Targets                                    Peter Bogdanovitch (USA; 1968

Targets                                    Peter Bogdanovitch (USA; 1968

Targets                Peter Bogdanovitch (USA; 1968)   Boris Karloff; Tim O’Kelly

viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 26th May 2024; ticket £7


Ironic play out of the cool.


The year before Bogdanovitch made ‘Targets’ there occurred the first mass killing by a shooter in post war USA. It was carried out in 1966 by Charles Whitman who went to the top of the University of Texas Tower Building from where he shot and killed 15 people, wounding 31 others. He was eventually shot dead by the cops some 90 minutes after first opening fire.

It’s obvious that Bogdanovitch made ‘Targets’ as a response to this event. Like Charles Whitman, Bobby, Bogdanovitch’s fictional killer in ‘Targets’, murders both his wife and mother prior to his killing spree. But what Bogdanovitch took from the Tower murders was not the bemusement horror or moral outrage provoked by the murders or even the sensational reporting of what happened. What Bogdanovitch sees is that killing in this particular way has become an expression of the ‘cool’; an extension of a certain stylistic mode out into an extreme behavioural zone.

Post Whitman mass murder has become an expressive statement, a ‘life’ or rather ‘death’ style consumer choice. Using pump action rifle with telescopic sights the killings by Bobby, patterned on Charles Whitman’s actions can be understood as a particular behavioural geste not dissimilar to sunglasses a leather jacket a tattoo, a sports car or use of a particular fashionable word or sign.

‘The Cool’ in this respect denotes on the part of the individual a level of expressive calm disassociation in relation to their manifestations and actions. ‘Whatever.’  

The radiation of the Cool Ethos through the American social matrix may be connected to the alienation of people’s lives from a root culture.   In ‘Targets’ Bogdanovitch depicts a domestic world dominated by the output of TV, where time is on hold and rhythms of life are shaped by the blandishments of the mass entertainment industry. The culture of the ‘cool’ develops out of this suburban world of psychic containment and disassociation. The gun is cool because it represents a force that reduces people to ‘thingdom’. The TV kills minds the gun kills bodies. The gun’s cool because like TV it is also has a detached mechanism, the trigger; and through the rifle sights the victims are unreal, like the figures on a TV screen. When the trigger’s pulled there’s nothing personal, no involvement no messy blood. The targets just roll over: dead. That’s cool. As if it could be contained.

But Bogdanovich’s achievement in writing and directing ‘Targets’ was to give a particular ironic form to the film, exploiting the actual process of casting to imbue the scenario with wit and lightness of touch. Counterbalancing Tim O’Kelly’s rendering of Bobby as a methodical killer gunman is the performance of Boris Karloff as the imposing figure of Horror Movie star Byron Orlok.

On every metric Bobby is a little man, petty, inconsequential in demeanour. Bobby the little man driven by a certain feeling of insignificance for which the culture has no redress, is ironically offset in the scenario by Byron Orloc, a giant gracious Gothic presence both in life and on screen. The irony is that the future belongs to the little man and all his countless imitators; the big man, the giant is a dinosaur the purveyor of old phantom horrors that no longer count for anything consequential. Bobby heralds the dread that will characterise the time to come when a legion of anonymous men will turn their guns and shoot anyone – men – women – children, anyplace – church – mosque – school – mall – carving their mark deeply into the flesh of the social body. Byron the King of Horror movies has now been relegated into the world of the fairytail, a faded eidolon, symbolic of stories that might once have have stirred up fear but are now relegated to the nursery. Realising this Byron Orloc has decided to retire with immediate effect; he knows he is out of time that in the world of fear he has been superseded by a new generation of intense psychic anxieties.

‘Targets’ is structured about the intercut ironic counterpoise between the coming inarticulate actual manifestation of horror and the receding old school theatrics of gothic fright. Bogdanovitch climaxes ‘Targets’ with a scene wittily modelled on the denouement of Welles’ ‘Lady from Shanghai’ where the two protagonists face off in the shoot out in a hall of mirrors, image be-lying image, the actual and the virtual inseparably intertwined. In ‘Targets’ Bobby tries to escape from his snipers nest behind the drive-in screen where the last movie of Byron Orlok is being projected (amidst all the carnage). As Bobby moves to escape the actual Byron sees him and sets off in pursuit; simultaneously Byron’s on screen presence is also engaged in a chase. A he looks about Bobby melts down into a state of panic, brain sent haywire by the two schizo images of the same man coming after him. Finally overwhelmed by image he is reduced to a state of psychic paralysis, cornered and disarmed by Orloc.

Unlike Charles Whitman, Bobby is captured alive and led away by the police. In the last shot as Bobby is strong-armed to the prowl car he turns to one of the cops and quips: “I hardly missed a shot…didn’t I?” How cool is that.

adrin neatrour

Author: Star & Shadow

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