Friday, July 9, 2010
Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #41: The Crazies (1973)
Before checking out the remake I thought I'd give the George Romero original a shot.
It's annoyingly edited, and operates at a break-neck and confusing pace. Shots seem to be made up mostly of close-ups. You might see a cut to a close-up of a guy talking to someone, which then cuts to a close-up of a guy shouting at him from somewhere, which then cuts to a close-up of an arm picking up a gun, followed by a close-up of somebody running, or a car parking, or whatever. You don't see the motion that connects the images, which leaves you really disoriented.
The dialogue is delivered at ridiculous speeds as well - the moment one line ends someone else pipes up with another. And everybody's yelling at each other all the time. Conversation quickly ramps up into panic and anger, which makes the movie feel really emotionally forced and especially unjustified, since very little of the viral outbreak is actually seen for the first half of the film. It's pretty much just people yelling at each other in offices about what to do. No, wait, not what to do. It's not really conversation. It's more yelling out unreasonable reactions. Usually in the form of exposition.
I guess you could argue that the camera work and editing is meant to...well, make you feel as crazy and disoriented as the characters succumbing to the virus that drives them into delirium, but if that's the case, the techniques are used where they shouldn't be, and not used where they'd do good work. And the film actually abandons its style and slows down during the last third of the film, which just makes it all seem like bad audience emotion management.
Now Dawn of the Dead is one of my all-time favourite films, and I'm very fond of Romero. But he tends to be pretty hamfisted with his social criticisms, and this movie is no exception. The Crazies is a pretty barefaced hate-on for the Vietnam-era military, and ends up as a mostly hokey and cheap-looking anti-government piece. It works to depict a military and governmental disregard for the rights of civilians so complete that it's hard to take the plot seriously until you remember that Vietnam was a horrific and rights-shattering embarrassment.
I will say this in the movie's defense: it sports a very rare protagonist - a man who wears a mighty unibrow without shame. I've always been wowed by 70s films that weren't afraid to cast unattractive or strange-looking actors into their male roles. Unibrow's comrade has warts all over his boney face. It's incredibly refreshing.
So: Can't say it's worth the watch, but if you're curious about Vietnam-response films don't look this one over.