mcqueen meme | bullitt

i've been noticing there is some sort of steve mcqueen internet meme out there rt now. vintage photos of him are popping up randomly all over the place. perhaps for good reason, it has reminded me of what an unparalleled BADASS he was. back in the day i was made to watch papillon. i did not care for prison movies. but even at the tender age of 17 i recall thinking SMCQ was quite dreamy. and then i saw the original thomas crowne affair which was basically off the charts- SMCQ, faye dunaway and most of all- exquisite split screen action.*

so i decided it's time to revisit bullitt. the name of the movie alone sets the stage for the badassery that unfolds. right from the graphic opening credit sequence, schifrin jazz score, the famously epic san francisco car chase, all the way to the rather unexpectedly existential ending, this film is essentially perfect. it's a methodical cat and mouse game with great bursts of energy. but overall very deliberate. not a shoot em up chills kind of action adventure.

 

one thing i keep thinking about though, is the ending. the last shot where bullitt closes the door on his sleeping girlfriend and reflects upon his own image in the mirror instantly reminded me of the last scene in the godfather ii. bullitt's girlfriend [jacqueline bissett] occupies the same space as kay corleone [diane keaton]. they both exist outside this impenetrable world of violence and masculinity. inversely, both michael corleone and bullitt are transformed by this violence against their own intentions. both films convey the weight of this inevitability.

 

*as an aside split screen action is something i am always keen to see more of. it's sadly gone out of style but i wish it would make a comeback. it can be so exhilarating.

stills from peter yate's 1968, bullitt

a single man

 

 

much has been said about  tom ford's directorial debut. the images are certainly exquisite, and the mad men influence can be read in the styling throughout. what struck me in particular was the way vivid colors were used to convey emotions- they really got inside the psychological state of colin firth's george.

i also felt the compositions were quite unusual. the film employs some rather abstract art house images which manage to work very well in what is ultimately a fairly straight forward story. extreme close ups are artfully juxtaposed with wide establishing shots, meditating on the beauty of mid-century design. the painted image of janet leigh's marion crane from psycho on a building in a parking lot was especially startling as a graphic moment in the film. the connection seems appropriate with both george and marion traveling on a day long odyssey, and the heightened sense of anxiety we in the audience feel for them, as they search for answers. it further seeks to visually plant a single man squarely in the territory of high mid century modernism alongside what is perhaps the most influential film of the period.

despite the strong formal sensibility and performances however, i ultimately found a single man to be fairly contrived as a story. perhaps it is a given that in tom ford's 1960s calfornia all the men are beautiful and gay and lurking behind every corner. nevertheless, this undermines a film that otherwise goes through great lengths to establish a subjective sense of reality based on a dramatic yet very believable event. the modelesque men that move in and out of george's life, essentially throwing themselves at him in unexpected ways, manage to trivialize this. and on a narrative level, the film suffers for it.

 

film stills from a single man trailer

max|min 451

 

francois truffaut's farenheit 451 is one of my all time favorites. and being french AND sci-fi AND stylish, it's a combination of all the things that make the french new wave films so iconicly beautiful and timeless. based on the ray bradbury novel, it is also a polemical stance against the deintellectualization of society and a sort of meta-narrative on books and how our attitudes towards them shapes our societies. and of course, it's a really swell looking film. ultra 1960's minimalist modernism.

when i saw narciso rodriguez's fall 2010 rtw collection i immediately thought of the 451 sensibility. from the hats to the leather and the maximal<->minimal curved bell like shapes of the dresses. it feels very euro mod.

 

film stills from farenheit 451, narciso rodriguez images from style.com