Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tobe Hooper (1943-2017)


Another legendary horror filmmaker has passed.  Mr Hooper's filmography lists some of the most original, and probably the most scariest films of modern times.  Of course what Tobe Hooper is best known for is the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre".  A film that has been listed in both the museum of modern art in New York, and the library of Congress in Washington.  Not bad for a film when it was released was dismissed as a sort of pornography of cinema.

What the film "the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was a film beyond its time.  Scholars have written about the film, and I believe it will be continually be written about when talking about horror or American cinema.

I was introduced to the film by a friend, and when I saw it I did not know what to make of the film.  It certainly pushed some buttons within me, and that's what I think it did for a whole lot of people.  When people describe the film they say it was the most bloodiest and goriest film they had ever seen, but if you really look at the film there is little to no blood in the film.  There is no blood in the film and the gore is almost non-existent because it's all implied, and that's because of the mastery of Hoopers filmmaking skills.

The film is about terror, and it does have some very dark humor in the film.  Listen to the conversation between the cook, and Leatherface, our chainsaw weilding protagonist.  Though Leatherface does not utter a word his gestures and his eyes convey it all.  Gunner Hansen who played the villain Leatherface does some extraordinary acting in the film, and it is these performances that make "Chainsaw..." the film it is.  I can only surmise that Hansen got his directorial instructions from Hooper who saw Leatherface as not a caricature, but a complex personality whose reality is warped because of the way he was brought up by his strange family.

Back in 1974 when the film was released there was no film like this around.  The country was experiencing Watergate, gas shortages, inflation, and the defeat of Vietnam.  Kent State was in the social consciousness as well.  "Chainsaw...." burst upon the screen like the angry child it was.  It laid to rest that we were heading to a beautiful future.  What "Chainsaw..." showed and said that madness is around the corner and it is waiting to consume you if you don't watch out.  All the protagonists meet grisly deaths except our survivor who goes through hell and back.

"Chainsaw...." was a film that gave it to you right between the eyes.    It is because of this that "Chainsaw...." is a film that will always be remembered as a classic.  It was and is a no holds bar slugfest that doesn't let up, and when you think it does it goes into overdrive, and into territory that makes us uncomfortable.

Even if you discount "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Hoopers other films were filled with terror that disturbed us.  "Poltergeist" was a film about an assault on the modern suburban family, "Salems Lot" was a TV movie epic about people fighting modern vampires.  From the film "The Mangler" to "The toolbox Murders" are all films that make it's audience uncomfortable because Hooper knows how to scare his audience while at the same time make them laugh even though it is a nervous laughter.

It is this formula that made Hooper the great director he was.  Mr. Hooper taught film at the university of Austin I believe , so he knew his material, and knew how to evoke responses to certain material.

All I can say is that another great American filmmaker has passed, and for that we are all at a loss.  Thankfully we have his work to study and talk about.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)


Dunkirk is one of those movies that is better seen in the theaters then seen later at home.  Dunkirk is a film that harkens back to great filmmaking.  Every frame of this film is a work of art.  The sound design is quite intricate and when the German Junkers dive bomb the beach you feel as though you are there.  Christopher Nolan the director of Dunkirk uses all the tricks of the trade to really make you feel that you are there at Dunkirk, and the dread that faces the troops stranded on the beach.

Nolan divides the film between the sea, the air, and the beach.  To say that there is no one character to concentrate on would be correct.  Nolan divides the screen time among various actors who do a fantastic job at conveying the dread and the fear of the early months of the war when Germany was running through Europe, and devouring all that was good.

Throughout the film we see the horrors of war, and the film begins with a bit of silence as several soldiers wander the streets of Dunkirk and are suddenly surprised by enemy troops.  Nolan never really shows us the enemy.  They are at a distance, and it makes them more scary.  We as the audience know what will happen, but how do these soldiers get away to fight another day.  Well that is Dunkirk.

In history Dunkirk was very important.  It rescued many British, Belgium, and French troops trapped at Dunkirk.  Tom Hardy plays a RAF pilot who does his duty without thought.  What he does and how he does it is a reflection of how badly the British were overwhelmed by the German blitzkrieg, yet they persevered against insurmountable odds.  Tom Hardy is almost unrecognizable in the film because he is outfitted with his airflow mask, yet he conveys everything through his actions and his eyes.  Harry Styles also does an impressive bit of acting as well.  There is little dialogue throughout the film for our characters to engage in, but there are moments where they all shine, and that's all die to Nolan's direction.

Going in to the movie I was aware of the history of the events that took place at Dunkirk, but the film brings it home, and makes it very personal, and because of that the film is better for it.

I would be remiss to mention nothing if I was not to mention the cinematography, the music, and the audio mixing of this film works all in its favor.  Nolan surrounds himself with true artists and makes the film work on so many levels.

The cinematography was by Hoyte Van Hoytema, and shooting in 70mm sure makes the screen epic.  The music is by Hans Zimmer.

Dunkirk is worth seeing in the theaters.  I saw it in 70mm, and was a bit taken back by the movies landscape.  I would suggest seeing the film in IMAX because Dunkirk is a film better seen on the big screen.

I did notice a bit of a flicker on the 70mm, yet I do not know if this was because of a technical issue or if it was normal since I was seeing the shutter on a analog projector (celluloid) and I was watching a non digital image.  I still enjoyed the film, and it never really bothered me because I was wrapped up in the film.