Death Wish [1974)

The great American movie.  Paramount.  Gulf + Western.

It grips at your heart.

A Boeing 757 in reverse.  At last.

This inverted haiku serves to give epigrammatic notice.

“Above all, I didn’t want to take any more shit…not from anybody.”  –Iggy Pop

I credit Nick Tosches with turning me on to the album from whence the above lyrics come:  Avenue B.

It kinda sums it up.  Paul Kersey.  Not to be confused with Jerome Kersey (R.I.P.).

They say “vigilante”…  I don’t know.  Doesn’t seem quite right.  I mean, we all know about Bernhard Goetz.  Taxi Driver.

Michael Winner really nailed it as a director here.

But we must face those drones buzzing overhead.  “There’s something dishonorable about killing from a distance,” to paraphrase a line from Godard’s Le Petit Soldat.  Depends on the distance.  Depends on who drew first.

This is, after all, an urban Western.

“In 2010, FOX and the New York Daily News reported that months after the 9/11 attacks, a Pentagon employee invited al-Awlaki to a luncheon in the Secretary’s Office of General Counsel. The US Secretary of the Army had asked for a presentation from a moderate Muslim as part of an outreach effort to ease tensions with Muslim-Americans.”  –Wikipedia

This is, of course, in reference to U.S. agent Anwar al-Awlaki who was subsequently reported to have been wasted by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone in Yemen.  Another American assassinated in the same attack (both killed without due process, if at all) by the JSOC and CIA was Samir Khan.  That is vigilante justice, or (more likely) fake vigilante justice.  Sometimes “reality erupts within the spectacle” (to paraphrase Guy Debord from his masterpiece tome Society of the Spectacle).  Just like those Hellfire missiles erupted (exploded).

I call al-Awlaki an agent (or asset) because that is my analysis of the facts (what is known).  I may be wrong.  I am, however, far more certain about the affiliation of Osama bin Laden.   The story of his “death” (Operation Neptune Spear) is the stuff of straight-to-DVD schlock which makes Death Wish look like Citizen Kane.

Which brings me to my initial inverted haiku:  7-5-7.  Thanks to the wonderful efforts of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, I was easily able to find just what I was looking for in a jiffy.  To wit, the original Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were built to withstand (without collapsing) the impact of a Boeing 707 aircraft (each tower) traveling at 600 mph.

Taking into account the different variants of the 707 (especially the popular 707-320C), we are probably talking about (conservatively) a 315,000-pound aircraft (maximum takeoff weight) carrying 21,000 gallons of fuel (fully-loaded).

Compare that to the 767s which crashed into the WTC on 9/11/01.  Yes, 767s are bigger…perhaps 25% heavier, but with a similar fuel capacity (24,000 gallons).

Yet at the Pentagon, we encountered a phantom 757.  The damage was not consistent with a plane crash, but rather with a missile.  Thierry Meyssan makes this exceedingly clear in his book Pentagate (2002).  And then there was United 93…an actual 757…most likely shot down, but mysteriously being trailed by a jet from Warren Buffet’s company NetJets (owned by Berkshire Hathaway).  Meanwhile, Ann Tatlock (CEO of Fiduciary Trust Co. International) was at Buffett’s charity golf and tennis tournament at Offutt AFB:  the command center of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  Ms. Tatlock would normally have been in her office at the World Trade Center (!) right where flight 175 crashed into the south tower.  Even President Bush decided to drop by Offutt AFB later in the day rather than returning to D.C.  Buffett’s guest list might be quite a piece of evidence for reinvestigating 9/11.

And so…Paul Kersey…an architect (like Minoru Yamasaki, whose masterpiece was brought down by controlled demolition…that is to say, bombs, on 9/11)…living in New York City.  He’s robbed of his family by some punks (including a young Jeff Goldblum) who must have seen A Clockwork Orange (1971) a few too many times.

I’m not gonna give away the plot (if you don’t already know it).  There are some ingenious details and great acting (particularly Bronson and Vincent Gardenia).

We are left with the most frightening wink and smile ever committed to celluloid.  Bronson’s “Gotcha!” is the smirk of justice gaining ground.

-PD

Mr. Majestyk [1974)

Charles Bronson was perhaps the best portrayer of the tough guy in cinema history.  This film, released the year before his excellent turn in Hard Times, was one of two Bronson flicks from ’74 (the other being the seminal Death Wish).  Director Richard Fleischer had previously helmed such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Dr. Doolittle, and Tora! Tora! Tora!  His film Soylent Green was released the year before Mr. Majestyk.

Our film takes place in rural Colorado where Bronson is a watermelon farmer.  We see Charles flex his tough guy skills early when he deftly disarms an aggressor and uses the butt of the shotgun to inflict (one would imagine) extreme pain to said punk’s groin region.  Tough without a gun…  Raymond Chandler immortalized Humphrey Bogart with those words and they are equally applicable here.  This is what many love about America.  Once upon a time the United States stood for righteous force–defensive force.  In this first fight of the film Bronson shoots no one.  He teaches a lesson.  Don’t play with me or you might get hurt.  It is admirable and lovable.

Even before this episode, we see Bronson stand up for the rights of migrant laborers at a gas station.  Bronson is the man in black (though he be clad in denim).  This is the truly-just justice about which Johnny Cash sang.

But all is not well in Edna, Colorado.  I can’t seem to locate such a town in modern day CO, but there is in fact an Edna Mine in Summit County.  The county seat, Breckenridge, is about 80 miles from Denver so this may be in fact the region ostensibly depicted in the film.

The police in Edna haul Bronson in for assaulting the man who accosted him with a shotgun.  One wonders whether perhaps the assailant (named Kopas) was a blood relative of the law enforcer in question.  The whole thing was over a labor dispute.  Kopas was trying to angle in on the labor market by coercing Bronson to hire a team of inexperienced watermelon pickers.  Bronson preferred to go with the experienced migrants he’d already hired.

As Bronson is languishing in jail, his ripe watermelon crop is going untended.  This is his livelihood at stake.  One sees a parallel to the character Charles played in Hard Times…a regular guy (both, incidentally, sporting newsboy caps).  We even see our workingman with his stock ’70s stache in this movie.

In the course of his incarceration, he becomes acquainted with a rather unsavory fellow named Renda.  Renda is a hitman.  As the prisoners are being transferred (somewhere) Renda’s organized crime buddies attempt to bust him out by hijacking the police caravan.  In the ensuing melee, Bronson and Renda make off in the prison bus.  Renda had been the only handcuffed prisoner (no doubt owing to a murder charge).

I won’t give away too much of the plot.  [N.B. The film was actually shot in Fremont and Otero counties.]

Perhaps it’s not the best movie ever made, but it further convinces me of Bronson’s talent.  Fleischer would go on to direct Conan the Destroyer (1984) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

One final thought…  Bronson eventually blasts a few guys with hunting rifles, but not until the situation is inevitable.  I admire the message of restraint.  Charles’ character is not out to kick anyone’s ass…he just wants to do his job:  honest work.  He doesn’t go looking for trouble, but when trouble comes after him he is prepared.  Here’s to Charles Bronson:  a great actor and a tough cookie!

 

-PD

Hard Times [1975)

Pauline Kael may have written about this film, but ultimately Susan Sontag’s recognition of Godard’s Vivre sa vie is more important to my philosophy of film criticism.  I mention Kael because she certainly championed director Walter Hill and for that I commend her.  I am even inclined to gravitate towards Andrew Sarris instead of Kael (though both seem mostly inconsequential to my understanding of cinema).  I eye aye. 

Let this suffice to lay the groundwork for what is auteur Walt Hill’s first film.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Mr. Hill because I was fortunate enough to once work with him.  He shook my hand and looked at me with a grandfatherly gaze of transference (or so it seemed).  Never had I been surrounded by Panavision cameras and the whole thing really made an impression on me, but the biggest impression was made by Hill’s kindness.

So I am unequivocally biased as concerns his oeuvre.  That said, this film isn’t perfect.  The script girl missed a big anachronism right off the bat:  an electric diesel locomotive.  Oops.  Set in the Great Depression, there are plenty of steam trains in this period piece, but the first train engine we see hadn’t yet been invented.  I credit my father with the keen eye (and rely on his expertise as a lifetime railroad man).

Also bad is James Coburn.  I LOVE James Coburn, but he is not particularly good in this flick.  I will mention The Carey Treatment till my dying breath as an example of his depth as an actor (especially when juxtaposed with his equally brilliant portrayal of Derek Flint).  Not sure what the problem was.  Perhaps he played the character in question just as Hill wanted, but it is really not a great use of his talents. 

Now for the good news.  Charles Bronson is magnificent in what is really an astounding picture for a first-time director.  Furthermore, we see the New Orleans which Hill would return to in Bullet to the Head (2012).  The two films even share a finale:  a face-off in a cavernous warehouse. 

Hill’s direction of the taciturn Bronson makes the whole thing a terse masterpiece.  As befits its concision of expression, I shall stop here.  Bravo Mr. Hill!

-PD