Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pink Floyd's The Wall (1980)

Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1980)

Director: Alan Parker

Cast: Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Wright

As a film buff, sometimes important movies escape my all scanning, all seeing eyes. Truth is there’s just so much to see; a life time isn’t enough.  So for whatever the reason, probably because I was never really into Pink Floyd’s music, I had never seen Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Man am I kicking myself in the ass for not having seen this one before! This movie is not just a movie, it’s an experience! An audio visual tour de force!

This is the story of ‘Pink’, a young man that’s not to happy about the worlds his born into, we follow him through the different phases in life, so in many ways it’s a life story. In this sense, it is similar to Ken Russell's Tommy (1975), because its also a life story, it's also a critique on society and it's also a film fueled by Rock and Roll. In Pink Floyd's The Wall, we see Pink go from growing up in an abusive and unproductive education system, to becoming comfortably numb through watching television and doing drugs in order to ignore the crazy world that surrounds him. Pink manages to become part of a famous rock band, but even with success nothing makes sense to him. Will he snap and go totally insane? Or will he join the ranks of Big Brother?

This film is very special, and I’m going to have to ask anyone out there reading that hasn’t experienced this film yet to do so at the earliest possible convenience. I mean, if you love film and the range of emotions and themes that you can express through it, then go on and find a copy of this amazing movie and watch it. It’s a wonderful achievement, an amazing marriage of sight and sound. All gushing aside, what actually makes this film so special? Well, let me count the ways.

One of the things that stands out about this movie is that it hardly uses any dialog to tell its story. Its main character hardly utters a word throughout the entire film! Other characters around him speak, but Pink himself remains with his lips sealed for most of the film, even though a lot seems to be going on inside of him. Yet, what he doesn’t say through words, he conveys through facial expressions, through performance and through action. Like Chaplin, here’s a character that says a lot without saying a word! Pink is a guy that has grown sick of the mind numbing stupidity that society occupies itself with. He hates television, the dumb masses, he hates money, war, material things, Pink basically dislikes everything he sees. Where will this abhorring of the world take him? Bob Geldof’s performance is a good one; a lot is conveyed through performance, which to me is one of the films major achievements. This films modus operandi is “a picture speaks louder than a thousand words”. And boy, the imagery we see on this film truly speaks for itself!

In order to tell their story through surrealistic, symbolic images, the filmmakers put a lot of effort into marrying the perfect images with the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s songs, which are just amazing. Songs and images gel together so perfectly here! The songs are every bit as subversive as the visuals, which hold nothing back, these songs tell a story. I mean, here’s a movie that tells us that today’s education system treats students like meat to a grinder…every student grinded into one same piece of meat, without anything to make them individuals, without uniqueness. Here’s a film that says that television can drive you mad, that war is death, that bad parents are something to drive us mad, that we will eventually turn into a piece of the machinery, into another senseless clone.  Here’s a film unafraid to say that governments can turn into fascist regimes, basically, this is a movie without any filters or restraints. Yet it says everything so artistically, with such emotion and intensity. It’s impossible to ignore it, or the truth within it.

The talent in the film is obviously a huge part of what makes it such a wonder to behold. Here we have Alan Parker in the director’s chair; a director whose films have always been thematically strong, like a punch to the gut. If you don’t believe me then go and watch Midnight Express (1978). Watching that movie for the first time is like getting a bucket of ice cold water poured down your back! I dare you not to be inspired by Parker’s Fame (1980), or be freaked out by Robert Deniro’s Satan in Parker’s satanic thriller, Angel Heart (1987). Point is that Pink Floyd’s The Wall has an excellent director behind it, which is probably why the visuals are so memorable. But then again, Pink Floyd has always been a band who pays as much attention to their music videos as they do to their songs; their music videos are always a joy to watch. The film was written by Pink Floyd’s own Roger Waters, but the basic jist of the film is that the songs from their conceptual album ‘The Wall’ are the driving force behind the plot of the film. These songs tell us the story of a young man in disgust with society, and the songs are truly special, and this comes from a new fan. Thanks to this film, I am now a Pink Floyd convert/fan, the same thing might happen to you if you’ve never been a fan of Pink Floyd. I dare you not to have some sort of emotional reaction to the images that accompany the song ‘Comfortably Numb’, one of Pink Floyd’s biggest hits. With this song, the film also comments on the sometimes nightmarish lifestyle of a rock and roll star, as if the film wasn’t already commenting enough. And yet another great element in the film are Gerald Scarfe’s amazing animated sequences, which are mind blowing! This movie wouldn’t be the same without Scarfe’s imaginative animation, it is an integral part of the equation. Scarfe’s animation is so fantastic that various sequences, like the hammers marching, the teacher grinding the students into a meat grinder, or that screaming face emerging out of the brick wall have all become part of this films iconic imagery. So what we have here my friends, is a nonstop onslaught of talent. This is definitely one of the movies you should see before you croke, put it on your must watch list, you won’t regret it.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Midnight Cowboy (1970)

Midnight Cowboy (1970)

Director: John Schlesinger

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

Midnight Cowboy is a fish out of water story about a young Texan dishwasher who decides he wants something more out of life so he packs up his bags, gets on a bus and heads towards big bad New York City. The problem is that his big plans for a better life strive entirely on hustling in the world of male prostitution. And further complicating matters, Buck isn’t really much of a hustler, in fact, he’s one hundred and one percent naïve, which means, in a city like New York, he is the one who’s going to get hustled. So it’s that kind of a story in which an innocent person is confronted with a bizarre and violent world, which will transform him forever.

Usually the first thing you do when you arrive to a new place is make new acquaintances and hopefully, find a kind soul which you can befriend, someone who will show you the ropes. In the case of young and naïve Joe Buck, as soon as he arrives to New York, he connects with a guy whom people call ‘Ratso Rizzo’, a name that would’ve raised a couple of red flags under my radar, but Buck is so naïve he becomes best friends with Rizzo. This ultimate naiveté is what drives the whole story; Buck’s innocence is pitted against Razzo’s experienced hustler ways. These opposite personalities create some very interesting and entertaining situations, for example, the party scene in which they are both randomly invited to one of these crazy swinging parties from the 60’s, where people are doing all sorts of drugs,   dancing naked and fucking. I got flashbacks from a similar scene in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). There was something about movies from the 60’s; they always had these groovy party sequences. Lots of psychedelic images, like some sort of acid trip, nothing makes sense! Someone’s always smoking weed, there’s always trippy music. Anyways, it’s interesting to see both characters getting lost in all that craziness. Will Joe Buck survive all that insanity? Will he become corrupted somehow? Or has he finally found his place?

At the crux of it all, are these two guys helping each other under such dire living circumstances.  And they are truly dire, I mean, these guys are so dirt poor that they live in an abandoned building in New York City, with a million rats and the roaches as their roommates. Dinner is canned soup. And there’s always that question of, are they attracted to each other? Is there something else going on here? I love how the film hints at it, but never truly answers that question. The strongest part about the film are the performances by its two main actors, Jon Voight as Joe Buck the innocent manwhore with a heart of gold and Dustin Hoffman’s Rizzo, the scummiest dirt bag in town. They both portray their characters to perfection. This without a doubt is one of Dustin Hoffman’s most memorable performances, I’m sure it’s one of his top five. It’s in this film he gave us that famous line “I’m walking here!” a line that some say was improvised by Hoffman because that cab that almost hits him on that scene was a real New York cab, because they were filming that scene live, on the streets, without the proper permissions. Hoffman’s performance is so good, you actually feel empathy for Rizzo, a low street hustler who owes money to everybody and will lie through his teeth for a twenty dollar bill. Yet, by the films end you will feel something for the guy. For both of them actually, but what’s beautiful about this movie is that they both grow to become family, a true friendship develops.

Interesting thing about this movie is that it was rated X. I’m pretty sure it’s because of all the sexual themes. I mean, Joe Buck does become a bisexual, but only out of necessity, he doesn’t seem to enjoy being with men, he just needs the money. There is some nudity, but nothing that I’d say would garner an X rating, so I’m thinking it was the subject manner and the conservative mentality of the time that got this movie the dreaded ‘X’ rating, which is something that any studio fears because getting an ‘X’ rating means death at the box office. Yet even with its X rating the film went on to become the first and only film with an X rating to win academy awards! Actually, it won three, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay! Right now it is not an X rated film, in 1971 they the MPAA changed it to an R, without changing a thing about it.

Bottom line is, you should watch this film because it’s a real American Classic. It truly captures the city of New York thanks to some amazing photography and the fact that they had the fortune of being able to film in the actual city of New York, which is something a lot of films are faking these days because its so expensive to film there. So those are real New York City taxi cabs about to run over Dustin Hoffman! Those are real scummy, 1970’s New York City streets! The film has amazing performances from both its protagonists and it’s a film about true friendship. John Schlesinger purposely left out any sexual complications between Buck and Rizzo in order to make a film about two guys who end up becoming the best of friends, without any sexual ties. These are just two dudes who decide to support each other in the middle of this messed up world, in the middle of the darkness true friendship blossoms. But can friendship eclipse the darkness in our lives? The film asks the question: can we make our lives better, even when we’ve been dealt a dark hand in life? Can we out of sheer will power and positive thinking change the course of our lives? Or are some of us so far down the rabbit hole that there’s no way out no matter how much we try? 
Rating: 5 out of 5



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