Where have all the flowers gone? (2006)
Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on October 2, 2006 @ FYLMZ.com.
2006 is the year when veteran directors have stubbed their movies.
Brian DePalma created lurid poppycock in The Black Dahlia; Michael Mann created style without chemistry in Miami Vice; and even Robert Altman coasted a bit as he tried to tango with a slow buffalo in A Prairie Home Companion. Ron Howard took the delight out of The DaVinci Code, and Oliver Stone threw a scented hankerchief of a script at the World Trade Center.
Not a single one of the veterans made a movie up to his usual standards. All five directors have made films with wonderful humanity in the past. All -- except Ron Howard -- are ironists. Howard did flirt with irony in A Beautiful Mind, but it generally is not his strong suit. Irony usually is a strong element in the films of the other four directors.
Maybe this is the year when irony dies. It's certainly on life support in the culture at large.
Despite the subduing of irony, even more importantly, humanity also seems to have lapsed and been depreciated.
But don't despair. Let's look back and find a gem of a movie by each director which we can honor and uphold even today, because the humanity flourished and stlll florishes.
An almost perfect quest into irony is Brian DePalma's Blow Out (1981), shot in Philadelphia with red, white, and blue its dominant colors. Blow Out is a compelling statement about the failure and corruption of the American Dream. The final irony when sound effects engineer Jack Terry (John Travolta) finds the perfect scream is stunning and haunting.
The script is by DePalma himself, obviously influenced by Antonioni's Blow-Up. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is vivid and evocative.
Recently In an attempt to recapture the past, Zsigmond's cinematography is the best thing in the new The Black Dahlia, but it may be the only thing that works in that movie.
The cast of Blow Out features DePalma's then-wife Nancy Allen, and actors Dennis Franz and John Lithgow, two actors who have gone on to have very productive careers, especially on television. And the performance by John Travolta is one of his finest.
Blow Out is DePalma's most controlled film, and may well be his best.
Manhunter (1986) is an underrated movie, directed and also scripted by Mann himself, from Thomas Harris' terrific novel Red Dragon, which was remade by Brett Ratner, who had a great cast but little style.
Manhunter shows what Mann could do, before he got bloated. Another example of a Mann gem is Thief (1981), which Mann also wrote.
William Peterson gives a sensitive performance as Will Graham in Manhunter, long before his fame on tv in CSI.
Altman has a magic quilt of movies, but let's emphasize his western McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), which took the western in a direction it had never gone before. Altman is a director who is an iconoclast about genres.
In McCabe and Mrs. Miller, another movie shot by the stellar Zsigmond, Altman gave a vision of the west that was dark, wet, and ironic. Altman used one of his staples -- the dreamer. This dreamer was spurned and destroyed by the "real world" of commerce and power.
The ending where the people run to save the church, which is on fire, and leave McCabe to his hapless fate, has not lost its relevance.
Splash (1984) gave director Ron Howard his fins. It is a romantic comedy about a love affair between a mermaid (Daryl Hannah) and a human (Tom Hanks). it is done with charm and style. The supporting cast -- John Candy, Eugene Levy, and even Dody Goodman -- increases the fun. Today Eugene Levy is still one of the most human comic actors of our time.
Perhaps the most underrated movie directed by Oliver Stone is Nixon (1995). The performances by Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen as the Nixons have a gripping humanity to them.
Stone effectively used Citizen Kane as a model. The movie Nixon wasn't Stone's patented over-the-top visceral antics; it was a very human document.
If only these five masterly directors could return to their roots and reclaim their clear focus on human nature, instead of posturing and placing product.
I don't want to dwell on screenplays again, except to say a movie without a good script is like bread without its crust, an artichoke without its heart, and an orange without its juice.
Today chemistry and humanity seem to have been replaced by faith-in-meager-writing directing. It's not working.
We still have to hear from Marty Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, who have movies headed for our theaters. Because of the recent insubstantiality of their veteran peers, they carry an even heavier burden.
May they be true to their roots and our humanity.