'Spun' Review - Meth, Insomnia and MTV Aesthetic
At first glance, Spun seems to not have much to offer. This looks like another film about drugs, set in the sunny West Coast of the United States, full of decadent and chaotic characters that are victims of their addiction.
The negative feeling has valid arguments. It's evident that Spun tries too much to be an Uber version of Requiem for a Dream, to the point of using several of its visual cues (pupils dilating after a hit, for example) and surpassing the number of shots used in editing. Spun has more than 5000 shots, a record that far exceeded the number of shots of Requiem for a Dream (that easily had the previous record). It's as if someone had been literally counting the shots (there are some that absurdly last up to just two frames) just to claim a non-existent prize. It's easy to picture the editor screaming "In your face Aronofsky!" as nobody else cared.
However, if there really is a genre called "drug cinema" (which, according to a review of the time, it does exist), Spun would undoubtedly be one of its masterpieces. Overall, in art, there is not really a cultural crime in wanting to emulate another great movie.
And Spun, honestly, is a blast.
Spun is the debut of director Jonas Akerlund. However, we are talking about a veteran director who by that time had already dozens of wonderful iconic music videos under his belt, with fantastic artists like Paul McCartney, U2, Roxette, Smashing Pumpkins, Madonna, Iggy Pop, Metallica and The Prodigy.
And that background, evidently, is noticeable in the way the film is narrated, directed and edited. Akerlund takes advantage of his expertise by placing shots and filling the story with visual glitches, uncomfortable close-ups, odd angles and cool transitions to show the instability of a junkie's life, eager to get to the next score.
The original script of William De Los Santos is based on three days of his own life, in which he served as a driver of a methamphetamine cook. For two years, he "hunted" Akerlund, script in hand. When the director finally stopped ignoring him, he realized the potential of the story.
Because yes, Spun does have something to offer.
"Spun" is the slang used by junkies when they have several sleepless days due to the use of methamphetamines. And that's precisely the motif of the movie. It's a look at a bunch of days (three, maybe four) in the life of a series of insomnious junkie characters. The time in Spun does happen, but we don’t exactly know how many days will pass. The characters seemed to perpetually be under the blinding and uncomfortable sunlight. There is no rest or peace of the stillness of the night.
We don't know much about the characters. They are stuck in this sleepless time, and that works. Ross (Jason Schwartzman) is our protagonist, an apparent boy who was "normal" until he couldn't deal with a love breakup a year ago. He wears a worn college jacket--further reinforcing the abandoned alternative life--, has a rapey tendency to leave strippers tied for days in his decadent room and, of course, a strong addiction to meth.
Spider Mike (John Leguizamo) is his dealer. Paranoid and frantic, he lives in a crack house with his girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari). Other frequent visitors to the place include Frisbee (Patrick Fugit) and Nikki (Brittany Murphy), who is the girlfriend of a character simply called "The Cook" (Mickey Rourke), who is in charge of creating drugs in his improvised meth labs.
Something that stands out greatly is the amazing character design, reinforced by the fantastic performance of the cast. From the initial credits, you can perceive the careful treatment of the characters, with each of them having a different graphic style and font for their names.
What's Your Rating For Spun?
The universe seems drawn from a comic, with even cops characters called “Mullet Cop” (Peter Stormare) and “Mustache Cop” (Alexis Arquette). Debbie Harry plays a badass lesbian feminist, who makes a living using her voice in a hotline. Rob Halford, Billy Corgan, Ron Jeremy also make weird cameos.
The direction of Akerlund is a visual candy of the American white decadence. "The Cook" is a kind of modern cowboy, cooking the end of hope for addicts. The hardcore wrestling and heavy metal dress all actions, as musical and sports exponents of this sub-culture.
No character has control of its own destiny, and in that sense, Spun is a great narrative about drug addiction. Ross fails in his attempt to reunite with his ex-girlfriend. Frisbee ends hospitalized. Spider Mike and Cookie end up in jail.
But just at the exact moment when The Cook is slow-mo-blown to pieces by a lab meth going wrong, all the characters finally manage to fall asleep, finally leaving their "Spun" state.
Maybe some will manage to awake to a new life. Most will probably have just recharged batteries to restart the decaying cycle. Spun doesn't feature on my list with addiction movies, because it's not that informative on addiction problems, it's a fun visual ride though.
Release Year: 2002
Director(s): Jonas Åkerlund
Actors: Jason Schwartzman, Mickey Rourke, Brittany Murphy a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards