Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Point Blank (1967)

John Boorman’s sophomore thriller bewildered me the first time I watched it – granted I was half-asleep. Returning to it last night I found myself hypnotised by its artistry. If Orson Welles had made a crime thriller in the hippie era, it would have looked something like this, and the Wellesian influence is marked, from the jagged, time-distorting editing to the use of architectural monstrosities. A pithy script matches Boorman’s vivid, impressionistic, oft-haunting visuals; the nightclub punch-up is a sequence of crazed effervescence that Welles would have proud of. Boorman would later prove to be an occasionally brilliant, occasionally intolerable director, but here his experimental bent meshes perfectly with a tale of mean justice, wintry love, and mysterious politicking. Boorman predicts his own Excalibur in presenting an almost abstract quest for a grail that is supposed to be money, but this never rings true, yet nor is it revenge in the traditional sense – Lee Marvin’s Walker’s mission begins, rather than ends, with tracking down his wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker), and his friend, Reese (John Vernon), who betrayed him, and finds himself instead dedicated himself, with the aid of Keenan Wynn’s mysterious sensei, to a ruthless, methodical exposure of the food chain of the quasi-corporate mob, trying to find a beating heart somewhere that he can attack, and finding, eventually, there isn’t one. This intermeshes in strange ways with Walker’s loss of one sister, Acker, and his subsequent fling with another, Chris (Angie Dickinson), where Walker both exudes a kind of ice-burn sensuality, whilst remaining impervious, as if, in its way, his mission is both a repudiation of human concerns like love, yet, nonetheless, motivated by it. Boorman’s interest with the changing faces of lovers finds crystallisation in an especially strange shot where Marvin, Acker, Dickinson and Vernon morph into each-other. Boorman’s eye, like Lester’s in Petulia and Antonioni’s in Zabriskie Point, and perhaps more pointedly and efficiently than either, discovers something alien and inhuman in the glaring sunlight and boxy architecture of California, where even the intimacy of burial has become an instant consumer experience. This is contrasted by the bookends at Alcatraz and the Presidio, gothic mazes that contrast the wide-awake nightmare of the central span of the film. Marvin is at the height of his strident cool (having a good year, between this and The Dirty Dozen), and a strong supporting cast works well, especially the always-intriguing Dickinson. Some interpret Marvin’s disappearance into the shadows in the end to indicate that the whole film has been his dying fever dream, but I see no real evidence of this. Nonetheless, the film has an eerie, dream-like feel, as if, though perhaps Walker’s body did not die on Alcatraz, some piece of him did. Like Love’s Forever Changes, another ’67 landmark, it’s a work both very much of its era and yet, in its slippery surfaces and subterranean unease, still utterly contemporary.

Reese (John Vernon) and Walker (Lee Marvin): "I need your help!"

Walker reunited with wife Lynne. Happy homecoming, not. This shot goes on forever, encapsulating Walker's stoic silence and Lynne's trancelike sorrow, Boorman turning the frame into a merciless trap that she can only escape through suicide.

When they met - "It was raining..."

Four shots from the dream Walker has whilst sleeping in Lynne's house:

Savage intimacy;

Marvin's body langauge and Boorman's slow motion emphasises the kickback punishment of firing a gun - a self-enervating force;

Spilling the empty cartridges - hollow revenge, bullets spent shooting a pillow.

Five shots from 'The Movie House' sequence, which particularly reveals Welles' influence:
Hell is a go-go club.

Walker puts the boot into one of his attackers;

A soul singer coaxing an audience member into singing with him: Ahhhh!



Honey trap.

Man on the moon.

Fairfax (Keenan Wynn) and his hired killer (James Sikking) and the last victim, Brewster (Carroll O'Connor), within the Presidio. But Walker isn't so stupid as he was born yesterday...

...and he sinks back into the shadows. Is he dead, dreaming, or has he simply realised he has been used, and that his quest is futile?

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