Sunday, January 23, 2011
Many American films in the 1970s can be read as ideological critiques; certain films can even be viewed as mechanisms through which widely held, unquestioned beliefs are suddenly and violently thrown into question.
For example, many films used rock music, raunchy humor, and reflexive stylistic devices to help portray the differences between the average person and the politically powerful. The ideal American hero was also used in a reflexive way in these films of the early 1970s. I want to use two films (that I absolutely adore) to discuss what I’m talking about more specifically: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (John Hough, 1974) and Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973).
The anti-hero or unmotivated hero was common in American cinema in the 70s - characters that possessed some of the personality traits and weaknesses traditionally assigned to outlaws and/or villains. However, they possessed heroic qualities as well. Some of these protagonists were awkward, promiscuous and obnoxious, but they always were in some way flawed or failed. These “heroes” in films during the 70s were usually paradoxical characters where if you removed them from the film, they would be criminals or outlaws, however in the context of the film, they are considered heroes with a meaningful story to tell.
Ruthe Stein comments on the anti-hero, stating that they are usually figures that youth can identify with. The hero has no particular plans for the future, no tangible goals, no responsibility, and they make no effort to conform to society’s ways. They are not perfect people and that is what is so appealing to the youth. The anti-heroes in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Badlands portray these types of characters.
Peter Fonda’s character, Larry, in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is the perfect anti-hero, not to much sexy as hell. He is further complimented by his anti-heroine, the equally sexy Mary, played by Susan George. Larry is motivated: he pulls off a complex super market robbery with his friend Deke so they can finance their stock car racing career. He has a foul mouth, he’s gorgeous and charismatic, and he commits several sinful acts with Mary, the also gorgeous, promiscuous, blonde tyrant. She herself is not motivated; she just had nothing better to do, no place else to go. She cares for Larry, but judging by the way she openly discusses her sex life, she has cared for several other men in the past (hey girl, let your freak flag fly, I dig it).
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is interesting because the film provides both a female and a male character for which the youth audience can identify with. One could argue that Larry and Deke are trying to escape civilization and women, which they fail to do on both accounts, as Thomas Elsaesser has argued. Both Mary and Larry reflect the emotional and moral gestures of a defeatist youth generation.
Very similar to Mary and Larry are the two characters portrayed in Malick’s Badlands. Martin Sheen plays Kit, a young garbage collector without a future, an average guy for whom the notions of good and evil are blurred (the anti-hero). Sissy Spacek plays his young companion, Holly. The film is centered on the relationship between these two protagonists and their wandering between good and bad. The difference between Kit/Holly and Mary/Larry is that while the latter two are likable, Kit and Holly are not. Holly is incredibly passive, and most of her dialogue is heard in voice over. The audience is privy to her subjectivity. Kit is unlikable because he is a wannabe, who murders people for no reason. He is not romantic and he is almost abusive toward Holly. The two are awkward and dirty, like the landscape of the film. However, they are unmotivated heroes due to their good intentions towards each other, and their inability to comply with society’s demands.
In the early 70s, directors had become fairly reliant on long lenses. During the late 70s, however, the wide angle lens was reintroduced. The zoom lens was also widely used in American cinema during the 1970s. John Belton states that the zoom lens produces an illusion of movement optically so that instead of moving closer or further away from the subject, the continuous changes in the focal length of the lens can produce an image, which progressively alters the original space, subverting the illusion of.
Particularly important for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was the use of the moving or portable camera. The numerous chase segments are filmed without the use of a blue screen or editing effects. Most of the film takes place inside a speeding charger, with Fonda actually doing most of the driving himself inside the car. The car would have been mounted with a camera and would have shot the scene as the vehicle moved. Moving point-of-view shots represented optical view points of the occupants in the car and the vehicles they were driving. With shooting on-location and using real cars and real speed, not only did the camera evolve, but the equipment for the camera had to evolve as well. For example, an anti-vibration lens was used to produce fluid moving camera shots that were taken inside the vehicles. Another important function of camera movement in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was the presentation of a large visual field. This gives the viewer greatest subjective movement on the screen. During one of the car crashes that takes place in the film where a cop chasing Larry crashes his car, a camera is placed inside the crashing car so that the viewer gets a sense of what being in that car crash would look like. There are not many zooms that take place in the film, but a zoom is used near the beginning of the film to emphasize the speed and power of Larry’s car. The camera zooms in on the front of the car and a sound of a revving engine is heard.
In Badlands, the camera is more focused on the long take, standing still, rather than a moving, fluid camera that employs the zoom often. Although all the shots are beautifully photographed by the cinematographer, is appears as though a moving camera was not the goal of the director. A point-of-view shot is used near then end when Kit is trying to escape the police. There is also a camera placed on the passenger seat beside him, looking up at him as he tries to drive away from the police. Badlands invites the viewer to look in, rather than look around.
Films in the late 60s and 70s began experimenting more with sound, especially the use of music in films. Borrowing from the technique of European art films, heightened subjectivity and character psychology were also used in the films. Often, montage sequences would be backed by pop or rock songs. The integration of full-length sounds into scenes became a staple of American cinema. At the beginning of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, a song is played and the lyrics are: “time is such a funny thing”. These lyrics imply that over time, something out of the ordinary is going to happen to the protagonists. At the end of the film, even though Mary, Larry and Deke succeed in escaping the police, they crash into a train and their car blows up in flames. Several sound effects are used in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. Car sounds are always heard, as well as the sounds of a helicopter towards the end of the film when the chief of police is flying right above Larry’s car. The sound of police sirens usually takes place when cops are near by or when Larry, Mary and Deke are being chased.
In Badlands, sound is used quite differently. Voice over is common, the audience is subject to the thoughts, commentary and explanations from the perspective of Holly. In the beginning of the film, Holly is in the middle of her street, practicing the twirling of the baton. She innocently comments in a voice over: “Little did I realize that what began in the alleys and back ways of this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana”. The audience hears several comments like this on behalf of Holly, in her sleepy, passive, and mundane voice. The music in the film is haunting and quiet, as well as the voices as most of the characters. The sound of the gunshots that Kit fires are the exact opposite of all the other sounds in the film. When he kills someone, the sounds of the gun mark turning points for Holly and Kit, as they have to relocate every time he pulls the trigger. During one scene of the film, Kit tries to reconnect with Holly when they are driving in the cadiallac at night and Nat King Cole’s “A Blossom Fell” beings to play on the radio. They stop the car and tenderly dance in the beam of the car headlights. They both have emotionless and expressionless looks on their faces as they shuffle and glide around. Kit’s attempt to be romantic and Holly’s disinterest makes the scene awkward, even though the song is quite beautiful and serene.
Mise en scene focuses on what can be seen in the shot, the term refers to almost everything that goes into the composition of the shot, including the composition itself: framing, lighting, set design. It is the exact articulation of cinematic space. In many films from America during the 1970s, natural lighting was used. Due to the low budget college success films in the late 1960s, natural lighting had become a trend in Hollywood. Most Hollywood products of the early 1960s had a studio look but some filmmakers in the 70s broke with this style. Location filmmaking became more and more frequent, as well as desolate landscapes, such as those used in Badlands and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. In Badlands, the look for the film mirrors the passivity of the characters and is heavily influenced by new wave European cinema. Malick’s film was shot on a low budget which forced location shooting rather than constructed studio mise en scene. The setting and natural lighting illustrates the blankness of Kit and Holly’s lives, and suggests that nothing should be expected from the film and it’s narrative. Both Kit and Holly are always looking unwashed and Kit models himself on James Dean, but falls short and makes a mockery of the classical Hollywood era actor. David Laderman describes the film as nomadic, it focusses on an existential loss more than a social critique. The general mise en scene reflects this attitude.
In Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, the mise en scene is very similar to that in Badlands. The look of the film is wide open. The shots in the film’s opening credits emphasize a big, desolate country with open roads and spaces reaching far into the horizon. No particular destination and no place to go. Natural lighting is used for most of the scenes and the constant sunlight in every shot is almost blinding at times. Cars are the main prop-focus in the film. Deke, Larry’s friend and mechanic knows a great deal about cars and the sound effects of revving engines draw attention to the many vehicles in the film (the anti-heroes go through two cars and there are several cop cars as well). In several shots, bust billows up and fades away naturally, emphasizing the car chase and the speeds at which the cars are going. Although the setting and on location shooting of the film provide a look that gives the viewers a sense of freedom in the film, the characters are eventually killed accidentally at the hand of Larry, who is discontent with society’s values. Thomas Elsaesser further describes this attitude, stating that “the American condition is under close scrutiny. Death comes unexpectedly (as it did to all the characters in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry) or with cruel calculation, claustrophobia is ever present and the need to ‘get out’ is pervasive”.
These are two AWESOME films, if you haven't seen them, do so ASAP. Badlands will especially cure your winter blahs, with gorgeous, warm shots of summer just over the horizon.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Popular website KILLERFILM.COM recently featured me as their 'Hottie Of The Week' ! Of course, I was honored because the website is awesome - full of great articles, reviews, and other resources. It's also run by some really great dudes who know their movies. Check out the website and you can see my feature here: Lianne Spiderbaby - Hottie of the Week.
I haven't been posting on the blog much lately, simply because all of my article & review writing is being used for FANGORIA magazine. What this means is, you should probably subscribe to the mag so that you can read my stuff every month. It's much cheaper to buy the mag this way, and it's delivered to your front door.
A few articles to look forward to: an interview with Sybil Danning, an exclusive article and interview with Dyanne Thorne and Howard Maurer, an interview with one of the ORIGINAL cast member BEVERLY WASHBURN of one of my favorite horror films - SPIDER BABY!!
I'm also writing and interviewing one of the greatest horror filmmakers out there right now - James Wan. We'll be talking about what he thinks of his own films. All this adds up to you needing to read Fangoria!
I'm still working on the exploitation actresses book, as well. Stay tuned.
I will be appearing at this years SHOCK STOCK convention (and hosting Dyanne Thorne's Q&A), but I will also be hanging out with Fangoria at July's COMIC-CON in San Diego, California. It's supposed to be THE best convention around, so make a trip out!
p.s. A song to brighten your snowy day, if you're living in Toronto like myself:
Looks Like The Sun by Broken Social Scene
Monday, January 3, 2011
|Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
Hello, dear lovers and friends. I've arrived home from Los Angeles, and I'm back to work. That means that I'm working on several articles that will appear in upcoming issues of Fangoria magazine, so you need to keep buying those up. In fact, you should probably subscribe and save yourself a few dollars. My article on Grindhouse Releasing with Sage Stallone has been well received - so I thank you for all of your kind words and emails/tweets. Be on the look out for my other feature articles:
- Sybil Danning, Dyanne Thorne, Beverly Washburn, and a few key DVD reviews!
If you aren't planning on coming to SHOCK STOCK 2011, you should think about that as well. I'm hosting a special Q&A with Dyanne Thorne of the ILSA fame. Don't miss us on stage chatting woman-to-woman together.
I will also be heading back to Los Angeles in March, to run a few other interviews, and other exciting things. The highlights from my last trip: Venice Beach, Santa Monica, watching the sun set in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, shopping for vintage on Melrose, discovering the house from Brian DePalma's Body Double, visiting the Spider Baby house (of course), and hanging with some of my favorite horror/related directors - James Wan, Jon Knautz, and Elijah Drenner. They're amazing, and they're working on some super cool films you need to check out. Click their names to see their latest projects.
Here are a few of my pictures from my lovely trip west, and stay tuned for a very controversial article I've written on the remake of I Spit On Your Grave. I'm also working away on the book - and I'm working on a skeleton for a screenplay that I will write after the book is published. All in good time, friends... I've missed you.
|Downtown LA at night|
|Jingle Bells Jingle Bells, Help Me Get Drunk|
|Venice Boardwalk Freak Show|
|The Spider Baby house|
|New Years Eve with the Part Time Punks|