Saturday, December 26, 2009

Target #284: Klute (1971, Alan J. Pakula)

TSPDT placing: #797
Directed by: Alan J. Pakula
Written by: Andy Lewis, David P. Lewis
Starring: Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Charles Cioffi, Dorothy Tristan

For the most part, the advent of sound was utilised simply to accompany the on screen action. In Klute (1971), director Alan J. Pakula does something very interesting: he uses audio to layer one scene on top of another. Call-girl Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), held at the whim of a desperate sexual deviant, is forced to hear the tape recording of a murder. The camera never leaves Bree's face, but the viewer barely sees her. Instead, the mind conjures up an entire scene that was never filmed, the sickening final moments of a drug-addled prostitute at the hands of a disturbed man. A less-assured director might have used video footage, or even a flashback. Pakula understood that the audience would provide its own flashback, and his merging of disparate visual and audio streams allows him to tell two stories at once. In this respect, I wouldn't be surprised if the film was the partial inspiration (along with Antonioni's Blow Up (1966), of course) for Coppola's The Conversation (1974).
Though the film takes its title from Donald Sutherland's small-town detective John Klute, the character himself remains oddly detached throughout. Instead, Pakula is most concerned with Fonda's reluctant call-girl, an aspiring actress who keeps returning to prostitution because it involves an "acting performance" during which she always feels in control. Fonda brings an acute warmth and vulnerability to a film that is, by design, rather cold and detached. Pakula deliberately distances the viewer from the story, placing his audience – not in the room where the action is taking place – but on the opposite end of a recording device. His accusation that the viewer is himself engaging in voyeurism runs alongside such films as Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), Antonioni's Blow Up and many works of Hitchcock. It is Fonda's performance that gives the film its core, more so than the mystery itself, the solution of which is offered early on. However, the extra details we glean from Bree's regular visits to a therapist could easily have been peppered more subtly throughout the film.

Currently my #5 film of 1971:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
2) Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah)
3) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)
4) The French Connection (William Friedkin)
5) Klute (Alan J. Pakula)
6) Get Carter (Mike Hodges)
7) Bananas (Woody Allen)
8) The Stalls of Barchester (Lawrence Gordon Clark) (TV)


Friday, December 4, 2009

Repeat Viewing: The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

TSPDT placing: #148
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stephen King (novel), Stanley Kubrick (screenplay), Diane Johnson (screenplay)

As do most, I can clearly remember the first time I saw The Shining (1980). I must have been thirteen or fourteen, and had just read Stephen King's novel. There was something cold and clinical about the film that really shook my spine; I could never quite put my finger on exactly why. Perhaps it was the drab colours, the detached camera-work, an overwhelming sense of apathy towards the characters' fate. Just recently, I took the opportunity to see The Shining at the cinema (on a double-bill with A Clockwork Orange (1971)) and my appreciation for the film hasn't faded. An unhappily-married couple (Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall) are employed to caretake the Overlook Hotel over winter. As the long, bleak months progress, the Hotel's rich and dark history begins to manifest physically, and Jack's alcoholism and unstable psychological
state begins to crumble into maniacal madness.

Jack Nicholson's grotesquely over-the-top performance is terrifying, and hilarious, and insanely watchable; Kubrick encouraged Nicholson to overplay the role to its demented maximum. Not surprisingly, his favourite actor was James Cagney, who frequently eschewed realistic method acting in favour of a broiling intensity that suggested a time-bomb on the verge of exploding. Shelley Duvall, meanwhile, does a very good imitation of a complete mental breakdown (in fact, the director himself drove her to the brink with his endless insistence on re-takes, sometimes as many as 100). The exaggerated central performances are strangely at odds with John Alcott's detached cinematography, which surveys the carnage of Jack's mental breakdown with a disquieting aloofness. However, the camera doesn't merely act as an observer; Kubrick uses it to tell the story, his peculiar use of quick zooms serving to claustrophobically constrict the viewer's field of vision and emphasise an element of interest.

Throughout the film, frequent (but irregularly-spaced) title cards signal the passage of time, as though counting down to a historical moment. Jack's plummet into insanity thus becomes set in stone, inevitable, and every preceding frame is plagued by the hand of Fate, gently nudging the man towards a predetermined end. In the film's ambiguous epilogue, Jack's image appears in a photograph dated July 4, 1921. Hence, even before we see Jack Torrance first enter the Overlook Hotel, he has already become a part of its history (just as the previous caretaker Charles Grady had formerly known the Hotel through his historical doppelganger Delbert Grady, the butler). Alternatively, these visions could be a manifestation of Jack's alcoholism – note that, in every scene featuring a ghost, there is a mirror present. It can't be mere coincidence that Jack's axe-assault on a bathroom door was clearly inspired by a sequence in Victor Sjöström's Körkarlen (1921), which concerns an alcoholic husband and father.

Currently my #2 film of 1980:
1) The Elephant Man (David Lynch)
2) The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)
3) ‘Breaker’ Morant (Bruce Beresford)
4) Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner)
5) Stardust Memories (Woody Allen)
6) Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese)