The smoke curling from your monitor could be from flaring swamp gas, could be from Confederate campfires, or it could be the fumes coming from my ears. Why is your correspondent fuming? Because Dans la brume électrique, Bertrand Tavernier's adaptation of the 1993 James Lee Burke novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, has suffered "direct release to DVD" treatment in the United States of America. Yep, here are the numbers: Theatrical Release: $0. DVD sales since March 3 release: $1.5 million. Will that even pay for a week's worth of the cast's catering contract?
I understand that the US DVD version has had 15 minutes' of material chopped from the international version. Dommage, truly a pity.
So you have big name American actors (in addition to Jones and Goodman, there's also Mary Steenburgen, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ned Beatty), a haunting evocation of exotic Louisiana locations (bayous, Spanish moss, Katrina-devastated New Orleans), and a great blues and Cajun soundtrack. Plus French director Tavernier, a monument of modern cinema with over thirty films and as many awards (including multiple Cannes winners) under his belt. So why has this excellent film been consigned to DVD limbo?
I guess it's a "distribution" issue. The French distributor, TFM - what did they do wrong? Not pay appropriate obeisance to Hollywood? John ("Baby Feet Balboni") Goodman, the bad guy of the film, has had his fill of Tinsel Town, and has spent the last twelve years living in... Louisiana. In an interview with Brussels' Le Soir, Goodman castigates the "destructive Hollywood fixation with business and celebrity; it's not far from corruption, and the glamor circuit is a trap."
So unless you check out In the Electric Mist from your local video shop or order it from Netflix, you'll miss out on one of the most cerebral (but also viscerally physical) whodunits of the year. James Lee Burke (who appears to be worshiped by Tavernier and Goodman alike) has not been served well by Hollywood. Two of his novels, Heaven's Prisoners and Two For Texas, have been turned into film, the latter into a TV movie, the former a minor film by a minor director.
In the Electric Mist is neither a minor film (though its direct-to-DVD release in the US would make it seem so), nor a film by a second-rate director. Is there some Hollywood mogul who is still smarting from incessant French dissing of George W. Bush? Somebody resent those silently eloquent images of the New Orleans skyline of skyscrapers, with wrecked Lower Ninth Ward in the foreground?
Bertrand Tavernier - Leonard Maltin called his 'Round Midnight (1986) "a loving homage to jazz musicians and their world" - certainly deserves a wider audience in the US for his American film. Did I mention that it's an English-language film, made by a renowned French director? I give up.
See it on the big screen - but only in Europe.