Touch (1997)

If you know your Quentin Tarantino, and we know you do, you know the career of American novelist Elmore Leonard through the Q’s adaptation of Leonard’s Rum Punch (1992) as Jackie Brown (1997). Of course, that was preceded by Barry Sonddenfeld’s adaptation of Get Shorty (1995) starring John Travolta, which was based on the 1990 novel of the same name, and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) starring George Clooney, which was based on the 1996 novel of the same name.

Of course, long before Tarantino exposed Leonard to a new audience, Leonard’s novels produced the Burt Lancaster-starring Valdez is Coming (1971), the Charles Bronson-starring Mr. Majestyk (1974), Stick (1985) with Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit), and 52 Pick-Up with Roy Scheider (Sorcerer). And Tarantino hasn’t given up on Leonard: back in 2009 he optioned the 1972 novel Forty Lashes Less One. But since the Q has stated he’s not making anymore films after Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, sans his interest in doing a Star Trek film, we’ll have to accept that film will never come to fruition.

Courtesy of impawards.com

In all, twenty-six of Leonard’s novels and short stories have been adapted for the screen, with nineteen as motion pictures and another seven as television series and TV movies. And this film co-starring John Doe of X is one of those movies.

And unlike most of his works, which were westerns, mostly crime dramas, and a smattering of suspense thrillers, Leonard broke “format” and came up with Touch (1987), a lesser known, dramatic-black comedy concerning an ex-Monk (Skeet Ulrich of Scream fame) who becomes a substance abuse counselor; when he acquires the divine abilities of faith healing, he’s manipulated by a fundamentalist preacher (Tom Arnold) and washed up evangelist (Christopher Walken). Love triangles ensue with Bridget Fonda (Singles) and Gina Gershon (Prey for Rock & Roll). And Anthony Zerbe (Mathias from The Omega Man) shows up as a Father Donahue, a Catholic Priest.

Now, you would think that an Elmore Leonard novel adapted and directed for the big screen by Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver fame (and his rock ‘n’ roll love letter with Joan Jett’s Light of Day) would be a box office winner.

Wrong.

As with the poorly reviewed and, in most cases, rarely seen, and/or poorly distributed Be Cool (2005; with John Travolta), Freaky Deaky (2012; with Christian Slater of Playback), and (the truly awful) Life of Crime (2013; with a woefully miscast Jennifer Aniston), Touch failed in its test screenings and in its limited theatrical release before being dumped into the home video market.

And not even its alternative rock tie-in to the then “hot” grunge-rock wave engulfing America from the Pacific Northwest could save the film.

At the time, I was spinning alt-rock tunes and the Touch soundtrack was an instant add to our station’s rotation due to its grungy pedigree. All of the alt-rock rags and radio trades of the day made much ado about the film as one of the post-Nirvana projects by Dave Grohl; the drummer composed the film’s soundtrack (and played all of the instruments) for his new Capitol Records imprint, Roswell Records, a concern that found great success with the 1995 freshman and 1997 sophomore releases by Foo Fighters: Foo Fighters and The Colour and the Shape. While the majority of the soundtrack features instrumental tracks to score the film, it also featured the songs “This Loving Thing (Lynn’s Song),” a collaboration between John Doe and Dave Grohl (Doe would later rearrange the song with his solo band, John Doe Thing). Grohl also collaborated with Louise Post of Veruca Salt (remember “Seether“?) on the film’s title cut theme song, “Touch.” (Luckily, the extremely rare soundtrack is uploaded to You Tube to enjoy.)

Now, remember as you watched the quintessential grunge flick, Singles (1992), after Soundgarden released their fourth studio album, Superunknown (1994), you began to recognize snippets of that album’s songs — “Spoonman” in particular — appearing as instrumentals in the film? (An uncredited Chris Cornell scored the film for Cameron Crowe.) Well, in the grooves of Touch you’ll hear snippets of Dave Grohl’s drum rolls and fills — “Stay Away” (aka “Pay to Play” in its demo form) in particular — from Nirvana’s breakthrough album, Nevermind.

At the time, Nirvana was hot, John Doe knew a good thing with grunge when he heard it and got X back into the studio — after their 1987 demise — with Hey Zeus! (1993), and Louise Post was the new alt-rock darling with MTV offering their full support to Veruca Salt and their debut, American Thighs (1994; You Tube).

So, with that alt-rock pedigree behind it, darn right alt-rock stations were spinning the soundtrack. My station even used the instrumental tracks for various production vignettes. And, as with the John Doe-starring A Matter of Degrees (1991), the Touch soundtrack was better known and more successful than the actual movie it intended to promote.

Now, if you remember your grunge (soap) operas, you’ll recall Dave Grohl wrote “Everlong” from The Colour and the Shape (1997), inspired by his ongoing romance with Louise Post. However, prior to her romance with Grohl, Andy Thompson, the lead vocalist and guitarist with the Dallas, Texas, alt-rock quartet the Buck Pets was a bit more blatant in his love for Louise Post: the Buck Pets’ eponymous Island Records debut (1989) closed out with “Song for Louise Post.”

Ah, sigh . . . alt-rock love with Punk Rock Girls.

Been there. Done that. And heart broken. Curled up on the couch watching the VHS of Touch with Kim, my little “punk rock girl,” aka my “Louise Post,” is one of my cherished memories; her apartment wafted with vanilla incents and clove cigarettes. A “Greasy Boys Pizza” on the coffee table. And she never did return my copy of the Touch compact disc.

I hope Kim still has that CD, plays it, and remembers me the way I remember her, as I write this review for B&S About Movies “John Doe Week.” And Kim and I really did hang out a place called the Zipperhead (Room). And she liked Mojo Nixon and we went to see the Dead Milkmen live. We went to quite a few club concerts together.

True love. Now I am an adult and life sucks. To touch that alt-rock dream, again. So thanks for the memories, Mr. Doe. I need to buy you beer, my friend.

Touch was previously available as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTV, but has since been pulled. You can, however, stream it for a nominal fee on Vudu.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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