Slow Talk & Fast Driving

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I’d never seen THE DRIVER but was just coming around to the idea of Walter Hill, after appreciating HARD TIMES, but I couldn’t quite get along with this one. If Bruce Dern is so wired — as he clearly is — why is he talking so slow? And if Ryan O’Neal is such a tough guy, why does he look like a scared little boy except when he puts his sunglasses on? I guess that’s physiognomy rather than performance, essence rather than attitude.

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The idea of making a self-consciously Melvillean, existential crime thriller (none of the characters have names) is ambitious, but even Melville sometimes had trouble carrying off the weighty approach to crime drama, and I think pulp dialogue sounds better fast, and you need the right actors. All the leads here are slightly off, and Ronee Blakely just can’t do the role. Hill reportedly wrote all-male scripts whenever possible, and then just gender-switched one or two without changing the dialogue — this worked for his rewrite of ALIEN, and it could have worked here, but Blakely is too warm to play a Melvillean professional. She can never be all business.

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I was amused by the Hollywood conceit that a getaway driver would have an agent who sets up his jobs — maybe it’s even true. Nothing felt particularly authentic, though, it felt like other movies. Which is fine, but Melville at his best seems to be about something more than movies — probably what he’s about is his Resistance experience, which is why ARMY OF SHADOWS is so much deeper than LE SAMURAI, as stylish and impressive as that film is.

This isn’t as silly as DRIVE, at least, a movie which was equally slick and equally self-serious. But characters keep doing daft things — sometimes these things work for them, implausibly, which doesn’t make it OK. As with HEAT, I get frustrated when a movie deals with characters who are supposed to be incredible professionals, experts in their field, and they keep doing silly things.

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The stunts are good. I think, in fairness, the experience suffered a lot by the print having faded — it was pinkish, with milky blacks, a fatal condition for a movie seemingly based on crunchy shadows and neon and flourescent greens.

THE WARRIORS, by contrast, screened on DCP and looked great. A great 35mm print would have been even better (as with THE JERICHO MILE and SALEM’S LOT) but the vibrancy of the images was nothing to sneeze at. You did need a hankie, though, because the performances and dialogue were sneeze-worthy much of the time.

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The Lambada Meinhoff Gang.

“A film for 14-year-old boys,” was Fiona’s not unsympathetic verdict. The plot — a complete fantasy of street life crossbred with Xenophon’s Anabasis, is all engine, with characterisation something snatched up randomly on the way. Women are present as potential rape victims (something Hill has the taste to avoid showing overtly). This nonsense was taken seriously in both the US and UK as something which might INSPIRE CRIME — and it does make hitting somebody with a bat look enjoyable and rewarding, so I guess for the very dumb it could be problematic. I would still blame the actual person with the actual bat, though, rather than the patterns of light on a screen and the sounds emanating from speakers.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be so camp,” Fiona also observed. Hill, apparently unaware of every possible signifier of homoeroticism, has made a flamboyantly queer odyssey, with costumes, performances and dialogue all reinforcing the man-on-man vibe. While the characters frequently repudiate each other for “turning faggot,” all their threats, insults and figures of speech revolve around sodomy, including a memorable offer to shove a baseball bat up a man’s rectum to transform him into a popsicle. Nice.

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The Badder Mime-Hoff Gang.

The lead gang has a nice interracial mix, in defiance of all realism, though most of the rest are ethnically divided. We particularly liked the tough mime gang (silent but deadly) and the guys clad in dungarees with a roller skating scout. The gangs all have names like “the Riffs” and “the Electric Eliminators.” There are a LOT of gangs. I speculate that some of the other names include ~

The Sobbing Godfreys. The Jewish Mothers. The Piccolos. The Munchers. The Traveling Wilburys. The Bathmats. The Venerable Scones. The Black Krankies. The Goofies. The Laughing Pepperpots. The Pummelers. The Hairy Fauves. The Munchkins. The Astral Tucans. The Coughdrops. The Corrs. The Knights of The Iguana. The Erik Estrada All-Stars. The Gardeners. The Joysticks. The Joss Sticks. The Joss Acklands. The Emotional Cosmetologists. The Bunsen-Honeydews. The Windolenes. The Avaricious Pandas. The Nasty Boys. The Sweaty Poppinjays. The Miami Dolphins. The Shrove Tuesdays. The Gelfs. The Muffintops. The Wheedlers. The Men of Harlech. The Pooh Sticks. The Roaring Calhouns. The Toffee Apples. The Bodysnatchers. The Bandersnatches. The Cumberbatches.

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The Ho Chi Min-Hoff Gang.

In both movies, Hill has a cut revealing that twenty-to-a-hundred extras have entered the scene with malicious intent without being notices, in a few seconds while a character’s back was turned. In neither film does this work, exactly. Although it gets a laugh, so maybe…

I was pondering Hill’s weakness for wipes, and remembered that Kurosawa had a weakness for wipes too (but he grew out of it). The end of THE WARRIORS follows the end of YOJIMBO rather closely. Poor YOJIMBO, hasn’t it been plundered enough? (Apparently not: Hill was still to make LAST MAN STANDING.)

STOP PRESS — after these enjoyable follies, we ran into THE LONG RIDERS, and THAT one is seriously excellent. More on it later.

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12 Responses to “Slow Talk & Fast Driving”

  1. Hill’s major problem is the simple fact that Ryan O’Neal is not Alain Delon.

    Meanwhile, off-topic Mad About The Boys

  2. Always interested in your take, David. Sometimes your status as a Scot looms big. We’re roughly the same age — and in America THE WARRIORS just blew this 13-year-old’s mind when it came out. I can’t see it as “camp.” Then again, maybe national origin has nothing to do with the movie’s appeal — might be that growing up in New Jersey had more to do with its power over me and my friends. We thought: “That’s what New York is like? When can we go live there??!!” It will always be a realist film to me.

  3. I didn’t see it until last night, so I’m using very different eyes (more bleary and world-weary). At 14 I wouldn’t have been able to read the campery either.

    My status as a Scot? It’s not a status, it’s an affliction!

  4. John Seal Says:

    You left out one gang: The Armitage Shanks. They’re from Flushing, NY.

  5. Hey, I’m from Flushing and I’m no Shank!

  6. The Sobbing Godfreys?
    Sounds about right.

  7. Nothing personal! It’s a great name because it comes on epic and then sort of whispers off into silence.

    Flushing is also home to the Flushing Queens, the Toilet Chain Gang, the Glory Hos, the Viking Urinals and the Gents.

  8. Can! You! DIG IIIIIT?

  9. Warriooors, come out to plaaaayyy!

  10. Fiona W Says:

    On Facebook, I suggested The Pedunculated Fibroids but no-one noticed or cared to comment. Perhaps they were revolted or just entirely ignorant of ‘lady parts’ humor. They’re a particularly nasty gang, The Pedunculated Fibroids.

  11. The Sobbing Godfreys ;”… it comes on epic and then sort of whispers off into silence… ”
    Again, sounds about right. We obviously *have* met.

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