‘Don’t Come Knocking’ delivers a bit of old wisdom | AspenTimes.com

‘Don’t Come Knocking’ delivers a bit of old wisdom

Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard star in "Don't Come Knocking," written by Shepard and directed by Wim Wenders, and showing this week at the Wheeler Opera House. (Donata Wenders)

The final shot of “Don’t Come Knocking” features a highway sign that reads: “Divide 1, Wisdom 52.” It’s hard to know exactly what the sign is meant to signify in this elusive but enjoyable film, other than that Divide and Wisdom are separated by approximately 51 miles. (The sign, incidentally, is likely real. Divide and Wisdom are both towns in southwestern Montana.)

Possibly, director Wim Wenders and screenwriter Sam Shepard, who reprise a collaboration that began with 1984’s “Paris, Texas,” are saying that wisdom is far away. And the kind of wisdom that allows people to overcome what separates them is particularly hard to get to; much easier to keep yourself divided from the world.”Don’t Come Knocking” raises some of the themes of a classic Western, especially the tension between community and solitude. But right away, Shepard’s script puts us at a far remove from the West of old. The film opens in a classic Western setting all right, in a marvelous patch of Utah desert ringed by red rock. But this isn’t quite the West of John Wayne and John Ford. The landscape here is being employed as a setting for an old-style Western, and the opening scene of “Don’t Come Knocking” has an assistant director (rolling around on a Segway) and a production assistant frantically searching the location.The two are looking for Howard Spence (played by Shepard), an aged, faded movie star. Howard’s disappearance comes as no surprise; he has a history. Wondering exactly why Howard has run off this time seems beside the point. Instead, the urgent question is where he has gone. In a postmodern twist, that task falls not to the film crew, but to Sutter (Tim Roth), the mysterious, slightly threatening agent of the insurance company that has insured the film’s production.Sutter’s tracking of Howard is a thread through the film, but “Don’t Come Knocking” is more about where Howard has gone than who is chasing him. (When Sutter does find Howard, he uses handcuffs, not a lasso, and Howard doesn’t go down in a hail of bullets, but compliantly submits to being hauled back to the film set.) Howard, for reasons unknown – perhaps a faint brush with wisdom? – heads to Elko, Nev., to see the mother (Eva Marie Saint) he hasn’t spoken to in decades. One family reunion leads to another, and Howard is off to Butte, Mont., to rekindle one old flame (with a waitress, played by Jessica Lange, Shepard’s special lady), and start relationships with kin he didn’t even know he had.

Howard does plenty of stumbling toward grace. But he doggedly hangs around his supposed loved ones until there is some semblance of – well, if not love, at least affection and acceptance. Riding off into the sunset (in a car, not on a horse) at the film’s end, singing a song about Howard in the ditch, are two of Howard’s children, having come to peace with their father. The bit of wisdom pushed by the film’s title has been turned around: do come knocking, Shepard and Wenders say. Better to have scraps of a ragged relationship than no relationship at all. The highway sign now reads more like a scorecard: wisdom seems to have taken the lead.That message, and the way it’s delivered, won’t alter anyone’s world. “Don’t Come Knocking” is a minor pleasure. Topping off its attributes is the cinematography, in which every shot brings maximum visual impact, a sense of humor, and Shepard, whose craggy, no-nonsense face is always worth examining.”Don’t Come Knocking” shows at the Wheeler Opera House Sunday through Tuesday, May 21-23.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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