Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 21, September 6, 1976.
The Missouri Breaks
A rich Montana rancher is concerned at the 7% pa losses he incurs through horse rustlers, and hangs one without trial as an example. His daughter is revolted. The rustlers, led by Jack Nicholson, decide they need a relay ranch, and after robbing a train buy one next to the rancher. They then head off to Canada to rustle some more horses, leaving Nicholson to grow cabbages and be seduced by the daughter. Meanwhile, the rancher engages the services of a Regulator (Marlon Brando). an assassin to whom fair play is a non-concept - who amuses himself for a while as only men with peace in their hearts know how, and then does his job.
Brando is possibly the greatest living film actor, and this is the film in which he is allowed to do just as he likes. The result is inevitably interesting, but not much besides. There is more to any film than the experimentation with pet ideas of one actor. Director Arthur Penn only half recognizes this. He is clearly trying to make something of the rest of the film, but just what, would be hard to say. Perhaps because Penn was hesitant to create too strong an effect outside the Brando scenes, he ends up with a rather shallow combination of the traditional western and an enlarged idiosyncratic character role.
This combination is not strained, but then one gets the impression no one has bothered of strain themselves anyway. Brando is having fun, Nicholson is Nicholson sleezing his way around an atrocious script, and Penn seems to be dabbling in the same approach Brando uses (we'll try this here and we'll try that there), with considerably less success. There is slapstick, some of it quite funny and other parts entirely gratuitous. There's a new perspective on the courting ritual, some half-hearted attempts to breathe individual life into the rustlers, an abundance of people going to the toilet, long sections of tedious development broken by sudden splashes of violence, and so on. Although the bodily functions bits create a motif without any thematic significance, the violence is handled well. Unfortunately Penn appears to be suffering from a Peckinpah backlash, and his hesitancy to explore this aspect means principally that Brando cannot create any depth to his character.
Nicholson has his moments of excellence despite being given almost nothing to work with. But even though he does more than anyone else to hold this film together he ends up being entirely forgettable. He's been playing this role for some years now, each time a little more smoothly, and a little less impressively.
The editing is atrocious, cross-cutting being reduced to a random interspersion of scenes with little value; and the camerawork ranges from the superb to the downright clumsy. The music, the old harmonicas and guitars with bass notes for suspense thing, is good.
Penn's conglomeration appears unified because it is so low-keyed, but golden sunlight and homely dialogues are thin disguises. On the other hand Brando's experimentation works, because the role allows it and he does it so well. Brando pretending to be an Irishman, a Scotsman, and Indian a mystic, a lonesome cowboy, a birdwatcher, and even Marilyn Monroe, is delightful to watch but it's pretty thin stuff.
The film starts to work towards the end, as the tension mounts and people start to get killed in fine Western style. However, that everyone gets their just desserts cannot sanctify what has gone before.
— Simon Wilson
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
In case you are wondering, this film is just what it claims to be the Python team in search of the Holy Grail. For an hour-and-a-half King Arthur, Lancelot and some of the other knights engage in an assortment of totally ludicrous adventures (I'm not giving anything away.). Even Garwain gets a mention, when he is killed by the most vicious rabbit in Christendom.
For those who find the half-hour TV show cruelly short this should be heaven on earth. It isn't. To watch Monty Python on TV is to be flagellated with humour: this film clearly reveals that it is a process in which brevity plays a vital role.
Parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail are incredibly funny, and nearly all of it is very well filmed. The result is a combination of endearing silliness and unbelievable audacity, and engrossing cinematography which would have created a first-rate film were it not that the predominant mode of humour precludes any sort of intellectual progression. This missing element is quite rightly anathema to Python humour, yet there is nothing else in its place. The TV show leaves one crying out for more, but halfway through the film one comes to the sad realisation that there is nothing more.
It seems sacreligious to attempt a definition of the Python style of humour, but Holy Grail is an invitation to do just that. There are the widly extravagant claims which are hesitantly pared down, the 'reasonable' man reduced to impotence by his opponent's ridiculous verbal diatribe (remembering that 'ridiculous' is no condemnation), the violence which is so stupid it becomes funny, the sublime importance of the most mundane objects and words, and of course the continual irreverence towards all forms of political, social and religious mores. Terry Gilliam's animation too, offers the same articulated jaws, popping eyes and fantastic chase sequences we are becoming quite accustomed to. And mercifully, the Python team do not hesitate to break the story if the occasion arises, often laughing at us for laughing at them. In this last respect, the sticky problem of winding up a gradually declining tale is solved with marvellous abruptness.
John Cheese and Terry Jones are at times almost brilliant, Michael Palin consistent and Eric Idle and Graham Chapman a little disappointing. The film is worth seeing, but while it never bores, neither does it astonish.
Vuwsa Films Coming : Memorial Theatre.
Blow up Tu 7 Sept 2.15
Another snatch of brilliance from Michelangelo Antonionio. Made in 1967 the film captures the late sixties period excellently - the first film to do so. A new era in explicit portrayal of society by the commercial cinema was born with this film. It combines all the ingredients for a great thriller but at the same time it is of what might be called considerable social value, and of high artistic quality. Must be seen by anyone interested in the history of film because it is one of the most significant films to come out of the sixties.
The plot concerns a photographer who blows up a photograph to enormous magnification in order to solve a mysterious crime.
The theme: alienation in a plastic society a theme well suited to the emotions of your garden variety students who is soon to face nonsensical examinations.
Family Life W 8 Sept 5.00pm
Family Life is about well-meaning parents who drive thier children to mental hospitals, and mental hospitals which have no treatment other than to tranquillize and deaden the kids' bright and sensitive minds.
It's based on Laing and Cooper's Sanity, Madness and the Family, and is a required movie for psychology students, anyone interested in "mental illness", anyone who saw Cuckoo's Nest, and all members of families. Janice (Sandy Ratcliffe) is 19. She is withdrawn, and given to acting strangely. Her nagging parents fail to see that it's their refusal to let her be what she wants, that makes her this way. She is an intelligent and particularly sensitive young woman, responding logically to an intolerable family situation, but the parents assume she has some inherent mental defect and commit her to a mental institution. After receiving the usual shock and drug treatment, and yo-yong from hospital to family, to factory job, to hospital (from one intolerable situation to another) she ends up a virtual vegetable.
This is an important movie, but a tragic one that will upset people who identify with Janice. She was the girl who was too sensitive to survive the brutal attacks of our society's institutions of family, factory and mental hospital. The only way to make her "fit in" was to tranquillise her mind, and when even that failed, to kill her mind altogether. This movie is a must!