Archive for The Price of Power

The Mysterious Death Project

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2022 by dcairns

I really enjoyed THE PLOT TO KILL KENNEDY: RUSH TO JUDGMENT, directed by Emile de Antonio from the book Rush to Judgement by Mark Lane. Released in 1967, it beats THE PRICE OF POWER into cinemas by two years, meaning that the spaghetti western was not the first feature film inspired by the Kennedy assassination, just the first fiction film.

One of the grislier attractions of the film is the fact that a number of the interviewees met with mysterious fates. The film ends on Mrs. Acquilla Clemens, witness to the killing of Officer J.D. Tippit. She identified two men as being involved, neither of them resembling Lee Harvey Oswald, who is officially credited with the murder. Asked if she spoke to anyone about this, she says she was visited by an armed man a couple of days later, who told her “someone might hurt me if I would talk.” Investigating the case for his book Into the Nightmare: My Search for the Killers of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J. D. Tippit, Joseph McBride was chilled to discover that Clemens had vanished shortly after this interview — her surviving family had no knowledge of her whereabouts, although there was a bathetic notion that “she might have gone to Philadelphia.” He justifiably concludes that she showed great courage in coming forward.

(McBride also discovered that the witnesses who DID identify Oswald as Tippit’s killer were mostly or all connected fairly directly to Jack Ruby, a very suggestive fact.)

Clemens seems perfectly sincere and honest, or as much as anyone in the film. In spite of her Hitlerian hairdo. Due to the filmmaker’s habit of positioning the interviewer to one side and the camera to the front, ALL of the interviewees look shifty and uncertain, as they can’t decide where to look. There’s a lesson there.

The other mystery case is L.E. Bowers Jr. He witnessed the Kennedy assassination from his place of work, the tower building of the Union Terminal Company. What he saw and heard — much seemingly official activity at the grassy knoll, and “some unusual occurrence, a flash of light or smoke or something,” at the time of the shooting. This is pretty suspicious language. In the book he says, “a flash of light or, as far as I am concerned, something I could not identify,” which is even funnier, but at least he’s consistent.

Bowers was to die when his car smashed into a concrete bridge abutment. Depending on the account, this was suspicious because there was nothing else on the road, or because he was driven off the road by a black car. Dying of his wounds, Bowers supposedly told ambulance workers that he felt his drink had been spiked at his last rest stop. No autopsy was performed.

But researcher David Perry located the surviving ambulance attendant, one Noel Coward(!), who said Bowers didn’t say anything, because “the man’s head was pretty bad.”

This one is baffling on the face of it because Bowers had already told his story. Why kill him? What’s that going to do, except lend credence to what he’d said? Unless that was the intention, or unless he was killed for reasons entirely unrelated to his status as presidential assassination witness. Bowers’ friend, Charles Good, says Bowers knew more than he told the Warren Commission. But in RUSH TO JUDGEMENT, he confirms this, and then tells everything he knows.

So maybe he wasn’t murdered, and maybe he didn’t see what he said he saw. His description of the two men and their vehicles (down to the out-of-state license plates on one car) which he claims to have seen on the knoll, behind the picket fence, are startlingly detailed when you consider that when he saw them, he had no particular reason to pay attention. The assassination hadn’t happened. It was just pre-motorcade activity. And then, when something memorable DOES happen, he’s fuzzy on it.

Cops used to set a lot of store by witnesses who sounded confident and gave detailed descriptions. Today we know that such people are less likely to be reliable than those who sound uncertain and don’t recall many details.

But Bowers tells his story well. He’s no shiftier in the questionable areas than he is on hard fact.

There are a lot more people connected to the assassination who suffered suspicious deaths. I mean, I put it to you, karate chop to the throat is suspicious. But they’re not in this documentary.

If I were going to elucidate my own conspiracy theory, I would suggest that in the case of JFK, rather than covering up the truth by actively suppressing it, someone is covering up the true nature of the crime with a lot of bullshit. Consider the case of movie actor Karyn Kupcynet (Shirley in Corman’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS). She was murdered in LA a few days after Kennedy was hit in Dallas. She was definitely murdered (fractured hyoid bone, and we know how conclusive THAT is) but no one was ever convicted.

Various theorists have asserted that she was the woman who tried to make a long distance call a few days before the assassination, and was heard by the operator screaming that the president was going to be killed. But there is no good reason to assume Kupcinet was this unknown person, or that she had any connection to Kennedy, Oswald, Ruby, or any of the other principles. The best anyone has offered is that her father once lived in Chicago and might have met Ruby when he lived there.

So here we have a genuinely startling piece of information — a warning of the impending assassination — which, if true, would strongly suggest conspiracy — being smothered by a fatuous and debunkable connection to an irrelevant (but tragic and intriguing) Hollywood homicide.

Similarly, if anybody was killed off post-assassination for knowing too much — and Jack Ruby would head my list — he SAID he had been given cancer deliberately — it’s obscured and made incredible by a cloud of bullshit, a Mummy’s Curse narrative of easily debunkable and nonsensical false claims. Is Oliver Stone a useful idiot? Or just the regular kind?

It’s a theory, anyway. Just what this case is short of.

Cox’s Orange Pippins: Spaghetti is a dish best served cold

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2022 by dcairns

Fiona was enthused about seeing THE BIG SILENCE, because as it’s a snowy western, she assumed the people would be less orange. The orangeyness of everyone in spaghetti westerns, their pores clogged with tangerine pancake makeup, really bothers her. She really liked this one.

Before that, we had quite a good time with THE PRICE OF POWER, an interesting, unusual and original spag western from 1969 — the first film, as Alex Cox points out, to directly tackle the Kennedy assassination — though there are all those weird foreshadowing films like SUDDENLY and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE — and then there’s Mr. Zapruder’s magnum opus, which really wins first place.

But Tonino (MY NAME IS NOBODY) Valerii’s film, written with Massimo Patrizi and gothic/giallo specialist Ernesto Gastaldi, really goes for it, in the oddest way. In order to make the story of actual president James Garfield’s actual assassination feel a bit more resonant, they jettison all the facts and transport the event to Dallas, represented by standing sets from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Van Johnson is imported to play the doomed prez, and the basic events we can all agree upon — sniper kills POTUS, patsy is arrested and assassinated, shadowy cabal of political/business interests pays the bills — are recycled all’Italiana, with many additional massacres featuring electronically amplified gun blasts (every gunshot has a ricochet PANG! even if there’s nothing around for the bullet to carom off of. And I generally liked the racial politics — there’s much talk of slavery and the slimy businessmen led by Fernando Rey are trying to undo the outcome of the Civil War. I loved the way the trauma of the actual hit-job causes the camera to come off its tripod and Zapruder around, panic-stricken. Valerii also throws in a lot of wacky diopter shots.

What, to me, stopped the film from really coming off, was the role of Giuliano Gemma, not because he’s absurdly handsome and has five hundred teeth, but because he wins, saves the day for democracy, and all is well. Alex Cox observes that “The necessary assumptions of the conspiracy film (almost-universal racism, total corruption of the police, double-dealing by the forces of authority) are already those of the spaghetti western, so there’s no conflict of interest.” But the Italian western mainly follows the required pattern of good guy versus bad guy, good guy wins. It’s just that usually, or in Leone anyhow, the good guy is less good. Even so, it’s impossible to imagine Leone ending a film with Volonte offing Eastwood (though he wanted to start OUATITWEST with all three of his stars from TGTBATUGLY being shot down by his new hero).

There are some stories, however, that don’t benefit from the popular and gratifying heroic triumph ending. Polanski noted that for the audience to care about CHINATOWN’s story of corruption, it shouldn’t end with the social problems being cleared up. They’re still with us, after all — capitalism, corruption and abuse — so suggesting that a lone private eye with a bisected nostril solved them in the 1930s would be dishonest.

This is where THE BIG SILENCE comes in. I’ve resisted Sergio Corbucci after being underwhelmed by the original DJANGO — the mud, the coffin and the sadism were all neat, but it was extremely poorly shot, and how dare anyone compare a poorly-shot film favourably to Leone?

THE BIG SILENCE is also photographically iffy, but at the same time has many splendid wide shots, thanks to the snowy Tyrolean locations. What uglifies Corbucci’s shooting is the messy, out-of-focus, misframed and herky-jerky closeups. Like Tinto Brass, Corbucci seems to position his cameras at random, stage the blocking without regard to what can be seen, and throw the whole mess together in a vaguely cine-verita manner. And one of his operators here is incompetent. What beautifies it is the costumes, actors, settings, and wide shots. And he has Morricone (with Riz Ortolani) providing a unique, wintry, romantic score.

The set-up is stark and simple: outside the aptly-named town of Snow Hill, a raggletaggle band of outlaws is starving, picked off by bounty hunters. A new sheriff (Frank Wolff) has been sent to impose order. A military man, he means well, but is of uncertain competence: on his way to town he’s robbed of his horse by the desperate outlaws, who eat it.

The movie’s sidelining of the “new sheriff in town” is amusing — our main characters are to be Loco (in the original language version, Tigrero), a preening, psychopathic bounty hunter played by Klaus Kinski, and Silence, a mute killer of bounty killers, played by a Mauser-wielding Jean-Louis Trintignant in what’s apparently his favourite role. Silence has no dialogue but he does have a traumatic flashbackstory, as was becoming de rigeur in Leone films.

There’s also Vonetta McGee, later borrowed by Alex Cox for REPO MAN, rather magnificent as a widow who hires Silence, paying him with her body, to kill Loco. And the usual corrupt manager of the general store. Spaghetti westerns are communistic in a low-key way, the business interests are usually the real bad guys.

The body count is high, as we’d expect. The blood is very red. The bad guys are very bad, and they have it mostly their own way. The typical baroque whimsicality of the genre’s violence is in evidence: rather than shooting his opponent, Kinski shoots the ice he’s standing on, dropping him into the freezing water. But, unusually, none of this is funny. The sadism is intense: even our hero has a tendency to shoot men’s thumbs off when they surrender (stops them from unsurrendering). There’s a really intense focus on INJURY TO THE HAND, which goes back to Django but becomes demented here. Paul Schrader attributed this motif to writers’ anxiety — hands are what you write with.

Cox points out that, though the film is terse and devoid of subplots, the author of the English dub, Lewis Ciannelli (son of actor Eduardo Ciannelli), has used the Utah setting to insert some stuff about the outlaws being victims of religious persecution, suggesting they’re Mormons. At least they’re treated more sympathetically than in THE BIG GUNDOWN… up to a point.

Introducing the film on Moviedrome back in the day, Cox remarked, “And the ending is the worst thing ever.” Meaning it as praise, you understand.

The movie’s ending is its most astonishing element. It stands comparison with CHINATOWN, and is even more startling in a way since there are, after all, plenty of noirs with tragic endings (but none quite like the one Polanski imposed on Robert Towne — Towne’s ending was a tragedy that solves the social problem — Polanski’s instead sets it in cement).

Corbucci came up with the story, penning the script with the usual football team of collaborators. His widow, says Cox, “told Katsumi Ishikuma that her husband had the deaths of Che Guevara and Malcolm X in mind.” Che’s murder happened right before the shoot. This gives the film its unusual seriousness, and what makes it more effective than THE PRICE OF POWER is Corbucci upends the genre conventions that would prevent the horror from staying with us.

THE PRICE OF POWER stars Erik the Viking; Dr. Randall ‘Red’ Adams; and Don Lope.

THE BIG SILENCE stars Marcello Clerici; Don Lope de Aguirre; Proximates the Tyrant; Father Pablo Ramirez; Chico; Fregonese the Tyrant; Principe di Verona; and Marlene.