Archive for Yojimbo

Slow Talk & Fast Driving

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2015 by dcairns

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I’d never seen THE DRIVER but was just coming around to the idea of Walter Hill, after appreciating HARD TIMES, but I couldn’t quite get along with this one. If Bruce Dern is so wired — as he clearly is — why is he talking so slow? And if Ryan O’Neal is such a tough guy, why does he look like a scared little boy except when he puts his sunglasses on? I guess that’s physiognomy rather than performance, essence rather than attitude.

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The idea of making a self-consciously Melvillean, existential crime thriller (none of the characters have names) is ambitious, but even Melville sometimes had trouble carrying off the weighty approach to crime drama, and I think pulp dialogue sounds better fast, and you need the right actors. All the leads here are slightly off, and Ronee Blakely just can’t do the role. Hill reportedly wrote all-male scripts whenever possible, and then just gender-switched one or two without changing the dialogue — this worked for his rewrite of ALIEN, and it could have worked here, but Blakely is too warm to play a Melvillean professional. She can never be all business.

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I was amused by the Hollywood conceit that a getaway driver would have an agent who sets up his jobs — maybe it’s even true. Nothing felt particularly authentic, though, it felt like other movies. Which is fine, but Melville at his best seems to be about something more than movies — probably what he’s about is his Resistance experience, which is why ARMY OF SHADOWS is so much deeper than LE SAMURAI, as stylish and impressive as that film is.

This isn’t as silly as DRIVE, at least, a movie which was equally slick and equally self-serious. But characters keep doing daft things — sometimes these things work for them, implausibly, which doesn’t make it OK. As with HEAT, I get frustrated when a movie deals with characters who are supposed to be incredible professionals, experts in their field, and they keep doing silly things.

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The stunts are good. I think, in fairness, the experience suffered a lot by the print having faded — it was pinkish, with milky blacks, a fatal condition for a movie seemingly based on crunchy shadows and neon and flourescent greens.

THE WARRIORS, by contrast, screened on DCP and looked great. A great 35mm print would have been even better (as with THE JERICHO MILE and SALEM’S LOT) but the vibrancy of the images was nothing to sneeze at. You did need a hankie, though, because the performances and dialogue were sneeze-worthy much of the time.

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The Lambada Meinhoff Gang.

“A film for 14-year-old boys,” was Fiona’s not unsympathetic verdict. The plot — a complete fantasy of street life crossbred with Xenophon’s Anabasis, is all engine, with characterisation something snatched up randomly on the way. Women are present as potential rape victims (something Hill has the taste to avoid showing overtly). This nonsense was taken seriously in both the US and UK as something which might INSPIRE CRIME — and it does make hitting somebody with a bat look enjoyable and rewarding, so I guess for the very dumb it could be problematic. I would still blame the actual person with the actual bat, though, rather than the patterns of light on a screen and the sounds emanating from speakers.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be so camp,” Fiona also observed. Hill, apparently unaware of every possible signifier of homoeroticism, has made a flamboyantly queer odyssey, with costumes, performances and dialogue all reinforcing the man-on-man vibe. While the characters frequently repudiate each other for “turning faggot,” all their threats, insults and figures of speech revolve around sodomy, including a memorable offer to shove a baseball bat up a man’s rectum to transform him into a popsicle. Nice.

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The Badder Mime-Hoff Gang.

The lead gang has a nice interracial mix, in defiance of all realism, though most of the rest are ethnically divided. We particularly liked the tough mime gang (silent but deadly) and the guys clad in dungarees with a roller skating scout. The gangs all have names like “the Riffs” and “the Electric Eliminators.” There are a LOT of gangs. I speculate that some of the other names include ~

The Sobbing Godfreys. The Jewish Mothers. The Piccolos. The Munchers. The Traveling Wilburys. The Bathmats. The Venerable Scones. The Black Krankies. The Goofies. The Laughing Pepperpots. The Pummelers. The Hairy Fauves. The Munchkins. The Astral Tucans. The Coughdrops. The Corrs. The Knights of The Iguana. The Erik Estrada All-Stars. The Gardeners. The Joysticks. The Joss Sticks. The Joss Acklands. The Emotional Cosmetologists. The Bunsen-Honeydews. The Windolenes. The Avaricious Pandas. The Nasty Boys. The Sweaty Poppinjays. The Miami Dolphins. The Shrove Tuesdays. The Gelfs. The Muffintops. The Wheedlers. The Men of Harlech. The Pooh Sticks. The Roaring Calhouns. The Toffee Apples. The Bodysnatchers. The Bandersnatches. The Cumberbatches.

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The Ho Chi Min-Hoff Gang.

In both movies, Hill has a cut revealing that twenty-to-a-hundred extras have entered the scene with malicious intent without being notices, in a few seconds while a character’s back was turned. In neither film does this work, exactly. Although it gets a laugh, so maybe…

I was pondering Hill’s weakness for wipes, and remembered that Kurosawa had a weakness for wipes too (but he grew out of it). The end of THE WARRIORS follows the end of YOJIMBO rather closely. Poor YOJIMBO, hasn’t it been plundered enough? (Apparently not: Hill was still to make LAST MAN STANDING.)

STOP PRESS — after these enjoyable follies, we ran into THE LONG RIDERS, and THAT one is seriously excellent. More on it later.

Piss and Vinegar

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2015 by dcairns

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For some reason, even for a confused liberal like me, it’s often extremely satisfying to see a policeman protagonist smacking suspects around and GETTING ANSWERS. It’s something that seems to just work in drama, and it can even be amusing, which speaks to something dark and stupid in human nature. Also, maybe it’s pleasing because it acknowledges something we believe goes on, but which isn’t always admitted in reassuring fictions. Still, after the recent massacre in Paris, there was something satisfying about watching both of Claude Chabrol’s Inspector Lavardin films (POULET AU VINAIGRE and INSPECTEUR LAVARDIN), in which glinty, flinty Jean Poiret plays Dominique Roulet’s quirky copper (likes his eggs just so), beating up witnesses, letting killers off on a whim, stitching up those who may not be precisely guilty as charged.

“Life is absurd,” is Lavardin’s philosophy, and the films are charming and entertaining because of not despite their ethical shock factor — it’s liberating to see a character who cares nothing for the accepted rules of his profession and operates entirely according to his own sensibility. The disturbing undercurrent is the certainty that these methods ARE used, and are not so whimsically funny in real life.

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Lavardin is like Kurosawa’s Sanjuro character from YOJIMBO and SANJURO, upsetting the accepted codes of his genre and being so popular doing it that an immediate sequel becomes necessary. While Kurosawa boldly cast the same actor, Tetsuya Nakadai, as Toshiro Mifune’s opponents in both films, killing him off each time, and Sergio Leone repeated this trope with Gian Maria Volonte in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (even though FAFDM has nothing in common with SANJURO except that it’s a sequel to a version of YOJIMBO), Chabrol was not quite so shameless: he waited until Lavardin got his own TV show (Les Dossiers Secret de l’Inspecteur Lavardin) to recast ex-wife Stephane Audran.

The first film enjoys a slow, convoluted set-up, one of those things where one worries that the various dastardly characters, their dysfunctional relationships and covert schemes will never fully become clear, or that one won’t be clever or French enough to understand them. Lavardin enters quite late in the action, because the deaths don’t start until midway. It’s a familiar structure from movies like GREEN FOR DANGER or FARGO or the TV show Columbo or its antecedent, QUAI DES ORFEVRES. Whereas FARGO and Columbo show the elaborate set-up to a crime, concealing nothing, and QUAI DES ORFEVRES pretends to but keeps something up its sleeve, Lavardin’s first case echoes Inspector Cockrill’s (Launder & Gilliat wanted to star Alastair Sim in a whole series of Cockrill adventures after GREEN FOR DANGER, based on Christianna Brand’s delightful whodunnits, but the star refused to repeat himself) — we see and hear plenty, but not enough to fully understand the key elements. Then Lavardin comes along and not only catches up with us in record time despite everyone lying their heads off, he supercedes our understanding and cracks the case (and a few heads).

Enjoyable as this is (with a surprising number of plot elements from PSYCHO — crazy mother in cellar, car winched from ravine), the sequel is even better, starting as it does with a corpse on a beach (the word “PORC” etched on his chubby back). This means Lavardin is on the scene in an instant, and we discover the intricacies of the case through his beady, skeptical, humorous but reptilian eyes.

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I’ve heard it suggested that Chabrol came to despise mankind or at least his characters, but this does not quite seem to me to be true. There’s a bit of Clouzot’s wry affection (seeing mankind at its worst but rather liking it anyway) and there’s also the Coen defense, that these are genre exercises and the people AREN’T REAL. The filmmakers want their rats to not only run a maze, but an obstacle course. It’s all in fun, except when it’s not.

I’ve not quite decided if Chabrol’s latter-day authorial cynicism amounts to full-scale misanthropy. He seems too jocular for that. But if you want to see traditional detective stories reinvigorated by a change of attitude in the central character, Lavardin’s your man.

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To get both films you have to buy two box sets, it seems. But hey, that means more Chabrol.

The Claude Chabrol Collection – Vol. 2 [DVD]

In desperation, the pun “Poulet au Vinaigre” which means Chicken with Vinegar but also “vinegary policeman” has been substituted with the title COP AU VIN, which is easier for Brits to understand except it doesn’t really mean anything.

The Essential Claude Chabrol Vol. 1 (3 disc box set) [DVD]

Stand Back!

Posted in FILM with tags , on June 19, 2013 by dcairns

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Episode 10 of our serial photoplay, THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS, is entitled The Ape-Man, and unlike episode 9 it is NOT missing. But you may wish it was.

So, we’re in the palatial residence of the mysterious Wang Foo. Bumbling criminologist is about to get knifed between the shoulder blades by heroine Ruth Stanhope, who has been hypnotized and possessed by the soul of Zora the vamp. But the strange disembodied eyes intervene — somehow — and psychic control is broken off. Smartly, Carter first pretends he’s dead so he can biff a guard, then hides in the closet while Ruth pretends she’s still hypnotized and claims that Carter has escaped. (Similar to trick pulled in YOJIMBO. Maybe Kurosawa was a fan.) Wang Foo is not pleased ~

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“So, in other words, you DO allow your slaves NOT to fail–WITH punishment–so that they WON’T remember to fail again?”

Wang gets his cat o’nine tails out, causing Carter to give himself away — but he’s trapped in the closet, not an ideal tactical position. It’s fair to say the situation becomes fraught. The bloodthirsty Wang Foo-ites riddle the closet with bullets. For about ten minutes. Get out of that!

Meanwhile, as they say in the comics, Ruth’s dad, long feared dead, is in the American hotel when a fist fight breaks out between two rival factions — the rug merchant’s Satanists, and Raoul Bernay, who was also feared dead, and who has recently been caught impersonating Monsieur X. All clear so far? There will be a quiz later.

Dead dad spots dead Raoul and realizes neither of them is really dead.

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The fight is protracted, fairly violent, and largely hilarious, and nearly tears down the flimsy hotel set, which would leave everybody in a right pickle. You can’t enact a serial photoplay adventure on an empty sound stage amid a heap of matchwood. Adventure requires exciting backdrops. That’s basic, man.

Now Jan the Tunisian, the one who is obviously Monsieur X, turns up and plays a scene with Zora the vamp, just to let you know he’s still around. He also sports a nifty leather coat. He entrusts her with his stash of ceremonial daggers and asks her to meet him in Paris. So that’s exciting — we’re going to Paris.

By complete coincidence, the not-dead-Raoul, rattled by his scuffle with the Satanists, is also considering a trip to Europe.

Wang Foo orders Zora to go to Paris to rejoin and spy on the Satanists, which fits in nicely with her plans as she was heading that way anyhow. He tells her to meet him at No. 18, Rue Mort. I guess that would be in the 666th Arrondissement.

Monsieur X, who is definitely the Tunisian, tells Abboul the rug merchant that he’s been robbed of the daggers which we just saw him give Zora. He sends them to Paris too. All that’s needed is for some plot mechanism to send Carter and Ruth there too, once we establish how Carter’s survived certain death. Oh yes, and we need him to be faced with certain death again so the episode can end on a cliffhanger…

Ruth finally opens the bullet-ridden closet to find Carter GONE. A furious Wang threatens to throw her to his ape-man, Borno. And I suddenly realize that Borno is the little servant guy in the Tarzan costume. Not really an ape-man, then. More like a primeval jockey. Nevertheless, Ruth is again faced with a fate worse than death, though mercifully not worse than being chased around the room by a scruffy jockey. She pelts him with throw cushions, but still he advances, implacable yet minute.

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Carter to the rescue — after running all around the building, he re-enters the room via the trap-door he’d used to escape (and which Wang Foo, the homeowner, apparently knew nothing about). Disabling the rampant dwarf by throttling them and then hurling him across the room, he tries to reach Ruth, who has barricaded herself in the next room. But, seeing the door bulge inward as he batters it, Ruth fears the ape-man is still coming for her, and prepares to plunge a dagger into her breast, probably hoping that will put him off the idea.

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