Jøhnny Fävòrítê (johnnyfavorite) wrote,
Jøhnny Fävòrítê

lumet strikes again

Last night at about 7:00PM, sun going down. I'd already ordered my first set of the third season Mr. Show DVDs online, but I know I'll need at least one more copy for gift purposes. I am impatient. So I headed off to the local Media Play outlet to see if I could snag one right now.

Fat chance. A woman who works there told me that they only got a few copies, which were all pre-ordered. The employee told me that a girl had come in early that morning looking for one and was highly distressed when she couldn't get it. Huh. How is it that a Mr. Show fan has not heard of that newfangled thing called "The Inter-Net," with its revolutionary sensation known as "Electronic Commerce?" In fact, the Media Play employee took such a long time telling me this story, looping around her favorite parts again and again, that I think she might have been trying to chat me up. But ever since I got here I've been studiously avoiding making contacts of any kind so I can pick up and move at the slightest provocation. This whole state squicks me out. So I smiled at her and thanked her for trying but extricated myself.

I decided I'd browse the racks and buy myself some consolation DVDs. I got three, but I'll avoid writing about the other two until I watch them. First was "Dog Day Afternoon," a movie I've been meaning to see for decades but have never gotten around to.

Holy CRAP! How the hell did this movie elude me for so long? It's unbelievably cool! Did you know that this is very possibly the first big-budget Hollywood movie with an openly homosexual protagonist? Troo dat! It came out in 1975. The reason Al Pacino decides to rob a bank is so he can fund a sex change operation for his male lover. Chris Sarandon plays that would-be shemale, and his portrayal is astonishingly good. Okay, maybe he's a little swishy, but not any worse than some gays I've personally met. Quite a revelation, considering all those outrageous stereotypes we were forced to stomach for pretty much the entire eighties, until Hollywood decided to let gays be real people.

I read online that Pacino refused to do any openly gay scenes. Chicken. He missed his chance to be part of the first-ever onscreen man-on-man action. So the scriptwriter plotted the movie such that two of them are never together. In their one big scene they are talking on the telephone, Pacino holed up in the bank, Sarandon sitting in a barber chair in the makeshift police headquarters across the street. It's still pretty good.

And I must say, Al Pacino in 1975 was one very, very hot d00d. I might be willing to switch teams if I could snag one that looks like that. I had no problem whatsoever believing him as a butch friend of dorothy. It would have been a lot better if he'd given Sarandon a big fat sloppy kiss, though. With tongue.

As the stand-off emerges inside the bank, crowds form on the far side of the police barricades. The bystanders play an integral role. Pacino riles them up by attempting to tie his situation to the then-recent prison uprising at Attica, where the innocent were killed along with the guilty. He riles them up again by throwing marked bills from the bank into the air. A few get hurt in the resulting stampedes, making the cops' job that much more difficult. When TV news reports reveal that Pacino is a homo, the next crowd scene features a large gay contigent, yelling their very vocal support for him. Again, the portrayals were amazing. A few didn't trip my gaydar at all, some were pretty obvious, but none were flaming. In a situation like that it would have been suicidally foolish to let your freak flag fly. You could feel the tension between the gay contingent and the rest of the crowd. All this in 1975? Why did it take the rest of Hollywood so long to catch up?

I never once felt like this movie let me down. Pacino's mom and the mother of his children were both a little too shrill, but those were the only two slightly false notes in the whole film. I was on the edge of my seat for every second of it. I felt like violence could erupt at any second, but it very seldom does. I've avoided reading synopses of the film online for like forever, so I was blissfully unaware of how it would play out.

An important point. Save for an obscure Elton John tune at the beginning, there is no music in the movie whatsoever. I find that to be true of all my favorite movies. Incidental music is there with the punchy brass and woodwind instruments letting you know when to think "OH NO! THE HERO IS IN REAL TROUBLE NOW!" and then they ladle on the treacly strings when you're supposed to feel all gooey and sentimental, and so on. I am perfectly capable of deciding how I feel about any particular scene without your help, Mister Way Too Obvious Movie Scoring Guy.

Up until last night, this was the sole remaining movie with John Cazale in it that I had yet to see. He was in only five and they are all excellent. That guy had impeccable taste. He didn't live long enough to sell out. He died of bone cancer, so my immediate reaction is to think that he was so unhappy that his own body pushed the self-destruct button on him, which is in my experience almost always the case. Unless I find out later that he was sleeping on an asbestos mattress or something.

Cazale doesn't have a lot to do here, but everything he does is excellent, as usual. There are a few scenes where things are getting tense and Pacino has a little chat with him to decide how they will proceed. The two of them start talking and the whole world falls away. Very few words, lots of staring. Knowing a sniper bullet could rip through a window and end their lives at any second. They don't get any help from the camera or the director on this. No dialogue either, no "ooh I'm scared" or "goodness, whatever will we do" or any hand-wringing like that, just two guys telegraphing primal, naked fear. Other people are still visible in the shot, not even blurry or anything, but totally beside the point. You just know in your gut that the others are superfluous right now, they would sooner fly than they would speak and ruin the moment.

There was a subplot near the end that I don't understand. The hard-bitten FBI guy lets Pacino know that they plan to kill Cazale, but will let Pacino live, if he doesn't stand in their way. The agreement seems to be that, if Pacino doesn't cooperate, both will be killed. All this is signaled via subtext and expressions. At first Pacino makes a big deal out of not going for it, but then it's plain that he does. What the heck?

In the real-life bank robbery that this incident is based on, the Cazale character was only 14 years old. Surely the FBI wouldn't have a grudge against a kid that age? Did they feel that they had to kill at least one of the kidnappers to prove that they were doing their jobs? Why not just kill both of them without any kind of agreement? Did the cops think Pacino would help them get Cazale into a position where his gun could be taken away from him easily and then shot? Maybe they thought there would be less of a chance of the hostages getting hurt that way? If anybody understands this any better than I do, please comment.

The ending was, of course, heart-breaking. A very young Lance Henriksen, who I'll always think of as the android in "Aliens," gets to sweet-talk Cazale one last time, and it's all over but the cryin'.

Pacino's character was based on Sonny Wortzik. He did his time for the bank robbery slash kidnapping and got out of jail long ago. He was interviewed for the November 2000 issue of ArtForum (according to various things I've googled up). In it, he says that he and his accomplice watched "The Godfather" on the afternoon before the robbery, which stars, among others, Al Pacino and John Cazale. So in some of his grandstanding for the crowds in front of the bank, he may have been imitating Pacino somewhat, who then went on to play him in this movie three years later. Strange feedback loop.

Why isn't there anything about Wortzik online? He seems to have had a colorful life, so much so that they made a movie about him, but not one of you internet-addicted schlubs sought him out and created a fan site? Boo, hiss.
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