-- "Dream Brother," Jeff Buckley
The final images of director Tony Scott's Domino feature the real Domino Harvey dressed in black with her head buzz-cut. Her sharply drawn face alight with a knowing smile dismisses every frame that's come before it yet also acknowledges the essential truth of this wild record. Her presence at the end reinforces the opening disclaimer that the film is "based on a true story ... sort of."
The fall release schedule, propelled by Hollywood's awards-season machinery in full prestige-manufacturing mode, creates a heightened sense of expectation for the slate of biopics. These films offer stars a unique opportunity to showcase their dramatic chops through subjects who generally have a significant place in our collective consciousness.
This year audiences will get to Walk the Line with Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) as he courts June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), share the dark descent of Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) during his research of the true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood in Capote and witness the bold, historic stance of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) in the face of Sen. Joe McCarthy's political crusade of the 1950s thanks to George Clooney's evocative Good Night, and Good Luck. In addition, we'll be presented with Jim Sheridan's take on 50 Cent in Get Rich or Die Tryin' for a more immediate pop cultural reference to satisfy the dominant ticket-buying demographic.
But who is this dark angel, this dream sister who could have emerged whole from the head of James Cameron? There are elements of Sarah Connor and Ripley in Domino's DNA as surely as the strands from her father, actor Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate).
Harvey and Vogue model Paulene Stone are her circumstantial progenitors, but Domino is the bastard offspring of folklore and mythology. She's an underground icon, due in part to the lack of discernible facts to substantiate the mundane details of her life.
Very few certainties exist about Harvey beyond the specifics of her parents. Following in her mother's footsteps, she briefly modeled after stints in several public schools in England. There were turns as a DJ and method-acting lessons at the Lee Strasberg drama school prior to working as a ranch hand and then as a firefighter. Her pursuit of a more thrilling lifestyle led to bounty hunting and a purported addiction to heroin.
The cultural body is indelibly tattooed with finely crafted characters who exist as enigmas that defy comprehension. Another seemingly kindred spirit of Harvey's might be musician Jeff Buckley, who died as a result of an accidental drowning prior to completing work on his second full studio album. He was seen as a bright, blinding star on the horizon consumed by the heat of anticipation.
The musical legacy of Buckley, himself the son of a famous parent -- father Tim was a noted musician in the late '60s -- provides a pointed comment on the evolving myth of Domino. Buckley's talk of dark angels and his headlong rush to experience life to the fullest aligns these two blazing souls.
In Scott's film, a random visitation from wild-eyed prophet Tom Waits confirms Domino's celestial destiny.
"I know you," he says to her, "you're the Angel of Fire." And in this dream version of Harvey, as played by Keira Knightley, she indeed seems to come from on high with a righteous fury for living on the precipice.
But Harvey, like Buckley, is something else altogether. Her death in June -- just recently deemed an accidental overdose -- reminds us that Harvey was brilliantly and devastatingly human.
As if to offer proof of her humanity, the Internet has spawned a "Blog of Death" dedicated to preserving impressions of Harvey from those who knew her or were fortunate enough to have a brief encounter with her or are simply drawn to comment on her impact as "an inspiration for the fight in all of us that never gives up, so we can one day have it our own way" (per one posting).
In the introduction to The Cornel West Reader, writer/ philosopher West outlines the three tenets that guide the quest for relevancy in his work, one of which is this question: What does it mean to be human? His definition posits "to be human is to suffer, shudder, and struggle courageously in the face of inevitable death." He further suggests "to be human, at the most profound level, is to encounter honestly the inescapable circumstances that constrain us, yet muster the courage to struggle compassionately for our own unique individualities. ..."
Never content to simply drift through a life of privilege based on beauty and the fanciful status of her parentage, Harvey instinctively sought to become an entirely different character. It's a romantic notion, one that Scott pushes even further in his film. He presents the basic facts of her life as the springboard for a dive into the deep end where a sustainable truth is unnecessary. When confronted with a choice between the truth and the myth, the myth is always better and likely closer to reality, they say.
The film promises to tell "how she lived ... until she died" but backs away from her actual death or the questionable circumstances surrounding her later life. What was her role in the alleged conspiracy to distribute drugs, possession and trafficking and racketeering for which she'd been placed under house arrest? Whom did she love?
Scott dreams of the dark angel who flirts with and eventually rises above the fray in a frenetic dance of swirling violence, color and circumstance.
The "real" Domino is gone, but every version of her that emerges affirms that she was so real and so much more than we'll ever know. ©