Deliverance (1972) is British director John Boorman’s gripping action-adventure about four suburban businessmen on a disastrous weekend’s river-canoeing trip. It ranks as one of my favourite films. I can never tire of seeing it. The horror starts in this clip below.
As one of the first films with the theme of city-dwellers against the powerful forces of nature, the exciting box-office hit is most remembered for its inspired banjo duel and the brutal, violent action (and sodomy scene). Based on James Dickey’s adaptation of his 1970 best-selling début novel of the same name. He contributed the screenplay and acted in a minor role as the town sheriff.
The stark, uncompromising film was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing), but went away Oscar-less. The beautifully photographed film, shot entirely on location (in northern Georgia’s Rabun County bisected by the Chattooga River), was the least-nominated film among the other Best Picture nominees. Ex-stuntman Burt Reynolds took the role of bow-and-arrow expert Lewis after it was turned down by James Stewart, Marlon Brando, and Henry Fonda on account of its on-location hazards.
The increasingly claustrophobic, downbeat film, shot in linear sequence along forty miles of a treacherous river, is seen as a philosophical or mythical allegory of man’s psychological and grueling physical journey against adversity. It came during the 70s when many other conspiracy or corruption-related films were made with misgivings, paranoia, or questioning societal institutions, like the media;
Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Network (1976), politics; The Parallax View (1974), All The President’s Men (1976), science; Coma (1978), Capricorn One (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), and various parts of the US itself; Race With The Devil (1975), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and later Southern Comfort(1981).
A group of urban dwellers test their manhood and courage. Totally vulnerable in the alien wild, they pit themselves against the hostile violence of nature. At times, however, they are attracted to nature, and exhilarated and joyful about their experiences in the wild. Director Boorman pursued the same complex eco-message of Man vs. Nature in other films, including Zardoz (1973) and The Emerald Forest (1985). As they progress further and further down rapids and along uncharted territory, the men ‘rape’ an untouched, virginal wilderness, just as they are themselves violated by the pristine wilderness and its degenerate, backward, inbred inhabitants. Basic survivalist skills come to the forefront when civilized standards of decency and logic fail.
The river is the potent personification of the complex, natural forces that propel men further and further along their paths. It tests their personal values, exhibiting the conflict between country and city, and accentuates what has been hidden or unrealised in civilised society. The adventurers vainly seek to be ‘delivered’ from the evil in their own hearts, and as in typical horror film mode, face other-worldly forces in the deep forest. Flooding of the region after the completion of a dam construction project alludes to the purification and cleansing of the sins of the world by the Great Flood.
The film was also interpreted as an allegory of US involvement in the Vietnam War. These men (the US military) intruded into a foreign world (South-East Asia), and found it raped or were confronted by wild forces they could not understand or control.
What could be so enthralling about an ailing old geezer travelling on a lawnmower some 240+ miles across the heartland of America from Laurens, Iowa, to Mount Zion (and I don’t mean the Rastafarian promised land), but a place in Wisconsin?
Nothing much in the hands of any ordinary director–but David Lynch and screenwriters, John Roach and Mary Sweeney, imbue this simple tale with enough wisdom and colourful stories and characters from the life of the real 73-year old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), a World War II veteran, as to make this film an unmissable tear-jerker.
“You don’t think about getting old when you’re young,” Alvin muses, “but there’s nothing good about being lame and blind at the same time.” He’s making the long road trip at 5-miles an hour to see his estranged 75-year old brother, Lyle, who’s just had a stroke.
Alvin has decided to put their differences aside and make the journey his way. But “the worst part about being old is remembering when you were young,” and along the way he meets some fascinating people and passes on his words of wisdom.
The Straight Story is gentle, touching film about old age and forgiveness–a wonderful little road movie that reminds us all of the kindness of strangers.
Race in America is rarely far from any talk about the United States. So news from The Washington Post that Mitt Romney is performing very, very well among white voters came as no surprise. Accordingly, recent polls show him winning this group by more than any GOP presidential candidate since Reagan, the newspaper went on to assert. ‘Why do you think Romney has such a lead among whites?’ they asked. The obvious race baiting question reminded me of the last time I passed through America–on my way to somewhere else, thankfully.
It’s minus 10 degrees outside a couple of weeks away from Christmas with ice on the ground. I am at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, North Carolina, waiting for my connecting flight to Jamaica, and the boarding gate is filled with Americans, both black and white. Over the ninety minutes that I am sat waiting beside an old black man on a church convention for a week in the sun, I see not one white person in polite conversation with any of the other passengers travelling to Montego Bay.
It feels weird to me. If I were in England in a similar situation this Waiting Area would not be segregated by race or colour. There would be friendships across the different racial/ethnic backgrounds and, of course, we would see a number of mixed-race couples flying out to the sun, none of which is in existence here.
As if to highlight the point, a very cute black boy of about four years old is running around boisterously playing with his slightly younger sister. A ‘White’ woman standing with her boyfriend watches intently, as the sister has her hair cornrowed by their mother, a rather strapping young woman in sandals at this time of year. Noticing the woman staring, the young boy smiles at her, and she instinctively smiles back.
The boy moves closer. Behind a belted partition, he pauses for a moment, pulling a small toy car from his pocket and wheeling it across the carpeted floor toward the woman, where it stops at her feet. Her expression immediately changes. The eyes of the world in this small room are upon her now, and she knows it. The mask of civility slips from her face and she stands deadly still as if petrified by fear while the child crawls across the floor to retrieve his toy.
Returning to the same spot behind the makeshift barrier, the small boy tries once more to entice the young white woman in play, shoving the toy car toward her again, but she deliberately turns her back to him this time and stares vacantly into space. I nudge the old man sitting beside me. “Did you see that?” he whispers.
I can barely believe it myself. I cannot imagine a similar situation happening in England as bad as it can be. A white English woman would never have responded in that way, I’m certain. She may have gently kicked the car back to the boy, but she would never have dismissed him in that callous ‘don’t come near me’ kind of way. After all, he is only a child.
“But you could feel the prejudice, couldn’t you?” the old man says in hushed tones. “That’s what it’s like in this here United States of America. And I believe that it’s got worse since we’ve had a black president.”
By the time we’ve landed on the tarmac of Sangster International Airport, the white Americans on-board have donned sunglasses and are smiling broadly, each obviously looking forward to their Caribbean getaway. As for me, I can’t wait to see the back of them.