Friday 24 June 2016

A Question

Are there any filmmaker/critic books where there is a real dialogue between them, one that sees the critic and the filmmaker go at one another in a dialogical or dialectic way?

This is prompted by reading Ebert on Scorsese and wanting to see Ebert ask Scorsese questions about Taxi Driver such as:

The Travis/Betsy date at a porn film: Is the context that of porno chic or afterwards? When Schrader wrote the script was it porno chic, so not so strange for a guy to take a gal to a hardcore film, with the potential for both to show their sophistication, but by the time the film was released had it been rewritten with a post-'Throat Cut' hardcore ghettoisation?

Does Scorsese know when the porn film within the film, Language of Love, played in 42nd Street grindhouses and the version it screened in? Did he ever go see it? Did he choose it as the diegetic porn text and the images we see and hear with any particular motivation/reference?

How did Schrader feel about Scorsese’s deciding to have Travis not only kill guys who are black? (Which spirals into another set of questions.)

Did Scorsese ever think of doing a fuck you to the MPAA etc. and not toning down the colour of the blood in the final showdown?

Was Romero a truer heir to Powell for not compromising with the MPAA on Dawn of the Dead?

Something with Godard in French maybe? Or Pasolini in Italian?

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Golgo 13

This live-action adaptation of Takao Saito’s manga stars Ken Takakura as the titular assassin -- his pseudonym refers to Golgotha and Judas Iscariot’s role as the 13th man, the betrayer -- who is hired to identify and kill crime boss Max Boa.

Golgo's employer knows that Boa’s base of operations is Iran and has provided Golgo with photographs of several men bearing Boa’s name along with a somewhat implausible cover story of being on his honeymoon with his Iranian wife. But otherwise Boa is about as mysterious as Golgo himself.

The Iranian aspect is where Golgo 13 gets interesting beyond its Japanese action-movie formula. For we have a Japanese lead and crew filming in pre-revolutionary Iran with a cast that is otherwise Iranian -- and it is all dubbed into Japanese.

The closest point of comparison I can think of is Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django, with its largely Japanese cast playing cowboys and speaking in phonetic English, except that here things are done without any obvious sense of parody or irony.

You’re not supposed to notice or bother when a car chase sees one vehicle, formerly containing four men, suddenly be empty when it crashes and explodes, nor that Golgo sticks out like a sore thumb as what seems to be the only East Asian man in the entirety of Iran, nor that the two hitmen brought in from France by one of Boa’s underlings to take him out look utterly un-French.

Instead it’s more a case of sit back and enjoy the unpretetentious does-what-it-says on the tin action, along with some impressive vistas that would not look out of place in a John Ford or Sergio Leone western, or the intrinsic documentary value of seeing then-up-to-the-minute images of westernising/modernising Iran inadvertently juxtaposed those that would become predominant a few years later.

Besides, Ken Takakura is the sort of guy -- think Toshiro Mifune through Clint Eastwood and back again -- who just has that effortless coolness to him...

Macbeth Unhinged

Watching a film adaptation of Macbeth, or any similar canonical work of theatre or literature, is an intrinsically different viewing experience from the usual. Knowing what’s going to happen, more or less – the only omission I noted here was Birnam Wood coming to life – you find yourself devoting a greater proportion of your attention to the mise-en-scene, the performances, the use of sound, and so forth.

Scotsman Angus Macfadyen’s adaptation – in addition to directing he also plays the title role – relocates the play in time to the present day, as signalled by the likes of African-American actor Harry Lennix playing Banquo; guns co-existing with daggers; magazine covers presenting Lady Macbeth as a style icon; and, above all, the locations for much of the narrative being the interiors of black limousines – that of Macbeth’s has the personalised number plate Lady Mcb, a nice touch that shows the power dynamics of their relationship before we get into the familiar text.

This stylistic device means that Macfadyen makes extensive use of close-ups and shot-reverse-shot, closing the play in rather than opening it out. The confined interiors make one think that much of the time the film must have been constructed in the editing rather than in the camera, with the actors delivering their performances individually rather than playing off one another as they were recorded by multiple cameras.

This sense of the importance of the editors’ contributions is further enhanced by the frequent use of superimpositions. These, it is important to note, are not used in a particularly obvious or consistent way – it is not that the ghost Banquo appears to Macbeth as a superimposition, for instance, instead being rendered normally to him but invisible to his wife.

The film’s sense of place is more ambiguous. Exteriors were shot in Virginia USA, but whether they are supposed to be Scotland, New York, or wherever is difficult to say. Being grey – except for three brief moments, two being gunshots vaguely recalling Hitchcock’s Spellbound, the film is shot entirely in monochrome – flat and featureless, they have the characteristics of what Gilles Deleuze described as the any-space-whatever.

This impression is strengthened by the way Macfadyen tends to shoot the exteriors, one that contrasts with the aforementioned limousine scenes, through use of more theatre-style long shots and tableaux. Suffice to say that if the Virginia film board were hoping that this film would showcase their state as an attractive place to visit or film in – unless you wanted to make a Stalker or suchlike – they probably didn’t get their money’s worth.

In sum, an interesting experiment, but not the sort of adaptation you’d want to use in a high school English class.