Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boorman and Baron as Film Noir directors

After my note on Blast of Silence, someone voiced the opinion that “Film Noir” was overrated as an indicator of anything. It was all about someone trying to make a buck. Actually, if he had restricted his comment to Blast of Silence I’d be tempted to agree with him without reservation. In 1990 there was an attempt made to rediscover Blast of Silence that failed, but a short film was made involving an older Baron (but still not pudgy) walking about New York and speaking about his film, what he was thinking, what he wanted out of it. Baron didn’t have any deep artistic desires when he made the film. He had less than $20,000 and wanted to make a cheap, but still marketable film, to show that he had skills as a director. Blast of Silence was intended to be Baron’s stepping stone into the world of Hollywood Directing. And, according to the critic Sutpen, it should have been. It deserved more credit than it got, but not as a great work of art – at least Sutpen doesn’t emphasize that. Sutpen was thinking in terms of the competition. Blast of Silence was a better film than films that were more highly valued by Studios. As to the actual audience, that is ignored. According to Sutpen, and Baron himself as voiced in his 1990 narrative, the Studio could have “built” an audience if it had marketed Baron’s film properly.

Very well, nothing I saw in or read about Baron’s Blast of Silence contradicts the disparaging remark voiced by the academic critic – or perhaps it is better to call him a critic of an academy that wants to establish “Film Noir” as a legitimate field for artistic study. He wasn’t just downgrading Blast of Silence, he was downgrading the entire genre, “Film Noir.” So let’s pursue that a little.

On the one hand we might agree that any number of films are in the category of “nothing more than an attempt to make a buck.” For example, anyone watching the John Boorman Point Blank with Lee Marvin will know before getting very far into the film, that the glitzier film Payback, directed by Brian Heigeland and starring Mel Gibson, is a rip off. It takes the ideas of Point Blank and makes them more marketable, Hollywood Style, with more violence and less artistry. Anyone interested in film would agree that Point Blank is the better movie, but it never made any money and, knowing that, I veer slightly from the academic critic who is ready to dismiss most of “Film Noir” as that, someone’s attempt to make a buck. Perhaps that is what Point Blank was, John Boorman’s attempt to make a buck and perhaps he wasn’t really very good at it, and perhaps academics who are trying to create an academic genre merely scooped up Boorman’s film as fitting, but Boorman does seem to have had a successful career: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Boorman

On the other hand, in looking through the list of Boorman’s credits, I don’t find any other films that qualify as “Film Noir.” Deliverance is exceedingly ugly, but it more closely approaches Payback than it remains true to Point Blank’s Noir. So perhaps Boorman was just learning his trade. . . except that he didn’t. He made the movie Exorcist II in 1976 which was a disaster at the box office and panned by most critics. Wikepedia provides the following as Boorman’s response to this “failure”: “ . . . John Boorman confessed that “The sin I committed was not giving the audience what it wanted in terms of horror...There’s this wild beast out there which is the audience. I created this arena and I just didn’t throw enough Christians into it.. . .”

Boorman’s comment is interesting and perceptive. He does have skill as a director; so we can’t be sure whether he has a “message” in mind or whether he is simply trying to do artistic justice to the novel or screen play that he was working with – but probably the latter, and in putting “artistic justice” ahead of “box office success” he was committing a Hollywood sin.

So what we have (as far as I can tell) is two directors who created two “Film Noir” masterpieces who apparently weren’t attempting anything of the sort. . . or if they were, their attempts weren’t anything more than something suitable to the artistic moment. And here, perhaps I am bringing something I wrote in my previous note on Blast of Silence, namely that it represents a Nihilism which seems a despairing response to the failure, or fairlure-in-process, of the Communist experiment. But we could call Frankie Bono an example of an existentialist perspective and perhaps gain some “intellectual” credence. We can more easily compare Bono to Camus’ 1942 novel L’Etranger than we can demonstrate that he is a character of Film Noir – unless we want to argue as I intended to do in my previous note that Existentialism itself is to some extent a response to lost ideals. Camus wasn’t attracted to Communism but Sartre was. Sarte didn’t advocate Communism as a replacement for existentialism but as a suitable response to it. So existentialism was “out there” for Baron and for Boorman. It was probably easy for them to do films from existentialist perspectives; since the philosophy was so pervasive.

Backing away to gain a Right-Wing perspective, for the aforementioned critic of academia is on the Right Wing, as am I, how do we reconcile the artistic downgrading of “Film Noir” with our right-wing belief that Hollywood is one of the most potent American forces fostering the Left Wing point of view? If Hollywood is bent upon making a buck regardless, then it can’t have as its highest priority the fostering of Left-Wing causes and views. So are we wrong?

It is not a Left-Wing cause to throw more Christians to the Lions. But it is probably safe to say that many of the Studio people in Hollywood while encouraging the throwing of more Christians to the Lions are at heart in favor of gun control. Think of the famous Left-Wing movie stars, and are there any that haven’t participated in movies throwing scores of Christians to the Lions? Yes, Robert Redford did the Left Wing The Way we Were, which probably makes it more on its love story than its political message, but he also made Three Days of the Condor in which he gets to personally throw several Christians to the lions. And not just in that movie, but also in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and probably some others. Maybe Redford preferred movies with a Left-Wing message, but he wasn’t above making the kind that throws Christians to audience lions.

And perhaps Left-Wing Hollywood is rationalizing its throwing Christians to lions. Surely one of the most successful series of that type is the “Bourne” series. Bourne throws Christians to the lions in abundance, but notice, you inattentive right-wingers, that there is a Left-Wing message in the series. It is the CIA that did the bad things that resulted in the brain-washed Bourne. How many movies have we seen where Christianity, a Christian pastor, the CIA, the FBI, and now Homeland Security is up to something nefarious. But, Hollywood, we probably wouldn’t watch your Left-Wing movies if you weren’t also throwing lots of Christians to lots of Lions – and after we are done watching these movies, don’t count on our remembering your Left Wing message.

. . . I’m not really done talking about “Film Noir” and haven’t made the point I started out intending to make; so I’ll take that up again in a subsequent note.

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