Friday, September 9, 2011

Lee Marvin’s Face

The reason the blog has been on a week-long hiatus is because we (Broken Projector's Gautam Valluri and Floatin' Zoetropes' Me were compiling the fourth issue of our online journal Projectorhead (PH Wants You). You can read the entire issue here. As someone on Twitter said, some real nice goodies in there.

Point Blank(1967) / John Boorman

“None of them would look or sound or play the same way today if marijuana hadn’t seized and transformed the style of pop movies thirty years ago. This isn’t to say that the filmmakers in question are necessarily teaheads, or that the people in the audience have to be wigged- out in order to appreciate these efforts. Stoned consciousness by now is a historical fact, which means that the experiences of people high on grass have profoundly affected the aesthetics of movies for everyone: filmmakers and spectators, smokers and nonsmokers alike.”

                                                       Rosenbaum in ‘What Dope is Doing to Movies’
The notion of an action film is based on the idea of urgent causality: one act influences the other, the other impacts another – as such, each single choice the protagonist may make assumes utter significance and becomes capable of forever altering the universe. The narrative is reduced (or elevated, take your pick) to an elaborate series of codes that the protagonist must unlock one by one (the reason Die Hard: With a Vengeance is so goddamn great is because it literalizes this idea of an action film and completely breaks it down), and in that order, to fully comprehend eventually the villain’s grand nefarious design. Essentially, in an action film, everything is crucial, and if one lego-block is pulled out, the entire lego-network of choices and their outcomes will be rendered worthless. Point Blank is such an oddity precisely because it’s protagonist whims are particularly irrelevant, and while Walker’s physical demeanor (Lee Marvin, two-face performance: scare with one, get scared with another) is that of a perpetual badass, he is actually quite a nincompoop: confused, battered, vulnerable and at times, a real idiot; after 45 minutes into the film, he has actually exacted revenge already (even that, unintentionally), and isn’t even certain as to who he is pitted against. But such pointlessness is inherent in the very element of the film: it is emblematic, perhaps of the era of movie-making which Rosenbaum talks about in the passage above. Ofcourse, while The Trip (Corman, 1967) is deliberately pointless, made with the aim to mimic a LSD-trip; a film like Point Blank (as well as the best sequences from BlowUp and Bonnie and Clyde) just happens to be that way – the film of a man disenchanted with structures based in logic, rationale or causality – the most crucial accomplishment of Point Blank as an action film is that in its 91 real-time duration, and 2 years of filmic duration, nothing really happens, no choice is made, no decision affects the world, no action bears a real consequence – yes, a lot of people die, but when the film ends, the protagonist is exactly where he was at the start of the film, as poor, as lonely and as impotent.

Since the narrative itself is absent (nothing has an implicit meaning, nothing happens, no one comes, no one goes), it is what you can see that becomes particularly important – the ‘trippiness’ of the film, therefore, manifests itself in what is shown (instead of say,  Easy Rider, where the trippiness is all told or heard). Therefore, Point Blank’s exhibition of rambling meaningless includes angular pathways, skyscrapers jetting diagonally out from the corner of the frame, characters framed through latticed windows, hokey matte-effects of naked bodies floating like stray-scrap through 2D air, eternal corridors, color bursts, an action scene illuminated by disco-ball lights so that you can only see a punch land or a forehead turn to grimace – but the film is at the peak of its delirium when it shoots Lee Marvin’s face in a close-up. At best, his face is an accumulation of veins fitted into cloth-folds that sag over a gangling frame whose owner went to the wrong tailor.

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