Deliverance

Deliverance is a movie directed by John Boorman, based on the novel by James Dickey.  Dickey is also a poet and when you get to the end of this post I have included a poem from his pen.

Different people will have different immediate reactions to the film Deliverance.  Ask people who have seen it what is their enduring memory.

banjoboy

Some will immediately go to the duelling banjos scene.

Yesterday we heard Burt Reynolds passed away.  When the film was made in 1972 Reynolds was the epitome of American masculinity.  The role turned him from a TV star to a Movie star in an age when that was an enormous difference.  He famously went on to turn down roles as James Bond and Han Solo.  He starred in Smokey and the Bandit, and in Cannonball Run, specialising in roles that involved muscle cars and beautiful women,  He went on to become a director.  Later in his career he won an Oscar playing a porn movie director in Boogie Nights.

In 1972 male masculinity looked like this:

deliverance 2

A lot of guys who saw the movie identified with Jon Voight.  He wants to be confident, strong, macho and shallow like Reynolds character.  But he is afflicted with human emotions, conscience, doubt.  But in the end Voight summons up his reserves of masculinity and kills the guy he thinks is the bad guy.  And then has these doubts about if that was really the bad guy after all.

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For me the real hero, the real man of the movie, was Ned Beatty.  Ned played the victim of the seminal male rape scene that made the movie a significant milestone in world cinema.  The movie opened the door to male vulnerability and allowed men to open discussions about abuse.  The movie shattered the Burt Reynolds image of what a man should be and gave us the Ned Beatty truth of what a man is.

Ned Beatty allowed himself to be stripped naked, slapped, abused, insulted and raped, all on celluloid for the consumption of a world audience.  That took guts.  That took bravery.  Bur Reynolds played the easy role, Beatty did the hard stuff.

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So ask me what is my enduring memory of the film.  The characters kill the guy they think is the rapist.  They bury the body in a valley that is being flooded by the construction of a dam.  At the end of the film they realise they may have killed the wrong guy.  Voight dreams of that lake behind the dam, he dreams of the serene water at dusk, no breeze, not a ripple.  And then…………

Deliverance 1

Cherrylog Road; by James Dickey

Off Highway 106
at Cherrylog Road I entered
the ’34 Ford without wheels,
smothered in kudzu,
with a seat pulled out to run
corn whiskey down from the hills,

and then from the other side
crept into an Essex
with a rumble seat of red leather
and then out again, aboard
a blue Chevrolet, releasing
the rust from its other color,

reared up on three building blocks.
None had the same body heat;
I changed with them inward, toward
the weedy heart of the junkyard,
for I knew that Doris Holbrook
would escape from her father at noon

and would come from the farm
to seek parts owned by the sun
among the abandoned chassis,
sitting in each in turn
as I did, leaning forward
as in a wild stock-car race

in the parking lot of the dead.
Time after time, I climbed in
and out the other side, like
an envoy or movie star
met at the station by crickets.
A radiator cap raised its head,

become a real toad or a kingsnake
as I neared the hub of the yard,
passing through many states,
many lives, to reach
some grandmother’s long Pierce-Arrow
sending platters of blindness forth

from its nickel hubcaps
and spilling its tender upholstery
on sleepy roaches,
the glass panel in between
Lady and colored driver
not all the way broken out,

the back-seat phone
still on its hook.
I got in as though to exclaim,
“Let us go to the orphan asylum,
John; I have some old toys
for children who say their prayers.”

I popped with sweat as I thought
I heard Doris Holbrook scrape
like a mouse in the southern-state sun
that was eating the paint in blisters
from a hundred car tops and hoods.
She was tapping like code,

loosening the screws,
carrying off headlights,
sparkplugs, bumpers,
cracked mirrors and gear-knobs,
getting ready, already,
to go back with something to show

other than her lips’ new trembling
I would hold to me soon, soon,
where I sat in the ripped back seat
talking over the interphone,
praying for Doris Holbrook
to come from her father’s farm

and to get back there
with no trace of me on her face
to be seen by her red-haired father
who would change, in the squalling barn,
her back’s pale skin with a strop,
then lay for me

in a bootlegger’s roasting car
with a string-triggered 12-gauge shotgun
to blast the breath from the air.
Not cut by the jagged windshields,
through the acres of wrecks she came
with a wrench in her hand,

through dust where the blacksnake dies
of boredom, and the beetle knows
the compost has no more life.
Someone outside would have seen
the oldest car’s door inexplicably
close from within:

I held her and held her and held her,
convoyed at terrific speed
by the stalled, dreaming traffic around us,
so the blacksnake, stiff
with inaction, curved back
into life, and hunted the mouse

with deadly overexcitement,
the beetles reclaimed their field
as we clung, glued together,
with the hooks of the seat springs
working through to catch us red-handed
amidst the gray breathless batting

that burst from the seat at our backs.
We left by separate doors
into the changed, other bodies
of cars, she down Cherrylog Road
and I to my motorcycle
parked like the soul of the junkyard

restored, a bicycle fleshed
with power, and tore off
up Highway 106, continually
drunk on the wind in my mouth,
wringing the handlebar for speed,
wild to be wreckage forever.

Toy Story

Toy Story

Born this day in 1850 Eugene Field, if he lived today, could probably sue Pixar for stealing his idea in the poem “Little Boy Blue” and turning it into the Toy Story Movie Franchise.  Although Field’s poem has a darker side.  Instead of being about growing up it is about the death of a child.

 

Little boy blue; by Eugene Field

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
but sturdy and stanch he stands;
and the little toy soldier is red with rust,
and his musket molds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new
and the soldier was passing fair,
and that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
kissed them and put them there.

“Now, don’t you go till I come,” he said,
“and don’t you make any noise!”
So toddling off to his trundle-bed
he dreamed of the pretty toys.
And as he was dreaming, an angel song
awakened our Little Boy Blue,
oh, the years are many, the years are long,
but the little toy friends are true.

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
each in the same old place,
awaiting the touch of a little hand,
the smile of a little face.
And they wonder, as waiting these long years through,
in the dust of that little chair,
what has become of our Little Boy Blue
since he kissed them and put them there.

Frosty Morning

robin-on-icy-grass

The first real hard frost of the year came last night. Winter has tightened its grip. But this is Ireland and “Hard Frost” for us is a joke for others. My brother in Canada laughs at our weather forecast which casts warnings of doom and destruction over temperatures that in Calgary would be considered a soft day.

It is 11:15 and the frost has melted and the roads should be safe.

Tonight is Cinema night. I am taking the boys to see the Hobbit: Battle of the 5 Armies in 3D. My daughter is going to the Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 with her friends. I am not allowed in that cinema.

I love the cinema. So many great memories of my own childhood, eating sticky toffees with my brothers and sisters and escaping into that great big screen filled with the wonders of the universe.

We used to go to local suburban cinemas to see old movies or low budget films.  All those cinemas are gone now, converted into carpet warehouses or bingo halls.

For the new release blockbuster movies we went into Dublin City Centre.  Some of those cinemas have survived, albeit following re-modelling into multiplexes.  They had fancy names such as the Savoy, the Ambassador and the Plaza.  They were the height of luxury with crushed velvet armchairs, acres of curtains over cinemascope screens that seemed to go on forever.  We were always on the ground floor in the stalls, and dreamed of the days when we might afford to sit on the balcony and eat Milk Tray chocolates instead of toffees and boiled sweets.

Queues were a vital part of the experience.  The stress and tension, wondering if you would get a ticket.  That sense of fear, wonder and delight enhanced the experience.

In many ways the Cinema experience is quasi-religious.  It is a rite, with its own rituals.  You go into that dark space and are transformed by the experience of the film, to emerge a different person.

The Cold Heaven; by William Butler Yeats

Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

Can Superheroes save the USA from Jihad?

lady-liberty-burka

I have a theory that the explosion in popularity in superhero movies has less to do with exploitation of the Marvel and DC franchises and more to do with the American Zeitgeist. I think that ordinary Americans are trying to deal with a raft of stressful and complex issues such as “The war on terrorism”, “The war on drugs”, actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration, gun crime, school shootings and a weak economy which has depleted property values and consequent self-worth.

Politicians are supposed to be leaders, who steer the people through problems and dark days. In the USA of today the politicians use fear to motivate support for their cause. Tea Party politicians in particular offer blunt and seemingly simple, compelling solutions.  Intelligent voters can see that these populist, far right wing groups have the potential to bring the world to ruination. Concernedly the Tea Party stance is increasingly mirrored by far right wing parties across Europe such as the UKIP in Britain and National Front movements gaining traction in France, Austria etc.  Hitler and Mussolini used exactly the same tactics to secure power in the 1930’s in the great depression.

Let’s come back to the USA, where adult Americans are barraged by fear about issues over which they have no control from the mainstream politicians, and are offered simple, but frankly lunatic proposals from a right wing that offers Tea instead of good American Coffee.

Why are adult Americans so open to Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Flash, the Green Hornet, Captain America etc etc etc? My hypothesis is that superheroes represent a “Deus-ex-machina” type solution to the problems of the world. For a time you can sit in a dark cinema, suspend your disbelief, push away the fear and let the big guy in the garish bodyform suit sort out the bad guys.

Just to establish the rules here, I am looking at the kind of movies that appeal to adults, as opposed to kids and teenagers. What reflects the adult zeitgeist of a period?

During the 1930’s when everyone lived in misery during the depression, movies provided an escape into a world of luxury, excess and class. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dressed in fine outfits and danced their way across art-deco sets, took cruises, flew in aircraft, wore furs and drank champagne. For the cost of a few cents the public could escape the misery of their daily grind and imagine the good life.

During the 1940’s the film industry was employed as a propaganda mouthpiece. The government wanted stories that glorified the brave soldier or the resilient stiff, working unpaid overtime in the factory. Films celebrated Mom, Apple Pie and the defence of the American way of life. Foreign enemies were mocked, vilified and lampooned.

Look back to the 1950’s and the early 1960’s and the public got to choose what they watched again. What they watched was the western. Soldiers returned from battlefields in Europe and the Pacific, got married and went back to work in civvy street. America had a sense of re-birth of the pioneering spirit, the manifest destiny of the American dream. The world was free because of America and America was embodied by the spirit of the Cowboy. The bad guy wore a black hat, the good guy showed restraint, but when pushed he came out shooting from the hip and rode into the sunset with the best girl beside him. Good, simple days when you knew what was what. The enemies were clear, it was the Commies. Senator McCarthy’s Committee on un-American activities could ride roughshod over any objections.

The 1960’s began with 50’s style films such as “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent 7”. It ended with “Midnight Cowboy”. The dream of Camelot collapsed with the assassinations of the Kennedys. The USA was dragged deeper and deeper into Vietnam. The Civil Rights Movement exposed the hypocrisy of the “American Dream” which was reserved for white folks. The kids born in the 1950’s let their hair grow long, listened to the Devil’s music, Rock and Roll, smoked drugs and wore flowers in their hair. This was reflected in how film taste changed over the decade. In the western movies you could no longer tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Outlaws became heroes, such as “The Wild Bunch” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Order was subverted in films such as “2001 A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes”.

The 1970’s were characterised by the impeachment of Nixon. The authorities could no longer be trusted. Society failed the ordinary person. We got films such as “The Deer Hunter”, “Taxi Driver” and “Apocalypse Now” where US soldiers are destroyed by the impact of Vietnam. “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “A Clockwork Orange” ask who is mad, the patient or the system? The Godfather films, Serpico and Chinatown point to widespread corruption in policing, planning and judiciary systems.

The 1980’s were a funny decade for film. The invention and widespread availability of Video led to a fundamental restructure of the industry and the films. Old fleabag downtown movie theaters were replaced with modern multiplexes in suburban shopping malls. The target market shifted from adults to teens. The doors opened for John Hughes and his Brat Pack actors with The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Buellers Day Off, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and the renaissance of the chapter play in films such as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, ET, The Princess Bride, Stand by Me, Back to the Future, Dead Poets Society, The Goonies etc. As such the 1980’s resembles the 1940’s in that the industry, not the consumer, drove film choice.

The “Caring, Sharing 1990’s” were soundly reflected in our choices of films of hope and redemption. Saving species and the planet (Jurassic Park), compassion for people and challenging preconceptions (Shawshank, Good Will Hunting, Forest Gump, The Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, American History X), challenging consumer culture (Fight Club, American Beauty, The Matrix, Trainspotting). It was a great decade for considered, intelligent and thoughtful films.

Then arrived 9/11 and the rise and rise and rise of the Superhero movie! For me the Superhero appears to have replaced the good Cowboy of the 1950’s. He is on the side of right, and always wins against evil in the end, saving the promise of the American Dream.