Another film I’ve been putting off watching, I overlooked it at the time of release as I really wasn’t interested in You Were Neve Really Here (2017). Since then I’ve been slowly won over and wanted to track down the film, learning it was another Taxi Driver (1976), which in essence is The Searchers (1956). So once again I will be delving into how this film responds to the classic Western. It’s a chance to explore how the film has again influenced modern cinema. Of course on the surface it has far more in common with Martin Scorsese’s film than John Ford‘s original. The classic tale of the tortured male loner taking on the task of rescuing a young woman from the clutches of a sex-slavery i Cincinnati. I wonder is Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) still drives the murky streets still, had he come into contact with Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) or would that have been too explosive for a single film to handle.
It’s doesn’t stray far from John Wayne‘s Ethan Edward’s epic mission across untamed Native American country in search of his nieces. Filled with an uncontrollable racial hatred for the Comanches and possibly other nations who have done him wrong before we first meet him. We don’t learn of his past, or even Bickle’s we’re just allowed to spend a short time with them. Lynne Ramsay‘s allowed us understand Joe’s past in a series of fractured flashbacks that hint an unstable domestic upbringing and time in the army. It’s been explored before with Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) who was far more reflexive about his past, Wim Wenders gave us the time to explore just how he’s in his position now, a father who couldn’t face the break up of a passionate relationship, which ultimately was his own fault in Paris Texas (1984). Travis is singularly unique, a disturbed man shaped by his surroundings, unable to connect with the outside world that deeply troubles him. An explorer of an urban jungle that holds him hostage.
Joe is very much a product of his child hood and military service that have shaped the beaten shell of a man who works as a hired gun. He doesn’t shy away from how he makes his living, it defines him, just about the only job he can get, allowing him to function and support his mum. We first meet him at the end of a job, clearing up the evidence that could lead back to him. You can he’s done this many times before, it’s just part of the job. His face is obscured during this time, for now he’s just an unknown dangerous man cleaning up yet another mess with precision that he has honed overtime. This is not the have-a-go hero of Taxi Driver or the ex-Confederate soldier, we have a trained killer on yet another job, not a man to be messed about.
We learn he has something of a soft-side when he returns home to his mother (Judith Roberts) who he shares a love-hate relationship with, the only woman or even person who really loves him. The closest to violence he get’s with her is a joke about Psycho (1960), could that even be an influence on him. The stay at home son with his mother who stays about of obligation more than love.
The rescue mission comes pretty early on in this fairly compact film, his next job at the request of Senato Albert Votto (Alex Manette) who employs him to rescue his young daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), whom he believes has been kidnapped and placed into a sex-slavery. Unlike Ethan Edwards and Travis Bickle he has no prior relationship with the girl whose to be rescued, he only sees her as part of another job. Before he begin we see him stock up on fresh tools for the job, including a hammer that we know already is his weapon of choice that can inflict brutal damage to his victims, no one stands a chance against him.
As with Taxi Driver he waits until night before he even rolls up outside the address, he’s dangerously cool and calm about all this, dragging over a guy who works, torturing him for information, the bare-essentials to get in, the dangers that lie ahead for him. It’s a cleaner rescue than I expected, restrained by the view of CCTV cameras that only suggest what has happened to the bodyguards who fall to their deaths. It’s over before we know it, our main concern is finding the girl, which again happens rather fast. The young girl – Nina is clearly in state of desensitisation, to escape the daily abuse she receives from the monsters who pay for her. Gone is the confident nonchalance of Jodie Foster’s Iris who has find an exterior shell to survive the murky world of prostitution she’s trapped in. Mirroring the assimilation that Debbie Edwards (Natalie Wood) whilst living with the Comanche. Never Really Here is more aware of the psychological damage that a kidnapping and slavery can do to the mind. The realisation of being rescued doesn’t quite hit Nina for sometime.
Everything then starts to go wrong for Joe as he soon loses the girl and ends up a world that all he knew and understood is being taken away from him. The closet he got to purity is taken away by corrupt cops who take Nina away, leading him into a trap that closes ever tighter into his inner circle and even his mother. The hard exterior of the hired gun begins to show signs of cracking. Before we see an even darker side when interrogates one of his mothers killers (Scott Price) sadistically numbing his pain to get information from him before he finally dies. It’s a form of unique justice that allows him to move on in search of Nina and understand what he’s become embroiled in.
It’s far more complicated than the standard search and rescue narrative that Ford laid out over 50 years ago, becoming something more complicated with each retelling of the basic plot. Stripping away the racial hatred to leave a hardened killer who has many dents in his armour, both physical and mental. We’re left a darker of corruption with a glimmer of hope for Joe and Nina, each products of their fractured lives, leaving to start a life together where they might be able to start over. All they have known has been destroyed either by their own hands or in their wake. It’s a bleak disturbing world where even beauty has a dark side. Never Really Here is by far one of the bleakest interpretations of The Searchers, having evolved into a the Western that it could have been. I wonder if a director has the courage to deliver something so disturbing to the screen?
I’ve been meaning to watch Paris, Texas (1984) for quite sometime now. Only being aware that it was a modern classic and seen as a modern take on The Searchers (1956) where once again I will be coming from as I explore and try to understand what is a beautiful film no matter the reading you take from it. I know now that my next piece of work will be based on the John Ford/John Wayne classic and how it’s influence on film ever since. My exploration has now taken me to Wim Wenders classic, having only seen one other of his films and more recently his Polaroid exhibition at the Photographers Gallery last year.
So where to start with Paris, Texas, I thought it would be straight-forward modern retelling of the Western classic. That was before we met Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) who in the opening scenes collapses from a mix of heat exhaustion and dehydration. The desert has not been kind to this tall gangly man who remains mute for the first 30 minutes of the film. Relying on his gestures or lack of them to discern what he wants. When his brother Walt’s (Dean Stockwell) called to come and collect his once thought dead brother from a small hospital in the middle of the Texan desert. Texas is the first real link to The Searchers where we find the film is loosely set, the backdrop of seven years of wandering. The silence is at first worrying, has Travis become a mute, or has he been psychologically afflicted, uttering no words, relying on his strained relationship with his brother to communicate. You can only feel for them both as Walt tries to reconnect and understand his brother who just can’t keep still at first, twice he bolts before finally making the trip West to California.
Hopes of flying home are soon dashed when Travis needs to stay on the ground, he’s a complex man who we are beginning to understand as he slowly opens up to us and his brother who we learn has been bringing up his nephew as his own child for the past 4 years. Travis has been wandering for the past 4 years, but why. The journey home on the open road doesn’t pass without a few bumps along the way. The location of Paris in the state of Texas is brought up a few times as they both reminisce, a plot of land that he had hoped to have truly made his home. The wandering cowboy making a small part of the world his own, a homestead for the family he once had. Still holding onto the more fragile parts of his past for later his return to Walt’s home and being reunited with his son Hunter (Hunter Carson). All this could be read as Aaron Edwards (Walter Coy) bringing home his wayward brother Ethan (Wayne) from the wilderness after the civil war. At this point I’m beginning to see how the classic has been reworked.
Back home he begins to open up to his son, both are unsure of each other, one leaving without reason or notice, feeling abandoned, whilst the other deeply troubled by his own behaviour. A cowboy just riding off into the sunset, much like Shane yet without the young boy crying out for his return. His presence would ultimately be detrimental to those around him. The family home – which could be replaced with the Edwards homestead is equally uneasy and full of memories for Travis who begins to make up for lost time with his son who begins to allow this stranger back into his life. I feel that so many of the scenes in this film could easily be shared here, but that would be too extreme. However the father son relationship that is at the centre of the film is only suggested in the Searchers, could Lucy (Pippa Scott) or even Debbie (Lana Wood and Natalie Wood) yet unable to express that connection would have broken the Hays codes that restrained films so badly in the 1950’s. Wenders doesn’t have any of that to consider, his family have raised the boy as their own without question, and without with-holding the truth either.
The blossoming of the father-son relationship is at times both heart-warming and very moving as they begin to see each other as part of one another. An invite to walk home together is brutally snubbed as only a child can handle, whilst Travis can only look on with rejection. It’s a family home-movie that seen to be most revealing. We meet the mother Jane (Nastassja Kinski) who had a passionate relationship with a much older Travis. The images are too much for him at time to bare. For the audience it’s our first chance to see Jane, a part of his life that has only been spoken about, shaping our view of what this character means to them.
Travis finally decides to take things into his own hands, after being told more about Jane by Anne (Aurore Clément ) who had raised Hunter as her own. Jane for the past 4 years has been depositing money on a monthly basis in a bank in Houston. That’s all he needs to seek her. After spending just over half the film trying to find himself and pick up where he left off, does the real search begin. Leaving with his son in tow they head for Houston hoping that they can find one person in a city of thousands. A beautifully simple translation of plot elements for a modern audience and setting. Father and son grow closer as they get closer to finding Jane who Hunter believes he’s spotted. The search is now on, following a 7 year olds hunch they hit the road in hopes that he’s right, or face waiting another month.
Finally reaching the car and a quiet building Travis enters into a world he knows little about. This the Ethan of the film does enter the Comanche Camp and finds his Debbie very much alive and well. Working in a peep-show, another form of prostitution. Unlike Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who was able to save the young girl from a downward spiral, our Travis here is prevented by a wall of glass and a telephone, that affords him the safety to get to know the woman he knows he’s hurt, scaring both her and himself into their own separate wildernesses. What follows are some of the longest scenes I’ve ever watched, pure conversation between two people, only a phone line connects them, the truth hopefully will break through.
Let’s go Home Debbie – Ethan’s final lines of dialogue, the hatred in him has now melted away, allowing him to see the girl, the niece that can be saved. He can now see the hope in her to bring her back to civilisation. Whilst he’s still left to wander, unable to be part of the family. Travis gives up his position to reunite his son with his mother in an equally moving ending to the latter film, Believing this is the right thing to do by his son, finally putting Jane first after what was an emotionally abusive relationship built on a destructive passion that couldn’t last. There maybe no racism but there’s plenty of anger that still has to be dealt with internally for the quiet man who drives off into the night. Ending a film that is deeply melancholic, reaching into the heart of America’s deserts to reunite a family that ultimately cannot be together. Sam Shepherd‘s simple script has taken a classic formula of the search and rescue Western and transforming it into a tragic romance between a couple that had no chance of being reignited. I just wish I’d seen this classic years ago, now I’m left wondering how many more rich films have been inspired by such a complex Western that I maybe still in the midst of my own search for some time to come.
I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.
The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.
Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.
The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.
Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.
Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).
Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.
Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.
A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.
The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.
Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.
Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.
I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.
Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.
The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.
So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.
A much-needed re-watch which has come a year after reading into The Stalking Moon (1968) compared to The Searchers (1956) (again) which I had to watch once more to see all the readings into the films depiction of the Native American for myself. It comes across as another possible narrative strand of The Searchers which really ends where Moon picks up. After a group of Apache are rounded up by the army, possibly having escaped a reservation or going to. Either way their freedom is over and future is determined. We discover a single white and blonde female captive Sarah Carver (Eva Marie Saint) who has been assimilated into their culture, she has assumed their language, dress and thinking.
For all intent and purposes she is a Native American, that is in the eyes of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who would more than likely left he to die or killed her himself. Not the army scout/Indian tracker Sam Varner (Gregory Peck) who readily accepts her as white or even just human and a woman (be that in 19th century terms). She is a free woman to do as she pleases, bringing her son with her, also that of Salvaje (Nathaniel Narcisco) which is Spanish for savage. If you know your Spanish you are already being given a pre-loaded conception of who this mostly un-seen figure is. Not unlike Scar (Henry Brandon) who we see a few times and interact with in the earlier film. The Spanish translation is cicatriz as the Mexican in the cantina tells Edwards.
I can’t really compare Varner and Edwards both are very different characters and that’s not the point of this re-exmination of the film. For me it’s about how the later film has been influenced, taking the same iconography and the depiction of the Native American. You could say they are one and the same film in some respects. A woman’s rescued from a life with the “Indians” which is either looked down on, mocked or pitied. In the genre you are better of dead than alive being a squaw. In reality women and children were only taken as prisoners, used as leverage with the army to stay on their land. Most of not all were later released, you can see where the myth begins though which has allowed the on-screen image to become bigger and more exotic. Being captured and living as one of a number of squaws with a one of the warriors or even chief, having a number of children, usually after being raped. Not a pretty picture but one that both dime novels and Hollywood and built up and reinforced.
So with this image built up on paper and on-screen, the Native American all but quieted on reservations the myth of conquest’s being formed and reinforced by clichés which we see in both The Searchers and The Stalking Moon, they are always seen through the eyes of the white man, usually the tracker who has a vast knowledge of them, which the audience dripped fed. Edwards is delivered with hate and disgust, whereas Varner’s more about the survival skills which he uses against them in order to stay alive. There is no real hatred behind his eyes, he is even close friends with his younger partner in the army a mixed race Nick Tana (Robert Forster) who looks up to him as a father figure. We can see that the fight between his two heritage was won by his white side, which in turn makes is easier for us to engage with him.
Going back to the depiction of the key Native American, both come from over-used nations – Apache and Comanche- the very names are more exotic on the ear, and sound more frightening than others. Scar the Comanche chief has lines and shares screen-time with Edwards, neither like each other and you can really feel it as they have a fruitless trading session. Whereas Salvaje is not even seen until the finale which is more about tension. He’s treated as an animal who has to be stopped in his tracks. There’s no eye to eye scene until it’s too late to do anything about, Salvaje is very one-dimensional and his only one goal to rescue his son from the white people, more able to accept his mixed heritage but not his circumstances. For the majority of the film he is only seen in the form of the aftermath of the victims he leaves as he comes in search of his son. He is the Apache Ethan Edwards going all the way to find his son, except it’s not over the course of seven years, more like a week if that.
The cost of the deaths could’ve been avoided as its pointed out to Sarah who is eager to get moving back home, knowing she needs to keep moving to survive with her son. She’s taken into the care of Varner who takes it on himself to escort her so far before getting to her destination of Silverton, her home town. She and her son (Noland Clay) who’re treated as second class citizens, with restricted travel and casual racism.
I must touch on the ranches that feature in both films, The Edwards ranch where we begin in The Searchers and with the Jorgensens as Debbie (Natalie Wood) is safely returned by to white safety and civilization, restoring her you could say. That restoration happens far earlier for Sarah, discovered at the beginning The Stalking Moon and is later invited to stay, possibly live at Varner’s ranch where we see inside far longer than the establishing scenes of Ford’s film. We only see the beginning of the Comanche raid, we don’t see anyone, nature discovers them first. The ranch is barricaded, cutting to Scar who has already found a young Debbie in the family graveyard, which is where her white life ends and “Indian” life begins. Back to New Mexico where Varner’s ranch and battle ground for the finale of the later film takes place. The danger is brought back to the homestead which eventually end with Salvajes death restoring order. Sarah’s able to adjust to White mans life along with her son, much like Debbie Edwards before her.
As I have found they share a lot of the same themes and imagery, just reordering them within the same basic landscape of the American West. It’s the last real conventional Western retelling of the same plot before we enter the modern world where Native American’s are replaced with criminals and other low-life that replace the previous obstacle. We have lost the racist in Edwards for a more well adjusted figure in Varner who can easily live among others. I guess the only true comparison would and will always be Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) whose an urban outsider, to dangerous for mainstream society. I think I know which film I’ll be watching again soon.
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)
Another film I have been meaning to catch for some time, after seeing Enemy (2013) a few weeks back I was spurred onto catch Nightcrawler (2014) a sure sign that Jake Gyllenhaal is hitting a stride of successful films, much like Matthew McConaughey, who knows it could be Gyllenhaal picking up a heap of trophies soon or is he just laying the groundwork for greater things to come. I was advised to watch Nightcrawler when it was dark, which is harder this time of year with the shorter nights I decided to just go for it. The whole atmosphere of this film makes things darker without the need of even drawing the curtains. The moment that you see Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) an unemployed internet educated loner tries to get a job, using unconventional methods that just alienates prospective employers.
He’s a creepy pasty looking guy who is driven to get a job, a head filled with business jargon. Not a guy you want to meet in the office and stuck in a conversation with. After a few failed job interviews (if you can call them that) more like sales pitches, finds his calling on the dark streets on L.A. when he sees a car crash being filmed by amateurs, known as nightcrawler’s, feeding on the suffering of the victims. He’s find his calling (if you can call it that) begins what is disturbing yet compelling film. Scoring his first scoop and selling to a local news station for the night-shift lead by Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who is grateful for the footage that is raw, unpolished. Even more scary is that Bloom shows potential which she encourages. Herself a rating hungry, a reflection of the modern media hungry for anything that grabs their audience’s attention.
You could say Nightcrawler is a culmination a few a films film, or an extension of them. Going back as early as Peeping Tom (1960) that sees a wanna be film-maker taking the art of film to levels of voyeurism we had not seen on-screen. The desire to see raw emotion, to see the power of danger and the moment of death in the eyes of the victim. Moving forward we have both Network and Taxi Driver (both 1976) which have their influences. It took me a while to really see the connection between Lou Bloom and Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who travelled the streets of New York at night. However his aims were more honourable, to save those who had fallen into a world of despair, trapped you could say. He was an outsider who wasn’t really able to have a proper relationship, much like Bloom I don’t really see this as an extension, more a strange coincidence between both films. Moving onto Network the news station that is hungry for ratings, driven by a career hungry Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) now in the form of Romina who is at an equally struggling station, much more prophetic than Nightcrawler which reflects those ideas back in the 1970’s.
Moving away from the comparisons to the more technical aspects of the film, it’s visually a very striking film with the contrast cranked up reflecting the intensity of the film’s content. A fast-moving soundtrack to match how fast the amateur film-maker is improving, the lengths he goes to in order to get the best footage. With the aid of intern Rick (Riz Ahmed) the audiences way into the film and able to question Blooms motives and drives. Like many of us he’s also been out of a job needing something, anything to get him back on his feet. Able to maintain some level of morality which becomes blurred over the course of the film, when the drives of money, ratings and success. Something that really attracts Bloom as he gets better and better, using his police scanner and Rick on the sat-nab he’s on the tail on incidents that affect the white middle class, striking fear into the audience. Its something that is not immune to American audiences, I have seen myself people slowing down on roads to get a glimpse of traffic accidents, to see the damage, hopefully see some blood, cinema is no longer able to compete with this lust for danger that TV news can cater to, if you go for the lowest common denominator.
All this comes to a climax when Bloom gets to a shooting in an affluent borough, entering the house to capture all the gruesome detail. He crosses the line between us and the police, seeing what the public only imagine. Usually our imaginations are left to run wild. That no longer happened the footage is slightly pixellated and transmitted. Also crossing the line between news coverage and withholding evidence from the police, We know we shouldn’t cross into a crime-scene, Bloom allows us to do just that, like a video game brought to our screens. The line between reality is being blurred, no longer are we kept behind the police tape, we can breakthrough that to see all the gruesome detail we are hungry to see.
It’s an incredible film in terms of the lengths that the characters go to, none of them get away scot-free from the world of sleazy journalism is brought to life here. My experience of American news is pretty slim, I’m reminded of the poor coverage of Fox News when their expert of Muslims believed that there were no go areas for non-Muslims in Birmingham, all nonsense, but enough to engage the audience, playing their primal fears, getting them hooked and ultimately boost their ratings. Here we see the other side of the news world, as it gathers local stories, satirised by Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) that saw car crashes becoming leading stories. All part of cinemas comment of news media today. I was left shocked at what I had seen as it goes steadily worse, I was more gripped. Was I being pulled into that world, wanting to see the events unfold hungry for the story to appear on the news? I really don’t know and that what makes this film so compelling, the characters mostly immoral which allow us to question them and our own desire for stories, are we as desperate those in the media for stories or are we just programmed in a way now that want them, like a baby wants feeding?
- NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) (mettelray.wordpress.com)
Ok Cop Land (1997) is not the best title for a film, it sound primitive and thoughtless, something from the first draft of a scrip that thankfully changed to something with a better ring to it. However that’s not the case here, plus it doesn’t matter with a cast as good as this. Even with most of them in supporting roles behind Sylvester Stallone an actor I usually avoid, not really taking to his brand of macho films. I gave this film a chance based on the line-up not him so much. I came away surprised really as Stallone plays against type, a town Sheriff who is stuck in a position where he can’t progress to make a real difference to his community.
A community made by cops for cops to live in safety, with one of the lowest rates if crime in the state of New York, coincidence I think not. When you scratch beneath the surface of this suburban town you see cracks begin to show. After two black men are killed in a drive-by-shooting with Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport) who thinks his career is over. Yet another case of racially motivated shooting by the police, thats all they need. Leave it to Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) to clear up the mess and create a hero from the wreckage of the crime. You don’t expect this twist that turns the film upside down and invites internal police investigator Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) who begins to stick his nose where it’s not wanted. Even though none of this happens on Freddy Heflin‘s (Stallone) patch he is drawn in slowly.
I think the reason that this is Stallone isn’t throwing his weight as much as we have come to expect him to. He hardly throws a punch, only fires a few shots and spends most of his time in the community. Reflecting on his past, and the choices that have lead to his current position. It’s much a more about his emotions, we see him more depressed and down-trodden than anything else which is a refreshing change and something I can really buy into from him. Allowing the other actors to take up the weightier material as they all act as his conscience. As Tilden wants his help with his investigation into Donlan’s corruption. Whilst Donlan is trying to keep him quiet the more he pries into things he shouldn’t.
There’s a history of keeping quiet as we learn from Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta) who lost his partner and friend who is blames on Donlan. You could say this is a partial reunion of the Goodfellas (1990) cast which is further from the truth. All supposedly on the right side of the law this time. There is lot of shades of grey here, as they all fight crime but using their own rules. Donlan and Tildan act as Heflin’s conscience. It’s only when events escalate that Heflin s forced to act, the push over starts to stand up and investigate his colleagues, a dangerous move, whistle blowing your friends.
What makes this film memorable is that the system that is there to protect the public is protect itself from the outside world. Hiding the corruption in order to live a safer live, in the pockets of gangsters, the strong stand tall, able to fight crime whilst also committing their own. They believe they are above the law. Even with soft sheriff Heflin who takes his time to pick himself up and put a stop to it all. Filled with traditionally tough guy actors they all show flaws in their character. Personified by Stallone who does a role reversal of his screen persona to deliver a very different character which I can identify more with, an average cop who rises above it all. Set against the mid-nineties media landscape that keeps things in perspective for the audience, the bigger picture is painted opposite a character driven cop film that wants to give us something different and to an extent does.
It’s about time that I took the time to re-evaluate the epic crime drama that finally brought together two of the biggest actors of the last twenty years together. You can’t really count The Godfather Part II (1974) as the first time that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro were on-screen together. As I write this I have watched just under half of Heat (1995) which was first brought to my attention in a lecture at university, where I saw that famous scene where see the two actors finally meet on-screen. You have to realise that its more than an opportunity for these two to clash on-screen. WE have a view of Los Angeles that we don’t usually see. Of course there are hundreds of films that involve the infamous LAPD, just as famous as the NYPD.
The point I’m trying to make just under half way into the film is that we don’t see any of he glamour of the great city that is easily accessible to Hollywood, the epicentre of the American dream, where here anything can go wrong. As criminals lead by Neil McCauley (De Niro) are living the life of luxury, carefully planning robberies whilst the police are living a life of misery. It’s a complete reversal of fortunes so far.
The good life versus the bad life juxtaposed against the bright lights of LA that never seem to switch off. Emphasise by the lighting on the film by Dante Spinotti who maintains that sunny glow of the day through the night. From the opening titles we are bathed in light, little is left in the shadows, no where to hide. It’s as if the city is too big and vast to even need to hide. As McCauley and his gang are almost asking for it. Getting away so far based on technology and bribes, power goes along way up from the bottom. And on both sides too as we find with Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) who uses his connections to get what he wants. Knowing all the time that McCauley is one step ahead. So far they have looked down the barrel of a camera lens twice before they finally do meet.
We are looking at not just an investigation into a gang, but the lives on both sides and how it affects their private lives. As one is fighting to keep hold of his lover whilst he is torn between his messed up job. Another is discovering someone and enjoying the fortune that comes with that. I do feel that things are played more in the favour of the criminals who we spend slightly (I say that lightly) more time with, looking in Val Kilmer‘s direction who’s own marriage is breaking down. With that one criticism, I am looking forward to completing the film and my re-assessment that was once just a few paragraphs previously about a film that has more to offer than the cops chasing the bad guys, the emphasis of character reversed, the city of LA becomes a character itself, not just a backdrop. What else will I discover?
The first think was the wealth of camera glare that you just cannot shake. Most film-makers try and avoid such mistakes. Here they are embraced, using them as part of the fabric of the film, a city filled with light its part of the environment that can’t be ignored, dancing around the screen, the only element that cannot be controlled beyond an understanding of movement and angling. Before switch back to the reality of the film where we finally bring both Hanna and McCauley for that coffee, a scene that only lasts a few minutes and feels like an hour as they both say their piece, each with their jobs to do, not willing to give them up. Theres a mutual respect which you don’t find in crime dramas. Respecting the enemy in order to understand them, getting closer to them,
Both of their worlds are crumbling down, modern life in the city is not what most film make it out to be. As the last bank-robbery gets under way we are treated to an onslaught on violence that begins to numb you to the sound of bullets as they go back and forth at an incredible rate. Blurring who the good guys and cops are. Each taking casualties it’s a costly battle that cannot be given up as the gang are have to split and go their own ways, it seems all is lost for Lt Hanna and his team who invested so much time.
We have to wait longer before the finale which we thought was never coming. Its tense and momentous as both men are brought together in a final shoot-out after all the mayhem they leave at a hotel as a standard diversion. On the airfield we find promises being kept, to break them would to not be true to yourself. I had completely forgotten this final scene that has aged well with the passing of time. If we were to have two younger leads this would be a completely different beast, it wouldn’t be a beast at all, just another standard cop film.
You have a wealth of film history on-the screen that culminates in this post modern film that has all the hallmarks of the cop-genre which has grown up if only for a moment. Modern life creeps into the private lives far deeper than other films making Heat stand out and up amongst the others. I decided to re-watch Heat as it had been a while, my first review only scratched the surface, here I have made a deeper cut that has given me a better understanding and another chance to see the film for what it really is.
I have probably viewed one of the best films of recent times the other night, short in length yet make up for it in volume for what you get on-screen with Ryan Gosling who is indeed on fire in Drive (2011). Which sees a by day stunt driver and mechanic single handedly take on the world around him in Los Angles.
From the get go, we know we are in for a thrill-ride that like a race around town and many twist and turns, never looking back, always forward with the action. Pulling in for a few pit stops to take in an o-off romance with Irene (Carey Mulligan) who lives conveniently next door. We only know Goslings character by his job description, driver, opening up all kinds of possibilities for the audience who see man different men in combined into the lone man who wants to do what is right.
We first see Driver going about his night job as a getaway driver, staying impartial and cool under the pressure of the police pursuit that could draw the curtains on his night-time activities. He does it more for the thrill, knowing he has the upperhand, the skill to outsmart them, He treats it like a game or a science, with a radio tuned into the police frequency, whilst also listening to a game. One to distract him, the other to stay on top of it all , whilst he moves his car with great precision around night time L.A. Before we see the next day, him making a few bucks with his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) on film set. A man who means well to all he meets, throughout his life getting in over his head and paying the concequences all the time. It seems that Cranston is in a period of great success, from the early 2000s with Malcolm in the Middle to more recent a cult success Breaking Bad. He can do no wrong. Here he is the champion of the lone man who drives the streets, Much like Robert De Niro‘s Travis years before in Taxi Driver (1973). Everyone needs someone to root for.
What could be seen as just another possible romance between neighbours Driver and single mother Irene with her son, whilst her husband is in jail, is something more than just another screen romance, complete with sexual tension that goes untapped until one other tense scene in a lift that is destroyed in seconds. He wants to be there for a woman who wants the company of a man, whilst feeling obligated to her husband Standard (Oscar Issac) who is soon released from jail. The final element that brings everything that has been building to the epic second half. All the strands which could have been passing character start to come together. From the racing car syndicate owned by Shannon and Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his gang ties with Nino (Ron Pearlman).
It’s Goslings presence as a macho driver complete with racing jacket of the scorpion that makes this all worth while, biting back in brutal fashion against all those who cross him. Wanting to get his neighbours out of an awful situation. Wearing it with pride, like a suit of armour that brings him more than just protection, it transforms him into a street fighter who can take on the world and all that it throws at him. Fighting for good, wanting to be fair to those who deserve it, which is reversed to the criminals who want to destroy the lives of innocent people.
Complete with heavy eighties tones of style and soundtrack that transports us to a world of speed and danger, the thrills of live on the edge whilst want to skirt away from it. A tender and techno soundtrack that emphasises the lone driver and the heroine who doesn’t know she’s being saved. Gosling becomes a Brando-esque figure who wants to save Mulligan’s princess from the thieves below her castle tower.
The sparse dialogue is made up in volumes by the beautiful driving scenes that just happen and drift us through the film, gliding through the city with purpose in grand style of youth and living on the edge. A film that is rare these days, Gosling is lucky for now to work in mainly independent films that are benefiting his career, a turn at Batman in the next few years may change all that, unless he keeps his eyes open to the fresh scripts that can go unnoticed and forgotten. Thank god for Gosling.
From one of the last director who was really let loose with a vision, ignoring costs in favor of the what Michael Cimino wants on-screen. Something that he got right when it came to The Deer Hunter (1978) a film that sometimes doesn’t need words to explain is going on visually, Thank god for Stanley Myers tender score that fills in the sensitive gaps of the brutal film that sees a group of men torn apart and brought back together again in ways they had not first imagined.
What begins as a group of friends in an industrial town in Pennsylvania who are celebrating the marriage of Steven (John Savage) to Angela (Rutanya Alda) is the beginning of the end of an era for a group of friends that they will never be able to return to. We see at the wedding so much hope and future in this strong group of men who regularly go off deer hunting together. Something which we see twice over the course of the film. Each hunt is quite different. First there is a real rivalry between the men, able to play-fight and boast, It’s your average chance of male bonding over a male activity to prove your manliness. Before three of them head over to fight in Vietnam going with Steven into a world of horror that will change them all are Michael (Robert De Niro) who really looses himself in the moment, flying off the handle, a spell in the army would do him good. Whilst the more level-headed of the three Nick (Christopher Walken) is quietly confident, not really knowing what awaits him in the tropical hell created by his own country. And so ends the first third of what seems like a drawn out film to develop these men which we will see change.
The tone of the film dramatically alters in the blink of an eye to a lush green landscape of Vietnam which finds Michael clearly in his element, embracing the war, whilst he doesn’t know it could push him over the edge to somewhere he can’t return. Surrounded by rebels who are fighting for their freedom from the American invaders we see another side of what they were capable of. If Apocalypse Now (1979) painted a surreal image of the conflict where the soldiers escaped to, The Deer Hunter depicts the enemies infiltrating the mind of the soldier. A version of Russian Roulette is the rebels game of choice, spinning the gun around a table for the prisoners to play with their own lives. An extreme form of mental torture for both natives and Americans who are at the mercy of others who become god.
Every time the game’s played the audience’s sent into a state of dread, at any moment someone could shoot themselves cold dead, just by pulling the trigger, hoping that the barrel of the gun was empty. The stakes are raised and the game of chance becomes hope of surviving. This game is the catalyst in the three mens short lives on this earth, Before taking their chance to escape, the suffering is far from over. A glimmer of hope from their comrades is short-lived, if only giving the audience a moment of relief.
The real damage is starting to make itself known to us and them. Whilst Michael the one we believe will become unstable is the level-headed soldier who makes it back home. Where he finds the woman Linda (Meryl Streep) both he and Nick have fought over. A Woman who knows she has the attention of two men who hope to return and love her. One to marry (Nick) whilst the other (Michael) to have an affair. There’s real sexual tension between Michael and Linda and at the same time respect for Nick who has yet to return. Throwing into that, Michael is still adjusting to civilian life, something that takes real-time happen. The film gives him that time, we see a changed man, no longer a reckless man who will flip, more thoughtful, but still there is moment when you can see the damage his time in Vietnam have done to him.
There’s a need to reunite the gang who have now been apart for so long, with a maturer Michael he seeks out Steven who appears to have no returned from the war. Only his wife knows where he is, leaving her in a state of constant shock, no longer the happy bride we saw early, now with a child left in the care of the larger family. WE later find him in a veterans home, we are shocked to see he has become one of the many wounded to come home, hiding his shame, unable to the man who Angela may have wanted, we don’t know for sure.
The mission is not complete until Nick is safely back at home, return to Vietnam to find the awol man in what has become one of the most iconic scenes in cinema, and one of the most dramatic changes in characters, transformed from the level headed to the disturbed, now adapted to live on the edge of live on a nightly basis, a form of survival, it could even be said it was an addiction, needing the thrill of being on the edge of life every night, relying on luck to save you.
A tender film that sees a group of friends who are torn apart and brought back together again in ways they did not imagine. Filled with breathtaking scenes and imagery, the world can be a beautiful place, yet within it there are dark places where you can return with new perspectives on life. Even those back home who never went out there feel the pain from those who return. An incredible that shocks you to your core, and brings you to your knees at times. It could be seen as another great film for just De Niro, yet the supporting cast have so much to give, no one is left behind. Something not to be missed.
- The Deer Hunter (1978) (feelthefilms.wordpress.com)
- The Deer Hunter (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
- The Deer Hunter (1978) (filmexperience.blogspot.co.uk)
- THE DEER HUNTER (1978) (everybestpicture.wordpress.com)
- THE DEER HUNTER (Michael Cimino, 1978) (silverferox.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Deer Hunter (1978) (keeleysmovies.blogspot.co.uk)
- FILM REVIEW: The Deer Hunter (1978) (threemenonablog.blogspot.co.uk)
- Movie of the Day: The Deer Hunter (1978) (theessentialfilms.blogspot.co.uk)