Sunday, April 26, 2020

Towering Infernoir

Had a lot of fun going back to Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men preparing for an appearance on the All the President's Minutes podcast. Pakula was on fucking fire for a stretch in the seventies crafting stylistically bold, innovative and influential films that smoldered, simmered and blazed on their own, but became some kind of towering infernoir of thematically scathing, acid-baths scalding off any sheen left on the American experiment. If you were going to compile a list of paranoia/conspiracy thriller all-timers you'd surely have to include Klute, The Parallax View and All the President's Men. You'd have to. Have to. You would.

As much as I admire Pakula and All the President's Men, it's not one I'd watched in probably twenty years (Klute's the one I re-watch the most), so revisiting I was a little shocked by how quietly it had set the template for so much of what followed. I enjoyed revisiting Dick (and even said I identified much more with Will Ferrell and Bruce McCullough's Woodward & Bernstein than I did Redford and Hoffman's - can't believe I actually admitted that publicly) and watching The Final Days. even snuck Elvis & Nixon in there because why the hell not - (btw Michael Shannon's Elvis is a performance you really need to experience. I've very much enjoyed recent depictions of The King including his and Ron Livingston's from Shangri-La Suite - I like how Elvis -and Nixon- have become mythic, larger than life figures to have a take on rather than historic figures to portray as strictly accurately as possible). 

My teenaged son sat in with me for a viewing and I especially enjoyed getting his perspective as a first time viewer relatively unexposed to Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards, as well as fuzzy on the story of Woodward & Bernstein and Richard Nixon. All of that is discussed in the episode which you can listen to here.

The dogged pursuit of the the story in All the President's Men is complimented by the determination of All the President's Minutes' creator and host, Blake Howard. You may know his name from previous projects exploring his cinematic obsessions as the host of One Heat Minute, The Last (12 Minutes) of the Mohicans, The Take, Con(Ten)gen and as producer of Icrement Vice, Josie and the Podcasts and surely more to come including an examination of David Fincher's Zodiac and Michael Mann's Miami Vice.

Of fucking course.

Anyway, you should check out Blake's work including his essays and reviews. Most things Howard-centric can be found at the One Heat Minute Productions website.

Another one I recently revisited with my son was John McTiernan's The Hunt For Red October (talk about another on-fucking-fire-for-a-hot-minute guy: Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt For motherfucking Red October - fuck), I followed it up with my first viewing of Wolfgang Peterson's Das Boot which was yeah, great. Struck me that both films ask of American audiences that they ditch nationalism for humanity and sympathize with "the enemy," which is always a big ask for us, but maybe never more timely. Afterward I read Priscilla Page's terrific essay on Red October (knowing it was out there certainly contributed to my interest to revisit) and found she'd laid it out there even better than I just did.
Couple John McTiernan observations occurred to me though - the first is addressed in Page's piece, the similar framing device of Die Hard's John McClane and October's Jack Ryan being vulnerable heroes who have to deal with significant anxiety about flying. 
Compare McClane & Ryan's early scenes to our introduction to the mercs in McTiernan's Predator -all eager to outdo the other's macho posturing during the turbulent helicopter ride to the action - the mercs end up slaughtered when they encounter an adversary they can't understand. Seems like a clear understanding of your own vulnerability is a big key to surviving a McTiernan movie. 

Then there's that nationalism that both the antagonists of Red October and Die Hard's exceptional thieves count on the Americans being blinded by and unable to perceive what's really going on. The mercs in Predator are the "buckaroos" (Sean Connery's) Ramius knows will fuck it all up. Meanwhile McClane slips Hans Gruber's generalization of Americans who all want to be John Wayne by being more partial to Roy Rogers -the signing cowboy- actually.

I dunno, stood out. Maybe it's the pandemic.

Thanks to Jordan Harper's Letterboxd review I jumped on Golgo 13: The Professional and found the first anime feature I've ever enjoyed. It's on Prime now and I highly recommend checking it out. It's so stylish it's easy to see where folks from Michael Mann to John Woo and Christopher Nolan found inspiration for their visual storytelling. Based on the popular Manga, it's only one of several film and television adaptations including two 1970s live-action turns from Ken Takakura and Sonny Chiba. I watched a few and 1983's The Professional stands high above all of them.

During this pandemic I've been mining Ryan Jackson's Twitter feed for gold tracking his progress as he explores crime films of the 60s, 70s and 80s especially foreign imports. I've watched a lot of new to me titles based on his posts - sometimes just the poster and other times a review. I'd had Michael Apted's The Squeeze on my to-watch list for some time, but seeing Ryan's review made me finally get off my duff and watch it and ho-lee-shit it's the best new to me 70s crime picture I've seen in a while. Just fucking cold, hard, misanthropic nastiness. Really terrific. Stacy Keach is fantastic. Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanJackson.

A bunch of the stuff Ryan's been watching are Italian Poliziotteschis of the 70s, a category I only started exploring myself a few years ago when I stumbled on to the works of Fernando Di Leo (who remains my favorite, most consistently good, director in the genre (though I've seen a stinker from him too). Basically the Italians flooded the market with their knockoffs of iconic American cop and gangster films making many hundreds of these pictures in such quick succession that the novelty quickly wore off and the quality dropped fast. But holy shit, the good ones are among the best crime films I've ever seen.

If you're new to them I'd recommend Anne Billson's piece Italy, Armed to the Teeth, on her favorites as a starting place or check out Mike Malloy's documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s now available for free on Tubi (and I heard it's coming to Prime soon).

I've enjoyed a lot of film docs recently because sometimes I need to take a break from watching films and instead watch films about films. A few I've especially enjoyed?

All the Colors of Giallo - Federico Caddeo - Nice overview of the genre's roots and the Italian film makers who defined the movement. It's available on Prime.

American Grindhouse - Elija Drenner - All the drive-in and grindhouse genres covered in this one now available on Prime and Kanopy.

De Palma - Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow - A film by film examination of Brian De Palma's body of work including brand new input with the man himself. Now available on Netflix and Kanopy.

Easy Riders & Raging Bulls - Kenneth Bowser - A look at the end of the big-studio system and the rise of independent film movement and New Hollywood.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - Mark Hartley - The unlikely rise, ridiculous run and inevitable fall of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the dudes behind Cannon Films who left its mark on the 1980s.

Inside Deep ThroatFenton Bailey, Randy Barbato - A look at the cultural event that was Deep Throat and how it changed popular culture's relationship with pornography as well as the big business of porn and organized crime. Now on DirecTV and Starz.

The Kid Stays in the Picture Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen - Based on the memoir of the same name by Robert Evans, the outsized ego behind a lot of your favorite pictures from New Hollywood era. Now on DirecTV and Starz.

Los Angeles Plays Itself - Thom Andersen - A look at the way the city has been represented in film for decades from iconic locales to the shifting demographics and identities of the natives and residents. Now on Kanopy and Mubi.

Machete Maidens Unleashed - Mark Hartley - A look at the Filipino film industry in the 70s with the explosion of western exposure with a lot of focus on Roger Corman (and, Cirio H. Santiago of course). Available on Hoopla.

Milius - Joey Figueroa, Zak Knutson - A look behind the myth and rumors about John Milius. Always an entertaining subject. Now available on Tubi, Hoopla and Prime.

OvernightMark Brian Smith, Tony Montana - The story of Troy Duffy is a hilarious cautionary tale of the dangers having a drop of talent matched with an outsized ego. Find it on Hoopla.

Remake, Remix, Rip-Off - Cem Kaya - A fascinating look at the cultural evolution of Turkish cinema. The inspiration, innovation and hutzpah the performers, and directors needed to pull off these cheap and wild films is incredible.

The SarnosWiktor Ericsson - Story of sexploitation filmmaker Joe Sarno and his wife Peggy. Dunno why I'm so fascinated by the dirty stuff, but there you go. Available on Popcornflix.

Survival of the Film FreaksKyle Kuchta, Bill Fulkerson - Fans, curators, film makers and distributors of the 21st century explore the idea, history and experience of 20th century cult films and speculate on the future. Now streaming on Prime.

Trumbo - Peter Askin - The story of Dalton Trumbo with special focus on his fight against HUAC and the blacklist with dramatic readings of his personal correspondence. Now on Kanopy and Prime.

Few more of my favorites films about films listed here.

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