Another day, another bad John Frankenheimer movie. But he directs the shit out of all of them, I have to say — total commitment.

YEAR OF THE GUN. A film about Italy’s Red Brigade, made from an American perspective with a British screenwriter and producer seems an odd proposition, especially in 1991. The film is set in 1978 but is petrified of seeming like a period movie — the seventies didn’t come back into style until the late nineties so there are lots of students with short hair in this. The only obvious attempt at evoking period is to have the protags take shelter in a cinema showing STAR WARS — composer Bill Conti, he of the cheesy synths, attempts a tinny paraphrase of John Williams in the lobby, which is hilarious.


The British input may account for the hero’s lack of heroism — harking back to Graham Greene, we like our American heroes baffled and impotent. But Holly Martins in THE THIRD MAN is also funny and sweet. Here we have Andrew McCarthy, whose character isn’t dumb like Holly, but isn’t endearing either. McCarthy doesn’t burn with screen charisma, and looks like a baby potato, but may be underrated as an actor — he does extremely good outrage. He just doesn’t pull us in, and the script gives us no reason to care  — we have to wait for Sharon Stone to turn up, which takes ages, and then things do get a bit more exciting. Seeing this, I wonder she didn’t really get noticed earlier. Frankenheimer responds to her ferocity.

No dutch tilts in this one, but some extreme deep focus and wide angle lenses and slomo and a lot of sweeping camera moves. None of which redeems the lacklustre and unfocused narrative — I don’t think the script is underdeveloped, I suspect it’s been overcooked with too many notes and rewrites. The sex scenes are awful — Frankenheimer applies himself with gusto, but they have no plot role to serve, they’re like the potter’s wheel interludes on old TV, only with tits.

Frankenheimer movies either end with violence — like, BANG! bad guy dead The End — or they end with television. Like a man obsessed, Frankenheimer couldn’t help returning to his first medium, which he had been forced out of by James T Aubrey. This one has Dick Cavett turn up at the end to interview the protagonists, a pointless and distracting bit of gimmickry, accompanied by Frankenheimer’s favourite device, the frame-within-a-drame TV set…


Close in on TV screen. Static. Everything always comes back to white noise with Frankenheimer — the roar of emptiness.


7 Responses to “Static”

  1. Second time within a week there’s a reference here to James t. Aubrey, apropos of next-to-nothing. Very ominous.

  2. It was looking him up last time that caused me to realize that he pushed JF out of TV, so I had to get that into this piece!

  3. I looked him up too, but it was a mistake. You don’t want to give Aubrey even that much space in your head. You know the X-Files episode where every TV screen or digital display William Sanderson sees spells out “KILL ‘EM ALL” and “DO IT NOW”? And we never find out what entity is behind it. But Occam’s Razor says it’s the same entity that pushed Frankenheimer out of television.

  4. Since I read the trades, this tidbit: After the financial debacle of Cleopatra and the aftermath of Skouras being deposed, 20th Century-Fox offered the studio head job to Aubrey. I can’t imagine the sort of films he would have greenlighted.

  5. Yikes! Fox dodged a bullet.

    I wonder how big a role Aubrey had in the ruination of American TV — when you look at the best stuff of the early sixties and then see how bad things got…

  6. So just what is the story about Aubrey and Frankenheimer?

  7. Via Wikipedia: ‘John Frankenheimer, critically acclaimed as the number one director of live TV dramas during the 1950s, was shown the exit door by Aubrey in 1960. Frankenheimer was forced to find a new career as a movie director (for which he is now arguably best known), although he had wanted to continue in television. In 1996, during a personal appearance at the Museum of Television & Radio, Frankenheimer described Aubrey as “a barbarian.”‘

    There’s obviously more to it, but that’s all I know.

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