The Blackout

(Abel Ferrara, USA/France, 1997)


It is not uncommon to find The Blackout shelved among the erotica or even porn sections of Australian video shops. That rather helpless and hapless gesture indicates well the uncategorisable nature of Abel Ferrara’s very rich film, and the shadowy, outlaw existence that has accompanied it.


Ferrara returns again, after Dangerous Game (1993) and before Mary (2005), to filmmaking as a subject. Matty (Matthew Modine) is a high-living celebrity who falls in with Mickey (Dennis Hopper), a ‘conceptualist’ director modelled on the aged Nicholas Ray. Mickey is a man with a multiple video camera, an empty, labyrinthine club and an endless supply of real-life subjects for a psychodramatic ‘happening’.


In this vortex of images, sounds and fictions forever ‘under construction’, Matty will find and then lose his dark angel Annie (Béatrice Dalle) – and then find and lose her all over again in Annie 2 (Sarah Lassez), uncannily replaying, for our addled age, the plot of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).


Meanwhile, in another time-frame, Matty cleans up with his redemptive angel, Susan (Claudia Schiffer) – thus cueing the famous Cassavetes crucible of night life and day life set into a dizzy, unstoppable, irreconcilable interchange.


Ferrara’s fractured telling of this tale is extraordinary: flashbacks, superimpositions, hallucinations, ellipses – all keyed to the rhythms, surges and undertows of a superb soundtrack collage featuring Ferrara’s favourite hip hop artist, Schoolly D.


In retrospect, the film evokes an intriguing cultural intertext: the frenzied professional debate over Repressed Memory Syndrome, whose defenders – accused of inventing or implanting traumatic memories – actually spoke of such memories in terms of film footage that could be refound, rewound and projected from the deep unconscious. Ferrara defines his tale between two kinds of filming – by Hopper and the psychoanalyst (played by a professional who is the film’s co-writer!) – each of which both brings to light and complicates a supposedly recovered trauma.


And what an ending: magical beyond David Lynch (because unexpected), bleak beyond the conclusion of Rossellini’s Paisà (1946), resonating immortally with its haunting, mysterious, final line: “Did you miss me?”

MORE Ferrara: The Addiction, Bad Lieutenant, China Girl, Ms. 45, New Rose Hotel, 'R Xmas, Pasolini, King of New York, The Funeral

MORE memory complexes: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Memento

© Adrian Martin June 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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