The Driver. Walter Hill. The director’s best early work, an update on cops and robbers that favors the robber. The cop, in this case Bruce Dern at his most electrically frenzied as a detective gone bad, matches wits with the outlaw, the titular ‘driver’, played by Ryan O’Neal. The characters remain nameless archetypes. LA by night is lensed straight from the noir playbook in heavy chiaroscuro and what, especially in our current digital age, seems like especially luminous 35mm film; the late seventies décor is so harshly lit that everyone’s hair appears to be made of Brillo. Some of the best car chases ever filmed contrast with performances that remain opaque and stagey. O’Neal must have been going through an especially deep cocaine and Quaalude interlude: his performance is stiffer than his usual wooden caricatures. But it works. He personifies a man incapable of emotion, a machine that only comes alive when he drives. As an exploration of the outlaw ethos, the movie remains unsurpassed in Hill’s oeuvre. Pop culture bonus: The femme fatale is played by stunning Isabelle Yasmine Adjani, who also plays Lucy in Werner Herzog’s visionary remake of Nosferatu AND stars in the Luc Besson/Christopher Lambert cult classic Subway. Wow!
A fat stack of Singapore Black on the front table at Periplus Books at Senayan Plaza Mall, Jakarta. Right next to Fifty Shades Freed…oh bliss!
First sighting of Singapore Black outside of Singapore!
At Periplus Books in Kemang, Jakarta.
Impact. Arthur Lubin. Feminist film critics have pointed to Impact as a commentary on the male anxiety, the fear/attraction of the modern woman, of the post-war period. There’s the well-to-do wife who turns out to be a two-timing black widow; there’s the ingénue who starts out as a tomboy but eventually proves her innocence, honesty, dedication, and looks sweet in a dress. But what interests me are the odd ways the film anticipates Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo (1958). Both are set in San Francisco and the same locations appear in both films, especially the neo-gothic front gates of the Brocklebank Apartments on Mason Street. The films share similar themes of amnesia and loss; each explores how self-identity shifts in relation to shifting circumstances. In each film, as the lead male character under goes these changes, the actors (Brian Donlevy, and, famously, Jimmy Stewart) are required to create different men, a protean feat. Each film is broken into separate compartments that match the changing identity of the main character; it’s like watching three or four different movies. Vertigo uses a precise color scheme to maintain coherence but lacking that technical extension, the b&w Impact shifts physical locations in improbable jumps signaled by paper-thin set changes (SF to Highway 1; a roadhouse to Idaho; Idaho to a courtroom). The gumshoes are gormless; the main character is too caught up in the action to investigate his own case, even when he is implicated (all these narrative elements show up in Vertigo, at least until the third act). In the end, it is the Chinese maid (played by silent film star Anna May Wong) who saves the day. Much like Vertigo, Impact is superficially exciting on first viewing; its sensibilities only become apparent on a second. By the third, you start to understand how the magic vibrates into genius.