Thursday, November 27, 2008

Vintage Trailer of the Week 17

I saw this in a cinema as a little kid. I thought it was great. I was right. Beautiful, unique, a little cheesy, a lot clunky. Jeff Bridges. Oh to see it in a cinema today...


Friday, November 21, 2008

Whatever Happened to Gilles Mimouni?

It happens so rarely with Cinema. In Literature, its more common; Harper Lee, Arundahti Roy. Both writers who wrote one novel, then gave up. There are others; Ross Lockridge Jr. He wrote "Raintree County" in 1948, and it was called a "Great American Novel" by lots of critics. Killed himself two months later, leaving it as his single novel. Not so in cinema. Directors begin careers. They make a second film, it flops, they start to take jobs in TV or advertising. Or they craft an oeuvre, film after film of varying quality, hitting their stride at some point, tailing off into late middle age as they lose edge and relevance. They don't just...stop.

Gilles Mimouni did. He made "L'Appartement" in 1996. 12 years ago. It is one of the great French films - perhaps one of the greatest films from anywhere - of the 1990s, and it was a commercial success, a sizeable hit, in fact. He hasn't made a film since. There are a few precedents. Charles Laughton never directed again after the failure of his lovely "The Night of the Hunter" (1955). James William Guercio made only "Electra Glide in Blue" (1973). But even the directors who gain reputations as virtual cinematic J.D. Salingers - like Terrence Malick had before his recent return to the fray, like Kubrick had after 1970 - even they make films fairly regularly regularly. Malick made two films in the 1970s, and next years "Tree of Life" will be his third in just under a decade since he returned to cinema. Kubrick made a film every five years or so and was always developing something. Nobody just stops. Except Mimouni. IMDB draws a blank. His only credit besides "L'Appartement" is as Executive Producer on "Wicker Park", its 2004 US remake. A comment thread on his page lists three projects he has been subsequently linked with, all of which fell apart. Well, I remember reading announcements about all of those over the last decade. "The Pretender" an English language Spy Thriller which would have reunited him with Vincent Cassel - fell apart in 2001. "Flight of the Storks", an adaptation of the debut novel by the author of "Crimson Rivers" about a serial killer - broke down in 2004. "The Swedish Cavalier", an adaptation of Leo Perutz's 1936 swashbuckling identity-swap thriller, which Christophe Gans is now attached to direct. 12 years is a long time without anything to show for it except a string of broken down projects.

The reason this is worthy of comment is the sheer quality of "L'Appartement". Obviously a product of the post-"Pulp Fiction" rush to greenlight any film with a sense of its own cinematic heritage, a vaguely noirish feel and a sense of style, it is one of the few films from that era to have aged really well. This is because Mimouni displays talent both as a writer and director. He looks like a natural, in fact, with a distinctive voice and an amazing confidence for a debutant director. While most post-Tarantino films borrowed the tough guy criminal settings or the richness of the dialogue, Mimouni is more cine-literate. "L'Appartement" refers obviously to "Vertigo" and there is a definite Hitchock vibe to the the whole enterprise, underlined by the Herrmann-esque score by Peter Chase. Yet the film always feels like its own unique beast. Indeed, it feels more like the best film Brian DePalma never made, like DePalma with a slightly classier sensibility.

It is brilliant mix of thriller, love story and mystery. Above all, it is a story of obsessive love and grief. The plot is far too complex to summarise. In brief, it follows Max (Vincent Cassel) after he overhears a woman he believes may be Lisa (Monica Bellucci) the love of his life, who left him without explanation two years before. His search for her leads him into the life of Alice (Romaine Bohringer) who has her own secrets and connections to the separated couple. The story turns and reverses itself countless times until in the last act we trust nothing and no-one, least of all Mimouni, who is brilliantly adept at flipping his narrative and indicating new readings of what we have seen before. Despite this, it is engrossing throughout, the characters sympathetic even at their most selfish and self-destructive. Cassel's Max is driven to the brink by his grief for Lisa. When he thinks he can discover why she left, he cannot help himself, and under this spell, he lies to his fiance, his colleagues, follows strangers, breaks into apartments and hotel rooms. The actor's versatility is evident here, his harsh, dramatic face softened for an everyman effect, as is his chemistry with Bellucci, whom he met on set. This was the first film to properly acknowledge her ravishing beauty, and it does so by utilising an old cliche; it allows Max to fall for her in an instant in one of those silent slow falls of the soul. We see it in his eyes, his breath stopping. Mimouni shows us what he sees - videotape footage of her in close-up, talking, casual, yet heart-stopping. Max falls in love with her partly because he first encounters her on footage Alice shot. He sees her through Alice's eyes, and Alice is plainly a little in love with Lisa. But such sequences litter romances and romantic comedies, rhapsodizing women who are unworthy of the treatment. Bellucci, however, earns it by her sheer extraordinary beauty, and so the moment when Cassel, stricken, becomes utterly bewitched by her face feels believable, even natural.

Bohringer has the most difficult role. Much of the time the camera is trained upon her face and we have to read so much of the story's emotion there - her truest feelings often seem hidden even from herself. She is magnificent - sad, frightening, insecure, sexy and always human. It is the dark act of her character that has driven the plot of the film, and she is the shadow in its emotional margins. That darkness is a key component - this is a story full of people breaking rules, stalking one another, lying, hurting, partly a love story and partly a story of somebody trying to destroy that love. So convincing is Bohringer that it is as if she has convinced the film to take her side after and hour and a half. It feels more her story than Max's or Lisa's. She and Cassel share a chemistry just as blistering as that between him and Bellucci. The final 15 minutes, when the ridiculous revelations and reversals pile up, depend upon believable relationships, and each of the principals delivers. The film works. Aside from its wit and style, it is affecting, it has emotional weight. The ambiguity of its ending seems just and the only way not to betray what has gone before. Cassell and Bohringer gaze at one another, then she fades away. It is beautiful, in its sad, low-key fashion. Bellucci, by contrast is punished for her beauty, perhaps.

That American remake, "Wicker Park", directed by Paul McGuigan in 2006, unsurprisingly absolutely botches the ending. It opts for a simple, happy reunion to the strains of Coldplay's "The Scientist", an unimaginable lapse in taste when the original is taken into consideration. And in many other ways it has remained faithful. Many of its scenes are virtual shot-by-shot recreations of Mimouni's film, and some of the design choices are incredibly similar. But this is no surprise either. One of the most notable aspects of "L'Appartement" is its boldness and confidence. Technically, Mimouni is obviously gifted - his framing, shot choice and editing are all seamless, his storytelling smooth and stylish. His screenplay - so confident and assured - is given the direction its quality warrants. His design choices are bold in service of the wit and mood he seeks - think of the gaudy, infernal red of the central cafe, the gothically shot apartment of the title, the shoe shop like something from an advertisement. This is the work of a man with a vision, a man who knows exactly how his film should look, sound and play.

Perhaps "L'Appartement" was all he had in the tank. Perhaps he had said everything he wanted to say with that one, near-perfect film. He wrote it, he directed it, it worked, people liked it. Quit while you're ahead, perhaps. But I hope not. I hope he comes back. After all this time, that sensibility will have matured, altered subtly. Cinema itself, the world, they have changed. It would be fascinating to see what Gilles Mimouni makes of those changes and what we make of him.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shuffle : Cattle & Cane

You get to a certain age, and memory starts to have more power. Not too old, either. Late twenties, perhaps. I suppose it depends on just how much living you've done, or what colour your memories are. Childhood is fascinating, and its strange distorted memories equally so, and some people are obsessed with their own childhoods. But, in my thirties, my teens and twenties weigh heavily in my memory. Friends I've lost touch with, nights out I can barely recall, a moment on a sunday morning returning from I'm not even sure where and the way the light scattered on empty streets. I go home to Dublin and memories assail me continually - I see a pub I had forgotten existed and suddenly remember with incredible clarity a night there with a group of friends, three of whom I haven't heard from in almost a decade. The small details are what make these memories so vivid - the way a place smelled, what a girl was wearing, how cold it was outside. Living away from home affects memory too. The physical distance seems to give recollection more power and emotional force.

Grant McLennan understood this. He wrote "Cattle & Cane" in London, thousands of miles from his home in Australia. He wrote it in the Paddington flat he shared with Nick Cave, on Cave's battered old guitar. Cave was in a drug-addled stupor at the time, or so the tale goes. Cave did have quite a reputation for debauchery in those Birthday Party days. McLennan and Cave seem so different its hard to imagine them being friends, but Australians stick together, I guess, especially when they're surrounded by Poms. And then I think - they were both exceptionally literate men, writers of lovely songs, Australians of a similar age, struggling Indie musicians in London. Of course they would be friends. Or maybe they were just flatmates - civil, distant. I can almost see it. McLennan was from Queensland, and had been raised on a Cattle Station before attending boarding school then University in Brisbane. How would London in the early 80s have struck him? Cosmopolitan, sophisticated, bustling and terrifying; no doubt. But also so grey and grim, so cold and wet, so drab. Thatcher's Britain - the Falklands War, the Miner's Strike, the Brixton riots, Football hooligans. Concrete and dark, lowering skies. You can hear the sunlight in the guitars on "Cattle & Cane", and I think its a wistful longing for that sunlight that gives the song some of its strange power. It is filled with nostalgia - both for the past, for boyhood and innocence, and also for Home itself, home as it once was and never can be again.

McClennan was 25 years old when he wrote it. That explains its mood - torn between homesickness and celebration. Its lyrics are simple, evocative phrases of recollection. The first words, almost whispered, are "I recall" and on it goes. McLennan knew a poetic line when he found one: "A rain of falling cinders", "His fathers watch/He left it in the showers" but generally the lyric is plain, presenting pictures of a boy growing up in memory. The chorus is devastating, yet ambiguous: "From time to time/ The waste - memory wastes". Its one of those lines your gut understands even if your brain does not. The song perfectly evokes the way childhood can remain a mass of jumbled images and associations in the mind. And if you've ever lived away from home, it also captures the specific feeling of geographical nostalgia, as does the melancholy in the music itself.

The intro is great - a simple melody, picked out deliberately on a guitar, then echoed by another, picked out with a higher tempo by both guitar and bass as the band oh so quietly kicks in. The playing is lovely - spartan and light yet with some muscle in those ragged sprays of guitar beneath that chorus. Indeed, its got a strange, acoustic-based guitar sound that is unmistakeably 80s yet not remotely dated. It sounds slightly C&W but has a bouncing, mobile yet melodic bass driving it alongside a quiet, almost understated drum pattern. Though the drums - and the perfect "duuduuduuduu" backing vocal, which sounds like it was performed by McLennan too - don't even turn up until the first chorus. After that, elements fall away and return until the gently floating crescendo as the backing vocals ascend and McLennan seems almost to sing about the song itself : "further/and higher/and longer"...But really its all about that melody. McLennan is one of those songwriters - like McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Bacharach, Neil Finn, Paddy McAloon - out of whom melodies seem to just flow.

He wrote a clutch of other legitimately great pop songs, as did his fellow songwriter in the group, Robert Forster. But I've always preferred McLennan's warmer brand of melancholy, the sometime quiet euphoria and beauty of his songs. His songs always had strong hooks, his gift for melody never deserting him. "Cattle & Cane" remains the best thing he ever wrote. It was voted one of the 10 best Australian songs of all time by Australian songwriters. I can think of plenty of great Australian songs, but I can't think of any better than "Cattle & Cane".

Best to leave it to the two boys to articulate. Forster said that when McLennan first played him the song, he was stunned, and he thought "he's done it, dug up the past". The song would influence Forster's own writing from then on. For his part, McLennan wrote this short note on the song's genesis for a 1990s "Best of" Compilation. As with most of his writing, its somehow perfect:
“Written in summer on a borrowed guitar in a Paddington bedroom, London. The other rooms were occupied by unconscious friends. The rhythm struck me as strange, the mood as beautiful and sad. The song came easily, was recorded quickly and still haunts me.”

Grant McLennan died in his sleep on 6 May 2006, aged 48.


Friday, November 14, 2008

On Football - No. 17 : Jan Molby

Understand: for a Manchester United fan, Liverpool are the enemy. More than City, more than Arsenal, more than Leeds, more than Chelsea. The two greatest clubs in English football come from two cities less than an hour apart with a bitter historical rivalry. They are the most successful clubs in the Country with the biggest support, the most glorious histories and the biggest auras. Arsenal and Chelsea have new weight, glamour, wealth and meaning in the age of Premier League games being followed worldwide, but it is not the same as the Legendary qualities of the two big clubs from the North-West. So its difficult for me to write about any Liverpool player with affection. Their enduring and incredible success in the 1980s was hard for a young United fan to deal with. They won everything. We won nothing, existing on reputation and occasionally glorious football, not unlike the modern-day Tottenham Hotspur.

My brother - less than two years younger than me - is a devoted Liverpool fan. He lives it in a way I never have. Losses wound him, depress him, effect his daily wellbeing. He hates United more than I hate Liverpool, I imagine. Our triumphant dominance of the 1990s has been hard for Liverpool fans to swallow and increased the keenness of the rivalry. But it was different when we were younger. Then I could watch Liverpool matches - as long as they were not playing United - with some neutrality. The years of crowing and nose-rubbing hadn't really taken their emotional toll yet. I didn't have quite so much invested. I watched the 1984 European Cup Final with my brother, rooting for Liverpool against Roma. And, oddly enough, the 1986 FA Cup Final, when Liverpool played Everton. Back then, the FA Cup Final felt like as big a deal as the World Cup Final, somehow. We got up early and watched the entire build-up, cameras on team buses, interviews with fans etc. Wembley always seemed to lie under a blanket of sunshine. Its different now. I just had to rack my brain to recall who won this year's FA Cup Final. The Premier League, the Champions League - they really have changed football.

In 1986, Liverpool were on for a Double, having beaten Everton to the League title by 2 points. Everton, who had been League Champions in 1985 and would be again in 1987, were possibly the best team in the Country at the time, capable of scintillating football. But Liverpool were frighteningly experienced and efficient, their game a passing-and-moving machine with Ian Rush the best centre-forward of the 1980s scoring an unhealthy amount of goals. It was a mouthwatering prospect of a Final - the two best teams in England, their passionate fans moving on London en masse. And among an array of the biggest stars of English football - with the likes of Lineker, Dalglish, Rush, Sharp, Steven and Reid all on show - Jan Molby was man of the match by a mile.

Molby fits into that category of great players with weight problems. Like Puskas and Ronaldo his sometime tubbiness hardly seemed to matter. Throughout his Liverpool career his weight fluctuated, but after his first season or so he never ever looked slim, or even anywhere near fit. His qualities were of a different nature. He allowed his partners in Central midfield - usually combative Englishman Steve McMahon but often Scot Kevin McDonald - to do the running and harrying, and he got on with shaping and directing play as only he could. In a team of great passers - Ronnie Whelan, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Dalglish - Molby's ability to spot an opening and to put the ball exactly into that space were unsurpassed. This video of the goals in that FA Cup final gets the order all wrong (Everton scored first, before halftime, and the first two Liverpool goals are in the wrong sequence) but what remains undimmed is the excellence of Molby's vision and technique. Wearing the Number 10, as is only proper, he provides killer passes for each of the three Liverpool goals, one a skidding cross with pace, one a deft flick into acres of space and the other a simple short ball for Ronnie Whelan to chip into the only unmarked part of a crowded penalty area. He did the same thing for the entire second half of the game, spreading the play all over the pitch with beautiful passes, exhausting a stretched Everton:

If his technical ability was ever to be called into question, one look at his CV would serve as an eloquent answer. Bought by Ajax from his hometown club, Kolding, in 1982, he spent two years in the first team there, winning a Dutch Championship in 1983. Ajax - home to Crujiff, Van Basten, Huillet, Bergkamp etc - is a club where technical excellence is mandatory. Molby combined a delicacy of touch and fantastic range of passing with a thunderous shot and his physical stature; he could operate as either playmaker or as holding midfielder, forming such a formidable physical barrier as he did. When Liverpool Manager Joe Fagan paid £200,000 for him in 1984, he arrived in a team undergoing a subtle transition. That was the Liverpool way. Big name, big money transfers were rare. Players were replaced from within. After the League and European Cup double of 1984, Graeme Souness, the teams midfield general and leader, left for Sampdoria in Italy. Phil Neal was in his last season at the club and Dalglish was nearing is own retirement. Molby had to find his way in a team of big egos and huge talents and in his first Season, when he was never a first team regular, Liverpool missed out on the League title and lost the European Cup Final to Juventus on the night of the Heysel Stadium disaster. With Fagan's retirement the next Season, Dalglish became player-manager and Molby became a regular fixture in the side. His versatility meant that he often played as a deep-lying midfielder, somewhere between an old-fashioned sweeper and the modern Pirlo role, where he could break up play and begin attacking moves from deep within his own half. However, he was better suited to playing as an attacking midfielder, and in that Double-winning Season he scored 21 goals for the club.

That was a good year for Molby. After that triumphant FA Cup appearance he flew out to Mexico with the Danish squad which would play perhaps the best football at the 1986 World Cup. Molby was a fixture in a stellar squad alongside the likes of Laudrup, Elkjaer, Lerby, Arnesen and Olsen. with Laudrup already an incredibly accomplished playmaker, he played in a more defined central midfield role, but that Danish team was built to attack ceaselessly, meaning that he got forward as much as anybody. His typical pass spreads the break out wide for the second Danish goal in this match against West Germany:

Denmark made a nonsense of the "Group of Death" they had been drawn in, defeating Uruguay (6-1!), Scotland and the Germans on their way to a confrontation with Spain where their fearlessly attacking approach was undone by the clever counters of a fine Spanish side.

1986 was probably the best year of Molby's career. Liverpool won nothing in the 86-87 Season and he began to struggle with persistent injuries in 1987, which only added to his weight problems. From then on, until his eventual departure in 1996, he was in and out of the team, playing at Centre-half and in central midfield but rarely as a first choice. He was still often an impressive performer, illuminating games with his touch and awareness. He was persistently linked with transfers to big Continental clubs, but the feeling persists that he had gone native, with his strong Scouse accent, his love of a flutter and a beer. In 1988 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for drink driving, and after Liverpool stood by him, perhaps he remained at the club out of some misguided loyalty. Better if he had moved abroad, where his talents would have been better appreciated. He did win trophies at Liverpool, however - two league titles and two FA Cups, scoring 44 goals (mainly penalties) from 218 appearances. But his remains a frustrating career, with its sense of a talent never really fulfilled.

That talent never really ebbed, however. He scores the second goal, a penalty, in this game against Leeds from 1993, but more notable are the two passes preceding the penalty, which show him as the beautifully visionary playmaker he was. First he scoops the ball between two defenders to put Rush clear on goal inside the box. Then he creates the penalty with a finely measured through ball into space. Both first time, instant touches. His left foot was always a precision instrument:

One last clip, an oddity. Many Liverpool fans in attendance claimed this as one of the greatest goals they had ever seen. From an Anfield League Cup tie, Liverpool vs Man United, November 1985. Paul McGrath had scored to put United 1-0 up when Molby ran with the ball from his own half, nutmegged Brian Robson, beat a defender, then hit a dipping 30 yard shot into the top corner. Only there was a dispute on so there was no football coverage on TV. No cameras at the game. Absolutely unimaginable today. No film of the goal, or of Molby's second, a penalty a few minutes later. So somebody has taken the time to recreate it, and it looks impressive, and easily within the scope of Molby's talent:

UPDATE 28 October 2009:

Molby has released his (supposedly only surviving) copy of that game to LFCTV, and here is that goal:

Not bad, is it?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Its too late for chiropody."

Top of my list of most feverishly anticipated films over the next few months is Steven Soderbergh's "Che", Parts 1 & 2. I missed it (them?) at the LFF because of scheduling issues, and the pain is still fresh. Once known as "The Argentine" and "Guerilla" and shown at Cannes as one marathon 4 hour film with an intermission, they're out in the UK in January and February. Critical reception has been mixed, but that was also true of "Solaris" and that is my favourite Soderbergh, alongside the criminally underseen "Bubble".

But this post is concerned with posters, and their power over how a film can be sold.

You can go the 80s photo-realist painting look route and make the film seem an adventure movie, heavy on the combat attire colour scheme, an assault rifle prominent:

Or you can go stark, minimalist, evoking propaganda while also playing up your stars brooding handsomeness:

The question is: which of these kids is doing the wrong thing?

As a bonus, this is the poster (somewhat similar to the second above, I think) for Richard Fleischer's bizarre 1969 biopic, starring Omar Sharif. The title of this post comes from that film - its an immortal line of dialogue uttered by Guevara to Fidel Castro (Jack Palance) just before a massive battle erupts:


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Vintage Trailer of the Week 16

This came to mind this week, as it always does during US elections. Redford's best ever performance, probably. Michael Ritchie knew how to get the best out of him (he also directed the fantastic "Downhill Racer").


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tackling the Twelve: Virus

I didn't realise until some time after I had watched it that Kinji Fukasaku's "Virus" (1980) is a disaster movie. A disaster movie of the Irwin Allen school, with similarities to "Airport" and "Earthquake" and "The Towering Inferno". I think it may have been the film's Japanese origins that distracted me. Or the strange little bursts of poetry and remorseless anti-sentiment that occur throughout the film, which are entirely un-Hollywood. But it is a disaster movie. It has a one-word title, a cast of International b-movie hamsters, features a disparate group of characters huddling together for survival, and a big tense action climax. Sort of.

The film traces the outbreak of a virus which destroys all animal life on the planet except for a group of (800 or so) scientists and military personnel on a set of research stations in Antarctica. Their struggle to survive is the principle concern of the films second half. The first half is pacier as the Virus is released - amidst some camp if oh-so-serious spy shenanigans in East Germany - and begins its steady spread. That spread is indicated by lots of library footage of rioting in European cities. The story is told in a series of brief vignettes without any immediate characters as we see just how the virus was allowed to escape and learn how it cannot be stopped. There is a montage of newspaper headlines. There are tense, sweaty scenes from the Oval Office, scenes of doctors collapsing, a haunting shot of a packed crowd of women brandishing their babies while they scream. Here the Japanese fascination with Apocalypse is expressed in scenes of a Tokyo deserted but for rotting corpses, of a nightclub crowded with hysterical dancers (a girl rips off her blouse to go - the horror - topless!), a hospital overwhelmed by the volume of patients, of a temple crowded with worshippers praying for a miracle, of piles of corpses burned by a flamethrower-wielding soldier. There is a long series of shots of dead cities with bodycounts subtitled underneath.

It is mostly deadpan and unsentimental. But then there are scenes like the one where the Japanese Antarctic research station desperately try to raise anybody they can on the radio. Finally they find a small boy - a five-year old American called Toby - broadcasting on his father's radio. In a tiny, shaky, sickeningly cute American voice (which sounds like it may be that of an adult woman), he repeatedly asks if anyone is listening, says he doesn't feel so good, and that his father is lying down in the corner but won't move, his mother gone. The Japanese scream into the microphone that they can hear. But Toby is holding down the "transmit" button and cannot hear them. Finally, horribly, he shoots himself with his father's gun to the anguish of the Japanese. This is risably melodramatic and not a little comedic, and yet it is unexpectedly powerful too. The film is so casual about its pessimism and its epic ambition that its forays for emotion are disarmingly effective.

Anyway, the world dies. All that is left are the 865 men and 8 women in Antarctica, who are forced to stay there because the virus is still alive in the rest of the world, and only the extreme cold can keep it at bay. One of the first items on their agenda
is sex. The women are told that they will have to service all of the men in turn, that conventional relationships will therefore be impossible, and that they will be "breeders" for the human race. They don't all take it so well. One of the women, Maric (Olivia Hussey), a Norwegian, falls in love with one of the Japanese scientists, Yoshizumi (Masao Kusakari) and their dilemma is spelled out plainly when an intimate if halting exchange is interrupted by a young sailor who has an appointment with her. Yoshizumi is a Geologist and his profession is relevant in the set-up for the action climax, which involves an Earthquake striking Washington DC, setting off America's defence system and beginning a Nuclear War between the now dead Superpowers which will destroy what is left of the world, including the Antarctic haven the survivors have made for themselves. Yoshizumi and a big macho American named Carter (Bo Svenson) volunteer for the suicide mission of disabling the American system, and make a mad submarine dash for a still infected Washington. Well, it all goes wrong, the Nukes Launch and Fukasaku indulges in some good old Japanese Nuclear Armageddon stuff - a montage of mushroom clouds, cities instantly vaporised, etc.

Perhaps the best part of the film is the last ten or fifteen minutes, wherein a miraculously alive Yoshizumi walks - walks! - from Washington, down through North America, across Central America, down through the Andes to the southern tip of the Americas in Chile or Argentina in search of Maric and other survivors. His progress, over a few years, obviously, finds him a long-haried, limping ragamuffin clad in shreds of clothing, having mental conversations with skeletons in deserted South American churches (we see subtitles of what is "Said"). He is depicted at Machu Picchu, crossing the snowiest Andean peaks, fishing with a club in the ocean. There is a happy ending, of sorts, and a cheesy ballad over the credits.

Its a mixed bag. Some of it is beautiful - shots of Yoshizumi against bloody sunsets on his long trek, hysteria in Italy as the plague takes hold. But much of it looks like a tv movie. Some of it is affecting, even moving, but other scenes are comic, or overly camp. It does have ancillary pleasures. That cast of has-been American stars includes Robert Vaughan, Henry Silva (as a hilariously evil General) George Kennedy and Glenn Ford. Edward James Olmos turns up as a Chilean Naval Officer who looks like Carlos Santana and starts a fight with his Argentine counterpart. Sonny Chiba sports a fetching beard. Chuck Connors, one of the most American of actors, so American he could easily have been cast as Steve Rogers in a Captain America movie, so American he must have been a quarterback for his high school Football team, so American that he played professional basketball and Baseball, so American that his name is Chuck Connors, for God's sake, that Chuck Connors - he plays a British submarine commander. I didn't notice any attempt at an accent, though, thankfully.
When it was released it was the most expensive Japanese movie ever made. It flopped spectacularly. Possibly because it is too International, has a whiff of compromise in almost every facet. But it is interesting, and occasionally very good. And one of the most pessimistic films I've ever seen, in its cheerful way.