Immersion: John Huston Ch 4

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Immersion: John Huston Ch 4
Current mood: recumbent

In the beginning there was nothing, and the Lord said “Let there be light”.

So begins John Huston’s cinematic adaptation of the first 23 chapters of Genesis, titled “The Bible” which is more than a bit of an overstatement, though Kansans would love it as it is a true literary adaptation, as opposed to a propagandistic preaching or an “interpretation” in a denser more literal sense. Obviously, the size and scope of the WHOLE Bible would make it’s FULL adaptation more challenging even than “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy plus the Hobbit(which I sincerely hope Peter Jackson makes). It seems clear to me that Huston came to the same conclusion, and his decision in approach was “when you get lost, go back and begin at the beginning.” which is certainly as valid as any other choice from an artistic and not theological perspective. Touchy stuff to play with, “Holy Books”, draw the wrong cartoon these days and people have riots that they use you as an excuse for-and by the way FUCK ALL THOSE PEOPLE who would riot and commit violence over a WORK of ART whether it be over Mohammed cartoons, Mapplethorpe, or Piss-Christ by Serrano, they rioted over Bunuel, and Wagner too. The fact that Art says to those people “FUCK your SENSITIVITIES” and continues to do what it does, is why there is any “civilization” AT ALL. Art exists to drag the society of man kicking and screaming away from it’s status quo of animal savagery, through either exploding “sacreds” which exist more as methods of control than as actual sancitity or as reaffirming or creating other “sacreds” more suited to the realities of the immediate time and place, through satire, provocation, inspiration, examination, manipulation, masturbation, self-destruction, self-sacrifice, beauty, lust, play, extension, and reflection Communicated as SELF-expression and described as a form of TRUTH. The Bible, as Huston treats it, is thereby resanctified by this 1966 film. Huston approaches the Bible as a “really good book with some good things to say” and as a work of Art rather than a work of dogma or “sacredness”. It is because of this approach that he is able to genuinely express any of it in the cinematic form whatsoever. Indeed it is a good book and does have many good things to say. I personally prefer the New testament actually taken from “the horse’s mouth” as opposed to the part Huston adapted, but we have covered why that worked out like that-in my opinion. Is it a flawed film, certainly, how could it not be. There are More, and more personally held, ideas about a book like this than you can count, so it is almost as interesting to examine what aspects Huston brings to the fore. Chief among these is an absolutist unwavering OBEDIANCE to GOD. I think it is no accident that the movie ends with the “psych-out” near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, beyond the ruins of Sodom which are a mirror of San Pietro. Remember, this old testament God is not the cool compassionate merciful God of the New Testament, and in fact there is almost an implication that God’s faith in humanity needs testing as much as our faith in him needs testing (specifically Abraham’s episode with Isaac). I mean if everything were all predetermined anyway, why bother testing Abraham? It isn’t really a test if it is predetermined, God KNOWS that he isn’t going to let Abraham kill Isaac, and he KNOWS that Abraham is willing to do it and WILL do it if ordered. So one must accept that this test could be as much a test of God’s faith in us as it is of ours in him, it definitely points to the existence of a choice, which if not followed, could possibly undo the workings of God’s “plan”. Very heavy stuff this book, this movie. No inbreeding with Eve either, since apparently, as the book reads, there was only Adam and Eve, they got pregnant and had Cain and Able, Cain killed Able and got sent “East of Eden to the land of Nod” where he started having kids – WITH WHO??? -then Adam and Eve had Seth, and then he had kids -WITH WHO????- you see the dilemma, but then, none of this is Huston’s fault. It is a great looking film, good SFX for it’s time, well acted for the most part by George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, John Huston himself as Noah. EPIC 3 hours run time, I really suggest that people check out as many Biblical pictures as possible, and this would be at the top of any list of those.

And then the 70’s happened, while not quite instantly. The fact is that the late 60’s were a bad phase for John Huston, crap movies mostly. Reflections in a Golden Eye is particularly bad and bafflingly so, you have Richard Burton, Liz Taylor, and Marlon Brando, with Huston directing it shoulda rocked and it sucks so bad it hurts my feelings. BUT THEN… he is reborn yet again by going back to his youth. Fellini says that every film he or any other Director makes is always and cannot ever not be, autobiographical. It is logical then, that Huston would find his metier again with a lowkey, Conrad Hall ASC shot piece called “Fat City”. Fat City incidentally is Stockton, California. This is a story about losers, and about dreams, and about hard reality for 2 boxers and a manager of boxers (played by Coach from “Cheers”). Stacy Keach is a washed up boxer who was sold out in a fixed fight in Panama by the trainer. Jeff Bridges is a young turk with a glass jaw who gets talked into trying to “go professional” because he “is a natural”. He falls into the hands of the inept and just loser manager, and does not do well. Both fighters are brought low by relationships with women. Keach with an Alcoholic(as he is) “freethinker” with an on/off con/excon boyfriend. Bridges with a good woman who gets knocked up by him, and they decide to take the job/domestic life path. The trainer continues to live, as a parasite, on boxers and boxing. This is a very personally felt movie, and Huston is both compassionate and unsparing of the realities of the RING and the lives that enter it. Huston was at one time a pro-boxer himself, and made it to State champion of California as a young man through an “unorthodox boxing style”. He no doubt had to fight in places like Stockton, and was in long enough to get an osmotic sense of the world. It shows. Low key, relatively flat story trajectory, good movie. Very French New Waveish, but with the “look” of an American 70’s Maverick movie, courtesy of Connie Hall, ASC.

“I had some problems with the “Law” here myself”

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a classic tale, written by John Milius (so you know it’s rough and tough and big and butch), and wonderfully photographed under VERY challenging conditions by Richard Moore. This movie I could go on and on about (and will, but not as much as I COULD), as a piece of TRUE INNOVATION, in a whole variety of ways. Milius is a great writer of macho-live-by-a-code pictures, and a fair director himself (The Wind and the Lion, Flight of the Intruder), so the departure from traditional cinema language (using incidental characters directly speaking to the camera as narrators to insert vignette episodes into the picture), and jumping in and out of dream-like sequences of personally subjective(by Roy Bean) moralizing. The whole idea of “rule of Law” is given a serious reverence which is all the more confusing by the fact that the IDEA of law, is used to cover complete blatant hypocrisy, corruption, robbery, murder, indeed Roy Bean becomes Judge after a rampage of vengeance which has him kill at LEAST a dozen men AND women who have conspired to rob and kill him. Victoria Principal makes her acting debut in the film as the Mexican mistress and later wife and baby-momma of Bean, and she really is very good. Paul Newman plays Roy Bean, and has an absolute BALL doing it. Amazing performance, FASCINATING philosophical positioning and deliberation, and the scene with him drunk, and the drunken Black Bear is worth watching the whole picture for alone. Just terrific, interesting, innovative cinema. Shows the dawn of a good decade for Huston.

The Mackintosh Man is better the second and third times you see it. It has a very unique perspective on the morality of the cold war, and the spy game in general. Is it really all just “hired contractors”, and nothing more than a deadly but playful game? Ostensibly the movie is about smoking out a Mole in British Intelligence, but Huston makes the picture into much more. Paul Newman is back as the Mackintosh Man, or rather “Mackintosh’s Man” as that is the name of his boss, the head of counterintelligence (MI5).James Mason is a great heavy as usual.Huston is very happy in the making of this film as it takes him back to Ireland to work, and it is a pretty fun picture as an entertainment. At times, Huston lets philosophizing and literary style contemplations drag things a bit, so it has a patchiness, and many people really hate the ending, but I found it refreshing.

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