Monday, August 07, 2006

Blow up

Locating the Park used in Antonioni’s classic film, proved to be both a challenging and rewarding indulgence of curiosity.



Michaelangelo Antonioni was a master at capturing the meaningless of existence. In “The Passenger”, Jack Nicholson’s reporter trades in his identity more out of the desperate need for something to do. Bored with life, he discards his identity, taking on that of another man’s. Unfortunately for him, nothing really changes as a result and he ends up being pursued, quite ironically, by himself. There is no escape in the end.

In a similar way “Blow Up” taps into the zeitgeist of London in the 60’s only to scathingly mock the emptiness of fashion trends and the accumulation of “stuff.” Actions are the result of boredom, the need to “do something”- questions of motivation becoming blurred by an all encompassing sense of malaise. Act now and reflect later, if at all, seems a fair credo for both films.

Half murder mystery, half Art-house classic, “Blow Up” as its title suggests, forces you to question the very nature of perception and understanding as an image is quite literally “blown up”- bought to life and interrogated mercilessly. It may well be a film concerned with the coolness of alienation and hedonism, but more than that is an examination of the often indivisible line that separates reality from illusion.

What never fails to stand out when seeing this film is the now famous sequence in the park. For those unfamiliar with the set up this scene finds fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) strolling listlessly through London, a camera draped across his shoulder. He soon happens upon a small park, hauntingly surrounded by what look like impenetrable thickets. It is here that he spies a young lady (Vanessa Redgrave) intimately engaged in conversation with a man. Sliding the lens cap from his camera Thomas begins taking photo after photo of her.

As all this unfolds tree tops sway menacingly, the breeze somehow stirring a mysterious energy within the park. One senses there is more going on than appears, yet the audience remain prisoners to the images presented, Antonioni hinting at something just beyond the reaches of our perception.

Of course we soon learn that there was “something” going in the park. After developing the film in his lab Thomas discovers what looks like a person standing in the bushes nearby, with further examination revealing what looks like the presence of a gun. Aimed squarely in the direction of the couple, Thomas soon concludes that he unknowingly foiled a murder attempt. The images though are not clear, and even as each one is “blown up” there remains a lingering doubt as to what is being seen.

Thomas returns to the park, takes more photographs and soon discovers what he thinks is a body laying in the bushes. Blow up after blow up soon ensues as he obsessively dissects the implications of each image. Is it in his imagination? Did he foil a murder? Did someone see him take the photographs? The harder he looks, the less sense he is able to make of things, his fragile hold on “reality” all but dissolving, amid last ditch efforts to grasp at an image that is destined to stay just out of reach.

Ultimately, as you’d expect from Antonioni, there are no clear cut answers. The developed film along with the copy ends up being lost and his final trip to the park uncovers nothing. The magic of “Blow Up” lies in Thomas’ obsessive quest for the truth, and in the curiosity that possesses him, but most of all in the park itself- an inviolate and beguiling presence throughout the film.

It is for these reasons that I felt duty bound to find this “Park.” I needed to see for myself if it was as eerie and mysterious as in the film. My curiosity, like Thomas’ had been roused. A few Google searches later I had the details. About 90 minutes out of London in a spot called New Charlton lay “Maryon Park”. I chucked the camera in the back pack along with the A to Z and set off.

Finding Maryon Park was no easy task. I must have asked at least a dozen locals if they knew where it was, each of them informing me they’d never heard of such a place. Finally, after zigzagging on buses for an hour I was told that there was only one park in the area and that it must be the one I was looking for. From the Road it looked unremarkable, cracked steps and overgrown grass all but concealing the entrance. Strolling up the hill, the incessant din of Saturday traffic reverberating in the background I readied myself for disappointment.

Weaving my way past some basketball courts and through a tunnel of dark overhanging branches I soon found myself in Maryon Park. At the risk of sounding corny it was like entering another dimension. For those that have seen the film the tennis courts remain, neatly neck laced by rows of flowers it looks as if the miming sequence could have been shot that morning.
The grass is lush and green, perfectly manicured and kept. Skirting the perimeter is the same little asphalt path, the area surrounded by a thick suburban forest. So acutely precise and reminiscent of the film is this first impression that you may find yourself feeling like you have just walked into the playground of a master film maker.

Still, I was here to find the area used in the photograph sequence. In the film it is presented as a park within a park and recalling a set of steps that twirled up to reveal the hidden pocket of urban wonder I scanned the area.

As in the film, a set of steps uneven and crumbling, presented themselves to my eyes. Making sure to walk slowly and enjoy the moment I moved up them, quietly excited at the thought of what may be at the end. Bearing in mind that “Blow Up” is this year 40 years old, I would not have been surprised to observe some measure of change, development and advancement impinging on and altering the layout.

What I did discover was a serene little patch of park, hemmed in by dense thickets, nursing one wooden bench (a lone figure was passed out on it) and the same configuration of trees. The grass was long but somehow still neat, the space possessed of a tranquillity that was charged with mystique.

Any thoughts concerning the outside world were soon peeled from my mind- like fruit being divested of its skin- and as I flicked on my camera, earnestly taking shot after shot, I became less and less aware of why it was I was there to begin with. I photographed the trees, the thickets, the figure on the bench, the sky, the grass- everything I could see. It was like meeting a movie star, but much more interesting.

The trees swayed in the same haunting fashion, the space itself eliciting the same unsettling feelings as when I first saw the film. Much like Thomas’ character, I was left feeling like mist, an inconsequential presence passing through a place that would both outlast me and bear witness to truths both beyond my reach and capacity for understanding. In short, the experience was akin to walking into a movie frame- the atmosphere, aspect and environment all perfectly preserved.

All this leads one to speculate; Does Maryon Park possess its own haunting air, unique and distinct from other London parks, or is it the product of my having watched and re-watched Blow Up one too many times? It is more than likely a combination of both and whilst it certainly appeared to be free of corpses and guns, it must be noted that the lens on my camera is not all that powerful.

It seems apt to end with a quote from Antonioni who once remarked, “I always mistrust everything which I see, which an image shows me, because I imagine what is beyond it. And what is beyond an image can not be known.” That, in a nut shell is “Blow Up” and the alluring mystique that remains preserved within Maryon Park.


For the curiously inclined Maryon Park may be found just off Woolwich Rd in New Charlton. SE7.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Torments of the Unknown

Why the work of Francis Bacon gives rise to the most unsettling of sensations

The anomalous nature of a painting will always resonate with more truth and immediacy than the use of any empirically based motifs or devices. The nervous system registers with subconscious ease the grotesque and disturbing nature of an image and even if it can not disentangle its origins or meaning is forced to digest what it may find unpalatable.

When the world as Francis Bacon perceived it, melted into his psyche and mood the result may indeed appear horrifying. From Bacon’s viewpoint life was “ghastly”- his work reflecting the horrors of interiorized pain and anguish. That the horrors of inner torment are inexpressible is where the power of his work rests, for it evokes a feeling of undiluted terror, charging the observer with a mysterious and unsettling sensation. In short, the de-familiarization of horror.

His work is concerned with sensation and the unsettling immediacy of that feeling. Indeed Bacon himself is quoted as saying “if you can talk about it why paint it?” To look at a Bacon is to be overcome with the beauty of colour, particularly the fleshy iridescence many of his paintings possess, but it is also to be assailed by the stench of death, to bear witness to perpetual screams, stifled moans and distorted human forms.

Bacon successfully merged a sense of slaughter with sacrifice, drawing heavily from iconic symbols of Christian religion- Pope Innocent, The Crucifixion- and then subverting them to create works of richness and gasp inducing potency. Works such as Painting (1946) release the raw magic of meat and flesh onto the canvass, because as Bacon put it “there is great beauty in the colour of meat.” The flesh appears like carrion; at once flush with ripeness, but at the same time on the cusp of a foul decay.

Fingering their way under the skin and not infrequently straight to the bone, these glorious nightmares communicate the most peculiar sense of terror- haunting the mind for reasons that are as elusive as they are disturbing.

Where’s the benefit in that you may say. Why traumatize your mind with morbid disturbing imagery, when there’s an abundance of less confronting work out there? That Bacon’s work is not for everyone is a given. Many find him too confronting and bleak. Yet what intrigues and mesmerizes when absorbing the twisted contours and fractured figures is the disquieting effect it has on one’s viscera. On a very basic, even masochistic level, his paintings give rise to the sensation of being alive, which as the ever obscure definitions of “art” are concerned could be said to be the most compelling reason for viewing more of his work, particularly where primal expressions of emotion are concerned.

Expression doesn’t get more primal and basic than screaming, often thought of as the most honest, pure and potent display of feeling. It can be a celebration of life, or a vicious condemnation of it- its representation allowing for a joyful explosion of ecstasy or the manifestation of suffering. It is charged with vitality, sadness, anger and pain.

Take “Head VI” as an example, painted in 1949. In this painting Bacon captured what was thought to be an almost impossible task for the painter- the scream on canvass. In it, he creates a sense of ceaselessness, as if the moan/scream is being released at the instant you look at it. The figure is framed within what feels like a suffocating cage, trapped within himself and his surroundings there will, one senses, be no reprieve from the pain. The teeth, crooked and jagged, reek of decay. Suspended just above a gaping vacuum of mouth which appears to be both frozen and desperately gasping for life the sense of helplessness is instantly felt.

Bacon rarely, if ever divulged the meaning of his paintings allowing the reaction of the observer to become its voice. In this case the raw power of the work could be said to reside somewhere between the barbarous savagery of the mouth- crude and indelicate- and the violent sense of release.

It’s little wonder that Bacon was so impressed when he saw Sergei Eisenstein’s kinetic masterpiece “Battleship Potemkin.” Entranced by the famous Odessa steps sequence he was to use the image of the screaming nurse as the departure point and template for subsequent works. The image itself is one of cinematic legend. Shot in the eye as the chaos escalates, her glasses become cracked and twisted, slanting precariously across her brow. As the camera focuses in on her face, the skin stretched tight in terror, a hellish cry can almost be heard to punctuate the cinema (note; it’s a silent film) The mouth, like a gaping wound screams out in vain. It is a chilling moment, visceral and horrifying, the embodiment of savage and pure communication.

There is irrelevant, so called “art” everywhere and as the intellectual dissection unfolds with inane and clinical monotony one is left to ponder what it all means. Fashion trends and the vibrations of the art world pervade the critical arena, occasionally giving it a shot to the arm, but more often than not leaving it to languish in a mire of pastiche and repetition. “Time is the only critic” Bacon once remarked, when scorning the hefty prices his paintings were fetching. Few people would be bold enough to question the relevance of his work today.

On the edges of consciousness lurk the residue of past nightmares and the absolute terror of suppressed emotion. Anger, hate, anguish and jealousy distill endlessly in the maw of modern man. If this immutable force could be given a voice, or something that comes close to capturing it, then it could be said Francis Bacon was that voice.



The works of Francis Bacon can be seen at both the Tate Modern and Tate Britain.

There is also a joint exhibition with Damien Hirst at the Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia Street WC1. Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm, free. Tube; Kingscross.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

United 93

Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Ben Sliney, Christian Clemenson, Khalid Abdalla


Having just seen United 93 it is fair to say I will not be rushing out to view it again any time soon. That does not mean it’s not a brilliant film. It is. As a well researched and detailed development of a hypothesis on what occurred on Flight United 93 it presents as an unsentimental and compelling dramatization that is both riveting and utterly terrifying.

It is also probably the most unsettling, dreadful 111 minutes you will spend in a cinema this year, owing in no small part to the casting and a painfully tense verisimilitude style re-enactment of events.

The film begins with a sweeping bird’s eye view of New York City at night, high above the skyscrapers and canals of traffic, before going inside the hotel room of the hijackers as their quietly portentous final prayers and preparations are completed.

From that point on United 93 is an unrelenting exercise in palpable tension, amped up to an almost unbearable level. Shifting between the fevered communications of Ground Control and the events as they begin to unfold both on the plane and in New York City, United 93 takes you inside two distinctly different environments; both claustrophobic and simmering with tension, but one far more chilling. The devastating sense of helplessness rings out with every failed or misunderstood attempt from the guys on the ground to; 1) find out what’s going on 2) get the necessary fighter jets where they need to be and 3) establish a clear line of communication.

Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy) resists any temptation he may have had to preach political or nationalistic feeling. Instead, he presents real people in a very real yet inconceivable scenario, focusing on their reactions and in some cases paralyzing, fear induced inaction. The film’s potency undoubtedly lays in Greengrass’ ability to present such material without agenda, coupled with his decision to use a largely untested cast, made up of amateur actors and real life pilots and airport staff.

A perfect example of this is the decision to cast Ben Sliney as himself. As National Operations Manager of the FAA when things went pear shaped, Sliney was firmly in the thick of things on 9/11. Indeed it was he who gave the order to ground all incoming and outgoing flights from America. Few actors would be better equipped to play such a role.

Greengrass has been forthright about the hypothetical nature of a sensitive and controversial reconstruction, emphasising its limitations, but just as significantly focusing on how making such a film can examine the fragility of life and the systems we rely on every day for information- an objective he achieves without relegating any one person or body to scapegoat status.


He has unapologetically stressed the following points throughout a series of interviews. Firstly, this is what we think may well have happened on this plane. Secondly, this is what we think these people would have done, based on our conversations with their families and discussions we’ve had. And finally, this is the situation we believe made it possible for the hijackers to take over a plane of people with a pen knife, some play dough and batteries. Greengrass does not dictate which elements he may intuit as being more credible or compelling than others, allowing the film to speak for itself. In this he succeeds.

The questions that have endlessly been asked of United 93 and Greengrass himself, is why make a film like this? What point does it serve? If it isn’t entertainment, and it most certainly isn’t, then what is its purpose? Well, besides the obvious of observing ordinary people experiencing the most acutely terrifying flourish of emotions- fear, anxiety, terror, courage- and paying respect to the victims, there is also the discourse a film like this will provoke within a post 9/11 climate. Tim Bevan, the film’s producer is on record as saying “there should be arguments on the street outside the cinema about whether this film should have been made or not.”

Putting the garnering of controversy aside for a moment, if one were to view the combustion and frenzy of what occurred within that plane as a microcosm in which to examine today’s terror charged climate, then United 93 resonates on both a collective and individual level. In the face of escalating chaos and mayhem the film asks; how does one set about gaining even a modicum of control? The answer rests somewhere between doing nothing and dying, and fighting back only to suffer the same fate. In the varying degrees of tragedy that are inevitable in today’s epoch, it is the way we behave both collectively and individually that will come to define moments such as those confronted by the passengers on United 93.

As the passengers become aware of their plight most realise there is little more they can do than pass on their love to family members on the ground. In the face of such an atrocity, it seems a fitting and optimistic contrast that in the final reaches of being it is choked up messages of love that are whispered into mobile phones.

Some viewers will inevitably take issue with this film, due to its inherent and unavoidably disturbing content. Yet, in a very real and telling way United 93 forces you to ask yourself; how would I react in a similar situation? For most of us it is a question we cannot answer, and god willing shall never have to.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

EMBERS

Two old friends explore the past in Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Sandor Marai’s classic novel.

“You killed something in me all those years ago, and tonight I’m going to kill something in you” commands Jeremy Irons’ old General as he stalks his way around a sparsely furnished hunting lodge. His voice is smooth but lined with causticity. He’s had half a lifetime to design this moment. His prey for the evening is Konrad (Patrick Malahide) an old friend who has returned to Hungary via war ravaged Europe for one last stand with his old friend and fellow soldier. Attended by an enfeebled but resiliently stoic presence he takes his place in the General’s lodge. The candles are burning. The past is being roused, about to be hauntingly relived after 41 years.

Adapted from Sandor Marai’s 1942 novel, Embers, (The Candles Burn Right Down) was serendipitously rediscovered on a French Publishers backlist by Roberto Calasso, almost ten years after Marai shot himself in 1989. The discovery served to simultaneously re canonise Marai as the literary genius he was, whilst affording a whole new generation the opportunity to experience his work .Christopher Hampton’s vital and true adaptation combined with Michael Blakemore’s spare but precise direction, allow both Jeremy Irons and Patrick Malahide to relish in their respective roles, each one masterfully tapping into the germination of fear in the male psyche and the fragility of selfhood- themes that were to dominate Marai’s earlier novels and essays.

The plays agon hinges on a number of exact and particular events from the past- chiefly a hunting trip where the now hunter was the hunted, and perhaps most importantly, Henrik’s wife Krizstina and her final words to him- “what a coward”- the meaning of which has been tormenting him for 41 years. What did she mean? To whom was she referring?

Whilst Henrik suspects Konrad had an affair with his wife, what really grates with him is the prospect of them having shared an intimate and close relationship- a proposition his vanity finds repulsive. Krizstina’s omnipresence is paramount to the plays success and her rebirth through language (Henrik’s recall in particular) charges each exchange with palpable emotion, so embedded is she in the mind of each man.

As an ex General for the Hungarian Army, Jeremy Irons is superb, suavely allowing his character to probe the recesses of an old friendship, whilst expertly twisting the machinations of his friends bruised psyche with the exactness and precision of a Surgeon General. He is the essence of melancholy, tempered only by his bitterness, sustained by a singular and unrelenting need for vengeance. But whereas mere melancholy can evoke a simple and vast capacity for reflection, Irons goes one step further, at turns revealing a studied and detailed portrait of a man who has not only relived, but dissected each second of that night 41 years ago, when his life was to change forever. One can feel the clenching of his mind, his granite like expression etched with guilt and longing.

As Konrad, Patrick Malahide says considerably less than Irons but he is no less mesmerising as a result. It would be easy for him to tune out and think about the weekend’s chores such are the duration of Irons’ monologues, but it’s obvious he doesn’t. Contorting his already intense countenance as each graciously constructed accusation is issued, he is evidently feeling the hurt that is intended.

“She asked for me when she was dying. Me. I tell you that just for your own information” quips Henrik when describing his wife’s final days. Konrad’s silence is betrayed only by the slow, certain disintegration of an already crumbling interior life and it isn’t long before his discomfort is palpable. Twisting and squirming in his armchair, in the same spot he sat all those years ago, there appears no end to the verbal and psychological slaying he is receiving. Yet one senses it’s what he wants and there is something noble in the way he endures.

Irons’ nuanced, measured delivery of his lines fills up the theatre, the coolness of his tenor tightened only by spiteful inflections. He canvasses many issues; betrayal, passion, vengeance, solitude and at one point offers a striking take on the nature of real friendship- an experience he has never had. Common interests and shared understandings do not constitute a friendship he contends. Instead he cites “friendship” as being possessed of an erotically pure quality, without sexual connotation, yet richly and romantically intangible. Ideas gleaned from reading Plato amid the many lonely years spent finessing the lost experiences and emotions of a now fading life.

After describing in chilling and vivid terms the details of their last hunt together and the moment he suspects his friend turned the gun on him he counters audience expectations by saying “when you pointed that gun at the back of my head our friendship was at its strongest point, then at that exact moment.” It seems an absurd notion but one that fits perfectly with the plays intensity and seamless shifts in mood.

One feels intense sorrow and in a sense pity for these tragic figures and the lives that have unfolded around them, never penetrated by either one. Embers exists and pulsates through the tightness and brilliance of dialogue, its power residing in its ability to articulate pain and the inner workings of the mind. It draws from the darkest yet most basic human thoughts, desires and fears, and from the kind of universal repository of emotion and memory that is buried in everyone.

Resolution and closure are elusive and far less potent than the unanswered, and the richness of ambiguity is no better realised than in the dying moments of the play when Henrik hurls Krizstina’s diary into the fire. As the flames devour the tiny book, her thoughts in it gone forever, both men stare longingly into the flames. Their faces are grave, the flames dancing across their creased brows. Granite like they sit, as if paralyzed, yet strangely and hauntingly united once again.



Embers is currently showing at The Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mats; Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Season ends on June 24.



Tuesday, May 23, 2006

PECKINPAH’S WEST VS MANN’S METROPOLIS

Why Michael Mann’s epic crime saga, Heat, is in many ways a modern day Wild Bunch.


Sam Peckinpah was a maverick of his time, a visionary who had a primitive take on man, viewing him as instinctual, primal and violent. Drawing heavily from the work of Robert Ardrey, controversial sociologist and author of ‘African Genesis’ and ‘The Territorial Imperative’ Peckinpah ascribed to the belief that man is by nature territorial, brutal and elementally animal.

Indeed for a director who was by turns mean, vicious and unpredictable it comes as little surprise that his screen incarnations should be seen to so strikingly personify this side of man. Yet, it is only when these base qualities merge with the lustier, more romantic ones of loyalty, honour and courage that we see the more complete version of Peckinpah’s outsider/anti-hero emerge, magnificently realised in his seminal classic The Wild Bunch.

The Wild Bunch showcases Peckinpah at the pinnacle of his powers, well before the drugs and alcohol sunk their hooks too far into him. It is an at times contemplative and elegiac film, with moments of humour and sad reflection. It is also supremely visceral and spectacularly violent- containing two of the most electrifying gunfights in movie history, delivered through ground breaking montage style editing and multi camera filming.

As an allegory of American life, culture and social mores The Wild Bunch continues to resonate. Beginning with the opening shot of scorpions in a bucket slowly being devoured by colonies of ants mirroring America's then plight in the jungles of Vietnam, right up to the death of the American dream/ idealism as witnessed in the film’s finale and the brutal use of the Machine Gun. The presence of a new epoch looms, one that foreshadows advances in technology and a way of life that is both unappealing and untranslatable to Peckinpah’s men.

Peckinpah’s work also contains a contemplative self awareness. As the first shootout unfolds we observe children standing still, their faces scrunched up in the dusty chaos. They witness death, depravity and horrors yet appear detached and remote as if acknowledging these acts from some inviolate prism. Violence, Peckinpah seems to be saying, is as much inherited as it is innate, and innocence is extinguished quickly- snuffed out without remorse or thought.

It is not surprising to learn that Michael Mann considered becoming an Academic upon his completion of an English Literature Major at Wisconsin University. His films ooze a thematic depth and intelligence, stylishly examining the intricacies of human relationships and the affects the modern epoch has had/is having on the individual.

Aesthetically, Heat emphasises concrete, bleak surfaces, steel, machinery and a maze like urban milieu. It is alienating to observe and Mann deliberately renders his L.A as a cold, harsh, impenetrable jungle. Grounded against this universe of steel, refineries, grey monoliths and the machinations of a fevered suburbia Mann’s characters flourish and not infrequently flounder. In Heat they reveal themselves to be men of honour in a dishonourable and treacherous criminal underworld. Mann never offers easy answers to the questions and problems that are unveiled through his characters, masterly blurring good/bad and right/wrong, in the process eschewing moral certitude.

He is an acutely self conscious director, whose style may be characterised as extremely post modern in nature. Technology, progress and urban expansion threaten to overwhelm his characters to the point where man is almost bleached out. Rendering many of the scenes in icy blue hues, akin almost to an imperceptible layer of frost, Mann skilfully imbues a sense of isolation and loneliness.

Both Mann and Peckinpah are/were meticulous, obsessive even, and both have set ideas about the man/ men they give life to. Just as Peckinpah’s men are ruthless, recklessly alive and primal, Mann’s are more thoughtful, introspective.

Both male leads, Pike Bishop and Neal Mc McCauley, as played by Robert De Niro and William Holden are driven by loyalty to their clan and an almost narcissistic sense of individualism and separateness. These are men on the frontiers of society, fringe dwellers, who are either unable or unwilling to habituate themselves to normal life- “what the fuck is that? Barbecues and baseball?” asks McCauley. When Pike says he wishes to retire after one more score, Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) quite scornfully asks him- “and do what?” The point is that these men are what they’re doing, defined by their actions and their words. Indeed there is almost something Sir Thomas Moore like in the way these men stick to their guns (or AK47’s.)

They are men on the edge of extinction and indeed their extinction is assured almost from the outset. In both cases the legacy of the slain anti-hero lives on, left to endure in the tormented souls of their pursuers. Both filmmakers place their heroes in direct opposition to something, be it a deep desire to assert ones sense of worth in the face of a harsh world eager to see it bled out and rinsed away, or to pay homage to time honoured codes of conduct that have been all but extinguished by greed and power.

Just as Pike’s ‘Bunch’ unflinchingly uphold their word and commitment to one another ("When you side with a man you stay with him") Mc Cauley’s crew remain bound by the code of the street, but even more significantly, a deep loyalty to each other, despite Mc Cauley's credo which celebrates the disposability of relationships- " Do not allow yourself to have any commitments in your life that you are not willing to walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat round the corner."

In some ways it feels as if Mann has lifted the Peckinpah template straight out of 1969, made a few changes, given it his trademark stylistic sheen, whilst staying true to the time honoured themes of betrayal, honour, fate and loyalty. It could further be argued he has used Peckinpah's western model of masculinity, adding the modern complexities and dilemmas of work, relationships and the harried existence that is life in a big city, all delicately stitched together with the unifying thread of loss.

Pike and McCauley both dream of a better life yet life for them living can only be defined by commitment to their clan. For them “the action is the juice.” There will be no idyllic retirement in warm climates, the irony being that such a spot would be an equivalent death sentence for both men.

On a purely visceral level both films contain utterly terrifying gun battles- Heat a master class in military like precision and execution, The Wild Bunch just as thrilling for its infamous OTT blood spatters and montage style editing. Both showcase the brutality of man and the inherent ruthlessness of all concerned.

Mann is as renowned for his meticulousness as Peckinpah was for his outbursts and unpredictability, yet both share/shared a passion for cinema. Both men cut their cinematic teeth working in television, serving apprenticeships on a variety of shows and each seem/seemed possessed of the same unyielding need for perfection.

Comparing William Holden's character of Pike Bishop with Robert De Niro’s Neal McCauley may seem an odd comparison. Holden’s Pike is gnarled, world weary and vicious- a leader on the cusp of being obsolete, indeed he knows his time is up (observe moment when he is unable to mount his horse.)

Both men carry haunted memories of the past, determined not to relive them, yet each are fatalistically and ineluctably forced to deal with them at the end, neither one hesitating when called into action. Both are uncompromisingly cold natured, McCauley being the more calculated and strategic of the two and each of them meet their end with a sense of dead end honour intact.

Over 25 years separate The Wild Bunch and Heat yet one only need imagine a reversal of roles, whereon the characters of Heat try to live out their destiny in Peckinpah’s west and vice versa. It may make for an incongruous reversal at first and certainly the thought of De Niro’s suave master thief riding a horse at the head of his crew is an anomalous image, but one that for all the variations in mood, costume, setting and even genre feel more than vaguely related, like twins that were separated at birth, one of whom has grown up to be a seasoned city-goer, the other a hardened country man.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I have tried to dredge up a tantilising description for this Blog but I'm unable to. It's of no consequence anyway. Check it out if you like or ignore it completely. Feel free to drop me a line if you want.
P.C

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A new day

The first post from Paul.

This is my first sentence - one of many, one hopes.