a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Purple Prose

(So I had this idea. As I never ever ever post these days, I'm going to jot down a couple -- or, as evidenced here, a tad more than that -- words on each old or new film I see. Taking a cue from Theo the Great, I'll spend a mere 15 minutes on each, forcing myself to organize my thoughts with a faux-deadline looming. Speaking of which, I may swing by to re-edit these fuckers should they wind up super-messy, which is bound to happen, and might very well have happened with entry one. And away we go...)

Billion Dollar Brain (1967, Ken Russell, UK)
Someone described this third (and last, theatrically anyway) of the Michael Caine Harry Palmer movies to me as a spy pic with absolutely no center, which is mostly right -- though in this case it’s more like everything’s at the center, each strand simultaneously superfluous and a keystone. Kept off the home video circuit due to issues with its too-brief use of “Hard Day’s Night” (though its dire reputation probably doesn’t help), it’s the definition of episodic, endlessly jumping from one thing to another: starts off with Palmer, having previously extricated himself from the M6, delivering a package of dubious eggs to Helsinki (!!) and slowly ascends (or devolves) into a faintly unrelated bit about Ed Begley’s hopping mad Texan oil baron trying to smite the Commies of the world. The latter especially seems like it could’ve been snipped in pre-production without damaging the plot much -- but then you’d miss Begley’s has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed grandstanding, as well as one of the most operatic mass death sequences ever strung together in a montage. Starts off faintly straightforward, if hopelessly convoluted, but Russell slowly grows more and more confident. At first he’s simply coming up with flashy establishing shots (favorite: screen filled with red, turns out to be ECU of a car’s backlight) or introducing Malden nude in a sauna while beating himself with olive branches. But then ever so slowly it grows weirder and weirder, eventually imploding into a fairly-together dry run for one of Russell’s fever dreams. Caine doesn’t so much act as stand around looking blankly puzzled (a deadpan “Okay...” seems to be his only thought), but Malden’s never been more loose and game, Oskar Hamolka squeezes in a couple batty moments, and Françoise Dorelac pulls off the soft-focus scorching stuff with aplomb. Maybe it’s just that I prefer Russell when he’s not trying to think, too. Best backhanded eulogy, maybe of ever: “He was a very stupid man. A patriot, of course. Very brave. During a war, such men earn medals, win victories. We are proud of them. But at such a time as now, a little bit stupid.” Grade: B


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