Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #18: Point Blank

US, 1967. Directed by John Boorman. Starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O'Connor, John Vernon.

So they sez "Have you seen Avatar yet?" they sez.

"No," I reply, "I can't do it."

They stare blankly back at me, and I scan their eyes for any sense that they understand where I'm coming from but they just need some clarification, but it's not there. Damn it, I have to go back into it again.

"I can't..." I sputter, trying to say as much with as few words as possible, "It's just... James Cameron... those shitty screenplays with the cardboard cutouts standing in for... not even for characters, but for types... child in danger... tough woman... cold-hearted capitalist/scientist/evil du jour... the ham-fisted way he says everything... Even the movies of his that I like I can never actually embrace..."

"Yeah, the script is incredibly bad," they say, and I wait for the word. I know it's coming. I watch their lips purse as if in slow motion. If it was a hitman coming for me I could crouch into a position and take him out, unawares, that's how sure I am that it's coming at me... here it is....


It can't end well. They want me to give in, and I know I never will. I feel so very, very tired. I have fought this fight dozens of times and it always ends the same way. It's usually someone I like, too, so I can't get too uppity about it because I know they mean well and I know that the movie really excited them and after a while they forgot the whole digital planet was pretend and got immersed in the experience and I don't begrudge them that. It doesn't make me better than them or vice versa and I could say it all looks like a video game but I know that no video game actually looks that good but it's as close as I can get to explaining my disconnect, and I just don't want to go into it again.

I mutter something non-commital and completely incoherent. "That's awesome that you liked it so much" and I will wonder for the next half hour or so if that sounded really condescending and what an asshole I must have come off as. But I cannot say "maybe I will see it" even if that is indisputably true - that I may. Anything's possible. But I will not. And now I am tired.

I haven't seen Point Blank in 10 years or so, but last year I read all but one book in Richard Stark/Donald E. Westlake's Parker series (everything except "Plunder Squad" - if you can loan it to me I'll be your friend forever; if you give me a copy I will maybe even see Avatar in exchange). Point Blank is loosely based on "The Hunter", the first in the series. It's on in HD. No better time to revisit it, I should say.

"The Hunter" is irrelevant to my enjoyment... no, my immersion in Point Blank. If fidelity to source material mattered one whit to me, I would be infuriated by the film, its relocation to the west coast, re-naming the lead character, the addition and removal of characters, the re-jigging of the back story, the restructuring of the plot. I could give a rat's ass. "The Hunter" is "The Hunter" and it is fantastic. Point Blank is Point Blank and it is transcendent.

Lee Marvin is the rechristened "Walker", career criminal, seeking revenge on the people who betrayed him and seeking the money he is owed from the job he was working when double-crossed. Lee Marvin is an actor who gives little if your preference is for performances that win Academy Awards. But he gives way more than any grandstanding soliloquy ever could, the way he moves, the unpredictable way he reacts. John Boorman knew this, and right after he made Point Blank with Lee Marvin, he made Hell in the Pacific with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as American and Japanese WWII soldiers stranded on an island together, and most of the film is without dialogue, just watching the way these two guys who don't understand each other interact.

Boorman made lots of great movies, but none is greater than Point Blank, his second. Point Blank has images that live inside you long after you've seen it and even if you have forgotten their context. Lee Marvin emptying his revolver into an empty bed that he thinks his enemy is sleeping in. We see it a couple of times, most rivetingly in slow motion, partially because Boorman knows how much there is to digest in this deceptively simple shot of a man's body recoiling from the immense force he has unleashed. This shot is a permanent part of my brain, and it took one camera, one man, one gun. Fait accompli. But a different eye behind the camera, a different man, even with the same gun; not the same thing at all.

Later in the film Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin are checking out a hotel from a distance. Angie stands in the foreground, with the hotel behind her. John Boorman cuts to a reverse shot, with Lee Marvin isolated in one corner of the widescreen frame with the ocean behind him and my breath is taken away. The scene is a matter of routine investigation in script terms, even in a good script like Point Blank. But the imagery is otherwordly in its perfection, its evocation. A man and the sea and the camera. Sensual. Deep. Limitless. And I wouldn't trade it for anything any computer has done in any movie, anywhere, ever. I couldn't.

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