“Stinking Heaven” is a black-as-tar psychodrama 1990 period-piece about recovering drug addicts

By on September 3, 2019

Stinking Heaven (2015) is a black-as-tar psychodrama period-piece, set in the year 1990, chronicling the lives of a group of recovering drug addicts on the verge of a synchronized nervous breakdown in a Passaic, NJ sober-living facility run by two married ex-junkies, “Jim” (Keith Poulson) and “Lucy” (Deragh Campbell).

Watch this independently-financed low-budget film — Variety once described it as Brooklyn filmmaker Nathan Silver’s “fifth and most furiously combative feature” — on Night Flight Plus.


The film’s admittedly dark-themed plot concerns seven drug addicts (their ages range from seventeen to fifty) struggling through their recovery process in Jim and Lucy’s crumbling commune-like home.

This includes their nightly video re-enactments as they re-live their darkest moments and dive deeply into their past lives, all while trying to avoid their self–destructive tendencies, which usually leads them back into heavy drug use.


Hannah Gross in “Mindhunter” (Netflix)

Everything is thrown off-kilter with the arrival of “Ann” (Hannah Gross, memorably seen more recently in the first season of the excellent Netflix series Mindhunter).

Ann is a twenty-year-old recovering addict who also happens to be the devious ex-girlfriend of one of the housemates, “Betty” (Eléonore Hendricks), who has recently married one of the other rehab inhabitants, “Kevin” (Henry Douvry).


Ann’s appearance on the scene sends everyone reeling in the years, one way or another, as Jim and Lucy try to keep the peace while everything spirals out of control in a swirling miasma of paranoia, drug relapses and, finally, death.


The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody once called Nathan Silver “… a modernistic master of melodrama whose films have long threatened, with the wild emotional force of performances, to break the framework of the story in favor of a quasi-documentary immediacy.”

Silver reportedly drew inspiration for this film from Martin Bell’s 1984 documentary Streetwise — we told you about it in our obituary post for Bell’s wife, photographer Mary Ellen Mark — as well as the absurd black comedies of Luis Buñuel, who he’s previously listed as one of his favorite filmmakers.


Everything you see in Stinking Heaven was shot (by DP Adam Ginsberg) on an Ikegami HL-79E Betacam, which was used mainly for shooting footage for TV news broadcasts in the 1980s.

Silver has said the camera’s shallow focus, dirty frames, and muted colors helped him “make the movie more like an authentic document of the commune and less like a stylized recreation.”

Read more below about filmmaker Nathan Silver.


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Nathan Silver (photo courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Since graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2005, Brooklyn’s Nathan Silver has written and directed four short films, including Natalie Bonn, With or Without Reason, and Anecdote, which premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2008.


Silver has also directed, by our count, at least ten feature-length films: The Blind (2009), Exit Elena (2012), Soft in the Head (2013), Uncertain Terms (2014), Stinking Heaven (2015), Actor Martinez (2016, co-directed with Mike Ott), Thirst Street (2017), The Pervert (2017, co-directed with Jack Dunphy), The Great Pretender (2018), and Watch Me Drown, which hasn’t been released yet (not all of these are listed on IMDB either).


He’s also directed a four-part documentary TV mini-series, Cutting My Mother, which despite the violent-sounding title we think probably has to do with leaving his mother’s performances on the cutting room floor (his mother, Cindy Silver, has appeared in nearly all of his films).


Silver’s films have been screened at numerous film festivals around the world and been critically praised by the New Yorker, Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Filmmaker Magazine and numerous other publications and various online websites.


We loved reading this list of Silver’s Top Ten favorite films, which included two that tied for “first place,” Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959), as well as other film titles by Luis Buñuel, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lindsay Anderson, Nicholas Ray, Terry Zwigoff (Crumb), Nicolas Roeg, Maurice Pialat, and, finally, for a much-needed laugh or two, Silver also includes Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap (1984).


Silver’s Stinking Heaven was funded, in part, by a Kickstarter campaign, which is where we found the writer-director’s answer to the question, “Why the ’90s?”:

“I was born in 1983. Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the early ’90s. Coming into consciousness at that time, I had the nagging feeling that things would end at any moment and they certainly wouldn’t end well.”

“I’m sure part of it had to do with the fact that I was an extremely anxious kid, but I’ve been re-watching documentaries and TV shows from back then, and there’s definitely something gruesome about that part of that decade…and it’s not as simple as illness or politics…it seems like the world was about to have a nervous breakdown.”

“Over the last year, that nagging feeling has returned, and so it seems like the time to explore early ’90s anxiety — it might just tell me something about my current state.”


When asked, “Why a commune?,” Silver said this:

“I’ll never shake the quote: ‘Hell is other people.'” [The quote should be attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre, as it comes near the end of his play Huis Clos (No Exit)].

“Every movie I make is a wrestling match with this statement. A commune seems like the perfect stadium for the next match.”

Watch Nathan Silver’s Stinking Heaven and other independent films — like Sophie Blondy’s Felliniesque French indie art house film L’étoile du jour (Starlight) — in our carefully curated content over on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.