Archive for Das Boot

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.

Sinking Ship

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by dcairns

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It’s the dying days of WWII (weren’t they all?) and Germany is close to surrender. A general, his catamite, an Italian fascist, a French journalist and arch-collaborationist, and various other unworthies escape by submarine and make for South America where the plan is to lay the groundwork for the Fourth Reich. Along for the ride is an abducted doctor, required to care for an injured Nazi wife, and Rene Clement with his film crew, making LES MAUDITS, an imperfect but largely gripping and very timely 1947 war thriller. With the doctor’s connivance, the pack of rats gradually turn on one another, sweating in the close quarters of their submerged iron coffin…

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This kind of thing needs to be very carefully worked out in plot terms, and it’s a little sloppy, but Henri Alekan’s cinematography conjures the claustrophobic milieu with noir/documentary conviction and intensity — at one point, we pull back along the entire length of the sub from the inside, establishing just how cramped and inhuman it is, and setting up the geography for the grisly adventure ahead. DAS BOOT invented nothing.

Poor Paul Bernard’s facial scarring marked him for weasel roles throughout his career — even during the occupation his characters (eg for Gremillon) always seemed like a commentary on collaboration and betrayal); Joe Dest makes a repellant Nazi martinet, his homosexual obsession with Berlin rent-boy and hired muscle Michel Auclair quite startlingly apparent. Henri Vidal is the staunch hero, whose Yojimbo-like plan to turn his captors against one another could stand greater development.

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*Coughs politely*

Oh yes, and Dalio, as the Nazis’ faltering South American agent, always a master of vacillation and anxiety.

As with Clement’s other war films, the reliance on stock footage, albeit really good stock footage, can be distracting, and how are we meant to feel about REAL burning ships in our entertainment? Because this is smart and sophisticated but it’s still a thriller, DIE HARD on a sub, with less punching and more psychology.

North

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2013 by dcairns

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For some reason, every film I watch lately seems to have an Overture, an Intermission, an Entre-Acte and Exit Music — it started with the Easter weekend of biblical pictures, but then Fiona wanted to follow up our THIN MAN marathon with Powell & Loy in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD. The downside of these roadshow events is one gets half as many films watched. And then there was ICE STATION ZEBRA, which fitted in with my recent researches into the career of John Sturges.

This is a real roadshow picture, as whitely elephantine as one could wish — I remembered it from TV screenings, all those endless submerging and surfacing sequences, a voyage to the North Pole that seems to take forever (the first half of the three hour picture) and a lot of static scenes in cramped submarine interiors. Was DAS BOOT the first time a filmmaker realized you could move the camera in a sub? Wolfgang Petersen, for all his many and unforgivable subsequent sins, not only proved it could be done, he proved it OUGHT to be done. Mobilis in Mobili, is what I say.

Tempted to look at Robert Wise’s RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP, just to see if he manages a track here or there.

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Anyhow, following on from THE SATAN BUG which is handsomely shot but also bloated rigid, Sturges is in the process of becoming the screen’s leading adapter of Alistair MacLean novels. MacLean really has fallen out of favour, hasn’t he? You don’t even see his books in Charity shops anymore, and the last adaptation was back in 1996. But in the late sixties and early seventies, you couldn’t move without slapping into a screen showing one or other of his thick-eared thrillers.

My English teacher at secondary school, Mrs Chapman, either knew MacLean or knew some someone who knew him, since he was a Scottish schoolteacher himself. She remarked with horror that his novels were all plotted on charts, with action and exposition mapped out at intervals, a cold, mechanical approach that horrified her.  I personally don’t see why author’s shouldn’t plan their stories on graphs — I just think ideally the finished book shouldn’t read like it.

McLean does not, so far as I can see, write good characters. Had Sturges applied the approach which served him so well with THE GREAT ESCAPE and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and stuffed the films with charismatic stars, some of this problem might have been diluted to a non-toxic level, but THE SATAN BUG stars low-wattage George Maharis (quite good, but definitely low-wattage) and ISZ has Rock Hudson in a severely underwritten, no make that unwritten role, which doesn’t capitalise on the actor’s light touch and sensitivity, nor on his impressive physique. Ernest Borgnine is quite good fun as a hearty Russian, and Jim Brown has a bad-ass military role which may be a stereotype but is a refreshingly un-racial one, but it’s left to Patrick McGoohan to carry the whole movie, nuclear submarine, polar cap and all.

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Fortunately, our Pat is up to this challenge. Talking in a preternaturally clipped manner, through immobile, wooden lips, with irony dripping from his every utterance like seaweed, smiling tightly on one side like a very repressed stroke victim, glowering like a betrayed monitor lizard, and occasionally pounding tables violently and yelling at the top of his lungs without fair warning, he’s a live wire alright, and not the sort of thing that should be waggled about near water. But waggled about he is.

One extra-textual pleasure of the movie, which manages just about to scrape up enough intrigue to keep a patient viewer partially engaged, is that I’m told it was Howard Hughes’ favourite movie during his declining years. He’d run a scratchy old 16mm print of it again and again, as he watched in the nude (possibly with Kleenex boxes on his feet: one likes to think so, anyway). What a cheapskate millionaire, that he didn’t even have an Ultra-Panavision 65 print.

Easy to see why he liked it, though: the hardware, the engineering, the jets, the sub, the gadgets, the militarism, the manly men being masculine at each other, and the icy cleanliness of the environments. There’s no dirt at the arctic — not even any land. The lack of character psychology wouldn’t have mattered to him — in fact, he would have embraced it, just as he did in his own production JET GIRL, in which the only motivation that stays consistent is the kind provided by Janet Leigh’s twin thrusters.

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