I probably started the wrong way around when it comes to Paul Verhoeven and his work, for most people he begins with Robocop (1987) a film that really is a key piece of modern cinema, that blends sci-fi and blockbuster, allowing two audiences can get a hell of a lot out of the otherwise ultra-violent film that can be seen to go to far. Violence I have learnt is really only effective when cranked up with some discussion behind it. You really do see what happens when a round of bullets comes your way. It’s over the top and caricatures that shows probably more than we see in reality, heightened to grab out attention, to see what violence really could do to an individual wreak havoc on society. Something that is sadly becoming more of a reality on the streets of America. Gun violence is sadly seen to be more prevalent.
You could say that Robocop is quite prophetic in its vision of a bleak violent future that holds the city of Detroit in fear. The police force are ready to strike at the lack of real defense against the criminals that run wild. With Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) a known cop-killer on the loose, the cities most wanted man adding another cop to his every week. Whilst up above in corporate 1980’s America a new weapon in the name of public safety is being unveiled to a select few, a clunky two legged gun totting robot is still needing some adjustments before being rolled out. Violence to fight violence, there is no middle ground, enough fire-power and no room for maneuvering when it comes to law enforcement. Another method is soon proposed that can bring together man and machine.
On the streets we meet newly transfer Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) wide eyed, eager and not afraid to fight crime. Once he’s met his new partner Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) who had recently lost her last partner to Boddicker. They meet once more when the hungry new transfer is in pursuit, ready to make arrest. Aware that he’s out-numbered, he’s facing the very man whose killed many of his profession before. There’s a sense of revenge in the air, mixed with wanting to be a hero. Which backfires incredibly badly for him, shot to pieces and left for a dead, another cop killed on duty.
We leave the standard third person point of view to become Murphy as he is brought into hospital where they fail to revive him, its curtains for the once eager cop. Before wake up in the future behind the lens of a camera, our perception’s altered as we become the centre of attention. Discussion of technology, entering another world of great change and the unknown what is to come. Of course we all know, this is the transformation, the meeting of man and machine and the law into one being, a being that has three directive purpose to serve the public, to protect the innocent and uphold the law. A walking machine that at first has people in awe at the spectacle that is bringing down the crime-rate in Detroit single-handedly. His presence alone puts fear in the criminal and hope into the victim.
Whilst up above in the corporation that created him a war is brewing between Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and his technology rival Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), things get dirty and quick as the plot thickens. Living in a world of luxury of indulgence mixed with copious amounts of power that looms ahead for either of them. It’s all hammy and dangerously fun when you look at his today, as they fight for the top job, it has to end badly for one of them with another twist that show just how corrupt this corporation can be.
Robocop is not only a walking talking prototype but also a pawn in a game that allows progress to move forward. Without considering the consequences of the coming together of so machine with man. Incredible to look at even today the costume has become iconic, the clunky design that packs quite a lot of fire-power too. We can easily forget that a man is inside all of that circuitry and armour that allows the law to be enforced without emotion of human memory. Which really is what Murphy is missing as the machine becomes more self-aware, his biology fights the technology to regain his independence his humanity which as we see uses as the real weapon as the film comes to it’s conclusion.
It becomes overblown, literally as the Robocop understands more about himself, his purposes and situation and future position in life and society. Boddicker is another pawn of the corporation that uses him to bring down, its becomes human against human when the machines ultimately fail, humanity is far stronger than any machine that we can produce. So how do we fight crime then? that’s the real question of this film how do you enforce the law and lengths do you go to. This is why Robocop stands the test of time more so today than ever before.
- CULT MOVIE MUSINGS: The Satirical & Social Politics of RoboCop (1987) (reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.co.uk)
- Robocop (1987) – Promoting the Militarization of Police (1phil4everyill.wordpress.com)
With a very distinctive visual style and portrayal of violence, I knew I was in for something both beautiful and gloriously violent. That’s not to say that Sam Peckinpah enjoyed violence for which he will always be remembered for, in fact it was quite the opposite, hating it with a passion. Increasing the volume greatly from The Wild Bunch (1969) which can seem tame in comparison to the much later Cross of Iron (1977) on the Nazi battlefield in Russia.
It’s very rare that we actually sympathise with a German soldier, something I have only done twice before; All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Das Boot (1981). Again it doesn’t really matter what side these soldiers are on, seen more as men in the midst of a war they are loosing. Focusing on their dynamics rather than the politics of the conflict as the began their retreat from Russia in 1943. The main conflict is between the decorated and rebellious Rolf Stiener (James Coburn) and the Prussian Captain Hauptmann (Maximilian Schell) who wants the Iron Cross medal, an iconic and sought after piece in the Third Reich. A personal fight for glory is being waged between two men. A clash of class ideals is going on between these influential men on the Russian front.
The opening titles of this film are fascinating, matched to a frantic succession of images that depict the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi army, as if they are playing a game, just children taking over the playground. Tinged with cynicism of the weary soldier characterised by Coburn who gas grown to hate all that is about the war and probably Germany. Still he carries out his orders and looks out for his men throughout. Even pitying a young prisoner they find, not having the heart to kill a boy in uniform, which would amount to murder not a legal killing in his and the mens eyes.
Theres a battle within the structure of command, between the colonel Oberst (James Mason) and his assistant Captain Hauptmann (David Warner). Both weary of the war, knowing they have all but lost, wondering when they will surrender. Warner plays a depressed captain whose hopes have been all but lost to the ravages of war, whilst the colonel is holding together his command. Handling a glory hungry upper-class Prussian who will stop at nothing in gaining the Iron Cross, unable to return to his family without one.
A lot of subject matter is discussed here, from the ethics of prisoner treatment to the glory of fighting, philosophy of the individual. By no means is this just a find the enemy and shooter dead kind of a film. It’s both intelligent and thought-provoking as we see the injured soldier, how they are treated by the higher ranks, the mental stresses of war, dramatically seen in slow-motion flashbacks. Whichever side of war you are on, it’s never easy for the simple soldier out there fighting. Who can lose that sense of purpose, killing, running and following orders that lose all meaning with all the death and destruction around them.
The violence found within The Wild Bunch was for its time controversial, by the time of Cross of Iron we had grown used to it all. The very setting of the latter film delivers us more studies of death as they slowed down to not enjoy but be horrified by. Cinematically we see a life coming to an end in far more than a flash of an explosion or a round of bullets piercing flesh and blood. Being forced to see such brutality makes death a spectacle to watch in awe. It’s just a trick, whilst in reality it’s anything but. This heightened experience of war makes it more real and at the same time hype real, what is over in a second we now see for 10 seconds.
It’s ultimately about two men at logger heads, at either end of the social spectrum placed into a world that a power struggle. No one really wins as we leave them when the Russians once more advance. I’m cheering for no one at this point, drained by all the violence that has been spewing out of the screen. All the tired men just trying to live another day as best they can. Isn’t that we are all trying to do, get through the day the best we can, making the most of what we have? Ok maybe a bit extreme there, I’m not in a war zone not knowing if I’ll be alive by the end of the day. For me I’ve just discovered a hidden gem of Peckinpah’s that deserves more praise than it receives, understanding his subject matter, always following the underdog at his demise, just what he does best.
- Film Review: Cross of Iron, 1977: Directed by Sam Peckinpah starring James Coburn & Maximilian Schell
- Cross of Iron (misterneil.blogspot.co.uk)
- 0032 Cross of Iron (popcornnights.wordpress.com)
- #64 – CROSS OF IRON (warmoviebuff.blogspot.co.uk)
- Cross of Iron (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- Cross of Iron: Short of Greatness (swordofelysium.wordpress.com)
- Slow Motion in Sam Pekinpah’s Cross of Iron (ardfilmjournal.wordpress.com)
- World War II Marathon: Cross of Iron (1977) (billsmovieemporium.wordpress.com)
Once again in anticipation of seeing Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) I caught this controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) based not biblical texts but the book by Nikos Kazantzakis which Scorsese was given years before he was finally allowed to make the film, made on a shoe string budget and released in advance due to the publicity it was receiving. Throughout the film I had to remind myself this is not based on the bible, where most people gain an understand if the last days of Jesus Christ, something even then is fuzzy after leaving primary school nearly 15 years ago.
Putting that all aside I did enjoy this take on the events leading up to his sacrifice on the cross. It feels more than Christ’s (Willem Dafoe) final days. Meeting him in adulthood, a carpenter making crucifixes for the Roman Empire who occupy Israel, a man conflicted and tortured by the voices inside him. And in contact with Judas (Harvey Keitel) who pity’s him for working to kill his fellow-man. He is indeed not the man who we would find in the New Testament. Instead he is a very modern man complete with his own set of troubles to deal with. adding flesh to the bones of a man who can only be found in one source (coming from an atheist for those who maybe reading this and may take offence. I have never read the bible so my knowledge is limited to my education and personal experiences) This new side to the son of God maybe seen as more engaging to the non-Christian who may read the Kazantzakis text. On finding this flawed man who is disillusioned who is unaware of his higher purpose wants to find peace within himself which leads him to the his child hood friend Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) who is a prostitute (I can see how Christians took offence there) to beg for her forgiveness, something she wont easily give him after spending a day in her company, looking on with the rest of the men who came.
However when he seeks more spiritual help he starts to become the man and the son of God that Christians love starts to surface more. It’s this time there that he discovers his own powers, needing then to return where he begins to spread the word of god, first as love at a stoning. One of the first violent scenes, which again were criticised which I feel unjust as this period in history was violent under Roman rule. Also being a Scorsese film violence is more or less a given. The inclusion of violence is to say, it happened, you can not deny that so why hide a stoning or a killing. We also meet up again with Judas who was sent to kill Jesus, who before was willing to give himself up without a fight. Something that Judas will not accept lightly. When he is told that Jesus maybe the messiah a change of heart and an air trust between them forms. A bond that wont easily be broken.
This really the beginning of the Jesus that we know, from the New Testament, all crammed into this film, having his own revelations in adult hood, unaware of his higher purpose for the Jews. We see all manner of miracles, they are simple tricks of the camera, made on a small budget, which reflects the period, nothing of great spectacle, we see the miracles performed with clever editing, nothing really happens before your eyes, except Jesus taking out his own heart which was disturbing to watch. We also see the growth of his following and disciples who follow him over the rest of the film.
His message changes over the course of the film, which doesn’t go unnoticed by his disciples who questions his motivations. Starting out as love for one another to violence in a chapel. Another reason for controversy which I can understand, always taking the characters back to the original text, which never really deviates from love. However being a modern source material and take on the original, new ideas will emerge. These maybe modern interpretations of actions found in the original.
The build-up to the inevitable crucifixion takes its time, and rightly so, those scenes are tough to watch. Yet the last act is the most confusing, considering I kept reminding myself this was from the Bible. When an angel removes Jesus from the cross, away from the pain and ultimately his destiny, which again could easily cause controversy. Cast as a blonde British girl (Juliette Caton) who stays with him to the end of his natural life. But not before we hear the word of Jesus being spoken by the man who was healed from blindness talks of how Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross. The idea that a version of the truth has become fact and far more important than the truth, now distorted in our and Jesus view as the film progressed.
Maybe this is what Kazantzakis‘s text is trying to say that even with the gospel truth another version may come out of that and become more powerful. We must be aware of what we read and understand, questioning all the time to be aware of what is truth and lies. Scorsese has understood this, giving us his version of another truth. Being catholic himself this is big chance to take which for the most part pays off, we have another version, modern for its time. With the twist at the end, we know the real truth and the fiction, an important element of the film. As long as the main ideals and beliefs of the faith are in-tact then isn’t there truth in the end?
- #70: The Last Temptation of Christ (criterioncollection.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Battle Between Spirit and Flesh: Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (kubrickontheguillotine.com)
- A Theological Critique of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (stephenlawson.wordpress.com)
- Episode 107: The Last Temptation of Christ (projection-booth.blogspot.co.uk)
- Jesus’ Portrayal in Film and The Last Temptation of Christ (reelantagonist.wordpress.com)
- The Last Temptation of Christ (eightiesmovies.wordpress.com)
- Last Temptation of Christ (1988) (biblefilms.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) (benswithen.blogspot.co.uk)