Monday, October 19, 2009

Chuck Norris vs. Jacques Tati

Tati wins, obviously

It was the 1980s. Things were different in those days. Some friends and I rented the movie Delta Force, starring Chuck Norris, with Joey Bishop and...some other people. I don't remember. Was Lee Marvin in it? I don't know what possessed us to rent the stinking thing. At least we didn't see it in a theater.

But that was the '80s. In those days, in every commercial movie made, the camera moved constantly and for no reason. Every shot was a tracking shot. Sometimes the camera would slowly drift, other times it would zip about. But it was always moving.

Delta Force's Zionist director Menahem Golan pioneered a money-saving technique I hadn't seen before or since. He would just roll the camera back and forth on a short length of track in each scene. The camera was constantly moving but he only needed to lay half as much track.

Poor Chuck Norris. Seeing him now at age---how old is he? An elderly crackpot professing a belief in intelligent design, campaigning for Mike Huckabee, acting as commencement speaker at Liberty University. (No offense to Huckabee supporters, intelligent design proponents, or Liberty University alumni.)

Makes you wonder where Bruce Lee would be if he had lived.

The '80s were grim years. When you read anything about independent filmmaking, they were always talking about improvised dollies, tracks, cranes. Wheelchairs were the big thing, of course.

It was refreshing to see a Jacques Tati movie, shot entirely in static camera long shot. Look for Mr Hulot's Holiday, Mon Oncle, and Trafic. And Playtime is interesting, with English dialog by Art Buchwald.

Pirates of the 20th Century

There was a Soviet action movie, Pirates of the 20th Century, a huge hit in its day. Made in the 1970s. The director saw some Chinese kung fu movies that were shown in the USSR and thought he could do better than that. It had some Soviet karate guys in it.

A Soviet ship transporting pharmaceutical opium from Asia is hijacked. The pirates attempt to kill everyone on board and sink the ship, but some of the Soviet sailors survive and reach an island which they discover is the pirates' base.

The movie is available on DVD. There wasn't as much karate as I expected. The violence wasn't terribly graphic, but it seemed worse than in American movies, somehow. For some reason, I found the crew of the ship being murdered much more disturbing than similar scenes in American movies.

The DVD had an interview with the director. Soviet filmmakers had pretty much the same problems as those in Hollywood. The head of the studio, when he saw it, asked the director how much he thought it would gross.

There was a scene in the movie----one of the women was been captured by the pirates. They torture her. She refuses to talk. Then there is an implied threat to rape her. According to the director, they had to tone down the rape threat so they could get the Soviet equivalent of a PG rating.

Good thing, too. The movie made a fortune from teenage boys who went back to see it again and again.

During the filming there had been some debate whether they should show a Soviet man kick a pirate in the groin. They decided to go ahead. The director knew he made the right choice when he sat in a movie theater and heard an old man say, "Finally our men know how to hit!"

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