Saturday, September 16, 2017

Egyptian noir, noisy Parker, quiet Melville

Some question and observations from my recent spate of crime-movie viewing:
  • When did movies become music videos? Elevator to the Gallows used a small-group Miles Davis soundtrack to enhance the story mood. Logan Lucky, decades later and an ocean away, on the other hand, acts as if its viewers are incapable of processing, feeling, or thinking anything without a song to tell them what to do. And, if its opening scene, as offered on movie theater web sites, is characteristic of the movie as a whole, Baby Driver is even worse.
  • The above made me grateful for those considerable stretches of Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic where Jean-Pierre Melville let ambient sound tell the story.
  • Melville (or his sound engineers) used sound more subtly than did John Boorman (or his sound engineers) in the roughly contemporaneous Point Blank, based on The Hunter, Richard Stark's first novel featuring the affectless heistman Parker.  The overamplified footsteps of Lee Marvin in the latter film are overkill, one of that movie's few, er, missteps. Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic came near the end of Melville's career, while Point Blank was one of Boorman's earliest efforts. Could maturity have been responsible for Melville's resistance to gimmickry?
  • Point Blank is at or near the top of nearly everybody's best Parker adaptations, and it deserves to be there. But Boorman and Lee Marvin's Walker is not Stark's Parker. He's very much more rattled, conflicted, closer to being sucked up into the chaos of his time that Parker ever was. Perhaps that's because Stark's novel appeared in 1962, Boorman's movie in neurotic, psychedelic 1967.
  • Melville's movies look even better than they sound. Particularly in Un Flic, Melville's visual aesthetics (or his cinematographer's) are much like what I try to do in my own photography.
  • Logan Lucky has a distinctive look, too, thanks mostly to the cast, whose stolid, care-worn expressions are an eloquent counterpart to the glitzy commercialism of Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of the movie's central heist. The director, Stephen Soderbergh, knew what he wanted from his cast, and his cast knew how to deliver. Kudos to all.
  • The Nile Hilton Incident is the first noir(ish) movie I can recall set in Egypt. It has sex and it has police corruption, both familiar ingredients of American crime writing, but its time and place (Egypt, the "Arab Spring" in 2011) lend a sharper edge to the latter. The movie makes me want to look up Z and The Battle of Algiers.
  • The movie's protagonist, a relatively upright Cairo police officer named Noredin Mostafa, gets comically exasperated in an Internet shop, a scene that filled me with nostalgia for interesting experiences I'd had at public Internet cafes and shops in Tunisia, Croatia, and Germany. (My favorite was the Tunisian bloke who was about to get married and who, when I ran into him as I updated my blog at a Tunis Internet store, was browsing photos of prospective Russian brides. Or maybe it was the manager of the Internet shop in Split with whom I discussed Caetano Veloso and who confided that his dream was to see Neil Young in concert.) 
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Blogger Art Taylor said...

Love the wide-ranging observations and insights in your post here. We've talked about Elevator to the Gallows before, I know, but like how you use this as a springboard toward other thoughts as well.

September 17, 2017  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I'm a flaneur! I also say Elevator to the Gallows again after we talked, so it was fresh in my mind.

In fact, I may put up a post on internet cafes, and maybe others about music and sound engineering in movies.

September 17, 2017  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Is Logan Lucky worth seeing? I like a good heist movie and Soderbergh is a smart guy but his fake screen writing nom de plume seems designed to disarm criticism and I'm worried that there's going to be a sneering attitude towards blue collar people and that's the sort of thing that drives me up the wall...

September 21, 2017  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wondered a bit about that myself. A couple of the supporting characters seem like stock comic yokels, one or two seem handled with special sensitivity, but the bulk are played with that careworn look that would seem to indicate sympathy but may in fact be signs of excessive liberal reverence. I compared them a time or two to Scott Phillips' characters, but Phillips are funnier, more manic, more diabolical, and better rounded. Have you read Phillips? You ought to.

September 22, 2017  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


Unfortunately I dont know his work. I shall look him out. Did you ever Dogs of God. That, I think, was also West Virginia. Quite liked that.

September 22, 2017  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know it: I'll have a look, maybe once I get my Bouchercon preparations out of the way.

Scott wrote The Ice Harvest, a terrific novel that was turned into a pretty good movie. He has also written some other good novels and also some hysterically funny short stories.

Speaking of literature, tonight I saw A Time to Die, screenplay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes, and I think a relative of mine
may once have been married to the director.

September 22, 2017  

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