John Frankenheimer‘s Fourth War and David Thompson’s Hollywood novel Silver Light plus The Phantom of the Opera, Stanley and Iris and Vincent and Theo.
INDEX: 18 LISTINGS: WEEK ONE 23 WEEK TWO 24
As John Frankenheimer’s latest movie The Fourth War goes on release, Trevor Johnston recalls meeting one of the American cinema’s most maverick talents and traces his decline from the peak years of the 605.
Godard‘s A Bout de Soufﬂe provides an abiding image ofwhat a real film director ought to look like. You‘ll recall the scene where tyro journo
Jean Seberg trots offto sit at the feet of (as it turns
out) fellow French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville virtually playing himself. Handsome. manly, prone to pithy sentences of near-gnomic significance. the film-maker is Hemingway with a movie camera. John Frankenheimer sitting at the table beside you exudes just the same impressive aura.
A group of international hacks is gathered beneath a parasol as the Riviera sun beats down on the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Frankheimer. leathery tan and swept-back whitening curls. is taking time out from post-production to do some press on his latest opus. a military thriller entitled The Fourth War. that has Roy Scheider and Jurgen Prochnow conducting their own private
Roy Schelder chem a lake with John Frenkenhelmer
(above): and with Jurgen Prochnow (below)
conﬂict across the East/West German border. “It‘s about heroes from another age going at each
i other against the backdrop of Glasnost.‘ he tells
us in a penetrating burr. ‘and you begin to realise that one of them has to break off or the whole thing's gonna erupt.‘
He adds that the notion of ‘the discarded hero‘ appeals to him. but that‘s probably because he‘s become one himself. One of the prime movers in the literary heyday ofAmerican television‘s golden age, he proved his big screen virtuosity with a series ofmovies like The Manchurian Candidate, The Best Man and Seconds whose technical bravura and thematic grit mark them out as some ofthe 605 cinema's finest moments. The failure ofexpansive personal projects like 1966‘s automotive epic Grand Prix and the skydiving drama The Gypsy Moths three years later, initiated a slide towards mere journeyman work that could take in eco-monster hokum (Prophecy), stolid cop material (the Don Johnson vehicle Dead Band), or indeed efficient action fare like The Fourth War.
Not that you can simply ask the man What went wrong? He‘s too gruff and imposing a figure for that. and the recent reissue of The Manchurian Candidate has revived our already healthy respect. ‘It‘s great to have people tell you you ‘ directed a classic‘ he adds. as if it were the most natural thing in the world. ‘The kind of praise I'm now getting for that movie usually only happens to you after you‘re dead. I still think it‘s one of the best things I ever did. but I probably prefer The Gypsy Moths and The Iceman (‘ometh with Frederic March. Those two are the purest. the least compromised.‘
The Fourth War (15) opens at the ()(leons in Glasgow and Edinburgh on Fri 22 June. Seefilrn listings for further details.
:- Thomson . Goes West
David Thomson’s ‘Suspects' very imaginatively abolished the distinction between film criticism and tiction with speculative biographies of such Film Noir luminaries as ‘The Maltese Falcon”s Brigid O'Shaughnessy and ‘Touch of Evil”s Hank Quinlan. Compared with ‘Suspects’, ‘Silver Light’ is much more obviously a novel, but still takes as its points of reference the key characters from several classic Western movies, including ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, ‘The Searchers’, and, most importantly, ‘Red River'. With a multi-first person fractured narrative shifting abruptly between the close of the Civil War, 1950 and very many points in between, this is a self-conscious exercise in
g sum tit.
Western photographer Susan Garth,
A NUVILIYHM AMINO. lU'M‘
Miller') and many others.
mythologising and humour.
sometimes as an 80 year-old
and sometimes as a young girl, is the daughter of Matthew Garth, the character played by Montgomery Clift ; in ‘Bed River’. Bark Blaylock, again
; talking across many years oi history
1 and personal experience, could be the i son of ‘The Searcher"s Ethan Edwards ' or a real-life sidekick of Billy the Kid. Also on hand is More Stoddart, the research student daughter of Ransom Stoddart (played by James Stewart in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’), James Averill II, (the son of the character played by Kris Kristofferson in ‘Heaven's Gate’), Pat Garret and Billy the Kid from innumerable movies, John 0. McCabe (of ‘McCabe and Mrs
An ambitious meta-fiction in the self-subversive Faulkerian mode, the problem with ‘Silver Light' is its lack of any sense of cruel, urgent life. William Faulkner's American South is an intractany fascinating domain of repression, violence. racial hatred and
flawed, twisted ambition. Thompson's West on the other hand is a far more genteel and intellectual place (although there are deft touches: Matthew Garth must surely be the only Western hero moved to kill the man who catches him playing with himself). Thomas Hardy is read on the trail, everyone thinks a great deal (too much), and the near instinctive casual violence endemic to the Frontier is mostly avoided. Also the characters from both the movies and the historical past are very much in the background - this is Susan and Bark’s stories rather than those of Ethan Edwards or Pat Garrett. Too much recollective thought and not enough ignorance, outrage and violence, it‘s a mostly mechanical exercise which circles unsuccessfully around movies, history and memory without ever becoming compulsive. (Tom Tunney)
Silver Light is published in hardback by Andre Deutsch at £12.95. J
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