My Burt Lancaster film of last night was Gunfight at the OK Corral (John Sturges, 1957), a landmark hit of the fifties, with one of those ballads sung throughout (by Frankie Laine), that help pace and narrate and that Cat Ballou (Elliot Silverstein, 1965) would parody to great effect a decade later. What struck me most was not just the whiteness of Sturges’ West– there isn’t a black person, Indian or Mexican in the whole movie — but its blondness. Everyone seems fair haired or blu-eyed or both: not just Kirk and Burt and Joan Van Fleet, but the supporting cast as well: Earl Holliman, John Ireland, Martin Milner, DeForest Kelly, Lee Van Cleef. Rhonda Fleming’s red hair is about the only bit of diversity. Dennis Hopper as the youngest Clanton brother, fresh from his appearance in Rebel Without A Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955), lit very beautiful to underline the tragedy of his death to come, still to shed his baby fat, and half the size of Burt, is what led to this thought.
The film pays subtle hommage to John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946):
It’s worth comparing what this film might signify in contrast to Burt and Kirk’s first pairing as two Depression gangsters caught up in a postwar world of passion, crime and shadows a decade earlier in I Walk Alone (Byron Haskin, 1947).
It’s also worth contrasting to the presence of native peoples, Mexicans and blacks –the latter often in tiny or non-speaking roles but as soldiers or figures of authority — in the Robert Aldrich/ Burt Lancaster westerns such as Apache and Vera Cruz, both released in 1954.
The film was a worldwide success that left an imprint on several generations and was easily parodied. As you can see here in the Goodies episode of Bunfight at the OK Tea Rooms that Nicky Smith directed me to:
And Richard Layne has also pointed out to me that there’s also the Doctor Who version, complete with a song:
Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, a tale of two lighthouse keepers stranded during a storm, is a visual treat in black and white that stuns and engrosses us. A two-hander between Willem Dafoe’s irascible boss and Robert Pattinson’s secretive youngster, it invokes myth, gods, folk tales, the clash of male egos, compulsive psychosexuality, if not much, much more besides.
If its plot is simple, its story is complex, and we think our way through its characters’ personalities, wants, needs, and psychologies. José asks if the film is gothic, and we discuss the boss’s treatment of his assistant: is it just controlling, or abusive? Extraordinary imagery of mermaids, monsters, and gods suffuses the film with inescapable surreality and the turbulent minds of men overburdened with ego and sexual need. Eggers has an assured, confident sense of tone, layering the film with mood and atmosphere, making its remote island a pressure cooker.
The Lighthouse is a spectacular film, an audiovisual treat that you should not miss at the cinema. Its imagery is poetic, its characters complex – in its entirety, it is confusing but approachable, symbolic but not coded, allowing room for interpretation and emotional response. It’s brilliant.
Ne Zha, a Chinese animated film, holds the record for the biggest box office in a single market (having made over $700m in China), but Mike isn’t that impressed with it, comparing it to the likes of Ice Age. José had a better time, though asks himself why he overlooks some of its more questionable elements, including a rather homophobic running joke that just doesn’t go away. But there’s a certain flair and thoughtfulness to some of its visual design and characterisation that we appreciate, and it gives us food for thought.
Discussing Ne Zha leads us into a conversation about British film culture as it relates to foreign language cinema. It’s not impossible to see foreign language films in Birmingham – though Ne Zha making it to Cineworld, as opposed to the Electric or mac, is notable – but outside London, the kind of culture that European and South American countries have of showing films from other countries as a matter of course in the main cinemas just doesn’t exist here. In going through our list of podcasts so far we see this reflected, a little over one eighth of our podcasts to date being about non-UK/US films, and a number of those thanks to MUBI, the streaming service, rather than cinema screenings. We can definitely do better, and intend to, but it is the case that foreign cinema culture in the UK barely exists.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.