(On TV, March 2017) It’s a good thing that director John Landis knows how to have fun, because otherwise there really isn’t much to An American Werewolf in London in terms of plotting. Young man gets bitten; young man contemplates the horrors of turning into a werewolf; young man dies. There’s the plot right there, but don’t get angry at the spoilers because this is not a movie about plot. Thanks to jolting dream sequences, sympathetic characters, a good dose of off-beat humour and the kind of why-the-hell-not filmmaking that disappeared after the eighties, An American Werewolf in London is an experience more than a story. The pacing picks up considerably after the first half-hour, if only because the main character gets hallucinations and dream sequences that allow for Nazi werewolves and sustained conversations with a dead decomposing friend (Griffin Dunne, far more interesting than the rather dull protagonist). Jenny Agutter is cute as a British nurse with a thing for lost American tourists, but the true nature of her role is looking sad in the film’s last moments. Otherwise, An American Werewolf in London is about the kind of genre horror practised so joyously in the early eighties. The humour of the film is undercut by the downbeat (but inevitable) ending. The pre-CGI transformation effects remain mildly impressive even today, while the soundtrack has a not-so-sly succession of “Moon”-titled songs. The abrupt ending does feel unsatisfying, but so does the end of a roller-coaster—it’s not the point of the experience.
(In French, On Cable TV, January 2017) There’s a temptation, in watching old Science Fiction, to ask if it has correctly predicted the future. This completely misses the point: SF reflects the times in which it is made, and it’s never an attempt to predict the future as much as it’s a way to make sense of the present. This is not the same question as whether it has aged well, given how a film can be just as enjoyable as a period piece. In watching Logan’s Run, which was presented as a major Science-Fiction picture of its time, it’s hard to avoid thinking that movie Science Fiction has progressed a lot since then. Logan’s Run is such a … different … piece of work that it can barely be criticized according to today’s baselines. On one level, characters act like lobotomized idiots. On another, it’s hard to see where the intentional stylization ends and where the silliness begins. Watching it, it’s no wonder if most people thought that Science Fiction was dumb trash back then, because exemplar Logan’s Run is dumb trash. No wonder a lot of people hated SF at the time, one year before Star Wars. Silly costumes, social mores that make no sense, voluntarily stupid dialogue and twists that aren’t: Either our standards have dramatically increased, or the film was moronic from the get-go. (I suspect a lot of both.) Michael York and Jenny Agutter do what they can with what they’re given—watch for a short appearance by Farrah Fawcett midway through. This being said, I still think that Logan’s Run is worth a close and occasionally horrified look: The special effects are still intriguing, and the sense of pure strangeness today is to be cherished: It is a very seventies film. Watching it in French only adds to the experience by cranking up the strangeness even further.
(On DVD, August 2010) Something really strange happened to me during Walkabout: As the initial look at the metropolitan bustle of early-seventies urban Australia became a surrealistic outback reverie, I started dreading the rest of the movie: I don’t respond well to non-narrative films, and the idea of spending another hour and a half in a daze of dream-like images held a limited appeal. It got worse as the bare essential of the plot were carelessly established: a female teenager and her kid brother, stranded in the Australian outback. Narratively, the film never holds up: characters act in painfully unrealistic ways, the visual and thematic strangeness of the film undercutting any serious attempt at establishing narrative tension as they float from one situation to another with nonsensical dialogue that never reflects the danger of their situation. But that’s when the strangeness occurred, because rather than fight the film for what it wasn’t trying to do, I let myself slip into the oneiric state of mind best suited to appreciate the incredible cinematography, symbolism and atmosphere of the film. It’s not about two kids returning to civilization thanks to the help of an aborigine teen: It’s about superb pictures, meditations upon nature versus civilization, teenage sexuality, the impossibility to communicate, the way we’re set in our own limitations and the longing for rites of passage. At least that’s what I got out of it, in-between the film’s often-surprising non-sequiturs and often-audacious editing. What does it mean? You tell me, in between excerpts of a meteorologist sex comedy, in-your-face juxtaposition, page-flipping, moody skin-bathing, suicidal characters, animals harmed during the making of this film and a coda that almost wraps everything together. Some reviews of the film will promise you that no one who ever saw Walkabout ever forgot about it and this, for once, doesn’t feel like hype: In the state of mind created by the film, I gasped aloud at two particularly striking shots and couldn’t help but marvel at the impeccable depiction of the Australian Outback wildlife. If the preachiness of the film hasn’t aged very well, its impeccable images and Jenny Agutter’s performance as a teenage girl have stood the test of time. It’s a very zen-like film: don’t expect it to make sense and it just may start doing so.