Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Some Seventies Movies in Retrospect

So, after yesterday's therapy session, it's back to business today.  During my time off, in between trips to the beach and deer spotting, I had something of a retrospective with regard to my DVD collection, rewatching several movies I haven't looked at in years.  There was no theme to my viewing - it ranged from low budget horrors like Incense for the Damned to the French war epic about the liberation of Paris, Is Paris Burning?   Some had sub titles, some didn't.  A lot of them dated back to the seventies.  This retrospective allowed me to reassess my impressions of these films - I found that I liked Corman's Von Richtofen and Brown (aka The Red Baron) a lot better the second time around for instance.  (Historically, it is still a travesty, but as an anti war war movie, it scores very highly.  Plus, it has some superb flying sequences and bursts of well choreographed action which keeps it moving along nicely).  In other cases, it just confirmed my opinions: Watch Me as I Kill is still a lackluster Giallo, despite its inventive murder sequences and intriguing premise - it falls a long way short of even Dario Argento's weakest efforts in the genre.

Watching the seventies movies, (which included a pair of late period Jean-Pierre Melville pictures and Sam Peckinpah's The Killer Elite), brought home just how bloated and dumbed down studio product has become over the past few decades.  Back in the seventies film makers knew that less is often more.  All of these films had action sequences, for instance, but they aren't the over blown CGI-driven sequences of contemporary films, which frequently take up twenty minutes at a time, without actually advancing either plot or characters in any meaningful fashion.  By contrast, the seventies movies deploy their action sequences sparingly, giving them far more impact, and they always advance the plot in some way.  They also spare us the insistence upon filling in every detail of a character's background so as to make sure that we fully understand their 'motivation'.  These films offer us no backstory for the characters, we can deduce details from the things they say, the photographs on their walls and desks and so on, but there is no laborious explanation of their 'origins' (the modern obsession with the 'origin story' in movies has been a plague upon things like proper character development and subtle writing). 

In Melville's Le Cercle Rouge, for instance, we never learn exactly what crime Vogel is being transported back to Paris to be tried for, nor are we ever told exactly what Alain Delon's Corey has just served a five year prison sentence for.  But we can assume, from their characters and other details, that they are career criminals specialising in robbery.  Likewise, we're never explicitly told what Commisaire Mattei's domestic circumstances are, but the photo of a woman on his desk (which he tenderly returns to its correct position when it is knocked out of place by a suspect), his lonely apartment full of cats implies that he is a widower (the cats surrogates for the children he and his wife never had).   It is this spareness of characterisation and plot detail which helps the film linger long in the memory - even after it has ended, you can't help but speculate about the characters based on the visual cues Melville has provided.  I'm sure that, in due course, this retrospective will result in me posting here about the individual films (I've already covered Incense for the Damned), so I'll refrain from discussing any more details here.  Suffice to say, I've enjoyed this retrospective and hope to find time to continue with it soon.



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