Another foreign film that I have been aware off but wasn’t in a rush to watch, waiting for a TV airing instead, which surprisingly paid off. I remember hearing good things about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), a Iranian horror, with a rare female focus which is honestly very refreshing. You could easily say this is a feminist horror. With a female protagonist whose the titular girl who we follow. Beginning of a false footing with a quietly macho guy Arash (Arash Marandi) who we see loitering around a fence, before climbing over to rescue a cat, his cat. The opposite to what Marlon Brando would do (not rescue a cat), more likely o kick in the fence, venting his pent-up anger. Arash is not your typical male hero, if anything he’s the opposite of that in Bad City and fictional Iranian ghost town where the film’s based.
We see that Arash’s walked all over by his father (Marshall Manesh) drug dealer/Pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains) coming for more money that his heroin addicted father owes. His son is doing his best to look after him, who has clearly turned to drugs in the wake of his wife’s death. It’s unusual to see the son living at home and looking after his father on the screen. Of course this a more contemporary situation that Hollywood would never depict, instead it would be the daughter, looking after her father. It reminded me of Westerns, the unmarried daughter staying at home with her elderly father – sometimes blind or very ill and/cranky. This is the way I read the film after some time. A thread that I will pick up on later.
We’ve not even seen the titular girl, or so I thought we had when Saeed meets the first woman, Atti (Mozhan Marnò) in the film, who turns out to be one of his prostitutes who just wants her cut before we finally see the girl (Sheila Vand), dressed in a Hijab, not unusual in itself, but the lone figure in the dark scaring plays upon our inbuilt fears of the Islam and turning it on itself. The fear of the unknown figure within its environment inciting fear to other Iranians. At this point we are held at a distance, unsure of what real danger she poses. Interrupted at a forced sex act, fear is all the figure conveys at this stage.
Following the girl home to her basement flat, seeing her next as just a normal girl, whose shy and reclusive yet beautifully innocent features, how could this be the same girl under the hijab? We have an outsider who enjoys indie music on vinyl and seems to enjoy her own time. It’s the next few scenes that unveil her true identity and power as she lures Saeed to his demise at the hands of a female vampire. This I really didn’t see coming. I took the title too literally here which if anything has surprised me The lone stranger who walks the streets is the one you least suspect, a young woman, a vampire that to some extent is a lone gunfighter prowling the streets at night.
It’s a clever premise, playing on our fears of Islamic extremism and building on that in one of the countries whose dominant religion is Islam. Writing this review after such a horrific week, I feel this film is more relevant. We need to remember the power of fear and what it can do those who it’s inflicted upon. This fear has been confronted to an extent in A Girl Walks Home… instead if fearing the hijab for no reason other than that of extremism, we are actually given something to fear, the supernatural, a being who has take human form, nothing to do with Islam, merely the form of the vampire takes.
I’m reminded of Bone Tomahawk (2015) which played on similar fears, using the Native American and really going far out and giving the characters something to really fear and the audience too. Which leads me nicely back to the Western comparison which started with the role reversal placing Arash in the classic female role that falls for the stranger, the gunfighter, who ultimately tames him and they ride off into the sunset, or leaves her with her father. He falls for the strange girl, whose startled by the emotion that he brings out in her, she like any gunfighter is not used to such attention and the thoughts and feelings that they experience. Fighting against her natural urges and actions, doing what a vampire does best. Placing all this action in Iran is even braver.
A female lead, who plays on the fears of Islamic extremism in the guise of a horror. Does that make a female lead more acceptable, or get under the radar of censorship? Either way it’s playing against type completely for not just the horror genre but for cinema as a whole. Placing a woman in the protagonist role, the bad guy who has to be either killed or tamed. I couldn’t see a way to her demise happening. Could Arash have seen beyond her perceived innocence to see the truth? That’s the question we are left with, after all the violence she has caused, for good or bad she has done her bit to clean up Bad City the only way she knows how. As a gunfighter can only use his guns – using violence to bring peace to the town/city they are in.
In terms of horror it’s maybe not as scary as you hope, the ideas it explores and subvert make up for the lack of horror. When we do get it, it’s all about the build up, wondering how she will bite. Its the final attack that leaves you in awe as she rescues the damsel in distress. The moments which are slowed down create a sense of real awe and spectacle heightened by the black and white cinematography, be them horror or not. For me the real strength of the film is gender swapping of roles a Western in the guise of a horror, which for me is an added bonus. Ultimately it’s a refreshing film that takes our fears, placing them in a completely foreign country.
I think I would have enjoyed Birdman (2014) if I hadn’t seen a trailer for Whiplash (2014) with all the drumming I wouldn’t be thinking of that instead of enjoying this fascinating fast-moving film about a washed up superhero film star trying to find relevance and meaning in his life. Still that’s more down to the trailers that were shown. It’s hard to say that it didn’t hinder of only a smidgen.
Putting that aside I was lost inside this backstage world of hopes and desires. I was drawn by the cinematography that was constantly moving. seamlessly moving from scene to scene with no real cut. Each scene blends into another with only the transition. A single camera follows the cast around like a fly on the wall capturing these actors at their most vulnerable. Placing a washed up Hollywood actor at the centre with a superhero past that he just can’t shake.
Unlike Michael Keaton whose own past roles only built up his reputation in varying roles from Batman (1989) and Beetlejuice (1988) a career that has seen his own high and lows, coming back to prominence more recently, especially with this role as Riggan that has seen undefinable actor back into the limelight. I don’t think that Keaton hears the voice of his past roles haunt him at his most vulnerable moments as he prepares for his Broadway debut. Birdman a past role mirroring Batman even in the voice he takes on for his superhero alter-ego.
Also backstage are a band of actors who are getting to grips with Riggan’s play, an adaptation of a classic. At the beginning they need a new actor to step in at the last-minute, enter Mike (Edward Norton) an all or nothing method actor who is all or nothing as we see over the film, a Marlon Brando you could say needing realism on stage. Unlike his personal life and relationship with actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) who is making her own Broadway debut, there’s a lot on the line. Whilst manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is holding everything altogether, without him nothing would happen, everyone relies on him as he pulls his own hair out. One of Galifianakis best roles, toning down his usual comedy to fit into this dark comedy drama that can’t stand still. Whilst the other actress Laura (Andrea Riseborough) has is having a fractured relationship Riggan who is fighting his demons.
It’s all about Riggan with the other actors around the side, more so Mike and Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone) not long out of rehab. I have never seen Keaton in such a meaty role, usually being in a supporting role more recently, as if he’s taking what he can get to pay the bills. That’s not to say he’s desperate there’s a nervous exciting energy almost weird which comes alive here. We don’t know what we will get from scene to scene in Birdman, his past role has a supernatural hold over the acting who can;t seem to escape his past. A role that made him is almost killing his career. Working opposite a stage actor who he is in awe with yet cannot control. A critic who threatens to crush his dreams, the odds are stacked against him.
There are moments of disbelieve towards the end of the film that leave you guessing, wondering if we have left reality altogether. Has he given into his past, embracing it and forgetting the consequences, we leave reality to a world of fantasy where could all go. His delusions takeover, nothing makes sense, leaving the audience in a sense of sheer confusion and wonder.
A very strong film, focusing the vulnerable world of the actor, trying to make it big, to break out and start over again. Hearts and careers are on the line, which is built up in the drums in the background, the beat of the street, the pressure is made real. Something that could have been lessened at times for the sake of tension. I’ve read a few times that this film is not original, the soul of an actor laid bare, the dreaded comeback, maybe its the new superhero spin that makes it’s compelling to watch, more relevant and fresh, with all the superhero films being pumped out every year, schedules running into the next decade almost, some actors careers are secured. Whilst older actors live on past glories they cannot shake, becoming typecast, something most hate to happen. Also the fresh cinematography keeps the film moving and the pace too, moving between reality and those surreal and brave moments, to me it’s fresh.
I’ve still got a long list of films that I have to revisit, not really giving them the attention respect they may deserve. Passing judgement on them too quickly or not understanding them. The Missouri Breaks (1976) I found to be flawed just over two years ago, focusing on the killings at the end of the film, It just didn’t work for me. The second time around with an understanding of westerns from that period I went into this film with more of an open mind, one that I hoped would expand my appreciation (or even produce one) of this film which is only remembered because it stars to heavy-weight actors Jack Nicholson and the unpredictable Marlon Brando who really shows he does’ really care about the role, just having a good time as infamous regulator (assassin) Lee Clayton who is as eccentric as we imagine Brando has become. Who by the late 1960’s was seen as unemployable, only Francis Ford Coppola dared take a chance with him, and it paid. Only ever having larger than life mysterious parts during the decade. Whereas Nicholson, a man who could do no wrong creatively, working with everyone of the time practically.
Arthur Penn who before directed Little Big Man (1970) a spoof of the genre takes on a darker view of the genre. The frontiers of America have almost been tamed law is strengthening all the time, making it harder for bandits to have success. Something that has yet to properly reach this part of the county for Tom Logan (Nicholson) and his men who are in the business of horse rustling. The premise is pretty straight-forward, he and his men want to steal horses and sell them on.
It’s not your straight-forward western, having more of an off-beat feel, the comedy between the men in a love-hate relationship. Whilst over the civilised part of the country self-proclaimed law-man David Braxton (John McLiam) who rants nearly as much as Peter Finch‘s Howard Beale in Network (1976) having seen and done it all in the west, he believes he knows best. Carrying out justice from the beginning with a hanging of one of Logan’s friends. Something that horrifies Braxton’s daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd) a woman who was really meant for the civilised East.
The rustling of sheep is main threat to John McLaim who has already lost 7% per annum of his stock that year, yes he’s that accurate. Hiring renowned regulator (in other words assassin) to track down the rustlers who are operating in the area. Brando is in his element, just being himself which at times alienated me, flipping from one persona to another. He’s not trying to live up to his reputation, he’s just having fun with this character which in this film doesn’t fit. Again larger than life unlike Logan who feels threatened by men who are killing his friends unjustly, unlawfully and unfairly, there is away about dealing out justice and this just isn’t right. He can see everything around him slip away.
It’s the dynamic between the two leads which doesn’t really work for me as they play their odd game of cat and mouse. Clayton is a cunning character who knows he’s good at killing, a skill we see time and again to grisly effect. It’s still that last encounter as the men are killed one by one in quick succession, you don’t have time to really take it in, to know they are dead as the next one falls. He is indeed a fast worker. Then it’s the comeuppance the final kill that was not even worked up to, it just happens, its cowardly, not of the west, there is no honour in the kill, calculated too wait until Clayton is asleep. Maybe I’m reading the film wrong, that scene lacks the build-up, its all done before we know whats happened.
So I’m still sitting on the side same side of the fence I was a few years back. It’s a different kind of western, modern in the respect that all murders aren’t as we see them in the west, they are devious and cold, not these staged show-downs that we are used to. That is what it’s about which doesn’t sit with me.
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) (crazyfilmguy.blogspot.co.uk)
- Old Movie of the Week: The Missouri Breaks (1976) (glasswalking-stick.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Missouri Breaks Love ’em or hate ’em (myfavoritewesterns.com)
- THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976) – Arthur Penn (cashiersdecinema.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) dir. Arthur Penn (poppeelings.wordpress.com)
- The Missouri Breaks Syndrome (hmssweblog.wordpress.com)
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) (geekvsgoth.wordpress.com)
I watched this based on recommendation from a number of sources, One-Eyed Jacks (1961) is another of those misunderstood films on the time on release by a one-time actor/director, such as Charles Laughton who directed The Night of the Hunter (1955) which also fell foul to similar results. Both now highly regarded classics of both the Western and film noir respectively. One-Eyed Jacks could have been more successful if it was made and released during the dark psychological 50’s. Even with the working combination of Marlon Brando and Karl Malden in On The Waterfront (1954) and A Streetcar Names Desire (1951). Maybe it’s because the film so intensely charged that it was too much to see two men once bank robbers who rode together turn so viciously away from each other.
With a dream western cast, calling in a huge number of supporting actors who are synonymous with the genre, from Hank Worden through to Katy Jurado and Slim Pickens I can only presume the rest were busy working with John Wayne or John Ford at the time of filming. It’s rich is passion and a dark heart that travels from Mexico to the coat of California as two men must find justice. With Brando in front and behind the camera we’ve a different kind of western, one that is brooding and dark, full of psychology, whilst the actor who had already done a handful of westerns fits easily into the world he is bringing together. With heavy touches of visual theatrics, such as hiding the Mexicans in pursuit behind sandstorm, not properly insight to both Rio (Brando) or the audience who try to make out what they are seeing. This too is where a father/son like relationship that was once strong, built on a shared need for women and greed is broken when Dad Longworth leaves to buy new horses, taking the opportunity to start over again. Leaving Rio with little choice but to give himself up to the authorities that surround him. A price he will not forget to be repaid.
Jumping forward 5 years we see two men making a break from prison, nothing will stop these two men, Rio and Chico Modesto (Larry Duran) from freedom. With one goal, to find Dad Longworth ad kill him. It’s not the bandit after the sherif who put him behind bars, it’s the betrayed friend righting a wrong that he can’t forget. Meeting along the way, Bob Armory, one of Ben Johnson‘s finest performance outside of the Ford Stock Company and The Wild Bunch (1969) as another bandit who won’t be messed around when he joins up with Rio who has a bigger reputation with a gun. Who watching the changes in his new temperamental partner.
On arriving in California we find a now respectable Longworth, a reformed gun-man now as town sherif, with a Mexican family in his life. The life of freedom and abiding the law has paid off for him, everyone knows his past, a past he has chosen to rewrite for himself, which will soon be re-evaluated when Rio arrives to find him. Living the life he could have had, fuelling his anger, the need to kill him grows stronger still. Adding to that he meets Longworth’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer) who becomes his love interest, yet bordering on incest, if only related by marriage.
Both men are very much the same, shaped by how events five years previously panned out, sending them both in different directions. Both a liars hiding their past from the women in their lives. It’s only a matter of time until they both can’t take anymore, who will shoot first? There are many opportunities to silence one another, the audience is left frustrated by the will they won’t they, not of love but kill, something not often replicated in the western. Surrounded by characters who are all playing against the type we usually see on-screen and so effectively too.
I’m pleased I’ve finally watched this sometimes forgotten classic, I wonder what else Brando may have directed if he wasn’t put off by the public response, with such adult themes. A film that was originally 5 hours long was recut into this still impressive form. Will we ever see that version, much like Cimino‘s Heaven’s Gate (1980) whose directors cut is 4 hours long. Brando’s reported in-experience behind the camera was sadly not seen for the genius he was today. Like so many actor/directors of his time that weren’t given the chance to make more, with visions so ahead of their time, it’s a case of if only.