Category Archives: 1970s

Jaws 2 (1978)

*. After Jaws rewrote the rules and the record books for box office a sequel was assured. Producer David Brown admits it’s a cliché, but called it “obligatory.” His co-producer Richard Zanuck, however, says that sequels weren’t yet a thing in Hollywood, with the only example he could think of being the Planet of the Apes movies. So maybe, as they had with Jaws, they were still blazing a trail for everyone else to follow.
*. However obligatory, inevitable, or groundbreaking a sequel was, the fact is it was ordered up as soon as Universal knew they had a hit property. Filming began two years after the release of Jaws, in Florida this time (though the setting is still Amity; in Jaws 3 they would relocate). The initial director didn’t work out and Jeannot Szwarc came in on short notice as a replacement. Roy Scheider was brought back almost literally kicking and screaming, joined by Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and Jeffrey Kramer (he’s Brody’s deputy). “Bruce” had rotted away in storage so a few new shark models were made that apparently didn’t work much better than the original.
*. I said in my notes on Jaws that evidence of its greatness was how many times I’d seen it. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t gone back to watch Jaws 2 again since I first saw it on TV many years ago. But I can’t be entirely sure because only a week after seeing it and going back to type up my thoughts on it I found I had to refer to my notes to jog my memory as to what it had been about. It’s that forgettable.
*. Probably the best known thing about it is the ad campaign. The poster art (and cover of the paperback novel adaptation, which I actually read as a kid before I first saw the movie) is almost as good as the iconic original, with the same giant shark’s head this time looming behind a waterskier. And of course they knocked it out of the park with the tag line “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” That’s still with us, even if most people today probably don’t know where it comes from.
*. The plot is mainly a rehash of the first film. A new shark has arrived off the shores of Amity. The mayor and his council of local business boosters is still in denial, even as the bodies pile up (or wash ashore). Instead of doing away with the shark by way of an exploding oxygen tank Brody gets it to chomp on an electrical cable.
*. There were some interesting ideas. The waterskiing scene is actually pretty neat, and not badly done. The shark taking out the helicopter was too much, but has a wacky charm to it (it was still pretty silly twenty years later in Deep Blue Sea). And is that Napoleon Dynamite playing Timmy? Surely he was the model for that later character’s appearance anyway.
*. Not terribly suspenseful or scary. Szwarc figured that since the audience had already seen the shark in the first film there was no point keeping it hidden underwater here. Which makes it more of a monster movie. Given how much trouble they were still having with the shark, going a different route might have been easier.
*. Well, they did try. But Scheider was all that was left of the original trio who really made the first movie work, and he wasn’t getting along with Szwarc at all. The script was a mess and was constantly being reworked. The storyboards must have seemed promising, but given the limitations of what they had to work with at the time the big scenes didn’t translate on screen. So I’d just call it forgettable, and well forgotten. Far superior though to what was to come.

Jaws (1975)

*. I’ve mentioned before the difficulty, not to mention the pointlessness, of writing about a movie that has had so much written about it already. Citizen Kane. Psycho. Alien. In cases of movies that have had a huge influence on pop culture the problem is only compounded. You might think of all those names I just mentioned plus Blade Runner, and Star Wars, and Jaws.
*. The place Jaws holds in the history of film is hard to exaggerate. Maybe not as art, but as a blockbuster that in many ways transformed the entire business of movies. It was a gamechanger. On the business side it broke all kinds of new ground. In the first place it showed the importance of “wide breaks”: releasing in as many theatres as possible. Then it surprised everyone by exploiting a summer-youth audience. Summer releases had previously been avoided by studios, and Jaws had been optimistically pegged for Christmas 1974. Post-Jaws summers were seen as the prime calendar real estate. Add to this the extensive television advertising and the creation of a new blockbuster mentality. As Peter Biskind puts it, “Jaws whet corporate appetites for big profits quickly, which is to say, studios wanted every film to be Jaws.”
*. In the summary judgement of Carl Gottlieb (co-screenwriter and author of The Jaws Log, an excellent account of the making of the film): “Jaws became the first ‘summer blockbuster,’ redefined how films would be released thereafter, and established a North American distribution and marketing pattern that remains the model for the industry to the present day” (this was written in 2001).
*. Creatively, the impact of Jaws could be seen as being just as important. Biskind again: “such was Spielberg’s (and Lucas’s) influence, that every studio movie became a B movie.” Roger Ebert said something very similar in saying that Spielberg and Lucas defined the modern blockbuster as a B-movie with an A-movie budget. In his essay on Star Wars he writes of how it “effectively brought to an end the golden age of early-1970s personal filmmaking and focused the industry on big-budget special effects blockbusters, blasting off a trend we are still living through. . . . In one way or another, all the big studios have been trying to make another Star Wars ever since. . . . It located Hollywood’s center of gravity at the intellectual and emotional level of a bright teenager.”
*. Or, rounding up this overview, here’s David Thomson: “it [Jaws] means nothing at all . . . it is zero to the power of ten.” Its “model became the basis for the new cinema of the young . . . The young demographic was in charge. And the bright days of the early 1970s were shutting down.”
*. This is a point that I think is widely accepted in any history of the period now. Jaws and Star Wars marked a real turning point. Biskind even relates a funny story of Spielberg taking his friends Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and John Milius to the studio where the shark (“Bruce”) was being built and Lucas sticking his head in its mouth only to be stuck when Spielberg couldn’t get the mouth to reopen. “A premonition of things to come,” Biskind writes, referring both to the mechanical difficulties they would have with the shark and the fact that this was going to be the fish that swallowed Hollywood.
*. At the same time, we do have to record that these movies wouldn’t have had the effect they did if they hadn’t been first-rate entertainments. As Ebert also says of Star Wars, “you can’t blame it for what it did, you can only observe how well it did it.” And as Thomson says of Jaws, it’s “a comic-book Moby-Dick that could not be bettered.” Yes, they gave young audiences what they wanted, which was fairground thrills, spectacle, cartoon characters, and hokey dialogue. But they did it well.
*. If re-watchability is one of the tests for a great movie, and I think it’s one of the best, then Jaws passes with flying colours. I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, and I’m proud of the fact that I first saw it in a theatre (not in 1975, but on a later re-release). And though I can’t say I enjoy it more every time, or see more in it, because I don’t, I do still enjoy the experience. It is a great movie, and a personal favourite too.

*. Spielberg’s best movie? Antonia Quirke, in her BFI volume, calls it his “nimblest, crispest and best film.” I’d agree. That it came so early in his career is impressive, but also that, at only 27 years old, he managed such a huge, and difficult, production. But then, as always, we have to think of Orson Welles making Citizen Kane when he was 25. Welles sort of stands outside any rules.
*. It started life as a bestselling book by Peter Benchley. The prehistory here is instructive too about the way the industry was beginning to work, with the film rights being sold before it had even been published. I’ve read it, and it’s a trashy beach read that’s crudely written but with a decent plot. Robert Shaw thought it was shit and I think everyone agreed with Spielberg’s assessment that the movie was better.
*. The biggest change had to do with the character of Hooper. In the book he has an adulterous affair with Ellen Brody, who seems underserviced by her husband. I think I read it first when I was about 8 or 10 years old and her imagining herself with “her dress bunched up around her waist and her vagina yawning open, glistening wet, for the world to see” imprinted on my brain in what was probably a damaging way. In any event, Spielberg didn’t want any sexy business. He wanted the characters to be more likeable. This was part of his being a popular filmmaker. He also wanted the more likeable Hooper to live at the end (in the book he’s killed by the shark). Audiences liked that too. Some people would call this selling out but I think it’s really just a case of Spielberg wanting what everyone he was making the movie for wanted.
*. A digression on women. Ellen is a major character in the book and here she basically disappears (this upset Lorraine Gary, but she would be back with a vengeance, literally, in Jaws: The Revenge). Spielberg is much like his contemporary George Lucas when it comes to women. They remain “girlfriends” for Lucas and moms for Spielberg, never sexual.
*. The problems they had on set are legendary. Shooting on location in open water was a nightmare. The shark didn’t work. They went way over schedule and over budget. And yet when you’re working on a project as blessed as this one even bad luck turns into something good. Because the shark wasn’t available more had to be done keeping it out of sight. Hence the barrels, prefigured in the turning dock in the scene with the two amateur fishermen who stick the roast on a chain. So no shark led to them getting something even better. Sometimes, even when things go wrong they’re right. It’s not surprising at all the most famous line in the film was improvised. It was that kind of a movie.

*. The trio of male leads are perfect, but none were first choices, or big stars at the time. Scheider had mainly been in supporting parts (a slick pimp in Klute, straight man to Gene Hackman in The French Connection) and Dreyfuss had only been noticed in American Graffiti. I’ve said before how much I enjoy Robert Shaw in anything, and he’s perfect here. Sure Lee Marvin or Sterling Hayden would have been great as Quint too, maybe even better, but Shaw needed the money the most and in hindsight could you imagine anyone else in the role?
*. Shaw is very good at something I’ve always thought must be very hard for an actor: playing a character who’s very bright in some ways but very stupid in others (I think of Alex in A Clockwork Orange). Quint knows sharks, but that’s about it. Present him with something he’s not familiar with and he has the look of a stunned ox.
*. Pauline Kael was hard on Quint: “the fool on board isn’t the chief of police, or the bookman, either. It’s Shaw, the obsessively masculine fisherman, who thinks he’s got to prove himself fighting the shark practically single-handed. The high point of the film’s humor is in our seeing Shaw get it; this nut Ahab, with his hypermasculine basso-profundo speeches, stands in for all the men who have to show they’re tougher than anybody.” I’m not sure that’s fair. Quint is the working-man hero and he’s genuine enough. He’s the professional, not the student or the landlubber cop at sea. He knows what he’s doing, and with the Indianapolis speech (that Shaw wrote) we understand what drives him. He may be a fanatic, but he’s not stupid.

*. Quint as Ahab was a connection that was originally made even clearer. In the book he’s dragged down by the shark much like Ahab with Moby-Dick, and in Spielberg’s own draft script he sits in a cinema watching Moby Dick and laughing it. No need to be that obvious though.
*. I mentioned in my notes on the psycho-slasher Maniac (1980) that director William Lustig had wanted to make “Jaws on land,” and that this was the same way Sean Cunningham had conceived of Friday the 13th. So in addition to giving birth to the shark genre, which would take us through several Jaws sequels and on to stuff like Deep Blue Sea, The Shallows, a couple of 47 Meters Down movies, and the whole sorry Sharknado franchise, you can also think of Jaws as being the start of the slasher horror craze of the late-’70s and early-80s.
*. But not really. I think Quirke in her little book is very good on this point. There’s a big difference between the dyspeptic tone of Benchley’s novel, where nobody is likeable, and Spielberg’s movie, where everyone is a hero. The “tone of nastiness” Spielberg wanted to avoid is more appropriate to the slasher genre, where people are chum.
*. In retrospect it seems like they couldn’t have missed. The concept, wedded to the summer release, with this cast, and the score by John Williams, and Spielberg measuring every jump scare. At the time, however, it seemed anything but a sure thing.
*. Of course now it’s recognized as one of the handful of movies that made Hollywood what it is today. For good and ill, and at least partly by accident.

Husbands (1970)

*. Well, this wasn’t a very pleasant experience.
*. In part, and perhaps a large part, that’s by design. Andrew Bujalski: “Husbands is not now, and was not then, an easy movie to watch. Cassavetes was temperamentally incapable of and generally uninterested in making ‘easy’ movies.” The rough cut was four hours long and apparently audiences said they liked it (I find this hard to believe, but it’s what Marshall Fine says on his DVD commentary and I have to take him at his word). Ben Gazzara also said he “selfishly” liked the four-hour version best as well. All of this was a red flag to John Cassavetes, who had no intention of making a movie that people enjoyed so much.
*. And so, in Fine’s account, the more Cassavetes cut “the less audience-friendly it [Husbands] became.” Again I have to express my doubts. Surely less of Husbands could only be a good thing. Which gives you some idea of where I come down on it.
*. I’m not against Cassavetes in general, but Husbands doesn’t work for me at all. The problems I have with it aren’t the fault so much of Cassavetes’ brand of filmmaking, which aims for an unpolished, improvised quality, as they have to do with the movie’s whole concept.

*. Three forty-something friends — Harry (Gazzara), Gus (Cassavetes), and Archie (Peter Falk) — mourn the death of a fourth musketeer named Stuart by getting drunk, acting out, and finally hopping on a jet to London (England) where they pick up some women they don’t have any idea what to do with before Gus and Archie decide to go home and get on with their lives.
*. So what the movie is about, in the first place, is how we deal with loss. It is also a “portrait of masculinity of crisis” (this from the Criterion people), and represents “perhaps the most fearless, harrowingly honest deconstruction of American manhood ever committed to film.”
*. If you combine these two things I think you’d have to think that part of the project here is to have us sympathize, or at least empathize to some degree with Harry, Gus, and Archie. We should feel sorry for their loss, and for their mid-life crisis of masculinity.
*. This appeal to sympathy, however, runs smack up against the rebarbative three pals. Now I want to rush to say that there’s nothing wrong with having unlikeable characters, even as heroes (or anti-heroes). But I had a lot of problems with these guys.

*. Let’s start with a couple of critical observations. Pauline Kael: “Cassavetes is the sort of man who is dedicated to stripping people of their pretenses and laying bare their souls. Inevitably, the results are agonizingly banal.” David Thomson (writing about Cassavetes more generally): “He chooses basic, unenlightened, and unhappily successful people. They are a rarity in American film, rigorously shunned by most directors: they are bores.”
*. So that’s not good. The husbands are banal and bores. But it’s worse because they are also obnoxious jerks. And even worse than that, they’re not believable. The dig that both Kael and Thomson make would be sharper if we felt Harry, Gus, and Archie reflected real boring, middle-class professionals. But for all the grottiness of Husbands — one infamous scene has the boys retching in a public restroom — I don’t find it realistic on a human level at all. To be sure a lot of men are pigs, and they were probably worse in 1969 than they are now, but I can’t imagine many adults behaving in such a reckless and childish manner even then.
*. In short, they’re not good company for five minutes, let alone two-and-a-half hours. But they have an excuse, of sorts. They are in mourning. We need to cut them some slack. A whole lot of slack. They are, as Fine puts it, ” in touch with their mortality for the first time.” In the vomiting scene they aren’t (just) drunk, but rather “vomiting out the pain they’re feeling.” Stuart meant that much to them. At least that’s what we’re meant to assume, since they really don’t spend any time at all taking about Stu and he remains not so much an absent presence as just absent.
*. All three men are examples of a dramatic type that I bristle at: the wounded (physically or emotionally) male who is complicated in some way and needs the love of a good, understanding woman to heal him. But what have these young, professionally successful guys with beautiful families suffered? The death of their friend? This excuses their behaviour?
*. I don’t want to put them on trial, but I don’t get the sense that they’re acting any worse in the wake of Stuart’s funeral than they ever have. Harry seems to have a history of abuse toward his wife, who is afraid of him. Kael thought them bullies and this seems more than justified by the way they serially threaten and physically assault various women throughout the film (they don’t act so pushy with other men).

*. This sense that they aren’t just acting out now is reinforced by the fact that we don’t see them travelling much of a dramatic arc. Nor do I understand any of them any better at the end than I did at the beginning. Let’s face it, by the time you’re forty you are what you are. These guys aren’t going to grow but only be revealed. And that undressing doesn’t take very long.
*. The full title, or subtitle calls it “a comedy about life, death, and freedom.” Apparently one of the reasons Cassavetes wanted to cut it so much is that original audiences found it so funny. I don’t know what they could have been laughing at. There’s no wit in the dialogue, which may or may not have been improvised. Thomson: “The Cassavetes films are far more thoroughly written than was once believed; and they are badly written.” It’s basically the Norman Mailer Hour here. Or Two Hours-plus. Though not having Mailer on screen is at least some positive.
*. Then again, I’m not sure why the characters kept breaking into laughter either. Did they think something was funny, or did they just not know what else to do? Their disastrous promotional appearance on the Dick Cavett show, which is so awful it really has to be seen to be believed, is of a piece. Were they having a good time? Nobody else was.
*. I do like the homecoming at the end, maybe just as a relief, but at the same time it feels more than a little trite. When Cassavetes is on I think he’s great, but there’s almost nothing I enjoyed here at all, aside from maybe Archie getting handled by the Countess at the casino. Roger Ebert: “It has good intentions, I suppose, but it is an artistic disaster and only fitfully interesting on less ambitious levels.” I’m glad Cassavetes made it. I’m glad I watched it even if I didn’t like it. But this isn’t just a movie I couldn’t relate to but one that I found ham-handed and phoney. You can call Last Orders or The Hangover lesser fare dealing with similar subject matter, but I think they’re both better movies, and more honest too.

Carry On Henry VIII (1971)

*. Around halfway through Carry On Henry VIII there’s a bit of dialogue where Henry’s queen sees Henry escorting a young beauty out to the garden for a tryst. The queen asks Cardinal Wolsey “Why is he taking her out into the garden?” Wolsey, running cover, replies “Oh, I expect just to get a little air, ma’am.” The queen rejoins: “How many more heirs does he want?”
*. That’s the only line in this movie that I even got a smile out of. By this point the Carry On series has pretty much run its course and was starting to feel out of date as well as tired. Apparently this one, the 21st if you were keeping count, was actually criticized for its attitude toward women. Something that you’d think was superfluous given their track record, but the hunting of the buxom lass really is disappointing, even for this lot.
*. A prefatory notice tells us that, as history, the movie we’re about to see is complete cobblers. This is a British expression having its origin in Cockney slang that I had to look up. Basically we’re in a sort of alternative universe where Henry VIII has just sent one wife to the block and wants to get rid of the next, Marie of Normandy. Don’t try to make any sense out of it, as cobblers it is.
*. Ding-dong, the gang’s all here: Sid James, naturally, is Henry, riffing off of Charles Laughton in tearing apart a chicken and doing his best for England in the bedroom. Kenneth Williams is Cromwell, Joan Sims is Queen Marie, Charles Hawtrey is Sir Roger de Lodgerley, Terry Scott is Cardinal Wolsey. The jokes are the usual bits of innuendo and bawdy puns, with a few topical references thrown in. The final line is a dig at the Labour Party. There’s also a joke about a new sin tax Henry wants to impose that I feel has to be referring to something going on in England at the time, but I don’t know what.
*. I’ve heard the coat worn by James is the same as the one worn by Richard Burton in Anne of the Thousand Days. And that the original alternative title was going to be Anne of a Thousand Lays. But I guess that was taking things just a bit too far, never mind that it made no sense. The long title (at least in the UK) was Carry on Henry or Mind My Chopper! Which, you’ll notice, also isn’t funny at all.
*. Were they thinking of doing the same baby gag as at the end of Follow That Camel and cut something at the last minute? It really looks like a shot was taken out, and it’s obvious that this was the joke they were setting up. But I don’t know enough about the production of the film to say.
*. Not worth bothering with unless you’re a hardcore fan, which I don’t suppose there are very many of these days.

Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

*. Hal Wallis back for another round of Tudormania, with director Charles Jarrott again at the helm. You could almost think of it as a sequel to Anne of the Thousand Days, and indeed the lead part was apparently intended for Geneviève Bujold. Even the basic structure of the story is the same, with a falling out between the heroine and England’s monarch, leading to the destruction of the former, only for her to be avenged, as prophesied, by her offspring.
*. It might have worked. They weren’t afraid to take a number of historical liberties in order to play up the main draw, which is the conflict between Mary (Vanessa Redgrave) and Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson). Even to the point where they are shown secretly getting together twice (it’s generally assumed by historians that they never actually met). But the foregrounding of this fraught relationship is also telling. The thing is, Elizabeth has more vitality than Mary, and as played by Jackson — busting a lute or beating the hell out of poor Dudley — she puts Redgrave, playing one of history’s great victims, in the shade.

*. Perhaps that’s why, in the words of Pauline Kael in her review of this one, “Mary’s ‘tragic destiny’ has always been a movie flop” (I take it that she’s mainly referring here to the 1936 Katherine Hepburn vehicle Mary of Scotland). Mary led an eventful life, at least for its first couple of acts, and was not without resources, but Scottish politics chewed her up.
*. You can tell they were really trying to pump up the drama in conventional modern ways. Darnley is played by Timothy Dalton as a whining homosexual (typecast after his turn in The Lion in Winter?) who was bedding David Riccio (Ian Holm). I guess there were rumours about this at the time, but then rumours of homosexuality were a standard way of tearing someone down in the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, Mary only has eyes for Bothwell (Nigel Davenport). The truth was probably more mundane. Darnley was just an angry drunk and Bothwell a brute who didn’t care for Mary at all (a lack of feeling that was reciprocated). But with all these costumes they needed to find some romance somewhere.
*. Other historical figures tend to be cartoons, like John Knox who only shows up to spit “Papist whore!” at Mary. Trevor Howard as Cecil is the lone bright spot as the sort of intriguer we recognize from our own courts. I like Jackson, who was also playing Elizabeth in the miniseries Elizabeth R at the same time. I wonder if they plucked her forehead to make it look that strange. Kael thought her performance had “a sort of camp humor,” as “She looks like a ragpicker hag dressed by Klimt.” That’s bitchy, but I don’t think it’s quite right. Jackson is mannish and modern, but not incongruous.

*. Redgrave is fine. Apparently Jane Fonda (!) and Sophia Loren (?!) were both considered ahead of her for the part (indeed, Redgrave was going to play Elizabeth). Maybe Fonda or Loren could have turned this into the trashy soaper that you feel that it wants to be. Redgrave is a bit gray, which is why the movie keeps dragging us back to Elizabeth’s court.
*. John Barry contributes a jaunty score. The costumes are nice and some of the photography nicely done. You almost seem at times to be looking at a period painting. But it’s all a bit dull. There’s lots of expository dialogue explaining the political machinations but few dramatic highlights, despite all of the potential in the material. In fact, part of the problem was that there may have been too much material. I could imagine a decent biopic being made just based on Mary’s early years and time at the French court, and another dealing with her marriage to Darnley, and another covering her time in custody (the last nineteen years of her life). Few lives have the kind of consistency, or uneventfulness, to be boiled down to a two-hour drama. What we end up with here isn’t good history, or a very insightful biopic, but just horses and lace collars and stuff.

Days of Heaven (1978)

*. The rap against Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven has been consistent since its premiere. The photography by Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler is universally praised (Almendros won an Oscar though Wexler apparently shot more than half the picture, following Almendros’s lead). The story, not so much. In short, it’s a movie of beautiful surfaces, with depths that are left largely to the viewer to fill in.
*. I’ve talked before about the two issues I most often have with beautiful photography. In the first place, we shouldn’t mistake great design or art direction, or a beautiful setting, as being synonymous with great photography. If you’re shooting something beautiful, it’s easy to make it look beautiful (I said something about this in my notes on The Revenant). The second point I’d make is that beautiful photography shouldn’t draw attention to itself unless that is the purpose. If it doesn’t serve a purpose it is only a distraction, or something that can undermine the rest of the film.
*. It’s not as though people didn’t think that the beauty of Days of Heaven — and Roger Ebert considered it “above all one of the most beautiful films ever made” — to be a potential problem right from the get-go. On the Criterion commentary track editor Billy Weber says this: “the only thing I remember thinking is that it was too good looking, it was a little bit bothersome, you saw how good looking it was from the beginning, and it felt, I was nervous that it was going to take away from the emotion of it, that people were going to view it as like a coffee-table book . . . they’d leave the theatre saying it was so beautiful, but that’s all they’d say.”

*. When the first reviews came out Weber’s fears were confirmed (Pauline Kael: “The film is an empty Christmas tree: you can hang all your dumb metaphors on it”), which he found upsetting because he felt it really was about something and not just pretty. And I think most critical writing today would have his back on that. Though not all. David Thomson concludes his brief appreciation with the following admonition: “Days of Heaven remains one of the great visual experiences in American film, and a warning that film is more than visual.”
*. Ebert tried to salvage the film a different way. “Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven has been praised for its painterly images and evocative score, but criticized for its muted emotions: Although passions erupt in a deadly love triangle, all the feelings are somehow held at arm’s length. This observation is true enough, if you think only about the actions of the adults in the story. But watching this 1978 film again recently, I was struck more than ever with the conviction that this is the story of a teenage girl, told by her, and its subject is the way that hope and cheer have been beaten down in her heart. We do not feel the full passion of the adults because it is not her passion: It is seen at a distance, as a phenomenon, like the weather, or the plague of grasshoppers that signals the beginning of the end.”
*. I can’t quite agree. For one thing, Linda’s voiceover seems to have been almost an afterthought, and it’s not true that the story is presented as seen from her point of view. Personally, I also find Linda’s New Yawk accent to be a strain, and her homespun philosophy not very deep or affecting. If not for Ennio Morricone’s score I’d be tempted to watch Days of Heaven with the sound off next time. And what of the plot would I miss?

*. This leads to another point. I like the look of Days of Heaven as much as anyone. There are shots here that seem like they must have taken forever to get right, though I don’t think they had that luxury. And many of the interiors are just as gorgeous as the prairie landscapes (that’s Alberta, not Texas). Vermeer seems to have been a major inspiration. Honestly, you could cull at least a dozen pictures from this film to use as your desktop background. And there’s also a more personal connection. My father could remember the days of threshing gangs, which he often described as having a similar sort of romantic glow. And I also remember nearly burning down a wheat field with him one day.

*. That said, is there too much of it? After a while I did get a bit tired of that picturesque house they seem to have borrowed from Giant (or is that the Bates house?). And when there’s a single cut during the scene where Bill and Abby head out for an evening tryst to an abandoned parasol I thought it seemed a bit precious. Also, why insert all those shots of rabbits and pheasants in the wheat field if we’re not going to see what happens to them? They are being herded into the shrinking cover and will end up being massacred by the reaper. Why draw away from showing that? It’s an image that goes back to Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and would have fit with this movie’s theme just as well.
*. Is it even a criticism of Days of Heaven though to say that it’s a bit thin on everything but the visuals? According to Peter Biskind’s reporting Malick didn’t like the way things were going initially and so made a conscious decision to “toss the script” and go “wide instead of deep.” The Farmer (Sam Shepard) doesn’t even have a name.
*. Script? Much of it was improvised, and much cut. People started thinking they were working on something close to a silent movie, and not just from this paring down. In the excerpt from his autobiography included in the Criterion material Almendros says that the “model was the photography of the silent films” and an homage to their “blessed simplicity.”

*. As for the cast, Sam Shepard wasn’t an actor at the time but at least he had an interesting face. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams do not have interesting faces, though we may be thankful that Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and John Travolta, the latter being the guy Malick really wanted to play Bill, were unattainable. The mind fairly boggles. Linda Manz, who Thomson thought gave the best performance, is wearing a mask, leaving us to wonder what Linda knew. I started longing for scenes with Robert Wilke just so I could see someone who looked like he was acting.

*. The plague of locusts and the fire are representative to me of the rest of the movie. They are wonderfully realized and have a kind of beauty all their own. And at no point did I feel any engagement with what was going on. Like a sense of creeping dread with the first appearance of the locusts, or hoping that they could put the fire out. I just watched and wondered at how, and how well, it was done. Or take the ending, with Abby and Linda heading off their separate ways like two female Bobby Dupeas. Did I care where they were going? Not really.
*. So sure, one of the most beautiful films ever made. And a personal vision pursued to excessive lengths, including two years of editing. But let’s face it, Giant was a more compelling story, with stronger characters, and it was Old Hollywood trash. New Hollywood broke a lot of ground, but it had some limitations too. I’m still not sure what Malick was even trying to express or do with this movie aside from showing that something like it could be done. In that sense at least it’s a triumph.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

*. I guess I have to start with a prefatory note saying that the version of this movie I just watched is the Special Edition which was released in 1980. I was going to watch the Director’s Cut that came out in 1998 but the disc in the three-disc set I’d borrowed from the library was so damaged I couldn’t play it. Seriously: what do people do with these things? Use them for coasters? But I’ve ranted about this before.
*. Anyway, I think the main difference with the Special Edition is that we get to see inside the mothership. Which is kind of underwhelming anyway. Even Spielberg didn’t like it (he preferred keeping it a mystery) and took that scene back out in his Director’s Cut. So I guess you pick your disc and take your chances.
*. I honestly can’t remember what I thought of this the first time I saw it, so I guess it didn’t have the same impression it had on me that it did on others. It was a big hit though, riding the new youth demographic to blockbuster heaven (it came out the same year as Star Wars). But how good is it?

*. Spielberg got the sole writing credit but apparently it was the work of many hands (Paul Schrader wrote the original draft but then wanted his name taken off the project due to creative differences). It’s all a bit of whimsy. Spaceships cruising all over the world, being seen by millions, and yet they remain the stuff of tabloid headlines? Apparently they hide in clouds! Meanwhile, why does such a high-ranking official as Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) not have a translator on his staff when in the field? I mean, I can understand having to use Bob Balaban in a pinch, but then after picking him up in the desert they take the erstwhile cartographer on as a full-time member of the team? What?
*. I find the build-up to still be fun, with Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) chasing his dream after getting sunburn on half his face, but the climax is empty and dull. David Thomson: “thirty years ago, when we were just babes, the climactic light show was awesome.” But it’s more than forty years ago now and Star Wars is still a thrilling adventure story and Close Encounters is just a bunch of Christmas lights hung about a rock in Wyoming. Aliens came all this way just to play Simon with us? They must not think we’re very bright.

*. But how could it be otherwise? I find this to be a movie that is in some essential and even deliberate ways soft-headed. So much so that even critical praise of it takes on this same quality.
*. Pauline Kael saw it as a celebration of “the best-humored of all technological-marvel fantasies. It has visionary magic and a childlike comic spirit, along with a love of surprises and a skeptical, let’s-try-it-on spirit. It sends you out in a sate of blissful satisfaction.” In her review of E.T. Kael would be explicit about the feeling such films engender: “Like Close Encounters, E.T. is bathed in warmth, and it seems to clear all the bad thoughts out of your head. It reminds you of the goofiest dreams you had as a kid, and rehabilitates them.”
*. I think if you love Close Encounters it’s for these qualities. After originally pursuing Steve McQueen for the part of Neary Spielberg came to realize that what he really wanted was not a manly man but a man-child, someone who reminded him of his own sense of childhood wonder staring at the stars. That’s the way this movie works, if it works for you at all.
*. I want to stick with the mushiness of the ending because it relates to three critiques that I think can be leveled at the movie.

*. (1) In the first place, the movie is, chronologically and thematically, very much smack in the middle of the great run of paranoid conspiracy thrillers that were so thick on the ground in the late 1970s. Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Parallax View (1976), Marathon Man (1976), All the President’s Men (1976), Coma (1978), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Once again we have the normal Joe determined to find out “the truth” that’s being concealed behind a vast (really vast, in this case) government cover-up.
*. In some ways Close Encounters would be the most influential of all these films, as its tropes would become the guiding mythology of The X-Files and much else. Before this time the whole “alien abduction” theme was pretty marginal to mainstream culture. After this it would take off. But placed alongside those other conspiracy movies I mentioned how tame and inoffensive it seems. Compare Roy and Jillian looking down on the landing site to Beatty in the rafters of the convention hall, Sutherland above the pod facility, or Michael Moriarty discovering the secret lake of alien ooze in The Stuff (1985). Here there is nothing sinister going on, to the point where it’s unclear why they’re bothering to keep it a secret. The conspiracy was well intentioned and there was no need for feeling paranoid about it. The government doesn’t even kill the farm animals it leaves by the side of the road as a warning but only puts them to sleep for a while. This is a conspiracy thriller that makes the paradoxical point that we have nothing to worry about. Or, as Gene Siskel put it on Sneak Previews, it has the “awfully nice message ‘Don’t be afraid of the unknown, seek it out.'”

*. (2) Audiences have always had trouble with the casual way Roy abandons his family. In his defence, it does seem as though Ronnie (Teri Garr) dumps him, in a one-side telephone call that hints at irreconcilable differences. Still, it is abrupt, and as their kiss on the roadway makes clear he’s clearly thinking of moving on. Also, it’s worth noting that he dumps Jillian as well at the end, after the hint that there might be some romantic connection brewing there.
*. This is a point that Spielberg became sensitive to as well, saying that it was a young man’s movie that dated more than any of his others, in that he couldn’t imagine, after having kids of his own, doing what Roy does. Still, he finds it to be a “sweet, idealistic odyssey of a man who gives up everything to follow his dreams.” What it underlines though is Roy’s essential childishness. He even gets to put on red pyjamas at the end to taken by the hand and led aboard the ship by a little girl. An ascension, or reversion to some state of pre-maturity? So good-bye wife, kids, and even puberty with all of its embarrassing body hair and sexual organs.
*. (3) One must become as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is my final point about the ending. Not an original point, but necessary. This is the SF version of the Rapture, with Neary and others being taken up from the mountaintop, all to the sounds of a heavenly chorus. It’s no mistake when one of the scientists looks up to the mothership and says “Oh, my God,” or when the crowd in India chant “He has come” in Hindi.
*. But as with the sugar-coating of the conspiracy angle this clothing of the ending in the borrowed robes of religion strikes me as dangerously anodyne. What I think of more than anything now when I see the line-up of Rapture cadets in their jumpsuits is the uniforms of the tragic “away teams” of the Heaven’s Gate cult. I know they were Trekkies, but were they also fans of this movie?

*. Is the title ever explained? It comes from the writings of ufologist J. Allen Hynek but I don’t recall the different levels ever coming up for discussion. Did I miss it? Probably. Or was it assumed that everyone in 1977 knew Hynek’s work?
*. The players are all good, starting with Dreyfuss as the scruffy and half-sunburned Everyman. There’s one of the great child performances of all time by Cary Guffey as Barry. The casting of Truffaut was inspired. Spielberg just wanted his face, but as Thomson observes, his “lack of fluent English placed him quite nicely somewhere between humans and aliens.”
*. All the iconic scenes involve the light show — I can’t remember any scenes just with people interacting — and the effects are state of the art for 1977. Roger Ebert (in 1977): “the last thirty minutes are among the most marvelous things I’ve ever seen on the screen.” I doubt many people feel the same way today, though I think I’d still take what we get here ahead of the end of The Abyss, which would be state of the art ten years later, or any of today’s CGI gee-whizzery. There’s something about the effects here that are charmingly retro in a way that suits the theme of childish wonder. Spielberg, wary after shooting Jaws on location, wanted to do the whole movie in studio, and a number of the process shots with matte paintings look borrowed from an earlier generation of filmmaking. The scene on the road, for example, might have come from Invaders from Mars (1953). But it works with the little boy out late at night, looking at spaceships.

*. So it’s just what its greatest admirers love about it: a film suffused with the glowing Christmas-tree lights of childhood wonder. I mentioned how Spielberg wanted a child-man as his hero, but as his comments about Roy’s abandonment of his family indicate what he may have been thinking of was something a good deal younger or more infantile than that. Perhaps someone little Barry’s age. That is, around three years old. Or maybe as grown-up as the six-year-old girls who played the aliens.
*. Spielberg would later say that the image of Barry opening the door to all the alien lights outside stood as a good summary of his career up to that point: a child standing at a threshold of great promise and danger. That’s a universally relatable feeling, which is what gives the film its strength and is why it’s so fondly remembered today by people who first saw it when they were kids. As I began by saying, it didn’t have the same impact on me. I feel even more today that there’s something missing from it, even if it still has that childhood glow.

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972)

*. Fans of gialli, and I certainly count myself among them, should admit to their being spoiled. With lots of intelligent if bizarre scripts, flourishes of stylistic gore, and talents like Bava and Argento directing you can’t go wrong. Even a mediocre giallo is usually a good time.
*. Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a mediocre giallo. The story here comes from the pen of the insanely prolific Edgar Wallace. In fact this was the last of a series of Wallace adaptations by Rialto, and, a German-Italian co-production, is considered by some to mark the transition from the German krimi to the Italian giallo. I can’t say much about this because I don’t know the krimi genre very well, but this is about as yellow as it gets.
*. What does that mean? Well, there’s a serial killer, dubbed by the media the Half-Moon Maniac, stalking beautiful young women. We see a lot of shots from the killer’s point of view, revealing only his black gloves. There are red herrings galore, and a convoluted back story explaining the killer’s motivations. I’ve actually read commentary on this movie where the killer’s identity is said to be obvious but I certainly didn’t find it so. Even at the end I wasn’t entirely sure what had been going on.
*. Umberto Lenzi borrows all the motifs but his heart doesn’t seem to be in it. There are enough pointless zooms to make your head swim and some odd angles that only rarely serve any purpose or score any style points (the overhead shot of the dead cats being one of the few exceptions). There are no good kills, even with the employment of a power drill. One naked corpse has paint dripped over it, turning her into a Pollock. That’s very giallo too.
*. But as I said, even a mediocre giallo is still pretty good. They’re basically slasher films made with a flash of art and intelligence. Or, put another way, slasher films made before art and intelligence went completely out of style.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

*. A pre-title credit announces “A film by Wes Craven.” And yes, he was the writer-director. But wasn’t “A film by Wes Craven” four-flushing it? All that Craven had previously done was The Last House on the Left.
*. He must have known he was going somewhere. Or else maybe this was a movie that he was particularly proud of (even if he hadn’t been keen on making another horror picture, and only did it for the money). If so, that pride hasn’t taken a check. On the DVD commentary he remarks “I have not watched this for years and years and I’m struck by how strong it is. It’s pretty damn good.”
*. I think the only way it counts as pretty damn good is by taking into account how it was made on a shoestring. Thematically it’s very similar to Last House on the Left: the terribly decent family (they even get together for group-prayer sessions) that has to descend to savagery in order to defend itself. For some reason this idea fascinated Craven, and whatever else you want to say about it, it does register on a primal level. It pushes buttons.
*. Like a lot of very simple and not very original concepts though it allows for a great deal of further interpretation. Tracking its sources, it draws on various folk motifs, with Craven saying that the Sawney Bean story was the main inspiration. More than that though I think it’s basically riding on the coattails of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The group of normal people who, after stopping for gas (this would become an obligatory scene for many imitators, to the point where Roger Ebert would dub a whole sub-genre Wrong Gas Station movies), end up in a bad neck of the woods. The warning “Y’all stay on the main road now, you hear! Stay on the main road!” goes unheeded, as it would in horror films for decades to come. They are then hunted by a cannibalistic family of murderous degenerates.
*. Craven admitted to being influenced by Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and indeed wanted Gunnar Hansen, the actor who played Leatherface in that film, to be in this one. Hansen turned him down. But Robert Burns, production designer of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, signed on and apparently re-used some of the props he’d made for Tobe Hooper’s film. I also think the use of the broom may have been another nod or homage.
*. Aside from these sources of inspiration, near and far, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more worth flagging. Some critics see the conflict between the two families as representing a kind of class struggle. Well, obviously the Carters are “bourgeois” in the sense that they own a nice trailer, go to school, and have jobs. And the feral family have none of these things. So when Jupiter snarls at the head of Big Bob Carter “You come out here and you stick your life in my face,” it’s a great line, reeking of semi-articulate class resentment. But there’s nothing else in the movie like it. Nor do the Carters seem much like colonial settlers, wiping out Native Americans or the Vietnamese. I’m not opposed to these kinds of readings, but I just don’t feel like there’s much basis for them here.
*. Here’s another critical point of view, from Kim Newman: “Craven’s obsessive theme is the depiction of antagonistic groups, usually parallel families . . . more or less representing the forces of destructive anarchy and normative repression. The only possible contact between the two is psychopathic violence, and Craven wittily has the carnage stem from each group’s desire to emulate its mortal enemy.” This is nicely expressed, but is it true? How are the Carters or the Collingwoods (the family in Last House on the Left) repressed? How does the violence result from the evil families wanting to emulate normal people, rather than just preying on them? Newman is a great critic, but he seems typical here of people wanting to read more into Craven than there is there.

*. The religious angle is also only slightly touched on. The aforementioned family prayer goes unanswered, and Bob ends up being crucified before becoming part of a communion dinner. It’s hard not to read that as some pretty serious sacrilege. But what of it? Craven getting back at his Baptist upbringing?
*. The marketing was effective. Craven didn’t like the title, which I’ll admit is a bit obscure, but out of the hundred possible titles lined up it tested well with audiences. Oddly enough, Craven also thought The Last House on the Left was a terrible title, but it tested well too, despite not having much to do with the movie. And he also preferred Scary Movie to Scream.
*. Sticking with the marketing front, more misleading was the glowering face of actor Michael Berryman (Pluto) on the film poster. Definitely iconic, but Pluto is not the main villain in the movie and indeed is played as a bit of a goofball. But Jupiter and Mars didn’t have such great faces.
*. You have to feel for Berryman. Along with a long list of other health issues he was born without sweat glands, so filming in 49-degree Celsius temperatures was a real trial. But it paid off, as he’s probably the one character in the movie everyone remembers.
*. Who else is here? Dee Wallace is Brenda. At the time she was on her way to becoming a scream queen (she’d go on to appear in The Howling, Critters, and the belated sequel Critters Attack!). Probably best known for her turn in E.T. All I can say is that I’m glad we were spared more screaming. Brenda’s screaming fit at the end of this movie is hard to endure. This was only Wallace’s second movie and I wonder if anyone would have seen her in it and thought she’d go on to have such a long, productive career.
*. I don’t think it’s a good movie at all. It isn’t scary. It has a cheap, made-for-TV look to it that I hated (which is weird given how much I like the work Burns did on Texas Chain Saw Massacre). It’s surprisingly tame when it comes to showing any actual violence. The threatened baby is kind of edgy, but it’s only threatened (Craven had wanted to kill it until the cast rebelled). There’s a basic idiot plot. The dog is actually a lot smarter than the Carters, at least until we get to the ridiculous Wile E. Coyote trick that Brenda and Bobby MacGyver-up to catch Jupiter.
*. That said, looking over the notes I made on this movie a few years ago, I think I liked it a bit better this time. I still find it raw and dumb and not well turned out, though the grounding in primal fears and folktales pays off. But when the great wave of twenty-first century resets or remakes of the horror classics of this period hit, I have to say that Alexandre Aja’s 2006 The Hills Have Eyes (produced by Craven) was one of the few that I found to be an improvement on the original. This movie may be a landmark, but it’s not one that you need to visit very often.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

*. The pods are back, but we’ve moved on as a culture from the cozy white-picket fence community of Santa Mira to the dirty streets of San Francisco. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen San Francisco, which is a pretty city, ever look this grungy. But then we’re following a Health Inspector (Donald Sutherland) around as he finds rat turds in restaurant kitchens. Hell, not just in the kitchen, but in the food! This San Fran is a creepy, run-down place. When do you think Matthew is going to get that windshield fixed? And sure there are kids picking flowers in the park, but what’s up with that weird priest playing on the swings? And Robert Duvall no less! Immediately we’re on our guard. Things can’t be what they seem.
*. So it’s a pretty place, but run-down and full of weirdos. Like this cast. Brooke Adams is the only conventional-looking movie star. The others appear alien even before the spores land. Donald Sutherland’s hair mimics that hanging moss in the opening shots of the park (even director Philip Kaufman thought it a bit much), and his nose (which Kaufman seems to delight in exaggerating) is definitely out of this world. Leonard Nimoy is wonderfully cast and manages to steal every scene he’s in, but as Gene Siskel remarked, if aliens ever landed “Leonard Nimoy would be the last person I’d go to for advice.” Veronica Cartwright is wonderful, and would have more alien trouble just the next year, as well as a small part in The Invasion in 2007, but is she the one you’d expect to have kept her shit together at the end?

*. And Jeff Goldblum. Pauline Kael, who raved about this movie, crushed on him, commenting of his performance that he “knows enough to disregard his handsomeness.” That struck me as odd, but I guess compared to his castmates he seems the least odd, all 6’4″ and 170 pounds of him (he would bulk up to a very buff 185 for The Fly). In 1978 I might not have suspected his subsequent career appearing in many of the biggest box-office hits of the next several decades. His character is such a perfect antiheroic type. The going gets tough and he (1) gets a bloody nose; (2) starts to cry; (3) falls asleep; and (4) is fascinated by the pretty pink flower. Poets get no respect. Though I guess he redeems himself a bit near the end.
*. Yes, Kael loved this movie. She had days, a lot of days, like that. Here’s how her review begins and ends: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers is more sheer fun than any movie I’ve seen since Carrie and Jaws and maybe parts of The Spy Who Loved Me. . . . it may be the best movie of its kind ever made.”
*. Of what kind would that be? Not thought-provoking social commentary but popcorn thrills like Carrie, Jaws, and James Bond. But is that really the kind of movie this is? I mean, to take the most obvious point, it has that real downer of an ending. They get rid of the upbeat frame story the studio insisted on in 1956 and doubled down with a bitterly ironic twist (albeit giving Matthew a moment of heroism in destroying the grow-op). I love the ending here, even though I’m not sure Kaufman helped things by taking such an iconic shot as Sutherland’s scream and zooming straight into his mouth.

*. It was the ’70s, that great decade of paranoia in American cinema, so we feel right at home when Cartwright starts on about how “It’s a conspiracy, I know it.” And she’s right. But since we’re no longer in the grips of a Red Scare, who or what is the enemy within? The Red Scare hadn’t turned into the Fed Scare yet in America (that would have to wait until 1993’s Body Snatchers, and even more emphatically with 2007’s The Invasion), so what anxiety is being addressed? The counterculture? But surely that spirit of nonconformity and individualism is what the pods are seeking to erase. What are the politics of this movie? Or does it have any?

*. Muddying the waters further is the matter of how we can tell who is and who isn’t “one of them.” Take the question of when Kibner is taken over. The short answer is we don’t know, we’re not told. But when do you think? Was he already one of them at the book signing event? Or is that just the way he is? Cinematographer Michael Chapman remarked in an interview that it’s “hard to tell if someone is a pod or just a ’70s asshole.” So were ’70s assholes the target here? And what kind of assholes? The “cloying sympathetic” (Kaufman) Kibner? On the DVD commentary track Kaufman says that he hasn’t been transformed yet at the book signing (note his one angry outburst after they leave the bookstore), but that Robert Duvall was already a pod priest.
*. Is the point then that we can’t really tell if we’ve lost our humanity, either because we’re not connected well enough anymore to notice or because modern people are less human anyway? There seems to be a connection here, at least in my eyes, to the zombie apocalypse movies that followed. These would ultimately result in movies like Shaun of the Dead and Juan of the Dead, where jokes are made about how you can go outside and walk down the street after the zombie apocalypse and not know if the people you meet are alive or dead. This is another way of thinking about something Kaufman says during the commentary: “I feel like everything that is talked about in Body Snatchers has come to pass, and that we are now living in a world largely controlled by pods.” This is apocalypse in its literal meaning of revelation, not a fantasy but a realistic depiction of the way we live now.

*. Again I wonder what the pod people are up to, what their end game is. To devolve into a lower form of plant life, parked in front of their TVs like Art Hindle, headphones on and listening to music? Plants like music, Cartwright has told us. And why are they still going to work, and keeping their regular hours even after they’ve obviously taken over the city entirely? Are they actually doing anything in the lab, or just instinctively going through the motions, like the zombie mallwalkers in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? I like how Elizabeth’s husband says, in trying to reassure her about being transformed, that “Nothing changes: you can have the same life, the same clothes, the same car.” These things are important! But does that mean he’s still a dentist? And what if Elizabeth doesn’t want to go back to the lab?

*. There are some new curves thrown in to the mix that are so good they’d be held over for the next instalments. Two stand out. The first is the alien scream and their pointing fingers. The ultimate j’accuse, signaling banishment from the new in-group, and a nice set-up for the flourish at the end. The other new wrinkle is the way the old human bodies are removed by garbage trucks. Proving once again the old adage that one man’s waste is another man.
*. People who talk about this movie inevitably get drawn into arguments over which of the two Invasions is better. I think they’re both great movies, but I’d have to say I enjoy Siegel’s version more. Not just because it’s less gloomy, but for its snappier pace (Kaufman’s movie is nearly 40 minutes longer). But really they’re two very different movies, reflecting entirely different styles and different Americas. Kaufman references Hamlet in his commentary, talking about how that play has been adapted in different productions reflecting new contexts and ways of interpreting and understanding its characters and story. I think that’s what happened here.
*. In itself, it’s good entertainment. The effects have held up very well. Even the dog with the human head still works. I believe Denny Zeitlin’s score was a one-off, but it’s effective. There are lots of cameos, from Kevin McCarthy to Don Siegel as the cab driver and Kaufman himself as the man waiting outside the phone booth. In some ways it feels like a very freestyle production, with Kaufman letting himself go in a way that you wouldn’t be expecting in a big-budget production today. You might think of it as coming at the end of the burst of maverick American filmmaking of the period. After this, the pod people were going to take over and everything was going to look pretty again.