Ray, Burnett, and Watkins

12 06 2008

I’m getting a bit “behind” so to speak with my viewings and its most likely a result of an inability to articulate my thoughts well about the three films below. So, instead, I decided to write three smaller articles on these films.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956)

In all honesty, this is probably a terrible movie. I’m sure that was the intention as it comes off so tongue-in-cheek. Still, more often than not, I never go for “campy” films. I suppose I’ll have to make an exception for this film. It’s definitely in the same vein as Ray’s earlier and much more famous Johnny Guitar, which is also quite funny. I think this one is even more over-the-top, though and features some of the most quotable dialogue ever. For what it is worth, James Mason’s character decline into insanity begins rather subtly until he starts go completely crazy. It is a bit disappointing that Ray has never seemed to follow through on the promise of the great “serious” films he made, like Rebel Without a Cause and The Savage Innocents. Still, this is a really fun way to spend an hour and a half.

Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)

A couple months back, I championed Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding – one of the most truthful and perceptive American films of all time. One could assume that I’d enjoy this earlier, and more celebrated film on an even greater level. Well, not quite true. It starts out quite promising: the bad acting is present just like in Burnett’s later film but it feels just as believable and spontaneous. Plus, there’s even a more conscious attempt at cinematic poetry. At a certain point, though, the film falls flat on its grainy and stilted face and precedes to drag to its conclusion. Even at 81 minutes, this feels bloated where as My Brother’s Wedding was pulsing with intriguing human behavior for almost two hours.

The Gladiators (Peter Watkins, 1969)

My first Watkins and a mixed experience, overall. There’s plenty of nice sequences here and the idea itself is pretty cool (think Stalker minus philosophy, plus politics) but overall, it seems a bit too clever for its own good. In other words, Watkins had a pretty funny and clever idea that probably shouldn’t have been used for a full length feature. The rather muddy visual style here seems to predict the 70s work of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. I can’t say I particularly like such an aesthetic, but it didn’t really taint the experience, which I was mostly just indifferent towards. I really liked the freeze-frames in the final sequence, though.

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3 responses

12 06 2008
Darren

You began with my least favorite of the six or seven Watkins film’s I’ve seen. In fact, I can barely even remember The Gladiators. The War Game, Punishment Park, Edvard Munch, and La Commune are all absolutely brilliant, though, particularly the last two, which are among the very best films I’ve seen in the last couple years.

12 06 2008
Jake Savage

Oh, I’m far from finished with Watkins. I have a pretty good feeling that many of my problems with The Gladiators will disappear in later Watkins films. At the very least, I’ll still see Edvard Munch if only because basically everyone loves that film.

By the way, thanks for stoppin’ by!

29 06 2008
Ed Howard

Edvard Munch is one of my favorite films ever, it’s a masterpiece.

The Gladiators has its moments, but it’s pretty weak in comparison to other Watkins. In a lot of ways, it feels like a trial run for Punishment Park, which explores similar themes but is much more aesthetically rigorous. That film packs quite a visceral punch. I’d definitely recommend moving on to more Watkins; as Darren says, everything else I’ve seen by him is better than The Gladiators, including the earlier films like The War Game and Culloden.

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