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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

DVD 5-4-3-2-1: Game 6, The Devil's Miner, Kingdom of Heaven, Harlan County USA, Viridiana

332_feature_350x180.jpgFive current releases: Game 6; The Devil’s Miner; Kingdom of Heaven: Four-Disc Director’s Cut; and Criterion editions of Harlan County USA and Viridiana.

Game 6
Don DeLillo is a brilliant novelist: his recent ventures into theater, and now, movies, makes you ache for the time the reticent writer expended cobbling such tight, tiny shoes. (*, Hart Sharp, $28)

The Devil’s Miner
Winner of a documentary Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival, along with a dozen other festival circuit nods, Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani’s The Devil’s Miner (***, First Run, $25), is a straightforward slice of colorful, terrible life, following two fatherless brothers, 14 and 12, who work the silver mines in Cerro Rico, Bolivia in “the mountains that eat men.” The miners who work there are devout Catholics, and believe God leaves them behind when they descend into the earth, where the tunnels are lined with hundreds of devil statues, upon whom they place their hopes of returning to light at the end of their shifts. The filmmakers don’t gussy up their telling: the days of claustrophobia that consume these hopeful teenage boys, among 800 other young workers who toil to raise money for their education and clothes and the folkloric manifestation of the centuries-long beliefs that surround them are sufficiently eye-opening.

Kingdom of Heaven, Four-Disc Director’s Cut
Is Ridley Scott the greatest user and abuser of the successful director’s ability to revise a film on DVD? Leaving aside the myriad versions of Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down, Scott finally releases the version of Kingdom of Heaven (***, Fox, $35) that ought to have been in theaters (and which was briefly digitally projected in Los Angeles). The new cut is 194 minutes, 49 minutes longer than the theatrical version which Scott complied in cutting at the studio’s suggestion. From a review of the first released cut: “Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven is many things, among them, a charnel house of parable.
In a $30 coffee-table book esteeming the 67-year-old Scott’s attention to detail, he writes of his long-held fascination with the medieval, “There is no escaping parallels with our time, when leaders who try to make peace are admired, but their efforts so often are subverted by more radical factions.” (And the early scenes are bedecked with white, lazing snowflakes as thick as 9/11’s ash and soot.)
It’s 1186. Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a French village blacksmith, surprised by the news from the visiting Baron of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) that he’s the offspring of a sin: he’s the Baron’s bastard son. The events come fast if not furious, and soon Balian is one of the survivors of a shipwreck (a skittish black horse the other) that lands him on the road to Jerusalem. Court politics follow, with the leper King of Jerusalem, his sister Sibylla (Eva Green, eyes still as darting-mad as in “The Dreamers), nebeskokraljevstvo.jpgher husband Guy de Lusignan (Martin Csokas, looking like a cranky cousin of “The Office”‘s Ricky Gervais in need of a full-body shave) and the bloodthirsty warrior Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson, looking like the sex-mad screenwriter Joe Eszterhas with Powerpuff Girl pink-tipped extensions). Jeremy Irons is on-hand, playing the sage Tiberias with facial scars and a scare-the-kiddies guttural growl. Let the Crusades begin… Kingdom of Heaven, with its portrait of warring theocracies that include callow leaders given to smug cant, gathering the cloak of “the will of God” to warm their own impulses, is painfully topical.
Whatever one’s sentiments about Orlando Bloom portraying a great historical hero, he carries his character’s pain well enough, brimming eyes filled with curiosity and concern and cheekbones more defined, seeming less sweetly boyish than in his turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, his supernal prettiness seared with scowls.
While an epic set in the eleventh century might suggest endless mud and muck and death and despair, William Monahan’s script, tracking the fall of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, is a story about the quest for peace as much as the thirst for vengeance and hunger for turf. There are a few lines of pure brass—”I once fought two days with an arrow through my testicle”; “All death is certain”—but Balian is a Walter Hill action hero: one large speech and one small are the most of his articulation. All else is deeds.
Special effects, or perhaps computing power, have improved since the days of Gladiator, and an entrance into the city of Jerusalem has a glorious sweep surpassing any of the tableaux of Troy or the pinball-machine glass painting-like gloop recently favored by George Lucas. The city is a teeming souk that does not yet have to accommodate the prospect of sudden nuclear annihilation by zealots. (Apocalypse, however, may well be at hand.) There is another moment of pictorial grace that draws from lessons Scott surely learned from such medieval settings as those of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev as well as from Kurosawa: a battle that ends with two kings who meet in the midst of an arid plane—think Crawford, Texas, without battalions of SUVs—with lance- and flag-bearing armies awaiting on either side. The most beautiful shot also contains the only mediocre computer-generated work I could see: a hazy band of men approach the spectacle of a rapture of vultures swirling above a teeming bone yard that only hours earlier had been a battlefield. (It’s a canny choice: most eyes will be fixed on the sky grayed with the eaters of the dead.)
Ultimately, Balian turns the course of history by giving his back to the privileged, protected overseers of a corrupt Church. “God wills it”? “To kill an infidel is not murder, it is the path to heaven”? “Kingdom of Heaven” is anti-demagogue, and curious about men who can meet and speak of difference and not of holy war. While the madness of a movie antihero like Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev is sorely missing from this tapestry, the sentiments are at least grand. Who is the seeker of forgiveness? Monahan and Scott ask.

Viridiana: Special Edition
(****, Criterion, $30) One of Luis Buñuel’s late provocations: A young nun is abused when she tries to help the poor; the film ends with a beggar’s orgy, a parody of the Last Supper, scored to Handel’s “Messiah.” Jean-Andre Fieschi writes in “Cinema: A Critical Dictionary”: virbun_2435.jpg“With its rites and ceremonies, [Catholicism] is an ideology peculiarly suited to correlation with a vast and pregnant ideological fetishism whose interdictions nourish yet more fetishisms: a special preserve [where] phantasm and ideology exchange guises… The subject of ‘Viridiana’ is in fact, the degradation of the rites, their disintegration… If there is a question of blasphemy, this desecration effect provokes the question: blasphemy against what?” With Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival. Extras: video interviews with Pinal and movie journalist Richard Porton; excerpts from a 1964 episode of the French series “Cinèastes de notre temps” and the US trailer.

Harlan County USA
Harlan County USA (****, Criterion, $40), Barbara Kopple’s urgent, Oscar-winning 1976 documentary about the struggles of Kentucky coal miners, is one of the great nonfiction films, and it was recently restored before this Criterion edition. Kopple and her crew are working the longitudinal beat, observing for eighteen months the effects of a 1973 strike in Eastern Kentucky. HC_350x180.jpgA thirty-year-old movie should not seem so topical, in its description of poverty, dangerous jobs for monopolistic companies and derelict educational systems, but the recent West Virginia mining tragedies and the negligence shown New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kopple’s unflinching filming in the coal fields. (The glimpses of the claustrophobic, backbreaking work are images of dread.) Terrible things are described, terrible things that persist, yet Kopple also believes that the important struggle continues. She’s a brilliant editor, to boot: this is involving filmmaking every step of the way. Kopple supervised the DVD; she comments along with editor Nancy Baker; a new documentary on the making is included; John Sayles discusses the film; outtakes, and Roger Ebert’s 2005 Sundance panel with Kopple and other collaborators is also included.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon