Author Archives: Alex Good

Quiz the ninety-fifth: You’ve got blood on your face (Part two)

Looks like a few of these people could use a towel to clean themselves up. A couple of towels in some cases.

See also: Quiz the fifty-fith: You’ve got blood on your face (Part one).

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Hellboy (2019)

*. This is awkward. After Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army things had been left open for a final film to conclude a projected trilogy. That never happened, for various reasons. So instead, over a decade later, the franchise (such as it was) had to be rebooted entirely. Technically this film should be considered a prequel, since the events it describes take place before those of del Toro’s movies. But really it sets up an entirely new universe.
*. In the intervening decade Marvel had swallowed up the film business. So with this relaunch of Hellboy they were basically going for a piece of the same, very large market. When it was poorly received David Harbour (who plays Hellboy) complained that it was being unfairly judged as a Marvel movie. He would have had a point if they hadn’t been so obviously trying to make a Marvel movie. Right down to the mid-credit and post-credit sequences setting up the next round (wherein Hellboy would presumably face off against Koschei the Deathless).
*. Mike Mignola’s comic is, in fact, something a little different than the usual Marvel fare. And his art has a different style as well. Now it would have been possible for the art director and other people involved in this movie to have taken inspiration from that style and done something distinctive. Sort of like how the Sin City movies visualized what Frank Miller did. Comic book movies don’t have to all look the same. But, alas, what they stuck with here was CGI. Lots of CGI.
*. If you live by CGI you die by CGI. I thought the CGI in this movie to be very poor, especially for 2019. Which means the movie was always going to struggle. Though not necessarily be this bad.

*. Believe me, I don’t want to just dump on this movie. I’d heard all of the bad press and was expecting the worst, but through the first half-hour or so I was enjoying it well enough. Harbour is no Ron Perlman, but he’s not a disaster. I liked seeing Ian McShane, even though he seemed wrong for the part. The hunt for the giants started off well.
*. But then it was hard not to notice the crumby CGI they used for the giants. And then begin to wonder what the hunt episode had to do with the rest of the movie. Absolutely nothing, as things would turn out.
*. The rest of the movie then descends into the usual business about Hellboy coming to grips with his destiny, and his humanity, while being pursued by a wicked witch (Milla Jovovich). Chunks of the plot float around in flashback so we can caught up on all the different characters and their relations to each other. There’s a lot more (fake CGI) gore and bad language than in del Toro’s movies and of course none of del Toro’s honest enthusiasm for the material.
*. As a result, it’s hard to overstate just how dull the second half of the movie is. Giant CGI monsters rise from the pits of hell and start tearing London apart. Because that’s what giant CGI monsters do. There’s more blood than usual, but otherwise that’s it. There are attempts to liven things up with some Marvelesque banter but most of it falls flat. Even the quips are predictable.
*. Bottom line: I didn’t hate it as much as most critics did. But it’s no good. Fans of the comic, or the earlier movies, were disappointed, while I reckon anyone going in cold must have felt pretty confused by what was going on. Given that I doubt there will be a sequel, is it too soon to hit the reboot button again? Or should they just let Big Red lie? I vote for giving him another decade off.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

*. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, didn’t have a story credit for the first Hellboy movie but it was loosely based on some of his comics. He does share a story credit for this film, but overall I get the sense that The Golden Army is a lot more del Toro than it is Mignola.
*. This sense was pretty much confirmed by del Toro’s commentary, where he calls Hellboy II a more personal film than the first one, in which he could indulge his “fetish” for gears and underground places. He also explicitly drew on Pan’s Labyrinth for things like the Troll Market and quotes from the same Tennyson poem as was used in The Devil’s Backbone.
*. This is del Toro’s franchise now. Mignola’s horror cult has been replaced with something lighter, even referencing the classic creatures of Ray Harryhausen and the cartoon style of Tex Avery. Which is good or bad depending on your tastes. Del Toro apparently thought of the film as a “fairy tale for adults” but for kids too. Or maybe primarily for kids. If there is a difference anymore. Kidult is a label that defines a lot of our culture.
*. The Golden Army is also more of a CGI extravaganza, though Hellboy himself maintains his rugged durability and I was stunned to hear that Mr. Wink was actually a real guy in a monster suit. As I’ve said before, many times now, what CGI is really good at is destroying cities and showing armies in battle. So the technology does determine the plot at least somewhat.
*. As with the first film the plot is pretty much formula. Hellboy is “out” in public now and soon becomes the Misunderstood Hero. The villain has bad designs, but is somewhat sympathetic. There’s lots of self-sacrifice because love is what really counts.
*. They couldn’t get Marco Beltram back and replaced him with Danny Elfman, who wanted to stay true to the original score. Why didn’t they just keep the original score? Didn’t they have the rights?
*. Of course you could tell they were setting everything up for a sequel, which I believe was meant to be the final part of a trilogy. This didn’t happen because it was going to cost too much and the Hellboy movies, while they made money, weren’t the guaranteed box office of Marvel Studios output. Apparently the Hellboy movies made back most of their money on the back end and DVD and video income had basically disappeared by this time. Something to keep in mind when considering the homogenization of so much of this kind of filmmaking. Only a sure thing, meaning a totally predictable thing, is going to be attempted at this price point.
*. So, at least as of this writing, Hellboy III, or del Toro’s franchise, remains a what-may-have been. Instead of a sequel, ten years later they went for a full reboot. One couldn’t be hopeful.

Hellboy (2004)

*. I’m not a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro, but I find it hard not to respond to his own fandom. He genuinely loves movies and comic books. The obvious affection and enthusiasm he has for his various projects, which all seem to be labours of love, is a big part of what sets them apart from the usual run-of-the-mill, superhero/fantasy, CGI epics.
*. It also, I think, allows him a certain creative latitude. Having Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola, on board for this movie probably also helped in this regard. While I think del Toro’s Hellboy is true to the spirit of Mignola’s comic book, it also takes a lot of liberties that another director might not have gotten away with.
*. Another thing that really helps this production is the cast. John Hurt is great as Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced “Broom”). Selma Blair is perfect playing a low-energy Liz Sherman, someone withdrawn without being emo. I didn’t see the point of the Jeffrey Tambor character but he’s always fun to watch. Rupert Evans is Myers, a regular guy not in the comic who serves as a friend to the audience.
*. It’s Ron Perlman though who really makes the movie work. He’s laid-back and low-key as well, but it’s his physicality that sells the role. When he charges into action you don’t get the feeling you’re just watching a CGI cartoon fight but someone really getting knocked around. This is important because Hellboy gets knocked around a lot. It’s one of his defining characteristics, so you have to buy into that.
*. Of course the visuals are great. Del Toro is a natural fit with Mignolo’s mythos, which is all ruined castles and monasteries and strange mechanical creatures. The end looks a bit too much like Tomb Raider for my tastes, but by this time that had become a generic look. It’s all part of the fantasy world we (or at least our movies) live in now.
*. But it’s precisely del Toro’s reliance on visuals that puts me off him as well. Frankly, the story here, which is loosely based on Mignolo’s early Hellboy titles, is just the usual superhero stuff. Hellboy is more of a Marvel type, being the adolescent rebel with special powers that make it hard for him to have a girlfriend and just be a regular guy (something that is emphasized even more here by making the B.P.R.D. into a secret society). There are Nazis to fight. There is a supervillain (Rasputin) who is looking to, you know, destroy the world. He’s going to do this by, you know, opening a portal in the sky to another dimension. How many times has that portal been opened in superhero movies? Avengers: Age of Ultron and Fantastic Four are a couple of others that come immediately to mind. Hell, they even used it in The LEGO Batman Movie.
*. The moral lesson is also familiar and simple. Learn to like yourself. Resist labels, since you create yourself through the choices you make. That might almost qualify as sub-Marvel, if I thought there were such a thing.
*. I would still, however, rate Hellboy an above-average superhero movie. The cast is good and del Toro gives the film a warmth I rarely find in the video game aesthetic of other comic book/video game adventures. The groovy score by Marco Beltrami is also a big plus. But it’s still a movie where all such praise has to be qualified by acknowleding what kind of movie this is. Shouldn’t “generic fantasy” be an oxymoron? It’s a bit upsetting that it isn’t.

Cloverfield (2008)

*. A big budget found-footage (or shaky-cam) horror movie seems almost like a contradiction in terms. The whole point of taking this approach was to save money because these movies were supposed to look cheap and amateurish. So applying the intimate, shaky-cam aesthetic to a movie about a giant monster (and a lot of smaller monsters) destroying Manhattan is definitely throwing us a curve ball.
*. An aside. When I say “big budget” that’s being relative. On the DVD commentary track director Matt Reeves talks a lot about budget constraints and shooting on a tight schedule, but my understanding is that the budget was $25 million and he says the shooting schedule was 36 days. We’re not talking about The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity here.
*. Budget aside, this part of Cloverfield actually works pretty well. I liked the epic action sequences playing out guerilla style. I also didn’t mind how little we see of the actual monsters. The big boy isn’t shown in his entirety until the very end; in the rest of the movie he’s just a giant tail or foot, or a path of destruction. And I have no problem with that.
*. My problem with Cloverfield, and it’s a big problem since this is a movie I don’t like, has to do with everything else. As I’ve said, the juxtaposition of kaiju and shaky-cam is effectively done. But while the monsters are adequate (albeit not to my taste), the humans are terrible.
*. Going over my initial notes on this movie, made a few years ago, I found I’d written this: “About fifteen minutes into this movie I wanted to see everyone — and I mean every single face on screen — die a horrible, painful death. All these pretty young people so insufferably into themselves that they have to throw fabulous parties for themselves just because one of them is leaving town for a while.”
*. Watching the movie again my feelings toward these characters had not softened. With their “bros” and “dudes” and evidently vast inherited wealth it’s a hipster scene that has not aged well. But there’s more to it than this. These kids are also idiots. Anthony Lane: “our hip young folk are . . . not merely the prettiest and bravest members of the population; they are also the most stupid. The result is that our prevailing emotion, as they are picked off one by one, veers away from grief toward a sniggering delight.”
*. Bad enough that they decide they have to go back to ground zero to rescue Beth, but the speech Rob makes to the army officers is a sin. “The girl I love more than anything [anything?] is dying [how does he know this?] and it’s my fault [why?]. She should have been with me tonight [says who?] and I let her go [she left with another guy, get over it] . . . but we’re gonna go after her, and if you wanna stop me then you’re gonna have to shoot me.” Would that the officer had taken him up on the offer.
*. They wanted a romantic, life-affirming story intertwined with the monster mash stuff; I get that part even if I don’t agree with it. But something this schmaltzy? I am grateful the business of running the taped-over trip to Coney Island didn’t get any more play as a parallel narrative.
*. Then you have the cameraman Hud, who is so downright annoying in his play-by-play that he becomes agonizing before the end of the opening act. I guess he was supposed to inject some comic relief but if that was the aim they might have at least written him some funny lines. And what are we to think of his playing the gossip game at the loft party, telling all the guests that Rob and Beth have been sleeping together? He even records himself acting like this! And the people he tells this to are amazed! Are they all twelve years old?
*. As soon as Cloverfield came out it was discussed as a 9/11 film. Reeves went along with this, calling the monster “a metaphor for our times and the terror we all face,” and saying the movie “felt like it was a way of dealing with the anxieties of our time.” He also makes the perfectly valid point that this was what Godzilla did as well in the 1950s. Deborah Ross, however, writing in the Independent, asked “Is this, then, how America sees its aggressors, as unprovoked monsters suddenly appearing from nowhere for no apparent reason? Now, that is very frightening.”
*. Kim Newman: “It seems every age is an age of anxiety, and each wave of paranoia — whether triggered by terrorist attacks, new diseases, eco-doom, frightening ideologies or financial crisis — needs its own spin on Godzilla, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and War of the Worlds.”
*. The concept, to give it as vague a name as possible, would play out further in such tenuously related films as 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. Cloverfield, if not quite a franchise, became a brand. But at least the kids were dead.

First Reformed (2017)

*. Paul Schrader. Now there’s a name I hadn’t heard in a while. I had to go check an up-to-date filmography to find out what he’s been doing since Affliction (the last movie of his I’d seen).
*. Well, he has been keeping busy, albeit doing things I’m not that interested in. So I guess we just fell out of touch.
*. Schrader started out as a film critic and scholar, which makes his commentary on First Reformed well worth a listen. He talks a lot about the kind of movie he was trying to make, and explains a lot of the references and allusions First Reformed is thick with. He mentions his propensity to “crib and steal” from other movies, which goes a lot further afield than the obvious debts. He also points out things that are easy to miss on a first viewing. I would have never noticed the suicide Michael standing in the doorway of the rusted hulk in the final drone shot of an apocalyptic Earth, for example.
*. As far as the obvious debts go we have Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest and Bergman’s Winter Light. Other prominent borrowings include Tarkovsky (for the levitation scene) and Dreyer’s Ordet (for the ending). Schrader says he “bound it all together with the glue of Taxi Driver,” but this strikes me as a bit of a stretch. I don’t think First Reformed alludes to Taxi Driver so much as it shows an interest in the same sort of story and character arc.
*. In terms of the kind of movie it is, Schrader uses terms like contemplative and transcendental film. One of the characteristics of this kind of movie is its slow pace, but I wouldn’t call First Reformed “slow film” as that term is usually used. Schrader himself mentions how audiences today are so acclimated to a fast pace that a slower picture doesn’t have to be very slow. Just slowing things down a little bit makes a big difference.
*. The key concept Schrader grabs hold of is “withholding.” This is a movie infused with a spirit of restraint, one that purposefully gives you less: less camera movement (few tilts, pans, or tracking shots); less colour (Schrader originally wanted to shoot it in black and white but had to settle for a muted palette, displayed most directly in the monochromatic pancake house); minimalist set decoration (homes not just with few furnishings but no furnishings at all); the use of uncomfortably long shots without clear beginnings or ends (wielding boredom, as Schrader puts it, like a scalpel); and deliberately underscored (I don’t think there’s any music heard until over halfway through the movie, and then it mostly takes the form of a muted “soundscape”).
*. The point of all this is to force the usually passive film audience (conditioned to respond to forceful cues) into becoming more active and engaged. Let’s take a look at how this might work with regard to the ending (and here I’ll give you a spoiler alert because you really shouldn’t be reading any further if you haven’t seen the movie yet).
*. My first impression of the ending was to be startled at its abruptness. I also thought it seemed a flimsy cop-out. How could Toller be redeemed in such a highly improbable way? How do we go from his rather caddish rejection of his ex (choir leader Esther, played by a dowdy Victoria Hill) to his fully carnal embrace of a younger woman? This just didn’t seem right.
*. In fact, I don’t think it is right as an interpretation of the end. On the commentary Schrader says he wanted to leave the question of whether Mary (Amanda Seyfried) actually comes to save Toller at the last minute open, but I’m inclined to think she does not and that this is only an ecstatic vision Toller has before dying — in Schrader’s colourful phrase, puking his guts out on all fours after drinking the Drano.
*. Here are my reasons for thinking so.

*. (1) We’ve already been prepared for such a move by the “magical mystery tour” carpet ride, that depicts what is a subjective spiritual vision. Though not wholly subjective, since Schrader, following Tarkovsky, did want this to suggest the existence of another world. Obviously Toller doesn’t really go flying off anywhere in that scene, so it’s no stretch at the end to think that he’s just imagining Mary appearing to him as an angel before those brightly backlit windows. Lighting in film is never an accident.
*. (2) How does Mary know his first name? It’s not impossible that he’s told her at some point, but I don’t recall her ever using it before in the film. And it’s worth noting that even Esther and Fuller (the head of his church) don’t use it. He’s only referred to as Reverend Toller. When she calls him Ernst here (it’s all she says) it’s striking.
*. (3) In a movie that spends so much time quoting other movies it’s hard to miss the Vertigo kiss they come together for, though Schrader doesn’t mention this particular allusion on the commentary. And such a kiss nearly always signals a kind of unreality or fantasy. That’s the way it’s used in Vertigo and in Blade Runner 2049, for example. I think the circling camera puts us on our alert that all is not what it seems, and that this isn’t the real Mary.
*. (4) As Schrader does point out, and this is something I missed, how does Mary get into the manse? We’ve just seen that Fuller is locked out, but then she appears as if by magic.
*. (5) Finally there is the very improbability I mentioned earlier. Mary arrives just at the moment when he is about to drink the poison? And then the two embrace, despite the fact that up to this point there hasn’t been any real physical lust or passion evidenced between them?
*. Given all of these hints I wish Schrader had been a bit bolder. I don’t think this was a point in the movie where ambiguity helps. It ends up leaving us with the sense of a director who just wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. But I’m glad he at least left the door open for us to reject what we see as fantasy.

*. I said that there is no real physical relationship between Toller and Mary despite their lying on the floor together. As I see it though, this remains a chaste coupling. They leave their clothes on. We don’t see them kiss. And they end up being spiritually elevated, with what I take it is Toller’s vision of a journey through heaven to hell. That’s where his head is at.
*. I like this scene. It’s a daring gamble that I think pays off. My favourite moment, however, is where Mary’s hair falls like a veil or curtain over their faces. There’s something so perfectly and poetically chaste about this, concealing what we’ve been expecting to be a kiss while marking a total shift in where we’re going.
*. What’s remarkable is that this beautiful moment — the falling hair — was entirely serendipitous. The thing is, Amanda Seyfried actually was pregnant at the time so they wanted to use a body double for her in the magical mystery tour shots. This required obscuring her face. So they came up with the idea of having her hair fall down. Talk about a happy accident.
*. Coming from a guy like Schrader you have to think the use of the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” must have been some kind of nod to The Night of the Hunter. But I’m not sure what the connection is. Toller giving over to the dark side while channeling Harry Powell? That doesn’t seem right. I don’t remember Schrader mentioning his use of the hymn during his commentary.
*. I didn’t care for the character of the industrialist Barq at all. He’s an overdrawn caricature, driving around in his chauffeured SUV and insisting that his church (that is, the one he’s paying for) reflect his own politics by being apolitical. He also takes an antagonistic attitude toward Toller that goes over the line and is uncalled for. I can only accept such a character in a movie as filling a necessary dramatic role. But he shouldn’t be in a movie this good.
*. Reverend Toller is a highly educated, literate man who keeps a journal that he writes out in longhand. Good for him! But . . . the only way he can write is in block capitals. Yes, it has come to this. I wonder if that was realism or just a concession to an audience not being able to read cursive any more. Either way, it’s kind of sad.
*. I’ve never been a big Ethan Hawke fan but I give him credit for being convincing here in a difficult role. As Schrader puts it, he’s a character who leans away from us. But he sells the notion of someone who has lost himself (he’s clearly chosen a suicidal path at the beginning of the film) and is looking to find some meaning in his life through an act of self-sacrifice. A cause presents itself and he is gone.

*. There are also a number of interesting points made along the way about the old church vs. the new, of being in the world and out of it. The big new church and its mission isn’t undercut as being the usual hypocritical, money-grubbing, spiritual entertainment but is instead shown as having its own principles and integrity. Extremism is looked at with concern, the product of the Internet mostly, but then we see Toller’s face lit by the screen of Michael’s laptop and know that he is just as susceptible to being drawn down the rabbit hole. I can’t judge the theology in play, but the notion that preservation is itself an act of creation struck me as an interesting prayer.
*. First Reformed is a very good movie that I really liked. It is almost a great movie that I loved. I think it successfully plays on the notion of withholding and restraint throughout, right up to Toller’s screaming into his cassock to muffle the sound. I would have played the end differently, but one shouldn’t criticize a movie for not being the movie one would have made if given the chance. It has to be judged on its own terms. I guess what I wanted the most was more of a glimpse into characters like Esther and Mary. Toller is so misguided and mistaken throughout the film that he begins to fade next to them. What, for example, is Mary thinking when he insists that she not attend the church ceremony? Does she know, on some level, what his plans are? I think she does. But how much else does she know?

The Killer Shrews (1959)

*. The Killer Shrews is a one of the best-known independently-produced, Grade-Z horror films of the 1950s, largely because of its eponymous pack of killer critters. I mean, they even sound funny. Killer shrews?
*. That these shrews are fanged beasts with poison saliva should make them more threatening, but the fact that they’re just a bunch of coon hounds wearing long-haired coats and toothy masks sort of undercuts the scare factor. Now to be fair, I do get a kick out of their appearance. At least I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything else like them. But they’re not scary.
*. A terrible movie? Sure. But it definitely falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category. Of course the plot is silly and the shrews ridiculous, but there are all sorts of enjoyable moments along the way. A quick list: Captain Sherman (James Best) being offered a martini upon his arrival at the island; Sherman using the barrel of his pistol to tighten a tourniquet around Mario’s leg; Ann looking like she’s trying not to break out laughing when Mario dies; Sherman getting ready to toss Jerry’s unconscious body to the shrews before having second thoughts; the escape plan that has the survivors duck-walking to the boat under a bunch of inverted metal tanks; and finally Sherman’s final line to Ann’s father as he takes Ann in his arms and claims her with a lustful smooch: “I’m not going to worry about overpopulation just yet.”
*. Any movie with so many smile points in just 69 minutes can’t be all bad. And in fact The Killer Shrews is a lot of fun. Some people complain about there being so much talk in the first half of the picture, but I didn’t think the arrival of the shrews (all four or five of them) made that big a difference. It’s never a terribly suspenseful or thrilling movie. But it deserves its reputation as one of the best of the worst of its time.

The Naked Prey (1965)

*. In his entry on Cornel Wilde in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson likens Wilde’s films to the Dordogne cave paintings, saying “there are moments where one has the illusion of watching the first films ever made.”
*. This is a messy judgment, not least because the first films ever made don’t have any of the qualities of Wilde’s work. I also don’t think we can speak of him as a naive or primitive filmmaker, for some reasons I’ll mention in just a bit. What Thomson is getting at, however, is the archetypal nature of Wilde’s storytelling, especially in his films The Naked Prey, Beach Red, and No Blade of Grass.
*. When I say archetypal I mean a couple of things: (1) a story stripped down to its bare essentials, and (2) a story with a large footprint.
*. I don’t think there’s any questioning how stripped down The Naked Prey is. It’s not just that Wilde’s white hunter is run off into the bush without any clothes (though his skin-coloured shorts are pretty obvious). It’s the fact that he has no back story or character or even name. He’s simply credited as “Man.” Not only that, he has scarcely any lines. This is a story of survival that takes everything down to the essentials.
*. While I’m on the point I’ll mention that the screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Despite the script being only nine pages long. And let’s face it, they probably could have cut half of that. Dialogue, however, is only part of the screenwriter’s art. A silent movie can have a great script. I do question the quality of the script here, however. Aside from the lack of dialogue, there really isn’t much to it. The concept isn’t terribly original, and it’s basically just a long chase film. I don’t see how this qualifies as a great screenplay.
*. The other archetypal quality the film has can be seen in the way it suggests so many other stories and genres. I guess first among these would be the descendants of The Most Dangerous Game, a movie Wilde said he’d been inspired by that counts as the forefather of the “hunting-humans” genre. It’s also the case that many such films have the prey being a hunter himself, or guide, who experiences the tables being turned. This was the case in The Most Dangerous Game and Run for the Sun, as well as more recent films following the same script such as Beyond the Reach.
*. As well as a hunting-humans story it’s also a Western. The primary source was in fact a (supposedly) true story about a man, John Colter, escaping Blackfoot warriors in 1809 Wyoming. The frontiers have changed here, but it is still a tale of the frontier. It’s just that the nature of the boundary that frontier marks has gotten blurry.
*. Another genre we may think of is the cannibal movies following in the wake of Cannibal Holocaust. Yes, the natives are presented sympathetically for the most part here, but the torture games are shockingly cruel, and even more so given the time. Then there is the nature footage included, which serves some thematic purpose but which mainly just foreshadows the use of similar material in the cannibal films, situating humanity only on a continuum of predatory nature.

*. So it’s a very basic story, presented in its most elemental form. If you want to read more into it, as having something to say about apartheid for example, then that’s fine. But I think you have to work hard to do so. I’ll confess the more I look into it the less I see. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, but just that I don’t think it’s very deep.
*. It is, however, handled with skill. Wilde isn’t a great director, but he has more than his share of moments. There’s the way the widescreen makes the tilt of his head to show his listening for the sounds of an ambush so expressive. The way the canopy of flowers covers up the murder of the bird man. The way we pan away from Wilde hiding behind a tree to look at his pursuer, only to reveal his disappearance when we pan back. This is all very nice, and it’s complemented with good photography throughout. The only problem being that the borrowed Wild Kingdom footage jars.
*. Wilde’s is a mostly physical performance, not just without words but with little emotion on display. He is not, however, one-dimensional. He can feel respect for his pursuers and become ecstatic at seeing them burn. Also, for a man in his early fifties he really was in remarkable shape. I’m glad Stephen Prince on the Criterion commentary acknowledges that jump he makes down the cliff of the waterfall at the end. How did Wilde’s knees manage that? He was landing on rock!
*. I’m really glad Criterion gave this a release, as I hadn’t seen it before they brought it out. It’s a good movie, and the fact that it has held up as well as it has is impressive. I just don’t think it has another gear to it, like, for example, Walkabout does (Walkabout being a movie I was often reminded of). There’s something archetypal about it, yes, but also something that falls short of great art. It does seem ahead of its time, but it’s very much of its time too. Is it the Technicolor? Wilde’s loincloth? The locations that don’t seem wild enough? It was shot in South African and (what was then) Rhodesia, but there were moments when I didn’t feel that far removed from Gilligan’s Island, which was in the middle of its own initial run when this movie came out. Whether in Africa or a Pacific island, it could still feel like the ’60s.