was raised. But when he dies, the Hutterites want to rid themselves of Arquette and figure their only out is to invoke an archaic rule that says a widow must marry the brother of her husband, which in this case is the pre-pubescent Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the little kid from “Third Rock from the Sun”). Arquette calls the Hutterites’ bluff, buying time to find the stolen cash. There’s almost nothing funny about the film, save Gordon-Levitt’s awkward Hutterite accent throughout (it’s so affecting I swear Arquette accidentally attaches it to her Southern drawl by the end), and the thought of Nimoy chillin’ with Great Falls’ Hutterites—the community is thanked profusely in the closing credits—for research.

Knockaround Guys (2001)
For the first 45 minutes, this coming-of-age tale meets fish-outta-water mobster film is surprisingly superb. Written and directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the same duo who did Rounders, the dialogue is witty, the action tight and the character development deep. Barry Pepper plays the son of a New York City crime boss (Dennis Hopper) who’s failed at every turn to win his father’s trust, despite being a pretty earnest apprentice. He’s surrounded by a crew of other flawed mob kids—played by the likes of Seth Green and Vin Diesel—who are similarly struggling to prove themselves. When they finally get a chance to step up and pull off a major assignment together, they end up sidetracked and stuck in Glasgow. Montanans are portrayed as idiotic hicks, and the twist at the end is flat and not so startling, but the film, especially with its notable cast and creators, deserved better than sitting on the shelf for three years before its eventual lackluster release.

Devil’s Pond (2003)
This thriller about a newlywed couple honeymooning at a remote Flathead Valley cabin is one of the few opportunities to catch Tara Reid in all her acting glory. The dubious paparazzi party girl plays a country club-raised princess who’s fallen for a ruggedly handsome outdoorsy type, and he’s planned for them to spend two weeks on an island in the middle of a lake. Reid’s character can’t swim, she knows about as much about the outdoors as a refrigerator lightbulb, she misses her mommy (an all-too-brief cameo by “Family Ties”’ Meredith Baxter) and, shocker, her new husband is a psycho. Here’s the problem with asking Reid to act as a victim stressed out by a stalker and clueless within her surroundings: she looks the same here as she does in those drunken, 5 a.m., Sunset Strip bar-break tabloid shots we see every week in Us Weekly—sloppy, slutty, slurring and squinting past the camera to safety. But to say her performance in Pond is bad would be to discredit the unintentional comedy she brings to the screen. It’s certainly a showcase that deserves—for better or worse— not to be forgotten.

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