I Had No Hope of Ever Naming This Smackdown!!!
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Intermission, and Round 3A)
Despite my dedication to blogging about movies few others care to sit through twice, I occasionally show some love to the really critically acclaimed films as well. In this post, I'm reviewing not one, but two Oscar winners filmed in the Philippines.
But the real difference between today's pairing and that of last week is not quality, but setting. I reviewed Bloodfist and Enter the Ninja not just on the conventional merits, but also on their use of the Philippines as a backdrop. Today's two movies, however, may share the same landscapes and extras, but with the full understanding that these are meant to pass for the scenery and locals of different Southeast Asian countries.
Remember to read all the way to the bottom to find out how you can earn an extra entry in the Annual Giveaway!
The Bloodfist Four
Apocalypse Now . . .
One thing I am sure of is that there was more to colonialism than just the racism it is reduced to these days--and that if you don't get that, then you won't get Conrad's novella. I'm sure of it because Francis Coppola's movie told me.
The story of Captain Willard's search for the rogue officer Colonel Kurtz blends historical accuracy with morality play symbolism, and this is its power. The shift from the nineteenth-century Congo to 1960s Vietnam is almost seamless--and everything Willard goes through is psychologically and spiritually true. War is indeed dehumanising in the very ways depicted: it surgically replaces a sense of shared humanity with tribal loyalty--and anaesthetises pain with porn.
I thought Martin Sheen carried the movie brilliantly in the first half . . . and that Marlon Brando dropped it so it smashed open like an overripe watermelon. Seriously, Brando was more convincing and more charismatic as Kurtz when all we had was his photo, his files, and Sheen's narration over them. I could feel there was a compelling reason for Willard to seek him out--not for the sake of "terminating his command," but for the sake of seeing what happens when the very best among us fall. (Hmmmm. Perhaps the once brilliant Brando was the best actor for the part after all . . .) The cathartic catch is that one cannot trace a fall without also descending into the darkness and reemerging shadowed. We see that in the famous image of a camouflaged Willard rising from the sinister river; but may not also notice it in our own experience of walking into the cinema one way and walking out of it new.
And now I must indulge myself with this last note . . . An older woman I work with had a bunch of friends who were hired as extras in Apocalypse Now: not to play Vietnamese peasants, but to stand in as American soldiers. "If you see any Creole-looking Americans who get no dialogue," she told me, "you're still looking at Filipinos!"
. . . The Year of Living Dangerously
The recreation of Indonesia is amazing. I kept trying to see the Philippines winking at me from the sets and kept failing--even when they were obviously in Banaue (which you may remember from Locus Focus: Take Fifty-Five) and when the Filipino actors were audibly ad libbing in Tagalog. Well, okay, sometimes their accents slipped and gave them away . . . but so did Sigourney Weaver's, on occasion. This is why I'm a bit disappointed that Indonesia stays mostly an exotic backdrop to the romance between two foreigners.
But as the character who serves as the voice of Indonesia tells us, dramas are a little different in the East. For instance, Javanese shadow puppet theatre establishes setting not with scenery behind the figures, but with a screen before them. And the conflict is not considered resolved until the characters achieve not victory, but balance. This "oriental" moment early in the film is the key to the whole "western" story. Director Peter Weir is letting us see the
Despite the great performances and gorgeous cinematography, there is a good reason The Year of Living Dangerously has not proven to be a classic. There is no sense of a universal theme beyond the sketchily-presented politics, and even the easy moral that our personal ties should take precedence over our professional ambitions struggles to transcend the particulars of the characters' relationships.
Now I wish I could share an interesting local anecdote about this film, but so far, everyone I've mentioned it to either had no idea it was partly filmed here or had no idea what it was. =P
Apocalypse Now vs. The Year of Living Dangerously
Winner: Apocalypse Now--because the morality play beats the shadow puppet theatre with both hands tied behind its back and in its sleep.
* * * * *
Since the last mini face-off ended in a tie, despite all my tweeted pleas for someone--anyone--to come in and break it, I guess Apocalypse Now can swing straight into the Finals without squaring off against yet another contender. (It would have been no contest anyway, aye?) It also means that I had to think of another way for giveaway entrants to earn an extra point on the Rafflecopter. And I did, with the last mini face-off of the smackdown . . .
The most significant thing these two movies have in common is that I didn't stumble upon them until a few days ago. Such unlucky timing, as I think one would have been a shoo-in for the Apocalypse Now Sixteen! (What an unexpectedly sad thought to have now that the smackdown is almost over . . .) So what will it be, my blog friends: a revenge-driven Action movie about an American who must bust his estranged half-Asian daughter out of an evil slave ring in the Philippines or a supernatural Thriller about an ancient amulet from China that is being sought in Manila by a reincarnated warlord? And not that you should vote this way, but can you also guess which of these premises is--to my country's great shame--the more plausible one?
Remember to claim your entry on the updated 2013 Rafflecopter after you vote . . .
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Image Sources: a) Apocalypse Now poster, b) The Year of Living Dangerously poster, c) Circle of Fear DVD, d) Deathstone DVD