Monday, June 25, 2012

Point Blank


Senza un attimo di tregua. US © 1967 MGM. D: John Boorman. Based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake. SC: Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, Rafe Newhouse. DP: Philip H. Lathrop. AD: Keogh Gleason. M: Johnny Mandel. C: Lee Marvin (Walker), Angie Dickinson (Chris), Keenan Wynn (Yost), Carroll O’Connor (Brewster), Lloyd Bochner (Frederick Carter), Michael Strong (Stegman). P: Judd Bernard, Robert Chartoff. Premiere: 30 agosto 1967. 35 mm. 92’. From: BFI National Archive per concessione di Hollywood Classics. Monday 25 July 2012, Piazza Maggiore (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti. Alla presenza di John Boorman.

1912. Novansentasei film di cento anni fa
How a Mosquito Operates. US 1912. Winsor McCay. 6 min. Grand piano and mosquito vocal effects: Donald Sosin.

Michel Ciment: “Though belonging to the unexpected revival of the Hollywood thriller in the mid-Sixties, a gangster film like Point Blank is easily distinguishable from the concurrent ‘private eye’ cycle, represented by such titles as P J. Harper, Tony Rome and Peter Gunn. It is, in a sense, the extreme – and, to this day, unsurpassed – culmination of a phenomenon first seen in Don Siegel’s The Killers which also co-starred Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson […]. The apparition of the ice-cold, robotic killer, of whom Johnny Cool was yet another incarnation. The world of the private eye, latterly illustrated by Jack Smight and Gordon Douglas, Blake Edwards and John Guillermin, engendered a return to ‘psychology’, to social satire and the picturesque, to a brand of story-telling in which the intricacy of human relationships was rivalled only by the complication of the plot. Point Blank, by contrast, plays down both characterization and psychology, reduces motivation to the absolute essential and dispenses with labyrinthine subplots, thereby, quite naturally, acquiring the stark linearity of a fable. And if Boorman’s use of flashbacks was criticized in certain quarters as gratuitous and too patently ‘European’ in influence, we can now see how integral they are to the overall narrative thrust. In fact, they serve a wholly different function from those found in traditional thrillers. Their expository value is virtually nil: the information which they contain might just as well have been conveyed in two or three lines of dialogue. What they do possess, however, is a visual immediacy that is as poetic as it is sheerly physical. Superficially, Point Blank would appear to be just a story of vengeance. And it is that, certainly, from beginning to end. But it’s also possible to interpret it as a more complex allegory, as a symbolic portrait of the United States […]."

“The circular construction of the narrative, moreover, eventually lends the whole film an aura of unreality, or of reality filtered through dreams, of lighting suffused by memories – as is suggested by certain gauzy images of Lee Marvin. Its closing shots – of the abandoned prison and its stone walls, the water of the river and the lights twinkling in the night sky – would appear to confirm the words spoken by the guide on a sightseeing steamer: that the treacherous currents encircling the island preclude all possibility of escape. Caught in the whirlwind of a storm which he himself has raised, Walker can no more easily escape from his nightmare. This dreamlike atmosphere is reinforced by the doubling of Walker’s wife Lynne, who appears to have been reincarnated in her sister Chris (and the casting of Sharon Acker and Angie Dickinson, who physically resemble each other, was a deliberate ploy on Boorman’s part).” Michel Ciment, John Boorman, Faber and Faber, London-Boston 1986.

AA: John Boorman gave an inspired introduction to his great breakthrough movie (my notes:) "I met Lee Marvin in London while Lee was making The Dirty Dozen. The screenplay based on Donald E. Westlake's novel was really bad, but we had script meetings with Lee in which a lot of alcohol was consumed. Lee Marvin had fought in the Pacific. He had been brutalized by the war when he was very young, and he had been trying to recover to the humanity he'd lost in the war. The story we developed was very much his own story. He wanted to make that journey from war back to the world. One night at 2 o'clock Lee said: 'I'll make this picture with you on one condition'. And then he threw the script out of the window. How was it possible to make this difficult and daring picture at the established, old-fashioned MGM? Lee Marvin had director, cast, and script approval, and he said to the studio heads: 'I defer these approvals to John'. So I had complete control for my first film in Hollywood at the most conservative studio. I didn't realize how lucky I was. Otherwise I would have behaved even more badly. Even so, there were questions about my sanity. Lee was daring. He understood me from a gesture. He was afraid of nothing. He said: 'Cut it, show it to the executives'. At the back of the viewing room there was an old lady, Margaret Booth, the editor of Gone with the Wind. She had a terrible reputation as the person who recut all MGM films. The executives were confused and started to talk about reshoots. Then Margaret Booth said: 'You cut one frame over my dead body'."

The last time I saw Point Blank on screen was in Los Angeles in 1996, with Todd McCarthy interviewing Angie Dickinson, who also commented on Lee Marvin, stating: "I guess you can say that he was my kind of guy". I revisited the first half an hour to be convinced that Point Blank has lost none of its experimental excitement. On the plot level it is a gangster movie, a heist movie, and a revenge drama, but on its most meaningful level it is a study of a deep psychological trauma. Point Blank is also a brilliantly original Los Angeles (and Alcatraz) movie. Sometimes a foreigner can discover aspects of a city that natives have neglected. Point Blank was screened in a gloriously photochemical 35 mm print which looked very good even from the third row in a Piazza Maggiore open air screening.

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