Archive for Burt Young

Blood Capsule Review

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2020 by dcairns

When THE KILLER ELITE started, immediately after the snazzy and even witty title sequence by Burke Mattson, I thought for a while I wouldn’t even make it through the thing. James Caan and Robert Duvall’s early scenes have an improv, overlapping quality, not in itself a terrible thing, but they seem awfully self-satisfied about how wackily naturalistic they’re being (they seem high, in fact), plus Peckinpah’s shooting and Tony de Zarraga and Monte Hellman’s cutting seem designed to keep us at a distance from the characters, everything is far away and fragmented, and the characters we’re evidently meant to warm to just seem obnoxious.

Gradually bits of the film start to feel like they’ve received the attentions of a screenwriter or three, Peckinpah seems to get his heart started, and some trace of sympathy for Caan is generated. He has to get shot multiple times for this to happen, which may give you a sense of what a jerk he is to begin with.The montage-like sequences showing his surgery and physiotherapy after having elbow and knee shattered by bullets are really good — barely any dialogue, the mumbly throwaway improv style starts to work, and it’s nice to see Peckinpah applying his fragmented style to something other than killing.

Gig Young looks drunk, and probably was.

When, surprisingly late in the action, Caan gets a Dangerous Mission, he brings in a couple of buddies, and the acting side of the film becomes a lot more engaging, because his team is Burt Young — a weird actor, pop-eyed and bulbous, who always seems completely real even though it’s doubtful any of us has ever seen anything like him in reality — and Bo Hopkins, a Peckinpah favourite, playing “the patron saint of manic-depressives,” a self-medicating maverick killer inexplicably entrusted by Caan with key duties.  Since the third act moral message of THE WILD BUNCH is “You never leave a man behind” it always struck me as odd that in the first act, the Bunch leaves Bo Hopkins as Crazy Lee behind, guarding the hostages, without a backward glance. Maybe it’s a deliberate attempt to undercut the mythologising, or maybe Walon Green forgot. It is also strange that my dear mother finds Hopkins so adorable and hilarious in his one sequence of that film, as he forces the hostages to sing “Shall We Gather at the River.” But then, Richard Widmark is her favourite actor.

Funny bit, when Caan is looking for some way of taking out a nosy cop, and asks what kind of kit Hopkins has. He’s told plastique, pistols, garrotting wire. “No, no, non-lethal.”

“Everything’s lethal,” shrugs Hopkins. The feeling is that this man could kill you with a wafer biscuit or a pair of pop socks.

It’s a trashy film with a few grace notes — an anti-CIA post-Watergate thriller could be, as Burt Y says, “Nice and necessary,” but not when it’s an overblown bloodbath celebrating hand-to-hand mayhem. Even Hellman’s fancy cutting can’t make the tubby Burt hurling ninjas off a battleship look convincing. Don Siegel’s memoir describes the creation of DIRTY HARRY’s final draft: they spread all the previous drafts over the office floor and picked the bits they all liked. TKE feels exactly like that, but you have to factor in egotistic actors making up their own lines, and the director being an alcoholic and cocaine fiend, and the extreme likelihood of clashes with the producers playing a part in the “process.” Plus maybe Heller’s experimental approach to the mountains of footage, which gives us the best moments, doesn’t lean towards cohesion. I swear one scene fades out with Caan trying out different line readings.

Whoever cut the trailer thinks that Mako is a girl.THE KILLER ELITE stars Sonny Corleone; Tom Hagen; Dr. Jeremy Stone; Crazy Lee; Admiral Yamamoto; Bed Bug Eddie; Quill; Marc Antony; Jimmy Chan; and SuperSoul.

Unmastered

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 2, 2018 by dcairns

How does he do it? In the book Cut to the Chase, Polanski’s editor Sam O’Steen talks about Polanski’s tendency to not always shoot masters. The master shot is the wide shot that covers the entire scene and establishes the space and where everybody is. There are filmmakers who ONLY shoot masters — Polanski has been known to play out entire scenes in single shots. And there are directors who tend not to shoot masters. Even though he made ROPE as an experiment in long takes, Hitchcock was famed for his “damned jigsaw cutting,” assembling his scenes from fragments that don’t cover the whole action. Close-up of one actor saying one line, close-up of someone else reacting, a hand, a landscape, a POV.


Polanski does something that seems even riskier. I flashed on the opening scenes of CHINATOWN, neither of which offers a true establishing shot or a master. Polanski doesn’t prove to us that Curly (Burt Young) and Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) are inhabiting the same space in scene 1, even when JN passes BY a whisky. He relies on eyelines and dialogue overlaps, plus there’s some movement of the curtains behind Gittes that suggests the distressed Curly has gone from trying to eat the Venetian blinds (just installed Wednesday) to clutching the drapes.

Polanski MAY have shot something showing the two men in one frame, but he cut it out, jumping ahead to Curly’s exit from the outer office, which finally shows both characters together. Then Gittes gets the news that “Evelyn Mulwray” (actually Ida Sessions, an impostor played by Diane Ladd) is waiting for him in another office.AGAIN, Polanski cuts his master-shot in two — making it no master at all.

As you’d expect, the scene begins with Gittes entering — but Polanski doesn’t show this at all. We hear it, and Sessions and the operative she’ been talking to look up. That’s it.Then we see Gittes in a separate shot, with another op behind him. These guys are chosen to contrast with Gittes and thus help characterise him. One is oldish, to emphasise Gittes’ youth, the other is a crass gum-chewer, to point up Gittes’ slickness. Incidentally, this guy is standing as Nicholson enters, for no reason at all — except to allow us to see him in a shot that’s framed to show a standing man. The height of the camera position is midway between Gittes and Sessions, so it looks down on her and up at her, and this helps tie the shots together. Not much else will.

At this point, there’s a pleasing mirroring, with Gittes screen left, Sessions screen right, and the ops positioned opposite.Now, as Sessions spins her tale about her husband cheating, Gittes and his op each cross the screen, the op going behind his desk, Gittes heading for a chair. Polanski had to stage all this carefully because O’Steen has to cut for key dialogue and reactions, but also to keep track of the men’s movements, otherwise you get an INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED teleportation situation.When Gittes pulls up a chair, the camera descends to sitting level, pulling in until Nicholson’s head almost hits the lens, and settling into an unusual composition: Gittes gets little nose-room, and his op is now positioned behind him. When we cut back to Sessions, the camera is lower and closer to match Gittes’ shot, a change so subtle it’s almost unnoticeable, but essential to create a sense of matching. And now we have the shot/reverse shot pattern that will prevail for the rest of the scene. Sessions’ close-up is a little bigger, and her op is screen right, just like Gittes’, which means she has all the nose-room she could wish for, and even space to wave a gloved hand with a long cigarette holder.And that’s IT for this scene. Polanski never shows the two main characters together in one shot. He never establishes the office in a wide (perhaps because that would tend to make it look like a set). He never gives Sessions’ op a shot where he’s in focus. (Gittes being slightly further from the lens, mostly, means his op can be acceptably sharp when he gets his one line.) We tie the separate images together in our mind’s eye and it feels like a coherent space and scene.

The right way to shoot a scene (or *A* right way) is generally the most economical. Not just because time is money, but because in a scene shot with economy, the audience senses that everything they’re shown has a purpose. Polanski has just covered a long, talkie scene involving four characters with just three set-ups, one of them involving a small camera move. (It’s always possible that the two Sessions angles were once joined together by a small move two, which would make the scene two set-ups long, but I’m certain this wasn’t the case. Polanski knew he would be on Nicholson for that reframing.) In its quiet, no-nonsense way, the result is radically different from the standard master-and-two-singles approach often used as a cookie-cutter by unimaginative directors.

Now, imagine this scene in a big Hollywood film today.