I believe this is the film where he ran out of money and had to make the last twenty minutes a pastiche of jumbled flashbacks. How unfortunate, he was crafting another religious experience.
As always, we have the constant self-referential bits. I believe he cannot shake this off. He must make every story about the story of its making. In this case we have Walken as Ferrara’s surrogate. The story goes like this. Ferrara (Walken) hires a non-actress (Asia) to hustle a rich man (the producer) out of a decent sum of money (Ferrara’s wage). So he makes a movie where Walken hires Argento to hustle a rich man and walk out clean with a decent wage. In the process, Dafoe (standing in for Dario, Asia’s father), has moral issues about the deal, having a deep affection for Asia. In fact, Asia makes a carreer out of giving herself in similar ways.
Walken dissapears before the movie ends, the same way Ferrara does, which explains why the last twenty minutes are nothing but jumbled flashbacks. So there you have it. A story about its making.
Ferrara’s in love with acting so he makes way for Walken who’s the same. The result is staggering improvised cues of behavior. You cannot predict what will come out of his mouth, or the next body movement he will make, or where his gaze will be. I am a student of such methods of filming actors. Cassavetes was my first impression of this method, and here it’s done much better, because the stylization is more pronounced and cinematic. Ferrara cares to craft a film with an inherent cinematic rhythm, while our man Cass never reached a similar concern with form (his ‘Opening Night’ was the closest he ever got).
So what you get with this kind of direction is a sincere representation of the characters’ plight. It makes it easier for us to engage into the drama. So we have, the acting layer, the layer of self-reference (punctuated by all those videos of Hiroshi that actually become movies-within movies), and the layer of the sculpting of a cinematic experience.
Watch the scenes where Walken, and later Dafoe both play pretend to encourage Asia in the scheme. This is the equivalent of that famous transitional scene in “Mary” that I mention here.