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Scarecrow on Seattle: BACKTRACK

For the past few years, Scarecrow Video has been contributing reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest to the Seattle Office of Film + Music's e-newsletter. We're now proud to be able to share these reviews on our site as well.






Backtrack (aka Catch Fire) (1990)

Unless you are some sort of Jodie Foster or Dennis Hopper nerd, chances are you've never heard of Backtrack. This obscure film is Hopper's directorial follow-up to his highly regarded Colors, but the actor/director got so upset with the handling of its final cut that he removed his name from the picture and the directorial duties ended up being credited to the once-popular cinema pseudonym Alan Smithee. Hopper's original cut was around 180 minutes but the studio released it (direct-to-video with little fanfare) in a truncated 102-minute form. Eventually Hopper and the studio compromised and put together a 116-minute edition that's available only on VHS, which you'll find few places besides Scarecrow Video.

The messy misfire stars Hopper as a saxophone-playing hit man named Milo whose target is a Los Angeles-based artist named Anne (Foster, appearing here between Oscar-winning roles in The Accused and Silence of the Lambs). Anne is a modern artist (based on Jenny Holzer) who is a master of the LED sign. One evening, while driving past a scenic oil refinery, she witnesses a mob hit. While talking to the police, Anne encounters a corrupt cop with mafia ties who wants her dead and she ends up on the run from Milo and a few other thugs. Milo takes his job seriously, thoroughly studying and stalking his target before doing the deed, but in this instance he ends up falling for his target. He kidnaps Anne and presents her with an ultimatum-either she reciprocates his feelings or she dies. Before you can say "Stockholm Syndrome," the two become lovers and the odd couple ends up on the run from a bunch of mafia goons. Backtrack is a textbook example of a cinematic disaster, yet the talent involved almost makes it worthwhile. The fascinating cast includes Vincent Price, Fred Ward, Dean Stockwell, John Turturro, Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico, Sy Richardson, Catherine Keener, Charlie Sheen, Toni Basil, Bob Dylan, and Joe Pesci (who, like Hopper, had his name removed from the credits). Additionally, Repo Man director Alex Cox acted as the movie's script doctor and has a brief cameo.

By now I'm sure you are wondering what Backtrack has to do with Seattle. Well friends, our beloved city makes two small yet noteworthy appearances. After fleeing from the police, Anne heads to Seattle. We first see the Emerald City from a ferry in Elliott Bay with our heroine, clad in a giant, curly blonde wig, gazing vacantly at the cityscape. Anne spends a small portion of the film slumming as an undercover artist at a local ad agency, but soon she is back on the run with a one-way ticket to Mexico. The film's final scene takes place on a boat puttering through the Fremont Cut with the Fremont Bridge raised in the background. Our heroes enjoy the romantic cruise as Anne lounges on the stern while Milo toots away on his saxophone. Over my many years working behind the counter of video stores, I found that most people that rented Backtrack readily admitted the only reason they were getting it was to watch Jodie Foster take a shower. Me, I watched it for Seattle.

-Spenser Hoyt



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