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Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Assn. Volume 40 Number 2. Feb 7 1977


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Marathon Man:

Babe (Dustin Hoffman) is an outstanding history student, the son of a brilliant historian driven to suicide by McCarthyism. His desire is to run the marathon, for which he is in arduous training. His obsession however, is to vindicate his father of crimes for which history has long since atoned.

Szell (Laurence Olivier) is 'probably the most wanted Nazi alive', and after thirty years of recluse in the Uruguayan jungle is still the nastiest niece of work on two legs. His profession, whose possibilities are not left entirely to the imagination (although the censor has done his bit), is dentistry. The crossing of their paths provides the story for an absolutely first-rate thriller.

Unfortunately Schlesinger has more profound ambitions. The weakness of his earlier film, Sunday Bloody Sunday, was that the theme backfired on itself. In setting the frustrating pettiness of individual preoccupations against the major social issues of the day, he wound himself into a corner where he didn't really have much to say, but tried desperately to say it all the same. Marathon Man suffers from the opposite extreme. Schlesinger now has an enormous theme on his hands, and yet the genre prohibits its proper development. For this film is about nothing less than man's need to define himself in the conditions in which he exists, on both an individual and social level.

Babe must recognise that his self-imosed academic task can serve no purpose and is crippling his own intellectual perspective. When fascism arrives in his doorway he has no choice but to leave his books and to fight, not against a principle but simply for his own survival. This, of course, is what Szell has been doing ever since 1945. The difference is that Szell's perception of the whole world in terms of his own cruel self, and the resultant constant fear which is his sole motivating force mean that for him the fighting is all. Babe's struggle becomes one of self-realisation a movement towards equilibrium with himself.

All this works very well to a point. The film is at its best when the suspense is in full flight: Szell hurrying through Brooklyn's Jewish Quarter, the final showdown, etc. When it subsides into psychological study the weaknesses come to the fore. For example, to the sardonic remark of a mercenary-type sidekick, 'I believe in my country,' Szell replies with dead seriousness, 'So did we all.' An important consideration perhaps, but in Marathon Man such elements are merely distracting. In the end, the motif of life as an endurance race which must be run facing forwards becomes unnecessary, to say the least.

Nevertheless, for all his trouble with theme, Schlesinger is a master of story-teller, and in this film both his sense of rhythm and his atmospheric talents are superb. A direct correlation with Sunday Bloody Sunday can in these respects be observed. Both films open with multiple storylines whose links are unexplained. Both use music as a vitally strategic component. The same tracking camera, in medium or close shot, lingers on shop windows and the faces of passers-by. The combination in the opening sequences of Marathon Man of innocence, ominence and perplexity develops near the end into pure menace, yet all the while retains the wonderful sensual quality of the earlier film.

Marathon Man begins with sepia footage of the great marathon runner Abebe Bikila, then cuts to Babe running in Central Park. When later he is fleeing for his life and we again see Bikila in action, the pulsing beauty of the movement serves as a magnificent counterpoint to the terror of the moment. Similarly, our introduction to Szell is accompanied by a camera slowly panning over animals' skulls, all with enormous bared fangs. In the most stunning shot of the film we see a fluorescent red fountain in long shot, surrounded by massive, shadowy architectural forms. Beneath this image of pure evil, waits Szell. The sensual evocation of both characters is far more important to the film than the psychological dissertation of the whole.

Olivier rises to the occasion brilliantly. His ageing, hate-filled Nazi is blessedly devoid of all fastidiousness, kindliness, harmless indulgence, and all the other usual earmarks of the role. He works on the level of gut emotional response, with results at once spine-chilling and totally enthralling. Hoffman although very good, cannot match his own definitive performance of this role (in Straw Dogs), and seems a little baffled alongside Sir Larry.

It may be that a film employing a simple modus operandi needs some semblance of depth even though that semblance will be discarded and left relatively unexplored. But whether because of or despite its pretensions/possibilities above its station, Marathon Man remains essentially a no-nonsence thriller and one of the very best.

Simon Wilson



Japanese Film Festival

A Japanese Film Festival is currently showing at the Penthouse in Brooklyn. The offering of only three works is not as broad as in 1975's Japanese Film Week, but what it lacks in breadth it certainly makes up in depth.

Rashomon (1950), and the Burmese Harp (1956), the two films still to come this week, provide a valuable chance for us to gauge Japanese cinema in its most outstanding decade.


Rashomon is a winner of the Grand Prize in Venice in 1951 and Best Foreign Film in the Academy Awards, the first Japnese film to achieve international significance.

The story is set in the 12th century, and taken from two modern short stories. Rashomon was the largest gate in the ancient capital of Kyoto, fallen into disrepair after four centuries and the ravages of civil war. In it three men sheltering from the rain — a priest, a woodcutter and a 'commoner' — tell the story of a murder that has recently taken place. The facts, that a samurai and his lady were waylaid in a forest by a bandit who raped the lady, and that the samurai died in the incident, his body to be discovered by the woodcutter, provide the basis for four different accounts. No one truth emerges, and the three men are left feeling, respectivity desperately hopeful, depressed, and gleefully cynical, about the state of man. The film ends with an incident which does something to override the frustrating relativity of truth, and adds a note of optimism to the deeper theme of the preservative instinct of the ego.

"Rashomon is, essentially, a ruthlessly honest film. Exquisitely made, electrically exciting, it reaches down — by means of these qualities — to a quiet, giant truth nestled in every one of us. Ultimately what the film leaves us with is candour and consolation: if we can't be saints, at lease we can be under standingly human."

— Stanley Kauffmann.

The Burmese Harp:

"The Burmese Harp is a sad poetic, mystical and semi-religious tale based clearly on certain elements in the Japanese ethos and the Japanese subconscious. The framework of the story concerns a soldier, presumed missing or dead, trying to make his way back home after the Japanese surrender. Dressed in Buddhist robes given him by a monk who sheltered him he sees every where on his way the corpses of his fellow countrymen, abandoned, forgotten and un-buried. It comes to him that it is, at the least, his duty to give them burial. And this task soon becomes his life, based on a kind of respect (the dead should be honoured) and a kind of expiation (why should they be dead and he still living?). These self-imposed duties are mingled with flashbacks to various wartime experiences with his unit; and the whole film proceeds on its path in a rather dreamlike manner, until we are willingly drawn into its mood of waking vision I had almost said sleepwalking — a vision touched with remorse, with regrets. In the end he falls in by chance with members of his old unit. They recognise him, despite his monk's habit, because he still carries the 'harp' from which he was always inseperable. But he does not overtly admit his identity, and in sympathy they let him go on his way. Let the dead bury their dead." - Basil Wright.

Ichikawa is among the most prolific of the world's directors (55 films to date), and is also one of the most stylistically diverse. Its quiet humanism should serve as a welcome antidote to the grandiose rubbish the American war-movie industry is continually foisting upon us.

- Simon Wilson.

Varsity Films


"Levels upon levels upon levels. Like all good films, Alan Pakula's Klute tells several stories at once, not so much in layers which peel away one by one to reveal hidden depths, as in parallel steps leading relentlessly up to the dark at the top of the stairs." — Sight and Sound.

First story: A big businessman has disappeared and the only clue to help John Klute, private eye, is that the man wrote an obscene letter to a call girl. Second story: the call firl tries to mend her ways by taking acting lessons and undergoes Psychoanalysis. Third story: The relationship between Klute and the call girl. It is a film about fear of the darK — the dark world we live in, the dark fancies of the human mind, the dark shadows of love.

Jane Fonda won the best actress of the year, in the academy awards, for her performance in this film. She is truly brilliant. Donald Souther land and director, Alan Pakula equal her performance.

Executive Action

The action deals with the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. The filmmakers are confident that their theory of the real story is more logical and more likely than the official version. Perhaps they are right considering that it was rumoured that the CIA tried to sabotage the production.

This film is the forerunner to the TV series that is beginning on our screens this week which promises to be one of the best series that we are to be subjected to for some time.

The 1973 film stars Burt Lancaster.

Screenshot from Dracula

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones

The New York Times describes this as a poorly made film that is immensly enjoyable. One of the major faults is that the Madison Square Gardens crowd virtually doesn't appear. We want to see the audience reacting to the act, we want to see the clothes they were wearing etc.

But Jagger especially was as exhilerating as ever. I can't remember too well what all the songs were, but I know that many of their really great ones are included: like Jumping Jack Flash, Brown Sugar etc.

Good value as a documentary and incredibly enjoyable as entertainment.