Monday, November 10, 2008

The pen is truly mightier than the sword...

The film noir genre is probably the most substantial genre in film history. It's able to be re-written, re-told, re-imagined, and re-made over and over and it has a history of success. All you need are characters that you truly care about in joining this journey of intrigue, deception, and danger. A noir can be created out of just about any kind of subject matter. No matter how frivolous and trivial the object of the story may be, a noir can be successful with the right writer. How can you tell if you have a good noir on your hands? Well we've already established the need for a great central character, but why not two characters? Who said it can only involve one person? The character should also be someone you're truly interested in. Do you want to know why the detective in the dilapidated office at the end of the block is some how the only person right for the job? Do you want to know why the character is alone, depressed, haggard? Maybe you wanna know why he/she is so good at their job? A great character introduction in the noir department is important, after all this is the person you are following for the duration of the film and is basically your tour guide through the environments you will be entering. The next important puzzle piece in a film noir is a question, that is to say; Who did it? Why are they doing it? Who's behind this? Being a murder, a criminal case, a charge of conspiracy, and even cases of real estate fraud can be a subject that upon first listen can seem boring, but it's the way the web is woven that truly gives the story it's luster and beauty. You know the noir is a failure if you already know the conclusion 15 minutes into the film. A truly good noir unravels with the utmost precision in small layers at a time to keep the viewer guessing and anticipating what will happen next. To make a good noir film, you must have a filmmaker that understands a good noir film, after all these films were the back bone of cinema in the 40's, 50's, and 60' why should the 70's and even the films of today be any different? Alfred Hitchcock set the bar when it comes to making a good and successful noir, some people understood it and some people didn't. What Hitchcock always did however, was eventually surprise you in it's conclusion and that's truly what makes a good noir. Films like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Vertigo, and Third Man are all good examples of a noir that truly works it's impact and the magic unfolds before your very eyes in a contemporary setting. With that being said, for my next entry in the 70's cinema month on the frequencies blog; Noir in the 70's.


Robert Towne wrote this masterful screenplay about a private eye named Jake Gittes uncovering more than he expected in what is considered to be one of the greatest noir film entries of all time. Our story centers around Gittes (Jack Nicholson) who is hired by a woman named Mrs. Mulwray, who suspects her husband of cheating. Mr. Mulwray is one of the city's most powerful; involved in the development of the city's water management supply. Gittes completes what he is hired to do, however spying on Mr. Mulwray only opens a pandora's box of municipal corruption, deceit, and murder. Set in the 1930's era of Los Angeles, Chinatown was the brainchild of Robert Towne after declining to work on F Scott's Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The screenplay was originally 180 pages long; which in reality would mean the film would've been quite lengthy since a page is supposed to equal a minute's worth of screen time. The abridged script eventually made it's way to the lap of director Roman Polanski who was reluctant to return to the United States to shoot again since his wife was murdered by the Manson Family. Polanski finally agrees and Jack Nicholson takes the role of Jake Gittes and noir history is made. Chinatown, aside from most film noirs, was exciting and different at the time because of one major person involved. Roman Polanski created this film in such a manner that makes the audience directly involved in Gittes journey of solving the case and that's what makes the film so special. Polanski shot and paced the film in a manner where the audience was learning of all Gittes clues and leads at the exact same time he is; to keep the audience guessing. Eventually Chinatown became a huge success and was eventually followed up in 1990 with Nicholson starring and directing. The Two Jakes wasn't quite as impressive as Chinatown and shot the possibility of what I understand were Towne's intentions of turning the Gittes mysteries into a trilogy. In 1975, Chinatown swept the oscars in nearly every category from Best Actor, Actress, Director, Picture, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, etc....only to take home one that evening for Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne. A staple in hollywood history, mystery, and noir...Chinatown with it's complex story and characters juxtaposed to it's simple and nearly no effects laden execution, makes the film one that people now can even understand why it's reverred as one of the best noirs ever to be seen on the big screen.

Movie: The Conversation Pictures, Images and Photos

Paranoia and suspicion are the elephants in the room in most noir films, but not like in Coppola's 1974 classic The Conversation. Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, an audio surveillance specialist hired to spy on the conversation of a couple in a crowded town square on suspicion of foul play to the person who originally hired Caul. Caul is a very strange character that somehow finds his way into our interests more so because of his actions and his secretive demeanor. Hackman delivers a performance that's one of the strongest of his career next to his portrayal of the hard boiled narcotics detective Popeye Doyle in the French Connection. Caul's reluctance of trusting anyone from his longtime partner; wonderfully played by John Cazale (The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon) to his girlfriend; Teri Garr only adds to the question of "why?". As the film progresses, Harry Caul has a reason to believe that the audio tapes he's ordered to deliver are dangerous to the people he was surveilling. The persistence of "the director"'s assistant; played by Harrison Ford, in retrieving the tapes only raises his suspicion that something is definitely not safe. Francais Ford Coppola had originally written this film in the mid-60s when he was beginning his film career and always found it hard to get it to the screen. It was only after the success of the Godfather, was when he was able to make just about any film he wanted. Ultimately, the film went on to be nominated and well received by both the academy and audiences as well. The film's paranoid undertones and audio surveillance scenes were always compared to the similar situation that happened with President Nixon in the Watergate Scandal, which could've been a contributing factor to the film's success and intrigue. None the less, The Conversation is another entry in the extraordinary repertoire of 70's cinema, and is a different take on the noir genre entirely. The Conversation is in my personal favorites of the director's films and according to many people who've spoken with Coppola; it's one of his as well.


I've always said that when it came to the films of Dustin Hoffman, from the start of his career in the Graduate in the late 60's to 1980, everything he did was absolute gold. From Straw Dogs, Kramer vs. Kramer, Marathon Man, John and Mary, and Papillon his ability to do just about any character made him one of the most special actors this generation has come to know and love. All The President's Men is another entry in this man's illustrious career. All The President's Men is an adapted screenplay based on a novel by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about their investigation of the Watergate Scandal while employed by the Washington Post. There isn't much to explain past what I've mentioned because this is a pillar in american history. June 19th, 1972, 5 men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. It was said that Nixon from the beginning was involved and news made it to the Washington Post where Woodward and Bernstein were working. The film follows their dedication and persistence to uncovering as much information as they possibly could with every possible wave ahead of them, professionally and personally. Woodward also includes in the book; which also becomes part of them film, close accounts with the person who brought the Watergate investigation to it's knees with a person named "Deep Throat". The film's fantastic and exciting journey for the search of any and all evidence of this break in is considered by many to be one of the most exciting noir films in history. A completely different take on the whole noir film genre as a whole since the detectives are reporters and what they are investigating is something that really happened. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman's chemistry is undeniable from the second they meet on screen together. The film eventually went to be nominated in nearly every category possible including Best Picture. Armed with a great behind the scenes crew and a wonderful supporting cast alongside Hoffman and Redford; which included Jason Robards, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, and Ned Beatty. All The President's Men is an exciting look at the process of investigation and with no gunplay, action, car chases...proves that sometimes the pen can truly be mightier than the sword.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Antihero lives in the 70's.

Continuing my theme this month of 70's films, I've decided to dive more into the term "antihero". What is an antihero? A good guy? A bad guy doing good things? A good guy doing bad things maybe? Lots of people will have their own definition. Harry Callahan could care less though. The reason why? Is because he is the ultimate antihero, one with a police badge. Clint Eastwood created one of the most iconic characters in film history with his portrayal of hard boiled San Francisco Inspector Harry Callahan. This film was exactly what everyone needed at the time of it's release, a man who wouldn't take it anymore, doing things his own way, and actually being commended for it!?! Directed by Don Siegel of Invasion of the Body Snatchers fame, this gritty police drama gave a new perspective to police films for it's visceral portrayal of violence and character study of someone who could come off as a loose cannon in the eyes of some, but is ultimately a hero in his own respect. On the trail of a sniper named "Scorpio" who continues to antagonize the police by sending them letters of a ransom demand or he will shoot people at random. Controversial at the time, the film was widely praised and also protested being that the Scorpio killer was also similar to the "Zodiac Killer" who was doing almost the same thing in San Francisco at that time. What sets this film apart from the rest is the fact that we see the urban setting usher in a new era of action films. The Wild Bunch in 1969 was a way of saying the "western" is almost dead and we needed something new. Dirty Harry is the answer, a western set in contemporary times with a hero who still "Shoots first and asks questions later" A pillar in 70's film history and a character that resonates to this day in the form of others such as Officer Alex Murphy of Robocop, John McClane in Die Hard, and even Bruce Wayne in the Batman series. Continuing with a franchise that went nearly 20 years strong, Harry Callahan will always be considered to be the first policeman to get things done. On that note, I leave you with my favorite quote from the film courtesy of

Harry Callahan: Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That's my policy.
The Mayor: Intent? How did you establish that?
Harry Callahan: When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher's knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross.
[walks out of the room]

After the success of Harry Callahan and the continuing anger of incidents such as Watergate, Vietnam, Kent State University shooting, etc...the creative forces continued to grow more angry by the second when things took so long to see concluded and we felt helpless. Here comes the next antihero of the 1970's to the rescue, Paul Kersey. So many people were offered the role of the architect who didn't want to sit around waiting for the justice to take care of his problems. Everyone was considered, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, even blue eyes himself Frank Sinatra! Ultimately, the producers decided on an up and coming star in his own right and with his own style. Charles Bronson! Known to some as Harmonica of Once Upon a Time in the West, and Danny Velinski aka "The Tunnel King" in the star studded "The Great Escape". It was Death Wish that catapulted Bronson to a status above many others for creating a character people really cared about. Paul Kersey is a successful architect and a bleeding heart liberal whose life is destroyed after his wife and daughter are attacked by punks posing as grocery boys. His wife eventually succumbs to the events while his daughter is left catatonic. Paul first spends his time playing ball with the legal system and giving them all info they ask for in order to solve the case. Eventually, he becomes another statistic of the crime ratio and no justice is served. His liberal outlook on life is then changed by his contempt for the legal system, criminal underworld, and life in general. Receiving a pistol as a gift on a business trip, Kersey then becomes walking bait on the streets of New York City murdering anyone who tries to hurt him. The effect is felt city-wide as criminal activity drops and the morale of the average citizen rises. Will the police stop him or commend him for doing the job they really can't do? Released in 1974, Death Wish was a hit with critics and audiences alike and spawned many sequels. It brings about the idea of what if justice was done in the hands of others? Does the legal system sometimes protect the guilty as much as it does the innocent? or does the balance somehow fall out of balance for those in the other spectrum? The film is powerful in rejuvenating a sense of hope that sometimes gets lost when we fall victim to things out of our control, yet also raises many questions from a moral stand point. The sequels somehow along the way get lost in it's absurdity though denying the power the original has is impossible. Kersey unlike Harry Callahan, was the everyman standing up to the scum that surrounded him. People flocked to this character in droves because of it's general appeal. Who needs a badge when all you need is a gun? The character to this day still ushers in the same effect and power as we've already seen in the 2007 remake "The Brave One" with Jodie Foster, and a remake to be made and released in 2009. No matter how many times the story is re-told, it will never be the same as it was fueled by the times, frustration, anger, and glimmer of hope this "antihero" brought to the screen. I give you Paul Kersey.

Sam Kreutzer: I'll bet muggings are down, and they're afraid to tell us.
Paul Kersey: There's only one way to find out. Take a walk on Columbus Avenue tonight

Clip of Death Wish (1974)

Clip from Dirty Harry (1971)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The 70's remembered...

"I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me."

Says the character of Marlon Brando's Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. I've said it before and I always say to all that ask my opinion on film. The 70's were indeed the greatest time for cinema. It was a different time then and a much more dangerous time in the world of mainstream cinema. Big budget hollywood epics were beginning to get tired and drawn out, costing too much money, and not making the revenue it was originally known to do. Films like Ben Hur, Lawrence Of Arabia, El Cid, Gone With The Wind...were and are classics in their own right, but people were looking for something new around this time.

Our nation's most unpopular war is now reaching about 4 years old, 1970 is a fresh decade with a new leader, new values, and new filmmakers on the rise. The unpopularity of the war, the rise of the free thinking hippies, rock n roll becoming as dangerous than ever, and people are becoming absolutely fed up with the system, were just some of the many fuels that were added to the creative fire that made this decade shine in area of arts and film. Gas prices go up, businesses are going down, a war like vietnam is costing the country more than it can afford...just like now! Just like the hollywood system producing sequels that cost next to nothing to make; like Saw 5 and produce a revenue of 3 times or more of it's cost...the only difference between cinema now and then is the fact that we aren't mad anymore. The hollywood system found a way to find people that weren't afraid to speak their minds and create incredible stories, metaphorical, literal, whatever that may be, to basically show people who were bright enough to understand what the country's actions are doing to it's regular citizens. Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorcese, Peter Bogdonovich, Francais Ford Coppola, George Romero...I could continue forever...but these people are the ones that truly revitalized the hollywood system from near death and creative drought. So I've decided to spend some time this month only on making nothing but posts of films of the 1970's that affected everyone and myself included.

dog day afternoon Pictures, Images and Photos


Al Pacino plays a man at the end of his rope named Sonny Wortzik. Sonny was what you would call the everyman of the 1970's. Too poor to afford a university, drafted in Vietnam, and a closeted gay homosexual. Based on a true story, this character was turned into an overnight hero when he decides he's not going to take it anymore and rob a bank in New York City. The money was meant to help pay for his boyfriend's sex change and it was supposed to be a simple "in and out" job. The film's simple set up became something more special as the film develops. We learn of Sonny's indignation in life with his emotions, experiences, and relationships with other people and begin to cheer a man who is originally introduced to be a criminal...but then becomes the person who eventually becomes the star of lots of influential 70's films to come, The Antihero.
As a hostage stand off begins, Sonny and his dim-witted friend Sal; brilliantly played by fellow Godfather co-star John Cazale, develop friendships with the hostages, and become heros who have decided to lash out at the establishment that has ousted them in the first place. Unforgettable and really moving, Dog Day Afternoon is Pacino's best work in my opinion and one of the best films of the 1970's...if not the best.


Like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro was a rising star in the 70's film circuit also riding the waves of the success of the Godfather franchise by the time he became the title role of Scorcese's dark psychological portrait of a man breaking down. De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a vietnam veteran who applys for a taxi driver position to deal with his insomnia. A man of strong moral values though little to no patience at all, the more time he spends driving the streets of New York City, the more disgusted he becomes. "Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up." The character becomes a monster slowly as he obsesses over a young prostitute, plots to possibly assassinate an up and coming political figure, and stews in his own rage, disgust, and sadly...his loneliness. A product of what society had continually offered him, we watch the slow and mental breakdown of a commended officer of the armed forces who can't cope with what he's become...a nobody. Paul Scharader's fantastic screenplay deals with how our country treated the vets who fought in an unpopular war and who they eventually became nothing here upon return. A metaphor for the entire decade in general, this film resonates decades later and continues to impact people on a personal basis because of it's visceral depiction of violence and mental anguish that at one time or another everyone goes through. Here's one man's way of dealing with those pressures...I give you Travis Bickle.