If I’m honest I had mixed thoughts when it came to Elstree 1976 (2015) a little known documentary about some of the extra’s from Star Wars (1977). Instead of all the docs that had gone before focusing on the stars, the director and the origins of the film that in themselves have all taken on legendary status. But what about those bit parts which in the Star Wars universe have all become remembered, anything that’s vaguely relates to the franchise is worth sharing, selling or talking about. My reservations for this doc I think came from what could really be discovered that hadn’t already been said or discussed about the history of the film.
As soon as I got started I knew this was going to be different, unique even. Thankfully made in cooperation with Lucas Film that gave this doc more authority allowing it to be more credible, instead of just talking to the extra’s, we have recreations of the film sets, the costumes are brought out if only briefly. All these elements are important in telling the Star Wars story, without them it wouldn’t be authentic to the audience, false and not worth telling. You could say the untold story is more exciting as we have only had glimpses, If you look away from the hard-core fan-base your knowledge is not so sharp beyond the credited actors in the film.
Beginning with introductions that link the extras directly to their action figures, a strong link to the film that no average person can claim to having. Through the figures that helped to provide George Lucas with his fortune and ensuring the next two installments would be possible. The idea of action figures being tied into a film had tried and failed in the past, as history of the film tells us, for Lucas holding onto the rights to the toys was a very clever move. Becoming collectibles over time, practically anything that appeared in the three films has great value (if in great condition and in the original packaging). Ten figures to ten actors faces, all playing varying parts in the franchise’s first film.
Beyond opening comments of having their own action figures they talk very little about Star Wars. We learn of their childhoods, youth and early acting careers none of them as spectacular as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher who all had more success. These 10 actors have stayed in obscurity more or less. David Prowse the actor behind the helmet of Darth Vader has one of the more familiar stories, an ex body builder who turned to acting after being told he’d never be successful – because of his feet. I forgot he had a small part in A Clockwork Orange (1971). To lesser known actors such as Pam Rose who was in the Cantina as Leesub Sirlin before going onto other extra parts late 1970s and early 1980’s. Whilst others have made a career out of being an extra like Derek Lyons with more than 80 credits to his name, that’s a lot for an extra.
During the main body of the film – the making of Star Wars we gained an insight to what film was like. From the tacky costumes, the 100’s of storm troopers to prosethetics and meeting the quietly spoken George Lucas who got one of them a cup of tea. How some of them ate lunch with Hamill. I learned how some of these extras took on speaking roles such as the storm trooper who waved Obi Wan, Luke Skywalker and co through, with “the droids they were looking for”. All these and more moments that are looked over in favor of the Fisher/Harrson affair, or the quotes about the awful script. What also makes this film stand apart is the gifs, that show us those blink and you’ll miss them moments in the films where the extra’s can be found. Weird at first, you soon get used to what it going on. Really bringing to life those moments that we in the audience wouldn’t care about.
All this before moving onto post Star Wars life, some it opened the doors to steady work as an extra, for others little came of it. Yet the power of that film alone, ignoring Empire and Jedi we have a film that changed so many lives for those who worked on it. Leading to the present the culture that has been created by this little b-movie science fiction film of good vs. evil- the convention circuit that some warming to it, whilst others have shied away from it. Prowse talking about honestly how he has made a career out of Star Wars and fair play to him, there’s money to be made.
I see this short documentary as a nice little insight into those much forgotten actors who brought to life the characters who are just as celebrated, Greedo, Boba Fett and all the X-Wing fighters, the list is endless really. To see the faces behind the make-up and costumes, and their lives which brought all of that to the screen. It won’t be as exciting without an all star documentary, however its something more special, shinning a light on the overlooked actors who did gave their time and effort to bring Star Wars to life.
Admittedly my first reading of this film was more about the surface of American Psycho (2000) which still has a very strong surface level which is still valid to how you read the film. However as I found out just recently after another viewing I have come away seeing this turn of the century film more as a dark comedy. I say that heavily as it’s not just about the comedy as I found out.
We still have the vain characters, I originally said that the yuppies were metro sexual, that label really can’t be applied anymore as they are more about indulgence than just taking better care of themselves. When we first meet Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) he’s basically acting as an advert for a way of life that we associate with women’s products for different cleansing processes which I personally laugh at. Not saying I’m a smelly guy, just not so concerned I spend half an hour getting ready in the morning. Bateman has a routine that’s dictated by consumerism no longer an individual. That’s just one strand of the film that really is more rewarding on the second watch.
I admit that I was laughing more than I originally remember, seeing what I was missing, going along for the ride instead if exploring something new. The comedy’s needed to balance out the horror that I will come to later in my reading of the film. The absurdity of the materialistic lifestyle of both the men and women who don’t do any work. The world of finance doesn’t just have to be about making money, you have to spend it obviously. With lunches, dinners and clubbing, sounds like a good life if only the conversation was more intelligent.
The men compete with each other like stereotypical women. A key thing is the business cards that replace shoes or handbags. A male translation is the “mines bigger than yours” without actually saying anything. The reliance on these items of identification and need for social validation shows how much they need each other and don’t. The stock-market stereotypes cranked up.
Moving onto the horror which I could hardly remember beyond Huey Lewis being played before the first murder. We’re removed from the satire into a completely different genre. Bateman delivers a critique of the album, well all of the popular music played, lulling his victims into an intellectual conversations. They just sit, think and wait to be killed. Its part of a methodology that he not only has outside of work, its pathological how he plans out these killings. The animal inside’s unleashed as if it has been held back by the culture he has decided to conform to is breaking him. The primal urges are breaking out within a culture that’s caged him in a suit and cologne.
I have known about this film for a few years now, ever since I was at uni really, thinking no more of it. Just a friends favourite, knowing very little about American Psycho (2000). Reading over the years very little, expect that it was on the extreme side with a cult following, about time to see what all the fuss is about then, and return some video tapes. Looking further we see a culture that seemingly turns a blind eye to all of this violence. The audience at first believes they’re being fooled into what could be his own reality. He says he wants to kill a barmaid, she ignores this venting completely. either we are only aware of this thought or the culture he lives in is deaf to violence until its acted upon.
The second viewing of the violence has admittedly lost some of its edge, becoming comical, maybe that’s me becoming desensitized to violence. Maybe it’s more Bateman’s expression derangement that gets me, he enjoys the killing, he gets a kick from it. When we see him during the day these urges start to slip over, we begin to question what is going on as other ignore him until it’s too late. When his conscience has catches up with him everything starts to fall inwards and not making much sense, leaving him and the audiences confused. This is probably not helped by private detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) who’s been searching for Paul Allen (Jared Leto). Is this reality trying to wake Bateman up morally or just there to spur him on to kill more, knowing that he can and does throughout the film.
I must touch on the treatment of women in the film, not so much Bateman’s fiance Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon) who plays up the dim blonde stereotype. I’m more concerned about the prostitute Christie (Cara Seymour) who is basically live bait that’s reeled in to be killed. It’s horrible to see how she’s treated as less than human, more a trained monkey. You could argue this is the role she has chosen in life. She does state that she’s not supposed to get into cars, being too dangerous, knowing her own boundaries. However moneys seen as a fair reason to get in the limo for a profitable night. Psycho redeems itself for when Christie becomes aware of the trap she is actually in.
The ending is as a disturbing as Stanley Kubrick‘s rewriting of A Clockwork Orange (1971) when Alex is “Cured”. The violence seems to have no end, going on beyond the limits of the film into our own thoughts, what will he do now that society has corrected the mistake has inflicted upon him. Whereas Bateman realises that he has a get out of jail card almost, able to satisfy his urge of violence with no real consequence. Mirroring the financial world where crazy deals for silly monies made with no concept of reality for the effect they may have on others.
I can safely say that I have come out of my second viewing with a richer experience, more complete and rounded, another viewing can only being me more.
I’ve been quietly looking out for Death Wish (1974) for sometime, wondering what it was about. Then reading a brief description it became clear that this was Michael Winner‘s version of The Searchers (1956). Two years before Martin Scorsese‘s own take on the film – Taxi Driver (1976) However architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is not an outsider of society. In fact he lives a middle class lifestyle. Even making his mark on his country by helping design the future for an undeveloped section of Tuscon, Arizona. Unlike Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who drives the streets of New York at night, unable to have a normal relationship with a woman. We have moved on from John Ford‘s original wandering Confederate Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who will never have a place in civilised society. He does have more in common with Bickle though, we all know or have seen someone who doesn’t quite fit in, standing out and whom we fear for some reason.
So how else is this quietly violent film like The Searchers and other Westerns, we must first look at the women that are/were in Kersey’s at the beginning of the film. He loves his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) who he has just returned from a holiday with. They are enjoying their freedom from their now grown up daughter, a second flourish of love, it’s a rosy picture. All this is soon lost after not even a word has barely been uttered by anyone. Normality in their lives restored, mother and daughter Carol Toby (Kathleen Tolan) have been out together. Where we meet three men, criminals out for their next easy victims who have plenty of cash to steal from. These thugs/criminals take the place of Native Americans on the street, the wild and uncontrollable, the lost and disillusioned youth of the streets with no-where to turning on the successful and affluent who have the image of an easy life. These three men track down and follow the mother and daughter home, the defenseless women are soon in the arms of the gang who leave the women ravaged, not quite raped but beaten within an inch of their life.
Nearly on a par with the ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange (1971) but still with some way to go. The effect of the violent is soon felt when the absent men in their lives are at the hospital, who are left to accept the consequences of the crime. Joanna soon dies (not from her external injuries at least) and Carol traumatized to the point she’s moved into a psychiatric hospital. Reminding me of the powerful scene in The Searchers when Ethan and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) come across two women who are little more than scare children after their time with the savage natives. Time as a squaw is an experience that’s compared to a fate worse than death in the classic genre.
The women in Death Wish are silently labelled “Comanch” they are victims of street crime. For the men they both deal with their loss’ in different ways. Jack Toby (Steven Keats) Kersey’s son-in-law accepts his wives condition and does what he feels medicine and society can do for her. Whilst the elder who has lost his wife doesn’t take that option, justice has failed for him. Needing to find another way to grieve and right the many wrongs which is beginning to see on the streets of New York City. It takes him a business trip to Tuscon, working on designs for new homes on yet untouched land. He has left the East to go to the old West where. He is helping to define the future for more settlers who want to move West, except there journey is a lot safer.
It takes a trip to a Wild West film set which I recognised from a few films, where Kersey along with his colleague Sam (William Redfield) a member of a gun club awakens the gunfighter and eventual vigilante in the conscientious objector of the Korean War. A man who for years had not picked up a gun and for good reasons too. his principals are thrown to the wind on his return, his first act of self-defense becomes a chance to clean up the streets. Taking law into his own hands, a reversion to an outmoded gunfighter, long after law and order has been instated in the country. Here comes a gunfighter who wants to kill for good. Having the to break the law, to kill in order to make the streets safer.
Soon getting the attention of the police, lead by investigating officer Frank Ocha (Vincent Gardenia) who wants to restore civilised law and order. Or to put him back on-top, allowing the police to do their job. Not exactly the kind of guy you would expect, full of a cold, but wants to see this vigilante who he begins to understand, methodically getting to Kersey who is attracting attention and wannabe vigilantes, not to the same level. He’s enjoying the attention from behind the comfort of his apartment. Collecting newspapers that mention his acts/work. This the gunfighter basking in the glory of his good deeds, writing his own history, without the media even knowing him.
Instead of bringing Kersey to justice he is eventually persuaded to leave, helping to create a modern legend. To be a legendary gunfighter today you have to be a vigilante, it still happens even forty years later as have-ago-hero’s, citizens arrests. The violence in the film is far less in your face, it’s a collection of moments of tension that are built up. We first meet the criminal in the urban setting before Kersey the possible victim turns around and kills them, easing the tension. More death, but less crime as a result, does that make the act of violence right? From a man who abhorred violence soon comes to get a thrill out of it, yet feels like a hero, killing only for good. The first in a string of sequels (which I am toying with watching) he has yet to avenge his wife and daughter.
The Native Americans of the urban streets are not seen again, complete with spray paint and few words. Is he looking out for them or others like them on what has become life’s work. A frightening prospect when you think about it, an architect who allows for progression forward, yet reverts to an outmoded way of life. Much like Ethan Edwards who spent 7 years of his life filled with racial hatred looking for Comanches to kill, whilst searching for his family, was he out for his family or for blood, that’s one of the bug questions you come away with. He’s already an outsider, a Confederate who has not accepted surrender so cannot progress with the forward thinking country. Kersey is a 20th century take on that, before the more iconic and dangerous Bickle, not as prolific in his violence he is not one to get close to, there is more humanity in Bronson’s take on the outsider, a man whose known for his violent roles shows a sensitive side before he becomes the iconic role for a generation.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the original and let you decide how far we have come.
“It just so happens we be Texicans. Texican is nothing but a human man way out on a limb. This year and next, and maybe for a hundred more. But I don’t think it’ll be forever. Some day this country’s gonna be a fine, good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.” – Mrs Jorgensen (Olive Carey)