The story of Paul Newman’s 1981 film Fort Apache, The Bronx is far more interesting than the film itself. When Newman suited up as a police officer in the South Bronx for a film about his ongoing fight for justice in the toughest neighborhood in the city, the context was a little too close for comfort: in the nine months preceding the filming of Fort Apache, at least twelve unarmed black and Puerto Rican individuals were killed by police officers throughout NYC (this is 1981, the most violent year of A Most Violent Year). The staunch opposition to the film saw massive protests, riots, a lawsuit and the formation of the Committee Against Fort Apache, all geared toward the halting of a film that many perceived to be defamatory and racist. Fort Apache got made, but it was one of the more dangerous film productions in the city’s history.
Newman himself got a big slice of Defamation Pie, too, courtesy of The New York Post. After reading the printed “facts” that Newman claimed were nothing of the sort, the actor accused the paper of “irresponsible journalism” and eventually referred to the Post as a “garbage can”. The paper ran a piece called “What Paul Didn’t Tell Us About Fort Apache” in the days following, and the dispute went in circles from there — people blamed the filmmakers for racism and defamation, Newman blamed the newspapers for false reporting and defamation, and film critics blamed Fort Apache, The Bronx for being kind of a shitty movie anyway. Paul Newman felt strongly about the journalistic integrity issues he encountered, and ultimately his extremely charitable history and consistent care for the underprivileged outweighed anything the Post said about him.
Continue reading Absence of Malice (1981)
The Peter Weir we have today is one that seems to take his time releasing new films. It’s been four years since The Way Back, more than ten since Master and Commander, and nearly twenty since The Truman Show. Those most recent films of his are pretty great across the board, and perhaps the time and care taken with each is a major reason why. This wasn’t always the case with Weir, though: he released five films in the 1980s alone (Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, and Dead Poets Society), all of which were fantastic, and he had a pretty productive early ’90s too.
The film that forms the divide between super-productive Weir and less-so Weir seems to be Fearless, a 1993 drama starring Jeff Bridges as a plane crash survivor. For whatever reason, Weir took more time off following Fearless than he had since he first started directing (although one might find it hard to believe it was truly “time off”). From then on, a new Weir film would be all the more cherished for the infrequency now associated with it.
Continue reading Fearless (1993)
In many ways our Director Series on Peter Weir can be seen as an excuse to write about The Mosquito Coast, which is the logical culmination of the “early stage” of the director’s career and gateway to those brilliant films that would follow (though calling that Weir’s “later stage” makes it sound like his directing career is a slowly advancing disease). Coast would follow Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously – two well-received Australian films that helped launch Mel Gibson into superstardom – and Witness, which would prove to be Weir’s first American film. The greatness of Dead Poets Society would follow. It’s The Mosquito Coast, though, that’s arguably the most ambitious of any of these films.
And that’s fitting, because although Gibson’s Guy Hamilton and Harrison Ford’s John Book and Robin Williams’s John Keating could conceivably all be described as “ambitious” in one way or another, it’s Ford’s Allie Fox that allows his ambition to get the better of him. Fed up with just about every aspect of America, inventor Fox uproots everything and takes his family deep into the South American jungle. They make a new home – “home” a term used liberally here – on the Mosquito Coast, where Allie’s latest creation provides something magical for the local population: ice. Helen Mirren and River Phoenix appear as Allie’s wife and eldest son, who essentially allow themselves to be dragged into the jungle by this iceman simply because they love him.
Continue reading The Mosquito Coast (1986)
After their 1981 collaboration on Gallipoli, Peter Weir cast the young Mel Gibson again the following year in his feature adaptation of the C.J. Koch novel The Year of Living Dangerously. The film would ultimately end up being one of the first collaborations between an Australian studio and a Hollywood studio, and thus the most ambitious Australian film to date. Good news for both the director and the actor, then, that the movie ended up being one of the year’s finest achievements. If Gallipoli was the announcement of Weir as a commanding big-budget filmmaker and Mel Gibson as a major star, The Year of Living Dangerously was the solidification of that announcement.
The storyline(s) are admittedly numerous, often incomplete, occasionally downright implausible. The historical accuracy isn’t necessarily…accurate. Yet none of that really matters in the grand scheme of Living Dangerously because the characters and the atmospheric beauty of the picture are so absorbingly irresistible, and because the meandering and multifaceted plot is probably actually more true to life. Lives don’t play out in neat one-two-three act scenarios, and the subplots each of us tends to engage in hardly ever come to definitive “ends”. Love comes and goes, things become more important or less, people we thought were one way act another – all of these expressions are at the heart of The Year of Living Dangerously, and the overall impact far outweighs that of a great number of films preaching straightforward plots and historical accuracy only to forget to leave some breathing room for a little passion.
Continue reading The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Gallipoli is arguably the feature that catapulted both Mel Gibson and Peter Weir onto the international stage. Though both the actor and the director had found success in the years prior – Weir with The Cars That Ate Paris, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and Gibson with Mad Max – their first collaboration would prove to bring out the best in both of them. Gallipoli spawned plenty of war films and series that would attempt to ride that wave of popularity, but to this day it still remains one of the greatest WWI films out there.
Gibson stars alongside Mark Lee, the latter of whom actually has the larger role despite Gibson’s mug being the only one plastered across the U.S. marketing materials. Lee is Archy Hamilton, hopeful young sprinter from Western Australia who continually hears of the efforts of the Australian Imperial Force on the peninsula of Gallipoli. He first crosses paths with Gibson’s Frank Dunne during a footrace, after which both men travel together to Perth in order to enlist. Their journey is long and full of joy and laughter, but it eventually takes them to the front lines at Gallipoli. Here they confront the reality of war, attempting to hold onto whatever remnants of home they can in the face of such horror.
To be sure, there are no shortage of “loss of innocence” war films. You could even argue that all war films address this in one way or another, even if it’s tangentially through a supporting character or two as in the likes of The Hurt Locker. Not only does Gallipoli get credit for being a precursor to some of the best WWI films of our era, but it’s also worth paying attention to the structuring of the film as a kind of growing, building framework on which we can hang this theme as the credits roll. First off, the focus is very much on Archy and Frank for the entirety of the movie – we only see the battlefield when they see the battlefield, and any notions we have of the war are stemmed from the opinions of the people they meet and the newspapers they read. In this sense, the war is almost a backdrop for a tale about two friends, and Gibson himself expressed as much in an interview (according to the almighty Wikipedia [so it’s gotta be true!]).
Continue reading Gallipoli (1981)