Archive for Joseph Strick

The Horror

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 24, 2015 by dcairns


Watching horror movies all week. Though, as an aging fuddy-duddy, I somewhat deplore the way Halloween seems to start at the beginning of the month, and I even more deplore the way the impending Guy Fawkes Night is already terrorizing pets with explosive charges (including one in our stairwell, thank you very much), and Christmas is going to start as soon as we’ve finished blowing shit up, I felt that a one week run-up to the main event would be acceptable, and some readers might pick up handy hints for their weekend viewing. And UK TV continues to largely neglect the big night itself, so we have to over-compensate a bit.

This one doesn’t count as genre at all, though, but it rates a mention because it’s so impressive and it’ll probably be the most horrific thing I see this week. Joseph Strick’s INTERVIEWS WITH MY LAI VETERANS is absolutely blood-curdling, and consists of nothing but head-shots of guys talking. It’s not so much the horror of what they describe, which is appalling but devoid of graphic detail, it’s the casual, flat delivery. For most of the men, this part of their lives seems to mean nothing, have no significance. They are puzzled that anyone is curious about it. They use as justification the fact that other such massacres undoubtedly happened before and after, so what’s the big deal?


Disconcertingly, some kind of bug (lower right) crawls across the lens as this guy’s affable recounting his mass-murder activities on the porch.

Interviewer Richard Hammer sounds stern, perhaps mimicking a commanding officer to get the facts from these men, but this doesn’t result in much expression of shame. Out of the army and free from any risk of prosecution, the men seem happy to speak frankly, unaware that what they’re saying might seem controversial (killing children is fine because they would grow up to be the enemy anyway), and able to smile at perceived ironies in the situation. Glimmers of guilt do appear, but all are reassured that they were obeying orders and therefore not accountable (the rulings of Nuremberg were never applied to any incidents in Viet Nam).

Lieutenant Calley, the only man convicted of war crimes after the incident, from these accounts doesn’t sound particularly more guilty than other officers involved, but then he served barely any of his original life sentence anyway.

Strick, whose feature films generally consisted of adaptations of unfilmable books which seemed oblivious to the very challenges they were taking on, hits it out of the park here with a simple, factual approach. Richard Pearce and Haskell Wexler shot it.

You can watch it here, but be warned, it will follow you around for a while afterwards.

Pool Sharks

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by dcairns

Photographic consultant Haskell Wexler — and so we get some striking and not-yet fashionable long lens shots…

STUDS LONIGAN carries its literary origins somewhat heavily, as if producer/screenwriter Philip Yordan really felt the weight of responsibility of adaptation. But it’s a fascinating artifact — Irving Lerner, a talented pulp B-movie specialist with a flair for two-fisted minimalism akin to Jack Webb’s, does his best to create prohibition Chicago out of a few doorways.

As an indie no-budget studio-bound art film, the movie is nicely suis generis, and has genuine merits. “Jerrald” Goldsmith’s rambunctious score tries hard to tie the fragments together (Yordan has gutted James T Farrell’s trilogy and served up his favourite bits with little regard to flow or structure), and the cast sparks moments of excitement. Christopher Knight tries hard in the lead, and when he’s taking his lead from his co-stars, he’s quite good. When he tries to emote along to his voice-over, trumping up facial contortions to accompany each line, he’s awful. But his gang includes Frank Gorshin (ever-morphing between his Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Richard Widmark impressions), Robert Casper (great nasal voice, clapped-in mouth, a real character) and Jack Nicholson, who isn’t uncomfortable and outclassed as he appears in Corman’s THE RAVEN, but utterly in command of every scene and moment. The role of young rake seems to suit him.

A lengthy burlesque show scene has Nicholson baring his teeth and bouncing on his seat as a woman walks about the stage in a shiny dress and opera gloves for minutes on end. Never gets dull. Midway through, Lerner cuts to Studs visiting his sexy, lonely former schoolteacher (Helen Westcott), and keeps the bump and grind music going, then tracks in on the drunk Studs and shows the schoolteacher doing the burlesque act, and doing it well, as the real teacher prattles on about Mozart, sound faded way down, and the squiffled Studs psychs himself up to rape her. With flash-cutting between the real and fantasy, the scene reaches quite a frenzy, before mercifully and unexpectedly defusing itself with tenderness. If the movie had more sustained scenes and less voice-over… well, it still wouldn’t have a cinematic structure.

Lerner holds close-ups for minutes on end, turning the lack of production values into a benefit, and slashes together dutch tilts to trump up tension when the actors can’t quite muster it. His Chicago consists of one little Old New York street set and a few bare interiors. Little wonder Wexler’s ideas must have been helpful: throw everything out of focus except one item/actor. (I recently watched the Outer Limits episode The Man Who Was Never Born, shot by Wexler — he was a genius right from the off.)

Lerner’s collaborator on the acclaimed doc MUSCLE BEACH, Joseph Strick, spent his whole career tackling unfilmable literary classics, with debatable success. This was Lerner’s one real attempt at doing the same, but his tiny, unpretentious and edgy thrillers are probably of greater value. Still, as curate’s eggs go, STUDS LONIGAN is endearing, both for its modest merits and for the way it points to a putative sub-genre of cheap classic adaptations (like Welles’ MACBETH, in a way) that never quite managed to come into existence.