I must have been around 9 when I saw Cannery Row (1982) on cable. The film stuck with me and stowed itself away in my subconscious. Over the years, every once in a while, the memory would kick a synapse into action the need to see it again. Why is the 9 year old version of me bugging me to watch this film? Why had it made such an impression?
So I watched it for the second time last night on a VHS copy. Narrated by John Huston the story rolls forth like a story book tale. But not an ordinary one. Located in depression era Monterray California depicting a time when the seaside wasn’t a reserve for the wealthy but the down at heel. Doc (Nick Nolte) is out collecting octopus for his scientific research in methods of keeping them alive in captivity. Suzy (Debra Winger) just drifted into to town for work and ends up applying for a job at the local cat-house. Docs friends, a bunch of bums, headed by a grumpy Mac with a child-minded giant and a couple rejects do their best make Doc happy often with disastrous consequences.
Awkwardness ensues during the first encounter between Doc and Suzy with her relating a story about a guy she knew who always wanted to order a beer milkshake at a drive in but never did because.. well he was chicken. Heads nod, eyes dart, subtle facial expressions of discomfort are exchanged. They meet again and argue over snakes, sea-urchins and the economics of prostitution. As the romance develops another argument involves Suzy’s little bo peep costume, baseball, Bob Crosby and resolves itself with a 5 minute dance-off involving a badly executed dance move called an ‘over the rainbow’. The scene below:
The film is more than the hokey romance. The supporting characters are well turned and a general humanistic view of folk makes for a nice escape if the mood grabs you. As far as costume is concerned the detail on bum leader Mac’s eccentric tramp baseball outfit is worth the price of admission alone. I can see why the 9 year liked it.
You could see this film as a crib sheet for Wes Anderson with some of the darkness of Lars Von Trier thrown in for good measure. It certainly isn’t the sole source but it’s a polished prototype of what will slowly transpire over the years. The film embraces awkwardness as a comedic device though it has been used before 1982, it’s about the polish of such scenes that is reminiscent of modern cinema. Like hearing a punk masterpiece before 1977. In a film where a town enterprise involving a surplus of frogs renders a tin of peaches to cost 8 frogs and a bunch of bums throw one party destroying a house then another to make up for it you can’t help but wonder why it’s been forgotten.
It was difficult to find Cannery Row as it hasn’t been re-released on DVD. It’s a VHS orphan. Until the day when it’s released on DVD it can be downloaded on a very lightly seeded Bit Torrent. My moral stance being an assertive rescue attempt: