The Conversation – A Study of Ambiguity

A Tuesday morning… I sit here again with the kitten in my lap.  The flow of films which I have been casting my net over continues with, perhaps, an obvious choice. The Conversation.  This is a mid ’70s film starring Gene Hackman and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  Actually, just saying “directed by” is doing Coppola a disservice.  He actually wrote, produced and directed this film.  For that reason this is a very personal film.  Now… you could google the film title and find out all you need to know about the workings and the worth of this film.  So I’ll just issue swathes of my own colour on the subject.

I’m taking a break from music at the moment.  I completed a couple of albums recently and I feel the need to recharge my batteries.  What better than to just discuss art that has influenced, or is influencing, my life?  You’ll get a vibe of where I’m coming from… and I may just find a nuance for my next mojo-period.

The Conversation is a very interesting film.  It has a pace that only ’70’s cinema seemed to allow.  A slow, dripping, rhythmical time frame.  The film’s plot concerns the intricacies of sound.  Therefore… this film could be viewed as a piece of music that happens to have been filmed.  Music as visual.  Sound as sight.  For me, this is the most important aspect of The Conversation.

Harry Caul is a professional eavesdropper. He uses the most modern methods of the time to record people’s conversations.  He inhabits the background of life.  He is a shadowy figure who is dedicated to his work at the expense of everything else.  Gene Hackman pulls off the performance of his career here, and you can again draw a line through the likes of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.  The ‘actor’ portraying reality rather than ‘acting’.

Harry Caul is given an assignment to record a conversation between two people in a busy city centre.  He does so, and then listens to the tape.  He believes he’s stumbled upon a murder plot and goes about trying to save the people concerned.  A very simple premise… made very complicated by the layers of impenetrable sound.  This film is the audio equivalent of the ’60s film, Blow-Up (which is a classic film in its own right!).

This film has rhythm… almost pulsating.  Not pulsating with ‘excitement’!  This is a film that washes over you like ambient music.  It’s not until the ending that the true ‘thriller’ nature becomes apparent.  For the most part this film is a character study.  In fact it seems I’ve been basking in ‘character study’ films recently.

The nature of the sound recording is fascinating to me.  Remember that I am a music producer.  The nostalgia, the clunkiness of the analogue tape reels.  The wires, the buttons, the dust… Harry Caul lives the life that I hanker for – but a life that no longer exists.  For we live in a different age.  Honestly, any of you could download software from the internet right now that would put all the equipment in The Conversation to shame.  But nevertheless… it still takes talent and dedication to derive meaningful sound from sub-par field recordings… and it is this time-consuming slog upon which The Conversation concentrates.  I love this film.  I remember seeing it when I was a teenager.  I was hooked by it. Hooked in a way that the general public wouldn’t be.  For, like the films I have reviewed before… this is no blockbuster.  This is a heartfelt, personal trip.  Coppola had just made The Godfather.  When asked by the studio if he would make The Godfather Part II, Coppola replied “Only if I can make The Conversation“.  He realised his personal flight of fancy on the back of a blockbuster.  For this I tip my hat in his direction.  This is a man who has made some of the greatest films of all time.  And The Conversation might just be the best of them.  I’m probably alone in that opinion… but as I say… this film has particular relevance to anyone who is interested in sound design.

A mention must be made to Harrison Ford’s performance.  He plays the ‘baddie’ to a very sophisticated level considering how little he is actually required to do.  A mesmerising performance and you can see how he rose through the ranks to be an international superstar.

So… I don’t necessarily feel I need to go any further.  I just wanted to give you a flavour of a film that has resonance with me and my life.  Only watch it if you enjoy slow, smouldering film.  Otherwise you will cry “BORING!”.  Ha ha!

Positives then?  Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford.  The study of personal freedom and loneliness.  The camera work which feels like surveillance.  At times you feel like you are a peeping tom looking into a man’s life where you have no place being.  The technology is fantastic.  The grime, the dedication, the obsession.  The drip, drip of plot.  The layering of detail.  Detail upon detail until a picture begins to emerge.  The sublime piano soundtrack (referenced years later in Zodiac – see the links? 🙂 ).  This film is a study in ambiguity.  There is a key line which Harry coaxes from his taped conversation, and depending on the way you hear the words – the inflections – depends on how you understand the plot.

The Negatives?  Harry plays Saxophone to relax.  I’m not a fan of the sax… reminds me of people at school who didn’t really like or understand music.  When asked what their favourite instrument was they would always say “saxophone”.  I wish Harry had played a bit of blues/jazz guitar.

There is a scene in the middle of the film where Harry brings a load of ‘friends’ back to his ‘secret’ sound studio.  They hang out and party.  This does not seem fitting for a character who has been established so strongly as a man dedicated to personal secrecy… to being unnoticed, to being a person with no ID.  The scene is necessary for plot development… so I understand its inclusion… and I don’t feel it is a huge negative.  I can kind of understand that Harry has been out for the evening with people who also work in surveillance and therefore people who he considers ‘friends’.. or at least ‘acquaintances’.  Perhaps it’s a reveal that Harry is perhaps a little human after all.

So… a beautiful, intriguing personal film made by a great director at the very top of his game.

The Conversation – 9/10

Zodiac – A Study of Obsession

A review of another film that I love.  Just me and my new kitten sitting here on a dreary Friday morning.  It’s either write a review… or write a song.  I’m not in the mood to write a song… so, I’ll try to convince you to watch another film that I think is worthy of your time.  That pretty much explains my consistent high scores.  I’m only reviewing films that I like.  If I was reviewing the latest releases you would see a whole different world of scoring pain.

Zodiac is based on the true events concerning a 60s/70s America based serial killer.  The distinguishing fact about this particular killer was that he chose to write letters to the papers, ‘Jack the Ripper’ stylee.  He also used coded messages that required deciphering. He named himself ‘Zodiac’.

The film opens with a shock first kill before the opening credits.  The first thing you notice is the gorgeous pastel shades and the beautiful lighting.  Make no mistake, this is a pretty film – a very stylistic film, almost fake looking in the way that Edward Scissor Hands was.  I’m watching on BluRay and the whole experience is stunning!  Zodiac is directed by David Fincher, a favourite of mine, and his hallmarks are all over every scene.  The opening credits warp you through a psychedelic 60’s drug induced haze into the film proper.  And the film proper is a piece of 1970’s American cinema.  The tone, aspects of the look, and especially the pacing are bang on 1970s modern American Cinema. This film is a kind of companion piece to movies such as All The President’s Men and The Conversation.

The film centres around the San Francisco Chronicle.  The office of the paper actually reminds me of the office in All The President’s Men… you kind of know the path this film is going to take immediately.  We are introduced to Paul Avery, the Chronicle’s crime reporter, played by Robert Downey Jr.  Avery is a troubled individual and Downey Jr plays him with downtrodden style.  I think this is a tour de force by Downey Jr.  He nails the role.

We are also introduced to cartoonist, Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.  Graysmith is an oddly introverted character and in this respect Gyllenhaal is an example of perfect casting.  Graysmith becomes obsessed during the course of the film with identifying the Zodiac killer.  In fact the book he eventually writes is the source of inspiration for this film.

I just have to hark back to the visuals again.  This is a stunningly shot film.  The effects work is superb throughout and is so subtly done that a lot of the audience would probably be unaware of its existence!  25 minutes into the film we are subjected to an awesome ‘original Grand Theft Auto-esque’ top down shot of a taxi ride.  This plan view tracking shot is like a living video game… absolutely phenomenal.   You can probably pick up on the fact that I like the look of this film!

Let’s mention the music.  Fantastic choices of rock music to indicate the passing of time and beautiful interconnecting piano pieces.  The soundtrack is consistent with the film’s 70’s leanings.

I mentioned the passing of time.  This film is very much about time.  The film spans decades and Fincher’s use of visual and audio techniques to show the passage of time is incredible.  Of course, with the passing of time comes the progression of character.  Avery disintegrates, Graysmith disintegrates and integrates … not sure that reads right!  Ha ha!  Graysmith’s life crumbles and yet his personal resolve builds.

On the police side of things we have Dave Toschi (played by Dave Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (played by Anthony Edwards).  At one point Toschi is wearing a Columbo style mac.  This film is just my kind of film!!!  The obsession with the Zodiac killer drives both men to despair.  You can see similarities between Avery and Toschi.  Personal destruction brought about by obsessive behaviour.  In fact you can almost think of this film as a study of obsession.

So… the Zodiac killer.  This film is similar to All The President’s Men in its depiction of the progress of a story based on fact.  There are also hints of Stone’s JFK in that Fincher seems to point us towards a suspect.  A suspect that is made out by the film to be the true suspect.  This reminds me of all those ‘Jack the Ripper’ documentaries that each purport to have finally identified the killer.  What, for me lifts this film above other ‘crime’ thrillers is the showing of the forensic detail.  This may be as a result of a decade of CSI on the television… but I believe that it’s really just Fincher wanting to present the case as is.  For me, this film presents the minutiae of the forensic case brilliantly.  Footwear mark evidence, so often to this day the ugly, neglected sibling of the fingerprint, is brought to the fore.  Fingerprints, ballistics, similarities in modus operandi and thorough research are shown in all their dry, drawn out glory.

What interests me the most is the weight of  ‘truth’ and ‘value’ placed purely upon questioned document evidence in the Zodiac case.  The film shows suspects being ruled out purely because their handwriting does not match the letters attributed to the Zodiac killer.  Even when a whole wealth of other circumstantial evidence would appear to make someone a prime suspect, the opinion of the handwriting expert is the be all and end all.  Okay, I accept that the police at the time only really had the letters as a solid link between the crimes.  The surviving witnesses all described different looking people as being the killer.  Also, there was no DNA evidence back then.  All the killer really had to do was wear a pair of gloves, be careful, and he would have had very few problems with evading capture.  But the killer chose to write those letters.  Therefore I do understand how those letters became so important in establishing a case against any suspect.  However, there are so many flaws with using handwriting evidence as a bedrock for an investigation.  I really found this aspect of the film rather good.  I was impressed by the fact that so much time was given to the discussion of this evidence – evidence that may have in fact hindered rather than helped all concerned.

In the end the film can be viewed in two ways:  One, as the accurate-ish depiction of behind the scenes work on a serial killer case. Two, as the destruction of people’s lives as the result of an obsession.

So, I feel like I should trot out my usual positive/negative paragraphs as I work towards a score.

Positives: Robert Downey Jr is superb.  I’m a fan of his anyway, but he does excel here!  The acting in general is just outstanding.  Brian Cox gives a mountain of a performance and all the leads act their hearts out!  I think I need to single out the actor who plays the ‘main suspect’.  He is terrifying.  Great job!  I love the visuals of the film and the marvellous representation of the passing of time.  I love the ruthless intelligence and the trust of the director that the audience will be ‘fit for purpose’ regarding the forensic detail.

Negatives:  Hmmmm.  If I’m going to be picky I’d rather Robert Downey Jr had actually talked during the film rather than mumbled.  On a 10th watch I have no problems with it… but recalling my first viewing I do remember shouting “What? .. WHAT?!?” at the screen a few times! 😉

I am not a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal, so that should be enough to knock a point off right there.  However, I am man enough to admit that he’s good in this film… so… I’ll put that complaint on the back burner.

Also, a lot of the actors in the film have now cropped up on TV shows.  They are all excellent… and it’s not the film’s fault.  This is my problem!  I see the handwriting expert and think “Hey, it’s Larry David’s doctor!!!”.  This is my problem.  For example, in this specific case, the actor who plays the handwriting expert is an excellent old guy.  He is brilliant in this and Curb.  He improves the film.  Therefore this negative is my problem!  For me to live with and get over!!!

The end.  It’s kind of unsatisfying… but again, not really a fault of the film.  More a fault of reality!!!  I’ll also call a negative at a great scare towards the end which turns out to be a cinematic, story-telling trick.  The kind of scare a horror film throws at you when it just SUDDENLY SCREAMS REALLY LOUDLY in a quiet bit!  Ha ha!  But the scare in this film is at least carried out with some panache.  And if I was gonna re-cut the film I’d leave the section in… so, really, how much of a negative do I consider it?

So…  who was the Zodiac killer?  The film puts enough circumstantial evidence forward for their prime suspect – enough for me to buy into it.  However, having read around the case the whole thing is a bit of a minefield.  DNA evidence here, fingerprints there.  I think, to be honest, it’s all too long ago to ever get a handle on now… unless some new evidence is one day uncovered.

Hmmmm.  So, a score, a score…

Zodiac – 9/10

Raging Bull – A Study of Jealousy

Another day another review.  Another Martin Scorcese film.  Perhaps THE Martin Scorcese film.

Raging Bull opened the 1980s.  Filmed in gritty black and white and shot in an authentic documentary style, this film is an artistic marvel.  Scorcese is at his best here, filling every frame with total, uncompromising power.

This is a truly brutal film.  Physically and emotionally brutal.  There are devastating scenes of emotional and physical abuse… make no mistake, this is not a popcorn flick.  This film is no Shutter Island.  In fact it shares more with a film I have reviewed previously, Taxi Driver.  For this film too is like an essay on relationships and violence.  This film is, more specifically, a study of jealousy.

Raging Bull is, at face value, a film about boxing.  However, it is actually nothing of the sort.  Let me explain.  Raging Bull tells the story of middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta and his battles with the people around him, and most importantly the war with himself.  You see, Jake LaMotta is a jealous guy.  He is also an intensely unlike-able character.  Whereas, for all his faults, I could relate in many ways to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and find a modicum of  ‘goodness’ deep within,  Jake LaMotta is a more detestable prospect.  There are parallels between Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and perhaps we are viewing portrayals of men with mental health issues.  These films are studies.  And for my money, Raging Bull is the ultimate character study.  Boxing takes a back seat.  Boxing is the vehicle used to forward the story, but this is not a boxing film.

I love the Rocky films.  I regard the first film in the series extremely highly.  And in some ways, Rocky wasn’t actually a film about boxing either.  Rocky was the story of a loveable loser who overcame the odds to make something of his personal life.  Raging Bull is the story of an unlovable loser who overcomes the odds stacked very much in his favour, to destroy himself.  I try to give nothing away in my reviews.  I want you to be able to watch the film and experience it for the ‘first time’.  Safe to say though that you can expect a rough ride with the story of Jake LaMotta.  The film is based on the memoir ‘written’ by LaMotta himself.  It has been adapted by Paul Schrader who also wrote Taxi Driver.  Between the recollections of LaMotta, the known facts, and the filter of Schrader’s very much opinionated mind we get one of the bleakest portrayals of a jealous man ever committed to celluloid.

The film’s opening titles are an amazing sequence combining classical music with a boxer in the ring.  The story itself is bookended by an older LaMotta, a cabaret LaMotta, going through the motions backstage at a comedy club.  This allows the flashback for the main film.  Robert De Niro plays LaMotta and this is probably De Niro’s best performance.  He is gripping, scary, brutal and awe-inspiring.  It is one of those ‘movie clichés’ that in preparing for the role, De Niro became so good at boxing that people suggested he could have won the middleweight title for real.  I don’t know about that… but I do know that I wouldn’t have wanted to have met Di Niro in a back alley in 1980!  (besides which, I would only have been 5 or something!!!).  This is truly De Niro’s film, his tour de force.  LaMotta’s intense violence is shocking.  De Niro’s playing of that violence is magnificent.  Who the hell could play a supporting role to this majesty of acting? Step forward one Joe Pesci.

Joe Pesci is absolutely outstanding in the role of LaMotta’s brother.  Anyone who has seen him in action in Casino or Goodfellas perhaps knows what to expect.  I think this is the first time Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci had worked together.  Joe Pesci is a frightening presence.  Even cowering in the huge shadow of LaMotta, Pesci’s character Joey is a scarily violent, knife-edge presence.  De Niro and Pesci are like a double act… a shocking double act.  In fact, for the two lead performances alone this film should be a 10 out of 10.  Hmmmm… 10 out of 10.  This film could be a 10 out of 10!

Brutal boxing scenes.  I haven’t even really mentioned the brutal boxing scenes.  These scenes of carnage litter the movie to advance the story – to show the onward march of LaMotta’s career.  They are filmed with so much trickery, so much magic. Scorcese is at the very top of his game.  The boxing is so real it hurts to watch.  The documentary style of cinematography is absolutely fitting for this film.  I have been watching the Blu-ray disc and I’ve got to say it looks superb.  The film grain and the searing black and white makes the film leap from the screen.

The scene where LaMotta asks his brother to punch him in the face is one of those classic moments of cinema.  10 out of 10 written all over it.  This film is a complete study of dysfunctional relationships, jealousy and violence.

So far so good… any negatives?  Hmmmm.  Well, I have to mention Cathy Moriarty as LaMotta’s abused wife Vicky.  I’ve just never been sure about her performance.  She’s stunning to look at… but, well… I just don’t know.  At the start of the film I think she’s supposed to be about 15.  I just don’t buy it.  Her acting seems out of sorts too.  I could draw comparisons to Cybil Shepherd in Taxi Driver – a similar kind of detached playing of a role.  But whereas I buy into Cybil Shepherd, I just remain unconvinced by Moriarty.  This is not a huge negative for there are points in the film where she excels.  I just don’t think she quite competes with De Niro and Pesci…. but then, realistically, who could?

Some of the make-up worn by De Niro throughout the film, the prosthetics perhaps rather than the make-up, to give him a beat up look do not always totally convince.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t gonna knock a mark off the score, and most of the time it looks excellent… it’s just that ‘sometimes’ it looks to me a little odd.

And… what is up with Joe Pesci’s hair?!?  Again, not enough to knock a mark off… but his hair is just mad!!!

I think my main concern with the film would be the pacing.  This is a slow film.  I like it.  I love it.  But I can imagine others finding it really tough going.  I would compare it to Bladerunner, a similarly slow film.  I love the building of layers in film.  I love the intensity created by having the freedom to linger on a subject.  The kind of lingering that was tolerated in 70s cinema.  But others won’t love the linger… they will just turn off.  Consider the type of films that you like.  If you like Transformers you will HATE Raging Bull!!!  I am not joking.  One of the best films of all time or not… you will HATE it!  For me, I would have liked the pace to have been tightened a little… but this is not a film you watch for fun.  This film is an educational experience!

Overall… this is a monumental film.  A work of art.  As I said with Taxi Driver… if you want to read the score as a 10 out of 10 then go ahead.  It really is that good.  However, due to Cathy Moriarty and the issues with pacing I have to knock two marks off.  Remember though… I use the whole scale.  I have no issue with giving a film 5 if it’s average.  I don’t know where the idea of only using the 7 – 10 range of a ten point scale came from?!?

Raging Bull – 8/10

Taxi Driver // Rain

It’s late and it has been a tiring few days.  Everything has caught up with me and I feel like I’m running on empty.  So it seems kind of apt that I’m about to write my thoughts on one of my favourite films, Taxi Driver.  Taxi Driver is one of those films that spawned a poster that adorned every teenage male’s wall.  Well, it was certainly on my wall!  Taxi Driver is a film that could in many ways be considered ‘cult’ and yet it is actually pretty mainstream.  It is a film that can appeal very specifically to the loners, the lost, the angry, the bitter, the disillusioned, the pessimistic, the betrayed, the ‘insert your descriptive word here’.  Taxi Driver is an extremely important film… but one that was lost to me for many a year.  I picked it up on Blu-ray recently and checked it out again.  I rediscovered it!  Taxi Driver is a very influencial film.  Taxi Driver is a film that I’m going to write about without giving too many spoilers.  You can read this and then watch the film in relative safety!!!  The basic story can be summed up as follows (without spoiling it!):  Loner played by Robert De Niro can’t sleep.  Gets a job as a Taxi Driver by night.  Falls for girls that are in different ways not right for him (to say the least!).  Tries to hurt/save the girls.  Ends up becoming a kind of vigilante character – the ‘typical’ loner who goes psycho.

First, and slightly off topic, I gotta say that the Blu-ray transfer itself is majestic.  Absolutely superb.  Anyone who has doubts about the difference between DVD and Blu-ray should simply take a look at Taxi Driver.  It just drips class.  The rain, the grime, the paintwork, the neon lights… just beautiful.  The darkness has never looked so alive.

The Taxi Driver I remember from my youth was a film that very much appealed to the unsocial side of me.  Let’s be clear here. Taxi Driver is a pretty dark film.  It has been compared to other ‘loner’ films such as Falling Down or First Blood.  But Taxi Driver is very much its own man.  It has so many levels… only one of which is the level that appeals to the teenage boy.  Taxi Driver is just as much a journey into the heart of darkness as Apocalypse Now.  Taxi Driver is a film that kinda defines the ’70s.  And you have to remember that the ’70s were already defined by grime and realism.  The ’70s marked a foray into great BIG meaningful, intelligent films.  All the President’s Men.  The Conversation.  Deliverance.  Even Rocky (if you don’t agree then you obviously haven’t watched it recently).  In fact, Rocky actually beat Taxi Driver at the Oscars that year – a decision that could drive home another whole article!

Taxi Driver was directed by Martin Scorsese.   I would find it hard to name my favourite director.  It would be like having to name a favourite band or album.  They are decisions that are affected by mood, time and space.  But Scorsese would certainly be in my top one or two!  Ha ha!  I think Taxi Driver is a defining Scorsese film.  Unlike certain other great directors Scorsese has many great films.  You could pick Raging Bull or Goodfellas for example and no-one would dispute their challenge for the title of “Greatest Scorsese Movie”tm.  But, whilst I would agree with their greatness, and possibly that they are even greater than Taxi Driver… I would still say that Taxi Driver is the defining moment of Martin Scorsese’s career.  I can already sense that my writing here is sloppy.  I’m drifting around the subject without hitting the facts home.  I’m not firing on all cylinders here.  Bear with me.  I’m just typing what I’m thinking.  Hmmmm…. key points of note:

1) The amazing score.  This was Bernard Herrmann’s final score, completed shortly before he died.  Herrmann was responsible for some of the greatest soundtracks in movie history.  I adore his work with Hitchcock, and even those who aren’t familiar with film would recognise some of his signature pieces.  His screeching strings from Psycho are perhaps the best known in cinema history (alongside Jaws‘?).  I love his work on Vertigo too.  But for me… nothing surpasses his final work.  The masterpiece that is the score for Taxi Driver.

2) Robert De Niro.  This is a tour de force performance.  De Niro plays the insomniac Vietnam vet Travis Bickle.  Travis is a loner.  De Niro gets the portrayal spot on.  He IS Travis Bickle.  There is no acting.  You get that ‘method’ thing.

3) Cybill Shepherd. Now, here’s the thing.  I’m pretty sure that Cybill Shepherd is generally derided as an actress.  But I’ve gotta stick up for her.  She was great in The Last Picture Show and I thought she was cool in Moonlighting.  But she is something else in Taxi Driver.  The criticism of her acting tends to be that if she was standing in a forest you really wouldn’t be able to distinguish her from amongst the rest of the trunks.  Saw her in half and you could probably count the rings.  Well… okay, in fact, in Taxi Driver she is indeed a little stilted.  But, and it’s a big but… she is totally radiant.  Absolutely stunning looking.  She plays the part of Betsy, a woman sooooo out of Travis’ league.  And she plays it well.  Betsy benefits from being slightly dislocated from Travis’ world.  I wouldn’t change Shepherd for anyone else. Pretty simple really.

4) Jodie Foster.  Foster was a good little actress.  I think she was only 12 when she played the part of Iris in this film.  12!!!  If you’ve seen the film you’ll know why I’ve put all those exclamation marks!  This is a really adult role.  And Jodie Foster proves that she had the makings of one of the greatest actresses of all time.  I’m not much of a fan of her to be honest, but in this film she is outstanding.

5) Martin Scorsese.  There are moments in this film that are directed with intelligence and beauty.  The phone call where the camera seems embarrassed to be eavesdropping.  It actually wanders off mid shot.  You’ll know it when you see it.  It’s touches of class like this that raise the bar with this film.

6) “You talkin’ to me?”  Say no more.

7)  The beautiful irony/madness of Travis’ outlook on life.  On the one hand he is so self-righteous.  He wants proper order.  He denounces the drugs and the criminality.  He comes across as such a moral guardian.  … And yet… he stays up all day and all night.  He basks in pornography and takes drugs.  He IS the seedy side of life that he so appears to despise! I like that Travis is such a difficult character to interpret.  Taxi Driver is a much more ‘difficult’ film than, say, Falling Down.

8 ) New York.  The setting, the scenery.  You can almost smell the grime of the streets.

9) The duality of Travis’ relationships with Betsy and Iris.  This is a man who wants what he can’t have.  And then when he can’t have it he wants to destroy it.  For better or for worse.  It takes some thinking about.  And it has taken me many viewings and many years to fully appreciate.

10) The ending.  This is a film from a time before ‘twist endings’.  Yet, there is certainly an intriguing end to the film.  The final moments make you question whether Travis is a hero or a villain.  And it makes you question the society that creates such a man as Travis, and then crowns him a hero.  Or a villain?  For you see the ending all depended on which of the father figures Travis succeeded on destroying.  Betsy’s or Iris’.  One makes him a hero, the other a villain.  Or do they both make him a villain?  I like the uncertainty of the film’s tone.

Hmmm…. I’m not keen on writing a ‘review’ as a series of bullet points… but I’ve started so I’ll finish.  It’s getting late and I’m knackered!

There are a few things about the film that I’m not so keen about.

1) The carnage at the end.  The censors apparently would not let the violence at the finale go without cuts.  So, instead Scorsese just drained the colour from the ending.  Drained the visceral red from the blood.  This was enough to satisfy the censors.  And when you hear Marty explain the colour drain you can both understand, and appreciate how in some ways it actually improves the end.  But… I’ve never been too enamoured with it… so it probably loses the film a point.

2) The ending.  As a teenager I never truly understood the very end of Taxi Driver – the coda after the violence.  I didn’t know if it was a dream sequence, some kind of heaven, some kind of hell, or just an unlikely reality.  Having watched it again on Blu-ray 5 times I can now appreciate that it’s probably meant to be taken pretty literally.  I think in the past I was trying to be too clever.  I was trying to project upon the film a whole host of levels that just weren’t actually there.  I now see that the ending is more a scathing social commentary.  I can appreciate the view that the film has an uncertain tone.  And yet I now think that the film is actually quite certain with its tone.  I think the film has a single point to make and it is all very simple.  And I now see that the film could be viewed as a recurring loop.  If you started watching Taxi Driver again as soon as it finished everything would make perfect sense!!!  Anyway… the film loses a point.

3) The forcing of the “Everything is viewed by Travis.  Everything is observed.”. Basically the film sets out to show everything as a kind of first person, ‘as happens to Travis’ point of view.  So when other events need to be seen, Travis is shown as ‘observing them’ in his Taxi – usually sitting outside where the scene we need to see is happening.  Marty has explained the need for this approach many times.  I’m just not sure that it actually works.  However, certainly not bad enough to knock a point off the final score.  And I’ve got to say that the scene between Iris and her Pimp is indeed probably necessary and quite touching.

Let’s be clear.  This is probably the closest you’re gonna get to a ten out of ten film from me.  So, if that’s what you want to read the score as I’m happy for you to read it!  This film is a towering work of art.  A dissection of a troubled soul.

Taxi Driver – 8/10

I used Taxi Driver as the source of inspiration for the opening track of my new album “The Galton Detail“.  The song is called Rain.  I think I’ve captured the essence of the film.

Remember, Remember, The 11th Hour is a coming!!!

This is just a reminder to check out the Eleventh Hour Initiative website

The Eleventh Hour Initiative website is the place to be for all things Eleventh Hour related!  The Eleventh Hour Initiative is my ongoing project with American Indie star Bill Ryan.  The debut album is almost complete and the countdown to the official release is close.  Very close!

The album, Escapism, is an important album for me for so many reasons.  Reasons I will no doubt expand upon one day.  But for now… I suggest you head on over to the site and sign up.  You will get a special password which will enable you to see goodies blocked from the general public’s view!!!

www.eleventhhourinitiative.com

The weather is sweet

Sitting here on a Sunday morning.   Flexing the fingers in anticipation of writing a piece of text that is going to inspire you for the week ahead.  … no such luck!  Ha ha!  I have been taking a break from music – just a handful of days.  It has been fulfilling in its own way.  I have been producing tracks like a machine and it is always wise to take a step back and survey the accomplishments.

I am currently awaiting vocal files from Bill for what will likely be the final track of the Eleventh Hour album.  It is a track which may well take you by surprise – especially considering the two we have just worked on.  But I hope it will be a pleasant surprise.  Apple pie and custard on a spring day.

2011 will be a year of getting things into order.  Getting the Eleventh Hour album “escapism” into a shape where we can pin down a release date.  And I do of course still plan to make the Confession album “all monsters and dust” available too!  These plans won’t stop me working on new material in the meantime… but it is certainly important to note that 2011 will be a year of “attempting achievements”.

I’ve been soaking in some great films recently.  I feel that great art brings about great art.  In the past, certain films have inspired me to write great songs.  More in the Alexi in Winter period to be fair… but it does also creep into my more recent work.  My current desire is to achieve what I have always stated is my aim in music – cinematic pieces.  As I have said before… I’m not talking about film soundtrack work – I’m talking about pieces of music that put flesh on the bone.  Music that aspires to more than a 3 minute blast of pop.

So… I watched Raging Bull three times this last week.  What a guttural punch of a film.  Beautifully shot and disturbingly realised.  Tremendous acting, direction and cinematography.  Absolutely epic.  It is certainly not a film for everyone.  It is not a film about boxing.  It is a film about jealously and obsession.  Pretty hard to watch at times.  But like I said… it’s all there to be ‘soaked in’.  Better to flow a Raging Bull than a Transformers! Ha ha!  Then I watched A Matter of Life and Death.  Wow… I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never seen it before.  But what a film.  Deep.  And very, very sweet.  Another film to absorb and digest.

I have some crazy ideas for new music.  But I’m putting it all on hold.  It’s a nice day and there’s gardening to do!  Ha ha!

Zombieland

I pretty much finished the music for what may very well be the final track of the Eleventh Hour‘s debut album – Escapism.  I feel I’ve created a special, upbeat track and I eagerly wait to hear what Bill comes up with in terms of vocals for this one.  For better or for worse it is a song that has taken the journey to its limits.  Epics, through pop songs, through epics and full circle to a pop song.  This has probably been the most productive era of my career.  Seriously… take a look at the album in its incomplete glory.  Isn’t it a wonder to behold?!?

Anyway… as I say, there is a little way to go yet.  The final song may well push one of the current tracks off the album – we are still determined to produce a 12 track album.  Also, bear in mind no-one else has heard this album at all yet.  Just you, the readers of this site, and the few on Soundcloud.   Soundcloud is the site that I use to ‘host’ the music.  It enables me to get a quick snapshot of whether a song has what it takes.  To be honest, all the songs have gone down very well.  The Eleventh Hour, so far, has been a success.  The next step of the process will be to make the rest of the world aware of it!!!

I had another spare moment last night so I watched the film “Zombieland“.  It had been recommended to me by my cousin so I gave it a go.  Now, again, with any review of a film I feel it’s important to give certain caveats.  I am a Zombie fan.  Plain and simple.  The original Dawn of the Dead is one of my favourite films.  So obviously this review is skewed due to that fact.  Also, bear in mind that, unlike the majority of the world, I didn’t find Shaun of the Dead all that funny!

So… Zombieland.  Short review this one!  Great film.  Loved it.  Jesse Eisenberg plays a great nerd (no shit Sherlock) and Woody Harrelson plays a marvellous action hero.  Combine that with a cute girl and thousands of ‘zombie’ kills and you have a recipe for success in my eyes.

However, there are really no zombies in this film.  It conforms to the current trend for ‘zombie’ films of having a disease that ravages the world and turns people into flesh-lusting animals.  Not zombies.  The dead do not rise.  “When Hell is full the dead shall walk the Earth” – not here.

But this film is a thousand times better that Shaun of the Dead.  I may be being a bit hard on Shaun of the Dead but it just did nothing for me.  It had its moments of course.  I loved the “throwing the records at the zombies” sketch and I liked the quaint English slant on the zombie apocalypse .  But overall, Zombieland has more than the edge.  I love the idea of the rulebook.  Similar to Scream, or, you know, the current batch of ‘knowing’ horror films, this film also describes “the rules”.  The rules to follow if you’re trying to survive the zombie-led end of the world.  This theme is followed through to the very end and is well executed.  Clever and brilliant.  A really cool action/horror/comedy.  Not a patch on the original Romero zombie trilogy in terms of depth.  But purely judged on the game it’s playing, this film is a laugh.  A great spectacle for a “B-movie” and a great waste of an hour and a half.  Even my girlfriend liked it!