Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 97: The seven ride again

Friends often phone or text me from video stores (which is a bit of an anachronism given that they don’t carry videos any more) asking for film recommendations, so much so, that I decided to put together a list of some of my favourite films. What was intended to be a top 40, quickly turned into my top 239 and is still growing. If I were IT-savvy enough, I’d know how to attach it to this site but I haven’t been able to work out how to do that. Nevertheless, if you’d like a PDF copy, just email, f’book, phone or text me and I’ll whizz one off to you.

Halfway down the list - which is in alphabetical order - comes The Magnificent Seven, that great western of 1960 based on Kurusowa’s Seven, Samurai. A favourite trivia question of mine is to ask who the seven were, not the samurai but the guns-for-hire?

The easy ones to pick off are the leader of the gang- with the most incongruous cowboy name of Chris Adams - played by Yul Brynner (of “ecetera, ecetera, ecetera” fame in The King And I) and his first recruit, Steve McQueen, a man’s man if ever there was one.

The character who was a dab hand at throwing knives, was James Coburn, a hard-looking man who had a professional and personal relationship with the sometime British pop star Lynsey de Paul in the ’70’s or ’80’s, something that I could never quite get my head around. If you’re familar with both of them then perhaps you’ll know what I mean.

Robert Vaughan (later to become Napoleon Solo in TV’s 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E') was the dapper man in in black and bootlace tie who looked like he’d just backed away up from a card table in Dodge, gun in hand. If memory serves me correct, I think the character was mentally afflicted with premonitions of the future and his own death or some other such cowboy neurosis.

Charles Bronson - long before Death Wish - was the fifth mercenary and the seven were rounded out with the two forgotten members of the bunch: Horst Bucholtz ( who made an appearance many, many years later in Life Is Beautiful) and a young actor by the name of Brad Dexter, played that archetypal character usually refrerred to, by the older more seasoned gunmen, as “the kid” or some other such title.

Director John Sturgess sure pulled together seven (excepting “the kid”) mean, son-of-a-guns. Composer Elmer Bernstein’s score is as enduring, maybe moreso than the film itself? Only Yul Brynner rode again in Return of the Seven, six years later and by the time we got to the Guns of the Magnificent Seven in 1969, it was down to George Kennedy to play Brynner’s role of Chris; of the other six cast members credited with making up that seven (I won’t name them here), I know not one.

It was toward the end of the 60’s that the Western all-but disappeared from cinema screens, still a genre that’s only resuscitated every now and then: 3.10 To Yuma, Unforgiven and Kev Costner’s Open Range come to mind as three notable latter-day western successes.

One popular school of thought has it that the western ‘rode off into the sunset’ because it was ostensibly a fascist story-model: the town and it’s good peace-lovin’ folk turning to the “one man” to save them, one man who usually displayed “a lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others”, but one man who would usually get the job done, using whatever means he deemed neccessary. I’m not sure how much currency I put in this idea, given that the most prolific period for the making of Westerns and their greatest run of box office success was right after the Second World War, in the ’50’s and 60’s.

You’d think people would have had a gutful of fascism by then, wouldn’t you?

Day #97 Tip: Put the jump leads on a comatose genre
One film that was much-talked about in the recent Sydney Film Festival - which I, unfortunately, didn’t get to see (being a fan of the Western) - was Red Hill (pictured above), described in the festival brochure thus “...Patrick Hughes (writer/director) takes two conventions, the cop thriller and the Western, and turns one in on the other to surprising effect in his audacious debut.....”. The blurb continues to talk of the “one horse” town that is Red Hill and the “...evocative landscapes of East Victoria’s high plains...”, I can almost smell the gunsmoke from here. I don’t know about you but I’m up for a ticket to that movie.

Likewise, but in a different way, one of last year’s hits that came along with some, yet muted fanfare, was the cerebral sci-fi movie Moon.

The flyer that you pick up at the cinema carried this logline for Moon: “250,000 miles from home, the hardest thing to yourself. I won’t go into the plot detail of Moon here, but it was a film aimed squarely at those who were rejoining the trail some thirty years after A Space Odyssey 2001. It was no surprise to me that when I turned around in my seat to get a feal for the demographic of the audience, I found myself looking into the faces of one hundred or more anglosaxon, bearded, bespectacled males, 40+??!! I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions as to what that might mean.

Revive a flagging genre!

I’ve talked much. about genres here and this is just another conduit into that pool of opportunity. Sometimes the world is ripe for a revival, even if it is the one film in that long-forgotten genre that comes along every now and then, like the neo-western that is Red Hill or the space adventure for the thoughtful kind that is Moon.

Most of the actors in The Magnificent Seven are long gone now, but their spirit can still ride again in the cinema.

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