Sunday, August 19, 2007


Following on from my immersion in the ocean that is the blues (see previous posts) these other southern delights are highly recommended.

Originaly released in 1972, based on the novel by James Dickey who also wrote the screenplay and makes a cameo appearance in the film as a sheriff, 'Deliverance' still packs a wallop.

I well remember going to see the first press screening in London at that time and sitting down next to a female scribe, who grabbed my hand during the course of the film and dug her nails in so hard that there were visible marks when we came out, shaken, into the early evening light.

It remained from of the prime examples I would quote, when arguing over a drink, about the relativity of film viewing - when and where you see the film has a defining effect on your opinion of it. (Obviously this excludes 'dogs' that no circumstance would alter or improve).

Cos later, still remembering the nails in my hand, I got excited about seeing the first run of the movie on tv (there were no dvds in those days and VHS releases lagged way behind the release date). First-time round, we had no prior knowledge of the film, were seeing it blind in an ideal environment (plush screening room) and thus the shock factor was at maximum. Seeing it again on tv, interrupted by adverts, took all the heat and steam out of it.

This point is underlined by a short review on Amazon by L.A. Hay "Saturnicus" from Scotland, entitled '35 years too late': 'At the time of its release this film had mega hype. John Voigt and Burt Reynolds were the glamour boys of the day and had the girls drooling. At the time I probably would have liked it; or would I? We children of the sixties were notoriously fickle and gave credit when it was due. Finally getting round to see it, (cannot imagine why I was prevented seeing it in the beginning), I was disappointed. The subject of male abuse would have no doubt been lost on me in 1972 as I would not even known what it was, so perhaps that was a major stunner at the time. Over the years no doubt many other features in the movie so innovative back then, have become commonplace...The lessons it may have taught us, and horrors it showed us, have dissipated with time.'

To these eyes, watching it more than 30 years later, it looks timeless. The cinematography is stunning , the famous 'Duelling Banjos' still works as a hokey then creepy opener and Boorman's mastery of the growing sense of dread (all a question of pace) draws you in until, like the film's protagonists, you find yourself caught on a emotional ride that you cannot get off.

One thing a re-viewing brings home is how editing techniques have changed. Boorman takes his time. The camera lingers longer. One has space to absorb the stunning landscapes, the sound of the river. Compare and contrast the way the film's violent episodes are handled. Imagine how many jump shots there would be in a modern movie. The gore factor would have to be upped to compete with today's hyper-realism.

In retrospect, the 70s was a classic Hollywood period when a new generation of film-makers stormed the walls of Babylon and had a party. This point was underlined by watching the DVD of 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' - the excellent documentary of Peter Biskin's book. Particularly stunning are the extras: a really tremendous set of beautifully shot interviews with some key characters. Check out Dennid Hopper's stories about the making of 'Apocalypse Now'.

Check out also the BBC4 web site connected to their screening of the film: audio interviews with Hopper, Altman, Scorsese and Schlesinger. Also audio link to interview with Biskind. Read critique of the book here.

Boorman is currently working on an adaptation of Marguerite Yourcenar's bestseller "Memoirs of Hadrian," which is written in the form of a letter from the aging emperor to his young successor, recounting the story of his early political career in the second century A.D.
Read his 2001 Guardian article 'That's All Folks': Big movies now cost $100m and that figure is going up. How can the studios afford it? They can't. Film-maker John Boorman on an industry facing meltdown.

James Dickey, who was a decorated fighter pilot and US poet laureate, died in January 1997, four days after his last class at the University of South Carolina, where from 1968 he taught as Poet-in-Residence. Audio interviews with Dickey here

'Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus', a film by Andrew Douglas, is a captivating and compelling road trip through the Southern States in the company of singer Jim White. Originally shown on BBC's Arena programme, this a truly amazing and innovative film, suffused with a strange darkness, full of exquisite music and great storytellers. The DVD is not cheap but it pays repeated viewings.

Just been up half the night reading 'Moonshine, Monster Catfish and other Southern Comforts', Burkhard Bilger's account of his investigations into such southern traditions as eating squirrels, fighting cocks, noodling catfish and playing rolley holer - a strange form of marbles. Bilger is a staff writer for the New Yorker and a brilliant reporter and stylist. Here are visions of other worlds beyond our ken. Delightful and insightful. Read an extract here.

No comments: