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Noel Nightmare

With his astonishing Noel Nightmare, director Jerry Evans draws us so deeply into his private, heatedly nihilistic moral universe, it is difficult as one staggers woozily from the darkened theater to consider the possibility that a safe haven exists outside of Evans-world, where motives are buried in mounds of grift and bonds dissolve as easily as wet tissue. Neither the unremitting bleakness of Paper Tigers nor the autumnal sentimentality of Last Of The Old-Time Mexican Gunrunners prepares the viewer for this unblinking descent into the aching heart of a besieged poet, violently flailing against the whips of his many oppressors.

Ostensibly a story about a pair of renegade assassins pursued by rogue CIA operatives, Noel Nightmare contains little actual narrative. The scenes proceed more or less chronologically but are interspersed with disorienting flashbacks showing events that may or may not have happened. The organizing principle is less forward momentum to a satisfying conclusion than poetic contemplation of the struggles of the artist in an artless, commercialized society.

As early as 1972, shortly after the critical and commercial triumph of The Avenging Furies but shortly before the critical and commercial disaster of the ill-conceived rodeo-world trifle Big Mister Conroy, Evans was quoted in a Playboy interview on the subject of film producers and movie executives: “They’re just a bunch of bloodthirsty child rapists. They won’t let me make the movies I want. So I drink. I stew. I write. I start swinging haymakers at any man wearing a tie and any woman at all. Fuck everyone.”

His tender, aching soul ripped asunder by years of petty bickering with artless hacks and aesthetically stunted moneymen, Jerry Evans has taken deeper cuts in recent years, cuts that bleed unbound onto the heartrending celluloid of Noel Nightmare. When Calhoun Steele — his face an unrecognizable mangled mess following his cruel betrayal by long-time co-assassin and ostensible best friend Dalton Manley — stares through blood-soaked eyes at the sneering face of the evil CIA director who slaughtered his children after raping and disemboweling his wife, we realize that we are, in fact, hearing a cri-du-coeur from the battered spirit of Jerry Evans, the peerless elegist of the Old West, howling from deep within the unimaginable pain of a life of profound creative frustration.

Pauline Kael. When The Lights Go Down. 1980. Originally appeared in The New Yorker as “Notes On The Nihilistic Poetry Of Jerry Evans.”
Noel Nightmare poster copyright 2011 by Jake Kelly, Noel Nightmare review copyright 2011 by Todd Whitten

Clipping from The Plain Dealer, Friday, December 19th, 1980.

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