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Christmas in Bundanyabba

outback hs

Two semi-lost films from the 70s surfaced this week in fine Blu-ray editions, which becomes my occasion in the New York Times to construct a semi-specious argument about influence, conscious and unconscious, of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” on the action cinema of that divided decade. Ted Kotcheff’s relentless “Wake in Fright” (released in the US as “Outback”) has been restored to its original sunburned splendor by Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive — though perhaps the national tourist board would have paid more to suppress it — and released in the states by Drafthouse Films. And Richard Fleischer’s 1979 “Ashanti” — an international co-production that dropped out of sight after an initial release through Warner Bros. — is also back in a handsome edition derived from the original camera negative through Severin Films. It’s mid-range Fleischer — a crisply professional rendition of an undistinguished screenplay — but it is an excuse to bring up Fleischer’s great “Mandingo,” a movie that’s not getting nearly the credit it should for “inspiring” Quentin Tarantino’s rather tired “Django Unchained.” (Tarantino’s other major, unacknowledged source is the 1971 “Skin Game,” a movie that variously involved the talents of Peter Stone, Burt Kennedy and Gordon Douglas before it was finally signed by Paul Bogart).

65 comments to Christmas in Bundanyabba

  • Barry, that 70 mm print of CHEYENNE AUTUMN might have come from Sweden. There is a 70 mm revival in the Nordic countries: in Oslo there is big success with their 70 mm festival. Next week in Helsinki we’ll have a 70 mm weekend with THE MASTER and TOP GUN.

  • Robert Garrick, thank you for your post on Tarantino. There’s really nothing I can (or need to) add to that.

  • edo

    Barry, Gregg! Thanks for the warm welcome back. Hope you’re both well!

    I believe Antti is right and that the print was from the Swedish Film Institute. I saw it during its second screening at Lincoln Center.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Barry Putterman, while sharing your dismay at the unavailability of such classics as Hawks’s The Dawn Patrol and Ceiling Zero, I understand that the latter — released on VHS a couple of decades back — is now in limbo because of rights issues (the Spig Wead play, I guess). However, as I protested when writing up the 1938 remake of The Dawn Patrol for Amazon, Warner Home Video really should have included the Hawks original in a dual set — especially since a goodly chunk of the Edmund Goulding remake is the Hawks original.

  • Nicolas Saada

    Stuart Heisler’s STORM WARNING, Tourneur’s STARS IN MY CROWN, Manckiewicz NO WAY OUT. Woody Strode in SGT RUTLEDGE. Will Smith in Sonnenfeld’s WILD WILD WEST. I think amnesia rules the dominant taste, especially in a time when things are taken for granted as soon as they pop up (blame the internet) instead of being looked at within any perspective. It’s the long long battle between the “old new” and the “new old”. I showed DRIVER and THIEF to a friend of mine last week. He said ‘ “oh I get your point about DRIVE.” The limited media space taken by Oshima’s disappearance, only associated with his EMPIRE OF SENSES is just another syndrom. PLEASURES OF THE FLESH was an amazing attempt at blending social comment with the pulp style of Suzuki’s gangster films. I loved the first half of DJANGO. Actually, when Walz and Foxx arrived in,this saloon, I thought the film would turn into a Kammerspiel western in the tradition of THE GUNFIGHTER or RIDNG SHOTGUN. A one room western blended into RESERVOIR DOGS. Then it became something else.
    As to Robert Garrick’s post :back in the days in Cahiers, I would write an essay on Lang’s VIER UM DIE FRAU and conduct the next week an hour interview with Tsui Hark by phone on CHINESE GHOST STORY. But that was “back in the days”…. Bill Krohn would write an extensive piece on Boetticher AND let us know about some obscure Slasher. But that was “back in the days”. Film culture was a consistent, funny, beautiful whole. Dave K still know about that…

  • Alex

    It’s not clear to me that Tarantino’s “tremendous innate talent” has taken a dive since “Jackie Browne.” He’s simply never been able to move beyond the limitation of pulpiness that plaque even his best film, Pulp Fiction,” which strikes me as not that much better than “Inglourioust Basterds.” (What’s one got to chose between gratuitous S&M abduction smack in the middle of PF and the scalping and forehead carving at the end of IB?)Only Jackie Brown breaks out of QT’s debilitating high-low problem. For me, for whom QT’s lows are the (not unenjoyable) “Kill Bill” duet and “Death Proof,” what’s depressing about QT’s trajectory is not so much a deterioration but a lack of development.

    Part of Tarantino’s problem is inclination to judge his films as Hitchcock repeatedly judges his in the interview book with Truffaut –that is, for their effectiveness with the audience– for he’s got a large an admiring audience as no one around film studies/production students around a QT release can miss (and anyone charting grosses can see.)

    Midbrow? Well, the tradition meaning of the term as developed by and around Dwight Macdonald connotes a combination of modest artistic talent and intellectually ambitious but unwittingly trite thematic aspirations (as with John Hersey, Herman Wouk, James Michener and, say, 1960s and 1970s Sidney Lumet or ‘80s Alan Parker — not stylish trashiness as with, say, the Mailer of “An American Dream” and “Marilyn” and De Palme (at his Best).

    Maybe, though, one might regard stylish trashiness as a mode of midbrow where the style is thought to signal high art as an elaboration of the original conception.

    In any case, it’s not clear to me that Tarantino couldn’t make a second, successful attempt at sobriety in the manner of “Jackie Brown” or return to as strong preponderance of form over bad taste (as in “Pulp Fiction,” or even move forward from such enviable stepping stones.

    If, as Trantino himself seems to sometimes write, it’s only rock’n’ roll, I still like it.

  • “No one would want to look at SHANGHAI EXPRESS for the reality of China in 1934, but Sternberg used his idea of Chinese warlords merely as a backdrop to his story.”

    As a matter of fact Jonathan D. Spence, current doyen of China scholars, considers “Shanghai Express” not only accurate in its period detail but in its characterizations of the Europeans as well. He contributed an essay on it in “Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies.” The movie was based on an actual incident that also formed the basis of Ilya Trauberg’s “China Express” (1929.) Sternberg’s imagination was grounded in reality, and even when he used exotic locations that he’d never seen he somehow achieved a degree of verisimilitude.

  • alex

    Nicholas Saada,

    What did you have in mind by your reference to Will Smith in WILD WILD WEST– one of my all-time guilty pleasure, an inspired retro Sci-Fi satire of the varieties of Southern reaction: slave nostalgia. Tory and Prussisn arstocratic military sympathizer/allies, & Vernian technological fancy all done with great comedic precision and Brio (and an underappreciation of as much public ignorance of the ideological reaction of Dixie as we see today Re the cinematically barely intimated degree of brutality of plantation slavery) .

  • X, thanks for the correction. How funny that Josef von Sternberg is more grounded in the real world of history than Quentin Tarantino. (We all knew he was always already more grounded in human emotion.)

  • nicolas saada

    Alex. Nothing in particular: it’s a very loud and messy film. But it has connections with DJango unchained. I also read that Will Smith turned down DJANGO. I am sure that he believed WWWest covered basically the same “terrain”. I see connections between both films.

  • Richard T., as luck would have it, Warner Archive announced today that the 1930 “Dawn Patrol” will be out on Jan. 29. Apparently, the only print they had was the TV version, re-titled “Flight Commander,” but now they’ve found an original.

  • Tony Williams

    Great news, Dave! At last, I can have a reasonable copy to run in class. I also look forward to your intrepid exploration of Lew Landers – “Coming Soon to this site.”

  • Alex Hicks

    Just referred to Will Wright’s “vengeance Western” and Robert Ray’s “disguised Western” in class. Students immediately caught the (none too difficult) connection of both to DJANGO UNCHAINED. Extensive torrents of enthusiasm for the film –perhaps unequaled since the appearance of KILL BILL I! (And without a dissenting voice.) When I mentioned TAXI DRIVER as another “disguised” “vengeance Western,” immediate outcries of “But TAXI DRIVER’s the opposite of “DJANGO!” When I replied “You mean you regard TAXI DRIVER as racist as some have,” outcries of “Totally!”)

    Whether the great anti-racist affirmation of DU is due to a pretty much previously unequalled, visceral (if not analytical) exposure of the extreme and largely cynical brutally of plantation racism OR elation at the extravagantly bloody vindictive finale, I’m not sure. (Hope is most the former; expect it’s largely both.)

    And, yes, African Americans seem especially (and ostensibly uniformly)strong fans of DU. Started conversing about whether to see to again soon. (I’ll certainly re-view the first half or so at least once when it’s economically available: funny as that last great surprise American comedy, Kubrick’s first half or so — the Quilty-killing and Ramsdale portions –plus Enchanted Hunter Hotel bit– of his LOLITA.)

  • edo

    Alex, did you point out to your students that “Taxi Driver” is one of QT’s all-time favorite films? If so, what was their reaction?

  • alex


    Interesting pointof which I. was quite unaware. concern for racist and vigilante elements in TAxi DRIVER only qualifies my admiration for the film, which I consider great, if not an all time favorite, no more than my mere toleration of the latter portions of DU leads me to not relish its first half, I don ‘t have to much trouble e
    With QT ‘s contradiction.ßßsßsßßsááaááaááááááaááááááaaaaaáaáaaááaáaaáááaaaaáaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa