Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Orphans of the Storm

As long as I can remember being obsessed with movies I've compiled my own lists. Sure it's fine and dandy when a critic focuses on a film and provides insight into what we are seeing up there. But what about the opposite?

Sometimes there are interesting elements of a movie that aren't up there on the screen as we watch it. How often have you heard someone asking, "have you seen the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now? it's actually better than the movie itself." I'd never go that far. But, that's just me. I worship Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Coppola).

There are tons of rumors and gossip like this. I'm not as drawn to that as I am to the confounding instances of a movie being disowned by its director. And this seems to always involve an up and coming auteur battling with a studio, and a large budget at stake. We'll never see Orson Welles' original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); David Lynch wants his name off of Dune (1984), produced by Dino De Laurentiis; producers hijacked Backtrack (1990, Dennis Hopper Alan Smithee), which I learned about from Fat who shared this article; David Fincher says he lost creative control of Alien³ (1992) to 20th Century Fox; the producers taking Wild Side (1995) out of Donald Cammell's hands allegedly precipitated his suicide; Terry Gilliam didn't entirely get to craft his vision as he wanted on The Brothers Grimm (2005) because of the Weinsteins. I wish I had a list of these kinds of movies.

It is annoying to enjoy the work of a director and find out one of his or her movies ended up in a form that he or she wishes to ignore. But for me I still watch these orphaned movies, fascinated, stubborn, unwilling to skip over them. Admittedly, I've always been compulsively enamored with directors above all else.

The Wim Wenders retrospective is about halfway through and I am very into it. Chronologically the program is at the point where Hammett (1982, Wim Wenders) was released. The 4K restorations of all of the theatrical exhibitions so far have been released thanks to Wim Wenders Stiftung, and the foundation's website lists every title in his filmography except Hammett.

Last night for the first time I watched Hammett and it wasn't shown in a theater. I watched it on DVD at my home. Yeah, shitty, I know, tell me about it.

I'd first heard about Hammett a while back watching a documentary about filmmaking, or Hollywood, or directors, or Coppola, or American Zoetrope, I can't remember exactly. But on at least one occasion I know it was spoken of with a negative connotation, and even in the context of contributing or exemplifying some of the factors leading up to the demise of Zoetrope Studios along with One from the Heart (Coppola) released the same year.

I love thinking of the film school brats of the 1970s as an American professional sports league, and fans having their favorite teams, remaining loyal to them through thick and thin. From 1970-1984 I'm a Coppola fan all the way. But Carpenter during the same period is just as impressive to go back to, hell often more impressive.

So despite the evidence that points to Coppola bullying Hammett away from Wenders, wait a minute because of the evidence that points to Coppola bullying Hammett away from Wenders I was endeared by its trainwreck of creative conflict and other odd characteristics.

Throwing out my or anyone's sensible criteria for appreciating a movie, I couldn't get enough of the artificial look the sets and lighting give off. What I mean is the sources of the lights are hard and not as diffuse as other less distracting methods of lighting--but I like this effect. Having been shot at Zoetrope Studios plays into Hammett as a throwback to 1940s Hollywood studio filmmaking. Wenders' early films shot by Robby Müller are striking because Müller sculpts light like an artist, and the locations are pre-existing spaces not studio sets. And around 1982 no one wants movies to look fake like the 40s movies do now to us, but I do because I'm into nostalgia, especially for this time in film history.

Also Wenders' earlier films are as sparse with dialogue as his desolate landscapes are void of civilization. Even though that's one of the greatest strengths of those films, Hammett is a non-stop bombardment of machine-gun fire period pulp slang dialogue. It doesn't at all feel like Wenders but it works.

Finally, since I'm slowly now beginning to actually say something about Hammett itself, the casting from Frederic Forest as HAMMETT down to several supporting characters fits in and nails the homage of the 40s noir films this is modeled on. Forest is also one of Coppola's best collaborators going back to The Conversation (1974, Coppola), and Apocalypse Now (1979, Coppola). David Patrick Kelley plays a hoarse whispered gunsel worthy of Elisha Cook, Jr.'s turn as the counterpart goon in The Maltese Falcon (1941, Huston), which is funny because Elisha Cook, Jr. also stars in Hammett. And Roy Kinnear channels Sydney Greenstreet's heavy from The Maltese Falcon just as accurately.

Who knew Jack Nance would turn up in this thing as a sex-trafficking blackmailer? Hammett boasts a formidable array of cult character actors and Nance seems to be the clincher. Director Sam Fuller also shows up again in a Wenders movie after his noir appearance in Der amerikanische Freund (1977, Wenders).

In a case of history repeating itself, this rare instance of a movie about a writer unwittingly becoming a character in one of their own type of tales happens again with The Brothers Grimm, and in both cases it sound like the director started with their first choice of cinematographer only to see them fired during production--Robby Müller and Nicola Pecorini, respectively. Anyway initially I thought the premise of a writer stumbling into one of their own stories sounded unappealing to say the least, but afterwards I've found that in these two cases I really like these movies.


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