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domenica 24 aprile 2011

Modern Westerns: John Flynn’s male bonding characters between crime, action and drama. The outfit - Rolling Thunder

The Outfit


Released from prison, Earl (Robert Duvall) is brought to a Motel by his girlfriend Bett (Karen Black). Once there, he understands there’s something wrong, while Bett confesses she had been beaten and tortured by some people in order to organize a set up. She has been told they only want to teach him a lesson. Earl waits patiently,  and soon gets rid of the killer sent to “lecture” him with bullets. He discovers that a powerful organized crime outfit wants to kill him and all his old pals, because once, they’ve hit a bank that was owned by the syndicate.
Matter of fact his own brother has been already executed. Earl is screaming for blood and money, as he and Bett want compensation. When the other old partner, Cody (Joe Don Baker) is on board the operation, they start to retaliate against the outfit, hitting all their joints in and out LA. Earl is determined to stop, only when the mob boss (Robert Ryan) will accept to pay 250.000 dollars cash. Things get worse, when instead of being paid, the trio is ambushed and Bett killed. Now it’s not matter of money anymore, it’s close personal; Earl and Cody decide to go for the final hit: the boss’ mansion. With numerous stars from the 40’s noir films like Robert Ryan, Jane Greer and more, Flynn from a novel of Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) pays  homage to the old crime films.
What is very interesting, like in his following films, while he fails to recreate the atmosphere of the noir, he delivers instead a modern crime film with the typical structure of the western. On the run misfits, organized gangs of pursuers, final confrontations, are the very same ones to be found in any western of the past, with cars instead of horses, and modern weapons. The mythic outlaws of the frontier live again; when at the end Earl and Cody will getaway, the latter will declare: “the good guys always win”. Of course there aren’t any heroes John Wayne’s style here, we still take side with a couple of tough criminals that don’t shilly-shally a second before to shoot. The film is fun to watch and is well structured, maybe failing to pay off a little in the end, when things get too obvious. Still, is a joy to look at Duvall’s bad guy with an heart and his own moral code impossible to understand for us; his character is the most definite and Flynn gives rhythm to the story with good action sequences, in which the trio hits the outfit with sardonic brutality.
The movie has been re mastered by Warner, as part of the Warner Archive Collection, for the first time on DVD. Its OAR 1.85:1 preserved and enhanced 16X9. The quality is good, without to excel, the grainy, rough, 70’s feel of Bruce Surtees’ lensing doesn’t help; there are few dirts here and there and some vertical lines at the beginning of last reel. The lines were almost eliminated with a probable wet gate transfer, a proper restoration would have got rid of them. The bit rate is low, since WAC are DVD-R most of the times 5; like in this case, since the movie runs 103 mins. the use of a 9 would have been welcome. No extras as always for WAC, just the trailer included under here. 

The Outfit Theatrical Trailer

Rolling Thunder

 1973, Major Charles Rane (William Devane) is back home together with his buddy Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones) freed from a prison camp in Vietnam where they were held back after their capture during the war. They are welcome by fellow citizens and families, their coming back is a major event.Johnny is in distress, appalled by this celebration. Charlie comforts him: they are home, they made it, everything is going to be fine. But things are not how they were meant to be. Rane is a hometown hero, he’s awarded with a brand new red Cadillac, and given a large sum in silver dollars, one for each day of imprisonment, but his family is falling apart. His son doesn’t even remember him, and his wife after all these years, has found a new love in a family friend and local sheriff police man Cliff (Lawrason Driscoll). Charlie tries to adapt to the new course of his life, but can’t get rid of the strict rules he imposed himself while he was trying to survive both tortures and prison. He even meets a beautiful blonde girl (Lynda Haynes) that doesn’t hide her fascination for the quiet and tormented man. One day, back home, Charles is attacked by some thugs in his own apartment. The gang wants the funds Charlie has been given and when the man refuses, they don’t hesitate to torture him. But Charlie stoically suffers in silence, remembering in his mind what he had to endure before. Not even when they chop his hand in a garbage disposal of the kitchen sink, the man talks.
But unfortunately his son and wife are back, and the child to stop the ongoing bloodshed reveals where the money is. Soon after the gangsters got it, they shoot the three to death. But Charlie survives. After a few weeks recover, he learns how to use an artificial limb, a prosthesis: a shiny, steel made hook, that is going to be more dangerous than any flesh and bones hand. Charlie tells Cliff he can’t remember what happened, but he’s secretly planning to get revenge, because he does remember and cannot forget, neither forgive. Helped by the girl, Charlie leaves for Mexico on an hunt trip to track down the part American part Mexican gang that is hiding south of the border.
The film was written by Paul Schrader, paying more than an homage to his Taxi driver script (in the first draft of the screenplay Charlie even encounters Travis Bickle the character from Taxi driver), and Heywood Gould that was brought in on a later stage to revise the script and toned down the amass of violence in it, for a more psychological approach to the story. John Flynn directs the movie following in the beginning a slow pace, setting things little by little, showing us all the difficulties of the veterans to come back and to adapt to a life that can’t be normal for them anymore. Masked as exploitation, the film is a fine psychologically study of its characters, their motivations and their sufferings. It lacks the visionary power of Taxi Driver, but maybe it was exactly what both producer and director wanted to achieve, to be averse of that kind of atmosphere for a realistic and dramatic even if more conventional approach. The more interesting issue is the transformation of the man after he has suffered and experienced the horrors of war and its physical violence. Unable to adapt to a common life, Rane and Johnny, suffer a kind of Stockholm syndrome. As the prisoners fascinated by their jailers at the point to be mentally subjected,  they are unable to relate with other human beings without using violence, so part of their life by this time, that is almost giving them relief from the ordinary. It has became their secret companion making them suffer and giving them pleasure at the same time. Exemplary is a scene in which Charlie asks Cliff to hold him to show how the Vietcong were torturing him; when Cliff fails to put more effort because is scared to hurt him, Charlie screams for more and more, as he was secretly enjoying the abuse. Johnny unable to get back to a normal life in a noisy family, signs up for other ten years in the Marines and when Charlie tells him, he has found the criminals doesn’t wait a minute to grab his weapons and follow him for the final showdown. Their relationship with violence it’s unavoidable, it is part of their life.
But Flynn doesn’t forget movies are made also to entertain, and when he gets to the carnage at the end, he delivers an action sequence that is as gruesome as exciting. A shoot them all piece of filmmaking that functions as the cathartic moment for the viewers, whose inner tension has been built up slowly during the whole film. The future of our heroes is uncertain, they survive the battle, but how this act of revenge will change their lives is not meant to know. Produced and supposed to be released by 20TH Century Fox, the film due to its controversial and graphic violence contents, was sold out to AIP and released by this studio in 1977. Fox went all trough the process until the very end, before to  shelve it. From the pictures included in this post, it is possible to look at 20TH Century Fox presents writing deleted just with a common black marker above the title. Previously available on murky VHS tapes and DVD editions that used old analog masters; the movie has been re-mastered from MGM in what looks like to be HD and it has been made available in US through their Limited Edition Collection on DVD-R. While in Spain the Studio released a proper pressed one, the very same examined here. Picture quality is very good with no evident dirts, but it’s a rough movie with a grainy cinematography and a dark mood, specially in Charlie’s house scenes, where lights are kept to minimum, as to suggest the uncomfortable situation of Charlie’s life and the darkness that reside in his inner soul. The movie retains its OAR 1.85:1, 16X9 enhanced, the English audio it’s ok, but a proper equalization would have been more than welcome. On May 30TH 2011, Optimum will release a DVD and BRD in UK, the artwork displayed above is to be confirmed as well as tech specs; but the relevance of the film is stated by the decision to release it in an HD format.
Over the years the movie has acquired a cult status, mostly due to Tarantino’s appreciation for it (so far that his company Rolling Thunder devoted to re release cult classics has been named after this film). It is nowadays a revival houses favourite around US; It is also a good chance to look for the work of actor William Devane who delivers a subtle and tormented performance, helped by younger Tommy Lee Jones that with only few bits manage to steal the scene, with his restrained, hyper tense character, whose rage could explode from  a minute to another.
John Flynn’s films have ever been good vehicles for the actors involved, as the director always paid close attention to a fine casting to deliver the right performances. The characters depicted are tormented and always divided between good and evil. Flynn shows us a contemporary world of crime that looks very much similar to the old frontier. There’s no room for tenderness in this desolated land of cruelty dominated by outlaws, that aren’t less bloodthirsty than in the past. Motivations are greed, rage and brutality, the women abused and overwhelmed find little room, close to these mean men, whose only loyalty bonds are with their own fellows. It’s still the wild, wild West, even if we don’t want to notice. Flynn’s career went further with at least two other films worth watching: the excellent Best Seller and the Stallone vehicle Lock Up (one of the few good of the actor’s career in the mid 80’s). I strongly recommend to watch Flynn’s movies as one of the best examples of 70’s filmmaking, with a classic non aged style, that is more effective now than ever. In an era of shaking hand held cameras used to mask the inefficiency and technical limits of modern directors. 

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

domenica 17 aprile 2011

Roy Ward Baker’s Inferno and his tridimensional anti hero

Out in the desert a couple is staging the disappearance of the woman’s husband. After jammed the car in the sand, her lover leaves traces with a pair of boots, like if the other man had walked away. Mr. Carson is a healthy millionaire with drinking problems and a bad temper. He has been left by his wife and his friend up a mountain, after he has fallen from horse breaking his leg.
With few supplies in a bag and just water for a day, the man starts wonder what happened to the two, to soon realize they are not coming back to rescue him. The cheating couple has taken advantage of this unfortunate event; they have staged the disappearance of Mr. Carson, after one of his frequent flying to rage as they tell to the Police. The law enforcement questions them and starts to look for the man, but the two have a well planned plot, since Mr. Carson is in the exactly opposite direction from where they have left the car and the footprints. It’s a perfect plan, but they have not consider that Carson is not an easy man to give up.
With the few means at his disposal,  he manages to fix his broken leg and starts to climb down the rocky mountain; and when the lovers realize he could still be alive, they go for a hunt trying to tracking him down and to kill him once and for all.
Shot in 1953 by Roy Ward Baker, who will later direct the celebrated A night to remember and such Hammer and Amicus horror cults like Legend of the seven golden vampire, Scars of Dracula, And now the screaming starts just to name few, the film was the first and only Fox production to be shot in 3D and in gorgeous Technicolor. While the 3D was the next big thing in those years, Zanuck the great man in charge of production at Fox was more interested to develop other filming process to compete with new rising star of American entertainment: television. Fox gave birth shortly after to his revolutionary wide screen format CinemaScope and never produced a 3D picture anymore (until now).
With a simple plot, survive and revenge, and at only 83 minutes length, Inferno was supposed to fill the typical double bill program, as it did when Fox paired it with Rawhide.
While the film has been forgotten and little seen during the years, it shines of his own bright light and it’s a tight exercise in tension and suspense.
Mostly is due to Baker simple and effective direction, when with a shoestring budget he manages the get the best from the desert rocks and landscapes in which the biggest part of the story takes place. The use of the stereoscopic process to film  this was certainly as ucommon as modern, when most of the directors were interested only to scare the pants off their viewers launching stuff to the camera in every possible manner.
The movie suffers in the city scenes between the two lovers, with little chemistry between Rhonda Fleming (a 3D aficionado) and William Lundigan, while when we cut to Carson, angrily played by the excellent Robert Ryan, and his task to survive, the story flies high and delivers. There’s no 3D trickery until we reach the final confrontation between Carson and his greedy opponent, with throwing of objects against the camera while the duo fight to survive. If the lovers’ characters are kept simple with their motivations and acts, what is the most interesting aspect of the film is Carson’s personality. It is the most uncommon for a commercial movie, specially in those years, to depict an unsympathetic man like Carson. The movie greatness lies in the simple fact that we take side with an anti hero in full: a man who’s rich, spoiled and simply bad as we are told from many of his friends and co workers when they are interrogated by the detectives. We assist to a transformation of this man in a very peculiar way: the battle to survive against the forces of nature and the difficulties he has to endure, will change him forever and he’ll start to appreciate even the smallest sip of water, which relevance he has never even thought before.
Little by little the viewer empathy, initially set with the lovers because of the depiction of Carson as a brutal man, shifts toward the latter, due to the fine writing in a screenplay so subtle to achieve this very difficult change. While his acts in the beginning are motivated by the will of revenge, they’ll be refocused during the film. There are more important things in life than to prevail on someone else: true friendship and mutual understanding.
The ending is as anticlimactic as unsatisfactory for a 50’s audience left puzzled from the show, but it’s excellent. The typical final fight has already taken place, and Carson and a guy who found him in the desert are driving to town, when Carson sees on the edge of the road his wife stranded and abandoned. He gives her a lift to civilization. In this cathartic moment Carson sets free his personality, once and for all. He just doesn’t care anymore, he will not be prey of anger and rage since there’s something else now waiting for him: pain transformed him and made him a better human being.
The DVD examined here, is an official Fox release in Spain, and it comes housed in a nice cardboard as all Fox releases under the line Cinema Classics.The movie, presented in 2D, retains its OAR of 1.33:1 and looks good, with few minor issues. A vertical line at the right side of the frame is shown for the whole film, and there’s some inconsistency in the colour palette from one reel to another. This is mostly due to the 3D process, I believe, probably the movie has been re-mastered from composite film material struck from A and B 3D negatives and from  some dupe negatives. Specially the first reel looks gorgeous in vibrant Technicolor, while the others look less definite and saturated. There are no extras except the always useless cast and crew lists, and stills that are nothing less than screen grabs from the digital master. It’s easy to wonder how beautiful would be to watch at old 3D films like this, on a full HD 3D BRD. But since not even a DVD is available in most of the markets, I’m unfortunately afraid this is a need never to be fulfilled.
I strongly recommend to watch this enjoyable and well made, little film, with an uncommon Noir (in colour) Western structure that makes it as unusual as innovative in mixing the genres; supported by a strong performance by favourite tough guy Robert Ryan.

Film Mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

martedì 12 aprile 2011

The man who saved the Blue Bird. A friendly chat with Producer Paul Maslansky

Paul Maslansky has always been an eclectic producer from the early stage of his career, when he financed Micheal Reeves’ She Beast. As producer and executive, took care of such genre classics like Race with the devil, Eyewitness, Raw meat, Circle of iron and Walter Hill’s debut behind the camera Hard Times. Paul has produced also The Russia House and many other big studios films, not to mention he started up one of the most successful franchises in Hollywood history, Police Academy, that spawned six sequels. His solo venture as a director is the blaxploitation fave Sugar Hill. So I was more than happy, when he accepted to dedicate a little of his time to Kinoglazorama to speak about The Blue Bird.

Did you come up with the idea to produce an adaptation of the Blue Bird? 
No, I was involved in a later stage of the production. The idea for the movie came from Edward Lewis that was also responsible for the casting of the main stars.

So, what exactly happened?
It happened that James Coco got sick, because of the food and Ava Gardner was hill as well and had to go back to London.
The production was already in its fifth or sixth week of shooting, and everything was at a dead halt.

And you stepped in to save the day…
Alan Ladd Jr. asked me if I would have liked to go back to Russia to warm up things with a fresh start.

Right, I have been there already, for what can be considered the first major co-production between the Eastern block and a Western company, an Italian one.

This is very interesting I didn’t find anything about it…
It was 1968 and the producer Franco Cristaldi, one of the best Italian producers of all times, asked me to follow the shooting of The Red Tent. It was an USSR coproduction with his company Vides, shot on location. It was about the trip of Umberto Nobile and his dirigible at the conquer of North Pole. I spent almost an year there and got acquainted with the Lenfilm studios in Leningrad and the way to do things.

It’s the reason you got involved…
Right. Coco was so seriously hill, and had to be replaced; the whole shooting was to start again from the scratch because he played a major role in the movie (The Dog) and was almost in every scene. 
They needed someone that could get along with the locals and was familiar and trusted by the Soviets. And I was, because of my previous experience.

So you got there, and?
The main problem was that the people put in charge before, had no experience to manage a film with a crew speaking two different languages. This was the biggest issue to be worked out and the second one was food.
Taylor had hers brought from England, but the others were complaining.

What about the director?
Cukor was an incredible man, very active even if he was already in his seventies. He complained that everybody was late on set all the time, the crew but even Taylor.
We did a new schedule that pleased him a lot, and brought in a new cinematographer Freddie Young an amazing person and incredibly gifted. The previous cinematographer a Russian, Jonas Gritsius, had no experience with movies in colour and had to be replaced, even because of the language barrier between him and Cukor. Young got along very well with George.

And everything went smooth?
It did. After We started again and Gardner was back, the production had no problems. Only the first day, Taylor was late again and Cukor was very upset. I went to her hotel room and she just asked 15 minutes. I talked to her, asked her to help me and George to complete the picture. “I’m a professional” she said, and I had to worry anymore, she was just wonderful.

What about Fonda and Gardner?
I believe Ava didn’t enjoy the shooting as we did after it was started again. But she was fine.

Rumours have it that Fonda was delivering pro communism speeches to the Russian crew. Is this true or just a rumour?
Never happened after I stepped in, rumour has it she made some comments about the Vietnam war, but this was before, I never heard any of it. On the contrary Taylor was asked by the Russian Government to deliver a message to the astronauts of the first conjunct space mission Apollo-Soyuz; that just launched. An incredible moment for everybody.

The budget had skyrocket to 12 millions…
But most of it was brought in by the Russians, let’s say that in the end the picture cost was around 5 millions for  Fox.

There are lavish costumes and expensive stage constructions...
Everything was hand made. At that time, it wasn’t easy to find stuff in USSR. Like silk for instance, or some kind of light bulbs. Taylor had this beautiful crystal wand made by the prop master. Taylor was so fascinated and smashed it against something, she thought it was made of plastic, but it wasn’t.
It was made of real glass, was the only one and broke in a thousand pieces. She was so concerned, like everybody, but we had it remade by night.

And you made connections that helped you later
Yes, when I did The Russia House and one of the Police Academy. During the Red Tent shooting, I befriended Nikita Mihalkov and during the Blue Bird, Aleksandr Arshansky that was senior executive producer for the Russians. An incredible man, excellent producer. After a while, we started to have  weekly parties between Americans and Russians. They were calling us the Arshansky–Maslansky duo. Soviet technicians were fascinated by US films, because they couldn’t see that much of them; they were always asking questions.

Why the critic response was so negative, I believe that even with flows the movie it’s entertaining…
I have no idea. Maybe because at that time, everything that was coming from Russia was suspiciously regarded, even if involved us.
But I’m proud of the film, I believe it’s good and it’s a pity it’s not widely available. It matches the Shirley Temple's one for sure.

Only in Spain Fox made it available, no frills edition…
It’s a shame. I would have been of some help. I’m always available when it comes to one of my pictures.

thanks to Paul Maslansky

domenica 10 aprile 2011

Taylor, Fonda, Gardner, Cukor and their hunt for The blue bird

Mytyl e Tyltyl are sister and brother kids, leaving with their parents in a nice cottage in the woods. One night The Light makes an apparition and tells them to go to look for the Blue Bird of happiness that is going to cure a sick girl living nearby. With help of Cat, Dog, Water, Fire, Bread, Milk and Sugar, all morphed in some kind of human beings by the supernatural powers of Light, the two embarks in a adventurous journey in which they’ll meet their dead grandparents, The Dark, some ghosts and other amazing creatures.
The Blue Bird was the first United States, USSR co-production and was shot in Russia on location, and at the prestigious Lenfilm Studios.
With a stellar female cast, Elizabeth Taylor (kids’ Mother and The Light), Jane Fonda (The Dark) and Ava Gardner (Luxury) the choice for a director was a natural one: George Cukor one of the greatest actresses’ helmer of all times (The women, Dinner at eight  just to name few).
The production was doomed from the beginning and went trough a painful shooting plagued with any sort of troubles, including fights between actors and directors, and between cast and crew of different language and work habits.
With a final cost of twelve millions dollars, the movie went in general release through 20TH Century Fox in 1976, was lambasted by critics and ignored by the audience, grossing a mere nine hundred thousand in its initial run.
Was the movie so bad? Not really.
This large scale production makes excellent use of the lavish costumes and the amazing built on stage sets; the whole look of the film has a sense of grandeur and of epic scale venture, but fails to deliver the goods in storytelling and narrative.
This is the typical case of a big Studio production with a stellar cast and with larger than life ambitions.
Cukor had been able in the past to manage and deliver excellent on location vehicles with big stars, like Bhowani Junction for instance, but he had to deal here with a script in which the construction of the story is as irresolute as episodic and makes no good use of the source material: the play L'Oiseau bleu by Nobel prize winner for literature Maurice Maeterlinck, that have been already adapted many times for the screen.
Maybe it was such erratic screenplay that ultimate led to undertone performances by the whole navigate cast and by the kids; specially the little girl Mytyl, played by later pop sensation Patsy Kensit in her screen debut. Cukor’s direction as well is lazy and sloppy, failing to give enough rhythm and to create the sense of wonder the story would required. Because of this, one could assume that Cukor, at the end of his career, had lost his touch, but he didn’t, matter of fact he directed one of his finest films (his final) five years later at the age of eighty two: Rich and Famous. It is very probable that everything went so wrong, and he just couldn’t saved the day.
Another problem is the tone of the of the picture: too light for grownups, and too dark at times for children, with some disturbing scenes that certainly could affect the smaller ones. But a nice message is delivered in the end: there’s no quest for happiness, that it’s just around the corner, if you know where to look for; the blue bird being right in a cage hanging in the kids’ kitchen.
It’s a pity that such talented and creative persons involved weren’t able to fully display their skills. The movie remains a nice entertainment even with all its flows, there are some fine characters and kids can still enjoy the fights between the Cat and the Dog and get some good inputs about life, love and family.
Fox was not eager to release this title in the digital format, and the film has been available only in Russia in the Ruscico catalogue.
The DVD examined here is an official Fox release in Spain, Region 2 Pal, the only one at the moment of this writing. The Amaray case comes housed in a nice cardboard, the film has been re-mastered from an inferior source, probably a low contrast print or an interpositive, the definition is too soft and the image too dark at times, but there are no dirts or damages of any kind; the aspect ratio 1.78:1, 4:3.
A lot of the original film grain is preserved, but the huge employ of optical effects complicate the view, specially during the cross fades and the animated special effects; this is a limit of the photographic process used at the time.
The audio is original mono in English, Spanish subtitles available and removable. Quality of the sound is mediocre at its best, the track appears to be sourced from film material with no equalization, but no hiss or pops are present.
There are almost no extras in the disc, just a photo gallery (freeze frames from video) and useless cast and crew list.
I still recommend this film to all your kids, maybe not the very small ones. Or maybe I’m just being wrong, since kids nowadays are used to watch movies and play videogames much more controversial than this fashionable but unresolved film.

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

domenica 3 aprile 2011

Political Science Fiction for the thinking man: three films of Piotr Szulkin.

Wojna światów - Następne stulecie
(The war of the worlds: next century, 1981)

Iron Idem is a successful presenter of a TV program dedicated to independent news. It’s new year’s eve 1999, and twelve days before, a spaceship from Mars has landed in Poland.
The government encourages the people to greet the Martians, small fat little men with silver raincoats, and to celebrate them.
But there’s something wrong: Idem is forced to change his program, reading news that he didn’t write by himself, while the government has started to promote a volunteer donation of blood that sounds like an imposition every hour more.
Gigantic TV sets are placed in the streets, and one night Idem is arrested, and his wife beaten to death is carried away by the police under the meticulous observation of a Martian.
Idem is required to follow orders and the whole TV station is transformed in a huge propaganda machine supporting the friendship with the Martians, that nothing less are then bloodthirsty little parasites.
Idem is expelled from his own apartment, devastated by the guards, and left with nothing. He’s alone, surrounded and regularly looked after. The new conniving regime wants him to deliver good news every day, as the TV station has became the only source of information and inspiration for the citizens who are constantly requested to behave properly.
Only an old man wants to rise up, blasting the TV station off; and Idem makes it clear with him: he’ll come along.
Idem rebels in the end, delivering a speech during a live show, set up to salute the departing aliens, to let the people open their eyes, with any result since everybody has been completely brainwashed.
While the aliens are leaving, the old man tells Idem he’s going on with his plan, only then Idem realizes that the old fella has been manipulated and he’s always followed by cameras that records his actions. Trying to save him, Idem is arrested and showed a crew filming fake dead men and mourning mothers that are nothing less than extras paid for the job.
The government is already changing his strategy: the aliens were like a plague and left many dead after their departure.
The old man exploding before to reach the TV station, is sold on air as an hero trying to stop the space invaders.
Idem is again part of the misinformation conspiracy. He was the one who was inciting the mass to love the strangers and for this he must be punished as a traitor with a death sentence.
Idem is in front of the execution platoon, the event is aired live. When the soldiers fire, he dies. But only in the live show, in reality he frees himself and walks away. There’s not even the need to kill him anymore, since the audience saw him die, and it’s enough.
Idem opens the gates of a stage and goes away disappearing in the mist.
The most unusual of Invasion films, Wojna światów - Następne stulecie, is an allegory of media power and influence. The invasion is taking place more in the mind of the viewers, than for real. They are forced to believe what they watch at the TV and what is told them to be the truth. We don’t even know if the aliens truly came or everything was just a set up, an excuse to take control over the lives of the citizens, domesticated with fear and impositions. The aliens are a metaphor for the Russians' invasion, the supposed to happen one, and that Colonel Jaruzelski used as an excuse to impose martial law over the country in December 1981, becoming really a dictator. The allusion to the Communist regime and propaganda is evident, in this Orwellian tale, told with a dark sarcastic tone, sometimes almost flowing to comedy. An aspect that probably helped to make it away with the censorship.
The ending is one of the most potent scene of the film and it’s shot with master timing and visual strength; its message is as enigmatic as  disconcerting. The whole movie is about the perception of the reality as filtered through the   media, whose power is so strong to overcome it. In 1981 this was a sort of premonition of an “invasion” that would became real two decades later. Every day the media are showing images out of context, edited together, and commented  by journalists that promote each one his own agenda. There’s no objectivity anymore, a gossip spread even on line could became a lasting weeks truth.
All this manipulation is used by the governments to sedate the minds of the people, or to exploit some aroused fears, to get approval from her. A weak,  timorous brain is easier to control.

 The war of the worlds: next century

O-bi, O-ba - Koniec cywilizacji
(O-bi, O-ba: the end of civilization, 1984)

After a disastrous atomic war with the Booroons, that left earth a desolated nuclear wasteland,  a group of one thousand survivors are living in a dome on the peak of a mountain.
Soft, one of their leaders, is daily dealing with problems, contaminated people and an impending settling of the whole structure.
Soft has been able to convince the survivors to reach this shelter before the catastrophe, because he has proclaimed that one day an Ark would come to rescue.
Using the Bible’s myth of Noah’s Ark, Soft has been able to soften the fearful shocked minds and give them something to hope for, when he was only buying time.
In the falling apart structure, the caravansary of different types are acting like a scaled down model of a contemporary society. The rich still can afford to buy some goods and live decently, the poor are wandering around trying to warm their bodies up, the military are still following standard operating procedure, obeying to a line of command that doesn’t exist anymore.
Trading is the common way to survive: some trade goods, some other useless objects from the past, some women trade their body in the world’s ancient profession.
Gea, one of these prostitutes, has an affair with Soft but can’t live with him, until the Ark will come and everything will change.
Trying to convince a poisoned engineer, to fix the structure, Soft is informed that the dome has been built to last one year only and there’s nothing he could do.
While the place starts to fall apart, so does the people living in it, hysteria and madness are prevailing.
Gea dies in an accident, practising some acrobatics that should help her once in space.
Soft only hope is a plane, he discovers to exist somewhere in the place, but when he reaches it, the vehicle is severely damaged having been tore down to pieces, to coin money for the trades in the dome.
Part of the structure falls down, revealing the icy external temperatures. Believing the Ark has come to rescue, the people moves on towards it and disappears in the frozen mist.
Soft is outside, when he realizes a balloon came for him. Gea is guiding it and waits for the man, who jumps on it with his bag. Looking down, Soft sees himself in the snow. He launches the bag to the very same self who starts walking in the radioactive storm.
It’s obviously a dream. To be rescued it’s impossible, everybody is doomed to a certain death.
With a bigger budget, than his previous work, Szulkin delivers an amazing piece of filmmaking. Desperate and bleak, the future depicted in this hopeless tale of survival, reserves zero to the humanity’s microcosm crawling in the collapsing place. They learned nothing from the disaster occurred and they are living the very same way the were doing before, with all their greed, desperation and selfishness. As Wells inspired his previous film, Szulkin here proposes a retelling of the Bible’s myth of the Ark, only this time the Ark will metaphorically sink, with  redemption and salvation for anybody.
The fall of the dome is a symbol of the fall of the Communism; the poor society living in it, and had nothing, is left now with a even more mysterious and unknown fate.
Soft, is very much alike Colonel Jaruzelski trying to keep together a regime that was undergoing the many inexorable changes in the country, without succeeding to stop the inevitable and historical fail of the Communism.
The whole story takes places in an underground facility and the use of an abandoned factory is a saving costs and very effective choice. This set, once lighted, gives Szulkin the possibility to shoot long sequences with a Steadycam following his actors, moving along with a crowd of extras.
The result from a technical point of view is outstanding, and gives a movie a feel of richness and grandeur. But it’s the whole script that works so well, supported by the performances of Jerzy Stuhr and Krystyna Janda, some of the same stars of Wojna światów - Następne stulecie. A special mention for the set designers and decorators for the use of simple means with the most effective results. With less funny tones than his previous film, the belonging to a genre like Science Fiction, I believe helped Szulkin again to avoid troubles with the censors.
 Obi, Oba: the end of civilization

Ga, Ga,- Chwala bohaterom
(Ga, Ga: glory to the heroes, 1985)

In the future people convicted for crimes are sent in space aboard of giant cargos. Frome there, they have the chance to reform, volunteering (not really) for a discovery program of the galaxy. Each one of them is dispatched into the unknown on a rocket, with the mission to explore and conquer unidentified planets.
The mission consists primary to hoist a flag on the foreign soil and declare its Earthly possession, then collect few samples and wait for the shuttle to come back to rescue, if it’s ever going to do that. Prisoner 287138, lands on planet Australia 458, and to his most surprise is welcome by a slimy officer in charge of greetings the “heroes”.
The place is a damp, and looks very much alike Poland in the 70’s. In the old car, sent for him the Hero meets a beautiful underage prostitute, called Once, sent to greeting him even more with a quick lay.
Life on the planet is very much miserable, people is starving and probably turned to cannibalism, crime, gambling and pimping the most notable professions.
Suddenly our Hero discovers what the natives are expecting him to do: to commit a crime, if gruesome the better,  so that he can be punished with a solemn ceremony aired live on TV, in which he’ll be impaled.
This occurred to all the previous men from space and the ones who will come in the future.
Hero is not very happy about this, and he’ll try to escape with Once to save both their lives.
A dark comedy, with the typical Eastern European taste for sarcasm, making fun out of extreme and political incorrect situations. Ga,Ga shows the corruption and fall of the government institutions, as the Polish society experienced, like many ex Communist countries, after the collapse of the regime.
Australia 458 looks and feels like Poland and Eastern Europe in the late 80’s when people set free from the severe control of the oppression, started to get use to bad Western behaviours.
Organized crime, strictly repressed before, took over and in some cases penetrated in the state institutions of entire regions, laundering the dirty money in safe business and acquiring immense fortunes and power.
Szulkin is aware of this circumstance of moral decay, and turned once more to his favourite genre sci-fi, to deliver his act of accusation, yet again with a sarcastic and corrosive black humour.
The movie is interesting and worth a watch, even if a step back from his previous works. There’s a feel that a bigger budget, would have been useful and the construction of the story lacks the rhythm of his early films, and most of all, their visionary authority. Not with this standing, Ga, Ga remains an enjoyable trip to a distant planet in space that echoes our very own. 

Ga, Ga: glory to the heroes
Szulkin’s movies are not well known in Western countries even if they had circulation in many festivals around the world. Maybe because Szulkin was working within a genre that in the 80’s was still considered a minor one.
His films are impressive as for the themes confronted as for their visual strength, often reached with few means.
Even if we didn’t examine his first film Golem that I intend to dissect in a later post, Obi-Oba is the best of them all because: the synthesis of themes, visuals and storytelling is perfectly achieved.
Szulkin used science fiction as it should be used, in an allegorical way, to depict the misery of Polish society and world’s ones in general. Someone expecting gigantic, brainless, robots beating the hell out of each other with dazzling spfx, should turn somewhere else. But on the contrary, the ones looking for an entertainment that could make them think, about so many important political and social issues, will be perfectly comfortable here.
The movies are available on DVDs Region 0 Pal in re-mastered editions (1.85:1, 1.78:1 16X9 enhanced), with few dirts here and there, the original film materials in good shape  were transferred with a good picture quality.  There are English subtitles on all the features, but not for the extras that consist of trailers and interviews to Szulkin. They can be purchased on line at Polish retailers.

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar