20 August 2009

DVD ROUND UP 1; Boetticher, Blu Ray McQueen and Alan Moore

THE TALL T (Dir. Budd Boetticher, 1957, US)
‘Sometimes you don't have a choice…’

Last year saw the long awaited DVD release of a lavishly packaged box set of westerns directed by Budd Boetticher. Now considered to be the missing link between the cinema of John Ford and Sergio Leone, Boetticher was a professional bullfighter before he ventured forth into the arena of film making. The series of westerns he made with Randolph Scott in the 50s are considered to be the creative high point of a film making career that is duly explored with consideration and significance in a brilliant documentary that accompanies the box set. The documentary on Boetticher was produced by Eastwood, narrated by Ed Harris and features interviews with directors Tarantino, Taylor Hackford and Robert Towne. Most importantly, the words are provided by the pen of widely respected American film critic Dave Kehr. Released in 1957, The Tall T acts as a precursor to the ugly brutality of Peckinpah and Leone's west. It’s a minimalist western that takes a very simple premise and builds around it an intense relationship between two men who command an aging stoicism.

Not a shot is wasted in this wonderfully distilled genre film - Boetticher was a real economist in the way his films were shot and edited. Eastwood refers to it as a simple, unpretentious style and that is precisely what makes Boetticher's so different to the rest of the instantly forgettable films in the western genre. What is particularly revealing is the sparse use of framing - the violence that the characters harbour and eventually project is nothing compared to the violence enacted by the disturbing interplay of vicious glances. In the documentary, Boetticher says that it was the French that saved his reputation, salvaging the many films he had shot by transforming him into one of the first auteurs of the post war era.

THE GETAWAY (Dir. Sam Peckinpah, 1972, US)
‘Punch it, Baby!’
Rudy Butler: That's a walk-in bank. You don't have to be Dillinger for this one.
Carter 'Doc' McCoy: Dillinger got killed.
Rudy Butler: Not in a bank.
The emergence of Blu Ray as a rival to DVD has meant the chance for all the major studios to jump on the so called digital bandwagon and re release their back catalogue with the sole intent of making yet more money. In some cases, the differences between SD (Standard Disc means DVD) and Blu Ray can be striking but to date I have only come across what I would consider to be a handful of blu ray films that dramatically change the viewing experience. Such has been with the case with David Fincher's last two films to be given the Blu ray treatment; Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The classic 1972 Peckinpah crime thriller The Getaway has also been given the blu ray treatment. I was curious to see what the blu ray result would be like with a studio film from the 70s. The image to many of Peckinpah's films available on DVD are quite grainy when compared to the way in which films like The Godfather and Taxi Driver have been given the special privilege of a complete restoration. It was the clarity of the image and particularly the crispness of the colours that made me realise the digital benefits of blu ray but part of me is still skeptical about how home digital technology will ultimately affect the quality of the film making on display. I just finished watching Amir Naderi's Iranian new wave classic 'The Runner' on a jumpy VHS copy and though the sound and image were respectively unwatchable at times, the poetic realism of Naderi's film making shone through. At first I was excited by the prospect of blu ray but now I have become quite cynical about how the studios are simply forcing the concerned cinephile to re purchase films they already have on DVD.

The Getaway was a star vehicle for Steve McQueen who in 1972 was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. With a punchy screenplay by Walter Hill and a jazzy, ill fitting score from Quincy Jones, McQueen hand picked Peckinpah to direct this crime thriller. The Getaway is generally considered to be Peckinpah’s most commercial project and turned out to be the biggest hit of his career. Had Melville decided to make the transition to Hollywood, The Getaway is perhaps the closest he might have come to directing the kind of sparse, minimalist and existential crime films which had become synonymous with his name in European cinema. The character of Doc McCoy (McQueen) is somewhat of a precursor to Walter Hill's far superior homage to the universe of Melville, The Driver. The Getaway falls into the cycle of urban crime films that came about at the end of the 60s and early 70s, which typically featured a misogynist anti hero who has an inherent capacity for violence. The film struggles with its meandering narrative and the terrible miscasting of Ali McGraw as McCoy’s partner is a careful reminder that Peckinpah was merely a director for hire. A minor work from a major auteur but ruthlessly efficient film making nevertheless.

WATCHMEN (Dir. Zack Snyder, 2009, US)
‘I'm just the puppet who can see the strings…’

Zack Synder's adaptation of Alan Moore's cult graphic novel Watchmen arrived like a juggernaut, proclaiming itself to be the holy grail of comic books films but somehow managed to excuse its disappointing box office performance by falling back on that most tedious of excuses - it was just too dark, violent and arty for the mainstream audience of fan boys that it was aiming to coerce to turn this into yet another regressive and woefully uninspired franchise. Watchman had its defenders in cyberspace, disguising its emptiness by suggesting that we should interpret it as a political essay on the contemporary state of America. Ideas it may have, but none of them are really executed with any degree of confidence or artistry that one finds in the linear narrative pleasures of Nolan’s The Dark Knight. What one comes away with is the disconcerting, surrealist image of a giant blue penis indescribably glowing in the superficialities of a contrived and overly manufactured noirish mise en scene. Freudian metaphors abound.

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