I love action movies. Like musicals, they’re spectacular, rhythmic, visually inventive, and something of a lost art. It’s like filmmakers have forgotten how to do a shootout or a fight or a car chase in ways that rev up the senses. For a time, no one filmed action better than John Woo. He was clearly influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville, who made films that were sparer, neater, better. Woo in turn, for better AND worse, influenced Tarantino, Rodriguez and many others. Seeing the Woo-Chow Yun-Fat films in the early nineties was a thrilling revelation: the sheer inventiveness of shot after shot, often each a surprise, the whole ‘number’ thematically coherent, the calm cool presence of Chow Yun Fat himself, the musical structure of the scenes. New, thrilling, and you only have to look at them now to see how Tarantino stole everything from Woo. I also loved how these brilliant action sequences, often designated ‘operatic’ or ‘balletic’, were in turn strung together through the most melodramatic of structures (brotherly loyalties tied by being on different sides of the law in A Better Tomorrow; the blind nightclub singer in The Killer, the hospital setting in the last part of Hard-Boiled etc.) It’s hard to pick a favourite of Woo’s films with Chow Yun-Fat but today I choose Hard-Boiled, if only for the extraordinary sequence in the tea-rooms with the canary and for the equally extraordinary hospital shoot-out scene at the end. These are films that made me think of the visual sublime in films of that period, the way the camera would show violence and brutality, slow it down to make you see the beauty of the bodies and bullets in motion, and then cut from slow motion to normal speed…and splat! Awe and terror at the beauty and horror that is, followed by death, but in Woo’s case also accompanied by great wit. Some of the best action sequences ever filmed.
Feeling he gave it short shrift the first time, Mike’s keen to revisit Three Billboards, and drags me along for the ride. With the clumsy handling of race issues clouding the film less, we pick up on listener feedback that leads us into ruminations on Frances McDormand’s Mildred, particularly her defiance of the misogynist society in which she lives and zealous attitude towards collective responsibility, and whether the character of Sam Rockwell’s Dixon truly is a redemptive one.
We also double down on our criticism of the film’s use of derogatory terms, comparing this to a similar issue in Tarantino’s films. Mike’s been reading about Flannery O’Connor on Wikipedia, and we consider what would have been gained and lost had the film been written and directed by the Coens.
The connection to Flannery O’Connor we discuss is obvious since one of the characters, Red (Caleb Landry Jones) is reading one of her books (see above). However, Andrew Griffin, has pointed out a further connection to another Southern Writer, Carson McCullers’, and her Ballad of the Sad Cafe, which Edward Albee turned in to a play and which Simon Callow made a movie I remember as being stiltedly poetic but with a fierce uncompromising performance from Vanessa Redgrave at its centre, that is not unlike Frances McDormand’s in Three Billboards.
‘The parallels are quite amazing: a woman who has been brutalized by her husband and ostracized by the town who forms a relationship with a dwarf with explosive, violent results’, says Griffin, ‘ I didn’t think of it until you guys mentioned O’Connor, but thinking about it, the dwarf, the setting, the Redgrave character and the images you posted, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is obviously an inspiration for McDonagh, as both a writer and a director’. I think that’s right and perhaps something to pursue, but not by us; as I think two goes at this film are, for me at least, all I want to give it.
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