The New Movies… Some Charm, Some Don’t

Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Fox-Rank) is, I suppose, the most interesting of the fortnight’s new releases. With a certain academic pomposity, and over-literal sub-titles, that somehow make it funnier, it satirically shovels at the heap of waste that is the upper strata of French society, through those two themes of upper middle class circus, the dinner party and the walk in the country.

Everyone is corrupt or insane in this intellectualised piece of cynicism, from the drug smuggling ambassador of a small mysterious republic, to the army colonel who smokes pot between manoeuvres, and the Roman Catholic bishop who just wants to work as a gardener. The film is superbly and delicately detailed in its observation of mannerisms and use of background sounds that heighten the satire.

It worked best for me when being more obviously farcical, but then the more subtle images were probably meant for the bourgeoisie in the audience who could afford to pay £1 a seat at London’s most expensive cinema, where the film is showing. Much of their far from discreet, loud laughter sounded like that which emanates from a university debating chamber, after someone has scored a particularly witty point. It seems searing at the time, but leaves no lasting impression, amusing cynicism tending to attack one’s thoughts only superficially.

Fernando Rey and Muni not being discreet.

Having paid my respects, and £1, to the liberal cinema owners of Bloomsbury, I dashed across two miles of West End traffic in search of a little entertainment or something. It wasn’t worth the cab fare. Ulzana’s Raid (Universal/Fox-Rank) directed by Robert Aldrich, who previously made the partially comic, but nevertheless snide and exploitative “The Killing Of Sister George”, had me swaying between extreme boredom and revulsion whenever my snooze interrupted by the scenes of excessive, motiveless, bloody violence. Burt Lancaster is excessively dry as Mackintosh who is despatched with the US cavalry, captained on this occasion by handsome Bruce Davison, to track down a band of marauding Apaches. The film’s single original episode is Lancaster’s death at the end.

Shamus (Columbia-Wamer) is a routinely scripted, downbeat thriller with Burt Reynolds as yet another seedy, boozy, billiard playing private eye, who accompanied by a paste and tinsel Dyan Cannon, car chases and pointless killings, sets about tracking down gun runners in New York. What lifts the film out of the deepest mire is Buzz Kilik’s direction, skilfully snappy, and executed with an eye to character detail and a great feeling for the atmosphere of Brooklyn where the film is set; he even manages to extract a good performance from Burt Reynolds. It’s just a pity he wasn’t given a more worthwhile subject to direct.

Burt Reynolds really acting at last.

In complete contradiction, veteran Hollywood screenwriter, Ernest Lehman’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s horror of the family novel, Portnoy’s Complaint (Columbia-Warner) has a subtle, potentially expansive script, which adheres closely to the dialogue in the book and should have been accompanied on film by very visual, whispy, wanky fantasies. Instead, Lehman, after years of writing such successes as ‘Hello Dolly’, and now making his directorial debut, creates something like a stage play, with small, stark, sparse, theatrically confined sets. It’s very uncinematic and he wastes the resources he’s been given, like Panavision (wide screen) appallingly. Not even Karen Black as Monkey, the girl who finally helps Richard Benjamin express his fantasies physically, creates anything other than a rehash of her characterisation in ‘Five Easy Pieces’.

Another happy family.

Australian Lace is an odd little short now touring with various films, a semi-documentary with a right wing stilt, about a group of young peoples’ lives in Paddington, the ‘Chelsea’ of Sydney, Australia. Fascinating, because it’s so rare we see anything on Australian life, and its odd, almost Victorian Puritanism.

Another short worth catching is the Cobblers of Umbridge (Anglo-EMI) a very, very funny send-up of the Archers with John Wells, John Fortune et al doing their thing.

Two sparkles to brighten pre-feature tedium.

Up The Creek

DELIVERANCE, Produced and directed by John Boorman, written by James Dickey from his own novel. With Jon Voigt, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox. Panavision, Technicolor. Distributed by Columbia-Warner Distributors.

Deliverance has been sold — to a certain extent – as the latest commercial product to hit London’s West End to contain a strong ‘gay’ content.

But after Stephen Murphy and Warner Communications have put away their scissors, there isn’t much of the famous male rape scene left — it’s a scene that got past the censors in every other country, in America and Europe but it’s one that’s lost 40 seconds in Britain.

Echoes here of what Warners did to Performance before showing it to John Trevelyan, the then-secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, and even then it was still cut some. The scene that we never got to see was James Fox and Mick Jagger making love, the scene that drove Fox into the arms of Jesus.

But the movie I’m supposed to be discussing is Deliverance. It’s a fine movie, but I just can’t bring myself to like it. And I don’t think it’s because I feel cheated at the rape scene. In fact, I didn’t feel at all cheated by that.

My main gripe (and that’s all it is) is that there’s a strong feeling of deja vu about Deliverance. Especially for those of us movie-buffs old enough to have seen The Misfits.

Deliverance is about a group of men trying to make the last canoe journey down a rapid-packed river (which is about to be turned into a reservoir). But they come to this confrontation with nature as city-bred men. The cruellest clash comes when two rough mountain men grab two of the party of four. They tie one up and bugger the other.

The city adventurers kill them both and hide the bodies under the rapidly rising waters of the reservoir.

I went expecting great things of Deliverance and felt a little cheated. Go with less expectations and you’ll probably enjoy it more.

One thing’s for sure, it’s a powerful statement about the degrading quality of American life. Perhaps the all-male cast does something to expose the phoniness of the wife-and-kids-at-home syndrome.

There’s a marvellous bit where Voight drops his wallet which contains his Diners Club Card and photo of his wife and kids, a photo that’s exactly like a credit card.

All the same, it’s a bit like the Misfits-On-lce-Under-Water.

Peter Holmes

More Deliverance

DELIVERANCE is one of the truly fantastic films of 1972, an explosion of the violence some of us feel about the way in which our world is being raped of the greenness, wildness, and the ways of living, which enable us to use some form of ingenuity and inventiveness, and to some extent, none of the four middle class, superficially stereotyped American suburban males, who go on a life-risking canoe trip down a rapid ridden river in cosy hamburger-ridden America’s last wilderness, accept this condition, albeit in some cases only semi-consciously. The men who live in desperate poverty in all ways except spiritually, in this wilderness, associate all outsiders with the bastards who are going to build a hydro-electric dam across their river and flood their valley, their 1920s idyll of undeveloped technology — rusty cars, straw hats, blue denim overalls and fishing. The now famous rape scene reverses the process; the man who gets raped is the one in the canoeing party who most symbolises the suburban horror. He’s fat and balding, working for an insurance company, looks like an oversized french fry.

Like all overtly realistic films. Deliverance is a mass of conflicts as it manifests Man’s dilemma. The leader of the canoe party who seems the one most anxious to return to Life, uses all his urban male chauvinist aggression, as he treats the locals like shits while remorselessly spearing fish and loving the river The guy who claims he’s been dragged along, doesn’t know why he’s there, would rather be home playing golf, is the one who finds it most difficult to spear and shoot.

This is a desperate film. Man is running round in ever-decreasing desperate circles. See it — you might find you are too.

David Seligman