Tuesday, June 3, 2014

You Missed It At Film Forum: Friedkin's Sorcerer

There are three kinds of remakes:

1.) The nihilistic. Hollywood has so firmly sured up their own echo chamber that they've begun to long for outside voices, even hostile ones. The challenge executives present to their society when they fund a 21 Jump Street (or it's sequel) is a challenge to a broader culture to redeem itself by rejecting such films. The men who bankroll Hollywood go to work everyday to live inside of a sin, a sin defined for them by others. Their satisfaction isn't in business acumen, but in being appropriately labeled as villains. If I'll side with the people who still watch these movies, it's because they deny these men this satisfaction.

2.) The appropriate. If you take something everyone loves but you secretly hate and make what you think is a better film, you've considered what a remake is thoughtfully. Bresson hated Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, for example. Renée Jeanne Falconetti's acting was the total anathema of what Bresson was doing with his "models." As the little pope in a country full of Catholic filmmakers, Bresson had a duty to reclaim Joan for a religious cinema based on what was at every moment appropriate, which is to say, revealed by God.

3.) The giant balls. William Friedkin's Sorcerer belongs in this last category. He's not in bad company. Even when they fail, to make a film because you admire an elder filmmaker and, at the same time, to prove that you're better than that filmmaker, takes gigantic swinging, clacking balls.

William Friedkin is the rare filmmaker who took on a great film, The Wages of Fear, made by a great director, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and made a film that is equally as good, that needs to be seen with the original. For one thing, it added color and used it well. The center-of-the-frame constructive montage he makes this world of matter of fact apocalyptic violence out of functions because the shot structure is able to turn on sudden reminders that the forest is green, blood is red, lizards are orange, and these men are the color of shit. These harsh divisions in space and sensation divide the drama into appropriate sized pieces of a cold blooded and efficient thriller.

Cluzot's original was no less hard nosed and unforgiving...

...but added to that sensibility is Friedkin's Kapuściński-esque comment on the lives of people who live in places like Cluzot's nowhere town in Wages of Fear. The camera not only records that world, but participates in it. The camera carries a gun, the camera records the shabbiness of dead bodies indifferently, sequence brings the logic of murder and suicide quickly to resolution.

But Friedkin's cruelty toward the world he describes and the characters who have to inhabit it isn't nihilism nor is it moralizing. Cruelty was the pivot in Wages, and Sorcerer asks it's audience to consider the finesse of that pivot again. Cruelty here has a purpose, like it did during the age of human sacrifice or it's slightly safer analogue in the crucifix. The cruel are not to be discarded, nor necessarily redeemed. The cruel are pathetic and drama needs pathetic character, but again, that's not the reason to make a film like this or what makes this film great. What images of cruelty do can and has been explained, but it's better felt and seen. Belonging to a society always seems to relate back to witnessing the cruel - the actual image - whether that society is made of churches or movie theaters.

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