Archive for John Milius


Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2022 by dcairns

So, after veteran Richard Irving had directed Peter Falk as Columbo, in standalone teleplay Prescription Murder and again in the official pilot Ransom for a Dead Man, the first episode of the first series was handed to a newcomer Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg, aided by TOUCH OF EVIL lenser Russell Metty, starts his show with a bravura sequence, in which the camera zooms and dollies back from a moving car, revealing that we’re observing from inside an office, and then introduces crime writer Martin Milner, at work on his latest “Mrs. Melville” mystery. The shot is lovely and unexpected, but it’s enhanced by the sound of typing, which is all we hear. As the sequence proceeds, the typing continues, even though we’re now outside the office and looking at things — the moving car, a revolver being loaded, the car door opening and closing — which we’re normally expect to make their own sound effects.

This stylised wrongness creates a valuable tension. Later, Billy Goldenberg’s interesting score will incorporate the typing. Most Universal cop shows just have BA-BA-BAAAAM! type music.

Less fortunately, Spielberg cuts to an ECU of the page Milner is typing. Apparently, Milner’s novel is being written in all-caps. (Also, he can’t spell “J’accuse.”)

Theory: in 1971, Steven Spielberg had never seen a novel, didn’t know what they looked like.

I was going to theorise that he based his idea of the novel format on the TV script format, but US TV scripts aren’t in all caps (unlike UK ones, which have a miserable and ugly all-caps approach to scene descriptions). So maybe he called a friend. Someone who would be sure to have seen a novel at least once. Maybe John Milius?

SS: John. Steve. You’ve seen a novel, haven’t you?

JM: Several.

SS: Well, I’m directing this TV episode and I need to show a, whatyoucallit, manuscript. What should it look like?

JM: Well, you’ve seen a comic book?

SS: Of course I have, John. I love Mad Magazine. Or is that a magazine?

JM: It’ll do. A novel is like Mad Magazine, but without the pictures or panels or speech bubbles. Just the words.

SS: Really? Are you sure? That sounds weird to me.

JM: I wouldn’t lie to you, Steve.

There are other possibilities. Maybe Martin Milner didn’t know how to turn the caps off, and nobody else did either. Spielberg presumably figured out how to deactivate the caps before writing CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, though come to think of it there’s a fair bit of shouting in that movie.


Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2021 by dcairns

It’s a shame about EXTREME PREJUDICE (1987). As with SOUTHERN COMFORT, the cutting is terrific, the action is well staged (minimal but telling use of slomo), but it’s not as engaging or efficient as a story. Maybe the combination of Hill and John Milius, who’s credited with coming up with the story, is too much macho bullshit for me. (Curious that for a long time Hill and Milius, “right-wing anarchists” — libertarians? — were very popular with liberal UK critics, at least until Milius took it all too far with RED DAWN, a deeply silly film). But there’s also quite a bit wrong with the way the movie interweaves its plot threads, and the central one just isn’t very interesting.

The subplot, which comes on like the main plot and is consistently more interesting, is the illicit activities of a CIA squad consisting of men officially dead, and whose leader (Michael Ironside, yay!) has gone rogue and is using his men to destroy evidence of his corrupt dealings with drug lord Powers Boothe (astonishing, an underused cinematic resource). The main plot is the old one about the cop and crook who grew up together. Here, Boothe is paired with Nick Nolte as a Texas Ranger (the setting is Tex-Mex border) but the trouble is their relationship doesn’t change from beginning to the end, and also Nolte for some reason is playing it like Judge Dredd, emotionless and flat. The two antagonists also share a girlfriend, Maria Conchita Alonso, but she has nothing to do except be objectified. Hill heroines mainly fall into two camps, the leading ladies with unsatisfying stereotype roles, and the characters written as guys in the first draft who he changes into girls — ALIEN’s Ripley, written as a guy by the original scenarists, is the most famous example, but Amy Madigan in STREETS OF FIRE is another. These gals are pretty exciting though it’s occasionally apparent that they’re the writer in drag.

To celebrate Nolte’s recent weight loss (a result of kicking the booze, I think) the movie has him fight a lot of fat guys. One is even called Chub.

These two stories butt up against each other throughout, usually by means of violent action, which is as impressively ouchy, at least at first, as the mayhem of SCOMFORT. But they resolve messily — the Wild Bunch last stand of the CIA guys is a spectacular climax, but it’s followed by Nolte versus Boothe which is tedious by comparison, and the two don’t sufficiently affect or complicate one another. There’s a fun early turn by Rip Torn in perpetual sneer (“State legislature, shit! Only thing worse than a politician is a child molester.”) but he gets taken out of the picture in bloody fashion much too soon, leaving Nolte to interact, or inter-nonreact, with faceless subordinates for the rest of the show.

But the airport scene at the start, setting up the CIA good/bad guys, is one for the books. I haven’t seen Hill’s later westerns but I have BROKEN TRAIL on DVD. Guess I’ll take a look.

The Frozen Moment

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2018 by dcairns

I was looking at THE DEVIL’S OWN, the remarkably non-excellent late Alan Pakula thriller, which has a very impressively staged, if overblown and morally indefensible, street battle at the start. Amid all the mayhem, Pakula (and editors Tom Rolf & Dennis Virkler) freeze the action with a quick, beautifully-composed shot of a corpse. It fractures the all-movement flow of the edit and injects an icy feeling that partially redeems the scene from its gung-ho pyrotechnics.

It also rang a bell with me, and I found myself trying to figure out whether Pakula had pinched the idea from some other film I’ve seen.

The first thing that came to mind was this shot from John Milius’s DILLINGER ~

It has a similar look, but it appears at the end of the scene so it has a different, less disruptive effect. I had an instinctive suspicion that there was a common source both Milius and Pakula were swiping from, and I knew that I KNEW that source, if I could but remember it.

I started wondering if, given Milius’s tastes, the answer might be Kurosawa. I remembered these shots, in RAN (another late-ish film, and one ABOUT lateness, old age) ~

Kurosawa intersperses the apocalyptic battle that occurs midway in this film with static snapshots of the slain, their busy, living former comrades hurrying past them in foreground or background. He takes you out of the desperate action and briefly drops you into a more contemplative, restful space. Called death.

But RAN was made some time *after* DILLINGER, so couldn’t be the influence. THE SEVEN SAMURAI seemed a possibility, reminding me that it’s been far too long since I watched it. But I couldn’t actually remember such a shot used in such a way, so that couldn’t be the specific thing I was remembering.

Then I did a class on Orson Welles for my 1st year students, and there it was, in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT ~POSITIVELY the shot I was trying to remember, coming as a sudden, shockingly still interruption of the hand-held chaos of the celebrated and influential Battle of Shrewsbury sequence. By coincidence, the appearance of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND reminds us that Milius and Welles apparently knew each other at least well enough for the latter to parody the former as a character in his movie-world movie. And I can well imagine Milius and Pakula admiring CHIMES enough to borrow an effect without particularly paying attention to what the effect was FOR.

Welles actually pulls this trick twice. Each time, the shot contains furiously racing characters but our eye goes to the face of the fallen man, and the camera’s stillness puts us in sympathy with him, not those running about madly behind him.

But it’s still possible that this touch is to be found in earlier battles by Kurosawa OR — a distinct possibility, this — Eisenstein. If anybody knows for sure, point me in the right direction.