Archive for The French Connection

High Tec

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 7, 2015 by dcairns

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THE FRENCH CONNECTION II is a pretty good follow-up, really. Different enough from the original (we’re in France, the whole time, for one thing) it still has enough of the same grime (Marseille gives good grime), loud, incoherent sound, and surliness to feel like a continuation. Instead of a car chase, it has a foot chase at the end, and a loooong sequence where Gene Hackman’s ghastly Popeye Doyle gets forcibly shot up with skag by the baddies and then has to undergo a gruelling cold turkey in a French police cell. You almost feel sorry for him.

As Doyle’s opposite number, Bernard Fresson, that strange hybrid bull/bulldog/bullfrog is grumpy and leaden enough to make a good foil for the ugly American in his midst (if one man can be said to have a “midst” — and if any one man can, that man is surely Fresson).

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Ah, Popeye Doyle. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of his complete refusal to comprehend that French people speak French, a language containing several different words from English. And that slang expressions travel less well than simple, clear speech.

Gene Hackman probably had a better time on this one than on the original, since his star was rising and Frankenheimer generally looked after his stars (while yelling, crimson-faced at everyone else). William Friedkin had told him, “I wouldn’t even hire you to play Gene Hackman,” and he meant it to sting. Still, Hackman is put through his paces, here, what with the sweltering foot chase through the streets and docks, the cold turkey, and having to explain things to French bartenders. The movie could be usefully augmented by an insert of a cardiogram in the bottom left corner monitoring how close Popeye/Gene is getting to explosive infarction from one moment to the next.

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Thing I Read Off The Screen in The French Connection

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on June 27, 2012 by dcairns

SHOE SERVICE for flatfeet.

In a creative solution to a scheduling issue, William Friedkin appeared at Filmhouse to talk about his career the day BEFORE Edinburgh International Film Festival launched with his new movie KILLER JOE. This year the Festival has soft edges — it starts before it starts, and it goes on after it finishes, via the La Cava retrospective which runs on into July. Six films in the fest, and six after.

Plot: Fernando Rey basically smuggles into the states a Lincoln Continental made of heroin. When I’m as rich as Fernando Rey I will drive a Sherman Tank made of marzipan.

Counter-plot: a friend says she first saw the film while slightly stoned (ironically, perhaps) and it seemed to consist purely of random men following each other about. Which is what it seemed like to me when I saw it as a kid. Theory: being a kid = being stoned all the time.

Sub-plot: today the film seems incredibly tight, linear and pretty logical, apart from the car chase. This has been cleverly stapled into the surrounding narrative (which is fact-based, unlike the El-train pursuit) but you can still see the staples.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION is a shot-on-the-streets kind of thing, which means that reality is constantly commenting on the action. My eye goes to signs and seeks meaning. Rather than a director’s commentary, the film features a running commentary by Brooklyn itself.

IMAGINATIVE FRAMING reads one sign, moments before Friedkin shoots Fernando Ray reflected in two mirrors. Also, DO NOT PARK, one of countless state injunctions, the ten thousand commandments of urban living, which poke their heads into the film like pop-up ads.

The Siamese Connection! (can you read the sign, lower right?) I dunno what DORAL, or is it BORAL PARKING is all about.

Friedkin talked about how all actors are different and require different approaches — some may need “the utmost gentleness,” some require ferocity. Somehow, all of his stories seem to involve the ferocious approach. Gene Hackman had trouble finding his character’s aggression, so Friedkin provoked him into a state of fury for the entire shoot. I felt sorry for the actor playing the hood that Popeye Doyle slaps around — fifty takes, because Friedkin wasn’t satisfied by his star’s level of viciousness.

Given that Friedkin slapped a Catholic priest when making THE EXORCIST, and a death row inmate while making THE PEOPLE VS PAUL CRUMP, I have to fight the suspicion that Friedkin became a filmmaker in order to slap people.

EYVAN PERFUMES — AIRBORNE

Fiona asked if W.F. was influenced by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s techniques of working with actors. He said he wasn’t, but he immediately knew what she meant. “I’ve heard he was tough on actors, but I don’t have any evidence of that.” We do!

LE DERNIER CRI

Friedkin is a practiced, glib and funny talker, so the session flew past. At 76 he’s still full of beans, and probably piss and vinegar too, but he was charm itself in Edinburgh. He talked about the recalled Blu-ray of FRENCH CONNECTION and how something went wrong in the one part of the process he didn’t check… hard to believe that a control freak like Friedkin could make such a slip. Some suspect that he radically revised the look of the film, then changed his mind when the response was bad. Certainly he should have involved cinematographer Owen Roizman in the process. But the movie looked great on the big screen, now that the extreme revision of the original look has been adjusted to give a more authentic 1970s appearance.

SQUIBBS MINERAL OIL

The climax of the film takes place in a blasted landscape where no text survives… Friedkin was vociferous in his denunciation of modern comic book and video game inspired movies, but the pealing paint and crumbling masonry of THE FRENCH CONNECTION’s last sequence feel like something video games are now trying to achieve — that pervasive sense of decay. They haven’t quite gotten there yet.

The final onscreen writing in the film is the summary of what happened to the characters afterwards. The cops are punished and the guilty get off. The film may be inspired by a true story, but it hasn’t explicitly said so yet, so this is a left-field move in a film full of narrative surprises. Friedkin’s best dramas move like documentaries and his documentaries move like dramas (although there’s another strand to his work which is unashamedly theatrical, from THE BIRTHDAY PARTY to KILLER JOE). This end note, which affects a purely factual, neutral tone, actually tips the film’s hand somewhat. While casually showing the cops’ racism and obnoxious qualities, the movie has successfully balanced between a cool, telling-it-like-it-is distance and a more involved, propulsive story where we root for the goodies against the baddies. No political view on the “war on drugs” is offered. But the ending takes us into conservative values, and the DIRTY HARRY sense of alarm that criminals sometimes have lawyers who sometimes get them off. But, since this is a Hollywood movie, we’re still free to look at it another way — all this effort to arrest traffickers and seize drug hauls is a futile waste. Friedkin’s misanthropic nihilism is happy to be taken either way.

Id Entity Crisis

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2012 by dcairns

Made it to two press shows at EIFF yesterday, followed by Filmhouse’s screening of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, with a Q&A with William Friedkin afterwards, chaired by Chris Fujiwara, the festival director. More on that later. And that was followed by the Art College’s film show, which was followed by a couple pints of Guinness and a probably unwise glass of whisky. Today my mouth feels like it’s had British people holidaying in it.

My first press show was SUN DON’T SHINE, a rather fine lovers-on-the-run movie from writer-director Amy Seimetz. While the influence of BADLANDS hangs over it — poetic, floaty tone, achingly beautiful cinematography, dark underpinnings — the characters are somewhat different. While Malick’s ’50s runaways were psychopathically detached and ill-educated, Seimetz’s are just plain dumb. He (Kentucker Audley) thinks he has a plan to get them out of trouble, but from what I could grasp of the set-up, it wasn’t a very good one. So he’s Ollie — the dumb one who thinks he’s smart. She (Kate Lyn Sheil) is mentally and emotionally a baby: she knows she’s not smart, but she’s not capable of grasping how dumb she really is. So she’s Stan. She also has the best dumb-person line I’ve heard in years, delivered in warm and dreamy tones: “You’re good at planning. I’m not real good at planning, I’m better at being spontaneous.” Yeah, you have a real talent for doing the first thing that pops into your head. That’s a gift.

Although my easy response to stupidity is to laugh at it, but Seimetz also creates sympathy for her screwed-up leads (and her actors are thoroughly convincing), and her ending is really beautiful. And, while most movies go to far in trying to push things to the furthest possible extreme, this one hangs back nicely and keeps things credible. Really a little delight.

“If I stand behind this doorjamb does it freak you out? Have you seen AUDITION?”

Less successful, for me, was LOVELY MOLLY (not to be confused with Sidney Lumet’s LOVIN’ MOLLY), from Eduardo Sanchez of BLAIR WITCH fame. This mines the fertile, post-ROSEMARY’S BABY terrain of “is she crazy or is it supernatural?” and sustains it for maybe the first half, thanks to Gretchen Lodge’s thoroughly committed perf. But the balance is off — unlike BLAIR WITCH (which I haven’t seen since it came out, but liked just fine), this one is about serious stuff — drug addiction, mental illness and child abuse — so the more generic elements are a lot less scary and ultimately provide an excuse for the film not to frighten us. While the film keeps the rapist ghost and mental breakdown stuff in balance, things are good and disturbing, and as the madness explanation comes to the fore, there’s still at least the possibility of deep unease, but then the return of the paranormal craziness cuts the legs from under that. Maybe in the Bible Belt the thing will play differently, because to them, the Lord of Darkness is just as real as abusive fathers and heroine, but it didn’t convince me, and if we’re meant to take that side of it seriously then it’s a very reactionary vision.

The found-footage camcorder stuff is back in there, but it’s only a small part of the movie, thankfully. Strikingly unconvincing, though — the red dot and “REC” sign in the top corner? Really? Come one, Sanchez, you practically invented this shit, haven’t you noticed that camcorders don’t record that? Also, we see shots of the character’s camera, and its little screen doesn’t look anything like what you’re showing us.

There are some decent scares and some anxious moments, so diehard fans may get some kicks out of it, and the cast are very good indeed. But as the horrors mount up, the supporting characters’ failure to call in the shrinks becomes progressively more ridiculous — the ambition to create a proper character-led movie is hamstrung by the way people keep doing silly things for the sake of the plot. Which is where setting up any kind of division between plot and character will get you into trouble.