Archive for the Politics Category

The Best Lack All Conviction

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2018 by dcairns

When John Boorman’s THE GENERAL first came out, I declined to see it, mainly on account of it title, which I regarded as the property of Buster Keaton. One could argue that Boorman’s film, a biopic of a real man who was really nicknamed “the general,” has a stronger claim on the name than Keaton’s, but Keaton was first. And when a film regularly turns up in top tens, I think it’s disrespectful to reuse the title. There’s too much ignoring of film history going on as it is.It’s an engaging film, though. Brendan Gleeson gives one of his most winning performances — he appears to delight in making characters seductive who just shouldn’t be. Jon Voight startles with an Irish accent that sounded pretty convincing to me though I’m no expert. Though not as beautiful as POINT BLANK or DELIVERANCE — or CATCH US IF YOU CAN, the director’ last b&w film, the movie looks good, and the director seems fully engaged in what he’s doing, which I haven’t always felt was the case in e.g. THE TAILOR OF PANAMA. I recall hearing that the film was shot in colour and Boorman decided on b&w in post — the scenes where that really pays off are the claustrophobic, noir jail cell scenes.

And it’s another of Boorman’s Owl Creek Bridge occurrences — he talks, in Michel Ciment’s august career overview, about several of his films perhaps flashing through their protagonists’ minds at the moment of death. POINT BLANK is the key one, I think, for that. But THE GENERAL actually starts with the character’s for-real demise (though Boorman omits to show that Martin Cahill wa returning a VHS tape of DELTA FORCE 3 to the video store when he was shot — apparently he can celebrate the life of a gangster but not an aficionado of shit movies) and then goes into reverse, enveloping the biopic within the moment of doom.

Crime movies have always been in love with their criminals… the difficulties arise when they lose perspective altogether, or when they fail to make us feel enough of their own starstruck admiration for the godfathers and gunmen. Cahill is portrayed as both a charming rogue and a dangerous psychopath — he’s entirely transactional in his relations with the world, amoral to the core but able to feel fully justified in any action that benefits him. And glib with it, so he can come up with reasons if called upon to do so. This all makes him unpredictable and wildly entertaining, but fortunately we’re not called upon to wholly admire the bastard. Though we might suspect Boorman does, a little too much. The real Cahill burgled Boorman’s house and stole the gold disc he got for Duelling Banjos (a moment recreated onscreen) and Boorman was apparently more amused than angered.Inviting us to share the character’s world is fine. I don’t think Cahill’s use of a car bomb to attempt to murder a forensics specialist, and torture against a suspected traitor (crucifying him on a pool table) — the techniques of terrorism applied in a purely self-serving way — are meant to be admired. (Although Boorman is WEIRD – he may find Cahill “commendably uncivilized,” like Zed in ZARDOZ.) My only real objection is to the film’s music. Firstly, because I find it poor quality as music, cheap-sounding and cheesy (opinions may differ), but secondly, because it dramatizes everything the way Cahill would want it, and with the sensibility of a true DELTA FORCE fan. When he’s shot, the music is sad. When he does a heist, the music is exciting. There’s no irony, just a mediocre stab at emotional enhancement. We can watch Boorman’s filming of Boorman’s script and not see it as endorsing this vicious bandit. But whenever the music comments on the action, it totally tips the balance.

Other than that, though, yeah, it’s a compelling Boorman. You can’t look away. Not sure how it fits in with his other works. Makes me want to see his second film with Gleeson, THE TIGER’S TAIL.

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There’s glory for you

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2018 by dcairns

I have a goddamn cold, with accompanying lung-ructions so body-racking that I may have to forgo my scheduled trip to Glasgow tomorrow to see Joe Dante’s THE MOVIE ORGY, a prospect that vexes me even more than the sniffles, consumption and sweats.

By co-inky-dink I pursued a Borzage project by watching NO GREATER GLORY (1934), in which a small boy’s zealous pursuit of gang warfare (the cute, rough-and-tumble kind, not the nasty, switch-blade and chains kind) results in him contracting pneumonia. Borzage is often weird, and this anti-war parable or-is-it? is a fine example. The boy’s life-threatening condition introduces the other kids to the real stakes of warfare, but at the same time allows him to demonstrate pluck and grit and schoolboy honour, which the film appears to value just as fervently as its young heroes.

George P. Breakston is the main kid. He went on to co-direct THE MANSTER, which I suppose I have to rewatch now in search of Borzagean influence.

Good use of Frankie Darro’s haunted mug (top), as he morphs from strutting bully/fascist to hollow-eyed witness of tragedy. Great, almost purely physiognomic work: when he plays mean, you hate his ugly face and can’t see him as anything other than villainous. When he plays sad, you think, “What a great tragic face he has.”

There’s also some wild rear-projection used for pedestrian action, something of a Borzage feature at this time (see also MAN’S CASTLE). Here, little Georgie towers over an approaching motorcyclist in a background presumably intended for an adult star.

Based on a Ferenc Molnar autobiographical novel (they were running out of his plays?), this is one of those countless thirties films set in Hungary for no discernible reason, so Borazage unspools some scenic Budapest footage behind his actors. Capra associate Jo Swerling wrote the script (we’re at Columbia).

I’m not sure if this is first-rate Borzage, but maybe I’m just too packed with phlegm to appreciate it fully. But he’s certainly fully engaged, shooting it almost like a silent film. I believe it would be perfectly clear without sound. There are none of the expressionist irruptions I love so much in FB’s work, apart from some feverish hallucinations during the pneumonia sequence ~

I hope I don’t get a translucent Jimmy Butler persecuting me as I toss in my delirium.

Tuttle Recall

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2018 by dcairns

Frank Tuttle was a rather gifted director, I’m inclined to think, but he’s a bit problematic politically — in 1947 he was blacklisted due to his former membership of the communist party. In 1951 he gave HUAC thirty-six names (according to Wikipedia).

During the interim, he made GUNMAN IN THE STREETS in Paris, so I guess it’s the equivalent of Dmytryk’s rather good OBSESSION — the bridge between his pre-rat and post-rat phases. It’s almost a really good movie, too, though it lacks the verve and grit of something like RIFIFI (also made by a blacklistee in Paree). It’s more like the pre-war poetic realism stuff.

Dane Clark plays an American gangster in Paris, an ex-serviceman gone rogue, now a fugitive trying to get out of the country. Phlegmatic copper Fernand Gravey is hot on his trail, or as hot as Fernand Gravey ever gets. Clark turns to his former moll, Simone Signoret, and she gets funds from her current lover, Robert “who he?” Duke. There’s a double amour fou going on, with Signoret powerless to resist Clark and Duke in thrall to her.

The events of the story are all interesting in theory, and Tuttle’s visual approach — mostly elegant sequence shots — is fine, enhanced by Eugen Schüfftan’s misty cinematography (IMDb also credits Claude Renoir, but the movie doesn’t). The problems come from the script and the actors.

The great Jacques Companéez (listed as “Jack”), a master of this milieu, seems to have originated the story, but the dialogue feels like a too-literal translation from the French. We don’t need lashings of argot, necessarily, but we can’t have a hoodlum saying “I left my identification in my automobile.” It’s a slight problem having American and French characters and everyone speaking English, but the bigger issue is that it’s such flavourless, denatured English.

 

Gravey is good, but lacks the drive to propel his manhunt narrative forward with urgency, and he’s surrounded by Francophones whose timing is way off, a problem in Tuttle’s long takes. Then you have the romantic triangle, where Signoret’s style is rock-solid — her last close-up is devastating — Clark is miscast as a tough guy though he does his best — and Duke seems at sea in a difficult part. He comes across as a wimp and I’m not sure he’s supposed to.

Colourful supporting performance from Michel Andrê as a sleazy “artist” complete with dressing gown and cat.

Apparently there’s a simultaneously-shot French version of this movie, with several less writers, and Borys Lewin as credited director. Same cast. Wonder what that’s like?