39 posts categorized "Agitprop"

October 12, 2023

TAXI DRIVER — SHOCKTOBER!

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ColeSmithey.comSo much of American popular culture, and modern Cinema’s urban aesthetic, owes a debt to Martin Scorsese’s groundbreaking fourth feature film that it is impossible to imagine a world without “Taxi Driver.” From Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score to Robert DeNiro’s unpredictable anti-hero character, everything about “Taxi Driver” was innovative.

A 26-year-old Paul Schrader famously wrote the audacious screenplay for the film in less than a month after a period of living in his car in Los Angeles, when his love and professional lives had fallen apart. Schrader has described the script as a piece of “juvenilia.” Which works fine. Indeed, the seething narrative carries a quality of introspective desperation that seeps from the pores of a young testosterone-overloaded male who sees trouble in every direction he turns.

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Constructed in the popular vigilante mode of ‘70s-era American Cinema, the gritty story follows a deeply conflicted ex-Marine-turned-hack who is all too suggestible to Manhattan’s rampant culture of crime, violence, pornography, prostitution, and drugs. Robert De Niro’s repressed, racist war-veteran character Travis Bickle gets off on the disgust he feels for the pimps and drug dealers who clutter and defile every inch of 1976 Manhattan. Latent homosexual leanings lurk at the edges of Travis’s actions around women. Here is an avenging angel who wants to defile the Madonna and liberate the whore.

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Travis fantasizes about “a real rain” that “will come and wash all the scum off the streets” during his bouts of chronic insomnia, which allow him to work insanely long shifts for days, and even weeks at a time. Although there was no “post-traumatic-stress-disorder” diagnosis when the film was made, Travis Bickle clearly has what was then called "shell shock."

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Scorsese introduced the world to the underbelly of mid-‘70s Manhattan at a time when economic collapse and garbage strikes left the city covered in trash. This reality shocked audiences unfamiliar with New York’s distressed state. In actuality, New York’s violent atmosphere of crime and degradation was even worse than Scorsese’s version. For New Yorkers at the time, every journey outside their tiny apartments offered a constant threat of confrontation, mugging, or worse.

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The film’s political commentary hides in plain sight. Travis is a right-wing reactionary intent on assassinating a Democratic Senator running for President. Travis accepts his fate as a suicide mission. Travis trains obsessively for the assassination, working out in his small Hell’s Kitchen apartment and constructing a mechanism that will slide a pistol into his hand. He tests his tolerance for pain by holding his arm over an open flame.

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Practicing his moves in front of a mirror boosts his confidence. The movie embeds the viewer so deeply inside Travis’s conscious and subconscious mind that we can’t help empathize with him, regardless of how messed up he is. Here lies the genius of the film. Objectively, Travis has good qualities too. He also wants to rescue a child prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), though it's not his priority.

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Paul Schrader addressed the confusion regarding the film’s oblique ending as a way of returning to the beginning of the film. The epilogue “could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie could start all over again.”

Rated R. 113 mins.

5 Stars ColeSmithey.com SHOCKTOBER! KITTIESColeSmithey.com

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October 08, 2023

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD — SHOCKTOBER!

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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ColeSmithey.comColeSmithey.comColeSmithey.comIn the context of a social revolution boiling around the ongoing war in Viet Nam, George A. Romero made a bold independent horror film that shocked audiences to their core in 1968.

Romero took all of the US Government’s vile attacks on humanity and flipped it on itself in an original way that set off a chain reaction that is still echoed today.

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Filmed on a budget of $114,000, Romero used black-and-white film stock to create an agitprop‪ masterpiece of revolutionary filmmaking. "Night of the Living Dead" introduced zombies as a literal metaphor for blood-hungry soldiers and washed-up citizens of every stripe. Romero's "zombie" trope would soon become a narrative touchstone of universal appeal.

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Although the allegory was lost on audiences unable to get past the film’s outré grotesqueness, itself a commentary on the war in Viet Nam, the socially relevant subtext is unmistakable.

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Complacent white siblings Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbara (Judith O'Dea) visit their father's grave in a rural Pennsylvania bone yard that they have visited since they were kids. Johnny can’t resist scaring his adult sister when she shows signs of being scared.  However, shit gets real very fast when a zombie appears out of nowhere and attacks them, getting the getter of Johnny against a tombstone. 

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A textbook chase-scene follows that bristles with suspense and horror. Romero instinctively uses Dutch angles to great effect. He expands time to create maximum tension. No key in the car’s ignition means Barbara has to put the car in neutral and coast her escape. Sound effects and spooky music make the sequence all the more terrifying.

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Barbara runs to a farmhouse where she teams up with the Ben (Duane Jones), a soul brother on a survival mission. Others seek shelter there too, but Ben is the articulate and clear-thinking protagonist that keeps survival possible. A key scene shows Ben’s superior logic regarding remaining upstairs in the boarded up house where they can fight the off zombies rather than locking themselves in the home’s dead end cellar. Seldom before had a black character exerted such power and intelligence in American cinema.  

Romero handles the violence with a Gothic sense of dread that reflects life in a war zone. Nothing is predictable. Chaos reigns. 

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Before it's over, family members will have to kill one of their own that's been bitten by a mindless zombie. Romero was inspired by Richard Matheson's 1954 sci-fi novel "I Am Legend," but expanded significantly on Matheson's doomsday narrative to combine social commentary with satire in concrete terms of ideological conflict directly related to America’s war plight.

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George Romero went onto to expand on his original concept for “Night of the Living Dead” with a biting attack on consumerist culture ("Dawn of the Dead" - 1978) that once again turned the horror genre on its head. Romero saw the enemy, and they are the zombie masses among us. There is nowhere safe to hide, from ourselves.

Rated X. 96 mins. 

5 Stars ColeSmithey.comCozy Cole

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January 26, 2022

FANTASTIC PLANET — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

ColeSmithey.comGroupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

Welcome!

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Thanks a lot acorns!

Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!

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ColeSmithey.comBeautiful French animated surreal dystopian sci-fi flick will mess you up.

René Laloux's 1973 classic is full of surprises. 

Simplistic animation soars to Salvador Dalí levels of bizarre imagination over a funky jazz score by Alan Goraguer.

Big alien people oppress small human people as if they were on par with gerbils.

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Agitprop storytelling spells out dangers of "conformity and violence" with a biting satiric wit, writ large.

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Trippy baby. Trippy.

Do your own thing.

Not Rated. 72 mins. 

5 StarsModern Cole

Cozy Cole

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