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George Sluizer's salvaged 1993 desert thriller Dark Blood is an uneasy
but captivating watch. More than anything its a tantalising final
glimpse into the talent of star River Phoenix, surly one of the most
promising actors the world has ever seen.
Rivers tragic and sudden death in the winter of 93 halted production and left the film missing many of its most crucial and inmate scenes. To overcome this director Sluizer can be heard reading the script amongst a mixture of stills and short clips. This method, whilst effective, is quite jarring and ultimately strange mainly due to Sluizers heavily accented, matter of fact voice which clash with the very intimate words and actions he is trying to get across.
However we do get long periods where the film plays uninterrupted, its in these moments we get a sense of what a great movie this may have been. At times a classic Hollywood thriller and others a disturbing art house flick.
Pryce and Judy Davis are pretty much note perfect as the bickering Hollywood couple. Pryce plays his character so well I would not be surprised if the role was written with him in mind.
Its no secret that Judy Davis was a very difficult actress to work with not only for the director but also the actors. River in particular was targeted with many friends reporting he would call them in tears due to her hostile treatment towards him. Such was his misery that he personally asked Sluizer to delay the most intimate scenes between them till the last days of shooting (they were never completed). It is to both actors immense credit that this difficult working relationship never comes across on screen, the scenes between them burn with desire and feeling.
Its impossible to talk about this film without really talking about River, even as you are watching the film, the tragedy that was to come is always there, playing on your mind. At only 23 River Phoenix was an Oscar nominated actor of incredible talent, grace and beauty. With the character of "Boy" he was able to display a side of him we had never seen before. He is terrifying, disturbing and dangerous but even in the throes of this madness that trademark sensitivity of Rivers shines through. He was a very special and incredibly gifted actor, and this film like all his prior performances have done before it, bear tribute to that.
I was really excited when in late 2011 George Sluizer announced that he was going to try to finish 'Dark Blood', some years after Sluizer had an aneurysm and learned that his remaining time was limited. I've heard of the difficulties surrounding the film, the legal complications and so on. So when it was announced that Mr Sluizer was going to raise money in order to be able to pay for the finishing of the film (the post-production: sound editing, editing, musical score, etc.) through Crowdfunding, I almost instantly donated some money through the CineCrowd website. In gratitude I received a very rare limited edition DVD, and some positive lit negatives inside the DVD-box. I was a bit surprised by the high quality of the footage, since it has not been used for 19 years or so. I know about the difficulties off set between River Phoenix and Judy Davis, and between Davis and the director. But it definitely doesn't show in the actual film. The acting is quite natural, and in my opinion the performances by River, Judy and Jonathan Pryce are pretty good. As I said before, the images are very clear, and the added sound effects and musical score are also in place here. The music at some points reminded me a bit of Pieter Bourke ans Lisa Gerrard's score for 'The Insider'. I'm not going to spoil anything or tell how it ends, but for me it was a rare chance to finally see this interesting project, and also River Phoenix' last film.
A tragic ending to a brilliant career: That's the first thing you
probably heard when you hear the name River Phoenix. Dark Blood is a
film as most of you know, and have heard by now, the last film River
Phoenix was filming at the time of his death.
Dark Blood is a rare gem, you will not see too many films made like this in this day and age. The great George Sluizer has done a fabulous job in finishing a film that to most people never looked like it was going to get finished, Utah was a great place to shoot this film the scenery is one of a kind, thanks very much to the wonderful Edward Lachman who has captured the essence of the Utah desert. It's a bit hard to give the film Dark Blood a specific genre, because of the rewrites and the re-editing of the story. It has slightly made it a different film because of those touch ups.
If you did not know much about the circumstances behind Dark Blood and you saw the film for the first time you could very well think it was a complete picture. The only scenes missing are about half a dozen interior scenes, after watching the film back and paying close attention to the directors narration of the missing scenes, besides 1 or 2 of the interior scenes that are missing that really have some real importance to the film more so than the other interior scenes the film seems to flow by quite fine. All the major scenes looked to have being filmed here, but like i mentioned maybe 1 or 2 of the interior scenes that play a real importance to the films story line are incomplete or missing. But the great George Sluizer really makes sure you have a very clear understanding of the films missing scenes, which are might i add, are scattered throughout the film.
Is this River Phoenix's best role? probably not, but it is definitely in River's top 5 films, there are glimpses in this film of greatness and what could have being, and what the film community is surely going to miss out on. River has such unique charisma and a lot of maturity for a young 23 year old in a role that could have being played different in so many ways. Jonathan Pryce (Harry) and Judy Davis (Buffy) both fantastic actors in their own right, just show how good they are and both bring plenty of experience and great energy to their roles.
I give the film Dark Blood 8/10. The film has a running time of 86 minutes. Which is pretty much the length of a normal movie these days. Also Karen Black plays a great little cameo at the start of the film which needs to be applauded also.
On a final note if your a fan of River Phoenix or the director George Suizer or a fan of any of the cast and crew of the film Dark Blood, i strongly recommend you look out for festival appearances that Dark Blood maybe showing at, it has played at 3 major film festivals so far and with many more to come.
Thankyou for Reading my Review, i hoped you enjoyed it and i look forward to reading some feedback.
... still very compelling. And a showcase of why River Phoenix was
considered one the best amongst his peers. I hadn't read or heard too
much about the troubled production of the movie. But I did talk to a
few people and the magazine of the Berlin International Festival did
have a few things to say about it too. But at the beginning of the
movie you will get an introduction from the director explaining the
situation and telling you, what you are about to see. And the fact,
that there will be quite some amount of voice over.
While the voice over (telling us what would happen if the scenes were shot) is good, it never can fully compensate the impact moving pictures would have had. And it still is compelling, which all boils down to the performances of the actors involved. It's great they actually finished the movie and showed it. While not a masterpiece (couldn't be expected), it is there for people to see and enjoy.
The Making: This movie was shot during three years of production. Only
at most 13 days left for the last film takes, but then River Phoenix
died sadly due to a mix of drugs at an age of just 23. Then the legal
tug of war started for almost 20 years. In the mean time the Dutch
director George Sluizer became after those twenty years, almost eighty
years and now suffering from his illness.
The legal war was about to end in an apocalypse of destruction. Where the insurance company ordered to destroy the raw film material that was laying for almost 20 years in a safe. All the creative work and acting would be gone forever, but.. When the ill director heard on a Tuesday afternoon, that they would destroy the material on the very next Friday, he ordered to save and rescue the material for mankind. Knowing that all the legal path ways were gone, he ordered with the sense of urgency, a burglar to get the material from the save! And that was the start of the editing of this wonderful road movie, that otherwise was burned and therefore stolen from mankind. Isn't this true story worth to make a movie about? That the 13 days of shooting where missing, didn't affect the end result. As a matter of fact, it adds value to this one of a kind movie.
The end result - The Movie It was a real pleasure to see the calm, but intense images. You could feel the heat in more then one way. The colors of the material, the acting, the desolate Monument Valley atmosphere, the inescapable situation, the desire of River Phoenix as Boy, all contributed to the thrilling heat.
The epilogue of the making My question to the director was, if the legal dossier could be closed now. In other words; Can we all enjoy now this movie? Unfortunately, NO. Not at this moment, because there is still an issue about who owns the rights on the negatives.. Can you imagine?
I hope, as soon as possible, you all can enjoy this inescapable road movie.. in more then one way.
- Screen Maven -
I've been crazy about movies ever since i was eleven (this was in 1985) and at the time of his death really liked Phoenix as an actor in The Mosquito Coast, Running on Empty and (especially) Stand by me. I remember thinking it such a loss when i heard he had died and being really curious about this film. Not only his last film but also made by a fellow Dutchman. A director responsible for making one of the only classics in Dutch cinema (Spoorloos a.k.a The vanishing). So, cut to the present, i was extremely curious to see this unfinished film and very happy to get the chance to attend the premiere. The fact that there were (crucial) scene's missing didn't bother me. I can still love a film for it's great parts (like a lot of Brian DePalma's movies). So i was hoping for a few memorable moments either in acting, writing, plot or in the use of visuals. But, unfortunately, those moments never came! I was bored from the first frame to the last. It never is a badly made film but it also never becomes anything special or interesting. If this film had been finished to completion before River's death, it would (i my estimation) have been forgotten about by now. I never cared about River's last films ("even cowgirls get the blues, the thing called love, silent tongue") and this film, sadly, doesn't change that...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Doesn't it get lonely?", Harry asks Boy, looking out over the wide,
barren desert. "Everywhere is lonely. America is full of loud mouths
always shouting and trying to get themselves heard", Boy replies.
I had mixed feelings after watching Dark Blood. Finally being able to see it after all these years, it was almost as if if was just one of those films I never got around to seeing. I was only 13 at the time of River Phoenix's death, which greatly affected me. I was always intrigued as to when or even if Phoenix's final film would ever see the light of day. (The film was nearly finished shooting at the time of his death.) So when I heard that director George Sluizer was going to finish the film, I was excited but also a bit hesitant.
The film opens with Boy (River Phoenix) and his dog howling at the moon. We are then introduced to Buffy and Harry (Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce) a troubled married couple from Hollywood, who are travelling through the Utah desert. Their car breaks down not once, but twice. The second time it breaks down, they are left stranded in the middle of nowhere. When night comes, after seeing a light in the distance, Buffy goes looking for help, and stumbles upon Boy's shack. We find out that he is living in an area that was once a nuclear testing site. Besides his shack, he has also created a secret mystical cave full of survival items and the 'magical' Kachina dolls he makes.
Buffy's attraction to Boy is obvious from the start. She is intrigued by and attracted to him, meanwhile Harry is becoming more and more annoyed with the situation as time goes by. When the time comes for Buffy and Harry to leave, Boy won't let them. I won't give anything else away, but it is quietly captivating and tense.
Of course the big question is what happens when you are missing pieces of the puzzle, so to speak? The scenes that were never to be filmed, are now just still shots, (except for maybe one or two), with a voice-over narration by the director. It is done nicely, but I feel it would've been more effective to have moving footage of the desert instead. With these few key scenes missing, most notably between Buffy and Boy, it does slightly take away from the overall feel of the film. Still, what George Sluizer has done is impressive and ultimately special.
The acting from the three leads is excellent. River Phoenix is superb. He plays Boy with a fine balance between complicated and strange. You don't know what he is going to do next. Judy Davis is terrific as the laid back and trusting Buffy. Jonathan Pryce is wonderful as the wary and uptight Harry. The chemistry between Davis and Pryce is lovely. The tension between Harry and Boy is fascinating, as seen when Boy leaves Harry alone in the middle of a canyon.
The cinematography by Edward Lachman is simply gorgeous. The desolate landscape is both stunning and eerie. A fitting backdrop for the heated relationships and circumstances. The hypnotic score by Florencia Di Concilio is beautiful.
It won't be a film for everyone, but if you're a fan of Sluizer's work or any of the cast, then I hope you get the chance to see it. River Phoenix was in a class of his own. He had such a strong screen presence, it was a pleasure to finally see his final film. I want to commend George Sluizer for finishing the film.
What a movie I just saw!! Seriously, it's just an amazing and hypnotic
experience! This movie was shot in 1993, mind you! All you see on
screen was shot in that year. You can notice that Jonathan Pryce's hair
is less gray than it really is today. Also, you got in the movie the
strong and mesmerizing presence of the late River Phoenix, coming in a
time capsule directly to the future to give us his mesmerizing swan
song. Wow... freakin' wow!
Great acting, a script that shines and beautiful backgrounds are the main attractions here. The story is told in the form of a road movie and the characters all goes through changes in their lives. The most powerful thing in the movie is its heart and soul. This is the engine that moves the narrative. As for it's body, it's unfortunately broken, for the lack of a better comparison. As the director George Sluizer states before the movie starts, this movie will always be like a three feet chair. It's slightly unbalanced, it misses something but with care, still stands on it's feet.
With River Phoenix's death before the shooting process finishes, the director summarizes the missing fragments of the movie to us in order to complete the narrative. It works fine that way. In spirit, in heart and soul, this movie deserves a straight 10/10. With its broken, unfinished body, it takes a 8/10. If only they could finish it in time... but that from now on, until the end of times will only belong to our imagination, trying to figure out what it could have been.
For what it is, it perfectly stands on it's feet. Must watch! Once again, thanks to the "37º Festival International de Cinema de São Paulo" in my city by the SESC institution of culture and development, I could enjoy another amazing flick!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
American film history is littered with compromised films by major
directors. Von Stroheim's "Greed," Welles' "Magnificent Ambersons,"
Huston's "Red Badge of Courage," and Peckinpah's "Major Dundee" spring
immediately to mind. I'm not sure that George Sluizer belongs among
that exalted company -- though his original version of "The Vanishing"
is definitely a masterpiece of some kind -- but "Dark Blood" is similar
to those other films in that its beauty and emotional power still shine
through despite its being compromised by external factors. In this
case, instead of facing studio interference, "Dark Blood" was struck by
the death of one its three principles, River Phoenix. According to
Sluizer, who attended its U.S. premiere at the Miami Film Festival, all
location shooting had been completed, and roughly 70-75% of the script
had been filmed. Nevertheless, as Sluizer puts it in his opening
narration, "Dark Blood" remains a three-legged chair: able to stand
upright on its own, but obviously incomplete.
I don't want to give too much of the plot away. As anyone who has experienced the original "Vanishing" knows, the less you know about a Sluizer film going in, the better off you are. However, it is clear that Phoenix's sudden death left gaping holes in the narrative. Sluizer has attempted to fill these holes with voice-over narration, and it works surprisingly well. As Sluizer put it in the Q&A following the screening, however, there is still a slight imbalance in the relationships among the three leads. In my opinion, this imbalance is most notable in the relationship between Boy (Phoenix) and Buffy (Judy Davis). Crucially, Buffy and, by extension, the audience is meant to be simultaneously unsettled and attracted by Boy's strangeness. Unfortunately, several key scenes between these two characters were left incomplete, so Boy's vulnerability does not come through as clearly as it should. To my mind, he doesn't always come across as sympathetically as he should.
The three lead performances are all very strong, and I found the ending particularly powerful. Sluizer wisely avoids making the ending either pat or pointlessly ironic; it emerges logically from what comes before. Of course, it's possible that some the ending's power comes by way of hindsight. Like the other compromised films I mentioned above, "Dark Blood" is practically impossible to evaluate purely on its own terms. Viewers will probably always be aware of its complicated and tragic history. Still, the film rests on the three main characters and their interactions with one another, and at this level, "Dark Blood" is always tense and human. That's why the ending pays off so much for me.
So by all means, seek this film out if you get the chance. Its recent "completion" by Sluizer was obviously a labor of love. "Dark Blood" probably won't replace "The Vanishing" in anyone's mind as the most important part of Sluizer's legacy, but it's a worthy addition to his filmography -- as well as to River Phoenix's. I just hope that whatever is preventing this film from being more widely released can be resolved. "Dark Blood" deserves to be seen.
George Sluizer's Dark Blood is one of the many oddities in the film
world. Shot about eighty percent of the way in 1993, but put in an
abandonment because of the death of its lead actor River Phoenix at age
twenty-three, Dark Blood managed to be edited, reworked, and released
at several film festivals in 2012, marking an end in the saga to one of
the curious wonders of cinema. In 1999, the film was almost burned by
the insurance company, who was sick of storing it in a vault without a
plan for years on end, and would've been gone for good had Sluizer not
taken action and stolen the film back in a period of forty-eight hours.
River Phoenix died as a result of mixed drugs entering his system at Johnny Depp's club The Viper Room in 1993, closing the book on a young, ambitious life so early and abruptly after doing a handful of acclaimed picture. Watching Dark Blood in 2014, when Phoenix has sadly escaped the minds of many, one could see that the talent he possessed and the emotions he managed to convey were natural and believable. It's too bad that even with Dark Blood managing to get some sort of release, it will still be desperately short of attracting an audience it deserves.
The film focuses on an older couple named Harry (Jonathan Pryce) and Buffy (Judy Davis), who are traveling through the desert on a second honeymoon, hoping to pick up the pieces to their crumbling marriage. When their car breaks down in the middle of the desert, they meet a young widower who calls himself "Boy" (River Phoenix), who lives on his own, with his loyal mutt, following his wife's death from radiation. The radiation was caused by nuclear tests conducted close in proximity to Boy's ramshackle home in the middle of the desert. Now, the only thing he anticipates is the apocalypse (and the occasional passersby).
Initially, Boy seems gentle and grateful for the company, but Harry discovers long before Buffy does that he wants some sort of a romantic relationship with his wife. Boy longs for female companionship due to the loneliness and isolation that exists in the desert, and throughout the film, we see Boy's anger and hostility escalate, which eventually leads to him kidnapping Harry and Buffy and keeping them in his confines.
Being that only about four-fifths of the film is complete, director George Sluizer tacks on narration during the scenes that were never completed (some of which being very significant chunks of the film), describing the scene and reciting the dialog. Even before the film is a minute-long narration about how after Phoenix died, it left everyone shell-shocked to the point where no one really wanted to complete the film without his participation. Sluizer states that upon become very ill he wanted to edit and compile the clips of the film into something before it was too late.
Being that Sluizer managed to complete a project that many felt would never see the light of day, and that he has done such a great job on many different aspects, it seems harsh to critique it any way. Saying the film is fragmentary, and sometimes a bit choppy, is a pretty demeaning and stupid point of criticism seeing there was little Sluizer could do to prevent that in post-production. Rather than nitpicking elements that probably unsatisfied Sluizer in addition, let's focus on what the film really excels at, which is giving its lead actor a sendoff and bearing some great scenes of tension and excitement.
Consider the scene where Harry manages to momentarily break free from Boy's clutches, or when both head for the hills in their pickup truck. Scenes like this are given unexpected leverage thanks not only do the performances, but Sluizer's editing work, which still works to give old footage fresh vibes of suspense. Had Sluizer not taken the film seriously in terms of continuity and story, all seriousness and respect for the project would've dwindled to nothing, but thanks to the competent work orchestrated, Dark Blood manages to easily win more than just cinephiles over.
Starring: River Phoenix, Jonathan Pryce, and Judy Davis. Directed by: George Sluizer.
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