her own hands and makes straight for the boxer shorts. On the path to recovery, his pragmatic, clenched determination to get offthe shit is balanced with the world-weary yearning for a past temptation knowingly passed up. And he has a convincing thing about hats on beds as well. All in all. it‘s a piece of acting work that‘s impressive in its easily mobile compendiousness.
But then he has done his research. Leaving behind the obligatory American high school period of experimentation behind him (‘Have I tried drugs? Sure. But I never had a problem with drugs. I only tried everything once.‘). Dillon‘s preparation for Drugstore Cowboy involved much groundwork in New York‘s Tompkins Square Park. ‘I was with a guy who‘d been an addict for ten years. but he‘s recovering now. You know. ifyou‘re not looking for it you don‘t see it. but this guy was showing me everything. . . see him, he's copping. that guy '5 just got off. We were in the park ten seconds and we bought a set ofworks [the syringe kit]. I mean maybe you think that that particular guy is a crack dealer. but it‘s unbelievable. with like every other person there‘s some sort of transaction going on. They got heroin. they got crack. now they got ice, which is crack with heroin in it.‘
The idea ofan affluent star wandering around among some of society‘s least fortunate souls so he can paid even more money for his insight into their behaviour certainly gives one pause for thought. But even a face like Dillon‘s was not recognised in these parts. ‘Those guys don‘t go to movies.‘ While he talks of characters like Railroad Johnny and Jackie K. there‘s a definite sense that Dillon is able to float with ease in any company. You begin to realise as the jazzy curlicues
of his half-completed sentences elide
from statement of theme to more oblique anecdotal flurries that he must be good to be beside on a bar stool. a man comfortable and immersed (as befits the Irish roots) in the crack.
He‘s keen to mention about the tape Brian sent him from prison. Brian was the inspiration for Matt‘s character. an acquaintance ofwriter James Fogle on whose unpublished novel Drugstore Cowboy is based. I ought to add at this point that Mr Fogle himselfcurrently resides in Walla Walla State Penitentiary. Oregon. on an armed robbery charge that should detain him another ten years. ‘In this taped letter he sent me. Brian said that he wasn‘t boasting. but that he‘d ripped off like two hundred drugstores. He saw the movie in prison and enjoyed it. He liked me. he liked Kelly. said she reminded him of his wife. It brought back memories. And you know I think I was really right in my attitude about not playing this guy as some kinda demonic fiend. because there‘s something truly genuine about him. Like he‘s real proud that he‘s never ratted anybody out.‘
From now-hilarious Thirties‘ drug scare movies like Reefer Madness onwards. regarding the drug user as
a genuine human being has hardly been Hollywood‘s forte. Many a film noir had a junkie character role for mere narrative decoration. while a winner like John Wayne‘s 1952 epic Marijuana (also sensibly known as Big Jim McLain) has the Dook cracking down on narcotics racketeering Commie sympathisers in. ofall places. Hawaii. The groovy Sixties displayed an alarming tendency to swing in quite the opposite direction, depicting the dropping of LSD as a rewarding recreational activity. Feel The Sound ofPurple.’ screamed the splendid poster for the unforgettable Psych-Out of 1968, and the mind, one imagines. was tempted rather to boggle than merely expand. True. the early turn of the Seventies managed such humanist portrayals ofthe junkie lifestyle as the John Schlesinger milestone Midnight Cowboy and Jerry Schatzberg‘s harrowing early Pacino pic Panic ln Needle Park. These days though, as Sixties‘ veterans transform the clean-up act into a new literary artform (hi there David Crosby). the consensus atmosphere of moral consternation has given us such glossy road-to-ruin melodramas as the Jay McInerney bomb Bright Lights, Big City and the hysterically hammy Crack In The Mirror.
It‘s the great strength of Drugstore Cowboy that it doesn‘t approach matters quite so simply. Although Van Sant and Dillon are understandably cagey about detailing their personal experiences ofdrug use. you can bet your bippy it‘s a good deal more expansive than Nancy Reagan‘s. ‘Maybe Just Say No is a good campaign for kids who‘ve never done drugs.‘ remarks the mindful actor. ‘but once you get over that hurdle it‘s not so one-dimensional. One thing I would emphasise. and it‘s something Fogle himselfsaid to me. is that it is a dead end street. I guess you don‘t need anybody to tell that to you.‘
Having just picked up the US Society ofFilm Critics award for the best film of 1989. Drugstore Cowboy is certainly the best decision Matt Dillon‘s made in a while. Since the entertaining star vehicle The Flamingo Kid he‘s been in too many ill-fated. barely seen offerings like the Australian musical Rebel, or the craps-shooting extravaganza The Big Town. Committed to staying in New York and furthering his acting skills rather than tripping out on Hollywood‘s conveyor belt of populist fluff. he hasn‘t taken the easy route.
His parting shot? ‘In the film Bob‘s philosophy is that people need something to get them through the
day. To get them through the
pressure of like maybe having to tie their shoes or something. Thank God my outlook isn‘t so bleak. I like pure people. and I think they come in all forms.‘
Drugstore Cowboy opens at the Cameo Cinema. Edinburgh, on Fri 26 Jan. See Film Listings for further details.
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The List ZhJanuary — 8 February 19009