Spaghetti Apocalypse

Four of the Apocalypse is a 1975 spaghetti western film directed by noted horror director Lucio Fulci. And it’s unlike any film I’ve ever seen.

I am a huge fan of spaghetti westerns. As a teenager I fell in love with the big three by Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). While those are probably the most satisfying and well done, there are literally hundreds of others to explore. A few dozen of them are great and worth your time. Unfortunately, once producers saw a successful genre they milked it too deep. Putting out so many mediocre-to-bad spaghetti westerns killed the genre for a long time.

I had already been a fan of Lucio Fulci’s horror films. He became known as the ‘Godfather of Gore’ in the 70’s and 80’s and earned that moniker from such great films as The Beyond, Zombi, and The House by the Cemetery. When I learned he dabbled in various other genres including spaghetti westerns, I quickly tracked this film down and gave it a watch.

Honestly, I kind of hated this film when I first watched it. I imagine that was because I went in with expectations of a gore-fest like his other films, and/or I expected a gritty revenge tale in the style of Death Rides a Horse or the original Django. I found it very unsatisfying and the music irritating. Four of the Apocalypse in indeed an odd movie. Some would call it batshit crazy.

Here’s the description from the back of the Blue Underground DVD release:

Having survived a vigilante slaughter, four hard-luck strangers – gambler Stubby Preston, a pregnant prostitute, the town drunk, and a madman who sees dead people – escape into the lawless frontier. But when they meet a sadistic bandit named Chaco, the four are plunged into a nightmare of torture, brutality, and beyond. In a land that screams with the pain of the damned, can four lost souls find redemption and revenge?

Yeah I guess that is the basic description of the plot, but it’s much more than that. I can’t tell if Fulci wanted to just mess with our expectations of his film, or if he was trying for a more surreal and emotional classic quest story. The film at times feels like a road film, other times a pseudo-love story, a horror film, or even an exploitation flick. Normally this tonal change would sink a movie, but somehow I think that it works here. They are all flawed, anti-heroes that end up meeting a truly sinister and evil antagonist in Chaco.

One of the strongest performances, and a compelling reason to watch this film, is Tomas Milian’s role as Chaco. He exudes menace and malice with every squinty dusty glare. He based this character in part on Charles Manson. Scraggly hair, wild eyes, unpredictable, and sadistic. He clicks his ring against his Winchester rifle like a nervous rattlesnake about to pounce on a desert mouse. He draws crosses underneath his eyes in a completely striking and original move. He gives all four miscreants peyote and ties everyone up. He tortures a captive just for the sake of torturing them, rapes a character, kills many many people, and basically seems to have an agenda of chaos. Most recently, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow seems to have taken much visual inspiration from Chaco. Much like Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz character in Apocalypse Now, his character doesn’t actually have all that much screen time, but he is talked about and feared and reacted to for the entire movie. And his presence dominates any scene that he is in.

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If the film was more hallucinatory and symbolic, it would give Alejandro Jodorowsky a run for his money. I was definitely reminded of El Topo and The Holy Mountain at times. But then the opening scene has great slow-motion shootouts with bloody squibs a la the great Sam Peckinpah. Parts in the middle of the film feel like a horror movie. The snowy landscapes bring to mind McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Great Silence. The love story reminds me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This movie is all over the place. Maybe Fulci was inspired and intentionally mixing it all up. Maybe he was lost and didn’t really have storyboards or all the details worked out. Maybe he and the entire cast were drinking and drugging in the desert making it up as they went. All possibilities are valid.

Don’t watch is as a spaghetti western. Watch it as a mythic quest film. I think then the chance of disappointment would be lessened. Upon my second viewing, all the characters are archetypes and antiheroes desperately trying to escape a torturous and insane antagonist. Their surreal journey across the harsh desert will bring redemption, death, life, madness, and revenge, among other things.

One criticism is the music. Indeed there are numerous folk songs that, by today’s standards, seem to distract from the story. I hated the music the first time I watched it. Some of the songs have the exact vocal effects and style as 70’s Pink Floyd. Which makes sense since Dark Side of the Moon came out a couple years prior to this film and sold a bazillion copies. And, just like Keoma, another spaghetti western with questionable music, some of the songs actually are narrating the action on the screen. That’s a hard narrative choice to pull off without sounding corny.

But it was the 70’s and music like that was huge. It wouldn’t be any stranger than a current film using current bands and styles on their soundtrack. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out a few years prior to this movie, and I don’t love their use of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. Some of the most successful album-oriented-rock acts then were artists like The Carpenters, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, etc.  Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Keoma, Mannaja: A Man Called Blade, and Django all use folksy acoustic music. So go into it knowing that this film is of its time, and it has some interesting music to show it.

But on the good side, this film is unusual and takes you to areas you didn’t expect to go. Which I love. One of the best scenes is when Bud is walking around naked in the rain talking to tombstones in the graveyard as if the people were there and could hear him. I’ve never seen something like that happen in any other movie. Another striking scene is when a small town comprised entirely of men all stop and react to the sound of a baby crying after being born. No baby had been born in the town prior, people had only died. The way the men rally around and celebrate that new life is touching, and something very unusual in movies, let alone a spaghetti western. Finding out the fate of the church caravan is very well framed and directed. I noticed a group of baby goats walking over to the corpse of their Mama goat when I watched it this week. What a subtle detail that probably took several takes and intricate staging.

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The cinematography is gorgeous and gives us creepy spiderwebbed rooms in an abandoned church. The director caught heat wave ripples in the air above the mountains when the band of four trudges across the wilderness. Images of the group carrying one person on a stretcher across the cracked desert playa are beautiful. It’s a surreal and almost nihilistic film where you’re just rooting for the least evil character. At times I feel like the film, and director Fulci, are actually sneering at us. When the film first came out it was apparently censored or banned in some regions due to some graphic violent scenes. By today’s standards it would only be rated R, or even a hard PG-13, but the subject matter and oppressive tone and dread certainly can add to it’s reputation. It is stark, violent, and disturbing stuff, to be sure. But I think marketing the DVD in this way does a disservice because then we except some horrific scenes of brutal graphic violence like in Fulci’s horror films. And what we get instead is a very unusual and actually poetic spaghetti western that will keep you on edge if you let yourself be drawn into it.

I’m a big fan of the final confrontation amidst shaving cream, blood, and a straight razor. This film stands alone in its greatness. I actually think that is is Fulci’s best film. Join the group of strange anitheroes on their quest across the desert of hell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going on tour

I’m in a rock band called The Shrike. We go on a small tour annually in October.

As we just recently completed our Chase the Sun tour, I have lots of recent memories and observations to blog about.

Most of my friends probably don’t understand the gritty realities that being on tour actually entails. It’s certainly not glamorous or particularly easy. Touring is quite possibly the most fun I have playing in a band, yet also the most challenging. Many better writers than me have written entire books about tour life. But here is a glimpse of my shift from regular dude to on-the-road musician.

Before leaving for tour, my life centers around the regular things that we all do.

I am a new stepfather, so I spend a lot of time with my step kids. We have one girl and one boy in elementary school. I wake up at 6:15am no matter how tired I am to get them ready for school and walk them to the bus stop. I’ll go to their school with their Mom to meet with their teachers. Set up some volunteering opportunities at their school.

Of course I take care of my own mundane life needs like paying bills, grocery shopping, and keeping the household and vehicles going in smooth order

At night I enjoy running the bedtime routine for them. I’m in the bathroom with them, all brushing our teeth together. Or sending them through bath-time. The girl loves to create concoctions like she is a chemist making new cremes and body washes imbued with magical powers and named after celestial bodies. The boy likes to hold his breath underwater while I time him, also searching for bath toys and identifying them by touch. Every night I’ll read out loud to each of them for a long time until they fall asleep.

Before I headed out for our tour I printed a map of our route so they could follow along and know what state and city I was in while I was away.

Then before you know it….we launched our tour.

Now the focus of every day is event planning, coordination, networking, traveling, and juggling the minutia of spending 11 days on the road and managing 9 shows in 7 states.

Most of us have extensive background in attending the Burning Man festival and regional events, so packing some clothes and food in coolers for two weeks is something we can do in our sleep. Most of us have dietary needs and restrictions, so packing our own food is helpful and cheaper. Eating on the road is necessary but challenging to say the least. Some days you really only have time to find some food at the deli in the gas station while you’re gassing up. They’re known mainly for deep fried, unhealthy meat-based items. Or processed desserts and chips and donuts. Teriyaki beef jerky, goodbye to you.

We’re already spending too much time sedentary sitting in a car. We don’t have any opportunity to exercise or work out, so any poor eating choices we make we will pay for later. One of our band members is vegan and one is vegetarian. I decided to try eating vegetarian this tour out of solidarity, and for ease of choosing places to eat. The other band member decided to take that challenge along with me. So when we stopped at the gas station food marts, my stand-by item became egg salad sandwiches. Or, as they became known on this tour due to my tired slurring of my words, exile sandwiches. I must have eaten a dozen of those. Pro-tip: grab the condiment packets before you leave and add relish, mayo, and mustard to the exile sandwich to spice it up. Also, buy one to eat immediately and one to save in your cooler for later.

Your entire day is structured around the 45 minute set you will perform later that night. Sometimes it will be a longer set, depending on if we’re headlining and how many other bands are on the bill. But you don’t really think like you do when you grind away at an office job for 8 hours, looking forward to your breaks, slacking off, and trying to look busy. We are busy. Traveling, securing housing at friends or getting a cheap hotel. Reminding yourself the names of the people I’ve been communicating with for weeks if not months. The minute we enter the venue it’s time to interface with the booking agent, talent buyer, security guard, sound engineer, bartender, the other bands, managers, promoters, radio staff, and anyone else you might need to. Loading in heavy gear, making sure we locate safe storage and never leave the trailer unattended. Staging my drums, warming up, practicing. Creating a custom set list for this venue. Securing any food and drink tickets if applicable. Determining the correct person to find after the show se we can get paid out. Is it a door split or did we work out a guarantee? How much does the venue take out of the money for their expenses? How much does the sound engineer get paid from the door? Are the bands doing an even split, or if we are headlining is it more like 60% for us, and 20% each for the two opening bands?

This year we got to make a stop at a drum store so I could replace some gear. I noticed not one but two cracks in one of my cymbals during one of the early gigs. That makes the cymbal sound like crap, and it could easily destruct onstage during a show. I went to a drum store in Boulder, Colorado and found a great Zildjian rock crash cymbal. I also bought all new drum heads because I hadn’t changed my drum heads in months. I beat the hell out of my heads when I play, so they need more-than-regular changing otherwise they sound bad.

Then let’s load all our gear onstage for a sound check. This is where the sound engineer mics everything and tries everything out to ensure good sound. Each musician tries out their instruments while the sound tech dials it in so it sounds distinct and balanced. We’ll run through a song or part of a song so they can balance everything out in relation to each other. Supposedly these levels are recorded and saved for when we return to the stage later. Often we then remove all gear from the stage and store it backstage somewhere while the other bands go onstage and do the same thing for their soundcheck.

We wait. We get in our stage clothes, put on make up, put in contact lenses, try to find some healthy vegetarian food, finalize the set list. Put some friends on the guest list so they can get in free. We are all crashing on their couch later tonight, after all. If there is a green room, that’s the perfect place to tune guitars, play a challenging solo, warm up, and try to get in the right head space. Often our friends are outside and want to talk with us. Honestly, sometimes we’re on a mission and don’t have time for more than a 30 second check in. I used to think musicians that hid in their dressing rooms before the show were being arrogant wanna-be rock stars who wouldn’t take time for their fans or friends. Now I get it. It’s  possibly the only time where you won’t be ‘ON’ and having to be talking with someone about something. It’s the last-minute calm before the storm. And we’ve got shit to do.

This tour we were on the ball and had a few live interviews set up with some of our favorite internet radio stations and honest-to-goodness real FM radio stations. Gotta set those up from the hotel room, at the venue, or even on the road when we pull over to talk on the phone with less road noise.

Did we make money at the door last night? Great. Let’s use it to fill the gas tank so we can drive for 7 hours to get to our next gig. Did we make more money selling merch last night? Cool, we can use the band bank account card to fill the tank up with gas. Some gigs don’t bring much money at all. But some gigs bring enough to splurge for a Motel 6 room with a shower, and a couple tanks of gas. I call that slingshotting us to the next gig with the money from a show where we actually have a following/crowd. If you can stagger those shows so you either have a decent guarantee, or you know you can bring a bunch of your friends, you’re golden. For this tour, our slingshot gigs were Portland, Billings, Reno, and Boise.

Hopefully we’ve delegated and divided duties so the merchandise table is set up and ready. Our cash box has appropriate change for people buying with cash, and our Square card reader is working and compatible with the smart phones of the band members or friends who are staffing the merch booth for us. For the love of all that is holy, please PLEASE buy some merch from a local band you like. That usually ends up being the only area that they may actually make some money. Door money is unpredictable and at the mercy of many factors and fees and charges that you often don’t know about until you’re being handed a too-small wad of cash at 2am.  If you like a band at all, please drop a little cash to purchase their product and you will be loved forever. It really makes a huge difference. Much as we love playing music in a venue live, most bands are actually trying to run their band as a business and profit from their art. Bands are up against it already. I’ll blog another time about all the expenses and dedication and trying to get people to attend your shows.

Further, all the big established bands that you love  started like this. There’s pretty much no such thing as an overnight success. Bands grind it out in clubs for years and put out numerous albums before that one thing happens that gets them on the radar of a crowd outside their hometown. Support local music. Bands play in small rock clubs charging a cover and trying furiously to build a following and a strong fan base for years before ‘making it big’.

So after the show it all begins again but in reverse. Break down our gear and get it the hell off the stage as fast as possible. Get it in the trailer. Thank all the other bands that played with you and try to get them to play with you again either in your town or theirs. Try to sequester some of your biggest fans to help you load out your gear quickly. Grab the money from the manager, sign any forms you need to sign, and drive to the hotel.

Your night is not over yet. Bands get all of their gear stolen all the time. Any trailer is a target. Any evidence that you are a touring band will draw attention you don’t want. Much as you’d love to have a huge tour bus that has your band name emblazoned across the entire side panel, don’t do it. That basically says, “Hey, there could be $20K of musical equipment in here. Want it?” We spend the extra time to load all of our gear into the hotel room with us. Piece of mind is priceless. If we had any of our gear stolen while on the road it would bankrupt us and possibly end the tour. Can’t take the chance. We have a story of a band we played 2 shows with on tour having this exact thing happen to them. So after loading all of our gear in the tiny hotel room, we might scarf down some leftover Chinese food and take a quick shower before passing out on the beds. Send a quick text to our partners back home so they don’t worry. And dream about starting this process all over again tomorrow.

And I honestly thought that I would have time to read books or write lyrics or blog from the road. Since it was October I even brought some horror films on DVD to play on a laptop at night. Silly Darren. Didn’t happen.

This Macbeth is mine

Well I finally have it. The filmed version of Macbeth that I had in my mind for my entire life. This film is so well done, from every single acting performance, to the music, the cinematography, the palpable dark feel of every scene. The entire movie is a mood piece, and that mood is one of dread, paranoia, and death.

It reminded me of Refn’s striking film VALHALLA RISING. Imagine the style of that film matched with very stylized slow-motion shots that elongate the moment of violence or anticipation of that violence.
I also was reminded of my favorite Werner Herzog film, AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD. That film was a perfect match of long shots of the river or explorers moving through landscapes to the droning moody music of Popol Vuh. The director of Macbeth had to love Aguirre. He also matched similar visuals with striking music that keeps you anxious. Lot of violins and cellos and droning bagpipes lurk under most of the film.

The use of color and mist was inspired. Several shots of silhouettes of human figures walking reminded me of John Carpenter’s underrated film, THE FOG. And AGUIRRE, again. Maybe a bit of THE WITCH. Many scenes choose a color scheme and stick with it. Many blues are used in the hills and castles, gold and yellow candlelight are used perfectly in scenes with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the bright reds and oranges are used in battle scenes of blood and fire. Sparks float by in slow motion as warriors draw their swords, and I could almost feel the heat from the maelstrom behind them.

A few scenes of character’s faces in a room of hundreds of candles reminded me of Ridley Scott’s amazing lighting in BLADE RUNNER. I was actually looking for the glint in Macbeth’s eyes that would hint that he was a replicant. I also recalled Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON, where he used natural light and specific lenses to actually film the period piece by the available light that was available at the time of the story. Candlelight. Every scene in Macbeth is gorgeous. The location shots in the Scotland and England landscapes are stunning. It was reminiscent of the New Zealand beauty in the Lord of the Rings films. It has the same attention to rolling hills, snowy mountains, and small lakes and rivers. The majesty of nature.

Nothing about this film struck me as being stagey, or ‘just a play filmed for the screen’ like the Roman Polanski version. This film makes Polanski’s version look like watching a poorly done high school play. It is certainly quite dramatic and heavy, and all actors were completely immersed in their roles. Lines and speeches we’ve all heard a hundred times seemed new and fresh. They didn’t do anything in an expected or familiar way. Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth gave the best portrayal of that character that I’ve seen. And Michael Fassbinder was a Shakespearean force of darkness. I truly believed that he was Macbeth.

Although it is violent and bloody and filmed in a very engaging manner, it still is Shakespeare’s words. So younger viewers expecting a hyper-edited action oriented film will, of course, be disappointed. If you’re not into the colloquial language of Shakespeare, steer clear. The olde style vocabulary combined with the heavy Scottish accents requires your attention. I will admit I put on the subtitles at some points.

Again, this is by far the best film adaptation of this play. I’m already looking forward to watching it again. Well worth the time investment.

THIEF, 1981 Michael Mann

Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors, and this is the first film of his that I saw when I was a kid. As an adult, I can re-appreciate this film on additional levels. This feels like Michael Mann’s rehearsal for HEAT, his crime classic from 1995. And what a great rehearsal it is. James Cann is fabulous. His diner scene with Tuesday Weld is reportedly his proudest moment of his acting career. He plays a great tough guy with a heart who has goals like all of us: starting a family, adopting a child, accumulating wealth and the status we all strive for. But he is betrayed and broken. One particularly effective line is when he pulls a gun on somebody in his office and says, “I am the last guy in the world that you want to fuck with.”

But what makes his characterization so great is that he’s not just a one-dimensional tough guy. If Mann wanted that he would have written the part differently, and had somebody like Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone play him. Somebody larger than life, impervious to damage, and often quipping one-liners. But James Cann’s portrayal of Frank is so much more powerful because he is believable. An everyman. He’s been in tough situations and can certainly be the tough guy. But he gets just as upset over everyday things as he does deals gone bad or rip-offs. And his vulnerability in the infamous diner scene is expertly acted. Not many action characters spend time on-screen talking about adopting a baby, helping friends in prison, and  talking about past personal brutalizations. But this isn’t an action movie even if it appears like it on the surface. It really is a drama that happens to take place in the crime world. James Caan had been superstar for almost a decade when this film was released due to the worldwide success of The Godfather. His Sonny Corleone character was unforgettable. We know that going in, and sort of expect that hot-headed reactionary character. Mann surprises us by giving us a calm collected criminal that prides himself on thinking everything out beforehand, which is the exact opposite of Sonny Corleone. When the film builds to the inevitable violent climax, we are almost relieved to see him finally react in this manner. One could almost imagine Thief as an alternate universe where the Sonny Corelone character from The Godfather actually lived, left the protection of the family, and struck out on his own as a diamond thief. Sonny calmed down and learned self-restraint and calculated planning, and became Frank.

Michael Mann is a meticulous director who researches police procedure like no other. Part of the reason that Thief, Manhunter, and Heat work so well is the attention to detail and the honesty of what you see onscreen. He employed actual high-end bank robbers as consultants on this film, and a couple of them even have small roles. The detail of the heist scenes is unequaled. No dialogue is used, just the amazing droning pulse of Tangerine Dream on the soundtrack. Watching them burn their way into a strong safe with the use of a thermal lance is surreal and mesmerizing. This is pure visual film-making that really draws you into the scene, making you feel like you somehow snuck in behind the diamond thieves and are right there with them.

I must comment on the epic denouement of the film, in which James Cann goes against logic and does what is right for his personal code. (SPOILERS) He purposely breaks his girlfriend’s heart and sends her off (financially taking care of her) so she will not be in danger. He destroys everything linking him to his double-crossing bosses, devaluing any possessions they could claim as theirs. He literally blows up any connection to that life of material possessions that was once his dream. His house, his local bar, his used car business, and dozens of cars.

This is a portrait of a man erasing himself.

To quote Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” After he destroys all of this, he goes after the bad guys for revenge, not caring if he destroys himself as well. An unofficial version of Pink Floyd’s song ‘Comfortably Numb’ pushes the final action along. Mann steps into a comfortable zone of staging action scenes like no other director. He had just done numerous episodes of Miami Vice, and the stylized and colorful action and editing styles do indeed remind me of that show. I was a teenager when Miami Vice was on TV, and I absolutely loved the marriage of popular current music loud in the mix with the striking visuals. Mann used this technique in the climaxes of both Thief and Manhunter, two of my favorite films.

Tense, exciting, stylized and rewarding shootouts ensue in the climax.  This is a fantastic crime drama that everyone should see.

SITTING TARGET

Sitting Target is one of those movies I would catch on TV growing up as a kid. I’d stop what I was doing and change my plans to watch it. An admittedly adult film, I felt like I was getting away with something by watching it. I wish more people knew of this 1972 movie, as it is one of the greatest gritty revenge films of all time.

The plot is simple, but with an interesting twist. Oliver Reed’s character is in prison. His wife visits him to tell him that she wants a divorce and is pregnant by another man. So starts his twisted plan. He loses his mind over this revelation and decides to break out of prison for the sole purpose of killing his wife and her lover (and unborn child).

This is a tour de force for Oliver Reed. He is a barrel-chested alcoholic, deep-voiced everyman, and in this film, a seething sociopath. Reed spends the film obsessed and simmering, you can’t take your eyes off of him because you know he is about to erupt at any moment. I love hearing him bellow lines like, “You bloody bastard!” or “You conniving bitch!” in full rage.

This was probably the first film that introduced me to the anti-hero. Where the main character has amoral motivations and isn’t a particularly likeable person. It’s a lot to ask of an audience to follow the story of this man’s revenge quest to murder a pregnant woman, but somehow it works.

Oliver Reed plays Harry Lomart and his cell-mate Birdy is played by Ian McShayne. He has been a great actor for many decades that most of us know recently from his portrayal of Al Swearengen on Deadwood. The unfaithful wife is played by Jill St. John, and the detective that tries to keep her safe is played by Edward Woodward. Both are perfectly adequate for their relatively small roles.

I love that this movie pulls no punches and doesn’t hold back at all. It defines gritty 70’s revenge cinema. There is no comic relief, no cheesy songs, and no tonal changes. It is a simple tale told economically and filmed using some very creative and unusual methods. It revels in its darkness and nihilism. This film came out 2 years before Death Wish, and one year after Get Carter. I honestly think this film is far better than Get Carter, but because they were both British productions released around the same time, often this movie gets compared to that Mike Hodges movie starring Michael Caine.

The music was done by Stanley Myers and is perfect. The soundtrack is unusual and a bit jarring, which fits the theme of the film.

The direction by Douglas Hickox is inventive and deftly done. Lots of interesting framing and camera angles, including use of the split diopter lens. This makes the object in the foreground and background sharp and in focus, while the objects in between them are blurry. Brian DePalma adopted this and used it heavily later on. For the introductory scene where the wife visits Harry in prison to give him the bad news, the director had a challenging scene. How do you make a scene of two people talking through a window interesting? Rather than the typical A-B shot back and forth repeatedly, Hickox made a truly fascinating scene. He used extreme close-ups on their eyes and faces and set up reflections in a unique way. He used the shadows from the slats in the talking window to a film noir effect, bisecting their faces and sometimes obscuring their mouths. Or he would align the reflection in such a way that one character’s profile appeared directly in front of the others facing the same direction. It’s a truly inventive scene that gets your attention. A lesser director would’ve filmed this straight and boring. There is another scene with multi-panel mirrors that Brian DePalma famously copied in Scarface with the character reflected (or split) into multiple images. Symbolic of the fractured mind and soul, I imagine, but also just a damned great image.

The prison escape is tense, brutal, and exciting. Once Harry and Birdy break out, he acquires a Mauser and starts tracking down his wife. Gun aficionados love this gun. It’s a 9mm automatic handgun attached to a removable rifle stock, also called the ‘broomhandle’.

My favorite scene is a chase with two motorcycle cops following Harry through a bunch of laundry drying lines. Everyone is obscured by the flowing white sheets and clothes hanging from the various lines, and they hunt each other in the surreal sea of fabric. Instead of dramatic movie music, the director just ramped up the police radio chatter and the bizarre police sirens to create a dreamlike scene that, of course, ends in violence and death.

The film builds to a great conclusion that I felt was perfect. Nihilistic and brutal, you won’t soon forget it. The lighting, the editing, and the slow-motion would make Sam Peckinpah proud. (Also the end scene has the famous London Battersea powerstation smokestacks that Pink Floyd used for the cover of their 1977 album ‘Animals’.) If you are willing to go down this seedy road of the London underground with Oliver Reed, it’s well worth your time. Honor among thieves. The beatings, gunplay, chases, and overall darkness make for an excellent jailbreak/revenge thriller.

This line of dialogue sums up the film beautifully, “The spirit is weak, Harry. The flesh even weaker.”

CANDLELIGHT

The two of us
Alone at this table
Split by candles
Divided by much more

Our words
Carry more weight than ever
We lean in
And listen very hard

By candlelight

Glittering light
Flickers on our faces
We send words
Across the smoke

Skin looks better
By candlelight
I speak more clearly
In darkness

By candlelight

I’m still listening
But I just can’t talk anymore

Flame in the wax
Hands on the wood
Water in the glass
Misunderstood

Wet your fingers
Pinch the flame
Relish the pain
Just walk away

 

 

I wrote this in 2016 and my band, THE SHRIKE, is using it for a song of the same name on our Chase The Sun EP.

THE GREAT SILENCE

Under snow, a small town
A crow’s call is the only sound
He rides down from the high caps
Straight into a coward’s trap
The thunder of gunfire
Leaves blood on the snow
Bounty unclaimed
No one will ever know

Since when are wolves afraid of wolves?

After his gun speaks
Comes the great silence
After his gun speaks
Comes the great silence

Drag a man behind a horse
Until the names are given
Kill him once you get them
Before you they are driven
Crazed leader laughs
In a fog of sickness
Never question him
Thinkin’s not your business

Since when are wolves afraid of wolves?

After his gun speaks
Comes the great silence
After his gun speaks
Comes the great silence

He walks to the final stand
With no room to miss
Everything according to the law
Only bullets will solve this
Metal casings fall
On wood planks
Bodies drop like dreams
Upon awakening

Since when are wolves afraid of wolves?

Wherever he goes
The silence of death follows

For all we know, he is the devil

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I wrote this song in 2015, it is based on the 1968 spaghetti western film Il Grande Silenzio.             

My band, THE SHRIKE, used it for a song in 2015. It appears on our 2016 EP, Chase The Sun.