I’ve decided that every Monday Reel Life will write a paean to a great piece of cinema that has been tragically overlooked by the film-going public. So, to start with, here is a tribute to one of the most thrilling unknown movies of the ‘80s.
Every now and then a film will patiently spend time setting up characters, tone and a direction for the story, only to suddenly and brutally twist everything into a completely different genre.
I’m not talking about your average 30-pages-in Robert McKee plot twist ("Oh my God, SHE’s Evelyn Mulwray ") but something which subverts the audience’s whole interpretation of what it is watching - a sudden Brechtian wrenching of perspective.
For example, Psycho (1960) moves startlingly from thriller to horror in the time it takes to pull back a shower curtain.
Theatre patrons in the 60s could not comprehend the sudden death of the main protagonist at the end of the first reel because it tore apart their preconceived notions of cinematic storytelling. In fact, many were convinced Janet Leigh would reappear unharmed later in the film and thought parts of the film were missing when she didn’t.
In its own way, Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile also uses horror as a device to drag the audience away from its comfort zone, but where in Psycho the turning point is a shower, in Miracle Mile it is a wrong number.
The film starts where it ends, the Los Angeles tar pits. Lonely trombone-player Harry Washello (Anthony ‘ER’ Edwards) meets Julie (Mare Winningham), the woman of his dreams, and embarks on a tentative relationship he meets her grandparents, she sees him play in his band. All seems to be going to plan.
After arranging a meeting for the end of her shift as a waitress at a diner, Harry goes home for a nap, oversleeps and arrives hours late to find his date has given up on him and gone home. Dejected, he buys a paper. Nearby, a payphone rings…
To give away more would be wrong the film’s strength lies in its constant side-stepping of convention and expectation, and every detail known about the plot will lessen its overall effect.
However, if you can find a copy on DVD (at the moment it is only officially available in America, although there are usually a couple of copies dotted about on eBay), and if you can ignore the extraordinarily dubious 80s clothing and hairstyles, you will be in for an unforgettable and quietly devastating experience.
And who’d have thought the end of the world would have a Tangerine Dream soundtrack?