Archive for July 4th, 2016


 © 2016 by James Clark

      Brian De Palma, apparently pigeonholed as a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock, would seem to be an unlikely kin to a strict, Jesuitical Catholic who, for all his technical and narrative skills, regarded movie production as clever manipulation in the service of marking time before going to a better show. (Of course there would be clandestine cultivation of phenomenal regions not officially sanctioned. But such embellishments would be harnessed to a prescribed triviality.) Hitchcock’s films brim with entertaining instances of entropy (gradual decline into disorder) from out of precepts inculcated by theological doctrine, not close, free-wheeling experiential investigation. De Palma’s embrace of entropy is quite a different matter, even granting that he does include motifs from Hitchcock films in many of his endeavors to enlighten, rather than amuse.

You might imagine that a career change of focus from physics and incipient computer science at Columbia University to theatre and film studies would be more than a siren call to fame and fortune, especially in view of a researcher, from secondary school onward, winning many prizes for inventiveness along sightlines of fundamental questions. There are ways, not terribly abstruse, of incorporating the distemper, gore and eroticism of a film like Dressed to Kill (1980), within a purview of serious reflection. The history of modern film is quite heavily populated with rich variations of such outreach, erected by artists who regard colleagues as part of a history of crucial largesse (including actors, whom Hitchcock never tired of denouncing as puppets with brains far inferior to his).

At and near the beginning of today’s film, there are two renditions of the iconic shower assault in Psycho (1960). Their impact is diametrically opposite to the Hitchcock classic inasmuch as they evoke a specific apparition in the history of avant-garde film—namely, Giuliana, the entropic and amazingly resilient protagonist of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964)—rather than discharge a spectacular storm of venom and horror for the sake of maintaining that worldly experience is a nullity. (more…)

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heaven's gate

Note:  Allan Fish and Bob Clark have previously penned superlative essays on Michael Cimino’s polarizing ‘Heaven’s Gate.’  Both reviews are exceedingly positive – Allan in fact has named this one of the very best films of the 80’s.  Both reviews are presented again in tribute to the maverick director who passed at the age of 77 over the weekend.

by Allan Fish

(USA 1980 219m) DVD1

In principle, everything can be done

p  Johann Carelli  d  Michael Cimino  Michael Cimino  ph  Vilmos Zsigmond  ed  Tom Rolf, William Reynolds, Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald Greenberg  m  David Mansfield  art  Tambi Larsen, Spencer Deverill, Maurice Fowler  cos  Allen Highfill

Kris Kristofferson (James Averill), Isabelle Huppert (Ella Watson), Christopher Walken (Nathan D.Champion), John Hurt (Billy Irvine), Sam Waterston (Frank Canton), Brad Dourif (Mr Eggleston), Joseph Cotten (Rev.Doctor), Jeff Bridges (John L.Bridges), Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Elizabeth McGovern,

Among a host of monumental films that bombed at the box office, stretching back to Intolerance through La Fin du Monde and Cleopatra, Heaven’s Gate surely still holds pride of place.  Even now the very term ‘a Heaven’s Gate’ is synonymous for financial debacles in the movie industry.  For here was a director, Michael Cimino, fresh from the almost universal praise allotted to his The Deer Hunter, given carte blanche to make whatever film he liked by a studio – United Artists – that would come to regret it.  For all the endless vitriol and critical mutilation (one recalls Pauline Kael sharpening her poison quill with “it was easy to see what to cut, but when I tried afterward to think of what to keep, my mind went blank”), Cimino’s film deserves placing altogether higher in the eyes of posterity.  To these eyes, it’s a far better film than The Deer Hunter, for all that film’s merits.

Twenty years after graduating from Harvard, James Averill returns to Caspar, Wyoming, after a visit to the east, and finds the town crowded with poverty and an incontrollable influx of immigrants.  Soon after, he meets old friend Billy Irvine, who informs him over a game of pool that there is a death list of 125 settlers the wealthy cattle barons want to eliminate.  Returning to Sweet Water, JohnsonCounty, James delivers a present to his beloved Ella, the young immigrant madam of a brothel.  To complicate matters, the cattle baron’s hired gun, Nathan Champion, also loves Ella. (more…)

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