Saturday, April 15, 2006

Film: Marathon man

John Schlezinger is a man who made a few good films at the beginning of his career and then went on to routine (and sometimes even lower) road of a man who does films because he doesn't know how to do anything else. First of a few films that were good is, of course, "Midnight cowboy", socially engaged, yet artistic and trippy. And generally hailed as masterpiece. It is very dissapointing, looking at his later melodramas that played a note of spy films or some other genres just to cover the smell of soap opera – a kind of things you'd think were made directly for Hallmark tv.
So what happened to him? He had an aesthetic vision that he abandoned quickly. That vision included cross-cutting, fast editing and merging various images to create a new symbolism among them. Take, for instance, the key scene in "Marathon man" in which Thomas „babe“ Levy (Dustin Hoffman), a young history student and marathon man runs from his nazi capturers. The scene in which he is being chased, hurting and wounded, is cross-cut with archive shots of his marathon idols. Now, although he, due to intensive training, can still stand pain and is more enduring than his chasers, he is by all means not the best in his sport. On marathon races, he's just one of many faces. What does a vision of great athlets of history mean cross-cut with the moment in which he's running for life? That he is reaching his athletic peak, that this is the race of his life and that, in his own terms, it is no less important than any great marathon race. All the training and effort he's gone through seems to boil down to this moment, seems like a preparation for this race. And finally, he's the winner.
In fact, i don't think that i described this any good. But thay goes to prove that, though a picture may be woryh a thousand words, with two cleverly intersected pictures, the effect would take all the words in the worls. But the fact is, while Babe is running for his life through city, in the middle of the night, limping and bleeding, chasEd by a couple of thugs, something of grandness of greatest sport achievements (some will say, greatest human achievements in physical domain) that used to be his inspiration, is there.
There is another very impressive scene in this film: Dr.. Christian Szell (played by Laurence Olivier), an escaped nazi officer and torturer in concentration camps, arriving to USA incognito to try to get the hidden war loot in shape of a bag of diamonds; in this scene he is strollinh through Jewish quart with streets full of people, and his paranoia feeds himself. One women reckognizes and runs after him, yelling who he is and "somebody stop him". But though noone seems to take her seriously, Szell is twitching, struggling through the city crowd; atmosphere is soaked with paranoia, every face liiks like an enemy and we are kept on edges of our seats not even knowing what we want to happen.
Then there is a scene earlier in the film that can match it for fiersome atmosphere: Babe, trapped in his bathroom, while nazis try to break in; he is frantically trying to find and escape device and in a small bathroom, that seems so desperate. This scene is really lifted by Hoffman's performance.
Then, at the Beginning in which an old nazi and an old nazi prizoner settle old accounts in the middle of New York streets, and make that historical fight sound, from their geezer's mouth, like neighbour squabble. The scene would be hilarious in it's absurdity, but instead, it leaves a really bad taste in mouth.
Finally, there's a scene in which Szell Is finally held at gunpoint by Babe who orders him (with real hatred on his face) "You can carry as much diamonds as you can eat". Intimidating, psychically torturing, cold-hearted revenge.
And that's it. To connect these impressive set pieces is blameless spy plot, typically 70ies photography that i like so much, and melancholic approach that doesn't let Babe get away with any more than he started with. At the Beginning, just like at the end, he is seen training, a loner, running all alone on a not very bright and happy day.
I'm not really intentionally writing about so many films with Hoffman.


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