Archive for November 28th, 2013

wild 1

By Dean Treadway

For years, I had not seen Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch in full. I had caught bits of it on TV, or maybe at the drive-in, where my mom and dad had carried me along to check it out. I’m sure my dad liked it–most dads adore The Wild Bunch–but my mom, who’d had quite enough of seeing dead bodies returning from Vietnam on TV, felt sickened by violence in movies at the time (both Bonnie and Clyde, with its bullet-riddled climax, and M.A.S.H., with its comedic treatment of medical gore, had similarly made her ill; since, of course, she’s been inured to on-screen messiness). For my own part, I found the movie dull, even as a pretty with-it kid; somehow, Peckinpah had not gotten his hooks in me (I now see that The Wild Bunch is a movie that works least best on the young, and also I always knew that, on TV, it was being shown pan-and-scan, and that’s just a outright no-no with what any movie geek can see is a beautifully widescreen presentation).

It wasn’t until its 1995 restoration and re-release, when I was approaching my 30s, that I finally did my duty and caught The Wild Bunch on the big screen at a four-wall theater, as it was meant to be seen. Afterwards, I could’ve kicked myself twice, three times even for not previously grasping what a powerhouse masterpiece it was, for Peckinpah’s film finally bowled me over as it did almost everyone who saw it in the late 60s/early 70s (it’s certainly a movie that should be seen at least once at a theater; if you haven’t experienced it as such, you’re partially abandoning its strength). From its very first scene–that staccato credits sequence portraying the titular bunch trotting past a group of joyful kids cackling as thousands of fire ants overtake two deadly but hapless scorpions (a mirror of the film’s famous conclusion)–The Wild Bunch aims to encapsulate the brutality of criminally-minded men and, simultaneously, their deeply-held longing to regain some modicum of innocence, honor and compassion. In its dichotomies, Peckinpah’s picture is like no other. It set a template for a few decades worth of film output behind it.  (more…)

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 © 2013 by James Clark

     Having just come away from von Trier’s Dogville (2003), in its installation of austerity so dark that the viewer is required to visit its laboratory-like showroom many times before coming to its Plutonian joys, I’ve approached Jia Zhangke’s latest film as a hit of almost astronomical sensuousness, in the service of that same elusive buoyancy. Imagine my consternation, then, in looking over some commentary about that recent release, to find such a consensus that this film has seen fit to confine its remarkable energies and insights to, like Dogville’s weepy Vera, enjoying a good and bitter cry about the many casualties of free enterprise in China today.

If it is, indeed, all (rather than a touch) about the scandal (sinfulness) of recent Chinese capitalism, why does it provide so many locales of the scruffy and crane-salient fringes of cities undergoing a building boom, which remind us of the settings of Antonioni and Fellini films? Why does the plunge-from-a-building suicide, in its fourth and final segment, of a discouraged man, going from job-to-job, come into some kind of contact with the closing scene of Antonioni’s Il Grido (The Cry)? Antonioni, it goes without saying, was about neither politics nor moralism. Why, in that same concluding episode, do we see a re-enactment, by a young and not unperceptive woman, employed in what is generally covered by the hilarious euphemism, “adult entertainment,” of Alice’s fellatio with Mr. Eddy, in David Lynch’s, Lost Highway? Why is it, indeed, just as involved with the Balthazar motif as is von Trier’s Dogville? Despite what so many contend about Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin (2013), it is a truly compelling work precisely because it is not primarily absorbed with Chinese history, but rather with world history. (more…)

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