Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Point Blank

"Point Blank" (John Boorman, 1967) Obtuse, non-committal, over-stylized noir that still makes you shake your head and say, "Nice to see somebody do something like this." Because Boorman in his psychedelic take on film noir tropes manages to shake loose a lot of the dust you don't see piled up in the dark. And makes a statement about why there might have been such a cultural tumult in that era.

Where the punks and thugs and Mr. Big's in 40's-50's noir were lousy with personality, here they're face-less,
charmless non-entities as bland and blank as the glass facades they hide behind. The only thing that makes them human is that they bleed, and that's where our hero strides in.

There's always gotta be something a little bit different about a noir hero, if only that there's a silver lining in his dark cloud. But the anti-hero of "Point Blank" is unlike any who've come before him. Walker (
Lee Marvin) is the only name he goes by, even his no-good cheating wife (Sharon Acker) calls him that, and the one thing people say about him is they thought he was dead. Expressionless and seemingly impervious to pain,* he just could be, having been set up, cheated and shot—point blankby his old pal Mace Reece (John Vernon in his film debut) during a drop-robbery at the abandoned Alcatraz prison, his walking with heavy tread the only thing keeping him corporeal. That and the need for vengeance. He's helped along the way by a shadowy presence (Keenan Wynn) whose non-specific organization "helps" Walker with his task. Not that Walker needs much help—usually he's the wrench in the works, insinuating his way into being noticed, making some vague threats and watching over (literally over) the mark's demise. Throw a bug in his sister-in-law's ear (Angie Dickinson), or a slimey underling (Michael Strong), wind them up and set them off on their little missions and sure enough, somebody will wind up dead.

So, what's going on here? Most noirs are mysteries, but there are no answers being requested here, just revenge. The only mystery has to do with the vast clockwork set in motion. Why the shreds of particulars and the over-abundance of style?** Is Walker an Avenging Angel and Wynn his Heavenly Host? Whenever Walker shows up to plant his plans the subjects are usually indulging in one of the Seven Deadlies: lust, sloth, greed, gluttony...

And visually,
the film is a series of forced perspectives, Boorman shooting down long corridors and mirrored surfaces into black-centered tunnels and corners to unfathomable vanishing points leading inexorably to...where? Walker's path, mostly. We're locked onto Walker's perspective, however unreliable it may be. Rooms change. Bodies come and go, flashing back and forward. Events happen and then seem to vanish, leaving an empty space, a blank slate, like they've been scoured...purged. Is Boorman using the trangular form of the Renaissance painters and standing it on its ear, giving it inexorable depth. Speculation of this type is a long walk from the movie's source, Donald E. Westlake's "The Hunter." But, such is the influence of Boorman and screenwriters Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, and Rafe Newhouse, that one can't help go there, so impenetrable and full of questions is this movie.

Like being lost in the dark

* At one point, Dickinson wails on him, not holding back, thumping his chest, slapping him, hard and clobbering him in the face with her metal-rimmed purse. He (and Marvin) just takes it. Later, she clobbers him with a pool cue, and it just makes him amorous.

** In a nightclub called "The Movie House," over a screaming rhythm and blues song without words, Walker beats up a couple of thugs, the slide projection in the background showing a pretty actress reacting in distress. A little obvious, that, but fun.