When documentary filmmaker John Boorman made the leap to feature filmmaking with Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), a low-budget rock-n-roll vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, he transformed the quickie into a surprisingly biting satire of popular culture set to a bouncy soundtrack, displaying a remarkable sophistication and creativity unexpected from such a project. It was enough to land him his first American film, Point Blank (Warner) where he revealed an even greater ambition and talent.
Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake), Point Blank shuffles the lean, straight-forward story of a gunman named Walker (Lee Marvin), who is double crossed by his partner in crime and returns (seemingly from the dead) for revenge, into a surreal, abstracted crime drama. The plot is faithful to original novel, a hard-boiled piece of crime fiction reimagined for the underworld culture of the sixties, but Boorman and Marvin, who requested the young director and supported his unconventional vision for the film, refract it through a modern lens. Walker’s odyssey from Alcatraz in San Francisco to the underworld of Los Angeles is splintered with short, sharp shards of memory that cut through his story, as if reflecting Walker’s attempts to put the pieces of cause and effect together in his mind.
Boorman views L.A. through an alienated lens and edits it more like a European art film than an American crime thriller, but fills it with offbeat, ultra-stylized scenes of violence.
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Having a Wild Weekend (Warner Archive), the Dave Clark Five’s answer to “A Hard Day’s Night,” has a title that suggests the knock-about fun and goofy banter of The Beatles on film. To some extent you’ll find that here. The five boys live in what appears to be, at various times, an old church, an abandoned farmhouse, a run-down manor, and a rummage sale in a school gymnasium (thus the trampoline in the middle of the room), but instead of playing music, they play stunt men and extras in a beef industry ad campaign branded “Meat for Go,” which are conspicuously absent of any actual meat in the ads. What the ads seem to sell is the blond charm of poster girl Dinah (Barbara Ferris) and the puckish spirit of five mod young men leaping goofily around her.
Dave Clark is the ostensible lead as Steve, one of the stunt men and the only member of quintet to get something approaching a distinctive character (the other four boys goof around the margins), and he kicks off the story by driving off the commercial in a sports car with a willing Dinah. She’s the bubbly starlet as free spirit next to Clark’s brooding would-be rebel Steve, but Clark has, shall we say, a deficit of screen presence, let alone personality or charisma. Ferris effortlessly dominates by sheer personality and energy. Maybe that’s why Dave Clark never made another film.
Or maybe it’s because “Having a Wild Weekend” is not the happy-go-lucky romp the gag-laden opening promises.
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Deliverance (Warner) – John Boorman’s harrowing adaptation of James Dickey’s novel is as bracing and haunting now as it was when it first shook up audiences 35 years ago. Jon Voight stars as an urban family man whose weekend escape in a whitewater canoe trip with three friends down a soon-to-be-gone Appalachian river transforms from a trip through wild lost paradise into an escape from a savage land. “You don’t beat this river,” warns trip leader Lewis (Burt Reynolds, in one of his career-best performances), a weekend warrior and tough-guy Thoreau who speaks a survivalist game. He winds up living a nightmare of his fantasy when they tangle with a pair of vicious mountain men. The film remains most famous for the “Dueling Banjos” music and the assault on Ned Beatty’s character (“Squeal like a pig!”), but Boorman’s interest is in the sense of mortality it reveals, both in their fight for their survival and in their battle with their consciences in the aftermath. Ronnie Cox is the fourth rafter and novelist James Dickey has a cameo as the sheriff.
The new Blu-ray book edition features the same transfer as the 2007 Blu-ray release (very nice except for a few brief night shots, which exaggerate the weaknesses in the original day-for-night process) and a new DTS HD audio mix. New to this edition are the brand new half-hour featurette “Deliverance: The Cast Remembers” with new interviews with Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox recorded at the Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter, Florida, and the illustrated booklet. Carried over from the earlier release is articulate commentary by John Boorman, who tells many of the same production stories that also come out in an excellent four-part 2007 documentary, plus the original archival featurette “The Dangerous World of Deliverance.”
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The myth and legend of King Arthur has long been a favorite fascination of popular culture, the source of countless novels and movies and the inspiration for an iconic Broadway musical that became the nickname for John F. Kennedy’s too-short inspirational time as American President: “Camelot.” Forget the real-life history, the very mention of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table conjures up images and ideals of chivalry and honor, of magic and myth, of the shining light of hope in the midst of the Dark Ages. It’s a rousing tale of a lowly boy rising to become beloved King, a tragic love story, a thrilling adventure and an inspirational spiritual quest to heal the wounds of war and hate by finding the Holy Grail.
Arthur, Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake
John Boorman’s magnificent and magical Excalibur is, to my mind, the greatest and the richest of screen incarnation of the oft-told tale. Filmed on the rocky coasts and in the emerald forests of Ireland, Boorman turns this landscape into a primal world hewn out of stone and wood and mud by blood and iron. The primordial quality hits us from the opening scenes, as Merlin (Nicol Williamson), part ancient sage and part court sorcerer, draws the magic out of the dragon that is earth from a Stonehenge-looking monument on a hill overlooking a battleground of clashing knights in armor. It’s beautiful yet brutal and Merlin’s attempts at civilization are thwarted by the primal drives of the primitive Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne), but from his blood and flesh is born the once and future King Arthur (Nigel Terry), raised a squire but destined to be king.
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