Thursday, August 7, 2008

Olde Review: The Wind and the Lion

Written November 7th, 1975

"The Wind and the Lion" (John Milius, 1975) I avoid seeing films twice unless I really, really love the flm (due to a lack of funds).* When I saw "The Wind and the Lion" the first time, it was as if I was seeing two movies at time. The dialog was really wretched ("Mulai--that's a nice name"), but at the same time the photography, direction and editing were all fabulous. It was a film that had "sweep" (I assume that when a film has "sweep," the camera tends to move along a field, up a wall, through a street, "sweep" through the visual plane of the camera. Oh, but does this movie do that!) "The Wind and the Lion" just swells with movement of all kinds--inside the frame and the frame outside itself.

John Milius is a director I don't tend to think much of. I wasn't too fond of his "Dillinger" film, some good things, but not wholly satisfying. But his direction in 'Wind & Lion" is just marvelous. Some of the shots combined with Jerry Goldsmith's score** are just chillingly beautiful: The trucking shot along a line of berbers silhouetted against a sunset;

A diagonally rising crane-shot that drifts over a dune as an entire army of berbers move down a road while a dark, cloudy sky presses down on the whole scene;

After the Raisuli (Sean Connery) has killed off the final horseman at the leper colony (that was the impression I got anyway) Milius cuts to a stunning shot of Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) watching behind a net in the right foreground, while against a low sun on the ocean-tide, the Raisuli slows his horse and the now-riderless horse of his opponent still charges across the screen;

Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) and "his" bear towering over him, as he reads the "Wind and the Lion" letter.

The second time around, my appreciation of the Milius direction grew. It was what I concentrated on throughout and because of it, the dialog that I was uneasy about went down easer and (My God!) some of that dialog was downright poetic. Roosevelt's speech about the bear as the U.S, symbol, his getting on his desk and growling at the camera for the Smithsonian--things that made me squirm in my seat before--I enjoyed this time around.

This movie is flawed to be sure. Some of the writing is still bad. There are inaccuracies in technique and in history. *** The fellow I went to see it with thought there were too many "riding-in-the desert" shots for his taste, but not for mine. And I heartily enjoyed myself and the film.

I still enjoy it (now that I own it) and all qualms that I had about it are gone, and a lot of the things that I found a bit over-dramatic are things that I now dearly love about it. I neglected to mention the huge contribution that cinematographer Billy Williams brings to this movie, as he carried out some of the beautifully outlandish shots Milius came up with. I wish he was allowed to make more films (he's certainly been allowed to doctor scripts most of his career, and Turner gives him a mini-series or TV movie to do once in awhile). His is a singular voice in Hollywood, and he's smart with what he does on film. Who knows, maybe they'll let him re-boot the new "Ahnold-less" Conan film series, as he did the first one. One would wish.

* This was 1975. It would be another five years before the video-tape boom that allowed folks to watch films in their own home, and even own media of that film. Seems like such a long time ago. Now, if one likes a film, one can buy it, and watch it as many times as they want. That's a great convenience--but it tends to make people cluster to stuff they like, rather than explore and take a chance on a new film.

** An aside from this review here: "Goldsmith just happens to be one of my favorite film scorers. I snap up one of his albums as soon as it appears in the racks, and seldom am I ever disappointed with what I hear. However, one of Goldsmith's pieces doesn't seem to mesh correctly with the visuals--the Raisuli's initial ride on a horse gone hay-wire." Um--that was the point, I think.

*** For instance, an incident like this DID take place during the Roosevelt administration. Ion Pedecaris WAS kidnapped by the Raisuli, in 1904. Ion was male. I'm sure it matters to history buffs, but changing Pedecaris to a woman raises the stakes of the story, and provides a whiff of romance and exoticism. Without "The Wind and The Lion" that incident would have been lost in the sands of time.

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