Thursday, May 1, 2008

Keeping Up

  Too many things going on at the moment to report properly. I stopped writing one book and decided to edit another. I didn't plan on touching this new (old) manuscript for some time but here I am head first into the editing process. This is the worst part about writing. If I could write it and throw it away and never have to edit it would be great.
  In the past week I took in episodes of The Sopranos, the Robert Ginty film The Exterminator and most recently Walker, directed by Alex Cox.
  Walker is the story of William Walker, American expat who went to Nicaragua to instill democracy and wound up becoming a dictator who eventually pushed to reinstate slavery in the region. He also had ambitions of taking over the regional countries in the area until he really fucked up and got himself executed. In the hands of Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, etc.) the film is a violent and sometimes comedic ode to American imperialism while underlining the facts yet somehow making Walker a likable character who's weak and flawed. The actors in the film are a who's-who of Cox's usual cast of players: Miguel Sandoval, Dick Rude, Joe Strummer, Sy Richardson, etc. Walker sometimes plays like a more serious version of Straight To Hell which was Cox's previous movie. The film disassembles itself by the last reel and turns into a strange parody much the way Blazing Saddles ended. There are plenty of sight gags and some inside jokes and the Joe Strummer soundtrack is one of the best of any Cox film. Mr. Strummer (RIP) also shows up uncredited as the character Faucet. I never understood why The Clash was so popular (or even considered "punk") but Strummer's solo career has always been overlooked. And he was a fun actor.
Best of all on this Criterion release are the extras, including a documentary of the making of the film which sometimes reminded me of The Burden of Dreams, the documentary about Werner Herzog's making of Fitzcarraldo. At times Walker reminds a little bit of a Herzog film, noticeably Aguire, der Zorn Gottes or Cobra Verde. Since Alex Cox has proven he can direct any genre, the film never feels historically inaccurate, however sporadically hysterical. The ensemble cast reminds me that this is very much an Alex Cox film (without whom, we'd have no Robert Rodriguez, Quinten or Alex De La Iglesia). After this film, its many poor reviews and anti-American/Reagan tone, Cox was blacklisted from Hollywood and wouldn't make another film until Highway Patrolman (which was filmed in Mexico in Spanish). In the 90's he set about making a wide range of films, all done in his own anarchistic style, experimental yet never straying from the tone he set for himself with his first film, Repo Man. His tone remains intact even when directing different genres (Death and the Compass, the surreal Three Business and one of my favorites: Revenger's Tragedy (which works as science fiction and historical recreation, strangely enough). As far as contemporaries I can only name Jim Jarmausch (who starred in Straight To Hell) for being as stubborn as Cox in his determination to make his films his own way. As far as his influences? I can think of three directors that influenced Cox: Sergio Corbucci, Sam Peckinpah and Louis Bunuel.

  Next up: The Exterminator. 
This film was one of those sleazy "grindhouse" pictures from the 80's that made me feel dirty and guilty after watching it recently. But it had all the great elements (cliches) of revenge movies made in the 80's. Let's see the check list:
  • Vietnam vet coming to New York in the early 80's
  • black buddy that saved him in 'Nam
  • working in a meat packing factory frequented by the mob
  • black buddy is crippled after attack by local thugs
  • prostitute mutilated in sleazy sex dive, rescued by hero
  • hero puts gangster through meat grinder
  • hero uses flamethrower to get revenge on gang members
  • this movie stars Christopher George
  What more does one need for a sleazy revenge classic from the 80's? Sure, it's not Rolling Thunder nor Death Wish 2 (or 3) but it is that one movie that spawned an equally sleazy sequel starring Mario Van Peebles. Those were the days and a lot of the footage of Manhattan from that period in history shows it. I think there's a Target or a musical theatre now where this film was shot in Times Square. Although not the greatest of films, I found myself nostalgic for this time in NYC (I was living there when this film was released). I wish they still made them like this.

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