Archive for January 25, 2020

A Matter of Life and Depth

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , on January 25, 2020 by dcairns

Fiona’s always intended to see Wolfgang Petersen’s DAS BOOT but somehow never got around to it. She’s not to keen on confined spaces, water, watery graves or icy death, so I reckon she had to steel herself a bit. Thirty-eight-odd years after the film was made, she felt more or less ready, so we popped it in the Panasonic and for the next two and a half hours her face was a horrified rictus.

It’s still far and away the best things WP has made — now, I haven’t seen the full WP filmography, but would it be fair to say that apart from IN THE LINE OF FIRE he hasn’t made anything remotely defensible? I wonder what his early stuff’s like.

We were reminded that the film was sitting there unwatched when a friend mentioned it and remarked on the crappy music and special effects. I had totally forgotten this aspect of it. In fact, I had a fairly specific memory of the very beginning and the very end, and in between just a general, but very sensorial impression of crawl-out-of-your-skin claustrophobia and creaking bulkheads that want to kill us all.

The special effects are, in fact, sort of adequate: everything underwater is kind of OK (no giant bubbles the size of weather balloons), the stylised depth charges are pretty cool actually, the process shots of Jurgen Prochnow and his chum up top are unconvincing but we just went with it, and there are some periscope views and other stuff that fall short of what’s needed.

The music is a different problem: composer Klaus Doldinger has furnished a stirring main theme, which we hear a lot. Maybe TOO stirring? One of the film’s interesting discomforts is the way it makes you root for the wrong side, kind of, but to do this just by putting the audience in their position is OK, but actively manipulating us with a romantic naval-martial score is pushing it a bit. It’s also cheap and synthy in its execution, something that never works. Despite the film being set in the forties, an actual shameless synth score could have worked — think DARK STAR — since we spend so much time in an artificial, dieselpunk environment. But synths trying to sound like orchestras never work, as I’ve learned to my cost in the world of no-budget short films.

The miracle is how little this all matters, since Petersen’s big choice, to eschew flyaway walls and treat the U-boat as a real location, or even a huge, film-engulfing prop, makes everything so solid and real and tactile, and the rushing shots that race the length of the ship, Jost Vacano’s camera operator risking a fractured skull at every hatch, somehow never get tired. And, having just endured 1917, I admired the way Petersen just cuts when he feels like it, even breaking up what were evidently sustained single-takes, short inserts dropped in as required. No long-take fetish, but I can see why David Lynch picked up the captain for DUNE — he must have loved the hissing, dripping, pinging industrial hell of this environment.

DAS BOOT stars Duke Leto Atreides; Robert Schumann; Faber; K, the psychopath; Fritz Knobel; and Guy of Gisbourne.