Posts Tagged ‘Seven Samurai’

Blackpaint 688 – The Sevens, the Dynamite and the Ghostly Geese

March 26, 2021

This is my first effort at using the new WordPress Editor.  I’m trying to keep to the old format (which I can use) within the new format (which I can’t) so this will probably be a total shit show – but I’m not giving up without trying; please bear with me.

I’m going to kick off by putting up a couple of images of my recent paintings – just to see if I can.  Here goes:

End of Theory

Ok – I think I’ve possibly managed that. Now I need a rest (to be continued)

The Magnificent Seven dir. John Sturges (1960)

The Seven (L to R: Brynner, McQueen, Bucholz, Bronson, Vaughn, Dexte;r, Coburn)

Some critics panned this when it came out, as a rip-off of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”; not so. The quality of the cast is one pointer, and Sturges as director another; the Mexican farmers are treated with respect ( allowing for the more robust sensibilities of the era) and there are a few interesting differences.

Horst Buchholz’s Chico conflates two characters from “Samurai”, Mifune’s oafish but brave Kikuchiyo and the young would-be Ronin who stays at the end. This makes room for Robert Vaughn’s nerve-shot gunman and thereby adds a little anticipation; will he recover his nerve and come good in the final fight? (of course he will).

There’s a racial element in “Seven” that is absent from “Samurai” – the farmers are Mexican; can they reasonably be protected/rescued by American gunmen? The Americanness is leavened to an extent; Chris (Brynner) is Cajun; Bernardo (Bronson) is half Irish, half Mexican; Chico is Mexican. Still leaves four – however, the farmers, as in “Samurai”, do not remain passive, but take part in the fighting, after “training” from the professionals.

Eli Wallach, as the bandit leader, is a larger presence than the leader in “Samurai”, personalising the struggle more than in Kurosawa’s film.

Lastly, there is a different dynamic to the final fight. In the American version, the pros leave the village temporarily and a traitor tells the bandit leader. The bandits take over the village, surprise Chris and the others and force them to hand over their weapons and go. Foolishly, the bandits return the guns when they think its safe to do so. This means that the Magnificents have to fight a hard and tragically costly battle to defeat the bandits , on their return to the village.

In “Seven Samurai”, under Kambei’s leadership, the Samurai have been pursuing a winning strategy: the bandits attack, the Samurai and villagers let a few in, cut them off and slaughter them. This happens several times, and the bandits are losing men heavily. Why do they not continue until they’ve killed the lot, or enough to make the survivors give up and go away? Instead, there seems to be an acceptance that there must be a final mass showdown. There is – the bandits are massacred; but we end up with four samurai swords sticking up from four mounds, above the village.

It’s a long film; maybe Kurosawa thought, time to bring it to an end. Maybe its to do with the samurai code of honour or something in – dodgy, this – Japanese military culture (Banzai charges, kamikaze pilots)?

Both films brilliant; haven’t seen the Magnificent remake, on principal.

Close of a Long Day

A Fistful of Dynamite (Duck You Sucker!) dir. Sergio Leone (1971)

I give the alternative title above – or a version of it, anyway. The reason I mention this film is the contrast it provides to the strong moral fibre of the two “Seven” films. It is set in Mexico (with flashbacks to Ireland) but instead of the laconic heroism of the Japanese and American Samurai – most of them, anyway – Rod Steiger plays a bandit and rapist who is conned by the “Irish” James Coburn (that accent!) into revolutionary “heroism” – he thinks he’s robbing a bank, but the money’s long gone. He’s actually freeing prisoners of the military regime, which is using the bank as a jail.

The violence in the film is breathtaking – there is the rape in the mud, but worse, the constant executions and the sickening massacre in the pits next to the railroad line (historically accurate, I’d guess, from what I’ve heard of the Mexican revolution. In a scene straight out of the “Wild Bunch”, Coburn and Steiger ambush and slaughter virtually a whole group (company? regiment?) of soldiers with machine guns and dynamite. Most of the horses seem to escape, improbably.

But then there is the score – Ennio Morricone of course. As Coburn and Steiger peer through the gunsmoke at the corpses of the soldiers and the blown-up bridge, the elegiac theme plays; melancholy, nostalgic, sweet, serene, music to run to in slow motion through trees, behind a playfully fleeing lover, in soft focus. Reminded me of Nino Rota, who scored many Fellini films – and, of course, “The Godfather”.

Leone’s films are always referred to as operatic – the music, but also the scale and set pieces – and in this and the eternal possibility (sorry, certainty) of violence, they resemble the films of Angelopoulos, without the stern Marxist framework of the latter. At the same time, they are cartoon-ish. But the music haunts you, and there is Romolo Valli; another great (The Leopard, Death in Venice) in my pantheon, to go with Mastroianni, Fernando Rey, Mifune and some others I can’t think of now…..

OK finishing now, with a couple of paintings; I hope my incompetence with the new WordPress set up hasn’t detracted too much.

Ghost Geese Fly West
Figure Study Swim

Blackpaint

26.03.21

Blackpaint 687 – Ersters, Hooks, Samurai and a Cockroach

March 14, 2021

The Last Canvas, 100 x 100cm

Blackpaint

To start with, some films I have seen recently – though they are hardly recent:

Cover Girl dir Charles Vidor, 1944

Great musical with Rita Hayward, Gene Kelly and the brilliant Phil Silvers, later justly famous as Sergeant Ernie Bilko, but in this, one of the dancers.  The main one really, nicknamed The Genius.  Well, he’s a pretty good dancer – who knew? as irritating people now say…  Pretty standard story ; Kelly runs a dance troupe and is carrying on a romance with Hayworth.  She wins a cover girl contest for a major magazine – will she leave Kelly for the big time and fall for the rich suitor?  That’s the bare bones, it’s more complex – but not much more.

Stand -out dance routine is where Kelly dances with his reflection in shop windows.

There’s also a number involving all three, Hayworth, Kelly and Silvers, during which they run into a policeman and saunter away sheepishly – just as Kelly does years later in “Singin’ in the Rain”, when he’s jumping in puddles and the law shows up.

One other thing ; slightly older readers might know a song – I think it’s Astaire and Rogers in “Shall We Dance?”, the roller skate routine – titled  “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”.  It’s about how you pronounce words differently and there’s a line that goes “I  order “oysters” and you order “ersters”…  I’ve always wondered about that – whoever said “ersters”??  Well, the man who runs the oyster bar in “Cover Girl” does – he says Joysey for Jersey and ersters for oysters.  So is that where its from?  No – because Astaire and Rogers were singing in 1937.  turns out to be New York accent, probably disappeared now.  Possible connection between the two is Ira Gershwin, who wrote the song lyrics and who also wrote the songs for “Cover Girl”, with Jerome Kern.  Stand – out song from “Cover Girl is “Long Ago and Far Away”.

Hellraiser, dir and writer Clive Barker, 1987

 

I think this is the most gruesome and wince-inducing film I’ve ever seen, and there’s some very enthusiastic sex in it, inextricably entwined with the constant horrible violence.  I enjoyed it greatly.  Claire Higgins conceives an irresistible longing for her husband’s brother, leading her to daydream of being attended by him as she lies on her wedding dress.  The problem is that he has no skin, it having been ripped off by hooks at the hands of the Cenobites, demons (or angels) of sado-masochistic extremity.  Only fresh blood can restore his body.

You’d think she’d be put off on discovering this – but no.  She picks up men to bring back to him, and assists in killing them.  Anyway, that’s enough plot – the most memorable scene (apart from the sex) is near the end; “Jesus Wept”, remarks Frank, newly recaptured by the Cenobites and in the process of losing his skin to the hooks for the second time.  Double bill with “Cover Girl”, possibly?

 Seven Samurai, dir Akiro Kurosawa, 1954

From the ridiculous (but enjoyable) to the sublime.  Long film, and I remembered it as great, but thought I might be put off by the constant guttural shouting involved, always at close range and into faces – but no.  It’s deeply moving and Toshiro Mifune is spellbinding as the loud, irascible, oafish farmer’s son, who wants to be a samurai.  He grunts and shouts and ridicules and bullies the farmers, but comes good when the fighting starts, even though he lacks the discipline of the “real” samurai.  For me, he’s up there with Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s films (although it’s hard to think of two actors with less in common).

The star samurai has to be Kyuzo (below).  Did you see him move?  No – well, why is that man dead?

Back to painting, to finish with:

The Way That Light Works

Two photos of one of my paintings, called “Leaving the Stage”.  One was taken under artificial light at midnight, the other in the garden on a chilly mid afternoon.  Look how different they are!

Midnight Inside

Afternoon outside

I know which one I prefer…

 

La Cucuracha

Yes, I know it looks more like a cockerel than a cockroach (and not much like either) – but I like the name.

Blackpaint

14th March 2021