Posts tagged “New York

Death Wish (1974)

Death Wish (1974)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)

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The Hindenburg (1975)

The Hindenburg (1975)I remember catching the end portion of The Hindenburg (1975) before the inevitable explosion, from what I remember at least. I had to take the chance to see it again and understand what was going on in the film. I was only really aware of the incident sadly only a few weeks ago fully whilst watching a documentary on the War of the Worlds hoax  (1938) caused by Orson Welles that happened two years later that saw a nation that had become so used to breaking news bulletins of terrible events such as the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.

What the film provides us with is a blend of fact and fiction that built up to the disastrous event as the hydrogen filled passenger airship was about to land in New York in May 1937. Already the secret services in both the United States and Germany knew of a bomb plot, all made possible due to a woman (Kathie Rauch) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who predicts it’s destruction. The F.B.I are powerless to really do anything but investigate the rumour to a point. Whilst in Nazi Germany the ministry for propaganda put Luftwaffe Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott) in charge of the investigation, given all the power that he needs to stop any bomb exploding on the first flight of the season to New York. A man who has grown bitter since he lost his son in the line of duty to a regime he is starting to hate. He takes on the mission to keep his mind busy, where he bumps into an old friend The Countess (Anne Bancroft) who is one of a number of 36 passengers. All of whom are mainly German, or American, all with their own lives to lead, some with their own agendas and deadlines to meet. Ritter has to investigate them all along with the crew who maybe the possible bomber. Making for a less then thrilling first half as the investigation gets under way.

What keeps my attention is the scenes which takes places inside the hollow hydrogen filled structure itself, amazing the sculpture in me to the possibilities, the design and the engineering that went into such aircraft. When the second half gets going we learn who the plotter is, catching a glimpse of only their hands before. We learn the reasons behind the plot as well. It’s just a matter now of getting to the bomb and defusing it in time to save all on-board from a near-certain death.

The climax is a blend of archive and new black and white footage that slows down the events to seem far longer as the aircraft is eaten alive by flames in seconds. Within this time we see our characters run for safety and freedom from the fireball that could kill them. Added to that the radio broadcast of Herb Morrison which captured the events for a nation who had never heard of such things happening on their land in a life-time.

It’s all about the inevitability of the explosion, we know it’s going to go off, we know how it looks. Its filled with espionage, entertainment and love. All of which feels like filler and build up, making it into a film-able event. No longer is the event just a memory and a few minutes of camera but there are faces, building onto the event making it cinematic for an audience.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)I’ve known about this classic film since my conversation with Professor Neil Campbell during my final year at art school, that marked a real turn in the western genre. I never gave wanting to see this film, know that it placed a cowboy in modern-day New York. Also known as the first X-rated film to win the best Picture Oscar. One that is far different in tone and style than any of the past winners to the point of film making. Midnight Cowboy (1969) is that film.

I knew the basic outline of the film a cowboy moves up north to New York, short on cash, taking on what he only knows how – prostitution. A desperate act of a man, who should have been able to offer so much more. Not the most appealing of films on the face of it.

It’s the face of Jon Voight whose innocence to the path ahead of him is perfect. A Texan born and bred we see decides to leave all he knows for a better life thousands of miles away in New York. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Until through the first of many visceral montages we learn more of his past, his decisions and the life he has chosen to leave behind. It’s all quite melancholic, and modern, a young man coming from a broken family, brought up by his grandmother who cared little more than his mother did before her. We have a wide-eyed and bushy tail young man ready to explore the big bad world. Fascinated by all that the open road had to offer him, as it passes by on the open road courtesy of a coach. He meets all sorts of people, whilst we learn more of him as he listens to his only real companion, a radio that changes as he moves through the states.

On his arrival in the big city, the big man knows what he wants, sex and plenty of it. A task that back home seemed so much easier to achieve, until he meets the women that are hard-nosed independent women who are far wiser to the advances of a country man. On getting his first potential customer he goes about the transaction all wrong. A learning curve that he is just starting to go on and only begins to understand at the end of the film.

It’s not until he meets ratty looking Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) that the possibility of the cowboy reaching his dream. All this is to fall through into another flashback, a path of religion that he doesn’t want to engage with. Ratso or Ricco is not just a passing character in Joe Buck’s (Voight) time in New York. He becomes his only friend who helps and reveals to him the truths of life that he has been unaware of. The innocent cowboy is not ready just yet to accept this.

The macho image of the Cowboy, as personified by John Wayne over the last 30 years of film, has been adopted by the gay community, thus attracting the wrong kind of clientelle. Something that he had not anticipated. He perseveres and carries on, in hoping to be a prostitute, taking on different angles, unaware of to how to really treat women in this part of the country.

It’s after the two friends who have lived in a condemned building are invited to an arty party where Buck’s luck changes, surrounded by people who accepted him as someone who was different, a larger than life figure who was confident enough to be him self in terms of self-expression. The height of the art world culture, can be found within this psychedelic sequence that sees them almost worshiped and adored. Buck finally has a client who falls for his country charm.

Whilst all through this we see the decline of Ratso who we see having temperatures into the loss use of his legs. It’s a dramatic change in tone for the film, from self-preservation and finding money, Buck changes his priorities to that of his very ill friend, a figure in his life who had faith in him wanting him to succeed after first taking advantage. Everything he has achieved would not be possible were it not due to Ratso’s friendship, all else falls away to save this man.

It’s a shock to the genre, a massive wake up call that taste have changed in the audience who first grew up with cowboys and Indians. Wanting sex and violence more than the simplistic tales of the wild west. We have a wide-eyed figure who still believes in that way of life, and its language. He admits he wasn’t a cowboy, more a studd, waking up slowly to the modern world, growing up into manhood and the present day. At it’s time of release Midnight Cowboy was an innovative film, shaking up the genre into something new, to the form it is in today. An awareness of the passage of time and tastes. Two opposites meet, the optimistic and pessimistic in life collide, with all their differences which is the heart of the film. For me it’s the montages that distort the passage of time, to create a possible direction of the film, as if parts of the film were discarded and recycled into a new form for the film. It’s a film not to be missed in short.

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Foreign Correspondent (1940)After the success of Hitchcock’s first film in the U.S. Rebecca (1940) there is a loosening up in tone when it comes to his second film in the states Foreign Correspondent (1940). Casting the successful Joel McCrea before he becomes a man of the Westerns in the 1940s and 50s in this pre-war film that fictionalised the events that lead up to WWII.

The tone of the film begins far lighter than most of Hitchcock’s work set in a New York Paper who want to know what is going on in unstable Europe, knowing that war is imminent. Not wanting to send a war correspondent, instead believing a massive crime is being committed, they send a crime reporter who is unaware  if the world outside of America. This could be seen as Hitchcock‘s perception of his American friends in their isolationist position over Europe.

With a new identity John Jones/Huntley Haverstock (McCrea) he heads to London to interview the Dutch Diplomat Van Meer (Albert Basserman) an elderly man who is growing wreary of the changing world around him, still is striving for peace. Before Jones can interview Van Meer he begins to fall for Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) who her and her father Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) are apart of a peace organisation that are doing their best to represent the people in averting the upcoming war. Jones is soaking this all up and falling for the Carol Fisher with every word she utters.

Things start to heat up for our fish out of water reporter in a foreign land when he witnesses first hand the assassination of Van Meer a story that is too good to pass up, joining up with another reporter Ffolliott (George Sanders) and Carol Fisher are hot on the trail of the dirty rat who shot the diplomat. Heading out into the country in a field of windmills the trail runs cold until our reporter picks up on a few things that only Hitchcock would point out to our average man and audience. Something is going on in the windmill that the stop at, leading to a more dangerous investigation. When the police are informed of Jones’s findings he is proved wrong when nothing is to be found.

For the rest of the film he has to prove to those around him there is more going surrounding the diplomats assassination, when in fact he is alive in London, being coerced to reveal important treaty details. Something that he wont do easily. Whilst Jones’s life is at stake as he travels around in London. Only his fellow reporter Ffolliott really believes him, setting up a trap to land Stephen Fisher who is behind this morally corrupt plot that he believe will save his country from going to war. 

All is revealed in a dramatic climax as war is declared whilst everyone is mid-air aboard a plane to America, landing everyone into dangerous waters (literally) before the truth can finally out to the world. Foreign Correspondent can be seen as Hitchcock’s way of shouting at America to pay attention to the conflict back home that he was lucky to escape. America was more than happy to accept the likes of German directors such as Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang before the war began. Yet took no interest beyond secret surveillance as we later found out. McCrea is average America opening it’s eyes to the bigger problems, and how countries will do anything to avoid war. Not the strongest of his body of work, but has some of the elements that make his films stand out.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver (1976)The 1970’s really did produce some real gems of cinema that just aren’t quite matched today, at least in quantity. When looking at Taxi Driver (1976) I knew I was in for something special, seen partly as Martin Scorsese’s The Searchers (1956) that sees a Vietnam war veteran adjusts to life on the streets of New York, something he has a hard time doing.

Unable to sleep during the nights he decides to take up a job as a New York taxi driver, something that allows him to earn a living and take his mind of being alone, picking up and dropping all walks of life which take him all over the vast city. He begins to detest the “scum” that walks the streets, something he didn’t fight for. Wanting to clean up the streets he later develops his own personal method that we see much later on.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) our lone man of the streets constantly writes to his parents, announcing that he has found a girl who he hopes to protect. A woman who we learn is more confident and assured than we were first lead to believe as Travis creates his own ideas about Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) work at the campaign office a presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Travis is not the usual type that we believe she would be attracted to, surrounded by men such as Tom (Albert Brooks) more intelligent but not as confident in front of the lone soldier on a one man mission to clean up the streets of New York.

His time as a taxi driver starts to wear him down, especially after having an angry husband who boasts about killing his philandering wife who is only two floors above. Finding solace in his fellow drivers who have armed themselves with guns. Turning also to a wise man of the yellow cab; The Wizard (Peter Boyle) who has seen it all in the world of a taxi driver. Needing to feel save he later invests in not one but for guns to arm and protect himself. They become a suit of armour which he crafts to his body in the event he may need to use them. When he is unable to hold down a relationship with Betsy his energy of romance turns to revenge,wanting to take it out on the presidential candidate which he builds up-towards, un-nerving the audience as to when he will carry out this assassination, to right the wrong of not having Betsy in his life.

There is however a glimmer of hope and shred of humanity in him, wanting to find once more the young prostitute that he nearly took away from her life on the streets. When he finally tracks her down we discover her Iris (Jodie Foster) a confident 12 1/2 years old girl who has adapted to a life of prostitution. Travis sees the innocence in the young girl wanting to restore what is left and return her to her parents. Something that she doesn’t want. Already having had to grow-up faster yet with a lot still to learn. Portrayed by the amazingly talented and young Jodie Foster. 

We are seeing two sides to this man, one who arms himself to the teeth and the kind man who wants to save a young girl/woman from a terrible life on the streets. channelling his energy he once had for Betsy into this young girl who doesn’t know she needs to be saved. This is at the end of a long and disturbing journey from freshly released onto the streets veteran of the Marine Corps to wannabe assassin who transforms himself into a dangerous man with a heart. Living by the trigger of a gun to keep him safe on the streets that he wants to clean up, having lost faith in the politicians who have failed his country and damaged the man who returned from war.

An incredible film that doesn’t put a foot wrong, like many of the period, I want to re-watch this with the same passion I have for the near-perfect Chinatown (1974). With one of the last scored by the great composer Bernard Herrmann create a subdued jazzy atmosphere of the streets if New York. I’m not even bothered by the cheeky cameo by Scorsese which builds up his relationship with the De Niro that has worked so well over 30-plus years. We see a troubled man return to civilian life, struggle to adjust and finding hope in a real damsel in distress. The modern cowboy who great and dangerous feats, a man who has all but lost faith in humanity in a dirty world that he fought to protect.



Carlito’s Way (1993)

Carlitos Way (1993)I can’t help but draw comparisons with The Godfather Part III (1990) that sees Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) try and go straight, leaving behind the world of organized crime. Here in Brian De Palma‘s take on the notion of criminals going straight Carlito’s Way (1993) that sees him working again with Pacino after Scarface (1980). This time however there is a need to avoid the world and people who Carlito ‘Charlie’ Brigante (Pacino) he was surrounded by before his time in jail. Released early on a series of technicalities and the fact that he felt he was a changed man. And for the most part we see a changed man living in a changed New York, full of old and new faces that he encounters.

In debt to his lawyer and close friend David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) who has slipped into the world of organized crime in the fives years of Carlito’s absence. The fall for someone who was an honest man into a world he has been brought into by the characters he has been unfortunate to represent. He isn’t as street wise as his once assassin friend who is using the rules of the street to go straight, to make enough money for a clean break.

The hard honest work doesn’t come easy, as the manager of a club where debts are owed to Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo) who has more bravado than sense that Carlito sees through, not scared on the young guy.

Whilst romantically he is trying to prove he is a changed man to Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) a dancer who’s drive to fulfil her dream leads to more disappointment that she wants. We don’t always get what we are after, having to deal with the cards we are dealt in life, seeing what we can play.

The intermittent narration is subdued acting as an inner voice that guides us through the film, giving the audience Carlito’s inner thoughts as he tries to go straight, successfully for a time not getting involved in any crimes. Until his poor excuse for a friend David Kleinfeld asks for his help that sees him sink to a new and dangerous low that costs him and later Carlito his life. There is a sense of hope as the final chase ensues, returning De Palma to Grand Central Station since The Untouchables (1987), which is used in innovative ways.

We are shown the ending of the film at the beginning, we know what is more than likely going to happen, a slow and painful ending to a testing few months on the outside trying to go straight, in a few traumatic moments. It’s how we get there, what could have been differently, could anything be done differently at all, who knows? As a revision of the final instalment of the Godfather trilogy it more successfully explores how hard it is. Where as in the not so successful and unnecessary final part, which shows signs off hope, but relying too much on the past two instalments, repeating itself. Both Corleone and Carlito have to struggle with people from their pasts who wont let go. But needs them to help set them free to live a straight life.