ben d banana wrote:
Andre, since your earlier thread on this film has apparently been pruned, it would be nice if you could re-post your original comments again here. That is, if you still have a copy handy.
Sure. I know Henrik wanted to make it clear that he does not believe Point Blank
should be associated with the term "noir", but rather considered as a Gangster genre film. I'm still of the opinion that Point Blank
functions effectively as a neo-noir. Details, details, details... Once again, I apologize for the length.
Homer Simpson wrote:
Wait, wait, wait: here comes Lee Marvin. Thank God! He's always drunk and violent.
Homer Simpson wrote:
(To Mel Gibson) Did Braveheart run away? Did Payback run away?
There’s a moment in John Boorman’s Point Blank
(1967) when, after shagging the night before, Angie Dickinson’s Chris asks Lee Marvin’s Walker if he knows her last name. Apathetic to the underlying sense of an insufficient connection between the two, Walker briefly ponders before justly asking if she even knows his first name. Of course, Chris doesn’t and neither does the viewer, and thus she smiles at the mutual acknowledgement that they do not share any deep emotional bond or understand one another. Perhaps the beat is a small statement on the intrinsic isolating consequences caused by casual sex during the sexual revolution, but more notably it’s also recognition that Walker’s identity itself remains a mystery. In fact, somehow, I doubt that even Walker knows his own first name.
I first watched Point Blank
late one night, before Gibson’s Payback
debuted. Instead of studying for exams, I joined the film late and was disorientated immediately, but also staggered by its effectiveness. I recently watched the film again and it remains like nothing I’d ever heard or seen. It’s important to make that distinction. If there is one thing Boorman’s film excels at it’s the innovative use of sound. Throughout the film one could be as astounded by the noise as by the silence. The spectrum includes a dichotomy of loud gunshots and repetitious marching as well as a quiet elevator and silenced footsteps. At one point an entire battle of the sexes is waged by the noise of household appliances. The cavernous sounds that Boorman chooses to merge with his disjointed visuals are initially so jolting and abrasive that viewers can easily relate to Walker’s disorientated mental state. As we hear him boldly stomp through a hollow, tranquil, cold corridor we realize his deadly determination as his steps feel like gunshots. Sounds clash with one another and pound into our head as voices echo from some other time and place, as if these words came from some distant world. Boorman plunges us deep into Walker’s chaotic confusion and then orders us to swim to shore alone.
Walker begins the film emerging from a prison cell after being left for dead. It’s an odd image of reincarnation, in that the previous events have at once merged the ideas of capital punishment and imprisonment for the criminal - two notions assumed to be mutually-exclusive. Though his previous actions in life are never explicitly displayed, we assume Walker to be a criminal simply through Marvin’s persona and his participation in the one unlawful act we witness. While he appears to be conflicted about the initial outcome of this job and his execution and/or imprisonment seem unjust, after essentially serving his time for his sins in a solitary haze of memory, Walker then sets out for some severe retribution. Rising from the archaic atmosphere of Alcatraz, he drifts back to civilization determined to commence an old school reckoning. It’s as if Walker is out to prove his prior conviction, while premature, will now be warranted based on his postmortem actions.
This brings up a crucial question inherent to Point Blank
: Is Walker still dead? Escaping his confinement, Walker seems to further cleanse himself of his prior crimes as he drifts back to San Francisco in murky cold waters that have killed all those who previously attempted the swim to shore. He then materializes, via an odd voice-over by a female guide, on a boat that tours The Rock accompanied by a strange informant who supplies him details regarding those that betrayed him. Walker’s companion appears to display an omnipotent authority over the players involved in the sordid production. Though this unknown man almost flaunts his divine yet ruthless control, he also remains mysterious and illusive throughout the events that follow. Supplied with only as much information as required, Walker – a great name for a man roaming through LA, stalking his prey without compassion – appears to be playing avenging angel, while his cohort feels comfortable as informed deity. Throughout the film, Walker’s surroundings shift and alter without warning. At one moment he is accepting the apparent suicide of his wife and with a blink he adjusts his eyes to a barren apartment. He escapes a sniper on a bleak, sterile, concrete flood-way only to be transported poolside to a cozy house in the hills, where his handler manifests out of nowhere. He drifts through town in a psychedelic swirl of color and jazz, but rarely interacts with those around him. He barely speaks a word and has fever dreams rather than blissful sleep. He is relentless and single-minded in his convictions to the point of dysfunction. In one scene, Dickinson’s Chris vainly attempts to wildly smack him out of his stupor, angrily trying to make him emotionally coherent, or at least coax a reaction, without much success. Instead Walker leaves her exhausted as he lurches away to watch TV. Their conversations are but a few words anyways. Walker is so cold he doesn’t even bleed. Is Walker actually alive at all? Is he a ghost or a walking corpse? Is this a lucid dream, waking life, or disturbing dirge? Is he just dead inside, or is he just plain dead? The question may not have a satisfying rational answer, but throughout the narrative Walker is often addressed as dead by those he hunts down, some even lamenting that they wish they could join him. It appears as if his death has allowed him to seek vengeance without remorse or guilt, since he no longer must answer for his crimes. Perhaps Walker understands his soul is already doomed to hell and maybe he was already there in that jail cell. The question of whether Walker is dead or alive even seems to attach itself to other characters, with Carroll O’Connor’s corporate gangster Brewster exclaiming that Fairfax, the man who writes the checks, is “a dead man! He just doesn’t know it yet”. Once we meet Fairfax and understand his relationship with Walker it becomes more apparent that they both dwell in some strange state of moral and existential limbo.
However, Walker’s stated purpose is a bit more distinct than in previous film noir. Often, the film noir (anti)hero is seeking to answer some sort of existential, spiritual, or moral question. In Mate’s D.O.A.
, Edmond O’Brien’s Frank Bigelow seeks to discover why he has been sentenced to die in 24 hours by a man he doesn’t even know. Similarly, Marvin’s own Charlie Strom wonders why Johnny North (Cassavetes) would accept his death so willingly in Don Siegel version of The Killers
. However, having already been betrayed and killed, Walker claims the blood he is spilling is not about any central moral question, but instead purely financial or commercial. He isn’t actually all that concerned with revenge over those that did him wrong, but instead just wants to get back what he’s owed – a measly $93,000. That paltry sum doesn’t seem to be worth so many bodies in the grand scheme of things, but the determination with which it is sought by Walker and guarded by the Organization speaks volumes about Point Blank
's intentions. It isn’t about betrayal, it’s all about money.
What Point Blank
does better than other neo-noirs I’ve watched, including the more figurative The Usual Suspects
, is indict the corporate world as the new crime cartel. In Point Blank
's sun drenched LA, organized crime has incorporated and risen from a meager mob to weave itself into the fabric of corporate America, with all its legal sanctity and limited liability. By revising organized crime into a corporation, complete with skyscrapers, offices, bureaucracy, shareholders, and secretaries, Boorman displays how crime has evolved, or perhaps how low financial structures and institutions have sunk, in the new world order. Walker thinks he’s simply after some mob boss, when in reality he must jump through corporate hoops and off numerous middle managers. Boorman constantly makes the buildings of LA loom ominously over its inhabitants, including Walker. Achieved via a simple pan of the camera, angle of the composition, or position within the frame, the cold concrete dwarfs its urban dwellers and diminishes the power of the individual with its sheer weight within frames. The imposing skyscrapers appear akin to the daunting churches once built to astonish, overwhelm, and cause apprehension in congregations. So enamored with The Organization’s power, men are willing to anxiously off their own best friends in desperate attempts to gain acceptance. In modern times it seems God in spelled C-E-O and his clergy wear suits and ties. Point Blank
excels in exploring the friction and stress caused by the rise of modern corporate America at the expense of the traditional America of the 40s and 50s. The protagonists of most film noirs are often at odds with their surrounding, but Walker’s sensibilities appear downright archaic when exposed to the corporate labyrinth he must navigate through. The Organization isn’t concerned with honor among thieves, or even loyalty - all too willing to off one another when fiscally appropriate - but merely uses profit as its commandment. They don’t carry cash, they cut cheques. As Brewster makes clear “There is no money”! Walker remains puzzled that there is no final head to chop, but rather many arms, sighing “there has to be someone”. Even the Organization’s own personnel are confused by the cash flow. Like Brian Wilson, Walker just wasn’t made for these times – his hardened hitman is obsolete now that the corporation has replaced his mob. Crime is no longer about the individual but rather the entity and thus more covert.
Walker may feel more at home in the typical black and white of the traditional film noir, with its dim corners, sinister darkness, and old-school rules. Instead, Walker must deal with the glaring sunlight-drenched colors of modern LA that he is continually adjusting his eyesight to, unable to comprehend this new morality. This thug cannot cloak himself in shadows when exposed in the daylight. Boorman’s choice to expose the noir style and morality to brash sunlight and the modern world reverberates in other neo-noir classics such as Chinatown
, and L.A. Confidential
. It’s the sun as a horrific burning spotlight that denies tranquility, allowing us to examine a place we believed to be attractive, that is rotten in reality. Long gone is the dangerous night of the traditional noir that allowed us to accept a cruel world immediately. Point Blank
’s sunny atmosphere is the new harsh reality - a façade where we don’t expect immorality instantly until that golden tan turns into a ghastly burn.
The outdated brute also has to grapple with the technology that drives these modern times. Walker is frequently frustrated at contemporary appliances within the modern home (though he seeks refuge in front of the TV). These corporate consumer products seek to replace traditional methods, and signify his demise, but he is determined to fight against them. These appliances of convenience often fuel Walker’s aggression at his position within his surroundings. At one point, while enraged during a mute but earsplitting argument with Chris, he frantically pulls the plug on nearly every appliance in the house, from the blender to the stereo, since they are torturing him with noise. At another point, he blasts away at a speaker-phone with his .38 when notified his cash is a fantasy. Walker clearly has no patience for the convenience of modern machinery.
Furthermore, Walker’s alienation and displacement seems to fracture the film itself. In effect, his mere unexpected, unexplainable presence in this modern world creates a strange schism in its reality, as if equilibrium is impossible in Walker’s presence. The clash between tradition and technology, or simple past and future, seem to manifest itself in the visual style and splintered structure Boorman applies to the film. Many writers state the film’s visuals and editing are inspired by the French New Wave and avant-garde filmmaking. While definitely influenced by both, as illustrated in its fragmented narrative and abrupt flashbacks, I wouldn’t claim Point Blank
to be an avant-garde noir, though it remains a unique creation. The hallucinogenic visuals contrast well with the sterile corporate setting. Boorman continues to break with classic noir conventions by avoiding the normal amount of verbose, confusing explanation we expect in a noir in favor of a more silent, visual exposition. Instead of being puzzled by the explanation of the narrative, we are puzzled by the juxtaposition of images. The images themselves are less constricted as well, since Boorman frequently films open spaces and desolate terrain rather than cramped streets and claustrophobic corridors. Also, no narrator is employed to guide the narrative either. Instead, we are only exposed to the distant voices that suddenly reveal themselves in Walker’s subconscious. These choices work to further isolate Walker within his harsh surroundings.
However, for all the estrangement in Point Blank
, there is also a considerable amount of sexual tension. In the opening moments, Walker lurches through a bar in a drunken stupor, only to be pulled to the floor by Reese. As Reese lies on top of Walker, both horizontal in the frame, he pleads to Walker that he “needs him”. The image is paralleled by one between Walker and Lynne while they ponder their (marital?) situation in a constricting jail cell. Later, in stylized slow-motion, Walker storms into Lynne’s apartment after her betrayal, clutches her until she is unconscious, and then blows away the bed she sleeps in. During a rough, sloppy (realistic) fight sequence, Walker brutally punches a man in the groin. The gangster even forces himself upon a startled secretary in order to enter an office. He first encounters Chris while she is still in bed and later requests she sleep with Reese.
Walker then snuffs out a naked, groveling Reese by dragging him by his bed sheets, before tossing him off a balcony.
Even the seduction that takes place is violent. During a noisy domestic dispute, Walker aggressively pursues his sister-in-law, Chris, only to be walloped incoherent by a wooden pool cue before they land up in the sack. Afterward, we witness a seemingly endless tumble in the sheets where partners constantly switch identities, from Reese, to Chris, to Walker, to Lynne, and over again. It feels as if Point Blank
understands that though crime is lurid, it remains sexy, and that sex and violence are forever connected. However, it also conveys the fact that both sex and violence may isolate the participants in the aftermath of their actions.
Adrift in this contemporary setting that feels foreign to him; Walker must leave LA and return to an archaic Alcatraz for his journey to resolve. Having his story start and end at Alcatraz is apt, considering the compound serves as symbol of a past he is more familiar with. It’s here that he can finally claim his money, because it remains the only place where The Organization still allows cash transactions. However, once the cash is out in the open and the final corporate secret revealed, Walker chooses to enigmatically disappear. In need of a man with his skills, Walker is even offered a position within the Organization for eliminating “the competition”. Walker would be the right-hand man to the man upstairs and would assume a seat on the board of directors simply because he has eliminated its members. After painstaking effort and a mounting body-count, why does Walker lurk back into the shadows without claiming his bounty? Why does he refuse his seat in heaven? Perhaps, it’s because Walker believes it’s actually a throne in hell. It may also be that he realizes the futility of constantly chasing down a monetary prize that was never rightfully his. Understanding that he has become a pawn to the modern commercial world he despises, Walker drifts back into the shadows to distance himself from the masquerading devil that is corporate America. Conceivably, Walker values the fact that his individual morality, however monstrous, is at least transparent rather than veiled in propriety, and for this clarity his is willing to remain in existential limbo. Unwilling to play patsy to the very operation he sought to destroy, Walker retreats into the comforting darkness of classic film-noir, knowing he has waged his individual war and no longer needs to function as corporate cog.