LAST CHANTS FOR A SLOW DANCE (Jon Jost, 1977)

Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Jon Jost’s “Gary Gilmore film” (metaphorically, not literally), proceeds by set-pieces, switching between color and black and white, sound and silence, static and moving camera, realism and moody dreaminess, script (by Jost and Peter Trias) and improvisation. A haunting evocation of some interior male American landscape, the film follows Tom (Tom Blair, excellent) throughout western Montana in his truck, with lonely stops along the way. Tom, out of work and luckless in his attempts to find work, is chewed out by Darlene, his pregnant wife, for failing to support her and their children. We watch both cede to their roles as defined by U.S. myths: rugged individualism; personal responsibility; effort, hard work = success.
     Tom is often not quite what he seems. In his conversation with a young hitchhiker he appears to be a misogynist (aren’t working-class adult males supposed to be that?), but a subsequent conversation with someone in a café suggests otherwise.
     A teasing refrain accompanies the postal sheets Tom’s hand flips through: “. . . should be considered armed and dangerous.” These people matter; they are “wanted.” “This is all I have left,” Tom says, referring to his gun. He has stopped on the road, perhaps with the initial intention of helping the motorist whose car has stalled. Playing the Good Samaritan is a possibility, but starting fresh depends on retaining his anonymity. The motorist recognizes him. After confessing he is jobless and broke, Tom robs the man in a middle-distance shot and shoots him dead in long-shot, the camera distance in the latter case perhaps indicating his not having wanted to do this. At the last Tom is back on the road; his first victim may not be his last.
     Jost cinematographed, edited, sings(!).

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2 thoughts on “LAST CHANTS FOR A SLOW DANCE (Jon Jost, 1977)

  1. One of the most haunting of lost films, “LAST CHANTS” and its post-apocalyptic-feeling stuck with me for days. Tom Blair (who Jost would also use to equal effect in “Sure Fire” and “The Bed You Sleep In”) is stunningly perfect in his role (the opening sequence/monologue is unforgettable). The production is clearly the result of a bare-bones group effort, but these short-comings suit the story and atmosphere perfectly. It’s almost a time capsule. Even Jost’s creaky western music is wonderfully, appropriately, melancholy. The final shot, with its implications, its composition, its quiet, its length, lingers still.

    A prime candidate for the Criterion Collection, this film is long past due for finding some quality treatment/restoration. Truly one of the most legendary of “unseen” American films.

  2. The final shot indeed haunts, as does much of the film. Jost has subtitled the film “Dead End.” Oblivious to us, at the end Tom is nonetheless driving in our direction. It is we who are placed in the position of being the “dead end” into which Tom is headed.

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