Archive for The Taking of Pellham 123

Juice Ex Machina

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 7, 2014 by dcairns


The perfect cocktail recipe — a bit like Bunuel’s but with traditional vermouth, not Angustura bitters. Just one of the helpful life lessons imparted in this film!

I remembered liking COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT — someone recently suggested I revisit it — Fiona has an idea for a movie about artificial intelligence — she hadn’t seen this one since she was a teenager — so it seemed right to look at it again. Probably the last screening I experienced was pan-and-scanned, and it’s a lovely widescreen film with magnificent blocking.


I’m a great fan of Joseph Sargent’s THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 and it was exciting to note that some of that film’s best tropes are trotted out here too (strengthening the case for Sargent as artist rather than just journeyman) — we have a nice example of the Fritz Lang cutting that binds together PELHAM, with one scene’s opening shot or line answering a question or completing a thought introduced at the end of the preceding sequence — it is of course entirely right for a film about a superbrain dictator to borrow from MABUSE in this manner. We also have a dynamically, shockingly abrupt ending, though “Never” here isn’t quite as strong as “Gesundheit” in PELHAM — the editor, Folmar Blangsted, having I think gotten overly caught up in an arty splitscreen sequence to the detriment of the character.

Speaking of character — my memory of the film was that all the humans in it were kind of flat, not in a 2001 way (though that movie must have been an influence), where the deliberately low-affect perfs were a bold attempt at authenticity — astronauts MUST NOT be excitable people — but more like THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, where Michael Crichton’s inability to write human beings filtered through into the movie and left us with a rather dowdy, gray set of central figures. But actually COLOSSUS strikes a neat balance between realistically low-key and frustratingly cold — Eric Braeden is simply masterful in the lead, not too endearing, not too frosty, and with enough ironic humour to humanize and ironize the proceedings. We found ourselves just adoring every little thing he did.


Fiona: “Why isn’t this a celebrated classic?”

Also: some lovely Albert Whitlock matte paintings. Jazzy music by Michel Colombier (an unexpected escapee from the universe of Jacques Demy) who interacts with the actors movements around the widescreen frame and the clickings and whirrings of the amusingly antiquated Colossus (it uses punch-holes! bless its silicon heart) in a snappy, syncopated style. The smart script is by James Bridges, and it has to balance the requirements of a thriller with more cerebral concerns — nobody ever seems to strain to close the gap between the two.