Nightcrawler (2014) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

First up, Nightcrawler. Dan Gilroy’s 2014 neo-noir follows a man without conscience who prowls the Los Angeles night, hunting for footage of fresh accidents and violence to sell to the local news. He approaches his work with the gusto of an auteur: nosing his camera into dying faces, creeping through the homes of the murdered. The networks do not question his tactics. There’s too much money to be made in keeping people home, frightened in front of the television. A producer describes their approach to journalism as “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” By nixing the logic of heroes and villains, Nightcrawler delivers one of the most chilling figures in recent cinematic memory: a man warped by the cult of the entrepreneur and the vacant language of self-improvement. He wields cliches about persistence and hard work like a weapon while he cheerfully exploits the dead and the living to achieve the American dream. “That’s my job,” he says. “I’d like to think if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life.”

Nightcrawler inspired me to queue up a nocturnal film from the opposite side of the nation. Set in New York City circa 1990, Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead works in reverse. Whereas Nightcrawler‘s loner thrived on capturing the pain of others, here an ambulance driver is decimated by the suffering he encounters as he loops through Hell’s Kitchen, trying—and failing—to undo its cardiac arrests, overdoses, and crack-ups. If you see him, you’re absolutely having the worst day of your life. But he’s come to save you rather than film you. And his compassion leaves him ghosted and half-insane.

Nightcrawler is sleek and solitary, almost arid; Bringing Out the Dead is loopy and crowded, its streets crammed with detours and anecdotes. Taken together, both films operate as seedy poems to cities and night sweats, and they are portraits of bearing witness in the worst and best ways.


Van Morrison – T.B. Sheets

Blowin’ Your Mind! | Bang, 1967 | More

Scorsese’s use of this song while an ambulance drifts through the night has stuck with me for twenty years as one the best pairings between image and sound: both drift and meander despite the urgency of their subject. The lyrics of “T.B. Sheets” are a harrowing testament to a man’s inability to deal with his dying lover. He fumbles with the window and radio rather than face the fact of the hospital bed.

Leave a Reply