Dead Mann Running

jeric1

I was all set to see something called KAFKA’S THE BURROW, but first I saw BRAND NEW-U, a new science fiction arthouse thriller thing, which rather exhausted my will to live — not bad, exactly, but devoid of tension, which made it tiring. I wasn’t sure I could face Kafka after that, so I did a ticket swap and opted for THE JERICHO MILE, an early Michael Mann TV movie released in UK cinemas in 1979 and screened at Edinburgh as part of the retrospective of vintage TV movies. I figured that even though I usually don’t like Michael Mann, this would at least by basically engaging.

(My Michael Mann history: walked out of THIEF at school film society, aged 17 — been meaning to give it another try. I think THE KEEP tricked me into staying for the whole thing but then I felt cheated. Like quite a bit of MANHUNTER but it goes utterly wrong in the last third. THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS screws up its story and makes the wrong call on every single photographic decision. HEAT is extremely silly, the more so for being so serious. THE INSIDER has an appalling soundtrack assembled apparently at random. ALI is quite watchable but doesn’t quite add up. Skipped a couple, and then PUBLIC ENEMIES is a snooze.)

jeric8

Answering his critics.

But THE JERICHO MILE is now my favourite Michael Mann film. I could be all backhanded about it and argue that the stylistic constraints of the television format kept Mann from making erratic stylistic choices of the kind he loves, but actually by filming in Folsom with real inmates as supporting cast, he’s pushing the boat out about as far as any network would allow. His big stylistic idea this time is to interweave documentary footage into the melodrama, and it works like a charm. The movie looks and feels like a proper product of 70s New Hollywood, except the inmates don’t swear. And this doesn’t seem to matter — although the proceedings do get corny in places, quite a few places in fact, the story is compelling and the performances are mostly very fine — we get Brian Dennehy and Geoffrey Lewis and Ed Lauter and in the lead, Peter Strauss is excellent.

Strauss plays a man doing life for shooting his father (multiple times — but with extreme provocation). It turns out he can run a four-minute mile, and the prison authorities bend over backwards to get him to the Olympics. I hate films about sporting activity. Sporting activity is the worst kind of activity there is. But like all good sport films, this isn’t really about sport. The possibility of an inmate succeeding in something energizes and ultimately unites the prison populace, and then the straight world steps in to shut this down. The movie can’t allow itself to be quite as depressing as that sounds, but it still makes its point. And I like films with grim messages that don’t actually depress.

jeric2

Geoffrey Lewis turned up again after I’d seen part of MAGGIE (Arnold Schwartzenegger has a zombie daughter) — the 11pm film was SALEM’S LOT, in the chopped-down theatrical release version, which doesn’t entirely make sense but goes like a train. Lewis is magnificently creepy, as is everyone who gets vampirized. Found myself intrigued by David Soul’s acting — very much School of Shatner, which is both good and bad, I dug how SCARED Soul looks at the climax. Reggie Nalder, of course, is a brilliant living special effect, wearing more makeup than he actually needed. James Mason is delightful, especially sharing a scene with Kenneth McMillan. When Humbert met Harkonnen.

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This must be the gayest Stephen King adaptation ever. Most movies exist in order to partner up the hero and heroine — this one disposes of the heroine (a lovely, if bony, Bonnie Bedelia) offscreen (in this cut) so David Soul can drive off with a teenage boy. A teenage boy escapologst who keeps urging his dad to tie him up. And the whole plot is kickstarted by the arrival in a small town of two antiques dealers, Mason and his “partner” Nalder, who cause a plague of unusualness to strike down the citizenry. Mason flaunting his Very Queer Gentleman status in front of a baffled McMillan is a treat. There are no Chris Lee type scenes of vampiric male-female seduction, but lots of man-on-man and boy-on-boy action.

There was plenty of evidence that straight-up traditional vampires in a modern setting can’t be made to work — David Soul making a crucifix out of tongue depressors streteches the concept as far as it can safely go. But there was also surprising evidence that vampires are hardier creatures than you might think, despite their vulnerability to light, running water, wood, cruciform structures, garlic and rational analysis — a set of allergies that ought to land them all in oxygen tents.

Every scare came with its own bad laugh, but Tobe Hooper clearly knew how to SOME stuff really well, so that there were more alarming moments and stylish scenes that were ever the case in other US shows. A man jumping out to surprise David Soul in his bedroom made Fiona squeak in terror. She reports that when this screened in the UK in 1980, kids at her school were so freaked they took to wearing crosses round their necks.

Now we have to watch the full-length version to find out what the hell happened to Bonnie Bedelia.

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I’m pretty sure whatever it was, wasn’t good.

 

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22 Responses to “Dead Mann Running”

  1. You walked out of Thief? Not in the middle of one of Tuesday Weld’s scenes I trust!

    Mann is wildly uneven — a mixture of the tasteful and the bland (especially the movie of Miami Vice) But he knows quite a lot about effective commercial filmmaking. I find that Heat works rather well and that you underrate The Insider severely. Getting Russell Crow to clam down. Plus I quite like The Last of the Mohicans which among other things contains a superb supporting performance by my personal God, Patrice Chereau (aka. the greatest director the world of theater, opera and cinema has ever known.)

  2. I was a teenager — I dont think I even knew TW was in it.

    Mohicans was a relatively early example of that regrettable modern phenomenon, the incoherent fight scene. Plus it cut down the Indian characters to the point that the ending no longer registered.

    Heat is all about professionalism, but the characters keep acting in a silly way. Like when DeNiro tries to kill a man in a parking lot, is interrupting by a patrol car, and when he looks down at the ground again after standing there trying to look innocent, his opponent has crawled off.

    Agree that suppressing Crowe is an achievement, but it didn’t take.

  3. I went through a period of trying to like Michael Mann more than I do now. I still value “Manhunter”, if only for giving us Brian Cox’s version of Hannibal Lecter, to whom I look in positive relief from Anthony Hopkins’s comical take on the character. (Have I liked Hopkins in anything I wonder? “Titus” maybe.) “Heat”…definitely less than the sum of its parts. Mann seems to want to flesh out the bones of “L.A. Takedown” by developing some kind of theme about relationships but he doesn’t do a very good job of it. In particular Diane Venora’s character is sketched with so little sympathy–see also “The Insider”–that I rather wonder if Mann likes women very much.

  4. “Heat is all about professionalism, but the characters keep acting in a silly way.”

    Someone says the obvious thing. I remember when “Heat” came out there was a bit of Usenet noise about how McCauley should have been the one who survives the end of the movie because he’s the dispassionate profession. And I’m thinking, what? McCauley makes one dumb mistake after another. I’d almost think it was a deliberate motif except it’s all presented with such po-faced seriousness that I don’t think Mann intended us to think McCauley was incompetent.

  5. Mann never struck me as having a sense of humour. The funny bits, such as they are, may be a case of sly actors slipping them past the goalie. Cox/Lektor: “Would you like to give me your home phone number?”

    But Jericho Mile is REALLY strong, and I would recommend it even to confirmed anti-Mannites.

  6. henryholland666 Says:

    “Sporting activity is the worst kind of activity there is”

    Might want to back off on the hyperbole machine. Worse than genocide? Worse than rape? Worse than Michael Bay being allowed to makes movies?

    Just curious, where does your loathing of sportS come from, were you beaten up by the ruggers/footie/cricket players in school? Sick of how prevalent it is compared to obscure 1920’s b&w comedy films? Both?

  7. Sport is perhaps not quite as bad as genocide, because it is, in itself, not that harmful. But everything connected to it is harmful — the fans, the coverage, the attention paid. Even the incidental health benefits of exercise are in fact harmful, insofar as they may cause incredibly awful people, known as athletes, to live longer.

    I have mild misophonia, or hyperacusis, or something, which basically means that all of the sounds made by sport and by people watching sport are fantastically intolerable to me. Plus, if you grow up in Scotland you discover that soccer is also a conduit for sectarian rivalry.

    Religion is arguably more dangerous than sport, but the noises it makes are nicer.

  8. henryholland666 Says:

    “But everything connected to it is harmful — the fans, the coverage, the attention paid”

    Painting with rather broad strokes there. I’m a huge sports fan –I have a triathlon on my TV in the background– but I also love movies, opera, art, books, theater, the whole “culture” thing. Yes, sports fans can be awful, but so can fans of the “Harry Potter” movies or *shudder* “Star Wars” fans *shudder* or One Direction fans who freak out at the slightest provocation.

    Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the last forty years, but the coverage of movies and TV and the often awful people who work in those ghastly businesses is inescapable here. You know what I see often as I watch a ballgame? Ads for movies that you’d have to pay me large sums of money to go to, the alternative is to change the channel every time one of them appears. On the news feed I use on my computer, items about the movie and TV businesses are a constant, it would be well nigh impossible to avoid it. “coverage” and “attention paid” indeed.

    “they may cause incredibly awful people, known as athletes”

    Really? I could easily type a 10,000 word essay on the “incredibly awful people” who have/do work in the Movie Biz or help support the people who do. David Begelman for just one of hundreds of possible examples, anyone?

    The pedophiles, booze hounds, rapists, drug addicts, greedheads, exploiters, the human flotsam & jetsam in the history of the movie/TV business are legion, and have been since the dawn of the movie industry. At least in sports, most of the awful people have comparatively short shelf lives, in the movie business, they can and have run major movie studios.

    “Plus, if you grow up in Scotland you discover that soccer is also a conduit for sectarian rivalry”

    Oh please, admittedly my first-hand experience of Scotland is limited to the 2 1/2 days I spent in Edinburgh 10 years ago, but you Scots could –and I’m sure have– find reasons for sectarianism in the brand of crisps that someone buys at the off-license. Celtic and Rangers supporters chanting “Protty bastards!” > “Papists!” at each other just happens on a larger scale.

    That’s too bad about the way you react to certain sounds, but how is that sports fault? I’ve met people who can’t listen to music, hell, Talking Heads got the title of a great album out of that. It causes them pain, but should we blame the London Philharmonic for that?

    Thanks for your reply.

  9. Sectarianism is only a low background noise most of the time, and not even that in Edinburgh, but football allows it an airing.

    There are lots of awful people in movies, yes. But some of them make good movies on the side. Even the nicest sportsperson does nothing but run about, or jump, or kick things.

    The problem you have with ads during games (another reason to avoid games) is one I have with sport on the news. Despite being of no actual import, sport is inessantly covered whereas arts are mostly ignored. Usually sport is confined to the last 15 minutes of an hour’s newscast, but it keeps breaking out and taking one by surprise.

    I’m mostly not serious about this. My dislike is real but my reasons have to be trumped up a bit.

  10. henryholland666 Says:

    “But some of them make good movies on the side”

    Wow. “Sorry that a 13-year old girl was drugged and sodomized by a 44-year old man in 1977, but hey, Polanski made ‘Repulsion’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Chinatown’ among other great movies! Oh, and Manson Family”. There was rightly a huge backlash against film makers and people in the French and Polish governments when that sort of stuff was trotted out in 2009 after he was detained in Switzerland.

    “Despite being of no actual import, sport is incessantly covered whereas arts are mostly ignored”

    The arts are just as disposable as sports are, full stop. I love them, but if music and movies and painting ceased to exist at midnight tonight, life would continue. The only real impact is that people who make a living doing something equally as non-essential as sports would be on the dole as they transition to a career as a bricklayer or ditch digger or bus driver.

    Sports is fairly easy to cover and talk about: Chelsea scored more goals than Man City, they now have more wins than Arsenal. How do you succinctly convey the beauty of a Vermeer painting to someone who knows nothing about painting? It’s really hard, I’ve tried, how do you convey that in 5 minutes at the end of a newscast without sounding like some fossilized don from Oxford?

    “Even the nicest sportsperson does nothing but run about, or jump, or kick things”

    And all a director does is act as a traffic cop for people pretending to be someone else. All a painter does is put some paint on a surface, they can paint a canvas black, put a yellow dot in the middle and it’s “art”. All a musician does is plunk some instrument to produce a noise.

    See how easy that is? I don’t take this very seriously either, but I’m bored to fucking tears with both sides: Sports fans (“Why does my tax money go to support that screechy modern opera you listen to?”) and arts patrons (“All athletes and sports fans are one step up from paramecium on the evolutionary scale!”).

  11. When De Niro and Pacino met in Heat I hoped one of them would say “This is getting boring. Let’s swap roles.” and they’d do just that.
    Anyway, who’s going to believe in a Master Criminal named Neil?

  12. Well, our friend Neil McGlone was recently accused of being some kind of master-criminal…

    A mid-movie role swap would have been AMAZING. It would be worth making a whole movie just to do that.

  13. It seems impossible, reading the testimony, that Polanski actually sodomized that girl, but he did confess to statutory rape, yes. And his career does not act as some kind of counter-balance to that. Really the films should be judged by one set of criteria, the life by another.

    So I guess the same applies to sportsmen. It’s just that I don’t put any particular value on what they do professionally, and I think society overvalues it massively.

    My only other thought is they should legalize doping. The test is what a human body can do, regardless of what it had for dinner or what chemicals it imbibed.

    You can’t really get art criticism on the news, I guess, but ypu should be able to talk about significant events in art and literature just as often as sport — but a better principle would be to kick all such non-news events off the news altogether. I’m fine with there being sports channels, but sport doesn’t stay within those reasonable confines, it insists on competing for space with actual world events. “Some men played a game” is NOT NEWS. Especially as they do it every blummin’ weekend.

  14. Until professional sport sorts out the vicious homophobia of its players and fans – I include the internalized homophobia experienced/suffered by sportspeople – I want nothing to do with it. Any of it. The anti-LGBT hostility really is appalling, y’know.

  15. They haven’t sorted out the racism in sports in the UK, which typically is a problem addressed (or “addressed”) ten to twenty years ahead of homophobia… Maybe the current FIFA scandal will lead to some improvements.

  16. henryholland666 Says:

    ” ‘Some men played a game’ is NOT NEWS”

    Neither is the opening gross receipt totals of Marvel’s latest nonsense or the stupid name some C-list actor gave their child or what dress designer created something for an actress to trot out on the red carpet but there we are.

    “Until professional sport sorts out the vicious homophobia of its players and fans – I include the internalized homophobia experienced/suffered by sportspeople – I want nothing to do with it”

    And movie people and the business they’re in aren’t homophobic (especially on the crew side of things) and closeted and self-loathing?!?! BUWHAHAHAHAHA. A friend of mine has been a Hollywood agent since the early 80’s, he’s told me numerous tales of homophobic studio execs, actors, directors (“I’m not hiring that homo for MY action/adventure movie!” stuff), other agents. Entire books have been written about such things.

    Actors have been craven opportunists for ages in terms of being closeted so that they could work because of the vile anti-gay attitudes of studio execs, directors and agents, of entering in to lavender marriages while frolicking around with men in public restrooms, of being more publicly homophobic than anyone else to deflect attention from themselves.

    As for agents, just Google “Henry Willson” for one of many examples. I once coached my agent friend about the basics of baseball and American football because he was so afraid of being pegged as gay by a potential employer.

    As for the blatant racism and noxious misogyny (“Sorry honey, you’re 27, you’re washed up and oh, can you get a boob job to perk up those tits?”) in the movie business, where to start?

  17. This is part of the fact that all human activities are prone to corruption, prejudice, stupidity, cowardice etc.

    Film crews are not, I would think, more prejudiced than anyone else, and a good deal less in my experience. But everything you say about the rot in our culture is quite true. Maybe one reason I prefer older movies, where the mistakes are those of the past.

    I would think a gay person in Hollywood could find more safe people to confide in than a gay sportsman, but that really has nothing to do with my own dislike of sport. It can probably be redued to the fact that all school bullies love sport, and go on loving it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the body and what it can do, but it frequently gets raised above all else.

    The news is obscene anyway — the juxtaposition of trivia and horror is damaging, I think.

  18. henryholland666 Says:

    I’ve loved the back and forth of this, and agree mostly with what you’ve written, but one final nitpick:

    ” It can probably be reduced to the fact that all school bullies love sport, and go on loving it”

    What has bemused me in some of your responses is the utter lack of nuance (“all”) and that’s a perfect example. What you assert is simply not true, school bullies come in all sorts of non-sports loving forms: the math nerd in 9th grade algebra who made my life a hell because I couldn’t grasp it and he was forced to tutor me; the chemistry nerd in high school that I was paired with who almost got me failed and spread lies about me to our classmates because I didn’t share his obsession at all and hated the smells etc. etc.

    In fact, I find bullies who do it physically much easier to deal with than intellectual bullies, of whom I’ve encountered more than a few of in my travels as a movie buff (“What?!?! You can’t do a frame-by-frame analysis of this obscure Hungarian silent film that I love?! PEASANT!!!”), orchestral music fan (“Well, of course that composer/composition/orchestra you like is vastly inferior to the one *I* like, why do you even bother coming to concerts?”) and especially as an opera fan (replace “obscure Hungarian silent film” with “Hungarian soprano from 1912 who only made three recordings”). A good number of those were/are gay men of the dismissive “You don’t read “À la recherche du temps perdu” in French using the original editions? How gauche” type.

    “I would think a gay person in Hollywood could find more safe people to confide in than a gay sportsman”

    Sure, but anti-gay bias in the film business still exists to a degree that makes the inane “But the movie business is SO liberal and open-minded!” canard a joke. It’s telling that there’s more openly gay male pro athletes than there are openly gay male action/superhero movie and romantic comedy leads (= none or at least anyone that I can think of before my first cup of coffee).

    Thanks for the discussion, off to my second attempt to make it all the way through Antonioni’s “Red Desert”.

  19. “…anti-gay bias in the film business still exists… etc ”
    Sadly, yes, the hubby and I live in Hollywood, he works in the industry, the tales he tells of homophobia and hostility in the business are depressing and sometimes startling in their unpleasantness.

  20. The perfection of mankind is extremely slow in coming, isn’t it? But pleasing news from the US this week, I was very cheered by that.

  21. henryholland666 Says:

    Yes, the gay marriage thing is long overdue and good news for my friends Bill & Ramiro, but then there’s the horror of a screwed-up 21 year old who wouldn’t have been out of place in the Confederacy slaughtering 9 people in a church because of the color of their skin.

    As my Dad once said to me “Humans will never change except in tiny, relatively unimportant ways”. When he said that to me as a teenager, I thought he was being utterly cynical and defeatist, but as a 55 year old, I couldn’t agree with him more. Oh well, our robot overlords will have thoroughly subjugated us miserable humans in about 100 years, so there’s that.

    BTW, I never made it to “Red Desert”, I watched three of the entries in TCM’s ongoing Film Noir series instead:

    “The Woman On The Beach” (1947): I liked it, but I wasn’t surprised to find out that this was mutilated by RKO, it was one of the factors that made Jean Renoir leave Hollywood. As someone at IMDb noted “There’s not a lot of Directors Cuts for movies made in 1947”.

    “The Mask of Dimitrios” (1944): Loved this, but then I’m a big Lorre and Greenstreet fan. Nice twisty plot, some great atmospheric camerawork/cinematography and a terrific ending.

    “Berlin Express” (1948): I was utterly baffled why this dull, plodding, preachy nonsense was considered film-noir, but at least it’s got one virtue, it helped preserved for history what piles of rubble Frankfurt and Berlin were after the war.

  22. Lorre in The Mask of Dimitrios: “He was a nice man! Well, he wasn’t a nice man, but he was my friend…”
    Berlin Express is a huge disappointment from Tourneur. I only like the one-legged man who goes by in the final shot. A short while later, Tourneur’s father lost a leg in a traffic accident.

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