“Most people don’t know how they’re going to feel from one minute to the next. But a dope fiend has a pretty good idea. All you gotta do is look at the labels on the little bottles.”
That’s Matt Dillon as Bob Hughes in Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, offering one last revelatory insight via voiceover narration toward the end of the film. Portraits of drug addiction tend to wallow in spiraling miseries, like a hurricane that gathers strength and grows more destructive as it reaches landfall. Movies and television have taught us that drugs are about compulsion, chasing a high that steadily diminishes, and the film acknowledges that, too, with Bob talking about how he and his crew “played a game you couldn’t win”. Yet Drugstore Cowboy ties that compulsion to organization and elaborate bits of drug logic and superstition, which suggests more structure to an addict’s behavior than the ordinary person’s. Staying high means planning for the next hit.
Film - Years - Months - Sex - Videotape
When the film was released 30 years ago, it was mere months after sex, lies and videotape changed the landscape for independent film, bringing some sense of order to what was then a disparate patchwork of small-time distributors and modest urban arthouses. (Drugstore Cowboy was put out by Avenue Pictures.) Yet a movement was taking shape around certain soon-to-be-brand-name auteurs: John Sayles, Joel and Ethan Coen, Hal Hartley, Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch and others, who were all in the early stages of their careers. For his part, Van Sant had won some attention for his self-financed debut feature, 1986’s Mala Noche, a $20,000 black-and-white production that showed a sensitivity to the hard lives and doomed romanticism of young adults living on the margins.
Based on James Fogle’s memoir, Drugstore Cowboy could be a companion piece to Midnight Cowboy from 20 years earlier,...
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