Monday, March 21, 2011

Tarantino's March Madness Pt.9

Over the course of March the New Beverly Cinema is housing Quentin Tarantino's March Madness. The whole month is in celebration of Quentin Tarantino's birthday and will feature 37 movies selected by the master himself. Most of the films that are playing come from Tarantino's personal collection and a number of them are not available on DVD. The month long programming will feature plenty of grindhouse movies that have been influential to Tarantino and plenty of others as well. Tarantino's March Madness will also be capped off with a seven day run of the uncut version to "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair." I will be attending thirteen nights of programming at the New Beverly Cinema and in an effort to give my readers the most in-depth experience I can I've planned to breakdown each of the events. Hope you enjoy and here's Part Nine...

Note: Technically this is the 14th event of Tarantino's March Madness however it is only the 9th event I've attended. I missed the "Crack House" and "Redneck Miller" double bill to kick off the month, the night of Ralph Bakshi animation with "Coonskin" and "Hey Good Lookin'," as well as the first midnight feature of March Madness, "Shame of the Jungle." Sadly I missed Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's extravaganza "Grindhouse" and "Machete" double (triple) bill as well as "Man Friday" and "Cooley High" double on March 16th and 17th.

Going into the evening double feature I really had no idea what I was in for other than two westerns. Well, that is not entirely true. I knew that print being screened for "Charley-One-Eye" was flown in from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia especially for this show and the "Kid Blue" print was made from archival print back in 2007. I also knew Richard Roundtree was in the first feature and Dennis Hopper was in the second, but other than those slim details I didn't know anything. Recently I've begun not researching movies like I use to and instead have been going into films cold. This isn't always the case, but I like the experience of seeing a film knowing little to nothing as possible. It helps to keep my presumptions and expectations in check.

The trailers for the evening were mainly to promote a number of features that are coming up in the final two weeks of Tarantino's March Madness. Ahead of "Charley-One-Eye" we saw "Duel of the Iron Fist" and "Five Minutes to Live." Ahead of "Kid Blue" we saw "Kill Bill" and "Pulp Fiction." Duel of the Iron Fist runs March 25th and 26th with "The Avenging Eagle," while Five Minutes to Live screens once on March 24th along with the classic Robert Mitchum film "Thunder Road." 'Duel' I've only seen once, a very long time ago and mainly only remember it for its influence on the Wu-Tang Clan's music. The trailer up-sells the cat-like speed and utter precision the kung-fu masters posses. I'm not sure it will live up to the tagline of the greatest duel, but its influence is obvious. The second trailer ahead of Charley-One-Eye ran under the title of "Door-to-Door Maniac" but is the 1961 Johnny Cash vehicle originally called Five Minutes to Live. Cash looks rigid as all hell in this drama about a bank robbery that goes wrong and I can't wait to see it play out on the big screen in 35mm. The two trailers ahead of Kid Blue also promoted the finale of Tarantino's March Madness with Kill Bill and the final midnight feature of the month Pulp Fiction. Technically Pulp Fiction isn't really apart of March Madness because it screens April 1st and 2nd at midnight and also regularly plays at the Bev but it could be a nice cap to the month of programming if The Whole Bloody Affair wasn't enough. It was really cool seeing the Kill Bill trailer. It did its job of further building anticipation for the uncut version of Tarantino's homage to exploitation, Japanese chanbara, Hong Kong action cinema and spaghetti westerns. As much as it pains me to say this, Pulp Fiction proves that you can get tired of a movie. Something I use to believe could not happen. I've always been a heavy re-watcher. I love re-watching movies. Growing up I always watched each movie rental at least twice before returning it, so the idea of getting tired of a movie has always seemed foreign to me, but with Pulp Fiction, exactly that has happened. I cringe when I hear Dick Dale's guitar roll in "Misirlou." I'm tired of the nonlinear narrative as flawless as it is in 'Fiction.' For one reason or another the movie I cherished growing up has become a thorn in my side. I still respect it for its influence and think the film is a classic, but at the same time it drives me bananas.

"Charley-One-Eye" is a trip. The film is pretty abstract and never really gives the viewer a straight forward plot to follow. The film's main goal (it seems) was to take a brutal look at racism and also a unlikely friendship in the late 1800's. We are introduced to a carnal black man played by Richard Roundtree who is on the run. We can see from his wardrobe that he is a Civil War veteran, but anything else is left up to discover. As the film progresses (via flashbacks) we learn why he is on the run. The Black Man stumbles upon The Indian played by Roy Thinnes and together the duo begin to trek across the desert looking for water and shelter. We also see glimpses of a Bounty Hunter played by Nigel Davenport, who is tracking the Black Man. No one in the film is ever given a proper name, instead they throw stereotypical names like daggers back and forth at each other. For instance the Black Man never calls the Indian the same name. He alternates between names like Geronimo, Sitting Bull or Red Man. Names that are meant to be jab at the Native American. Reversely the Indian does not really do the same. He is far more the stoic type. That said, we do hear him throw the "N" word around a number of times at the Black Man. The odd part, it never seems that the Indian is using the word "nigger" as an insult, but more using it as the only name he knows to call the Black Man. One thing is for sure, racism is very prevalent throughout. Its apparent as all the sweat covering Richard Roundtree as he bakes under the sun. Not only between the Black Man and Indian but everyone they come across. In one scene the duo come across a group of Mexicans traveling by wagon and even they begin to throw insults at both men plain as day.

Director Don Chaffey does a interesting job of expressing the two men's dependency on one another. As the film opens you wouldn't dare think the Black Man would need any assistance, but as the film pushes on you see why he does. As I previous said, the Black Man is carnal, seemingly acting only on impulse. Driven by gluttony. He does not weigh his options, but rather just takes them. The Indian meanwhile comes across far more calculated. He is temperance personified. Their tandem together makes for an interesting couple. An odd couple of sorts consisting of constraint and excessiveness. Its a very strange balance but it works in a number of ways. One is the direction of Don Chaffey. Chaffey in a very roundabout way illustrates their friendship as it grows. These two seem ready to kill the other, but for some reason they put up with the other and Chaffey really does an engaging job of painting this odd couple as their relationship grows and their journey pushes forward. A side note, after this film Chaffey went on to direct Disney's "Pete's Dragon," another film that does a good job of digging into a peculiar friendship. A second example of the strange balance is the performances. Richard Roundtree and Roy Thinnes are offensive and infecting. Their relationship is suppose to be odd and is suppose to feel uncomfortable. They are not two guys who would normally hang out. Roundtree and Thinnes do a seasoned job of implying that. As the relationship starts you wonder who will kill who first but as it develops we see a much different side to the friendship. One note of their friendship I found entrancing was their belting laughter. There are a number of scenes with the duo breaking out into devilish laughter as insults are thrown back and forth and it is a perfect example of how infectious their on screen relationship becomes.

The cinematography throughout 'One-Eye' is extremely out of the norm. It tells the story in a very uncomfortable way. Putting the audience through the same wasteland and desperation the two men are under. While the Black Man is escaping and seems lost in the desert, cinematographer Kenneth Talbot paints the same feeling with his camera work. He places the audience under the heavy and hot sun. You feel famished watching the movie and you'll definitely reach for your beverage more than usual. We also sense the fear and tension between the two men and the bounty hunter through Talbot's cinematography. The score written by John Cameron also discombobulates adding to the unlikely tone to the film trenched in retribution. The score does a good job of keeping the sluggish pace of the film moving forward with a returning melody, however the melody becomes tedious beginning to wear at the viewer's sanity much like the sanity of our main characters.

The last thing I want to talk about in Charley-One-Eye is chickens. The title refers to the name of a chicken the Indian makes friends with. Right, the only thing in this film with a given name is a chicken. A chicken! At first I felt the chicken was just another distraction within the film, but its not, it is symbolism. The chicken represents humanity, friendship and a dream of normalcy. Both these men want normalcy in their lives and Charley-One-Eye represents their shared ability to find that normalcy they crave. It may seem silly at the onset, but in reality it is a simple and poignant explanation of our dreams and aspirations. Every man wants a trade.

"Kid Blue" is a sluggishly paced western about a outlaw trying to do right. The film follows Bickford Waner (Dennis Hopper) as he decides instead of robbing trains and banks, he wants to find a regular job. This is a western that illustrates a picture of the disappearing west. A west that is being overrun by capitalism, the industrial revolution and urbanization. Don't let me oversell this because we don't see a metropolitan city by any means, but we do feel the backdrop of a changing America. A changing America that has made this once outlaw see himself as needing to adapt along with the rest of the country.

The best thing about Kid Blue is the rich characters. I really did enjoy everyone in the film. From major role players all the way down to the bit parts. The characters scripted by Bud Shrake help to give the story its engagement. That said it is the performances that make the film lasting. Dennis Hopper, Warren Oates, Peter Boyle, Ben Johnson, Clifton James, José Torvay, Raplh Waite, Janice Rule, Lee Purcell, M. Emmet Walsh and Mel Stewart all deliver memorable performances. Peter Boyle as Preacher Bob and Ben Johnson as Sheriff 'Mean John' Simpson will be the performances you will walk away talking about. Boyle is hilarious as the not so sane preacher and Johnson is vindicative and slimy as his character's name implies. José Torvay's performance as Old Coyote is mighty stereotypical of Native Americans but the joke works here. Well enough that one shouldn't be too offended by the obvious racism.

Racism much like in the first film of the evening is prevalent throughout. We see the racism aimed on three Native Americans who live in the town of Dime Box. They call the area their home just as the white settlers do and have refused to relocate as so many other did. At one point they are even asked, why they would want to stay in awful Dime Box when they could live on a nice reservation. Irony runs deep in that line. No reservation was a nice place to live and the fact that 'Kid Blue' paints them as such goes to imprint how backwards our nation has been. In another sequence we see the Sheriff of Dime Box tell the citizens they may want to wait a long while before going into the river after the Red Man had been in there. Much of this dialogue is painful and has a bit of a sting to it, but overall the amount of harsh racism portrayed here is no where near as dark as the first film.

Kid Blue runs just under two hours however it feels longer than that do to all the meandering Bud Shrake's script takes before reaching a resolution. I didn't really have a problem with the lackadaisical approach to the storytelling because the character development was worth it. That said, you can certainly feel the drama stroll along. I tend to enjoy movies that have strong character development that pays off even if it takes awhile to get there and the relationship between Bickford and Reese played by Warren Oates is a solid example of that. Every scene shared between Hopper and Oates is electric and genuine. The two actors did a seasoned job of playing off each other and Shrake's dialogue helped to provide a few laughs plus show two men grow into friends. Another aspect of 'Blue' that gives it a slow pace is the number of menial jobs Bickford takes while working in Dime Box. Director James Frawley takes the audience through the torment of working simple jobs. Forcing us to feel Bickford's frustrations as they begin to fester and swell up. While it is clear the film takes its time, I found the pay off to be well worth it.

Walking away from the evening I noticed a number of running themes through both films. The strongest one was, searching for a dream. In both films the lead characters are looking for an escape but also something stable. They want a life of their own. Something they can be comfortable in. Acceptance is also prevalent in both films. We all want to have somewhere we can feel we belong and that desire jumped off the screen between these two films. I've previously touched on racism while discussing both films but once again these films are illustrations of periods in American history that I get the shivers from. On the bright side both films have running themes of friendship. Something that ended up giving both films reasons to not only remember them but have actually connected with or maybe at the very least made you think. One final similarity worth noting between both films is chickens. Yup, chickens are heavily featured in both films and I can assure you that chickens were harmed in the making of these two movies. Chicken enthusiasts may want to steer clear. The print flown in from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia for 'Charley-One-Eye' was a treat to see. It is old and it is weathered, but it adds to the structure of the film perfectly. As for the newly restored 'Kid Blue' print, it was unmarred. The color looked fantastic and there was nothing but stunning quality to gander at. Knowing that neither of these titles are available on DVD and seeing them in such a capacity is why I love the New Beverly. Another enjoyable evening of programming for March Madness!

Quentin Tarantino's March Madness continues throughout the rest of the month. Check the New Beverly's website for full details and times. Also stay tuned for more coverage of March Madness as I will be continuing to do write-up's on the rest of the events scheduled. You can also check out my previous coverage to March Madness with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8.