The Way It Is or Eurydice in the Avenues. 1985. USA. Directed by Eric Mitchell. Cinematography by Bobby Bukowski. Score by Vincent Gallo. With Kai Eric, Boris Major, Gallo, Jessica Stutchbury, Steve Buscemi, Mark Boone Junior, Rockets Redglare, Edwige Bellmore, Brett Bartlett. 35mm. 80 min.
One of the most accomplished features to come out of the Downtown scene—screening in a rare 35mm print recently brought into MoMA’s collection—The Way It Is opens with a funeral scene introducing the absent woman at its center (a recurrent motif in the period’s No Wave films). The departed Eurydice is thereafter channeled in flashbacks and recollections by 10 East Village dwellers, many of them involved in the same neighborhood production of Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus. An air of quiet tragedy accompanies vignettes of encounters, jaunts, and staged interviews with the characters that unfold across Tompkins Square Park, tenement apartments, and the East Side avenues of the film’s title. The memorable cast of Downtown luminaires, including Vincent Gallo, Steve Buscemi, Mark Boone Junior, and Rockets Redglare, drew from the flourishing club performance circuit. Equally striking are Gallo’s lyrical score and the evocative black-and-white 16mm cinematography by future Hollywood DP Bobby Bukowski. As much as anything, Mitchell’s last American effort of the 1980s is a meditation on cinema itself as intrinsically linked to low-budget production values. Shot over the course of a summer with zero financing and donated film stock, the film’s dialogue track was dubbed and added later. What results is simultaneously an homage to Italian Neorealism and an apogee of no-budget filmmaking nearly 10 years after the scene began. When asked by Christof Kohlhöfer in 1979 and 1980 East Village Eye interviews about acquiring larger means of production, the filmmaker said, “I don't want to make compromises because that is the strength of these movies.[…] What we’re doing has to be dealt with in its own terms. It cannot be associated with anything else.”