Archive for The Day of the Jackal

The Spielberg Transition #2

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2019 by dcairns
Bana hulks out.

MUNICH is one Spielberg I hadn’t seen until recently. I still haven’t managed to steel myself to run THE TERMINAL or THE BFG, but I guess I will at some point. They’re sitting on the shelf opposite as I type this, looking at me with their big puppy-dog eyes.

But MUNICH seemed like it was at least an attempt to do something interesting and different, so I felt vaguely ashamed of not giving it a shot. And I recall an interview from the time of production where Spielberg was talking about how the movie was going to make EVERYBODY angry. The great crowd-pleaser, going out of his way to be unpopular. This seemed worthy of attention.

Well, in a way the film’s refusal to firmly endorse or condemn the Israeli assassination programme depicted (targeting those responsible for the Munich Olympics atrocity) is standard Hollywood hedging, but Spielberg is right too, in that the film isn’t going to satisfy anyone with an entrenching position on the Palestine question. You can probably position Spielberg, based on this film and his other work (notably the penultimate scene of SCHINDLER’S) as a Zionist with qualms.

Fine, I’m a Zionist with qualms too. In that Israel exists and is here to stay, and you can question whether its creation was a good thing, but that’s wholly academic because what acceptable action would dissolve the state at this late stage? You can’t be genuinely anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, because what’s your non-genocidal solution to Israel’s existence?

On the other hand, I’m opposed to practically everything Israel is doing in the name of self-defense. It’s apartheid, it’s a slow-motion genocide, it’s not even in any sane conception of Israel’s own best interests.

My problem with MUNICH started with my inability to accept the arguments Golda Meir, or the film’s version of her, puts forward in favour of the assassinations (or “executions,” as Kevin Macdonald’s ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER disgustingly calls them). So, although the film tries to take you on a journey from accepting the mission to questioning it (without ever arriving at a definite position), I was never on board to begin with. So, although I found the film “interesting,” I wasn’t INTERESTED, apart from when Matthieu Amalric and Michael Lonsdale showed up (“Things always get better when the good actors show up,” said a distinguished produced friend once, talking about Bob Hoskins as a dwarf, but the point stands).

Spielberg described his influences as European thrillers, and one thinks Costa-Gavras, or Melville, but Lonsdale suggests a more Hollywood influence: DAY OF THE JACKAL. And it’s all very loud and impactful and bloody and explicit. It has the first, I think, full-frontal nudity in a Spielberg joint, both male and female, but predictably the straight male audience wins out with a voluptuous enemy honeytrap (Marie-Josée Croze) while everyone else has to content themselves with Ciaran Hinds’ small dead cock.

The image up top is Bana, near the end of the film, having sex with his wife but seeing images of terrorist massacres, and the machine gun fire from his fantasy (a flashback to events he didn’t witness?) illuminates his face in the present tense reality — I found this ludicrous, but I’m actually going to semi-allow it because it’s certainly BOLD.

But earlier in the film, while travelling by plane, Bana has another flashback to events he didn’t see, the Munich massacre itself, and that has two fantastically horrible transitions. First, we move into the aeroplane window as Bana gazes at it, and the terror attack becomes progressively more visible. I’m reminded of the supremely eggy moment in Polanski’s BITTER MOON where Emmanuelle Seigner’s face appears in the plane window as a Romantic Vision. I think that film is a grotesque comedy (Polanski’s funniest film?) so the moment kind of works, even as it makes me cringe. And I guess both filmmakers were thinking of a kind of in-flight reverie and trying to evoke that sort of boredom-distraction-fantasising. But, you know, it doesn’t WORK.

But the really bad one is the end of the fake flashback (he wasn’t THERE!), when automatic rifle fire rakes a poor Israeli athlete and Spielberg shows bullets tearing up a blood-spattered wall, then dissolves/morphs to little pink puffy clouds seen through that aeroplane window.

I have no words. Except these ones: What. The. Hell?

Well, all really impressively bad ideas have something good going on in them. As with the eros + massacre up top, the idea of something attractive being infected by a vision of something murderous isn’t a terrible one. Nic Roeg would probably have made a hard cut here, and left the audience the option of seeing a connection between the bloody, perforated plasterboard and the sunrise sky, or of seeing the things as merely contrasting. Spielberg is more controlling, so he can’t bring himself to leave that to chance.

Or, as Fred Schepisi advised Spielberg when he heard about SCHINDLER’S, “Don’t do it, Steve. You’ll fuck it up: you’re too good with the camera.”

I think SCHINDLER’S LIST works, or works well enough overall. But I think there’s a transition in there that might be worth talking about…

Dirty Nuke

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2019 by dcairns

 

Don’t bother with THE FOURTH PROTOCOL, is my best advice. They do shoot Kim Philby in the head in scene one, a bold start, but it’s downhill from there.

It comes on very cinematic, courtesy of Scotsman John MacKenzie at the tiller, and everyone’s in it, so for a while it seems like it could be OK.

But then it turns out to be a mash-up of DAY OF THE JACKAL and OCTOPUSSY. It somehow manages to have the same plot as both, even though they have different plots.

Pierce Brosnan is a handsome, ruthless Russian spy working for a rogue spymaster. He’s the Jackal, in other words, and Michael Caine is on his tail, but we get to see Caine run in this and we wonder if he’s ever likely to catch up. I think the point at which I lost hope for the film was when I realised the Inevitable Scene was going to be a punch-up between these two on a housing estate.

Brosnan moving about being slinky and ruthless is just Edward Fox V.02, but his specific mission is to blow up an American airbase on British soil, making it look like an accident. This will cause CND to kick the Americans out, thus weakening NATO. The film keeps cutting to CND protestors like they’re a THREAT, like they’re the elephants in ELEPHANT WALK (although, admittedly, I always took the pachyderms’ part against the settlers). There is, for balance, a scene where Caine beats up some skinheads on the underground because they’re hassling a weeping black girl with a CND badge for being a “commie” — the film’s one endearingly ludicrous moment. I was hoping for more, since George Axelrod is a credited writer, and he did give us, in a fit of apparent late-career confusion, THE HOLCROFT COVENANT, which plays like an accidental comedy but is written by a great comedy writer, so what is going on?

Caine has a brilliant scene reading Russian names off a computer with his small son — the only human moment in the movie.

THE FOURTH PROTOCOL stars Harry Palmer; Remington Steele; Tector Crites; Zhora (naked and dead again); Major Breen; Emeric Belasco; Rick Pym; Francis Urquhart (I); The Duke; Mon Mothma; Jessica Rabbit; Frank Cotton; Max Headroom; Neville Chamberlain; Elphias Doge; and the voice of Professor Ping.

 

A Show Called Fred

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 16, 2011 by dcairns

I think — bear with me now — that Fred Zinnemann might be underrated. Oh, I know he won four Oscars, but that cuts no ice with the auteurists. It doesn’t really matter much to me, either, come to that. And I know HIGH NOON gets listed on all the AFI top 100s and all that, or I assume it does, because I haven’t looked. And I know FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is celebrated in the same circles. THE NUN’S STORY and OKLAHOMA! and DAY OF THE JACKAL have their rabid fans, but I’m not sure they’re really considered “director’s films,” which is ridiculous. And THE MEN was Brando’s first film, and there’s always A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. But they’re not that impressed by that down the auteurist pubs I drink in.

I wonder if it’s because he was at MGM, or because he had “white elephant art” tendencies, or because Howard Hawks didn’t like HIGH NOON, but Zinnemann seems to get short shrift, and I don’t think it’s right. Hawks’ objections to HIGH NOON are interesting, by the way, solely for what they tell us about Hawks. Considered by themselves, they’re crazy.

Hawks, as you may know, objected to the way Gary Cooper spends the film trying to get help to fight the four men coming to kill him, then defeats them single-handedly. Why did he need to ask for help in the first place? “Man’s not a professional,” grumbled HH.

Well, I don’t give a damn whether he is or not. Professionalism is the prime virtue in Hawksian cinema, but not in Zinnemann’s, where it is evinced by the Nazis fought in THE SEVENTH CROSS and the assassin in DAY OF THE JACKAL. Cooper’s nobility is what counts in HIGH NOON, and it’s not the kind of movie where one man can be assumed to defeat four, just by being noble, so it’s understandable he should ask for help. Hawks made RIO BRAVO, he claimed, as an antidote to HIGH NOON, and I’m really glad he did — it’s the high water-mark of his late career. But the scene where Wayne refuses help from amateurs is pretty silly from a tactical viewpoint. He could’ve used them to create a distraction, at least.

Anyway, I’m going to be concentrating, as much as possible, on lesser-known Zinnemanns. It’s my contention that his reputation would be higher if some of his early films were held aloft more regularly, perhaps rather than some of his later films. And the techniques and themes which bind his varied body of work together need shouting about too.

To explore why I think Fred Zinnemann is very much worth bothering with is going to take a little time — maybe a week.

So here it is — Fred Zinnemann Week on Shadowplay.