Into the Night (and back again)

Hollywood in the nineteen eighties had a penchant for journeys into the night, unsettling in the course of their unlikely meanders the straight, self-identical lines of John (and sometimes: Jane) Doe's daytime drudgery: Into the Night (John Landis), Something Wild (Jonathan Demme), Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman), Bright Lights Big City (James Bridges). More often than not, the travellers are lured off the beaten track, i.e., away from their boring jobs and relationships, by the promise of some libidinal free play, only to eventually emerge as just another, albeit sexually liberated, hetero couple - the notable exception being Martin Scorsese's more consequential urban dérive, After Hours.

In their neat circular structure, leading from an ostensibly false equilibrium to one that we are asked to appreciate as the protagonist's arrival, prompted by their nocturnal walkabout, at their true destiny, these films at times appear to me as politically opportunistic updates of that conspicuous "gesture" Siegfried Kracauer isolated in a much earlier streak of nightly driftings; a gesture "through which most males of the [Weimar Republic's] German screen express their immaturity: no sooner does he awaken from his nightmarish dream than he puts his head into his wife's protective lap." (From Caligari to Hitler, p. 171)

Fortunately, most of the aforementioned films have redeeming aspects carrying them beyond this merely restorative outlook. Some don't, as this memory-image, found towards the end of Bright Lights, so concisely demonstrates. It's the ghostly apparition, at the tail end of a drug-heavy New York night, of Michael J. Fox's mum baking bread in a countryside kitchen:


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