Archive for Barry Lyndon

Cowboys will be boys

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2021 by dcairns

Blake Edwards’ other big roadshow flop, besides DARLING LILI, and made right after it, is WILD ROVERS. Maybe a kind of film maudit, a way of saying nobody likes it except us.

The movie is impressive, in an uneven kind of way. Shot by the versatile Philip H. Lathrop, who had done EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, THE PINK PANTHER and WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? for Edwards, and POINT BLANK, FINIAN’S RAINBOW and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN for others, it’s one of the handsomest westerns I’ve ever seen. And it has a marvelous score by Jerry Goldsmith which I’m still humming.

The script, written by Edwards alone — he ALWAYS had co-writers, otherwise — isn’t as strong as the visual side, upon which endless expense seems to have been lavished. An incredible range of tricky location shots. This is a seventies western so it attempts to get in on the whole revisionist bit — there’s sexual vulgarity and the west is a place of dangerous anarchy and nothing ends well for anybody. But it doesn’t seem to have a critique in mind, either of westerns or the old west. It’s a conservative film that just happens to be following seventies trends rather than fifties ones. So we get slow motion and a freeze frame and lap dissolves — the full FIDDLER ON THE ROOF panoply of nouvelle vague tricks expanded to the Panavision epic format. Interesting how this stuff was picked up particularly by the more “white elephant” branch of Hollywood cinema — there are jump cuts in FUNNY GIRL.

Penniless, ne’er-do-well cowpokes William Holden and Ryan O’Neil realise they’ll never get rich poking cows, so they rob a bank (using the same technique deployed in Barry Levinson’s BANDITS: hold the manager’s family hostage). Karl Malden, their former employer, takes this personally and sets his sons, Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker, on their trail. (It’s a great cast: add in Rachel Roberts as a shotgun-wielding madame and Moses Gunn as a dog-loving veteran, then keep adding…)

Holden and O’Neil’s characters are thoughtless idiots, addicted to boozing, brawling and whoring: a story with a clear point to it would show how their criminal career change sets off a chain of events that destroys them and a lot of others. But Edwards too often resorts to coincidence: encounters with a cougar and a suspicious and violently-inclined gambler lead to disaster. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a range war with sheepmen causes tragedy, but this has nothing to do with our protagonists’ actions.

Peckinpah has set the scene for this movie — the slomo violence and the randomness of life in the old west are milked/resorted to. As Joe Dante says, Peckinpah evoked the death of the west through the deaths of old character actors. And this caught on — even Duke Wayne started dying. The death of the western dramatised itself: the stars had grown old with the genre, which found it couldn’t outlast them. Notably, Holden doesn’t pass on his spurs to O’Neil here. And O’Neil gets shot in the same leg as in BARRY LYNDON.

The heroes aren’t as charming as Edwards seems to think, though Holden the actor certainly brings a lot of appeal. The stars apparently bonded, something not everybody can do with Ryan O’Neal, seemingly, and their camaraderie is convincing. But the tragic presence seems to be “stupid people can’t stay out of trouble” and that’s not enough, somehow. There’s more going on with their pursuers, and Skerritt and Baker are good — they’re not in any way worse humans than the heroes, but they’re not seen as charming. The key seems to be that our heroes think they’re in a comedy, and they’re wrong, while the posse know they’re in a generational tragedy. Or Skerritt does. The reliably dyspeptic Baker just thinks the whole manhunt is a terrible drag. The trouble with these scenes is they’re repetitive.

I’m glad I saw the extended version, but it’s longer than it needs to be. The beautiful snowy horse-wrangling scene, which may be the one that fully earwormed the score into my brain, goes on so long you become aware that were intercutting a medium shot of Holden, no doubt riding a mechanical bull affair with a stuntman on a real horse. Later, we can see some snow is fake. Problems that could have been solved if Edwards hadn’t seen “long” as a cardinal virtue.

But I think you should see this! Image and score are so good, and there’s something going on here, even if not all of it is fully compelling or original.

Kubrick Boxes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2019 by dcairns

Mr. George Swine!

When I first handled Michel Ciment’s magisterial Stanley Kubrick, my friend Robert pointed out something unusual about the pictures, which were glossy and coffee-table-suited, but also — “He’s making connections.” I’m not sure a movie book had done that, previously.

(Obviously, I should have connected the fights in THE DAY OF THE FIGHT [where SK proves it’s not a proper documentary by filming the big match flat on his back at the pugilists’ feet], KILLER’S KISS and BARRY LYNDON, and Tom Cruise’s street-crazy palm-punching in EYES WIDE SHUT with Nicholson’s rather more compelling version in THE SHINING, the vehicular love scenes in STRANGELOVE and 2001, etc, etc…)

Alpha-Omega

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2019 by dcairns

The opening and closing shot of every Kubrick feature film.

Observations:

Some of these films seem to be talking to each other.

KILLER’S KISS, which in Kubrick’s own revised filmography stands as his first feature (he suppressed FEAR AND DESIRE, top) is the only film ending with anything so conventional as a clinch, but way down at the end EYES WIDE SHUT ends with Nicole’s four-letter suggestion, thus closing a circle of a kind.

The forested hillsides of FEAR AND DESIRE seem to echo those of THE SHINING but if you’re looking at what the shot’s DOING, the real rhyme is between DR. STRANGELOVE and THE SHINING.

STRANGELOVE to CLOCKWORK ORANGE is the sequence I really stand by.

It’s sometimes hard to know what IS the last shot. BARRY LYNDON earns two images, the last live image and the Epilogue card which is clearly part of the film and makes a nice connection with LOLITA and THE SHINING. Likewise LOLITA gets the last shot of Mason, which loops back to the first scene (Peter Sellers is about to emerge and say “I’m Spartacus” just as we hastily fade out), and its final super-title. THE SHINING’s closing shot I’ve represented with two images because it’s a rostrum move.

SPARTACUS is an outlier — I chose to use the first shot of Saul Bass’s title sequence, because the first shot of the film proper, I believe, is by Anthony Mann before he was fired. And the hand makes a nice rhyme with LOLITA…