In an 80’s twist on Jack Kerouac’s myth of the open road, Candy Mountain presents the least self-reflective hero ever to hit the highway. Julius (Kevin O’Connor) is a sometime guitarist and a persistent con man, hired to track down a reclusive, brilliant guitar maker named Elmore Silk. The directors, Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer (who also wrote the screenplay), set Julius traveling on the fringes of society, for the film asserts, in its lighthearted, unpretentious way, that the spirit of our times can be found in those margins. It turns out to be a sardonic spirit, embodied in Julius’s mercenary quest for a guru who refuses to dispense wisdom.
Candy Mountain resembles Mr. Frank’s most famous photographs only in the way each glimpse of a character suggests a lifetime behind the moment we see. And the film resembles Mr. Wurlitzer’s previous screenplays (most recently ”Walker”) in approaching history in a minor key. Working on a multilingual set, Mr. Wurlitzer directed the actors in English, while Mr. Frank set up the camera shots speaking German to the Swiss-German crew. The result is remarkably seamless.
Jonathan Rosenbaum for The Chicago Reader:
Ambling along like a wry, laid-back Heart of Darkness, this likable and touching film makes good use of Frank’s remarkable photographic eye and Wurlitzer’s witty, acerbic, and quasi-mystical handling of myth that has served him well in his novels. The results are a resonant reflection on the music business and a memorable ode to wanderlustwith lots of good music (by Dr. John, Joe Strummer, David Johansen, Tom Waits, and others) on the sound track.
J Ho for the Village Voice:
Less sensational but more felt…than Frank’s legendary and usually restricted Rolling Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues (1972)…is the (very) quasi-commercial feature Candy Mountain (1987), a collaboration with novelist Rudy Wurlitzer. In a way, this shaggy-dog hipster road film is Frank’s ultimate work—evoking the end of the road and even the end of Endsville.
Tom Waits dons a smoking jacket for Candy Mountain
Desson Howe for the Washington Post:
The big surprise in Candy Mountain is how much fun it is. Co-directors Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlizer take the dated road movie off its bricks, gussy it up and keep it chugging along. And you get sweeter on Candy with every passing mile…The way things turn out is unimportant; it’s, like, the journey, man. Finally, screenwriter Wurlizer’s studied avoidance of linear plotting works…Though much of Candy is a clumsy sprawl, there’s more than enough human spirit in the tank to keep it going.
Hal Hinson also weighed in WaPo:
Watching Candy Mountain, we’re lulled into a mood of uncertain but pleasurable anticipation. It’s the kind of sensation that comes from not quite knowing where you are, or where you’ll wind up next, like driving through unfamiliar territory without a map. This isn’t an experience that we encounter much at the movies these days, and that’s not meant as a criticism; it’s high praise.
Directed by Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer, ‘Candy Mountain feels like something out of a time capsule, like a relic from a remote but treasured time…
Marlaine Glicksman sketches a quick overview of that remote and treasured time in her lead story for Film Comment’s extended dossier on Candy Mountain (Jul/Aug 1987):
Robert Frank first hit the road when he emigrated from his native Switzerland to New York in 1950 as a fashion photographer. In 1955, he traveled the American asphalt as a Guggenheim fellow for photography, and the resulting book of stills, The Americans, published in 1958, gained him both fame and infamy. Woven throughout the black and white photos are images of American flags, graves, jukeboxes, cars, political and religious icons, and the road itself. By the critics, he was condemned for his “joyless,” “disillusioned,” and especially “anti-American” photographs that depicted America and its citizens from New York to the Deep South to the West. Yet by photographers he was hailed, and then imitated, for his spontaneous and poetic style, which looked outward upon America while, at the same time revealing Frank looking inward upon himself. Some of the photographs have since become so well known-in one photo, a black nursemaid holds a privileged white baby in South Carolina, while in another, people stare blankly from a trolley car in New Orleans-that they themselves have become American icons.
It would be the last project for which Frank considered himself a photographer. Film, where he found a “kinship in the negative,” became the next logical step for him. A diary entry at that time (Pantheon Photo Library, 1983) states: “1960. A decision: I put my Leica in a cupboard. Enough of lying in wait, pursuing, sometimes catching the essence of the black and the white, the knowledge of where God is. I make films. Now I speak to the people who move in my viewfinder.”
The first film to earn Frank a reputation as a filmmaker was Pull My Daisy (1959), made with a traveling companion from The Americans journey, Jack Kerouac, as well as other Beat and artist friends: Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, and Alice Neel. With a voiceover by Kerouac, the unscripted film continued the same spontaneous and poetic style of Frank’s photographs while also utilizing many of the same themes of music, religion, power, and the American flag.