Tag Archives: Fitzcarraldo

Face Off: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Queen of the Desert (2015)

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

We discussed the possibility of defining an “epic” film in our review of Ed Zwick’s Legends of the Fall, concluding that it’s perhaps more of an impossibility due to the wide range of films that fall comfortably under the genre label. Despite this, we at least sought out the notion that the scope of the idea is infinitely more important than the scope of the production budget, and Lawrence of Arabia was one of the more obvious examples of true epic filmmaking in that respect. David Lean’s biographical account of the life of the adventurous T. E. Lawrence stands as one of the greatest films of its kind because the passion of the film lives up to the passion of the man, the scope of the ideas of the film seeming to mirror and amplify the ideas of the British explorer/officer/diplomat.

Lawrence is about to be back on the big screen in a supporting role in Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, a film masquerading as a worthy companion of sorts to Lawrence of Arabia at least as far as the marketing campaign is concerned. As Herzog’s film progresses past the first quarter, though, it becomes painfully obvious that Queen lies on the other end of the epic spectrum in that it fails on almost every level to convey any passion. Nicole Kidman leads the film as Gertrude Bell, British explorer/writer (/archaeologist/political officer/spy/cartographer) who spent her time across Syria, Asia Minor, and Arabia in the decades following the turn of the century. Kidman is fine in the role — but it’s not her passion that Queen of the Desert lacks. It’s Herzog’s.

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Man in the Wilderness (1971)

Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s follow-up to his Best Picture-winning Birdman will be The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a frontiersman left for dead by his fellow trappers after being mauled by a bear. A revenant is “a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead”, according to the OED (I love that especially supposedly bit), a term derived from High Middle Age folktales. These tales generally held that revenants would return from the grave either to seek revenge on a killer or wrongdoer or just simply to harass friends and family members. That latter class of revenants really sounds like a bunch of assholes.

The story upon which Iñárritu’s Revenant will be based (specifically a 2002 book of the same name by author Michael Punke) has already been filmed as Man in the Wilderness, casting Richard Harris in the central role of Zach Bass (DiCaprio will be “Hugh Glass”, but it’s the same character). Wilderness and Revenant are the same story told two different ways, and one would assume that Iñárritu’s approach would hew much closer to the more recent book. It will be interesting to see how influential Wilderness actually is, though, because it holds some sequences and motifs that kind of seem at home in Iñárritu’s wheelhouse.

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Sorcerer (1977)

William Friedkin’s Sorcerer had the unfortunate timing in 1977 of being released concurrently with a movie called Star Wars, which people ended up liking a little bit. Friedkin was hot after releasing The French Connection and The Exorcist earlier in the decade, but Sorcerer ultimately failed at the box office and slipped into relative obscurity in favor of his other movies. This is a shame, because Sorcerer is a monster of a film.

Based on The Wages of Fear, the first third of the film essentially amounts to four separate prologues for four separate characters from Veracruz, Jerusalem, Paris, and New Jersey (one of these things is not like the other). Roy Scheider cashes in on the success of Jaws two years earlier as lead man in Sorcerer (the New Jersey one), but the time spent with each of the characters is intimate and highly involved; the Walon Green script, too, is like a tough steak that tastes good but has to be chewed and wrestled with. It’s difficult to tell throughout this opening act where Sorcerer might turn next.

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