Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 13 June 18, 1968
"The heat is closing in"
I have been toying around the idea of writing this "review" for nearly a week now. Just as well the deadline remains virtually non-existent, for I was left to be goaded on by repressions of tension and frustration, and now when I see the result, it resembles a limp panegyrical stutter,
To do the film justice, this review does not, for Larry Peerce's The Incident, can only be referred to, commented on, made better known and to those who eventually see the film will perhaps understand the difficulty of returning to earth, to compliment its hysterical nightmare.
Comparisons make fine maladroit asides. When Frankenheimer's The Young Savages was submitted to major exisions, and still has a now redundant R21 certificate, the Censor presumably thought he was excluding the majority of "contenders to the cause" from seeing it, and so protect etc. As it stands. The Young Savages is no more violent than The Invaders (which at times is certainly horrible) but it will make me shrink to see what reaction The Incident will have in a big city cinema.
Compared to The War Game in terms of shock constituency (sec elsewhere) this film is much more horrifying, and substantially so.
It has not been shown commercially anywhere in New Zealand, let alone Britain or Australia. The film, too, is relatively unknown at the moment. You may have read the superb) reviews in Time and Playboy late last year, but surprisingly for a film of this type, its success has been confined to winning the Grand Prix at the Utrecht (Holland) Festival, Best Actor for Tony Musante at Mar Del Plata, and Best Sereeuplay, ousting Bonnie and Clyde—believe it or not.
It concerns two young drunken barbarians, who terrorise passengers in a car of a New York City train in the early hours of the morning. They are all individually too weak or cowardly to do anything. It is only at the climax that order is restored in sequences that explode in the mind and leave a cold riotous numbing effect in the body.
It could only be compared to Anthony Harvey's adaption of LeRoi Jones' Dutchman (which is unlikely to get a release here) but one can assume which is the more horrible.
In One Potato, Two Potato, which was Peerce's first (a fine film marred by a somewhat over compassionate view of racialism), the climax was a stringent showdown: the small girl belting her mother and being driven away screaming in the car. This sequence has been referred to among the "great-hurts" in cinema history, and now, with The Incident, Peerce shows his restraint (thank goodness) in dealing with a subject that has been used again and again; in TV shows (Nicholas E. Bachr's screen-play was based on his TV play Ride with Terror) and especially in the novel The Warriors by Sol Yurick.
Richard D. Zanuck, executive vice-president in charge of production at 20th Century-Fox supplied additional finance after the original Canadian backers withdrew, and The Incident Was made completely in New York, for $800,000.
Every person in the carriage undergoes scrutiny before the actual train ride. From their visits to parents, shows, parties, love-meetings, or dingy bars in the city, they slowly straggle up the steps, to different platforms, unprepared for the vicious zoo-performance in which they will participate.
Peerce's director of photography, Gerald Hirschfield, uses high-contrast film (vicious blacks and over-exposed furry whites) and in the early sequences, especially those of the overhead train as it comes closes and closer, picking up the people, I was reminded of William Burrough's eternal image of "the heat is closing in" Before we are aware of actually whats happening, the unnoticeable camera and "us" are trapped inside the carriage, it seems, for a stifling eternity.
Jack Gilford is an elderly complaining Jew, and Thelma Ritter his patient wife; Brock Peters as an angry Negro unable to retaliate the fanciful blows of one of the thugs; Gary Merrill is an alcoholic trying to reform, and Jan Sterling (an old Hollywood pro) is a childless wife who despises her googly-eyed husband—these are the only actors I knew. The rest seem to have been scraped up off the streets, especially Robert Fields as a young thick-eyed homosexual, who's performance is something close to miraculous.
The scene where the younger of the thugs gets him to confide in him. "Will you help me . . . please, he's got a knife," degenerates (if that's the word) into farce as the older takes him on a satanic dance up and down the carriage. The sequence is timeless, there is no sound. it seems to last tor ever. It is the most horrifying I have ever seen.
As if that isn't enough, the thugs (unbearably life-like performances by Tony Musante and Martin Sheen) turn on everyone else in the carriage, leaving no weakness or quirk unturned, no traits or physicalities unstirred, a drunken screaming, and finally bloody brain beating that defies any description whatsoever
It is one of the most sickening films we have been privileged (?) to see (there is one cut and it has nothing to do with violence. I am sure), and if it does get its scheduled release at the Plaza on July 19. I can guarantee that it will haunt you forever.
Next Week: Reviews of Bergman's "Persona" and Kubrick's "2001; A Space Odyssey".
The War Game: mini-horror for T.V.
The War Game finally reaches Wellington after very successful seasons throughout the rest of the country. It began with mid-week screenings in two suburban theatres in Auckland during the March festival. The public's reaction far exceeded the expectations of the distributors so it was given saturated treatment throughout the country. A rare thing for a film classed as "festival-type only", and it was made in 1965.
Peter Watkins, the producer-writer-director, has established himself as a unique and important fiim stylist, combining reality a la cinema-verite with drama. His first film for TV was Culloden, a gruesome reconstruction of the battle presented to us by narrative, on-the-spot interviews with the participants, and a dramatic treatment of the actual events. The film cuts back and forth between these varying pastures, making the whole affair more immediate
Privilege, made after The War Game, upset many people who expected something totally different, and after seeing it proceeded to misunderstand its purpose and style. Enough said. The War Game uses facts and figures on nuclear stockpiles, the effects of radiation, and what would happen during civil evacuation under threat of nuclear attack. This has then been treated within a dramatic framework. All evacuation is simulated, and the consequences of a nuclear explosion, At intervals the drama is broken to give interviews with people on what they know, what they will do, Despite the realism, I Found it disappointing.
One is constantly made aware that everything is play-acting, Non-professional actors say the same thing to the camera as if the script instructed them to do so (as it probably did). Nobody was aware of what would happen if a nuclear strike occurred (which says a lot for the activities of the now defunct CND); small children answered "I don't want to be nuthin" when asked what they would do in a future of devastation. This may well be true, but somehow it didn't sound convincing. The events were to staged, straining to make an impact yet not quite hitting the mark. The filming during the action sequences lacked restraint: it looked more like the crazed work of a cameraman run amok. At times one had no idea what was going on. In this respect It Happened Here was far more effective
But this is not to derogate some excellent work. The point is: Was it as terrifying as it was intended. After a spate of violent films like Bonnie and Clyde, Point Blank and The Incident it seems tame stuff; certainly it would do no harm to a TV audience. (Incidentally the NZBC can't show it on TV because the BBC refuse to grant TV rights anywhere in the word.) It appears that the "objectionable" seems were those depicting the collapse of law and order, looting, murdering of police etc. But today this sort of thing is commonplace (it always has been). We even see it on TV within hours of the event Moreover, it can hardly be claimed that unclear armaments and the threat of nuclear war are the most pressing problems of our time.
But if the subject is not a burning issue, it is not the fault of Watkins and his collaborators. They have presented a convincing if not wholly satisfactory case. They were limited by the length of a TV documentary (50 minutes) leaving too much unsaid. The War Game is worth seeing, but it doesn't live up to the extravagant claims made for it.