I was quite taken with Drive (2011) when I first saw it. I still am. It gets some knocks because it shares some surface similarities with films by Walter Hill and Michael Mann, and Winding Refn is neither Hill nor Mann. Thief (1981) is a film about the individual’s inability to survive when confronted with a corporation. Drive is about a bomber jacket.
But what a bomber jacket!
Winding Refn is consumed with superficiality. He presents every frame as a work of art. His films are a sequence of beautifully composed, immaculately lit images. They are held together by the thinnest of performances by young, unproven actors. The Neon Demon is a kaleidoscope of nonsensical visions, as if Winding Refn took a pair of scissors to the fashion magazine section of W.H. Smiths. This isn’t unappealing in and of itself. I sat transfixed throughout the film, pausing only to laugh out loud when the director sought to horrify me.
Refn imagines himself as a provocateur. But he is unable to shock as he is only able to observe the surface. His notion of beauty is conventional. It is no more than an inch deep. True beauty is imperfect, and Refn seems unable to grasp that. The perfection of his films removes us from engaging with them. Thus, how can we be shocked? The images are no more upsetting than a crinkled page in a Sunday supplement.
The end credits were astonishingly good though.
Seen at the Odeon Covent Garden. Screen 3, ticket cost £10. Should have seen it somewhere sleazier, but it’s not actually showing in that many places.