Admirers of Jack Shea’s The Monitors cannot fail to be beguiled by this other Chicago masterpiece, a comic strip not for geniuses (Donner’s Superman is that) but for Supermen.
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid
The burden of the people, laid upon them by railroads and banks, is greatly relieved by the Younger and James boys, so much so that the Missouri Legislature votes them amnesty, then rescinds it on the proper grounds that they’re a murderous, thieving bunch.
A “raid”, because there’s a war on, the one that still ain’t over at the Centennial, a raid “behind enemy lines” in the North against a “city of the plain, built on the spoils of war,” ready for destruction all the way to the bare earth underneath its every standing structure and its brand-new baseball diamond.
That’s Jesse James’ viewpoint. Cole Younger simply sees it as a withdrawal from the First National Bank.
Kaufman’s screenplay and direction are quite clear about the nature of this bloody exploit, the various scenes and details are all correctly accountable to the thematic analysis, which is straightforward and meticulous throughout, practically savoring in advance the completely inevitable, completely inexplicable mystification of the critics as just all part of the fun in the telling of a great tale from the grand historical fame and lore of outlawry along the great Canadian border.
Cliff Robertson and Robert Duvall give inspired, precise and carefully-wrought performances, the rest of the cast are out with Kaufman where the battle is joined of truly “ignorant armies”. Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde is the main precedent, with Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch a natural reflection.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
People that sleep are replaced by vegetables, in the clearest possible cinematic expression of Curran’s utterance, “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”
Now, intellectual indolence is specifically decried by Richter and Kaufman, to such a degree that this film is sometimes thought of as a satire of New Age movements, and while it may be a case of six v. half-a-dozen, they are rather perceived and presented as causes than effects. Bad literature and Dr. Philgoods make for a void that is quickly filled.
Kaufman opens with a double or triple whammy, taking cognizance of Dreyer and Hitchcock. Vampyr is evoked in the long shot down a hallway slowly dollying-in to a reflection of the unseen couple in a glass door ajar, after introducing him embracing her whilst wearing headphones and watching television. An inspector from the Department of Public Health examines a restaurant kitchen, and finds his windshield broken by sous-chefs.
The credit sequence has a tempo perhaps recalling Fearless Frank, and describes spores drifting off a planet and floating to Earth.
The Right Stuff
The structure is consciously subtle and self-defeating, by any reading. Kaufman sets himself benchmarks throughout: Royal Dano singing, Scott Wilson’s face, Donald Moffat’s LBJ, John Dehner’s Henry Luce, the Hallelujah Chorus and The Planets. Art, mimesis and authority.
He draws the film amongst them to a single image at the close, Gordon Cooper in exaltation after liftoff.
The concentrated opening cites Peckinpah and Kaufman himself in two images, a nest of swarming ants on the ground trodden by a horse, and a dog carrying a severed hand in its muzzle (Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, suggesting the man-faced dog from Invasion of the Body Snatchers). The shots continue in a karaoke video Eddie Sakamura sings “Don’t Fence Me In” along with.
Pollack’s The Yakuza and Thompson’s Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects are taken stock of. There is a great deal more to Rising Sun than the critics, especially Vincent Canby, bothered to notice. Furthermore, there is once again an absurd quibble over the transposition from novel to screen. Early days in the Postmodern Downtown Fartocracy, a project begun in the Seventies and set to culminate half a century later in Frank Gehry’s billion-dollar Grand Avenue Project, financed by Abu Dhabi (cf. Wincer’s Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Mel Smith’s Bean), with similar projects around the country simultaneously.
It’s said that Americans are thought of by the Japanese as stupid and corrupt, and that it may be so. The two American businessmen selling their company to Nakamoto Corporation are certainly stupid, the police are seen to be on the pad.
The monolithic, hierarchical aspect of Japanese culture is played up in view of the “war” that is being waged. On the other hand, Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz) is cited on the subject of rough American neighborhoods. Fascists tend to suffer from delusions of great sophistication, Goebbels is an excellent example.
The man who kills a working girl on the Nakamoto boardroom table is an American trade negotiator now working for Nakamoto. His aim is to blackmail a Senator into switching his vote on the sale. He dies poured into the concrete of a new building next door.
Takemitsu’s art is such that the curious ornamental lighting on the Nakamoto building at night is rendered comprehensible by it.