Week 44/2023

This week’s agenda showcases some iconic Hollywood movies that embody the pursuit of the “finished” film –  a sometimes difficult and long struggle.

Our first film, The Fly (1986), will be shown on Halloween in its final state. However, the film initially had multiple potential endings, as evidenced from some extra material available on YouTube. Director Cronenberg interpreted the film as an allegory of aging, describing it as “a compression of any love affair that reaches the end of one of the lovers’ lives.” He added, “Every love story must end tragically. One of the lovers dies, or both of them die together. That’s tragic. It’s the end.” Apparently, some of the considered endings could have had tragic consequences of their own.

In our second feature, it’s also the ending, among other elements, that director William Friedkin altered in The Exorcist (1979). The director’s cut, released in 2000 and promoted as "The Version You’ve Never Seen," includes 10 minutes of additional footage, updated CGI effects, and a subtly modified ending. The diverse versions reflect the contrasting perspectives of Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty. The revised ending clarifies some of the ambiguity about what truly possesses the girl in the film and somewhat reinstates the shaken faith, while the original theatrical cut left things in a more cynical light.

Our final film, famously beset by a tumultuous production, exemplifies the creative chaos resulting in multiple versions. Apocalypse Now (1979) had multiple versions over the years, even a five-hour long work print, all adding to the myth surrounding the film’s production. Martin Sheen’s heart attack, Francis Ford Coppola’s nervous breakdown, and Marlon Brando’s complex character all surely contributed too. Coppola observed that the filmmaking process mirrored the narrative’s journey, much like Captain Willard’s quest in the jungle – a search for answers and catharsis. What was changed in the 2019 final cut? It restores the previously omitted plantation scene but excludes the maligned Playboy Bunny scene featured in the Redux version.

The Fly

A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.

EN

“‘A deep, penetrating dive into the plasma pool,’ also one of the decade’s great romantic tragedies and the most harrowing portrait of the visceral indignities of disease and aging since Pialat’s The Mouth Agape. Megalomania, fear and madness are stages the genius passes through in a pop Gothicism that brings out the cerebral Cronenberg’s operatic side. The fantasy of transformation is answered by “general cellular chaos and revolution,” sex and sugar are the newfound appetites that mold the tumorous chrysalis. The bloodied paw on the steamy glass, bristles out of the wound, the writhing larva in the delivery room. Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf for the protagonist up the wall, with the poignancy of Goldblum’s twitchy pantomime radiating through layers of goo. “I’m saying, I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake.” The climax reveals the inspired variant of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the stinger is cinema’s most sorrowful splatter effect.”

Fernando F. Croce1

 

“To me the film is a metaphor for ageing, a compression of any love affair that goes to the end of one of the lover’s lives. I can be a sucker for a romantic story, believe it or not. I’m not totally cynical. Nor do I think I’m pessimistic. But the reality is undeniable, especially if you don’t believe in the afterlife – where you walk hand in hand through the clouds together. Every love story must end tragically. One of the lovers dies, or both of them die together. That’s tragic. It’s the end. 

[...]

When you have a dream that has terrified you, and you can’t shake the fear, you tell somebody the dream. As it comes out of your mouth you know it’s flat, it’s not working. You’re saying exactly what happened, but the terror isn’t there. You can tell by the look on the person’s face that it’s not scary. You’re saying, ‘But you had to be there. The dream had a tone and a colour and an ambience that was terrifying. It wasn’t the concept. It wasn’t the action. It was the dream itself that was terrifying.’ That’s the thing. It’s the tone. Intangible. And yet it’s palpable, in the sense that you wake up and you’re still living in it. You’re not in the narrative any more, but the half-life is still there. I had a dream that I was watching a film and the film was causing me to grow old fast. The movie itself was infecting me, giving me a disease, the essence of which was that I was ageing. Then the screen became a mirror in which I was seeing myself age. I woke up terrified. That’s really what I’m talking about, more than any puny virus.”

David Cronenberg2

  • 1Fernando F. Croce, “The Fly,” Cinépassion.org.
  • 2Chris Rodley, ed., Cronenberg on Cronenberg (London: Faber and Faber, 1992), 125-128.

FR

« The Fly est a la fois un film tragique (l’irréversibilité du mouvement de transformation) et serein : le spectacle dérisoire de l’organe quittant son corps (« Rien de plus inutile qu’un organe », hurlait Artaud). Entre ce mouvement d’acceptation (« j’ai été cela ») et de refus (’horreur du devenir), Cronenberg réitére la grande question de son cinéma: ou finit l’organe (celui du corps humain) et ot commence l’organisme (celui de la mouche) et inversement ? Entre les deux, il navigue à vue sur les rives incertaines du documentaire type sciences naturelles (du Painlevé : la vie des insectes, leur façon de se nourrir, comme dans l’ouverture de L’Age d’or de Bunuel) et l’image scientifique médicale (l’image moléculaire de la composition du corps grace à l’ordinateur). »

Charles Tesson1

  • 1Charles Tesson, « Les yeux plus gros que le ventre, » Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 391, Janvier 1987.
screening
Flagey, Brussels
The Exorcist: Director’s Cut

When a young girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two Catholic priests to save her life.

EN

“What an excellent day for an exorcism.”

Mercedes McCambridge as the demon

 

“Ideologically, the concern of all of these films (Alien, The Exorcist, The Deer Hunter, even Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is to make Americans even more American by having them exorcise an Other (evil, in general) that haunts or inhabits them. The novelty of these films, their power, too, is that they decided to no longer skimp on the means (technology, again) to demonstrate the other, the alien, within ourselves. Previously, it was mostly B movies that attacked this theme (in the fifties, around anti-communism), but with meager resources, limited to weak special effects or writerly manipulations (the Tourneurian off-screen) that only shocked viewers who were very naïve or very sophisticated (cinephiles). The decision to show the unshowable is fairly recent.”

Serge Daney1

 

“The week the film opened, a porno theater in Long Beach obtained a bootleg 16 mm. print. They too had lines around the block. There was a hand-printed sign outside the theater: ‘Technical difficulties, no refunds.’ In fact, the sound was out of sync with picture because the print had not only been illegally but amateurishly copied. This didn’t seem to bother the patrons. I heard about it from a friend, and I immediately reported it to Frank Wells. ‘We’ll get our lawyers on it right away,’ Frank said. Ten days went by, and the bootleg print was still playing. What angered me was not the loss of revenue; the film was earning a fortune. It was that people were not seeing it as I intended. I asked Wells what was happening with the lawyers, and he said they were preparing a complaint. Dave Salven and I had a friend who was on the wrong side of the law. He asked if I wanted him to ‘handle the situation,’ and I told him to go ahead. That Saturday night, Dave waited in the car with the engine running while our friend went into the Long Beach theater, past the crowds, and up to the projection booth. He told the projectionist to take the film off the projector, put it in its container, and hand it over. ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ the projectionist responded. My ‘friend’ opened his jacket to reveal a .45 automatic, whereupon the projectionist complied, leaving an angry and confused audience.”

William Friedkin2

 

“This was – and remains today – an extraordinarily daring horror movie. Its agonising, slow-burn narrative structure is full of false leads, unsolved mysteries and events snatched away in medias res. Its sudden apparitions – such as the newly included 'spider walk' of Regan down the stairs – are terrifying as much for their abruptness as their lurid content. Friedkin likes to say that he deliberately presented only the bare bones of the story, leaving its interpretation to viewers. The claim seems disingenuous because Friedkin's method – announced here and taken to an extreme in his masterpiece, Cruising (1980) – is to swiftly sketch many, contradictory readings of the enigmatic events on screen, without settling on any of them. His is a cinema of hysteria – and in Regan he has a hysteric worthy of Freud’s case studies. (Like some of Freud’s women, she is confined to bed.) Blatty’s own understanding of his story is straightforwardly religious: it is about the struggle of Good against Evil, two primal forces that shape all cultures at all times (hence the film's mish-mash of modern and ancient, Christian and Pagan cultures).

[...]

However you choose to take it, the film is a blast. New digital effects – conjuring a subliminal death skull in every nook and cranny of this haunted house – heighten Friedkin's idea that the movie is a "collective hallucination" experienced by all its characters, a "symbiosis of dreams". Perhaps even more affecting is the technological enhancement of the soundtrack – one of the harshest and most disconcerting noisescapes in all cinema. Forget all the parodic jokes down the years about twisting heads and green vomit. The Exorcist is more startling and captivating now than ever before – and a shining example of how radical, on every level, a piece of popular entertainment can be.”

Adrian Martin3

  • 1Serge Daney, “Apocalypse Now,” The MIT Press Reader, 1 September 2022. This essay was originally published in French in Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 304, October 1979.
  • 2William Friedkin, The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir (New York: Harper, 2013).
  • 3Adrian Martin, “The Exorcist: Director’s Cut,” Film Critic: Adrian Martin, March 2001.
screening
CINEMATEK, Brussels
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut

Apocalypse Now is a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, set in 1969 during the Vietnam War. The story traces the journey of a special forces captain (Willard) through the violent combat zones of Vietnam on a secret assignment to terminate the life of a field commander called Kurtz, who has set up a ruthless dictatorship. As Willard travels through the insanity and absurdities of the American involvement in the war, he is more and more drawn to the jungle itself, its primeval mystique and immense power. Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is the final cut as orchestrated by the director in 2019.

EN

Apocalypse Now has never looked or sounded better, and it’s a dizzying sensory overload to begin with. You’re gonna love the smell of Blu-ray in the morning.”

Charles Bramesco1

 

“It is, in terms of storytelling and scope, a completely different trip up the river, through your acid-fried skull, and into the heart of darkness.”

David Fear2

 

“As magnificent as the movie looks, sounds, and feels, this cut expands upon and unpeels the movie’s weaknesses both as story and meditation on Vietnam. It’s a trimmed-down version of the Redux cut’s structure. It excises the ghoulish, morbid sex-with-the-Playmates scene, but retains the stealing of Colonel Kilgore’s surfboard and the French Plantation scene.

Some devotees of the movie complain that the former scene shouldn’t be in any cut, because the shots of Martin Sheen’s Willard grinning like a frat boy as he engages in shenanigans with the other members of the PT boat crew “humanizes” the character too much. You could just as convincingly argue that it rounds the character out, but my main objection to it is that it just dangles a plot point without any interest in its resolution – something even the first cut of the movie did a smidge too often. 

As for the French Plantation scene, aside from shrugging off the urgency of the quest to get to Kurtz’s compound, it does have some things to recommend it. The sequence is eerie, tense and sensuous, like a widescreen color collaboration between Luchino Visconti and Val Lewton. It’s fascinating too, in its real world cinema semiotics; it was on the set that actor Aurore Clemente met Coppola’s longtime collaborator Dean Tavoularis, and the two subsequently married. One of the decaying Frenchman is played by Christian Marquand, who was once among Brando’s closest friends (it was as a favor to Marquand that Brando appeared as the guru in the artistic and box office disaster “Candy,” which Marquand directed). But he scene adds no coherence to the already wildly spinning story; in fact, it adds to its incoherence. It’s really the only scene that tries to come to grips with the narrative of the Vietnam War, the reality of colonialism. And it can only deal with those topics with a facile imagistic simplicity, with a cracked egg metaphor that’s almost offensively tired. It underscores the other ways that Apocalypse Now fails as a consideration of Vietnam.”

Glenn Kenny3

 

“And so, ‘the apocalypse disappoints us.’ In Lacanian terms, we could reproach Coppola for having attempted the impossible: to film the unrepresentable phallus. Even Brando’s bald head doesn’t suffice. But it is as much out of calculation as out of naiveté that he had to make the film this way. For while he succeeded in shooting the film exactly as he wanted to, despite innumerable impediments, he was simultaneously forced to make a film of an almost standard length, with a real ending, etc., out of what was an enormous amount of filmed material. Perhaps he lacked the power to assume a lavish economy to the very end, to earn the right not to conclude.”

Serge Daney4

 

“The incomparable Tribeca event was the premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, the third iteration of Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now. (The second, Apocalypse Now: Redux, premiered at Cannes in 2001.) According to Coppola, the first version was too short, the second too long, so he gave it another shot. That it can never be a perfect film does not make is any less of a great one. It is amazing that as specific as it is to the insanity of the war in Vietnam, it speaks just as much to deeper, permanent American insanity – the one that is upon us now. The latest version has been digitally souped up – picture and sound both intensified. Which, in theory is fine, but like all digital restorations, it looks like a scan of the real thing – no depth, no weight, no texture. After the film, Coppola was interviewed on stage by Steven Soderbergh who asked him lots of questions about financing – basically how did the film get made with virtually no industry support. Coppola mentioned that Marlon Brando had been hired for three weeks at a million a week. Brando showed up massively overweight and for the first week, he just wanted to talk; since Coppola had enormous respect for Brando’s intelligence, he agreed. Soderbergh looked aghast that anyone would pay an actor a million bucks to chat. Another big expense was hiring a fleet of 26 army helicopters and deploying them to show how Americans swooped down and rained death on people, while looking straight in their eyes. Apocalypse Now is extraordinary because the technology Coppola used matched the technology of that war. Post Apocalypse Now, war movies would increasingly rely on CGI , just as today, thanks to digital weaponry, the military can take out a target from thousands of miles away.”

Amy Taubin5

screening
Palace, Brussels
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