Monthly Archives: November 2023

  • Apocalypse Now       Francis Ford Coppola (USA; 1979)

    Apocalypse Now       Francis Ford Coppola (USA; 1979) Martin Sheen; Marlon Brando


    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 9 Nov 23; ticket: £7

    The spectacle of everyday America

    After reading Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ my feeling is that though there are elements of the novella incorporated into Coppola’s scenario, the script owes more to Hollywood Westerns such as Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ which has the theme of a search and find mission, plus a number of other such genre movies where a lone cowboy or cowboys track down ‘a baddie.’

    I saw this film first when it opened and it made a big impression. I was blown away by the visual impact of the set piece spectacles, a scenario exploiting the idea of America sucked into the darkest vent of hopeless destructive nihilism. On re-seeing Coppola’s movie I immediately understood the effect that ‘Apocalyse Now’s’ opening sequence had on me both in establishing the mood of the film and colouring the film’s atmospherics. The opening sequence is not so much defined by its visuals but by the sound track which emotionally overwhelms the audience: Jim Morrison lead singer of ‘The Doors’ gives a scarring performance of his song, ‘The End.’

    “This is the end….My only friend…the end…Lost in a wilderness of pain….

    And all the children are insane….Kill…kill….kill…” The lyrics, often improvised live by Morrison stretched out on acid, become a primal scream that sweeps up into itself all the dirt of a culture locked into death.

    The power of Morrison’s voice, the initial slow restrained tempo building towards chaos, the sparse instrumentation that locates close to an Indian raga, lends the sound a cosmic etherial dynamic, all combine to engender a state of mind open to the apocalyptic vision, a revelation of suburban America’s ‘End of days’.

    ‘The End’ bookends Coppola’s film, both opening and closing the movie. It is the first and the last: initially priming state of mind for what is to come; at the end signing off its audience with an interpretive confirmation of the thematic play out of what they have seen.

    After the first spectacle of Willard’s burst of self directed rage in his hotel room, the scenario charts his up-river journey to find and kill Kurtz, a special forces operative who has gone native. The trip is a series of set pieces, the filming anchored in the images of the war: the massacre of a Vietcong village from the air by attack helicopters, the obscenity of the entertainment industry flown into the war zone, the vison of war seen as a ‘Son et Lumiere’ experience under the influence of drugs. America encapsulated as – guns – sex – drugs – and rock n roll – America on an acid high fucking the world. For what?

    ‘Apocalypse Now’ at this level is silent about the: ‘For What?’. Second viewing impressed that this a film about the USA, the Vietnam war is a backdrop. The ‘For What’ invites the idea that as Jim Morrison suggests that the USA is an idea on the verge of tearing itself apart but instead in an act of psychic transference rips other countries apart.

    As he sails upstream Willard becomes obsessed with Kurtz as he reads his dossier and then writings. Willard is consumed by his throughts about Kurtz, not about the war and the types of decisions that brought both men to where they are, to Vietnam. Willard presents as an increasingly empty figure, the empty American, a sort of tourist gazing at the externalities of life but unable to see what is happening.

    Kurtz is the central figure for both Conrad and Coppola but Conrad is careful that whilst describing Kurtz’ qualities as a man, not to actually quote any of his writings. Coppola has Brando playing Kurtz, and as part of the deal Brando is allowed to write and deliver his own end monologue: ‘The Horror’. In the course of his speech Kurtz tells a story: about how a group of Vietcong hacked the arms of the little village children after they had been vacinated by the Americans. Kurtz with crystal clarity understands this moral cruelty. The Vietcong’s ability to go through with this horror, was a mark of their superiority, a statement of their moral certitude: their knowledge of the need to destroy the enemy and anything tainted with him. But Kurtz’ speech has a strange anomalous section. Kurtz continues with this claim that, “…if he (Kurtz) commanded ten divisions of such men…our troubles here would be over very quickly…”

    The issue with this statement is the phrase: ‘our troubles’. To whom does the ‘our’ refer. Presumably to ‘us Americans’. Despite, ‘the Horror; the Horror’… the horror caused by the American decision to fight the Vietnamese war, Kurtz for all his fine understanding and personal qualities simply wants the Americans to win the war. The why and to what purpose to win might serve, is left as a conceptual vacuum, a vacuum into which ‘Apocalpse Now’ is also subsumed. There is also a contradiction here in that the Vietcong could behave as they did towards these children because they totally believed in the rightiousness of thier cause, this is what motivated their resistance to the Yanks. There was no such primary belief amongst US soldiers in Vietnam. They were fighting as part of the generation who listened to Jim Morrison. They were fighting in the darkness of their own bankrupt society.

    With the fall of Saigon happening the year before shooting for ‘Apocalypse Now’ began, the USA had experienced a humiliating total defeat at all levels: political military and most pertinently psychic.  Nothing of this brutal actuality feeds into Coppola’s script, which takes place in the vacuum of the film making world, rendering the movie just another spectacular Western but without any of the moral baggage of the best of this genre.

    Conrad’s story works because Marlow comes away understanding something about where his journey has taken him, into certain realms of metaphorical darkness. By contrast, I came away from Coppola’s film with the feeling that as Willard returns downstream having killed Kurtz, that all he has understood is that to solve America’s problems,what you have to do is to kill another American.

    adrin neatrour

  • The Killer   David Fincher (USA-netflix; 2023)

    The Killer   David Fincher (USA-netflix; 2023) Michael Fassbender

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 6 Nov 2023; ticket price: £12-25

    Never give a sucker an even break.

    Fincher’s film is so derivative so formulaic it felt like it had been written by AI and I’m meaning; artificial idiot.

    For some reason which I never fathomed David Fincher’s ‘The Killer’ opens with a montage comprising a series of distorted supersaturated coloursome shots. Perhaps it was to demonstrate Fincher’s artistic sensibility, or perhaps his eponymous killer is experiencing these images whilst on drugs. The sequence finally cuts to what may be point of view shots as the killer stakes out the action around the apartment where his would be victim has an appointment with fate, that turns out as not to be shot in the head by the killer. After this opening the film resolves into a replay of Zimmerman’s ‘Day of the Jackal’ cross braced with revenge cycle post coitum charade which comprises a series of the usual conventional tropes, spectacles of death foretold, carried out with predictable psychopathic efficiency and nastiness. Presumably in the hope of getting the boys in the seats shouting “Daddy!”


    Because this is a reprise of ‘Jackal’ it is the details that are of prime importance to the scenario. A large portion of the film is surrendered to recording the meticulous planning apparently necessary to the art of killing, the minutiae of the business of being an assassin both as a hired gun and for the second part of the movie on his own account.  As we have seen it all before, the lock ups, the appropriation of everyday objects for purposes other than those for which they were made. This is of course mechanical ‘mindless’ stuff, allowing the script to default to a detached amoralism. It has the bonus of being both undemanding and of course and easy and cheap to shoot. It’s main purpose seems to be to bulk out the film so that its can spread over 2 hours of a Netflix schedule. Because of course what they are really selling is: wallpaper time.

    The script is dominated by the killer’s voice over. This is a voice over of voice overs. In the cinema it boomed through the surround sound speakers. It was the voice of moral certitude, not be questioned. It reminded me of the voice of God in Cecil B DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’. Issuing from a burning bush on Mt Sinai, God calls out to Moses the commandments that are to be given to the Children of Israel.

    Even so that ‘the killer’ like Moses has rules, albeit rules to advance turpitude not salvation.

    I lost count of the number of times Fincher’s scenario repeated the peroration of these five rules. It was if their banality was such that they could only achieve force of purpose and or acceptance through the device of re-iteration. The repetition serves a number of uses. It works as a sort of mantra.  It’s a quasi hypnotic device dulling the mind of the viewer working against any possible realisation of the emptyness of the killer’s slogans: an intellectual and moral vacuity. Of course Orwell in 1984 understood that the endless repetition of banal propositions (such as employed by Hitler and Stalin) force feeds the unfortunate listeners into an accepting and quiescent consciousness. These rules with their admonitions about empathy and improvisation are coupled up in the script with the generalised philosophical pap that Hollywood likes mouthed by its leading men.   Long done are the days when it was left to comedians such a W C Fields to celebrate street wiseacring with his: Never give a sucker an even break. A dictum in relation to its audiences Hollywood long ago took to its heart.

    “The Killer’ increasingly looks like the future of the film industry. The death of cinema and the arrival of home entertainment. There is a drip feed of second rate and/or derivative productions feeding through the cinemas en route to the streaming channels from where the MONEY originates and where they belong. Thius of course exploits the Cinema is as a beauty parade for promoting any film on its way to the plus one of the usual suspects among the cabal of reviewers can normally be relied upon to describe any given movie as: “Best of the year!”

    adrin neatrour





  • The Exorcist   William Friedkin (1973;USA;)

    The Exorcist   William Friedkin (1973;USA;) Ellen Bustyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle; 31 Oct 2023; ticket: £7


    evil is as evil does

    Viewing Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’ I felt it had similarities with contemporary conspiracy theories, most pertinently QAnon (which started life as the claim that USA is run by a cabal of paedophiles and satanists). Once you buy into QAnon any and every event can be interpreted so as to conform and elaborate the thesis. Likewise with ‘The Exorcist’ once you buy into the core idea of ‘demonic possession’ each development and elaboration of the special effects in the scenario pulls the viewer deeper into the film’s belief matrix. Contrariwise as with QAnon so with ‘The Exorcist’ if the foundational proposition fails to convince, then the whole belief artifice collapses like house of cards, and the proceedings just seem monstrously silly.

    Taking a broad view of horror/supernatural movies the genre seems to broadly swing between two different kinds of settings: those which locate the story line in contemporary normalised settings, usually urban; and those whose settings (such as outer space or remote places) are grounded in isolated psychic domains primed to induce in the characters extreme emotive states, most usually fear/terror, provoked by unknown forces. There is not an absolute distinction between these types and both use standard trick camera and sound manipulations to try to shake up the audience. But whereas scenarios based on worlds enveloped in ever intensifying psychic events can play out their plot lines either straight or with latent humour, scripts wanting to assimilate the paranormal or fantastical into the everyday, have to toe the line with the po-faced players instructed to react to the overburgeoning narrative as if for real.

    Playing it real means that the script is grounded in a sort of tokenism of the ordinary: people go to work, indulge in leisure activities, chat and live in regular abodes. The task is then to insinuate into the vistas of the ordinary the extraordinary. Directors such as Polanski in both ‘Repulsion’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ have produced films that massage conviction by cueing the audience with ambivalent rather then extravagant visual and audio anomalies; further many of the critical sequences in Polanski’s films (ie the shots disturbing the flow of the everyday) are shot from Point of View of the protagonist.   This again invokes in the audience an indeterminacy as to whether what has happened is actual or imagined. The entanglement of certainties and uncertainties is exploited by Polanski to build up the tensions in his scripts which are all the more paroxysmal in their resolution.

    In contrast, Friedkin’s movie, is characterised by literalism. ‘The Exorcist’ is dominated by its special effects, rendering it as a series of increasingly histrionic spectacles that peak in the extravaganza of the final confrontation: Regan/the evil one levitating from the bed, with two grown men waving crucifixes and commanding the devil to depart. Films structured about spectacle are usually trapped in a crescendo of effects where the logic is that each effect has to top out the preceding one. Meanwhile ‘The Exorcist’ script links each ‘devil effect sequence’ with a sort of arch science versus superstition dialogue in which ‘superstition’ finally wins over Father Karras, who plays the part of the reluctant hero.

    ‘The Exorcist’ was a huge box office success. Friedkin’s assemblage of special effects put together in 1973 was an effective audience pleaser. However after the digital FX developments of the last 20 years, they don’t pass muster in relation to the test of the passage of time. Friedkin’s effects overall look clumsy, the models masks and caked make up obviously faked. For the film to work today as it did on release today’s viewer has to buy even more heavily than the original audience, into the film’s belief matrix, to believe in magic and that metaphysical tech works.

    We live in a socio-cultural carapace within which there is no magic. ‘The Exorcist’ answers to the wish fulfilment that a domain that exists outside the rigours of science might also provide an effective means to remedy our troubles. Friedkin’s movie feeds a compelling fantasy that there might be a magico-religious cure for evil or a cure for cancer. Cures such that ritualised prayers, crucifixes, holding crystals or the repetition of liturgical mumbo-jumbo, if used properly might be the solution to the ills of our world. In a world troubled by evil – the Nazi death camps, Stalin’s gulags – and of course the Vietnam war with its mass causalities – there was and still is a yearning in many people that there might be a fix for all these troubles.   The issue that is evaded as per Vietnam Iraq Syria etc is that the evils are structured into the fabrics of society, rather than located within the individual.

    adrin neatrour